Friday, 27 June 2014

Plantman Q&A with Dennis Nielsen.

I recently managed to contact Dennis Nielsen, Creative Director, Game Designer, Cow-founder of Copenhagen based game company Exploding Cow and *deep breath* . . . One of the guys behind Plantman [Free]  --Phew!

Dennis kindly agreed to answer a few questions that I'd bet have been on many of our lips. Here's what he had to say:

How did the National Film School of Denmark come to develop and self publish an iOS game?

There are different educational programmes at the Film School - the only programme not focusing on live-action films is called "Animation Director" - which is the programme I finished this summer, Plantman being my graduation project.
As an Animation Director student you get to play around with all different aspects of animation and games production, focusing on being "The one with the vision" and working with all kinds of people from different fields. You have almost endless creative freedom when it comes to the midterm and graduation projects. Most student choose to do animation films (of course) but I simply chose to make an iOS game, because it just felt like the right choice of platform. I hope to see more games published by the Film School in the future since it is a rather unique set-up with a lot of potential for making great story driven games.

From feedback to in general, how has life been for all involved since launch?

It has been amazing to see all the positive responses to Plantman - especially since we launched the game with the catastrophic error of not being able to save - Even so, we got a lot of kind words from people who played it anyway. 
Now that the new update is out it finally starts to feel like the game is all done, after 10 months of hard work.
To our big surprise Plantman got featured on the Chinese App Store the first day of launch and we have received a staggering number of downloads. So far we have reached more than 160.000 downloads in total which is just insane! We are extremely happy about it.

Your film school influences and abilities have shone through in the production and presentation, yet even as a whole package --it's still one heck of a debut!
    Experienced iOS developers still struggle with touch screen controls, yet first time round you've pulled off a flawless and responsive scheme. The gameplay itself is fun and sometimes challenging. The story is well written and immersive   . . . Something tells me there's more experience behind this "debut" than meets the eye? Beginner's luck? Or did the whole school get involved!?

Thank you for the nice words! About the controls - My ambition from the start was to make a game without virtual joysticks - It was important to me that we made a game that felt tailor-knitted for mobile platforms - We have spend weeks just figuring out the answer to the simple question of "what is a swipe?". Touch controls seems so simple in theory, but it is in fact a tough and delicate process of tweaking and testing before you nail that "right" feeling when your finger hits the screen.
    Plantman is actually my 3rd game that have been released on App Store. My midterm project was an old school 2D point n' click adventure called "Shadow of Kharon" [Free] which was released in spring 2013.

    In the fall 2013 I teamed up with programming wizard Jacob Sloth Laursen and we formed the game company Exploding Cow, outside my studies at The Film School. We have released one game so far called "Blendimals" - a puzzle platformer where you combine animals (in a big blender) to solve the levels - the game is soft launched on the App Store only in Nordic Countries so far, but the world wide launch in coming up.

    For both  Plantman and Shadow of Kharon I have worked closely together with producer Andreas Hjortdal and Script Writer Mads Grage - both students of the Film School - everyone else on the team have been people from outside the school - both students, friends and professionals - so it definitely takes a fair amount of knowing-the-right-people and a bit of luck when making games at the Film School. 

Plantman definitely evokes nostalgic feelings of the PlayStation classic Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. Was this intentional?

There were several things I wanted to achieve with Plantman - I wanted to make a game with loads of personality, a game where storytelling blends together with gameplay, a "relaxing" puzzle-action experience, and not least, a game without guns.
To me Oddworld: Abe's Odyssee is the perfect example of how to achieve this. 
Using Oddworld almost as a "genre" was very appealing to me - to figure out all the little things that made me fall in love with that game in the first place and then twisting the gameplay to fit with my own ideas and the story I wanted to tell.

Plantman is neither paid, nor "Freemium". While it's refreshing to see no ads or in-app purchases, I can't help feel like I want to throw some money at you! Whose wacky idea was it to make the game completely free?

In short, it was the Film Schools wacky idea - being an education of arts it is not allowed to make profit of games (or films) produced at the Film School - But then again, working on a non-profit production also have its benefits - People are in it for the passion of the project, and if you do an episodic game series (like plantman) it is quite nice to release a "pilot" episode that everyone have access to ...and also you can get away with a few more bugs obviously.

Having almost completed Episode One: Last Day at The Plant Plant, I'm left wanting more. Do you have any exclusives you can reveal regarding  Episode Two? E.g. A release date? Whether it will be available as an in-app purchase? If so, pricing? ( Seriously, you must need to put food on the table! Ahah. )

Right now we're looking at different possibilities to fund the production of Episode 2 so unfortunately I can't give you any details on the release just yet. But the whole story of the Plantman trilogy is already planned and is definitely going to be epic! We have a lot of new gameplay ideas we want to try out and I can promise that Andy and S.A.M.M. have a BIG adventure ahead of them.

