A riveting conversation with Andrzej Zamoyski about Futuretro Studios and Hungry Oni
Andrzej Zamoyski is the creator of Hungry Oni.
Hi Andrzej, would you mind introducing yourself briefly to the readers of Gamobu.eu?
Hi there. I’m an Englishman with a crazy Polish name. I quit university at the age of 22 to join at-that-time indie developer Lionhead Studios. I spent 8 years as a game and level designer at Lionhead, making Xbox and PC games such as the Fable RPG series. In 2012
I left the now Microsoft-owned Lionhead to study Japanese in Kyoto for 2 years. During that time I met a young Indonesian artist named Ferdi Trihadi and we created our first indie game together for mobiles and tablets. I’m now back in the UK, where I am the sole game designer and programmer working on our second title at Futuretro.
In one of the first posts on the Futuretro Studios blog, you stated that you wanted to do something by yourself for yourself. Do you feel that your first game ‘Hungry Oni’ satisfied that need?
Since I was a kid sat on my Dad’s knee writing text adventures on his 286, I’ve always loved seeing an idea in my head come alive on a screen. When I joined Lionhead I became part of a team of designers and although I had some input on the whole direction of the game, my ownership was limited to a number of focused areas.
‘Game designer’ is a broad discipline but in truth I’ve never felt truly worthy of that title while I’m not responsible for the entire direction of the game. I’m a control freak who perhaps mistakenly imagines the best creative projects are born from the vision and direction of a single individual, whose responsibility it is to guide and empower others to help bring their concept to life. Of course everyone should have input and a forum to share their ideas but ultimately someone needs to make the tough calls and own the vision.
What do you mean?
I shudder to think of the time wasted in pointless meetings where everyone is trying to justify their job by chiming in with uninformed opinions, needlessly retarding the process and slowly killing everyone’s enthusiasm to boot.
At Lionhead I took it upon myself to learn to code, and during my time there began a number of pet projects with colleagues outside of work. Of course finding free time to make a game when you are already working nights and weekends is extremely difficult and ultimately these projects fell victim to the greater concern of delivering 100% at work.
When I broke away and finally found some free time, I was a kid again, back in my element making mistakes, learning from them, and loving every step of the way. Hungry Oni not only satisfied that yearning, but may have damaged me irreparably, to the point where I am unable to work for anyone else ever again!
About ‘Hungry Oni’, did it perform well?
Hungry Oni really came about simply as a means to answer a creative urge which wasn’t being satisfied at Japanese school. Our goal was nothing more than to make something we were happy for the world to see, which frankly I think should be the primary motivation for any creative endeavour. We released the game for free and I only added In-App Purchases in order to teach myself how to do so.
Financially we covered our costs, but in the process were featured by both Apple and Google, drew attention from Sony, and over a quarter of a million people played our game. Even more than that, the pure joy of creation and invaluable experience I gained in the process are why I’d say, at least from my perspective, that the game performed extremely well!
You had been working for Microsoft owned Lionhead Studios for 8 years. What kind of skills did you learn from that experience that you are now using in your own start-up (both on a game developing side and business side)?
That’s a tough question. Being part of a large team at Lionhead, then being responsible for just about everything at Futuretro was a huge leap. I can honestly say I learned more in a year as an indie than in all my years as an AAA developer.
One critical thing I did carry over was the understanding that game development is an organic process, perhaps more so than any other media. You can spend months writing reams of design documents and style bibles but ultimately, as you move into implementation, unforeseen issues and new ideas will spring forth in equal measure. Unless you are willing to respond, you will end up with a game far below its true potential.
Flexibility is the single most important factor in game development. If I have a new idea in the shower in the morning, I just backup my entire code base and go crazy experimenting with that new idea. I have deleted well over half the code I have written, and tellingly, I have hundreds of backups but ultimately have never gone back to them even once.
At Lionhead Studios you were working on titles like ‘Fable’, games developed for a console. Is there any particular reason why you moved from console games to mobile games?
Simplicity. I just want to make stuff. Therefore I pick the path of least resistance in order to do so. Mobile development has many strengths and weaknesses but the ability to share your game on the spot with anyone with a smartphone, both during development and after release is extremely empowering. That said, I own pretty much every console since the 8-bit era and if I got the chance to bring my work to dedicated gaming platforms, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.
