Wonton 51 Interview: Phil and Oli of Quarter Circle Punch Game Works
Phil and Oli talk about their thought processes on Wonton 51, how they made the game, and how you too can achieve a zen-like state by playing Hannah Montana: The Movie Game.
Tell us about yourselves and your history as a couple.
Phil: We met in school about 13 years ago and ever since then, the world knew that something magical was going to happen sooner or later. We've been in a long distance bro-mance for the last 7 years or so but before that we spent our days either playing games, skating (badly), watching Troma Edge TV and low budget horror films. In 2001 we shook the music scene when we created our band, The Embryonic Adults. Despite having minimum talent and noise abatement orders from the Council, we played a few packed out shows and the odd festival before calling it quits when I went to Uni. I studied Cybernetics with the aim to create a better version of Oli, a sort of Oli 2.0, but I kinda got distracted so I'm still making do with the old one.
Oli: We are hetero-life-mates. We met in school when we were both pretty heavily into crunkcore. It was a pretty natural evolution to game development.
"I did some heavy research into this and after about 12 months, I came up with a formula that helped make the decision: Japanese Stuff > Everything Else."
What is your role in the development of Wonton 51?
Phil: I'm chief in charge of writing code and making music.
Oli: I’m the creative director and head chef. While we both design the game I tend to bring it all together to make sure that it is coherent and focused. I have also done nearly all of the art for the game.
What were you doing before you decided to make the world famous Wonton 51?
Phil: By day I'm a developer. I've got a little consultancy / development business but I'm also employed. Generally I'll either be doing web development / database development or forging IT strategies. None of these are as exciting as making games.
Oli: A while ago I played the Hannah Montana game just for points. You learn something about yourself when that happens. I looked at the life I was leading and decided to make a game.
How did the company start and why is the company called Quarter Circle Punch Game Works when your debut is not a fighting game?
Phil: For our generation, playing Street Fighter as soon as you got home from school was one of life's greatest pleasures. I'm actually a terrible player but the memories of playing it still make me smile. Street Fighter is a game that is both beautifully simple and complex. It doesn't worry itself with including features for the sake of it, it focuses on making the simple things work really, really well and I think that's the way we want to develop. Lots of people are obsessed with creating rich 3D environments on the iPhone but the truth is that games are a whole lot more fun to play when time has been spent on story and game-play rather than developing a revolutionary engine. This is why Quarter Circle Punch stood out as a name I want to be associated with. We had others but nothing else seemed to sum us up so neatly.
Oli: We started the company mainly to help Uwe Boll out with a little tax thing he had going on. It was pretty convenient as we needed a company to release Wonton out under. Our company is called Quarter Circle Punch Game Works because 2D fighting games are the best games in the world BAR NONE. They represent brilliant purity in design and I have learned a lot from them. They made me the man I am today, if I hadn’t played Street Fighter 2 when I was younger I probably wouldn’t be typing this.
I also don’t want us to take ourselves too seriously and have a serious business name. We don’t have Bluetooth headsets to make business calls, po-faced developer names always make me laugh. We make games and games are about fun. Let’s have a fun but inspiring name.
"A while ago I played the Hannah Montana game just for points. You learn something about yourself when that happens. I looked at the life I was leading and decided to make a game."
What made you want to make this game? How did the ideas/theme/styles come about?
Phil: I have to pass most of the credit to this to Oli. We originally said we'd make a shmup-style game so I spent a couple of weeks coming up with the basic framework. We arranged to spend a weekend together developing and as soon as I got off the train, I proudly showed my efforts to Oli. It wasn't met with huge levels of enthusiasm, but after a few bowls of ramen Oli had transformed the game from something that anyone could make into something that only he could create. It needed a lot more work but I spent the whole train journey home at the end of the weekend buzzing with excitement.
Oli: We originally set out to make a side scrolling platformer type game. It is a cool idea and we may revisit it but at the time I had never drawn a sprite let alone animated a character so we evolved the concept into a top-down game that was easier to produce for a first time artist. We wanted to make a game about obstacle avoidance and shooting. It just so happens that I play a lot of bullet hell shooters so I had some ideas about high action shooting games. We wanted to make a high execution score based game and the design evolved quite naturally. The first versions of the game relied more on obstacle avoidance and you didn’t have direct control over Jonny. You switched between lanes. That didn’t feel great so we went for direct control and it became much closer to a shmup.
