Andrew & Nicky, Spilt Milk Studios

Spilt Milk Studios have just released their second iPhone game and after spending some serious time with a preview build I demanded some of their time for an interview. They acquiesced and I caught up with the dynamic duo of studio founder Andrew Smith and his partner for Hard Lines, Nicoll ‘Nicky’ Hunt during that awkward time of limbo between iPhone app submission and release onto the App Store.

Dan: Let’s get right to it, you are about to release Hard Lines onto the iTunes store, can you describe it for us in 3 words?

Andrew: Mad British Snake
Nicky: Witty Inevitable Death

Dan: OK, great, now describe it in more words.

Andrew: The pitch that seems to convey its AMAZINGNESS best to people is that it’s a surprisingly funny mix of Snake and Tron, thrown into a blender with Geometry Wars 2 and Pacman CE: DX. That’s not to say we sat down, mixed them up and came up with the game, it’s just the easiest way to describe it.

You play as Lionel (yes, he’s a line) and you have to guide him to victory over his evil enemies (also lines) and score ridiculous amounts of point collecting Glowy Things ™ across six frankly mental game modes.

Nicky: What Andy said really. The thing I like about the game is that you can be laughing, then swearing, then laughing again in a fraction of a second.

Game submitted, hug time!
Nicky & Andrew hard at work.

Dan: This is the second iPhone game you have developed, how does it compare to traditional game development?

Andrew: I left traditional game development for many reasons, but one of the biggest was getting back to the roots of game design. Allowing a game to evolve and change over the course of its development is really important to finding fun, and doing so without having to stick to some grand plan is a real treat. We’ve never missed an opportunity to inject a much-needed bit of personality into Hard Lines too, and that’s one of the key parts of its appeal. Everybody loves the sense of humour, and you can’t really design that kind of thing from day one.

Nicky: One of the things that used to KILL me about “traditional” development (in my experience, I know that there’s a lot of successful companies where this doesn’t happen) was that any fun idea you had had to go through so many levels of bureaucracy, that you had no hope of getting anything a bit left-field into the game. I think this is a primary reason that some modern games are accused of being soulless. There’s just too many people that can say “no” to an idea. The only person that could say “no” on this game was Andy, and even then there was more chance he’d be too busy laughing and/or running away with the idea to some ridiculous extreme, than to try to veto it.

Dan: Hard Lines obviously draws inspiration from many video game sources, tell us what inspired you to make the game.

Andrew: Essentially Nicoll and I were talking about the Tron movie sequel that came out a few months back now, and how bad the official game cash-in was on the iPhone. We thought – or rather, we knew – we could do better. So Hard Lines was born, way too early on New Year’s Day 2011.

I personally think it’s a bit of a vanity project in some ways. Harking back to the ‘good old days’ of game design, which were a bit crap to be honest. Games tended to be too hard and buggy and weird and niche, but at least they were made by people with passion and it showed through. This is our attempt at that. Also the really addictive high-score chasing stuff that you see in Geometry Wars and the like are appealing, plus the scope of the game meant we’d never get too bogged down in feature creep. It’s a lovely, simple, clean little game.

Nicky: Andy’s origin story is accurate but I remember, many many years ago, I had a freeware Amiga game that was a bit like Tron. I can’t remember what it was called, or even what it really played like, but I did love that game. I think that game (whatever it was) gave me a certain fondness for Tron-style games, but I’ve never come across one that made me feel the same way as when I was 14 years old playing on my battered Amiga. I think Hard Lines is my attempt to make a game that the 14 year old me would be blown away by.

Snake? Snaaaaaake!

Dan: Beyond the standard survival mode you’ve included a variety of different ways to play Hard Lines, Gauntlet being my personal favourite, are there any modes that ended up not working out?

Andrew: We had plans for tons of modes (and still have them written down so they may resurface sometime) but the ones we actually stuck in we managed to tweak and reshape until they were fun as hell. The one that had the most tweaks was definitely Time Attack though.

Nicky: Yeah, Time Attack was definitely the hardest to get right, and even though I think it’s ace now, I’d be lying if I said it was my favourite. Snake mode had a lot of work done on it too, I love that Lionel’s personality has a chance to come through in it now. Of course, the cool thing about it being an iPhone game is that we can go back to the shelved original ideas and put them in as future updates.

Dan: Does it not seem odd that a white square pixel leaving a trail of blue pixels is instantly recognisable as some kind of light bike?

Andrew: I think Tron must have hit on some kind of genetic memory in nerds and geeks the world over, because you’re right, it’s weird but it does! Though we’ve distanced ourselves a touch with the all the chit-chat and quips in the game.

Nicky: Yeah, as the game developed we moved further and further away from the idea of “bikes”, and into the more vague notion of “lines”, but that connection is always there for some reason. Thinking about it we could have got another load of jokes out of that 🙂

Dan: How did it feel to win a BAFTA for your work on Flock!?

Andrew: It was such an honour, a total highlight of my career so far. It was a real team effort though, everyone deserved the award Flock! got, and as the first game we’d made as a studio I think it helped us put our flag in the sand. I still miss the guys there, but I’m very happy I’ve moved onwards and upwards. I’m much happier being captain of my own ship, if I’m honest.

The BAFTA award winning FLOCK!

Dan: You also worked with Capcom on the HD remake of Final Fight, the arcade display filter options were a master stroke, your work?

Andrew: It’s funny, the whole arcade cabinet view was such an obviously good idea at the time it’s hard to remember who exactly said it first. But as soon as it was an idea, out there, nobody could deny how cool it would be to frame the action in a lovingly and accurately rendered arcade cabinet. I’d defy anyone to ever create a better Final Fight remake, so proud of the work we did. We were all big fans of the game too, which helped us geek out when we got access to scans of the original artwork and whatnot – the stuff that made it into the unlock gallery in the final game.

Dan: Hard Lines is packed with quotes and funny phrases, did they come naturally throughout development or did you need to set time aside to get them all written?

Andrew: It’s a bit of an aberration that. We were stuck trying to think of a way to tutor the player and it kinda morphed over one caffeine-fueled hour of development into one of my favourite features. The whole game is full of character as the lines chat and gently mock the player, and Snake mode is made infinitely more fun because Lionel talks to the player constantly. We both contributed a lot of lines, while the first implementation just saw me bash out a few hundred words and quips on the fly. There’s a bit more info on the whole thing in our weekly dev diary actually (latest one available)

Nicky: I used the quips stuff as a great way of winding down after a mammoth coding session, or when I was struggling to solve a difficult problem. There’s something fantastically liberating about putting your brain into the frame of mind of a slightly neurotic yellow line with a penchant for terrible jokes and an intense hatred for his own kind (except for the lovely Pink Line of course).

Dan: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us guys and best of luck with the launch of your awesome new game. One last thing though, in Hard Lines 2 could you have one of the “Lines” say “Ready Up!” at the start of a match?

Andrew: Thanks, it’s been great chatting about the project – tell you what, why don’t we add it in the first update instead!

Dan: Awesome.

You can grab Hard Lines now via iTunes, and catch up with Spilt Milk Studios on their website, Twitter and Facebook.

Kill them, kill them all!







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