Recently, we got the opportunity to sit down with the developers of Legends Arcana and ask them a series of questions pertaining to their game and also Android development. They also have a very bold statement in their market description and they dare you to try their game, and if you don't like it, they will refund you even if you are past your fifteen minute window!
The Little Killerz team consists of just two men, named Chad and Jon and both were very kind in taking time out of their schedules to let us set up an interview. Rather than waste any time we can get right into the meat of the article. So without further waiting, here are the questions and answers!
DroidGamers: First, how did the team of Little Killerz come together? When was the company founded and when did you guys decide to try and make games for Android? How many people currently are on the team?
Chad: I used to program games as a kid. I made a couple arcade games the best of which was based on battle tech, but they all kind of sucked. But what didn't suck were my turn based strategy games, I made a battle tech simulator and a D&D game base on the HeroQuest board game. Then I went to college and then I got sucked into the dot com boom. So I didn't look into making games again until I heard about people making lots of money from selling phone games.
I'm employed as a Java programmer and so when Android dropped I bought a G1 on launch day. I made a kayaking game called RiverBlast with an old friend but he really wasn't into it. So I put an ad in Craig's List looking for an artist to collaborate with about two years ago and Jon was the only truly motivated person that answered my ad. We made Bad-Ass game, it flopped, but we thought we could use the engine to make a cool dungeon crawler. So Little Killerz is just me Chad Maniccia the programmer and Jon Smith the game designer and artist.
Jon: I had a few temporary jobs with local indie developers that were having some success. I wanted to work on my own ideas, so I posted on Craigslist to find a coder that wanted to work on something. Chad posted that he was a coder looking for an artist, so I started pumping out graphics.
DroidGamers: Tell us about Legends Arcana. When did the idea of the game come to you, what were some of your influences, and what were some of the challenges to make the game happen?
Chad: I grew up playing D&D and Jon is a fan of genre as well so we both got really excited about the idea of making a RPG, Jon is super motivated so he just started pumping out graphics and I would go home each day after work spending 90% of my free time brining his graphics to life. Jon is a huge fan of the Quest For Glory games and he wanted to bring that perspective painted feeling to our games. There were many challenges developing the game I will list a few.
Getting the perspective code just right.
Balance the game play. We mostly achieved this with just multiplying everything by the level, works surprising well.
Getting the draw order on the isometric graphics just right was a pain in the butt because we wanted you to be able to get very close to the walls. Well the walls are at angles so we had to compare lines and points as opposed to just points.
Getting repeated tiles to match up just right.
Getting the walls to line up, because my level editor doesn't help you do this.
Learning the ins and out of Android, like sound and graphic manipulation etc...
How to put the story and skills into the game engine.
Jon: I wanted our games to offer:
Multiple ways to complete your task - I love replayability, and creative experimentation. I tested my game for hundreds of hours, but I can still try a new combination of skills/stats and have fresh, even surprising experiences.
Take the emphasis of the attack button and on tactical skills - Mashing on a button to do a combo is not as rewarding as using a Rogue to kill a troll with a stealth blow, poisoning 5 goblins around him, dodging, and covering your escape with caltrops.
Quick, easy, yet fulfilling gameplay appropriate for phones - There is less loot in La than other rpg's, yet I think some of our loot is more meaningful. We can have you pick up a +1 sword, then a +2, then +3, and so on with each weapon. Instead we give you gold and you can decide between a frost sword, a knockback sword, or a poison sword. The swords do increase in power, but we want the choice to be meaningful, play into your characters strategy, and get you into the action as soon as possible.
As for influences... WOW had a good deal to do with the combat. I liked the emphasis on ability rotation in that game. I was not looking to make a game that consuming, but learning how to play a character right in all situations is very rewarding in that game.
Quest for glory is my favorite series of all time. I didn't want to add point-n-click adventure elements into LA yet, but I wanted was invoking the feeling with the town. I think its better than the forest/dungeon isometric view in situations where combat isn't a priority.
DroidGamers: How difficult has it been trying to program for various phones running various versions of the Android operating system?
Chad: We get weird reports of our games not working on particular phones that we have never solved but for the most part Android seems to do a good job of running everything the same on different hardware at least for 2d stuff I have heard problems with different 3d chip-sets in phones.
Jon: It is expensive to buy all those phones to test on.
DroidGamers: Why did you choose to go with this art style over your other choices?
Little Killerz: I'm a fan of comics and fantasy art. Combining the two seemed appropriate for our story.
The art style was designed for 320x480. The think lines I used for the characters has been criticized by anime fans, but much of that criticism was due to the graphics being scaled up and the lines blurred. The lines were thick to make the characters and their movements pop. Now everything I prepare will be for 1920x1080.
We won't be going 3d unless we build a bigger team, because I am a 3d noob.
DroidGamers: You added an Endless Dungeon and new forums for this game, so where do you go from here? What is the future of Legends Arcana?
Chad: The endless dungeon competition was really just a way to give fans of the game a bunch of extra content and possibly create some competition but at the end of the day most people haven't participated. The forums have been around from the beginning so we could answer question and give people a place to talk about Legends Arcana but the buzz there has kind of died down.
Jon: We originally intended to make 3 different games covering Reck's story. They would be paid add-ons, or sold separately. We canceled the idea. If we make a free version and it makes us more money I may extend the current game without making paid add ons. There are a few skills that we had to cut, so we may add those, too. Either way we plan on making a Legends Arcana 2 with a stronger story, a new high res graphics, character options, different types of weapons, crafting skills and much more.
