Published on November 1st, 2015 | by Patrick Garde0
Interview with Randy Smith of Tiger Style Games
We had a chance to chat with Randy Smith of Tiger Style Games, developer of the game Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon. We recently named its puzzle game as one of the best iPhone, iPad and Android games of August 2015, hence, we wanted to learn more about the developer behind the title. We discussed about their history, working with industry veterans, game inspirations, easiest and hardest platform to work with, their future, and more.
Could you tell us a little bit about Tiger Style Games?
I founded Tiger Style in 2008 after leaving a long career in the mainstream games industry, most recently working with Steven Spielberg on a collaboration out of Electronic Arts Los Angeles. Tiger Style’s mission is to create non-violent, innovative, engaging, personal experiences that reach a wide audience, not limited to hardcore gamers with dedicated, expensive home consoles (which was the norm at the time). We released 2012’s Waking Mars, an indie hit that was on a few Game of the Year lists, and 2009’s Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor which scooped up a large number of awards, including the Indie Game Festival Mobile Game of the Year.
How did the name surface?
I wanted the company to sound like it could be an art collective or an indie rock band. I didn’t want it to sound like it necessarily had to be a game company. I’m the year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, and adding “Style” on the end gave it a halo of connotations which I like, ranging from fashion, to martial arts, to hip hop.
What is like working with another industry veteran in David Kalina?
David Kalina has been on board and a driving force in Tiger Style since day one, so he very quickly became a 50/50 partner with me. His area of expertise is technology and mine is design, but we overlap quite a bit. As just one example, we collaborate on gameplay and production.
When did you decide to become a game developer?
I think I have always been a game designer. I grew up with video games (PONG was widely released more or less when I was born, Nintendo 8-bit when I was in grade school, and so forth), and as a family we played card games, board games, dice, real world games and so on. I remember making my own board games and modding the rules of card games as some of my earlier memories. That said, I decided to pursue a career as a game designer as I was finishing up my college degree, which was in computer science, psychology, and media arts: basically the best possible substitution for a game degree before they existed.
What are the games that inspired you?
I have wide and varied taste in games. When I started my career I was really into what we now call the classics: System Shock, X-Com, MarioKart, Rogue, SpaceQuest, Tie Fighter, Zelda, and lots more. I find that a lot of newer games are still building on the successful concepts established by these games, which limits my own personal enjoyment of them, although I’m glad that these concepts are reaching modern audiences. And I’m really happy to see so many innovative games and interactions coming from the indie games explosion of the past several years.
Lately, I keep coming back to the Ultima series as one of my all-time favorites. I’m deeply inspired by the thorough and economic world building, the ease and speed of play a bunch of at-the-time groundbreaking design innovations, and of course the ambition to make a game about values and principles, not just adventures and violence.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent video game studio?
Being independent means making your own decisions and sticking by them. No one is pressuring us to put ads in our games, to add violence, to dumb down our deep content and wild experiments. I wouldn’t trade that artistic freedom for anything. That said, when you work for someone else the success or failure of the business is their problem, not yours. You can go home with your paycheck and turn off, whereas a business owner is always on, always needing to attend to the health of the company in all respects.
Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon is your third game under Tiger Style Games. Why did the sequel for the award winning Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor come six years later?
We prize creativity and innovation above all else, so we are naturally drawn toward experimenting and new concepts. For example, we aspire to make a game that really feels like you’re interacting with other characters, not just with pre-authored conversation trees, and the story emerges from those interactions. But our experiments along those lines aren’t at the stage where they will produce a game that we can sell.
More importantly, we hadn’t explicitly ever planned on sequeling Spider (or Waking Mars, for that matter), but we had a few inspirational moments and productive brainstorms and quickly got attached to those ideas. For example, we knew we wanted the game to use your real life location to match the time and weather in the game with the real time and weather. And I knew I wanted to find a real life secret society to base the game’s fiction on instead of making one up. We really liked this idea of blurring the lines between game and reality, and Spider seemed the perfect vehicle for it, since the first game already played with the separation between character and player.
It has a 91/100 metascore rating on Metacritic and we’ve named it as one of the best iPhone, iPad and Android games of August 2015. Did you expect to receive the same type of positive reaction from critics?
We’re very pleased by all the critical acclaim and glad that people appreciate what we’re doing. One can never expect that, but we certainly worked hard to make the game as good as possible, and it feels great that is recognized.
Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon is priced at $4.99. How did you arrive at the price?
Waking Mars sold quite well at $4.99, and Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon is a bigger, more polished, more fully featured production in every respect, so we felt it should be at least the same price. It’s very hard to price games, however, especially on the mobile platforms where Free is the standard price. I feel that most supposedly free games make money rather underhandedly, whereas we just wanted to give people a single, complete experience all at once in exchange for a finite, small amount of money.
The game is available in different platforms. What’s the easiest and hardest platform to work with?
All of the platforms have their strengths and limitations. Android has extreme fragmentation, for example in terms of screen resolutions and aspect ratios, and it’s hard to design for all of them. Older iOS devices have to be optimized for performance, compared to, say, top of the line PCs, so you’ll see graphical artifacts on those. But it’s really just a normal part of game development. I’m happy that we really devoted ourselves to making each platform as good as it can be. Steam players using controllers have more precise controls, but nothing beats the feel of swiping your spider around on a touch screen. It just required us to make sure we got the best out of each platform.
What’s next for Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon?
We have pretty active communities delving the deeper parts of the game. The leaderboards have gotten competitive as players realize the harder tricks for earning high scores. There are some active forum threads interpreting the story, which involves multiple characters and interwoven timelines, so I’m impressed they’ve been able to figure it out. And if you didn’t know, The Knights of the Buried Chambers are a real secret society, and if you research them you’ll be able to uncover some of the deepest secrets in the game. There’s a community that has been working on that for a while. One thing that’s impressed me is that they’ve dug up more history than I was able to when I researched the Knights to make the game!
What’s the future like for Tiger Style Games?
Spider is very well reviewed by critics and player alike, and we’re very grateful for that. However, it did much less in business than our prior games, so much so that the Tiger Style full-timers have had to take contract work. We’ll reconvene in a few months to discuss our next move, but the market for independent games is very bleak right now, so we’re currently not seeing how another medium-to-big sized game can make back what it costs to create. So who knows what the answer will be!
Any final words to our readers?
Thanks, Randy, for taking time to answer our questions.