Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Interview with Electric Eggplant's David Fox

Rube Works is an awesome iOS puzzle game, based on the classic Rube Goldberg cartoons (if you haven't already, check out our review here). I got the chance to interview game designer, David Fox, about how he got into the imdustry, making the first licensed Rube Goldberg game, and what the future has in store for Rube Works! Check out the trailer below, and read the interview after the break!

Official Rube Works Trailer from Unity Games on Vimeo.

Firstly I'd like to thank you for this opportunity! I loved the game so it's great to be able to talk to you about it. Could you tell us how you got into the industry?

I’ve been in the game industry since it first began. My wife, Annie, and I opened a non-profit public access microcomputer center in 1977, the Marin Computer Center. We had a large roomful of computers people could drop in and rent by the hour ($1.50) for playing games, or learning to program through one of our classes.

There weren’t a lot of games available then, so we got books of source code listings in BASIC and typed them in ourselves, often improving them to make them work better. I also began converting games for one platform (e.g., TRS-80) to another (Apple II) for the publisher. That was another way I got to see the guts of the games, how they worked (or didn’t work).

Other than conversions for Adventure International, the first game I created was for Children’s Television Workshop’s Sesame Place in 1979. It was called Mix and Match Muppets, and it was for the Apple II.

I was in the right place and time to hear about the new Games Group starting up at Lucasfilm. I visited their Computer Division a year earlier when researching Computer Animation Primer, so I knew who to contact. As a result, I got in right at the beginning as the third employee of this new group, which grew up to be LucasArts. I was the first game designer/project leader, and stayed at Lucasfilm for 10 years.

Most of the games I worked on were comedic graphic adventure games. I was able to draw on all that experience in creating Rube Works, which is essentially a series of mini-graphic adventures, complete with convoluted logic and a wacky sense of humor.

The early 2D “proof of concept” demo and final 3D game side-by-side really show how far the game has progressed

I was very surprised to find that there hasn't been a licensed Rube Goldberg game until now, as the formula lends itself so well to gaming. How did you come to be the first?

You probably weren’t as surprised as I was! Two years ago I decided I wanted to do a Rube Goldberg-like physics puzzler. First step was to see what was already created in this genre. When I checked out the games, the ones that mentioned Rube’s name all said “Rube Goldberg-like”, meaning there was not yet an official licensed version. I found http://RubeGoldberg.com, sent them an impassioned query asking about the possibility of doing a game (and making sure to mention all my gaming credits).

Next morning I got a phone call from a very nice woman who said they hadn’t yet licensed Rube’s cartoons for a game, even though they had been approached several times. Apparently it just never felt right before. After a while, the woman, Jennifer George, casually mentioned how important it was that she honor her grandfather’s legacy… uh, what? I asked her to repeat that and realized I was talking to Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter. Took a few seconds to pull myself together. Glad it wasn’t a Skype call or she would have seen my chin drop below the camera’s view.

We hit it off, found we had totally matching goals for the game, and I had a license agreement in place soon after.

How long did it take from being an idea to actually releasing the game?

Close to two years. The first year was spent in preparation. First there were a couple of brainstorming sessions with some ex-LucasArts friends (Ron Gilbert, Noah Falstein). Then I wrote up an initial game design doc, more a concept doc, and created a 2D prototype using the Corona SDK. I knew the game needed a decent budget, more than I could afford to spend out of pocket, so I began looking for a publisher. Tony Garcia, another ex-LucasArts friend, was the Executive Vice President of Business Development at Unity3D. He was intrigued and we ended up being the first group to sign up for their new Unity Games arm.

Was the development process a smooth one, or did you suffer any setbacks?

It was very smooth. I knew that if we were going to use Unity3D as the development environment, I needed an experienced team that was ready to go from day one. I could have built my own team from scratch, but that seemed like a much riskier path. Tony suggested I talk to Kalani Streicher, yet another ex-LucasArts friend, who had a seasoned Unity3D development team in place at his Kalani Games in Austin, TX. Kalani was as excited about the project as I was, and we quickly agreed to work together.

I’d say the hardest part of the process was during pre-production in getting all the agreements in place and synchronized… one between my company, Electric Eggplant, and Unity Games… one between Electric Eggplant and the Heirs of Rube Goldberg (HRG)… and one between Electric Eggplant and Kalani Games. That took about five months!

Kalani Games did an awesome job on the production of the game and was able to complete it within the schedule. Actual production began in February 2013 and the game shipped nine months later. 

Here's an early proof of concept demo and there are SPOILERS within, so be warned if you haven't yet played the game

I had a blast with the game, but how is it being received in general?

People are absolutely loving it! Those who were familiar with Rube Goldberg machines were an obvious audience, but others who like a mental challenge and have a great sense of humor are loving it as well. One of the biggest group of Rube Works enthusiasts are teachers, especially those that have already incorporated building Rube Goldberg machines in their curriculum. Having their students play the game first is a great introduction. I’ve seen videos of all the kids in a class playing Rube Works on their iPads, with some students popping up to give help to those that are stuck on one of the levels. Nice!

And to make it easier for teachers to get the game for each of their iPads, we’re participating in Apple’s Volume Purchase Program for Education (50% off when purchasing 20 or more apps).

My favourite puzzle in Rube Works is The Package. Which is yours and why?

That’s a really fun one! I have a lot of favourites (is this like asking a parent which child is your favourite??). Level 2: Slice a Turkey (for it’s edgy humour), Level 7: Win at Cards (general craziness and some fun Easter Eggs), and Level 9: Juice Orange (fun use of ancient weaponry and devices, including a guillotine, battering ram, sword, plus an octopus).

There are some more great ones in the next batch as well.

Finally, what does the future have in store for you and Rube Works? 

I’d love to do a series of expansion packs as well as sequels. We’re ready to go, as soon as we get the go-ahead from Unity Games.

In the meantime, I’m now helping to polish levels 10-18, which will be a free download for those who’ve purchased the game. Then polishing the Android version. Hopefully both will be ready in December.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to David Fox and Electric Eggplant for answering my questions! And if you haven't already, click here to buy Rube Works on the App Store, for £1.99/$2.99

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