DroidGamers Interviews the Team Behind the game The Executive

As game enthusiasts, we enjoy hitting the install button in the Google Play Store. Have you thought about what it takes to get a game from the drawing board to the Play Store. I can assure you there are a myriad of steps. It is not enough to have a great idea for a game. If you do have a great idea, you are one step closer to your goal, but there are many steps to follow. Noodlecake Games and Riverman Media, the publishers and creators behind the game The Executive, shed a little light on the process, and how they worked together to get it done.

In an effort to learn more about the game creation and publishing process, I was fortunate enough to talk with Jacob Stevens, one part of the duo at Riverman Media, that is behind the fantastic fighting game The Executive, which releases soon on Android. We talked about doing an interview, and Jacob thought it would be a good idea to kind of tag team the interview, and bring in Ryan Holowaty, one of the founders of Noodlecake Studios. Noodlecake Studios is known for their immensely popular game Super Stickman Golf, and the myriad of games they have made or published/ported to Android from iOS or other independent game developers. Hopefully our conversation will provide more information about the game industry in general. If you are a game developer trying to get your game to market, maybe there were be some salient points you can take away to help you on your journey.

(Jaymes Carter – DroidGamers) Jacob and Ryan, thank you for speaking with DroidGamers. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedules to answer a few questions for our readers. I have had an opportunity to play The Executive. It is brilliant and fun. I never imagined I would be flame kicking a werewolf in a suit and tie!

The Executive is a game that was created by Riverman Media and published by Noodlecake Studios. Jacob, when we first talked several months back, you weren’t sure if the game would come out for Android. Now that it has, can you tell us a little about the process. How did you get your start as an independent game development company? What was the impetus to start making games? Where are you based and is there a particular reason choosing to work in said location?

(Jacob Stevens – Riverman Media)  My brother Paul and I wanted to be game developers ever since our grandparents gave us an NES for Christmas in the mid-eighties. We spent our childhoods learning about computers, art, and music, and of course playing games. Both of us have degrees in Computer Science. We are based in Tucson, Arizona where Paul went to college, and we’ve been making games since we moved here over ten years ago.

(JC) Ah… the eighties. Those were good times for sure, especially for gaming. Many people may not know that you and your brother have also created the game Pizza vs. Skeletons and a few others. I am always intrigued by the size of the team that produces games. How many team members are there at RiverMan Media, and what is  a typical day like for you as leader of the group?

(JS) We have just two team members, my brother and me. I wouldn’t call myself the leader, we’re equal partners. I’m the artist and musician, and Paul is the programmer. We design everything together. Paul tends to focus more on practical issues like game balance and level design, and me focusing on more abstract elements like themes and story. A typical day for me generally starts with thirty minutes of a warm-up activity, like figure drawing. Then I move on to whatever Paul has on the agenda as far as art assets. Depending on the phase of development, I might also do some concept brainstorming or testing.

(JC)  The Executive, from what we have played is an exciting, but unique fighting game. How did you come up with the idea for the game? What are its influences?

(JS)  The Executive was originally inspired by Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee Kung Fu movies. We wanted to integrate strategic hand-to-hand combat with with exciting stunt-work, a combination we’d not seen in a 2D game before. For the actual game mechanics, we drew inspiration from everything from Street Fighter to Zelda II to Tony Hawk.

(JC)  Who doesn’t love Bruce Lee movies? I have to admit, when the stunt moves were first introduced into the game, I was like what is going on here? It actually is a nice transition from level to level, and really makes you think about how to execute those moves perfectly. When you do, it feels quite rewarding. I remember reading that the artwork is drawn by hand. Can you walk us through the process for creating a level?

(JS)  The level design starts as a collection of collision rectangles with placeholder enemies. I make notes on this layout as I try to determine a visual theme for the level. After I’ve decided what the basic elements of the level will be, I draw from a collection of props, like tables, chairs, walls, and plants, each of which began as hand-painted textures. I piece these together in layers to form a large image representing the entire level. This image is then processed through a proprietary tool that slices it up, eliminates redundancy and empty space, and packs it Tetris-style into a square. The game then decodes this to draw the level you see onscreen.

