Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with Canadian developers working on Apple Arcade! We’re excited to talk to Canadians working in the industry on some of the hottest titles coming to Apple’s new subscription service, which launched last month and already features dozens of games.
Our first piece is with Andrew Schimmel, a producer at Snowman, who’s studio has worked on Alto’s Adventure and Odyssey, Skate City, and Where Cards Fall.
Over the next month, we’ll be highlighting talent within the city and around the country and we hope you stick around and learn more about some of the minds leading the mobile industry right now!
Bobby: Skate City has touches of Tony Hawk Pro Skater. What was the thought process behind that? What was it about the series that inspired Skate City?
Andrew: Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, we grew up with Tony Hawk Pro Skater and then the Skate series came out. Both are awesome experiences but so different and both were awesome experiences. Growing up, playing any game I think influences you quite a bit. But when we first started talking to Agens (a Norwegian Studio) who we partnered with to develop Skate City and we connected on a lot of those sorts of fundamental levels, growing up and being skaters, playing Tony Hawk and looking at other skateboarding games.
But we wanted to bring something that was a little bit more unique to the genre. So we wanted to sort of emulate a more real-world authentic experience that felt more akin to how it feels to ride around your neighbourhood streets or hit up a skate park and just focusing on your tricks and sort of preparing and executing them and feeling really smooth. It’s like when the pros perform, we wanted really bridge the gap between watching a pro and then the feeling of actually skating. So, it’s a little bit different from Tony Hawk and but the combo subsystem is definitely inspired by the series when we were thinking about the design and how to implement some of the challenges.
Bobby: Where Cards Fall has the ability to tell a deep story without leaning heavily on dialogue or text. Were there are any hurdles in getting your story to come through? This is a game on the opposite spectrum of Skate City.
Andrew: Yeah, I think that sort of diametric opposition speaks really well to the variety of games that are in Apple Arcade. You know, you can play a game in almost any genre and they’re all really good entries. With Where Cards Fall specifically, the creative director, Sam Rosenthal at The Game Band, began to really focus for long time on “How are we going to get players to connect with this unspoken story and the feeling from those scenes and leave it up to some interpretation but also to tell that story directly.” I think that’s always a really hard and exciting challenge when developers try to shoot that out in a game.
They spent a lot of time in the studio sort of recording their own language for the game. That’s like a really cool feature that we put a lot of resources into so we could convey feelings and that sense of a conversation or a fight with a friend from high school. We were looking at emotional touchstone moments with a language that can be accessible to anyone from any different background. I think if you only focus on one language you can kind of run into trouble. So we focused on gestures and body language that felt universal for people from many different backgrounds. These games are actually available in over 150 different countries right. So you really have to consider that when you’re thinking about your game provided especially if you’re telling a story that you want to be relatable.
Bobby: Having launched two very different games on Apple Arcade, have you been able to gauge any cross-pollination between the two? Have you heard any stories of players following the studio through the platform and finding one game because of the other’s success?
Andrew: We got a ton of really awesome responses from fans of Snowman in general. A lot of people who play the Alto games really resonated with a lot of people and you can see some of the DNA and fit into that game or that person’s sensibility being due to a similar design and being in a similar genre. I think the reaction can be pretty unique between games. A lot of people are saying a lot of really great things about Apple Arcade in general and how you fall within a game. So we can get some people that this game (Skate City) is awesome and this game (Where Cards Fall) is awesome. I don’t think we’ve had too many responses that hit both games but the reviews are when both games are mentioned and that is really awesome.
Bobby: Speaking of Alto, is there any particular reason that you guys decided not to do another game specifically for Apple Arcade?
Andrew: Yeah. Where Cards Fall and Skate City both have been in development for a really long time. I know multiple years for both games and in different parts of the world, so we’ve been invested in those titles for a number of years and we always knew they were going to be premium experiences.
That was really important to the studio and those are the kind of games we gravitate towards the most and the ones that we want to push and help branch out. When Apple Arcade came along and the opportunity to explore this new arena that was dedicated to just those special and unique games that really push the avenues of what people can expect from that kind of game on a mobile device or on Apple TV. It was super exciting so we knew that the first opportunity we got when we heard about the service was like “This is going to be a perfect place for something like Where Cards Fall and Skate City.”
As for the Alto series, we always like to leave the door open to expanding that series and you know there are always things you want to keep trying to work on but at the same time, it’s really exciting to try to work on new things. For the moment, we’re focusing on a couple of other games we have in the works. The studio considers each title uniquely when it comes to release and the avenues that we come out on.
We’d love to continue to be a part of Apple Arcade, it’s a wicked platform to sort of push and see what people expect from games. Apple Arcade will change the way gamers expect games. For a long time, the expectation is that games are free, but you get hit with all these paywalls and opportunities to spend money in games and I think that can break the experience a lot of the time. Having a place where you can go to get a full experience and immersive worlds is awesome. As a player, I would leap the opportunity for Apple Arcade and as a developer, it’s really cool to be in that space where you can try to push things.