DroidGamers: It is a really bold move, but tell us why you decided to offer a money back promise for your game? You state in the description that if you don't like the game for whatever reason, you will refund the customer. Has this worked out nicely or do you see more and more people trying to scam you and just play a game for free?
Chad: I don't like people being unhappy, so I don't want their money if we didn't earn it. Less that 1% of people ask for their money back. The funny thing is the ones that get mad and leave crappy comments never ask. Seriously most of returns are fore kids that beat the game in a day and want the money back to buy another game. I hope it has made people try the game because otherwise it's not really had the effect we wanted.
Jon: We put a lot of work into the games, we think they are fun, and add something unique to the android market. We don't like trolls, and we aren't making enough money to buy every phone to test our game on. So if people think they have been doped into buying our game than we don't want there money. I don't believe this policy is abused that much, because the game is inexpensive.
DroidGamers: There are horror stories of how bad the pirate scene has been on Android, do you have a way to gauge and measure how many people are playing a pirated version of your game? If so, do you feel there are a lot of people pirating it? It would seem with a money back promise there would be no reason to make an attempt at stealing the game.
Chad: We added code obfuscation and Market licensing to the game and it still got pirated. We actually get hurt by all the piracy because are game has an in-game installer which downloads the media from our server. All the piracy causes slower downloads for our legitimate buyers. We have had up to 1000 to 500 illegal downloads a day just by looking at our bandwidth usage. At the end of the day you have people that will pay or won't pay if they can't pirate your game they will just play something else, so in a way its not lost revenue.
Jon: I don't know how much it really affected us. We had a guy advertise his website on youtube where he was giving our game away for free, and taking donations. That was when it was crossing the line. We had the video and his site shut down, so he trolled our Market comments for a few weeks.
DroidGamers: What is the future of your company? Will you continue to develop for Android? What plans do you have for a next game?
Chad) We had big plans but the game didn't sell enough to allow me to quit my job and Jon just had twins. We started a zombie game but Jon lost interest so we have started production on Legends Arcana II which will be much improved and support tablets in Hi-Res. We will continue to do Android since I have a lot of time invested in learning it. We are also looking at doing Windows, XBOX, and Windows phones since you can code it once for all three or so they say. Jon is interested in selling games on Steam. Jon and I are a team and we will continue to make games together for a long time to come so expect big things from us in the future.
Jon: I have a few issues with the Android Market:
People aren't finding our game, or just aren't trying it.
I don't seem to be connecting with the user base. It seems there is a huge casual market. There are mmo's and strategy gamers out there, but I wouldn't want to play a game like that on the phone. The top jrpg's use game design that I do not like. I thought I had the perfect balance for LA, but I guess I was wrong.
Android gamers tend to have unrealistic or trendy expectations. By unrealistic I mean they will buy our game for $1.99 and pick it apart like they bought a $50 to $60 game, or will not see the value and demand it be more like Zenonia, or some other standard that all rpg's should follow. By trendy I mean that they flock to tower defense games one day, then 3d games, and they want mmo's the next.
I've been getting into Steam recently and I see games like Machinarium selling well for $20. I would love to make a game for a niche market like that and be rewarded by the gaming community. Our engine on PC would make great Quest for Glory type action-rpg/adventure.
I also think our company could make digital board games. Chad is a board game collector, and it may give us an opportunity to reach all platforms that have a browser.
DroidGamers: There has been a lot of debate as to whether Android games make enough money to be developed for. May we ask, originally, what was the budget like for this game? Has it turned the type of profit you hoped for?
Chad: You can make money if you happen to catch the trends, for example Zenonia probably out sells us 10 times but I can't figure out why. I would think a Diablo like game would out sell a JRPG. Angry Birds what? Perhaps we should be making more casual ad supported games. Jon really wants to release a free ad supported version of Legends but I haven't got around to figuring out a way to include the ads with out pissing people off. I'm thinking commercials during the loading screens. We made the game on our spare time so there was no budget to speak of, from a stand point of the amount of time we put into the game and our opportunity cost we are running at a huge loss. But its still worth it the residual income is nice and my resume looks great ;-)
Jon: It was basically a year to make Bad-Ass Game, and another to make LA. We took a look at the state of the market when we made Bad-Ass Game. There was mostly casual games so we thought a lighthearted, unique action game would do well. It bombed. We decided to build on our engine and make LA. The profits were underwhelming. We were hoping for more funds so we could shift our lifestyle into making more games, and hiring people. That hasn't happened.
We could have made Angry Birds in a few months, and made millions. I actually saw Kitten Cannon, a similar game that was in the top paid way before Angry Birds, and thought we could out do it easily. But it just didn't seem fun. 2 years later the world is shooting birds out of slingshots, instead of cats out a cannon, and a couple lucky devs earn a million a month.
DroidGamers: Is there anything you would like to say to your current customers and potential future customers?
Chad: We really appreciate all of our customers. That's why we offer the money back guarantee. We think more people should try our game. To date it has only been played by 12,000 people, legally anyways. I seriously think its more fun than most of the stuff out there, hell its all I play. A lot of our fans say the same as well.
Jon: Thank you. We are a small team, and it may take us a while, but we will keep making games. I've had some a few wonderful compliments on the forums. The trolls can really get to you, but what really stays with you is when someone loves your game and really gets your vision. That outweighs a thousand haters.
DroidGamers: If our readers want to learn more about your work and keep up with your team, where should we direct them?