(JC) You first created the game for iOS. When we talked initially several months ago, you weren’t sure if you were going to port it to Android. What were those reasons, and now that the game is coming to Android via Noodlecake Studios, how do you feel about the process and Android in general?

(JS)  We are too small to handle the Android port ourselves, due to the time it takes to port a game to Android and the number of devices that Android supports. We’ve also had some difficulty partnering with other companies to do Android ports in the past. Not every company understands the differences between the Android and iOS markets (including us!), or has the same standard of quality as far as the finished product. Our hesitation was eliminated when we found the great folks at Noodlecake! We’re excited to learn more about Android from this process, since we don’t have much experience with it yet.

(JC) Ryan, I am pretty sure most people that are into mobile gaming, are familiar with Noodlecake Studios. Can you tell me how you got your start? What was your staff count then, versus now?

(Ryan Holowaty – Noodlecake Studios) We got our start like most indie devs. We were a 2 man team making games in our spare time. When the original Stickman Golf  hit, it was the foundation to build a business around. Eventually we branched out into both development and publishing and have evolved into what you see today. Today there are 16 of us, which to be honest, is still less than people think we have. Some people think we have 100! Which is testament to how hard we work around here I think.

(JC) That is incredible! I am sure Jacob had the same woah moment that I just had. Noodlecake Studios creates/produces an enormous amount of content. I too, would think you had at least one hundred people on staff. We know you help other game developers bring their game to market. Was that a plan from the beginning? How many games do you create in-house versus working with other independent game developers to bring their content to the Play Store?

(RH)  Publishing was something that we pivoted into. After creating porting tech to help bring our own games to Android a few years ago, we realized that all of our developer colleagues probably would benefit from this as well. Many of which were not even interesting in porting to Android, due to the work involved, so we took the development burden from them. However, knowing that users are the key to success in gaming, we released all of the ports under our newly established publishing division.  From there things just kept growing and growing and eventually our user base got big enough that developers wanted us to publish on all platforms.  We probably release only 1-2 games of our own each year but launch probably 20-25 each year for other developers. Some require publishing on all platforms, others like The Executive self published on iOS, and wanted our help with the port and Android release.

(JC) Let me say thank you to both of you for supporting Android. It can still be quite frustrating seeing some pretty amazing games that are exclusive to iOS. As gamers, we just want to be able to play great games. So as I am hunting for stories to write about the latest and best games, it is a huge sigh of relief, when I find out that the game will be coming from iOS to Android or vice versa. I know there are a lot of independent game developers that would like to work with you. What do you look for in a game that you want to help publish?

(RH) There is no requirement other than the game needs to be fun. We enjoy all sorts of games from puzzle, to action, to racing and more. If we can find the fun in your game, no matter what the style, odds are we will work with you on it.

(JC) That is encouraging. Alright all of you independent game developers out there. You heard it directly from Ryan. Don’t flood his email about your game until you are ready. Maybe even look at the catalog of games that they have produced first, to see if your game would fit in, or is as fun as some of the games they have already produced. It might help save your ego a bit too, if your game is not quite ready for the big time. Keep plugging away at it though. That’s what I love about gaming. You never know what independent game developer will have the next big hit.

(JC) What was it about The Executive that made you want to publish the game?

(RH) The Executive is one of the most novel, hilarious and addicting games we have played in a while, so we were super excited when they contacted us about working with them.  From the action sequences, the passive investment to the look and just overall concept, who could ever say no to beating up werewolves in a suit?

(JC) That is a perfect way to describe the game. They had me at werewolves! How long does it typically take to port a game from iOS? What are some of the factors that slow the process down?

