According to the experts – that’s me, folks – the best mobile games are oftentimes the simplest. And what’s more zen than a friendly round of wrasslin’?
Folmer Kelly is one of the devs behind the smash hit Wrassling, a casual game for both Android and iPhone of pixels, beating people up, and dapper hats. He’s also half of Sets & Settings, an indie dev team putting out a metric boatload of games, running the gamut from the meta-retro Handheld Video Game to the spaceball frenzy of Irrupt.
Their methodology: “Make what feels right.” I interviewed Folmer re: the runaway success of Wrassling, plus to find out how he makes successful games his own way in an industry known for chewing ’em up and spitting ’em out.
Last week’s interview: Jack Underwood, Dev of Today Calendar
Appszoom: How would you describe your approach to visual design for mobile? I talk to a lot of devs who do material design for utility apps; I’d love to hear your perspective as someone who’s designed plenty of awesome casual games.
Folmer Kelly: The way I design games, I always start with mock-ups. I’ll draw something until it clicks and makes me think “this would be great for a puzzle game” or “these characters are perfect for a fast paced action thing,” which I think is a fairly uncommon approach for programmers but not unusual for graphic-designers-turned-gamedevs.
AZ: What kind of trends do you see in the aesthetics of mobile gaming? What looks great/what looks like a kid’s macaroni project?
FK: I might be the worst person to answer this question because I have a huge soft spot for games that look like shit 🙂 But as far as trends go, I guess the real big hitters (the Candy Crushes and Clashes of Titans etc) keep it clean, nice and polished, safe. With the indie stuff you see there’s a lot of space for pixel art games.
Right now, of course, it’s “Just Make Crossy Road,” so there are a lot of blocky voxel art games happening.
AZ: Wrassling! How’d such a simple game get so mad popular? Did you have a specific PR strategy, did you do anything special at launch?
FK: We don’t know! I asked Colin (who designed the earliest version of Wrassling) and we simply can’t explain it. With that said: I did know that it was special from the start.
So how Wrassling happened was, I met up with Colin to figure out what game we wanted to make, and he had brought his laptop and was showing me some prototypes that he thought had potential. Since we never listen to each other, I ignored him and snooped around his projects folder and found something called Royal Rumble, which turned out to be a prototype for a physics-based arm-flailing game he worked on I think 6 months earlier. He’d pretty much forgotten about it. The moment I started playing it, even in its unfinished state, I started laughing, having a blast just throwing stuff around wildly, and I told him that we HAD to make that game.
And I think that’s really what sets Wrassling apart: it’s this really fun, base thing that doesn’t require anything from you to have fun with it. It’s pretty much instant silly happiness. Best hug simulator on the App Store imho.
AZ: Thoughts on Android vs. iPhone in terms of indie game devving? I know you’re mostly on iOS; I think just Wrassling is on both (right?).
FK: Actually all of my games are on Android, but I sell so little there that I barely pay attention to what’s going on.
It sucks, but for every release, people tweet me asking for an Android version and that’s honestly the only reason I do Android versions- so that people who want to play my games can do so. I’ve never seen a feature for one of my games on Android.
I remember back when Wrassling started picking up on iOS we were hopeful that Android might do some numbers as well, but iirc at the time their front page was still happily featuring Crossy Road and other games from 2014. It didn’t really feel like they were actively curating anything, though I might be wrong there, and I honestly haven’t looked at the Play Store in months, so idk.
Winning across the board: How To Ensure Success In Cross-Platform Mobile Development
AZ: I’ve read your Gamasutra piece for aspiring indie devs – deffo on the same page across the board. Most small games fail where yours seem to succeed, though; just putting something out there” isn’t enough. What’s the difference?
FK: If I had a real answer to that I’d be sitting on Notch money right now. My best guess? Luck, skill/experience, and short development cycles.
Apple took a chance on Wrassling; we were not expecting the game to get featured. I think Wrassling is a very “punk” game by design – I mean we spent a lot of time on making it the best game it can be, but I purposely decided on a low-fi, C64 look, which isn’t exactly a sound business decision. And once Wrassling did good numbers, I think that makes Apple take notice, so they featured our later releases too. So that’s an obscene amount of luck paying off handsomely.
Where we’re at now, we make games fast, development cycles of maybe a month (at most! Battle Golf was made in a week). We’ve also noticed that when we release new games, the earlier ones get a boost as well, so that’s great for rapid output, and once you start building up a back catalogue, it starts adding up.
AZ: Do you do a lot of user testing? How do you keep in touch with people who play and love your games?
FK: I throw a ton of builds around, TestFlight is a wonderful thing. I’ve found that even with the smallest, most bare designs, you’ll still miss a flaw or bug that’s obvious to anyone that isn’t you.
As for keeping in touch with players, I tweet basically everything I ever do. Almost every mock-up and prototype gets seen by my players, which sometimes can be a bad thing (I get questions about canceled projects months after I stopped working on them) but I just think it’s nice to be open about everything, it’s a way to give something extra to people who dig your work. So yeah I’m @folmerkelly if you’re into watching someone live-tweet their mistakes forever.
AZ: What’s coming up next for you/Sets & Settings?
FK: With Colin, I just released Wheelie 2 on the App Store, which is doing great, so we have a couple of updates planned for that (read: I draw more animals on bikes).
I’ve been quietly working on a turn-based action card game called Castles. I’ve been writing about that project over at the TouchArcade forums for a while now.
AZ: What other apps out there are you digging on right now?
FK: Downwell! Though it’s really fucking hard.
AZ: Anything else you’d like to mention?
FK: All I’d like to add is, there’s been a lot of doomsday articles lately, the indiepocalypse stuff etc, especially when it comes to mobile. I want people to know that it can still be a viable space for independent, creative people. F2P or paid, whatever.
You can make fun stuff and it can make money. I’m not promising it will make you money, I’m saying it can, so just… don’t dismiss it on the strength of shit you’ve read!