PSLS Presents – James Boulton, Eiconic Games
PlayStation LifeStyle recently had the opportunity to have an interview the Technical Director of Eiconic Games, James Boulton. While they may be small, and not well known; their latest game, Polar Panic is certainly looking solid, and should be on the PSN Store store shortly.
PlayStation LifeStyle: What separates Polar Panic from other PSN games?
Boulton: There’s a lot of games out there which just don’t seem to be fun to play anymore, they don’t have that addictive edge. That’s what the old arcade games were all about, hooking you from the beginning, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Polar Panic. For us, creating games is more of an organic thing, spending our time playing and tweaking the game until it’s just right. We hope that this attention to detail will come through in the game play of Polar Panic and make it a must have game this Christmas.
Boulton: We think we’ve got a wide potential audience for Polar Panic, really. Firstly we’ve got the arcade action side of things, which has a nice pick-up-and-play single player mode and a hectic multiplayer mode which should appeal to most gamers. Then there’s the puzzle mode which is slower paced and gets you to think about your every move. The whole game is easy to pickup and fun to play, but in small enough chunks you don’t have to spend hours to complete a level, so we think it’s a good family game — something for everyone.
PSLS: Seeing how Eiconic Games would be classified as an indie developer, what would you say that state of small-time developers is? Especially in an ailing worldwide economy?
Boulton: The nice thing with being a small developer is that our overheads are much lower than large companies, and we only employ extremely experienced individuals, so we can really punch above our weight. So to a certain degree, we can weather out the storms more easily than large companies needing their latest game to be a hit to be able to recoup the development costs. The ailing economy doesn’t stop people buying games, the massive sales of Call of Duty recently certainly show this, if anything people turn to games when they cant afford to go out. However, we think people are certainly going to be more picky about what they buy and are looking for better quality and more value for money. So we think at the moment all developers need to be careful to deliver on quality, and we like to think we do this with Polar Panic.
PSLS: With regards to the PS3, what do you think of the casual games market? Is the PSN a good platform for, perhaps, more risky titles to release?
Boulton: With Polar Panic being our first title for electronic distribution it’s a little bit of an unknown for us, and as sales figures are difficult to get hold of for download titles, it’s all guesswork what our return might be. There is certainly a huge market out there, but it would be very helpful if download sales were as transparent as retail, especially as it seems to be very hit and miss on what sells well. The download market is definitely a good place to try more experimental ideas, as development costs are much lower and route to market much easier than a boxed product, but you don’t have any guarantees your idea will sell.
PSLS: What is the must-have snack for a member of the Eiconic team?
Boulton: Snacks include a variety of sandwiches, tortillas, Galaxy Minstrels, tea, coffee and milk!
PSLS: How does working in a small team compare to that of a huge team?
Boulton: We think creativity is a lot more concentrated with a small team and you have a more single minded view of where the game is going. The more people you have involved, the more things get diluted and the more directions the game gets pulled in. However with a small team we have to be very careful we’re going in the right direction and that work doesn’t get wasted. Being careful like this we can be as productive as a team at least twice our size.
PSLS: Now that Sony has announced their own motion controller, will Squeeballs use the official controller, or “The Freedom Controller”?
Boulton: I’m afraid we can’t comment on that, you’d have to contact the publisher, Performance Designed Products.
PSLS: Is there more creative leeway, working in a small team? Or do you feel, since there isn’t a huge amount of capital available, you need to stick with games or genres that would yield a higher return?
Boulton: Being a small team creating our own products there is certainly more creative control, yes — essentially we can do whatever we think is a good idea and we only have to answer to ourselves, which is the way games should be made. All the best games are created by a small core who have the vision and drive it forwards, and not designed by committee — but that’s not to say that advice and comments should not be taken on board. However you do need to work to what money you have available and be realistic about what you can deliver with your team size. From a business perspective maximizing your return on investment is always the goal, but creating enjoyable, high quality games is how you sell lots of games. We don’t necessarily think there is a certain genre which will sell better, sales potential is a combination of many factors. So really, you just have to believe in your product and make it as good as you can.
PSLS: Finally, what is Eiconic Games’ working relationship with Sony? Have they been supportive throughout development?
Boulton: Development has been relatively smooth on Polar Panic. We have a really good PS3 programmer who has done a fantastic job at optimizing the graphics engine for the PS3, making good use of the SPU’s and keeping everything running smoothly. So we’ve not had much need to contact Sony from a technical standpoint, however we have some good friends down at Sony London who we are in regular contact with.