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With its new mobile platform Moai, Zipline Games is bridging the gaps between Android, iOS and the cloud

When Crimson: Steam Pirates was released In August, column inches were largely devoted to Jordan Weisman, its legendary creative lead, and the fact that it was the first game released through Bungie's indie initiative, Aerospace. Less discussed was the role of Moai, Zipline Games' innovative new product for simple cross-platform mobile development.

Weisman says Crimson: Steam Pirates wouldn't have been the same without it, and Zipline Games' CEO Todd Hooper isn't about to argue. In this interview, we talk to Hooper about the future of Moai, the importance of 3D to mobile games, the "hype" behind HTML5, and the value of open-source.

GamesIndustry.biz When did work on Moai start?
Todd Hooper

Patrick [Meehan, CTO] actually started development on Moai as an open source project a couple of years ago at a previous company.

GamesIndustry.biz The demand for this kind of product must have been quite different at that point, and the mobile market has changed a lot in that time. Has Moai changed, too?
Todd Hooper

Patrick ran a very successful game development studio at Groundspeak, and they had a top 5 app on iPhone and Android. I think he felt that it was multiple silos of development: so you have one team working on iOS, one team working on Android, another team working on the back-end systems, all working with different tools and different languages.

The goal of Moai was to democratise that somewhat, and bring people to use one language - which is Lua - both on the front-end and also on the back-end. You want the same guy who is writing the front-end code to be able to go and look at the back-end, and say, 'okay, if I'm making this change, if the player's uploading this data, if this content is coming down to the device, what does that code look like on both sides?' You're staying in the same zone; you're not changing languages between different platforms all the time.

What that does is really open up the whole game development process, because anyone can look at any piece of technology and understand what it's doing. Lua is reasonably easy to understand, so you get animators and producers and artists who are able to contribute to the game, and you're able to iterate very quickly.

The proof of that is Crimson: Steam Pirates, published by Bungie Aerospace recently. There was an article written by one of the developers that came out last month, about how 7 people built that game in 12 weeks, which is incredibly fast. Part of that is to do with Jordan [Weisman] and the skill of his team, but part of it is the fact that 99 per cent of it is written in Lua.

Before, you could pretty much say you were going to do iOS and think about Android later. You can't really do that any more

GamesIndustry.biz When the mobile scene exploded after the launch of iOS the idea that mobile development was easy and accessible was common, but Moai seems to address problems that haven't been widely recognised and discussed.
Todd Hooper

We think so... We think that Moai is more than just a tool; we think of it as a platform, where you host your own cloud infrastructure with us - your data is run in the Moai cloud - and then you build the front-end with the Moai SDK. Or maybe not; maybe you use a different front-end. You don't necessarily have to use our SDK.

The thing that we think has really become painful now is that iOS and Android are evenly split. Before, you could pretty much say you were going to do iOS and think about Android later. You can't really do that any more.

Part of the story of Moai is, I've got this team and we're going to build a game using Lua from the ground up. I'm going to put my best C++ engineers on critical parts of the game, and all of the content creation is going to be done by more junior people using Lua. When the game is ready, I'm gong to move those C++ engineers on to the next game. If I'm creating additional content for the first game I don't have to drag those experts back into it, because the Lua scripters can basically do that work. They can create new levels, they can create DLC.

GamesIndustry.biz We're almost at the point now where choosing Android over iOS doesn't feel like a roll of the dice any more. And with the rate at which Android is growing, it's not clear which platform will be dominant in a few years time.
Todd Hooper

Exactly. Our strategy is that you've got to be on a lot of platforms, and if you talk to most folks - I just got back from San Francisco yesterday, we're based in Seattle - everyone is looking at how you can do Android and iOS at the same time. There was a meeting at Google on Tuesday night and that was the sole topic.

There are other technologies out there. Unity is a great tool. It's sort of like adopting a religion - you've got to eat the special food, and send your kids to the school.

GamesIndustry.biz Yes. I was at the Unite conference this year and there is an endearingly cultish vibe to the place.
Todd Hooper

Our approach is almost the exact opposite of Unity: it's minimalist, the SDK is open-source. A lot of developers prefer the open source approach because if there's something they want to differentiate, or add, or improve they can get under the hood. With Unity or other solutions you're waiting for them to do that.

And also, 3D is an interesting question. I mean, a lot of the Unity value is around 3D, but it's pretty clear to me that 3D is not really critical on mobile in the market. Maybe 10 per cent of the games have got some 3D functionality, but this is not the console market - these are different sorts of games. In many cases the 3D thing is total overkill for a lot of folks.

The other thing that's interesting is that a lot of people are talking about HTML5. There's a lot of hype around that, and my feel at this point is that's exactly what it is: hype. I mean, the HTML5 guys have a lot of conferences, but let's see some games [laughs].

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Matthew Handrahan

Editor-in-Chief

Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.

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