Nowadays consumers are no any longer easy to target: there are many cultures, languages, countries and in general different barriers that a marketer should consider. When you started developing your games, did you have any concerns about the person who is going to play your game? During the developing process, did you discover that a game can be designed for a specific market?
There are many ways of doing it but personally I make games for myself. The core of the game must be something I desperately want to play. In the course of developing the game I inadvertently create barriers as a result of my own assumptions based on my gaming experience.
After that, the focus becomes communicating the joy of the game to other people, breaking down the barriers I have constructed, in order for everyone to discover the fun without being put off by a steep learning curve or an overly complex interface.
Regarding the previous question, probably more important for a developer is the platform choice. Hungry Oni is developed for iOS and Android. Why did you choose these two platforms, and left for instance, the Microsoft platform?
The middleware solution I used for Hungry Oni only enabled me to target those two platforms at that time. Obviously the goal is to get as many people as possible playing my game, so as more platforms become viable in terms of development time and cost, I will target those platforms. At the risk of making a tentative promise, I hope my next game will make an appearance on Microsoft platforms too at some point…
Crowdfunding nowadays is quite popular, accessible and widely utilised to open start-ups, start projects and ideas. Lately, the film and videogame industries also employ this method to fund their projects. What are your thoughts about this? Would you consider using it?
I know a lot of developers who have launched both successful and unsuccessful crowdfunding campaigns. I think it is a wonderful new avenue for developers to turn to, as it unites the fans and creators, and enables projects that otherwise may never have seen the light of day.
However as an outsider looking in, I think one problem is that inexperienced teams will promise the world and assume their enthusiasm will be enough to carry them through. The truth is, ideas are cheap and starting something is easy. Completing a creative project, especially a game, is a real effort that demands not just time and passion, but also obstinate determination bordering on obsession, to get your hands dirty and see it through to the bitter end. I look at a lot of crowdfunding campaigns and despite the obvious enthusiasm of the creators, I can see their lack of realism may sadly doom them to failure.
Here is an insightful titbit I learned from another developer recently. When you have a successful campaign, you are making a promise in the minds of your backers. They have an image of the game you are making in their heads, conjured by how they personally interpreted your campaign. As I said earlier, development is an organic process and more often than not, you will (and should) stray from the original path you began down.
This can lead to a lot of friction between backers and developers as the games in their minds inevitably diverge. That said I would certainly consider crowdfunding if I truly believed it was the right route for a project.
What is the future for Futuretro Studios? Is anything going on at the moment, and that you can tell us? Where do you see you and your company in ten years’ time?
Haha wow ten years time… I just hope I’m still alive in ten years! I actually began prototyping a new project in January 2013. That project has since become my life and I’m betting everything on it. I wish I could share more details with you, but for now let me just say despite being born out of an idea I first had years ago, it’s an enormous and terrifying departure from any of my previous work, and an exponential leap in ambition from Hungry Oni. We will be releasing next year so please look forward to it!
Last question: We moved from board games to console games and now the boom is in the mobile gaming. What’s the next step for the gaming industry in your opinion?
Don’t forget my beloved arcades! But yes, I love this question. I think it’s been on the cards for a long time but this current console generation is very telling; I think in the near future we will see the end of consoles as we know them. I think games will be streamed as a service with our inputs being sent to servers and the image being sent back to our screens. Building and selling powerful hardware to each user seems a very costly and outmoded way to do business.
Personally I am falling out of love with big name console gaming as the graphics no longer wow me as they once did, and truly excellent game design neither ages nor needs flashy graphics to deliver. I’m not sure what’s wrong with my PS3 or 360, and we’re even seeing the same games, with minor graphical improvements being released across generations. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I spend more time replaying classics than romping through the latest cinematic, scripted AAA explosion-fest.
In all seriousness though, my real prediction for the future of games hasn’t changed for 20 years; once we can satisfy our sexual urges in a virtual environment, it will signal not only the end of the games industry but doubtless the end of humanity as we know it. Better get your Mario in while you still can 😉