You might remember Chris Paladino, Tony Hynes, and Nelson Rodriguez from their work on the now defunct Gamerscore blog for Microsoft. After they left Microsoft they formed Promethium Marketing
where they've helped with the launch of Windows 7, Tekken 6 and a few other projects. Then they did what most marketing folk do now , release their own iPhone game. OK, maybe that's the exception to the rule but we wanted to see how they went from Halo:ODST to casual tower defense game in less than a year.
Can you introduce yourself and talk about your role at Promethium?
My name is Chris Paladino, and I handle community relations at Promethium Marketing. For Tweet Defense specifically, I helped with game design, balancing, and I also wrote all the music in the game.
So we have to ask this. How does a company of hardcore gamers develop a game that fits snugly into the casual game niche? What does it feel like to have part of your hardcore gaming side die? :D
It’s been interesting. As those who know me realize, I’m a pretty hardcore gamer. While I would argue Zombie Tower Defense fits nicely into the hardcore classification, I understand what you are asking.
Twitter is something I shouldn’t like, but I do. iPhone games are typically casual, or at least bite-sized. The industry isn’t shifting necessarily, but the casual games are getting better. That gap between casual and core is getting smaller, especially looking at something like Puzzle Quest, or even Viva Piñata. I think there’s a huge space there for a game that appears casual, but really has a complex back-end for statistics, formulas, and ways to game the system. Hopefully we’ll see more of these types of games in the next few years.
How did you come up with the idea for TweetDefense and how did you get involved with the folks at GrinLock? Could you talk about how a marketing company got into the game development business?
Tony Hynes, Nelson Rodriguez and I were coming back from GDC 2 years ago, and in the airport we were all checking our email, reading twitter, and generally pulling our iPhones out every 13 seconds.
Nelson asked why no one had done a game around Twitter before. We discussed the idea, and realized that there’s something here that people haven’t realized yet. We started brainstorming, and that’s where Tweet Defense started.
We got involved with GrinLock because they are a talented group, and we had done some work with them for a client on a Facebook game. We liked their work, and asked if they wanted to be involved with Tweet Defense.
You aren’t the first to ask why a marketing company is publishing games... I’d ask you first – who DOESN’T want to make their own game? I mean really isn’t’ that what everyone secretly wants?
Seriously though, we’ve been blessed to do some fun things and work on exciting projects for a living. The opportunity to create an iPhone game sort of fell into our laps, and it’s been something we wanted to pursue. The biggest obstacle was explaining that we designed the game; we aren’t just doing PR or Community Marketing for it. Has developing your own game changed the way you look at games now? What was the biggest lesson you learned during the development of TweetDefense?
Absolutely! Almost every game I play now I think about the underlying decisions. Why did they use this color palette? Why is the main character a male? Why is this inventory system as complicated as it is?
These are things that I only thought about in passing before, but are really part of the game design – what can you do to make this the most fun experience someone could have while playing it.
The biggest lesson we learned from Tweet Defense was that the barriers to doing some crazy things you thought impossible are mostly imagined. That sounds so corny, but literally if you want to make a game – do it! Yes it takes hard work, yes it takes some research, but ultimately the iPhone platform allows almost anyone to create a game, and sell it for money right there next to Ubisoft and EA titles. We’re in a pretty amazing time in the industry right now – well, except for all the Fart applications.
What were your expectations for sales of the game and have you sold as many as you thought you would? Was it difficult to get your app approved?
Our expectations were all over the map. I think some of our friends and family thought the game was going to rival Halo or God of War, while others thought we were wasting our money.
We’re very happy with the sales we’ve made, and we’ve learned a TON – 1st hand experience in marketing and publicizing an iPhone game on a crowded platform, learned about the app store ecosystem, learned some of the tricks that people do to gain attention. It’s been a great process, and just as a case study it’s worth the time for anyone to do.
The app approval process was much quicker, and more painless than we had thought originally. The folks at Apple were very quick to approve the application. Despite some of our initial uncertainty - it was a painless process.
With over 150,000 apps available, the App Store is a bit of a crap shoot right now, how do you get your game noticed on the service? What do you think Apple could do to make it easier to find games on the service?
Ah, the golden question...
For us, we had a really unique idea that no one had done before. To integrate Twitter into the game play, rather than just allow a light client, is something that I expect more games to do in the future. This unique hook allowed us to get lots of attention from sites that normally wouldn’t report on an iPhone game launch – Gizmodo and Mashable had write-ups on the game, which was pretty crazy to see.
