Dev Talk - Interview with Underground Pixel

Every day hundreds of apps and games are released on the App Store. It could be the popularity of iPhones and iPads, the rise of mobile gaming or the stories of those who became millionaires overnight. Today I talk with an indie developer that just launched its first game - Holiday Havoc - to find out the challenges newcomers face when entering the iOS market.

Kevin Drew is the visible head of Underground Pixel, a small team with members spread around the world with a strong passion for pixelated graphics and old-school gaming experiences.

First of all, could you introduce yourself and your role at Underground Pixel to the readers? 

My position is the manager/PR. I do all of the brainwork and come up with 99% of all ideas and game concepts. I also do all PR work, promoting the games during development and after release on Twitter and contact all review sites with press releases. 

Do you have any background in software development? How did you get involved with iOS?

I bought my first iPod Touch back in March 2009 and have been an avid gamer ever since. I had hopes since around that time to develop iPhone games but had difficulty at first. I once reviewed games at several review sites before leaving in pursuit of making my own iPhone games. After about a year and a half of failure, I finally gathered my team and we were ready to start developing retro games for the iOS platform.

Can you tell us about your latest release?

Our latest (and first) release is called Holiday Havoc. It comes out on Thursday, December 1st and is a seriously retro holiday pick-up-and-play game. You play as Santa, and unfortunately all of the toys are coming to life and are bent on stealing all of the presents. You can't let them leave the factory with the toys or Christmas will be ruined. 

How did you come up with the gameplay concept and the mechanics?

Much of the time I spend working on this game was on the brainstorming. I thought for a long time about each and every detail. The name was especially difficult to pin down. We had many other trashed ideas before the final one came down on paper, including Santa's Last Stand, Christmas Chaos, and A Nutcrackin' Christmas. 

The game is very addictive and easy to pick up. Just press where you want to shoot, get all of the enemies while avoiding the elves. I think it's a game that all players will enjoy and our team hopes that it will be the holiday hit of the season.

The theme is obviously very seasonal. What expectations do you have for Holiday Havoc in the short term?

Christmas is my favorite time of year and I had dreamed of making a christmas game for a while now. I had attempted it last year with a failed project called Santa's Smackdown. Unfortunately, some team members pulled out halfway through and the game fell under. This time I was much more prepared. We started back in late August and developed a team. By the time we started, we had a four man team together: a programmer, artist, PR/manager, and sound composer. We used this game as our starting ground. 

Christmas games are somewhat rare on the App Store and knowing the popularity surrounding some of them, we wanted to make this our first release. We also learned a lot from this experience, including what will result in a rejected game, how long approval takes, and the importance of giving yourself leeway so that you can afford to go a few days past your deadline in case of a last minute bug or a need for extra content.

You went for a pixel art style with your debut game. Could you tell us mode about the influences, the decision and the artist you're working with?

Well our name is Underground Pixel for a reason. We are all real retro junkies, especially myself. We wanted a game that you could imagine playing on your old SNES and went from there. We went with Glauber Kotaki, a great artist who specializes in pixel art. You can find him on Twitter under the name @unseven. He was a very efficient worker and with him onboard, we were able to complete the project in 3 months time.

Thanks Kevin, I think I can consider myself a retro junkie too and really like the look of Holiday Havoc. For those readers who haven't tried it yet, is there anything else you want to tell them?

Well I want the readers to know that this is just the first of many releases to come. Our next game is called Chimpanzee Catastrophe and is due out in Q1 2012. We also have three other projects in development right now to slowly leak out one by one afterwards. We want to entertain all App Store users and hope that they have fun with our games.  

Oh, you can use the contact page on our website to get in touch with us with bug reports, fan mail, etc.