Interview with Simon Oliver of Rolando


Simon Oliver, founder of HandCircus, agreed to an interview with AppCraver recently. Simon is working on the much-anticipated Rolando game, which he has called a "physics-based platform/puzzler." Look for Rolando before the holidays, Simon says.

1. If you could be something other than a developer, what would it be?

Simon: I've always wanted to work in a zoo.

2. You’ve been quoted as saying Rolando would be out in August. Why the delay?

Simon: Aha... well there are a few factors here. The first is that my initial estimates were a little out — it was my first iPhone title, and there were a number of factors that I hadn't really considered. I was building the engine and tools from scratch. There was also a ton of experimentation and prototyping, so it wasn't a straightforward production process.

Secondly, Rolando has changed a lot since those early days--it has become a much more weighty game in terms of scope and polish. My early thoughts were for it to have smaller levels and less of an emphasis on story, but it has really grown into something much more substantial than I'd planned. This transformation has been a wonderful experience! To re-use one of Kurt Vonnegut's favorite quotes, "How did I do that?"

3. What’s the release date and what pricing can we expect for the game?

Simon: It will be out before the holidays and will be priced at $9.99.

4. Who, what, when, why HandCircus? It sounds like something my mother wouldn’t want me to do. Can you explain your raison d'etre?

Simon: Ha-ha! Yeah. It's all about interactivity: The idea is that your hand becomes a ringmaster in the circus of interactivity. I used to have this character that was a hand with mustache drawn on, holding a whip. I might have to bring that back.

At the moment, HandCircus is just me, but for Rolando I've been lucky to work with Mikko Walamies, a very talented illustrator from Finland, who has imbued the world of Rolando with great charm and personality. I'd had HandCircus going as a general portfolio and blog covering interactivity for several years, but in June, it transformed into a micro-studio and Rolando is its first title. Its focus is on creating fun, engaging, and above all, very playful experiences — the idea is that for each game, I'll aim to bring together a small team of people that really suit the style and genre.

5. What’s the relationship between ngmoco and HC? When I first heard about Rolando, I assumed it was developed by ngmoco in-house; apparently not.

Simon: I'd been working on a prototype since the SDK came out in March, and had planned to self-publish. I sent the first trailer out in July (about the same time as ngmoco were just starting up) and they got in contact — there was some real synergy between our two companies, and our perspectives on the potential of the iPhone as a games device. I flew out and met them all, and since then we've been working closely together. They've been a huge addition to the process: their experience and support has really helped push Rolando further in terms of quality than I would have been able to alone.

6. EA, among other companies, have promoted its developers as rock stars. If you were a rock star, what instrument would you play?

Simon: I wouldn't play an instrument. I'd just ride around the stage on a tiger

7. What’s the development cycle for one of your apps? Seems that it would be shorter and involve fewer people than for desktop apps. Is that so?

Simon: I was working on Rolando part-time from March until August (evenings and weekends). This changed to full-time in September. I've been taking care of concept, game design and code duties, and Mikko has been taking care of art. We've also had the support of some very talented folk at ngmoco, and licensed music from one of my favorite artists, Mr. Scruff.

8. When did you start developing apps for the iPhone?

Simon: I started playing around with the unofficial SDK late last year but got into it properly in March, when the SDK was released.

9. What was the inspiration behind your company and your decision to develop for the iPhone?

Simon: I'd been inspired by the indie-games scene for a few years (particularly the awesome work from 2D Boy and Jonathan Blow) and all that time I'd been looking for the right platform to create on. The iPhone really blew me away in terms of its potential as a games machine. There's so much opportunity for innovation. Once, they announced the distribution opportunities offered by the App Store--that was enough to convince me that this was a viable platform to develop for.

10. What features do you hope Apple will implement in future versions of the iPhone SDK?

Simon: From a game development perspective, there's very little that might be useful that you can't access. The only thing that I can think of is proper access to the iPod music library. Push-notification will certainly be useful for matchmaking and online gaming.

11. What can developing for the iPhone teach you about developing for desktop PCs?

Simon: Dealing with the limitations of the device has definitely been educational in matters of optimization and efficiency--which apply to any development platform.

12. What compensations do you have to make for the iPhone’s small playing surface?

Simon: As a touch-screen, it’s not a bad size, but I think the main consideration is to minimize the amount of time that your fingers are obscuring the play-area. Using the accelerometer where possible definitely helps this.

13. What’s the biggest advantage of the iPhone other than mobility?

Simon: The convergence of different devices into the iPhone is what really stands out to me. It's the first device that achieves what has been promised by consumer electronics firms for many years: combining a music player, phone, and games machine with decent Web-browsing and E-mail. I no longer need to carry around my phone, iPod and [Nintendo] DS.

14. What do you see the biggest challenge to overcoming the limitations of the iPhone?

Simon: I think the most important thing is that you design for the unique attributes of the iPhone. Don't try to force existing mechanics onto it. While ports might feel cumbersome, original titles and apps designed for the iPhone from the ground up will flourish.

15. What’s on your iPhone?

Simon: Lots of music and a ton of games. Recently I've been playing a lot of Fieldrunner, Spin, Snail Mail and Dr. Awesome. And of course, Rolando!

16. With so many iPhone developers offering free or cheap apps, are you concerned as a developer that you’re lowering the expectations of buyers? The other day, my daughter declined to buy an app for $4.99 citing its 'high cost.' To me that’s well worth it, but I can see where she’s coming from.

Simon: While there is a lot of fluctuation in App Store pricing at the moment, I think that it will settle out to a position where apps at different price-points can happily co-exist. As more software is released that can justify the higher price-points, there will be an established differentiation between free, value and premium apps.

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  • Paco

    price should be lowered

  • Simon Oliver

    What a clever chap! Can we use the things Simon develops even if we don't own an iphone?