Chris Cross achieved a great deal of notoriety in the gaming business from his work on the Medal of Honor series. You’d expect a game designer that had success on big-budget console-games would continue to work on big-budget console-games, but Cross has gone in a different direction — iPhone gaming. He recently started up a new development house — Tarver Games — and has a few iPhone/iPod Touch products in the works. Tarver’s first game, Ghosts Attack, has been submitted to Apple for approval and should be out shortly. I recently interviewed Cross to learn more about Tarver Games, get the skinny on Ghosts Attack, ask him why he went from consoles to iPhone, and to ask him some of your questions.
Cross is an excellent and entertaining person. Check out everything he has to say and be sure to hit the break for an exclusive Ghosts Attack video.
Raymond Padilla: Chris, you’ve had tremendous success on home consoles. Why head to the iPhone? Is it the excitement of undiscovered territory? A new challenge?
Chris Cross: Thanks Ray — Yes, I have had success on home consoles and who is to say I won’t again? But for the moment, we (Tarver) have decided to bring our first IP — Ghosts Attack — to the iPhone. Just take a look at what’s going on today with games, budgets, platforms, and accessibility. The iPhone offers both developers and consumers an incredible chance at amazing products and apps for a fraction of the cost of console products.
RP: Some of my readers might need a primer on your upcoming game, Ghosts Attack. Would kindly give a brief primer on the game?
CC: Ghosts Attack is an alternate reality/FPS with a twisting — and a bit twisted :) — storyline. Ghosts Attacks integrates Google Maps technology with a dynamic alternate reality gaming experience. You explore a parallel world that was accidentally discovered by a group of scientists 40 years ago. Using the Map Kit in the iPhone SDK we let you use our own world map as your guide. There are mysteries to uncover, hostile enemies to fight, fast shooting action, a remote rover to pilot and a whole lot more.
RP: Tarver Games lists two of its goals as “making fun games that connect people socially and challenge players as little or as much as they want to be challenged.” How does Ghosts Attack meet those goals?
CC: What’s great about Ghosts Attack is that it’s geared for both casual and hardcore gamers. Its an easy game to jump right into and experience fast action. But it doesn’t stop there. Gamers can go deep — very deep. They will be able to head to the Tarver website for cutscenes, videos and additional story content — and this data will only be shown when the player wants to review it and all from the iPhone. We’re going to stream it in. In other words, no one is going to be bothered with cutscenes if they don’t want them. Wait until you see what I’ve got planned to make this game truly episodic and serialized, not to mention the social network gameplay functionality. Let’s just say you’ll be able to affect your friends’ game worlds from your desktop.
RP: Since Ghosts Attack is tied to Google Maps, is there any fear that Apple’s brewing war with Google would negatively impact the game? The rumor is that Apple is readying its own mapping program to supplant Google Maps as the default.
CC: No. Our game is mapping technology agnostic. We only used Google because it was the easiest and the most recognizable. There are open source mapping programs out there we could have used or the VE by the Big M, but with the release of 3.0 and the Map Kit we decided to stick with what’s there. If they war, we won’t get caught in the middle. We’ll just switch mapping APIs.
RP: Your company is also focused on creating new IPs — not just games. For something like your upcoming title, Brick Man, how do you create an IP with a brick-breaking game?
CC: Every new IP we have will explore both a technological feature for our company and a gameplay feature. Brick Man is a really simple game. It’s Breakout except the ball is a little dude with a helmet on. I want to use it to explore some animation systems for future games as well as some simple story telling techniques. That sounds like it’s just a test but that’s not the case. I love the little helmet head! I’ll have more about BM for you later as we develop the game. It’s a team favorite.
RP: Yeah, I know I’m lobbing softballs, but that’s because my readers have some great questions for you. So last one from me — what does Tarver Games have in the pipe? Any cool GPS or accelerometer features you can share?
CC: All I can really share right now is that Ghosts Attack isn’t a one time release. Expect to see new features and a developing story line over this next year. We’ll be doing other games but those will come from others on this team as well as a couple things I may have in the works involving some notable team ups with other creative types. Also expect variety. RTS, RPG, adventure games are all in the mix. We’ll do the right games at the right time.
