Published on October 19th, 2015 | by Patrick Garde0
Interview with Jacob Stevens of Riverman Media
We had a chance to talk to Jacob Stevens of Riverman Media, a small independent game development studio. We recently reviewed their iPhone and iPad game, The Executive, and gave it a glowing review. Hence, we wanted to know more details about the developer. We discussed their history, dreams, how is it working with a family member, expectations, game engine they use, pricing, etc.
Could you share with us the history of Riverman Media?
My brother Paul and I founded the company in 2005. He was beginning college and I had just graduated. Both of us had been interested in making games for as long as we could remember, and finally our skills were starting to reach the point where we could create marketable products. Our first project was a casual PC game called “Cash Cow” that was based on a concept our good friend Tim Winsky of twinskygames.com came up with. After Cash Cow we worked a bit more on PC, then the Wii, before starting iOS development.
How did you arrive at the name?
It’s a secret to everyone! But if you examine our influences, you might be able to figure it out…
Did you dream of becoming a game developer growing up?
Absolutely. I seriously cannot remember a time when I did not want to make games. From the very first time I played Super Mario Bros. on NES, I knew that making games was my calling.
What are some of the games that served as an inspiration?
Paul and I are both products of the golden age of Nintendo. Our earliest influences are the NES Mario and Zelda games, followed by SNES classics like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. We of course played 3D games when they started taking over the console industry, but the bedrock of our inspiration is NES and SNES.
Could you describe how is it working with your brother, Paul?
It’s fantastic! I’m the artist and musician, and he’s the programmer. I’m typically the abstract “high concept” guy, so it’s my job to come up with the basic characters, mood, and scenario. He’s more nuts-and-bolts oriented, focusing on creating refined mechanics and level design. There’s a great balance between our approaches that works out well.
The Executive is the 9th game under your belt. How did you come about with the gameplay idea?
The gameplay concept originally came from Paul’s observation that there really weren’t any games that captured the spirit of classic Kung Fu movies like those made by Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. That is, a combination of rapid fight sequences and outrageous acrobatic stunts. With the spirit of those movies in mind, we spent over a year and a half prototyping the controls and mechanics that we felt adequately captured the fast-paced and intense feel of those movies.
The Executive is arguably one of the best iPhone and iPad games we’ve played this year (we even rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars on our review). Did you expect to receive a warm reception from critics (93/100 metascore rating on Metacritic) and players alike?
Not at all! The Executive was, without a doubt, our most difficult development project ever. As I said earlier, we spent months and months of trial and error (mostly error) just trying to figure out the controls. Consequently, the development cycle took about three times longer than we expected. Because of all these challenges, I didn’t always have much confidence that we were creating a solid product. Luckily, Paul helped maintain the focus and vision, and I’m thrilled at the positive reception The Executive has received.
What are the pros and cons of being a small and self-funded independent game development studio?
I wouldn’t trade this job for anything, but there are certainly challenges. On the upside, we get to do whatever we want all day, create whatever we want, and market it the way we want to. We’ve got an unbelievable amount of freedom. On the other hand, the competition is intense, and each release is subject to a terrifying amount of luck. What if we happen to release a game on the same day that an Infinity Blade game is launched? Our game, which we could have easily spent over a year creating, might be totally lost in the shuffle, making it difficult to pay the bills.
You focus on the art of 2D game making. What game engine do you use?
Paul created our engine from scratch using OpenGL. The only external library we use is Box2D for physics.
Are we going to see your games on Android or do you intend to focus on the iOS platform? Why?
We are working with other companies to release Android ports. Being a two-person team, it’s work we aren’t able to take on ourselves, but we certainly want Android gamers to be able to play our games.
The price of The Executive is $4.99. How did you decide on the pricing?
Before each launch we do a survey of games with similar scope and similar audience, and choose the price accordingly.
What’s the future like for Riverman Media?
Good question! We’d like to know that ourselves. Now that we’ve been working with touchscreens for several years, we’d like to get back to making games that use a controller. Maybe something on Apple TV? Who knows!
Lastly, any final words to our readers?
This is a fantastic time to be a gamer, with so many types of games available, from Triple-A console games with 100-hour playtimes, to free mobile games that can be played in a few seconds. There’s a place in the world for all sorts of gaming experiences for every type of player. Please just remember, the types of games that get made tomorrow are the ones that are earning money today, so vote with your dollars! If any of those dollars happen to go toward a Riverman Media game, we sincerely thank you and can’t wait to show you what we have in store for you next!