Do you have any plans on porting the game to other platforms?

We are currently looking into making an Android version of the game.

So . . . What's next for you guys? Are you currently working on any other projects? Or is your focus locked primarily onto Plantman for the foreseeable future?

While we are planning the next episode of Plantman, we're also working on the last bits of "Blendimals" and making it ready for its world wide release on iOS and Android, later this year.

It's been great to finally catch up with you!
Please accept my apologies for my naivety of the Danish language and wishes of the best success for the future!
--Tak Dennis!

Det var så lidt!

There we have it! Hope this article has answered any questions you may have had regarding Plantman and shed some light on Exploding Cows' other projects. If you have yet to download Plantman, I highly recommend doing so. Check out my "first look" [here.] View the trailer [there] ,and the official website and Facebook page [here] and [there] respectively.
    iPad owners, don't forget to click the link to install Shadow of Kharon. Last  --but by no means least! I shall update this post with a live direct link for Blendimals on world-wide launch day.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Plantman [iOS] First Look

A surprise release last Wednesday for me was Plantman [Free] subtitled,
"Episode One: Last Day at The Plant Plant."

An App Store debut no less from, wait for it... The National Film School of Denmark, in co-operation with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation -you don't see that every week!

So how and why did an iOS game come into development by a film school? Those are questions I may not be alone in wanting to ask these talented self publishers.
    Now, I've visited their **website and unfortunately the only apparent means of contacting them is via post, fax, or telephone not hold our breaths!? I digress.

Curious of its title, intrigued by Plantman's screenshots, l decided to download the game and at least check it out.
    20 -30 chapters later, I've heard, seen also played enough to bet, I'll probably soon be left in anticipation of Episode Two ( and the rest of the series. )

Unsurprisingly perhaps, though of course not detracting any due credit from its presentation, the introduction looks and sounds as though it could have been made by a major animation studio.
    A compliment and maybe clues on the makers, given it is big on production value.
    Of which, on the contrary to games sometimes falling short of their cinematic bits in-game, on this occasion the quality doesn't end there, but continues throughout.
    Headphones come recommended, if not for the witty laugh out loud dialogue, an all round enhancing accompanying soundtrack.

Described as a "Post nuclear, near-apocalyptic Sci-Fi Adventure" Plantman is a Puzzle-Platformer which will have you using stealth and outsmarting, even manipulating creatures and robots with your sidekick.

You play protagonist Andy Sprout, best friends with a coffee machine and Oxygen Plant Plant Manager of Sector 347,  Greensworth Gardens.
   The main freshly produced oxygen supplier of Earth 2284, where natural plant life and sunlight are things of the past.
    Set at the start of the Last Day at The Plant Plant, growing tired of a daily plant-eating giant plant-lice infestation, our green-fingered hero is about to find something that will change his life forever.

The game plays not unlike Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and definitely evokes nostalgic feelings of the PlayStation classic.
    Rather than a virtual d-pad and buttons, swipes and taps have been cleverly implemented. These work seamlessly ,and just feel right.

Embark on a journey of wonder, adventure, loveable characters and bugs, lots of bugs.

Talking of which, aside from a one-time occurring bug where Sprout became stuck in a wall, the only problem I have encountered is with in *saving.
    There are no manual options and so I presume the game saves automatically? After playing for the first time, you are able to continue from where you left off. That, or choose to restart a previously completed chapter.
    Well, that is how it's supposed to work. However, up to press, for me at least, tapping a chapter number or 'Continue' has no effect.
    Hopefully this can be fixed in an update.

The game itself doesn't feel all that long ( though there are three acts, totalling 43 chapters. ) Still, even if the title could be completed in one sitting, it would be nice to have a save function that worked.
    You know, for those times when we get stuck, or just want to play a quick session.

Not only is Plantman free, but it contains no advertisements or in-app purchases.
    Which begs the question: will the next episode be an IAP?
Let's hope so! Hopefully we won't have to wait too long for news of a release date either -watch this space?

I really feel I've stumbled upon a hidden gem here, got drenched in nostalgia and left wanting more -I'm Indiana Jones dammit!
    If you like either, or all of the following; puzzle-platformers, animated shorts, immersive stories and yes okay, Abe -I highly recommend you download Plantman.
    What have you got to lose? Except a potentially wonderful experience missed if you don't try, after all -it's free! Oh and did I mention it is flawlessly universal?

This has been more of a first look than a full-on review, nevertheless, right now I would surely give Plantman 

*****5/out of 5 stars - Majorly epic all-round!

*Since the posting of this article Plantman's developers have found said problems with saving progress.
    They issued a bug alert in their app description and are working on fixing it. Hopefully we shouldn't have to wait too long.

** A-hah! Fancy that? There is now a fully-fledged official website [ link updated ] dedicated to the game, complete with a contact form. ( I'm holding out for the twitter account. ) Plantman is going to Android and a browser version is coming soon!