Frozen Endzone Interview With Mode 7's Paul Taylor

At this year's Rezzed PC and indie gaming show in Birmingham, Paul Taylor and Ian Hardingham presented a retrospective of Mode 7's work, with a particular focus on the studio's most successful game, Frozen Synapse. The duo have a new project in the works, titled Frozen Endzone, which takes the core tactical gameplay that made its predecessor so popular, but switches the theme to a futuristic American Football-inspired sports game.

After the presentation, we sat down with Paul to discuss the challenge of bringing the complex tactical gameplay of Frozen Synapse to touchscreens earlier this year, and the future of a portable Frozen Endzone.


You of course come from a PC development background. How did the experience of creating Frozen Synapse for the iPad compare with creating the PC version?

It was a big challenge, mostly becuase there was a huge expectation. Even from the start when we released it on PC, people said they wanted it on tablets. If you look at the UI, it's so PC - a lot of mouseover, a lot of fine control with the pointer. The major challenge was the UI and it took a really long time - over a year to do it. Most of that was exploring different parts of the UI, doing a bit of testing, coming back, changing things. It's not perfect, but I don't think it could be with that kind of game. I've been massively happy with the reaction to it, and we'll continuing tweaking things and improve as we go.

So there are going to be updates based on user feedback?

Yes, we will do some updates. We're going to be concentrating on fixes mostly. One of the things that we absolutely are going to do is fix some of the problems with Retina that we've had. That's really, really high up the list. We've got to get that sorted out because we want the game to look great on the tablet. We're working on that right now, but yeah we're committed to making this as good as it could possibly be.

How long did it to take to create the iPad version of Frozen Synapse?

I'm just trying to remember! It was well over a year, about one and a half years and we really wanted it to be a six month project. Having the luxury to take the time to do it is really important. We really wanted to try and make the quality good.

We're seeing more and more PC games that can be put on a tablet, come to a tablet. Magic 2013 for example, and now so many more big games are on tablets - XCOM being the most recent example. Do you think we'll reach a point where the platform is treated with parity, and we get simultaneous releases?

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Yes I think people will try and do it. Indies obviously have a bandwidth problem, as we're trying to focus on the first version of the game, and make it as good as we possibly can - so much hinges on that. But I think as people get more confidence and they're happier using and partnering with external teams (we've done that with the Android version) - as we get more used to those kinds of relationships, I think you'll see closer releases. We'd love to do that with Endzone if we can, but we just have to see how it goes.

How challenging is the issue of a premium price point? You can bring out an amazing game, but there's always that barrier of people thinking mobile games shouldn't cost more than a dollar. Do the sales you get make up for any price resistance?

One of the things about price is that it's actually extremely hard to test. People tend to under-rate it and say "Oh you can just change the price for a game." It doesn't work, it has its own effect, you can't alpha/best test properly as you can't give people different prices - everyone would hate that. We're happy with how it's performed. It's not what I would describe as world-changing, which I suppose the original Frozen Synapse was. It's certainly been worthwhile.

It's viable?

Oh easily. Viable is under-rating it. But had we released it at a lower price would it have done better? I don't know. It's just one of those tihngs where we have to kind of work out as time goes on, and as we gain more experience of choosing those things. I'm definitely satisfied that you can release a deeper, fully featured game on tablet at a more robust price point, and it can work.

I know you want to bring Frozen Endzone to the iPad. Is it a question of finding success on the PC first, so you can justify a port - the PC being your main market?

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To some extent, yeah. If it did badly on PC I don't think we would want to try and solve those problems on tablet. The main issue for us is performance, and can we get the game to look right. I'm told by people who know much more about these things than me that it's going to be possible. We'll just have to see how much that bears out in reality. I think the interface again we've learnt from Frozen Synapse, so we'll have a much better idea of what we're doing this time. It is a somewhat simpler interface, although the gameplay is just as complex. We'll just do our best.

Have you talked about a release date for Frozen Endzone yet?

No we haven't. We're looking at getting a beta out later this year, and we're saying 2014 for a release date.

Assuming thing go well on PC, could we assume a similar [2 year] timeframe for a subsequent iPad release - if it all goes well? Would it be faster this time around?

I hope it would be faster, but definitely not a lot longer than this I would expect.