Published on April 19th, 2015 | by Patrick Garde0
Interview with Foxhole Games, Developer of Blokshot Revolution
After reviewing Blokshot Revolution, we wanted to get to know the game developer behind the iOS game. Hence, we decided to interview the team of Foxhole Games composed of Steve Bristow (@stuka1919), Tim Jones, and Tom Rigby. We had a chance to discuss their history, a typical day for them, challenges as an indie developer, game engines they use, long-term goals, and their future.
Hi! Could you share a bit of your background?
Steve: My name is Steve Bristow. I started out at Eidos shortly before the arrival of the first Playstation. Then, over the course of many, many years, have worked at Black Cactus, Pivotal, Rockstar and now Rebellion.
Tim: My name is Tim Jones. My early years are clouded in mystery, but I have spent the last couple of decades working at Rebellion in many roles including Artist, Game Designer, Writer, Producer and currently Head of Creative.
When did you start Foxhole? How did you arrive at the name?
Tim Jones, Tom Rigby and I officially started Foxhole at the end of 2014. The name came about from a gruelling process of writing a massive list, arguing about it in a pub then sort of giving up and picking the name we least hated. As always with this sort of thing, it’s become the correct name over time.
Note that we reserve the right to tell a different story about the origin of the name whenever we are asked.
What is a typical day for a game developer like you?
Steve: I work full-time for Rebellion so the Foxhole stuff has to fit into the spare time I have. Luckily for me, Rebellion is a very cool employer, we are an independent studio (albeit bigger than most) and the indie spirit is at the heart of everything we do and my bosses have been very accommodating about my extra-curricular activities. I’m lucky enough to have very few typical days, we have several projects on the go at once and I’m often called to get involved in whatever has priority. We experiment a lot here at Rebellion and that tends to keep the challenges fresh and the energy high.
Tim: Likewise, my working days are devoted to Rebellion so I approach my Foxhole work in much the same way that Bruce Wayne tackles his nocturnal vigilantism: I have a masked alter ego. Also, a very patient and understanding wife.
Why did you choose to get into mobile game development?
Steve: I’ve mainly worked on PC and console over my career. Because of the massive budgets and commitment required by that type of development, it can be difficult to innovate or experiment and I’d often find myself poring through libraries of free Flash and Java games looking for inspiration. These games were often scaled and structured like my first love; classic arcade games. When mobile started to become a viable platform, it seemed – because of the relatively low entry requirements for indie devs – to be a perfect outlet for these novel, focused game mechanics and that’s very appealing to me.
What are the challenges you’ve faced as an independent game developer?
Very few to be honest. We are very lucky to have an awesome and supportive employer so we don’t have to borrow money or shill for investment. Foxhole is a spare time hobby that we do because it’s fun and because we love what we do for a living enough to fill our spare time with it too.
Blokshot Revolution is your first game under Foxhole Games. Did you expect to receive a favorable response from critics (82/100 metascore on Metacritic) and other reviewers (we rated it 4 stars out of 5)?
Our expectations for Blokshot were precisely zero. We knew the game was fun and was designed to fit the target platform well but there are thousands of great games on the App Store that never bubble up to the surface. In that respect, we got lucky. A cool guy called Pete from the Touch Arcade forum found the game and said nice things about it and the ball started rolling from there. The response to Blokshot has been fantastic, very gratifying and inspiring.
Which game engine and other tools did you use for Blokshot Revolution?
Steve: Blokshot is made using Yo-Yo’s Game Maker package. I did the coding (which ought to give hope to people starting out because I’m a terrible coder) and design, Tim did art, audio and design. Tom’s helped out with design and fixing my crappy code. As for the external stuff like the music and art; that’s Tim’s realm…
Tim: All the art is created in Adobe Photoshop, and the sound effects and music are made using a wide range of iPad apps. Korg Gadget is incredible for building musical ideas and even making entire tracks because it contain so many different and powerful modules. GlitchBreaks, SeekBeats, Sunrizer, Rebirth and Grain Science are all useful in their specific areas – iVoxel is worth a special mention for transforming my voice into the soothing robotic tones you hear in the game! Auria is where I do most of my final mixes, sequencing and mastering. Steve does most of his music composition in NanoStudio but I have been known to take the results of that and remix it through my own convoluted processes…
How did you come up with the gameplay mechanic for Blokshot Revolution?
