Llamasoft starts 2011 with an assault on the App Store that manages to be both cuddly and ferocious. Design legend Jeff Minter is up to his old tricks, taking inspiration from the arcade classics like Asteroids and delivering something that's vivid, hectic, and idiosyncratic.
We caught up with him to find out what he makes of the iOS platform and what's next for his minotaurs.
Eurogamer: You've made so many games over the years, is a release day still special? Do things like online leaderboards let you feel a bit more connected with your audience?
Jeff Minter: Yes, it's always quite nice to finally see live users pouring onto the system and people starting to get the high scores and things like that. It makes you feel a bit closer to the whole process. You're not so abstracted from it as you used to be.
In the old days, you'd send something off, it would be published a few weeks later, and that was it, basically. Now you can actually sit and watch the whole thing happen, which is rather good. It's just nice to see a game finally get out there.
You can generally get a pretty good idea in the first few hours whether something's going to be well-liked or not, too.
Eurogamer: How's the reaction to Minotaur Rescue been so far?
Jeff Minter: It's been very good. I think about the worst thing that I can say about it is that some guy in Russia didn't like it so much on the iPhone and iPad that he only gave it three stars out of five.
If that's the worst that it's doing, then it's pretty good. As far as I can see on the App Store, most of the user reviews are averaging out at nearly five stars. I think we're fairly good.
Eurogamer: What have you been up to between working on Space Giraffe and Gridrunner Revolution and then releasing Minotaur Rescue?
Jeff Minter: Most of the stuff that's been happening has been happening in the background, really. It's been developing the Neon 2 platform and getting it working between iOS and PC.
This is going to be the platform which we're going to base everything on going forward, so it's stuff that's got to be done. Basically, you'll write the same code, and create versions for iOS, PC and Mac at the same time.
Eurogamer: The iPhone's very popular at the moment, but was there anything in particular that made you want to develop for it?
Jeff Minter: It's just a very convenient platform that a lot of developers own and it's fairly easy to publish, so it looked like a fairly obvious thing to have a crack at. At first I was put off at the prospect of touch screen controls, but that doesn't really bother me now.
Eurogamer: Your approach to controls is very different from a lot of other developers. A lot of teams seem to just slap on virtual joysticks and leave it at that.
Jeff Minter: I don't like those, you see. I'd played quite a lot of those games, and that's why I wasn't initially looking forward to doing this. I've played a lot of iOS games and not really liked the controls on them.
It all kind of grew out of recent developments. I only realised I wanted to use what we had to put some kind of game out there fairly recently. It's only just before November that I started working on this.
So just to test things out, I threw a little Asteroids ship in there and started playing with the controls. I got something I liked, put the sun in the middle, played with it some more and went from there, really.
Eurogamer: As a fan of Defender and Robotron designer Eugene Jarvis, you wrote on your blog during development that you approached things from a perspective of What Would Jarvis Do?
Jeff Minter: [Laughs] Absolutely. The whole thing came about because I'd been invited to a R3play retro expo event in Blackpool. I promised I'd have something to show when I went up there, and realised I didn't have anything to show.
So I thought, I'll stick some stuff in a game engine and get something going to show there. The whole theme of doing things in a very retro style seemed to sit with that exhibition I was going to.
At first I was just thinking of doing the one game, but it started to look really nice. I really liked how the Atari VCS graphics were looking on the iDevices. Even though they're chunky graphics, when you make them glow with the feedback effect it starts to look really cool.
So I thought, why not make a series out of this and do various versions of iconic old hardware styles? A lot of people remember those things quite fondly, so you get to play with the same styles but without having to suffer the same limitations of that hardware.
In making them, I was just trying to think as a designer of the day would have been thinking. You know: what kind of games would have influenced a designer making a game back then, and how you could fit those influences together to make something which obviously evokes certain other games but is its own entity in its own right.
I think a lot of people were doing this same process even back then. If you think about Eugene Jarvis himself, I'm sure he must have looked at Berzerk before he made Robotron. But he had a bit more power than Berzerk had, and a crazy imagination for putting loads of shit on the screen, and it came out as Robotron.
I think it was a process that was quite common back then, and I just basically wanted to do the same thing now.
Eurogamer: Is it a useful process to design in character, to try and channel another designer's ideas?
Jeff Minter: It's interesting. These days I tend to be a little less brutal than Eugene was, but what I want to give people the feeling of is that wonderful feeling of when you were actually mastering one of Eugene's games. That feeling you got when everything was kicking off, and there were explosions going off everywhere.
But I wanted to make that more accessible to people who would perhaps be rather more intimidated by his stuff.
Eurogamer: You've announced on Twitter that you're working on the next Minotaur game: is there anything you can say about it yet?
Jeff Minter: It's not going to be that long before I reveal it, as I only intend to spend about a month on each of these projects. I don't want to give away just yet what I'm actually going to be doing, as I want it to be a bit of a surprise. Again, though, it's based on certain iconic old hardware, and there's one particular old game that it's themed around.
I'll be releasing a couple of little spoilers in a few weeks, but I want to tease people with it now. Now I've managed to get a bit of attention for the Minotaur project, I should probably tease people.