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Hand Circus' Simon Oliver

The Rolando developer on PSN, indie power and what's changed about the App Store

When Rolando first hit the App Store in December 2008, the market was a very different place. £5.99 seemed perfectly reasonable for a high-quality title which offered hours of play. Today, that's not something which rings so true. Although titles like Rage and Infinity Blade have proven that higher price points are still possible, smaller developers are often being forced to cut down prices and find new ways of making income.

Rolando developer Hand Circus saw great success with that game, and its sequel, but now its ready to try something new. Here, studio head Simon Oliver talks about what inspired the company to make the step to PSN for its next title, and why it's certainly not finished with iOS just yet.

GamesIndustry.bizYour new project, PSN exclusive Okabu sounds like the sort of project that's really fun to plan.
Simon Oliver

Yeah, it was great fun! After we'd finished Rolando 2, obviously we were sitting there wondering what we were going to do next. We got thinking about what opportunities had opened up as a result of the success of Rolando and we wanted to do something a little bit bigger in scale: certain doors had opened up as a result of that success. So we set out sights a bit higher. We wanted to create a universe, a world, a collection of characters, creatures, lands and environment that we could really grow and nuture and hopefully grow into something really substantial.

So yeah, it was a really fun early stage. We looked at art directions, styles which we thought would work well that weren't really used much elsewhere. We looked at Africa, Africa's got a lot of influence in the colours, the landscapes. We bought this huge book on Africa landscape photography, which was a bible for the early stages of the process. We were going through that, looking at these gorgeous environments, these gorgeous landscapes, unique looks. Even the way they paint signs and buildings - we hadn't really seen that much in other games.

We took an episode of Planet Earth, set in the Okabango delta - which is where Okabu takes its name - the episode showed how, when water first arrives in the delta, there's this dry land where there's almost no life. As the water spreads, seeds begin to grow, plants appear, then insects, then birds, then mammals. It just shows how this spread of water really brings this eco system to life. I think that was one of the kernels of our idea. This idea of life force and nature, the power of nature.

GamesIndustry.bizThe direction of your shift is an interesting one - coming out of a rapidly expanding market into one with much more established competition. What was the drive behind that? Margins? Scope?
Simon Oliver

It was definitely a question of scale - for the project we wanted to launch with, we wanted to make a big splash. Doing something on console felt like a really natural thing. The opportunities presented by PSN, by Xbox Live Arcade - there's an audience there looking for new experiences, unique titles. I think that was an appropriate next step for us. We had a longer time frame available to us, a larger budget available to us. It seemed like, if we were going to do it, now was the time.

At the same time, we absolutely haven't abandoned mobile, we haven't abandoned iOS, it certainly fits into the strategy of what we'd like to do with Okabu. We see this as something which is an ongoing project, and ongoing IP which we want to continue to exploit through various avenues.

So we've tried to plan the technology for the game, the artwork for the game, as something which can be used many, many times going forward. The current climate is so ever-changing, it's so hard to predict, it's good to stay as flexible as possible. So I think by building the technology base and IP that can be adapted easily to whatever opportunity presents itself puts us in good stead to exploit those opportunities and create products which can exist on multiple platforms.

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Dan Pearson avatar

Dan Pearson