"After a few bowls of ramen Oli had transformed the game from something that anyone could make into something that only he could create."
Why is everything Japanese-themed when you're the two whitest white boys ever?
Phil: I did some heavy research into this and after about 12 months, I came up with a formula that helped make the decision: Japanese Stuff > Everything Else. I actually went to Tokyo in 2010 and although I generally hate big cities, Tokyo was somewhere that was just in every way, my kinda place.
Oli: I spent a lot of my time during my late teens involved in the Japanese drift gang scene. I had to get out of the life when something happened between me and a yakuza lord’s girl. I wanted to bring some of that influence into a game. Japanese developers make the best high execution games. You have to learn and get better in order to play shmups and fighters. I like their design ethos and as we developed the look of the game we arrived at mech suits. I am also obsessed with Japanese food so as the art style grew it became a big influence.
What were your influences for the game?
Phil: For me, I've got memories of games like Menace on the Amiga which obviously has some similarities to Wonton 51 but there is also a definite influence from more recent games like Canabalt.
Oli: I fell in love with bullet hell shmups a couple of years ago and I think about them a lot. I love their purity and reliance on skill. The shmup community are the most amazingly obsessive bunch of lunatics out there and their passion has influenced me and this game, I wanted to create something that hardcore dudes could look at and nod in approval. I don’t know if we’ve done that but that whole scene in a big influence just like the fighting game scene. Some of the achievement names are based on fighting game slang. WHERE’S YOUR CURLEH MUSTACHE?
What's your favourite type of Japanese food?
Oli: I can never decide between ramen and sushi. Cooking is like game design. You have a bunch of amazing ingredients and each one needs to be used in the right way to make an incredible dish. I like the purity of sushi but love the mixture of a bowl of ramen.
Phil: It's kinda boring but I love Yellow Tail or Salmon Nigiri. It's got to have wasabi though!
"I spent a lot of my time during my late teens involved in the Japanese drift gang scene. I had to get out of the life when something happened between me and a yakuza lord’s girl."
What's your favourite bit about Wonton 51?
Phil: The boss entry sequences. To me, seeing these warning messages come up on screen just injected the game with a whole lot of personality.
Oli: Playing it! I love this game!
Why did you choose to release Wonton 51 on iOS?
Phil: I guess the major two factors are 1) we both had an iPhone and 2) the market for mobile gaming just doesn't exist on other platforms. The android OS is fantastic but the app store and the levels of buyer purchasing just doesn't make for a very sound business model. You've also got the stress of developing for multiple, unknown devices which might have different processors, screen sizes etc and whilst I'm sure all these problems can be overcome, it made more sense to develop our first title on iDevices.
We looked at Microsoft's XNA library too and whilst the sales potential is generally lower than through the App Store, it does offer some great opportunities.
Oli: Developing for iOS has a low barrier to entry. It provides a unified marketplace which makes it easy to get it out there. The app store is in desperate need of some clean up and regulations on clones and rip offs but at least it is relatively easy to get stuff on it.
How did you decide on the price?
Oli: There is no way you can get pricing right on your first game on the app store. We went for a price that felt right and we’ll adjust up or down from there. I think there are a lot of great iOS games that are undervalued on the app store. People think every game should be free or the lowest price tier and that’s crazy. I’d like to see people charging more for quality games as that will help create a healthier environment where good people are rewarded for good work.
How has developing for the App Store been different to developing in your day jobs?
Phil: It's been great. My day job generally consists of developing in PHP which isn't the most structured language so getting back to something that really challenges me was great fun. I've learned a lot of lessons during the development and there are quite a few things I'll do differently for the next game, but the biggest lesson of all is that I can still love development. There have actually been a few days where I've been away from my laptop and I've genuinely missed working on Wonton 51.
Oli: I do a lot less heroin in my day job.
What do you think sets Wonton 51 apart from other games on the App Store?
Oli: A lot of app store games are pandering to the lowest common denominator. We made this game for a niche audience that like to learn through becoming better rather than having everything handed to them on a plate like a lot of games do. We don’t have pop up tutorial text to explain everything. You have to get in there and play and learn just like games used to be.