(RH) This widely varies from game to game and how it was developed. If the game was done using something like Unity, we can usually optimize and get something out the door relatively quick. However, if there is a lot of custom or Obj-C code, then it can take a lot longer, as we need to actually use our porting tech. Some code we get is super clean and easy to work with, others are well…lets just say not so clean. So learning someone else’s code can also be a hurdle.

(JC) That is pretty interesting. I know nothing about coding, so I kind of feel like I just took the red pill and fell into The Matrix. It all sounds quite complicated, and knowing how many games you port a year, makes what you do even more impressive. Let’s talk a bit more about publishing those games. How many games do you bring to market each year between Android/iOS? Do you have plans to do more than that at any point?

(RH) We try to launch something about once every 2 weeks if we can, some being co-launches, or exclusives or Android ports. Whatever the platform, it is usually about 2 weeks between. We have done more, but would never go above 1 a week at this point. We really want to give each launch a lot of love, so we be able to do that if we were launching more than 1 a week.

(JC) Is there a particular software that makes the process easier? So if a game is created with the Unity 3D engine, does that make it easier to port between Android/iOS? And, I am sure the answer to this question is simple, but why do you think you port more games from iOS to Android than the other way around?

(RH) As mentioned before, yes for sure. Unity and other cross development tools can make it easier, but it isn’t just a simple turn key solution. There are still lots of issues to deal with if a developer only has one platform in mind, even if they use Unity. It may seem like most are iOS to Android, but that is usually because the games are already launched on iOS. We have got many games that were not launched on any platform, that were made with Android in mind first, but we adjust the launch to create both.

(JC) Being game industry veterans (Noodlecake Games was started in 2011 in Canada.), what three things would you tell men and women, or young boys and girls they need to know, before attempting to make a career at creating games?

(RH)  1 – Just make something. There are tons of resources out there and you don’t need to be a full time developer to create a simple prototype. The worst thing we always hear is “I’ve got a great idea”. Ideas are worthless. Actually make something and you’re set.

2 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The game development community is very open, from indie to AAA. You would be surprised how many developers are willing to lend their advice and time to up and coming game devs.

3 – Start with what you know and build from there. This is the same as how most bands operate when they first start. They play their influences together, and then create a new sound based on that. If your voice as a gamer is towards card games, or metroidvanias or RPG’s, use what you know and love as a starting point.

(JC) That is great advice. I totally agree. It boils down to ‘just do it.’ So often we think too long, and then that hampers our ability to move forward, or that snuffs out that rare spark of creativity. Jacob, how would you describe the process of working with Noodlecake Studios? Was it easier than you expected? Was it difficult to put your hard work into the hands of someone else? What was your greatest fear about the process?

(JS) Working with Noodlecake has been a fantastic experience. They really care about the quality of the final product, and they know the Android market well, so we had no reservations about putting The Executive in their capable hands. On the technical side, they know both iOS and Android well enough, to handle the crazy things we do in our games. Sharing our project with them has been easy.

(JC) Do you think The Executive plays the same as it does on iOS? Do you have any Android devices? If not, why? The Executive looks and plays great on the Nvidia Shield Tablet and my LG V10 by the way, so thank you both for that!

(JS) Yes! We’ve tested it on our own Galaxy S5 and we’re confident that the experience is virtually identical.

(JC) What are the plans for the future for your team? With the success of The Executive, have your goals changed or how you create games changed?

(JS) We learned so much making The Executive. It was really our first game with a fully animated character and handmade levels. However, the game industry is constantly shifting, perhaps now more than ever. Therefore, we aren’t totally sure what direction we’ll be going next!

(JC) The fighting genre is a great one, but if you had to step out of that genre for your next game, what intrigues you most?

(JS)  I personally enjoy RPGs, but I don’t think that’s what we’ll take on next. I honestly have no idea what our next game will be! We’ve got several new game ideas in the early design phase, and as usual for Riverman, they’re all different genres.

(JC) Now that you have worked successfully with Noodlecake Studios, will Android be more of a priority next time? We love to see games advertised for Android and iOS, and even more, knowing that they will be released on the same day! Am I asking too much here? Of course I want to say thank you to being committed to bringing The Executive to Android.

