Simon Oliver is the embodiment of a dream. He represents what other developers, mining for glory in the wilds of the iTunes App Store, want to uncover; he's an aspirational example to the thunderous horde galloping their way proverbially West with their coding pix-axes held aloft.
His first game, Rolando, was just the beginning for Oliver, however, who recently delivered a healthy-scoring sequel and has long-aired plans for a third game. To find out more about both the games and the man behind them, we tracked down Oliver for a chat.
Eurogamer: For the benefit of those who might not have played the original, can you tell us a bit about how Rolando itself works and what prompted you to make the sequel?
Simon Oliver: Rolando is the first release from HandCircus, a puzzle-platform game that sees you guide a gang of Rolandos through an adventure packed with action, brain teasers, challenges and surprises.
We came off the the release of the first one with our feet still running, with a lot of ideas that we wanted to implement, new mechanics and features that we thought would work well in the Rolando universe, and a deeper knowledge of the device. Channeling all of this into a sequel was a very natural next step. We were really happy with the reception of the original and felt that there was an appetite for a second Rolando game.
Eurogamer: The game's now available on the iTunes App Store alongside the original. What are the big differences that sets the sequel apart?
Simon Oliver: Rolando 2 features a brand new quest set on an exotic island and adds vehicles, inflating Rolandos, water physics, new puzzles, traps, mechanics and much, much more. We've also put a lot of work into the visual side of things, upgrading to a new 2.5D look and packing a lot more detail into the environment. It incorporates Plus+, ngmoco's new network platform, allowing you to compare achievements and scores, as well as allowing you to challenge friends to beat your accomplishments.
With the sequel, we wanted to put more emphasis on character and story. Whereas the Rolandos in the first game didn't have specific names or personalities, those that you guide throughout Rolando 2 are all well-defined characters. We've brought in the talents of a writer to add depth to those characters and shape the overall plot.
Eurogamer: Rolando was praised for the restraint and polish in its control system compared to other iPhone titles. How did you set about achieving that and what sort of lessons did you take from that experience into the sequel?
Simon Oliver: A lot of prototyping! (and a lot of discarding elements that weren't strong enough). Kyle Gabler and Kyle Gray's Experimental Gameplay Project is a real inspiration and helped to guide the early phases of development (iterate quickly, don't be afraid to try things out or throw things away if they don't work). We ended up trying out many, many different control schemes before deciding on the scheme that we have today and that process was really useful in exploring the unique input scheme of the iPhone.
Once we had the solid control skeleton in place, we were ready to add additional layers and mechanics on top. We were still very happy with the underlying control scheme when development on Rolando 2 started, so only made minor refinement to the controls. The new mechanics of the sequel (such as vehicle control) were all based on the foundations and framework established by the first game.
Eurogamer: What will the third game be offering there over and above the content in Rolando 2?
Simon Oliver: The third game is still in the very early phases of development, and there isn't much to reveal just yet, but we'll want to make sure its at least as significant as the progression from Rolando 1 to Rolando 2.