Icycle 2 Interview With Reece Millidge

Earlier today we published our preview of the upcoming mobile title Icycle 2. We also had the opportunity to talk to Reece Millidge, creator of the game, whose development background stretches from the days of the Amiga 500, to his most recent release - last year's Wonderputt.

1

The first question I thought of after playing the browser game was to ask where on earth you got the idea for playing as a balding naked man, riding on a bicycle through frozen landscapes?

Ha! I guess that come out of the restrictions of the medium. When I started in Flash it was all vector art - I wanted to extend my illustration skills so just wanted to do this nice vector art and have a character go through that vector art. Of course, I couldn't do moving scenery, I couldn't do enemies, and only collectibles just about, so it made sense to pick a dead environment, something apocalyptic.

Then I just threw a dog on a motorbike in there and I thought "I don't really care about this, how do I care about the character?" Making it a guy who's stripped of his clothes makes you empathize more with the character, and it just added a bit more depth and a bit more tangible contact with the theme - it just came out of the limitations really. If I could move all that scenery it might not have come about that he was naked - perhaps a happy accident. To have a naked guy is humiliating enough, but how do you humiliate him further? Putting him on a BMX that's too small for him? The sillier he looks, the more humiliating, and the more you empathize.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of creating a browser-based game before working on an iOS version. Is it a question of freedom, that you get to experiment and see what's popular?

Yeah I guess so, but then I haven't decided whether to release the mobile version first or the Flash version first - or both [at the same time]. You could maybe get more interesting analytics, useful analytics back so as to make the other one better. Once you've released the Flash version though, that's it. It distributes, and then you're locked down and the only way to improve on it is to release a sequel - and I haven't got another seven months handy to spend!

In mobile it's not locked down and people update. It's something I've not done with Wonderputt yet because that really was a game in Flash that moved across to mobile. This is how it was, no intention to update, but with Icycle I'm learning with Chillingo the process of apps and updates, and how to maximize use of that.

The big story in mobile gaming recently - which is kind of relevant to the fact that you built a browser game - is the situation with Vlambeer and Ridiculous Fishing. As someone who works in the browser landscape, what are your thoughts on that?

Isn't that just the age-old question of ripping off, or taking a FarmVille/FarmTown? It's a similar sort of thing?

Sure, but do you think companies like Apple should, or even can, do more to prevent it? There's a question of whether someone is working in a genre, or are they lifting it wholesale - there are fine lines.

Well I suppose it's like what I was just saying - I've been working on prototypes and then discovering like last week, a runner came out which was using all the ideas I had planned for something. I don't know it's such a big question is it? Can you copyright a genre? I don't think you can, but I don't feel threatened myself too much.

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You don't worry the same thing will happen to you?

I don't think so, because I'm always trying to aim for something that's a unique experience, and I think I might myself be inspired by something else and want to take that. But you can re-invent it, or turn it on its head and make it so it's not. There are certain companies that make a living out of doing that, and I just can't really see any merit in that at all. It's not something that's worrying me yet because I think it's fair to lift and then reinvent and do something with it.

It's a case of: "You can't quite pin it down but you know it when you see it"?

Yeah, exactly. Otherwise it's evolution.

So how much content is there going to be in this sequel, and will the Flash and iOS versions be identical?

The Flash version will just be the 12 levels. But the iOS one will be a continuation of those levels, with extra content like bonus levels. That's the current plan. There'll be dream levels and different stuff. It's still kind of open how that will be done, but compared to the first game, it's much bigger - some of these levels are something like 20 screens long, whereas Icycle was a maximum of 6-7 screens.

The first level was three screens, so this is probably three times the length plus bonus content. The bonus content probably won't make it onto the Flash version, so I'm hoping the Flash version will be a good promotion tool for the iOS version, because Icycle had about 30 million views according to my analytics. I didn't get the first three months, which is usually the spike, so I'm assuming it was about 40 million - I'm hoping that will convert to some sales on iOS. Even if you've played it on browser, there's the incentive to get more content.

The challenge of the first game is quite steep. Was that an intentional design decision where you go from thinking "Oh yeah, I can handle this" to "Oh God, the scenery's crumbling!" You move from that reactive challenge of gameplay to the memorization of routes. It becomes about route-management and practice.

That was trial-and-error wasn't it? I grew up with games on the BBC Micro, and Amiga 500, which is where I released a game with a schoolfriend. That was Odyssey - it was released just as the Amiga market died. It was on the front of all the magazines and stuff, but I don't think it made any royalties beyond our advance - it was a good post-school project.

But we had that kind of old early gaming mentality of punishment - you could spend hours forgiving a very unforgiving game. When we released Icycle there was no check-pointing, and people were just giving up on the first level. I'm like "What are you talking about? This is kind of natural for me". I realized there was a casual games market out there, but I didn't know any of this because my head was in advertising and animation - I didn't even know there was that business model, so I didn't get any sponsors secured until too late.

So I put in checkpoints to kind of adjust and it really made a huge difference that got us on JayIsGames, then people got to the content deeper in the game. Working with Chillingo has really helped adjust it. I think the sequel's actually a little harder than the build you've just played - it will steepen up a bit more. There's a life system in there now, while at the moment there's infinite lives. That's just been a learning process between us.

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You published Wonderputt as Damp Gnat and under your own umbrella. How was that experience, and what motivated you to want to now work with an established publishing partner?

That's an easy question. When Wonderputt was released online I actually got a lot of interest from that, and the publishers were getting in contact wanting to buy the IP - stuff like that. I said I actually wanted to keep Wonderputt, but they said they didn't want Wonderputt, they wanted Icycle. I asked why and they told me that golf games don't sell on iOS.

And so then I kind of thought about it, and a year down the line when Adobe were trying to get me to release Wonderputt, I was looking for the prospects of using maybe a publisher but no-one was interested - everyone just wanted free games, and Wonderputt as it is has no in-app purchase. There's no business model there for a freemium game. So I thought no-one would want it, and I just thought I'd release it myself - I really didn't think it would work at all as everyone had said golf games don't sell.

But Wonderputt really isn't just a golf game. It's more a puzzle game with narrative, animation rewards and stuff like that. It was just a big surprise really. It reached 100,000 downloads last week, and it was released in September. The first couple of months were the big major spikes, but I wasn't expecting them because - through contacts with Apple - I thought there might be a chance of them featuring the game. But in the first month there was no sign of a feature, and yet that was the biggest spike. It was just through self-promotion, contacting journalists and stuff like that. Then Apple promoted it, featured it for a week and the following month also gave us a spike. But not as big as the normal coverage, which I totally didn't expect.

Have you determined how Icycle 2 will be monetized? Will it be a paid-for download and the ice cube available as in-app purchases if you don't want to grind?

You can do everything in the game by grinding, collecting ice. It's just optional and nothing's locked out.

Icycle 2's release date is still to be confirmed, but the game is expected to launch within the next month. Since publishing this interview, Chillingo has contacted Modojo to confirm that the game will be priced at $0.99 with optional in-app purchases.