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Powerslyde Profiles – Stories Behind The Apps: PipeWords

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Good day Michael, tell us about the app!  In the words of the esteemed reviewers at Tapscape, our app PipeWords is a "killer game…must-have word game". Our app PipeWords is the first title released by our indie game studio, Dream Boy.  It's a fairly addictive and challenging puzzler and a great title for anyone that loves word games, especially a pretty unique take on one. The player is given a faucet, a drain, and must connect the two by creating plumbing built from "pipewords"; one long consecutive chain of words, connecting the drain and faucet safely together. There's a catch: the water flow is already running, requiring the player scramble to put the pipewords together quickly before the water flow bottles up and explodes. There's a second catch: the water flow, and by extension the pipeword paths, must all reach the drain safely, without dead-ending or double-backing on itself, requiring advanced planning. There's a third catch: each level is a crazy maze of locked gates, hidden treasure, energy fields, time bombs, and more. I might have a couple other catches laying about, not sure though.

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Michael Vargas – creator of PipeWords

Who is on the team? I am the proprietor of Dream Boy as well as the designer and creative director of all our games. Our core game development is done by Jadynut Studios, headed by the extremely talented and awesome-est-ist person Sun Jae Jie.  We also work with freelance artists for our conceptual design and audio. Ah yes, and my little brother does our legal. 🙂

How is PipeWords different from similar apps or competitors?  As the first game for our indie studio, we wanted to not start with a project *too* big (a common mistake many studios make at the outset), but yet wanted an interesting and unique project as possible. We went with the word game, a genre I felt could stand to be expanded on more. Many word games are fairly straightforward; here's the letters, spell the words. We wanted to see a word game in that not just pushed the genre but brought in traditional gameplay elements like puzzle-solving, dexterity, a sense of progression, and hunting for secrets.  For example, in a standard word game you are essentially stuck with the letters you have, but in PipeWords, by thinking outside the box and using advanced "gamer techniques" you actually have a massive wealth of spelling options (the real "enemy" will then be the level design and scramble to stay ahead of the water).

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The other end of PipeWords' value is as a puzzle game; you must figure out each level's mazes, quirks, and secrets even as you juggle words to spell.  In most puzzle games, once you figure out the solution and solve the level, you've pretty much done with it.  Since the letters in PipeWords are always random, each level will play differently on every play, giving PipeWords a longevity not many puzzlers have.

Tell us more about the icon design and UI. The general rule for app icons for games, in my view, is something that bridges your game's more iconic imagery with its selling point (typically: its gameplay and/or style).  If your game is about, say, ninja fishermen, then your app icon for Supreme Ninja Fishermen should convey two ideas: Ninjas who fish, and how you, the player, can expect to make them fish.

Icon512In the case of PipeWords, we had the perhaps-not-so-easy task of trying to explain the idea of building a network of "pipes" made out of letters that spell words, all in icon-form.  To that end, we decided on three things, we narrowed it down to three things we wanted to summarize :  "The Player", "The Pipes", "The Words You Use to Make 'Em". The player is represented by "Gabby", the mascot of PipeWords.  Gabby is in turned based on my super-charming, largehearted niece "Gabrielle", whom was 3 years old at the time. 🙂 The pipes are represented by the iconic red-colored faucet handles, from which the all-consuming water flow you must manage in the game emit from. The words are represented as they would be within the gameplay; a couple letters dragged about this way and that.  We selected "P" and "W" to represent the game's initials.

All that was left was for the artist to represent them all in an image: Gabby happily spinning a big red faucet handle as letters fly about. 🙂  That's PipeWords in a nutshell.

What tools or communities helped you in creating the app?  The most important people and community for me will always be family.  That would include good friends and those that work for me, which I also consider family. That said, there are also many ways for indie and starting studios to connect, either through festivals and shows, or via online, from forums to something as rudimentary as Twitter.  As long as it's positive and constructive contact, it's good.

2013-04-20_20-48-49For software development tools, a game dev is pretty much wed at the hip to whichever game engine and related softwares a particular project is using.  In our case, that would be the game engine Corona, which proved not only both very reliable and affordable (that is, free), but also handy for working well with great software such as Tiled, a level editor that let us easily construct and then port levels into the Corona engine. The other programs we rely on are the usual office greats, such as, well, Microsoft Office for building various GDDs, tables, powerpoints, and other documents we need, as well as Dropbox for sending the stuff about, Testflight for accessing builds from any device any time, and Gimp, a useful freeware image editor.

What lessons did you learn building this app?  That the nephews will just shrug their shoulders and ask to play Minecraft on your laptop anyway (and if you're me, you usually let 'em. 😉 )

What went right and wrong with the development and release? Development went pretty much right; this was never an issue as we are all experienced in the joy of making games.  Though we could've used more coffee.  Always more coffee.

What we would've preferred on release is to work more on marketing, especially advanced planning. Marketing is often met with skepticism with creative types in games, mainly because game marketing has a checkered history (I'm looking at you, obnoxious 90's ads) and can also sometimes can warp the direction of a project or release in negative ways.  However, the modern mobile gaming market is extremely competitive (deceptively so, in some cases) and even the best games will have a large hump to climb over in order to get noticed. 

Thus having a great marketing strategy ready to implement is absolutely vital, especially for an indie studio.  A strong online presence, especially on social media is critical, as well as reaching out confidently to as much media as possible.  And, ideally, have all of this ready to go before launching.

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What were you and the other folks doing before creating PipeWords?  I was a producer/designer/PM in gaming for quite some time before deciding to start my own business.  A wise man once said: YOLO.  Starting a business is a daunting, self-sacrificing proposition, but for those that really have a product and business vision, it is very much worth it; rewarding and empowering both in the ups and downs, or, as another wise man, Tupac Shakur, said, "Always keep ya head up". The company name was coined by my father, who noted "Hey, you've always had this dream since you were a boy." (he's correct incidentally; I have designing games since I could draw and have Game and Watch mock-up screens created in the 2nd grade to prove this!).  The company mascot, "Borges", is named by my mother, after famed Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, whom I share a birthday with  (August 24).  I have fond memories of her blowing up with glee after thinking of the name; good job Mom! 

My pal, Sun Jae Jie meanwhile had been managing his studio and his budding family prior to when we met (he is a proud first-time father as of last December; congrats again man!!!)

What are some of your other favorite or inspirational apps? Most of inspirational "apps" happen to be encased in vintage 80's plastic.  🙂  It's still amazing to me that, these days, a fine, beefy games library doesn't just have to exist as shelf-hogging bulk, but mere digital info in a little smartphone. Among games most influential and important:

  • Super Mario Bros.: Is there any gamer's list that doesn't include this?  Everything in it is iconic, for a great many reasons.
  • Tetris: the greatest game of all time.  I've read a great many "Top [X] Games of All Time" lists over the years, and I always raise an eyebrow when I see they've forgotten Tetris.  I believe there is no other game that contains the singular, universal appeal of that game; only a few come close, such as matching games a la Candy Crush, or perhaps Minecraft.
  • The Legend of Zelda: This would be the original title, in all its golden plastic glory (my original copy is currently mounted in frame on my wall; I believe the battery within it STILL works, almost 30 years later)  This would be the most important and influential game, to me.  The easiest way to explain its appeal and influence is that it never sets out to be either a story or a game, or even a product.  It simply is.  I find that the best things in life simply are. 🙂  

Head over to the App Store to download PipeWords.

Hey you!  Wanna be featured like our friends at PipeWords? Be sure to check out http://www.powerslyde.com/get-discovered.

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