Phil: I'd like to say its a mix of personality, simplicity and charm. I'm not sure that Wonton 51 is better than other gaming apps which offers these but I do hope that people will find it a really enjoyable way to spend a few moments.
"There have actually been a few days where I've been away from my laptop and I've genuinely missed working on Wonton 51."
What have been the highs and lows of development for you? Have there been any major moments when you thought it was all going to fold?
Phil: I've never thought that it was going to fold. One of the great things about working with your best friend is that you have absolute trust and confidence in what they're doing and even during a few low moments, where development was going very slowly due to other personal or work commitments, I was confident that we would still continue the development.
I've covered a few of the highs before but basically, whenever I see Oli has opened a new ticket which reads something like "Major changes - Don't freak out" I get excited.
Oli: There have never been any moments where thought we’d fail. This is a learning experience, we have made a lot of development mistakes but they were unavoidable for two first time indie developers. We have always been very open with each other. Soon I’ll do a blog post about the art. We’ve thrown away so much art I did that was shit. Utterly terrible stuff. If something isn’t right or one of us has a bad idea we speak our minds and get it fixed. We’re best friends and we’re not precious.
What's been the most rewarding thing about making Wonton 51, aside from being put in the position to be asked insightful and hard-hitting questions by a charming interviewer?
Phil: Well, this is defiantly a highlight but I'd have to say the next most rewarding thing is to actually develop a game with my best friend. We always said we were going to do it and now we have!
Oli: Creating something is the best thing a person can do. Working hard and crafting your vision is the most rewarding thing in the world. Having an idea and executing it all by yourselves makes you feel alive. The first time you put something in the game you’re happy with is an incredible feeling. It makes up for losing sleep, working yourself to exhaustion and the emotional rollercoaster of letting people play the thing you have made.
What are some of your favourite apps aside from Wonton 51?
Oli: Canabalt is the best game on the iPhone. I also love the Kairosoft games (Game Dev Story and Mega Mall Story). Cave are one of my favourite developers and I’m really glad they’ve put their games on iOS. Those guys make breathtakingly wonderful games.
Phil: In terms of games, I'd say Canabalt, Game Dev Story, Tiny Wings, Flight Control and Rope'n'fly 2 are the ones I've spent the most time with but there are a whole load of others which are great. Mirrors Edge stands out to me as being one of the few games that's translated really well from console to mobile.
In terms of apps, I think I'm probably quite boring as I generally keep clear of any thing to do with photos etc. Looking through my phone now, I realise how many great apps there are and I'm not sure how I got through life without them before. Even simple ones like Flixster just make life that little bit better. iPlayer and Spotify take care of my entertainment, Dropbox has come to the rescue on more than one occasion and I've got a few apps that help with my drumming. Graphic Novels are also amazing on the iPad - The Lost Journal is a great example of this.
I think a special mention has to go to Garage Band for the iPad though - it's so much better than I expected and I actually created almost all the parts for the backing music and voice effects for Wonton 51 on that alone.
"Whenever I see Oli has opened a new ticket which reads something like "Major changes - Don't freak out" I get excited."
Do you have any friendly advice for future iPhone developers?
Phil: Just do it! Actually, that's a little too encouraging. There are far too many apps out there which are just rip-offs of other successful apps or even just people uploading 100 slightly different versions of their 1 terrible app in the hope they'll get just a few sales by default. My advice is that if you've got a good idea and you're willing to put in a lot of time to get it right then don't let anything stop you. It won't be easy and It might take 6 months or 6 years, but your app could change the world. It'll certainly improve your own world.
Oli: Make something good. Put your heart and soul into a game idea and make it great. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff away. You can only get good by failing over and over again until you have learned enough to do something good. Also, don’t make a game with zombies, cats or birds in. Don’t bite someone else’s style.
Any plans for the future?
Oli: Once we’re done with the game I’m looking forward to taking a little break and enjoying the year’s big games before getting right back into it. I have an obsession with a game idea that is gnawing away at the back of my head. It’s either that or a tumour.
Phil: There are a couple of ideas floating around!
" I have an obsession with a game idea that is gnawing away at the back of my head. It’s either that or a tumour."