Steve: We set ourselves a general brief of making a one-touch game. I had a vague idea about smashing a castle wall and the catapult thing gave me a reasonably novel mechanic for that. Tim refined it into a vertical arcade game and it was one of those satisfying eureka moments where the game in its entirety suddenly appeared.
What are your long-term goals as a game developer?
Steve: To keep enjoying my job(s). To innovate where we can. To entertain people. To shake Shigeru Miyamoto’s hand. To get an arcade cabinet made of one of our games.
Tim: To continue making games that we want to play and hopefully other people will continue to enjoy them too.
Were there any particular games you’ve played before that served as an inspiration?
Steve: It’s not easy to be specific about that. There are probably hundreds of games that amalgamate into a general stockpile of inspiration. I think the core mechanic of Blokshot is pretty original but its purpose isn’t particularly. It obviously leans on Bust-A-Move, Pang, Breakout, Asteroids, Space Invaders and a bunch of others. There’s a fantastic game called Orbital by BitForge ( http://www.orbital-game.com/) that I admire very much and am jealous of its clarity and the irreducibility of its design. That was an inspiration in those terms at least.
Tim: Yeah, we could go on and list so many games but it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact inspirations. We knew, as soon as the first prototype came together that aesthetically, we wanted to maintain the abstract purity of the blocks and a simple spinning ball to throw at them. It felt like a game that technically could have existed on the earliest game systems and plausibly sat alongside Pong.
What games do you still play today?
Steve: I’ve been playing the x-com games in their various forms for many years. The command and conquer games just continue to scratch an itch the other games can’t reach. Oh lots of stuff. I’m totally genre agnostic and perfectly happy to play arty indie soul searching stuff or mainstream sports games. If it’s fun, I’m in.
Tim: I love games of all genres. As a snapshot, the games that I am currently playing are: Quake Live, Alien Isolation, Radial-G: Racing Revolved (on Oculus VR), Hotline Miami 2, Auro and Pocket Mine 2.
How do you improve your skill set in game development?
Steve: Play everything. Making games is hard, if someone has made a game, they care about it. Even if you’re not interested on the surface, you’ll be surprised how often something of value arises in almost every game you play, at least as a new entry in your ‘what not to do’ list.
Look outside of games for inspiration – everyone’s into films and comics, that’s a given. Look at industrial product design, architecture, advertising, poetry, civic engineering. Game fodder and new design principles exist everywhere.
Apart from that; practice. Just make stuff. Everyone can do it for virtually nothing these days and Steam, the web and mobile platforms offer routes to your users that have transformed the industry for indies.
Any advice for people who are planning to get into this industry?
Steve: If you want a job, you have got to get a portfolio together. There’s no value in turning up at an interview with some ideas and a conviction that your League of Legends skills qualify you. Make stuff, finish it, publish it, get people playing it and critiquing it. There are so many incredible (and often free) tools out there that there’s really no excuse for thinking that you need anyone else’s help to express your ideas. The reality is that there’s an awful lot more to making games than having a good idea. You’ve got to prove you can see it through and overcome the many obstacles that stand between concept and release for any game, no matter how small.
If you’re going indie, start with something simple that you can finish and release. Don’t set out to make an epic, generation-spanning RPG that’ll take you years to finish, you’ll get overwhelmed and dispirited. Stay focussed, learn to love feedback from players even (maybe especially) if it’s negative. Check constantly that you’re having fun making a game because if you’re not, it’ll show in the final product.
What’s next for Foxhole Games?
Steve: We’ve got a couple of games lined up which we are optimistic will be out this year. No grand plans really, like I say, it’s a hobby for us and we’ll keep doing it for as long as it stays fun.
Any final words to our readers?
Steve: Thank you for reading, for playing and for supporting the games industry in all its forms.
To get updated with Foxhole Games, be sure to like their Facebook account.