A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games Interview

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posted 4/9/2009 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
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With the fast finger-tapping cargo hauler Sky Babes vs. Fly Boys launching for the iPhone and iPod Touch, plus having three more iPhone games in the works, A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games is finding that it’s rather enjoying the life of an indie developer. We talk to them about keeping staff flexible (but fully retained) in the current economy, how the idea for Sky Babes evolved from slow-moving sim to twitch-based arcade, and how Alien Assault, their next game, will be completely different.

Please introduce yourself and clue our readers into where you're working now as well as your background in the video game industry.
Hi, I'm Funky Swadling, one of the principals of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games. My business partner Jesse Joudrey and I set up A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. in 2004, because we believed professional game development didn't need to be limited to multi-million dollar projects with teams of 100+ people. Our many years at EA Sports as programmers taught us two things: how to make multi-platform games on time and on budget, and that the smaller and more dedicated the team you work with, the better the game turns out to be. We started small, going from the two of us working in my apartment on an idea for a PSP game through to a signed contract with Capcom to develop an XBLA and PSN game called Rocketmen: Axis of Evil (a new version of our original game idea) with a team of a dozen people -- no longer in my apartment, fortunately! Since then we've worked closely with Capcom and Sony on a variety of downloadable and sports products. We've grown to a team of 18 people now -- a combination of new talent (some of whom have been with us for 5 years and barely count as new), and industry veterans. Joe Bonar and Jesse Roberts, previously of EA and Backbone, complete our management partnership.

Okay, probably a too-frequent question, Funky, but we have to ask: What’s the acronym stand for in A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games?
Nobody's ever asked that before! Hmm. Since you're not cleared for the actual answer, how about "Association of Creative Individuals Who Don't Care What Letters in Acronyms Stand For"?

Fair enough. But the company name would have to change to A.C.I.W.D.C.W.L.A.S.F Games…until you changed the meaning again. After forming, you developed the PS2 version of NBA ’08, and the dual-stick shooter Rocketmen for XBLA and PSN, as you mentioned. But the iPhone looks like it just might introduce a new era for you guys. Are you currently firing on all cylinders for this fledgling platform?
iPhone is definitely a new phase in A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.'s development. We have always prided ourselves on making fun games with small teams, and iPhone takes that to a new extreme. Recently, we temporarily found ourselves with more people than work for them to do -- it takes time to sign new console business, especially in these economic times. Rather than laying off staff, as many in our industry have been forced to do recently, we decided to take a chance on self-funded iPhone development with our existing staff. People who weren't working on our console games were moved around to quickly develop iPhone games. As a company, we brainstormed and came up with dozens of ideas for iPhone games that were both fun-sounding and quick to implement. The quick to implement part is very important. When you're self-funding games, you don't want ten people to spend a year on a game before you know if it's any good. Our employees share in the profits made by our iPhone games, so everyone is motivated to keep within scope.

We started experimental development on seven of the ideas, and within a week or two realized that three of them were out-of-scope, so they were put back in the pile of ideas. Possibly they'll be implemented in our second round of iPhone games, but they've got stiff competition from some other ideas we brainstormed. The remaining four moved into full production. Our team is extremely flexible, so the staff working on any given game changes as games are in development. Need a tileset to make levels with for one game this week? Let's get five artists on that task. Once they're done, we can keep two of them polishing that art while the other three move onto two other games in need of GUI work. The same principle applies to programming and design.

Working on these games has been incredibly rewarding. In around six weeks to two months, we can get a game from idea to finished product. It's very liberating, especially for those who have worked on games that take a year or longer to produce. With so much flexibility, everyone has a chance to try out new things. It's exactly what we had designed A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. to be. iPhone is not the only focus of our business, but it's a great thing to have going on in parallel with more mainstream console development.
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