Bobby: I agree with you 100 percent. I was going to ask you about how you felt about Apple Arcade because it’s a premium experience you’re not dealing with ads, you’re not dealing with wait times, you get the game, and you get the experience and then you can move on to the next one. How does Apple Arcade challenge you as a mobile developer? Would you say it’s a little bit different than developing for consoles?
Andrew: I think anytime you’re developing in any arena, you’re always you have to set constraints for yourself depending on your resources, and the overall vision for the game length and content. So that’s always different whether it be a console or mobile or Apple Arcade that way you can jump between those experiences or you play on the go or at home in a more comfortable situation on the couch, which is really cool. I think that’s a new area for gamers that it is interesting to see how it will evolve.
When we’re developing for a mobile title and for Apple Arcade, generally you have to sort of consider the fact that you where you’re going to release the game. With Skate City, we knew we wanted to have controller support and we wanted to have the touch screen. Making sure both of those experiences make you feel at home is crucial for the game. Most developers like the challenge and being able to figure it out, reaching a wider audience.
Apple Arcade helps not only because of the price point but the quality experiences you get for the price. As a developer, opening that door to that kind of audience is exciting and makes thinking about premium titles much more lucrative. Knowing that Apple has over1.4 billion active devices and thinking about that size of the audience for a game and be able to create something bold and take risks is really cool.
I think most developers would be into figuring out how that can work to reach such a wide audience. And I think that’s another really exciting part of Apple Arcade. I think that’s my point. So when people go to look at the service they can really see the pace of quality experiences that are there.
Bobby: Yeah, I agree with you. The past couple of years I’ve avoided the App Store for games in particular just because it’s hard to find something you want to invest your time into. With Apple Arcade now, it gives people that have an ability to find something that’s worth sinking an hour into a day while you’re on the couch.
Andrew: I think a lot of people have that experience and that the conversation around mobile titles has been dominated by that. I think it’s sort of an unfortunate side effect that’s with the crazy success that these huge titles have with a Freemium approach or the Free to Play approach, which you know, there are really cool games take advantage of that and it isn’t a knock against that experience.
When that started to become the trend, players see games get cheaper and cheaper and eventually then free. So they just think that it is super lucrative for everyone and financially rewarding if you just put an ad in, or you have in-app purchases. But, the reality is that in order for those things to work, your game has to have a massive audience. So it can be really risky for developers to sort of jump in the arena and try something new. I think that’s why those grooves can become really deep and that sort of pressure because for developers having that arena where you’re surrounded by just premium content and developers trying new things and in many different genres is really cool. I can’t wait to see what other people make and how it keeps getting pushed.
Bobby: With Apple Arcade, are there any titles you’re playing right now and stand out to you?
Andrew: Early on, we had a lot of different experiences and I’ve talked to people in the press and other people in the industry and it’s like, there are so many different things available. You almost get that feeling of when you dive into Netflix and you’re looking to find something and you’re scrolling around. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing, the more you hop around, the more you’re sort of pulled in by different stuff that people are doing. And once you search around for a while, you’ll come back to things like Sayonara Wild Hearts. I beat it with my girlfriend the other night, we just play like from beginning to end and it was a really cool game. They are doing really cool things with the camera and like it was a simple, accessible game but like there’s still challenge and the way they mix mediums was really cool.
I really like Grindstone, I don’t usually play those types of games but, I like the animation which is super tight. And the way they introduce mechanics and like the way enemies challenge you. Shinsekai: Into the Depths is also really cool. I could go on and on! There are so many options and great games for people to check out.
Bobby: Are there any particular genres your studio would want to work on in the future?
Andrew: Good question. I think for us at Snowman, we always try to do something a little bit different each time. I think that’s really exciting when I see other studios that continually break the mould or they take more risks – that’s really inspiring. So, you know it’s something we try to consider. Every sort of idea is per annum by consideration. We have a lot of games that are in development right now, so I can’t talk about too many of them but some of them are in an established genre that you might say “Oh I recognize this type of gameplay,” but we put our own unique spin on it and others that we’re looking to push the expectations of what a game could and should be by blending genres. That is what we’re after, and you see it in our games.
I spoke to Andrew about how Apple Arcade is not only affordable but accessible thanks to the variety of hardware it is available on whether it is on an iPad, iPhone, Mac, or Apple TV. Next, Andrew and I agree that the hardware is like a console experience where you can get your controller and use it for a lot of these games. At the same time, with touch control, you get a similar experience that offers another way to play games like Skate City.
Andrew spoke about his experience at the Snowman office where they updated their Apple TV to iOS 13. Instantly, they had access to a console with a ton of games, something you never see when new hardware launches. With Apple Arcade, so many games arrived last month and so many games are launching weekly, it’s going to take some time to find what really stands out but we’re having a blast with Skate City and Where Cards Fall.
Stick around, we’ve got more interviews with Canadian developers working on Apple Arcade. We hope to shed light on some of the developers and what they like about Apple’s new subscription service, as well as what they hope to see in the future.