RP: Sweet! Now onto the reader question! Shockwave562 asks, “How do you plan to provide a deep game experience on a platform that is full of shallow games?”
CC: Good question Shockwave562 — Where ya from? Long Beach? Downey? Well Shockalockabangbang! It’s not about emulating or porting console games. It’s about understanding what the player wants when they want it. Depth in games can be deceptive. It’s about offering choices and the feeling that there’s a big world to explore and that you’re playing a major role in that world. The only thing that the platform does is limit your experiences to about five mins at a time 15 if we’re lucky. That means getting you into the action and out very quickly. That also means you have to understand the objectives or goals of the game very quickly as well. You don’t want to spend one minute or 20 percent of your five-minute gaming-time reading a bunch of exposition about people you have no connection to. That’s why we’re putting the majority of the passive media (video, sounds, etc.) up on our website so you can pull those down to the phone when you want to know more, not when I need to tell you why to pick up a doohickey because Scientist Dipsmack is having an existential dilemma and his feelings are hurt.
RP: Btw, Scientist Dipsmack was my chemistry teach in high school. Anyway, next one is from Iceman who asks, “I’ve always wanted to know (from a developer’s prospective) what are the pros and cons to developing a game on a console, PC, or iPhone.”
CC: Interface. Games are the only media where the consumer feels the game through the interface. What’s viable as a design is different on all platforms because of interface. Budgets, hardware, team size, and tool sets are all different, but the real question to answer is, “How is the player going to experience this game?” Consoles all have USB ports now. Why isn’t it that more keyboards and mice are used for playing FPS games? I’ll answer that with another question. Do you really want to have a keyboard on your lap while sitting on the couch and a mouse on the coffee table? Most people play their console games in the living room or game room on a comfortable couch or lounge chair — not very conducive to a keyboard and mouse. So the iPhone doesn’t have buttons or analog sticks, but it does have an accelerometer and touch screen. We better learn how to make that second nature for players to play our games.
RP: Sandrock323 wants to know about the competition. “Have you ever thought of making a game for the Zune HD? If so, what would be the pros/cons?”
CC: We of course as a company want to make sure that there is a loyal audience willing to pay for good content — namely games — for any platform before diving in, investing the money and developing for it. So we will wait and see what happens — and if Microsoft releases a development kit, I am sure Tarver would be very interested to check it out.
RP: Hrolf broadens things with, “With several different phone types, including WebOS, Blackberry, iPhone, etc. What made you go with iPhone development?”
CC: The iPhone is a huge hit with more than 30 million sold since the device launched in June 07. That’s almost the same as 360s and a whole lot of people who are also active users of the AppStore. The iPhone has given mobile gaming a breath of fresh air — and it offers developers a host of innovative features and graphics capabilities that were never really available beforehand. The iPhone is also a convenient way to enter the market and build a fan base for future titles. Also as a designer I liked the challenge. After working on huge games with huge teams its nice to be able to get into the nuts and bolts of a game again with a team that knows every aspect of what they’re making.
RP: Smartguy wonders, “Do you see a more advantageous market on the iPhone since the cheaper software is priced for impulse buyers?”
CC: Yes. However, this question is the topic for a whole analysis of the market and pricing models, the YouTube generation and how the consumer filters noise. If Ray wants me to get into that we’ll do a whole article on it. Ray?
RP: Sure, that sounds like a great idea! Last question is from N8R, “What’s the future of multiplayer on the iPhone?”
CC: I’d keep your eyes on Ghosts Attack and see where the product grows. We’re going to start blurring the lines between single and multiplayer play, as well as what’s real in our world and the world of Ghosts Attack. “Beware the Torgan 13!”
RP: Chris, thanks so much for spending time with RPad.tv and the site’s excellent readers. Best of luck with Ghosts Attack!
CC: Thanks Ray! BTW Ray, next time somebody asks you if you’re a god….. you say yes!!!