(JS) A cross-platform same-day launch with Noodlecake handling Android is absolutely something we’ll consider next time!

(JC) When will we hear about your next project?

(JS) Probably sometime after we decide what it is 🙂

(JC) Jacob, if there were one thing you wanted people to know about your studio, what would it be?

(JS) I hope that players can sense the amount of time and attention to detail we put in every element of every game. We are perfectionists, which doesn’t always make sense from a financial perspective, but we want nothing less than to deliver the most enjoyable experience possible!

(JC) If you were trapped on an island by yourself, what game would you want to have with you and why? If there were two of you, what would that game be?

(JS) Is there a game that teaches real-world survival techniques? Maybe I should bring that! As far as two-player, I really like falling block puzzlers like Puyo Puyo and Tetris Attack.

(JC) Ryan, same question for you. If you were trapped on an island by yourself, what game would you want to have with you and why? If there were two of you, what would that game be?

(RH)  Well I can’t speak to the entire company, but personally it would have to be Super Metroid, as that is my favorite game of all time. The easy answer would be WoW or something since you can play it forever, but that just isn’t my personal cup of tea. If I had someone to play with, then maybe Super Mario World or Mario All Stars (cheating since it is 3 games in one).

(JC) So what would you gentlemen say is the best part about working together on The Executive?

(JS) Noodlecake is so easy to communicate with, and genuinely respects the work we put into the game.

(RH) The team at RiverMan has been awesome! They understand the process, and were patient with us while our team plugged away at porting the title. Plus the game is so awesome, that we just love being a part of epic games like this. It is one of the best parts about being a publisher. We just love working with great games and this is no exception!

(JC) How often did you need to meet and work together in the same space? Was more of it done via video conferencing… how did that work?

(RH) We have a weekly meeting in North Dakota to chat about work. Just kidding. We have never met in person! The joys of the internet right? We do most of the work via email to be honest. What an age we live in. 

(JS) All of our communication was over the internet, which was imperative because we continue to be very busy supporting The Executive and other side projects.

(JC) That just sounds crazy to me, but hey, you are right. The internet makes a lot of amazing things possible. What are both of your thoughts on game journalist, and game journalism in general? Is there anything you would change or recommend?

(JS) It has been a tumultuous couple of years for the media when it comes to covering games! I try not to dig too deep into the major controversies, so my only hope is that journalists continue to give fair coverage to both big and small projects, and that they remember that games are an art form, that can potentially be enjoyed by all sorts of people, in many different ways.

(RH) This is a tough one. We are still humbled anytime anyone wants to talk about anything we have created. Must be the Canadian in us. I have no idea where it is going and what the answer is for anyone who has issues with the current format, but as long as people keep making great games, I hope there is someone to talk about them.

(JC) We are closing in on the end of the year. What games are you most looking forward to playing next year. They can be mobile or console or PC?

(JS) I can’t wait to see what Nintendo has up its sleeves with the NX, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the new Zelda. I’m also curious to see what sort of games gain popularity on Apple TV.

(RH) Id say on the console front I am super excited to get my hands on No Man’s Sky, but I’m also pretty sure at this point, the best game I will play next year I haven’t even heard of yet. That is what I love about this industry. From mobile to console to VR, everyone is making such awesome stuff I am constantly surprised.

Jacob and Ryan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with DroidGamers. These interviews really give us a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes. It is important to know how much hard work goes into these games. Especially knowing the challenges with creating premium-priced games, versus the free-to-play games, that have so saturated the gaming market. I think it is good to see both and play both.

We wish you much success with The Executive and the future games that you develop. I for one, will always be on the lookout for the next Noodlecake game or Riverman Media game. Sure, it’s my job, but that is the beauty of it. I get to write about games and play them too.

The Executive is now available on Google Play and has an introductory sale price of $2.99. After that, the game will sell for $4.99 once the sale ends.

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