In order to make it easier to find what you want, I’d love it if Apple really spent some time on their genius recommendation system. If you look at Netflix, they are pretty amazing at what they think I’ll like, and I would love to see a system even ½ as good start to spread to places like the App store. You've got a nice mix of zombies in the game, how did you come up with the design for the zombies? Were there any that didn't make it into the game?
The guys at GrinLock had some great concept art, and we tweaked that a bit to make the zombies a little less human, and a little less cute – but still fitting within the game universe.
We tried to think of different roles for the zombies to play, the big guy with lots of hit points, the fast guy, and the guy who makes two more when you kill it.
Why are you linking the service to Twitter? Were you worried about how the Twitter portion of the game would be received after Naughty Dog had to scale back the Twitter information in Uncharted 2? Can you talk about the criteria you have for selecting the booster of the day?
Twitter is something that we use and like. We wanted to extend that experience into a game, so that each person had a unique experience dependant on their social profile. Twitter’s API allowed us to do that fairly easily.
At one point we talked about looking through your tweets for key-words and using that. For example, if you said “Wow, it’s really hot outside today”, then flame/fire towers would get a bonus to damage.
We nixed it because we feared abuse/spam – that was one of our biggest design challenges, how to NOT piss everyone else off with people spamming Twitter.
I love the spirit of what the Uncharted team was trying to do, those guys are an amazingly talented group, and despite gamer outcry – I applaud their attempt to do something more with Twitter. I’d be lying if I didn’t say, “Let’s make sure we don’t get extra hate because our use of Twitter is viewed as poor or incorrect”.
The booster of the day tower is a really interesting feature that takes someone’s Twitter account, and if you follow that account, you get additional firepower.
We select these for a bunch of reasons, folks who have helped us out (the voice-actors in the game: Carlos Ferro, CheapyD, JVB, Hailey Bright), from celebs who are into social media (Aston Kutcher), to celebs who are tech nerds (Jimmy Fallon), to people/brands we admire.
What do you like most about the final game? Are there things that you're not quite as fond of? Anything that you had to cut from the game that you wished you had time to get in?
The most impressive thing for me is when someone picks up the game, and plays it for a few minutes. About 15 seconds in, they usually look at me and say “whoa! This is a real game!” I know they don’t mean to be so candid, but the game feels like it wasn’t done by a group of marketing guys who have never created a game in their lives.
Love it or hate it, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done. To take a raw idea and to craft it into a tangible, fun experience – that’s an amazing feeling to me.
As the guy who did the music, I wish I was able to get longer song loops, in full stereo at a higher-bit rate in the game. We were facing some memory issues, so I had to shorten the loops down drastically, and make them mono, at a lower-bit rate. I’m still proud of how it came out, but I’ve been told the music can get repetitive.
There’s a TON we had on our wish list – some of it wasn’t even feasible, but that’s why it’s called a wish list right? In-game editors for towers, maps, music, zombies – a tower defense creation studio; multiplayer/co-op; We really had to scale back, and honestly I think it was an ambitious project for our 1st game. Rather than make something simple we made a Twitter-integrated tower defense game w/ an economy, lots of balance points to make the game work well. Any chance we'll see an HD version for the iPad in the near future? Other than the screen resolution do you think there's anything you could do on the big screen that you couldn't do on the smaller one?
I think that the iPad has HUGE potential for gaming. Larger screen real estate, better processing power, more memory. I’d love to see Tweet Defense HD on that platform. ;) (Did you notice the winky face there?)
Talk about the achievements in the game and how you came up with the ones that are in the game? Do you have a personal favorite? Can you talk about some of the ones that didn't make the cut?
The achievement names were lots of fun to create. It was just the three of us riffing. We started to go back through the internet memes for gaming and try and twist them slightly.
One example would be “Attack its Weak Point for Massive Damage”. It was to be an achievement you get when you kill a zombie w/ 1 shot from a fully-upgraded tower. That meme has just been done to death...
What are your plans for the future of the game? Are you going to be working on a new game in the future or is this it for now?
It’s a rule of standard gaming PR that you don’t discuss the next project while the current one is still in full swing. The beauty of doing our own thing is that we can ignore that rule...
Hell yes we want to make more games. It was an amazing experience, and as a team of creative folks, it makes sense to continue to create experiences that we want to have.
Anything we missed that you think is important?
I want to thank Gaming Nexus for the opportunity to do this interview, as well as for the support. It’s been humbling that sites like yours have shown as much support as you have.
We can’t say thank you enough for all the podcasts, interviews, emails, texts, and everything else that people have done just to say “nice work” or “good luck”. As corny as it sounds, we simply can’t do our jobs without folks like you guys.
PS: Mid-west represent. ;)
We'd like to thank Chris for answering our questions