Cut the Rope developer Zeptolab gave a presentation at last week's Casual Connect in Hamburg. The studio provided an insight into the making of its hit sweet-gobbling casual game, and passed on some lessons it had learned.
It also reserved a fair deal of praise for its publisher Chillingo (a view that was subsequently challenged by following speaker and fellow hit-maker Rovio).
We caught up Zeptolab's charming chief creative officer Semyon Voinov to tell us about Zeptolab's plans for the future.
Pocket Gamer: What you working on right now?
Semyon Voinov: We definitely want to continue improving and adding content to Cut the Rope. It's the logical thing to do business-wise and makes the most of the momentum.
I like to think of it not like milking the cow, but rather that now we have time and budget to improve the game. I don’t think it’s perfect in any sense.
So can we expect some new features coming soon? What sort of things should we look forward to?
It’s not only about features, but also a number of little elements control-wise. For instance, some people complain that the sliders are too close so they accidentally cut the rope when using them – some usability issues.
We’re also getting more and more data about user behaviour and want to use this to tweak things.
Of course, while creating we were trying to make it as well balanced as possible. Now we can see where people are getting stuck and have skipped levels, so we need to understand what’s wrong, learn this lesson, and create new levels and tweak those levels.
We have a list of ideas and elements we want to add – pick the hottest ones and the ones we have most interest in, do some prototyping and see if it works.
We hope it’ll be one of the things that get people excited about the update - we’ll bring new features/levels. We can do lots of little twists on core mechanics. For instance, the Valentine's update coming this weekend will bring the heart-split candy, so you have to unite the candy before you can grab it.
What about a level editor?
One request we’re getting quite often and we’re thinking about it. User-generated content and community is cool, they do part of your job. From other side we want to maintain quality of levels to be as high as possible and have quality. Always a dilemma. Still looking at options.
Are you looking at in-app payments?
Definitely looking at stuff like that, but want to make it good.
People quite reasonably get pissed if you keep asking for money. We don’t want to mess with our karma. We want to remain good guys.
Will there be more updates/versions? Like seasons with angry birds?
Again we’re considering options. We did a separate version for Xmas, but with the Valentine's update we wanted to put this inside the existing game, both as a reward to our existing fans and as marketing.
We don’t have plans to do loads of ‘seasonal’ options for the near future though.
Any news on the Android version?
This is one of the questions we’re getting most, also from players everyday.
iOs is top priority for us, we’ve already announced the game will be coming to Android. Want to make sure it’s done in the right way and as cool/smooth as on iOS platform because of device fragmentation.
So does that mean May? June?
No ETA yet!
What about WP7?
That’s one of the opportunities we’re considering. There’s plenty of cool platforms, like 3DS. It’s overwhelming in a way, have to use the moment of it being popular but also we can’t outsource the porting – we want to control the quality.
Will it be just Cut the Rope for you from now on?
I have an internal conflict between creative and business part of myself.
We will keep doing CTR for sure, but the creative part of me really screams for something new.
Have several cool ideas for what will be our next projects and I’d love to work on something completely different. Ideally we’d be able to do both and keep working on CTR whilst starting to work on several new projects.
How many staff do Zeptolabs have?
The core development team is two (myself and my brother)! [laughs].
We also have great guys helping on an outsource base. We’re expanding as we’re talking. Definitely don’t want to expand too dramatically – we’ve never seen this going well.
We need to get people who are smarter than we are.
What about your background?
Me and my brother worked on traditional mobile games for around eight years, I worked in Digital Chocolate for 3-4 years on social/mobile games.
Digital Chocolate is a great company and I loved working there a lot.
They’re really good at bringing casual look and feel of the game. Really helped us creating CTR. That’s what DChoc were always great at.
Do you want to make a CTR movie, like Angry Birds?
Yes, a Horror movie! [laughs]
No, we’re not trying to takeover the world like Rovio. We really like what Rovio are doing, but don’t want to follow their steps, but rather to invent our own way of doing things.
Can you tell us about new IPs? Is anything underway as yet?
Well, the most important part of work on CTR was done away from the computer, while walking and resting and sitting in the toilet and in this sense we’re already starting on new projects.
Would new game in IP, would you use the same character?
One option would be to use the Om Nom character, who’s quite well known. As a creative person I’d like to work on something completely new. Don’t be surprised if you see something with blood!
What about Parachute Ninja? Will you come back to that?
We’re not planning to do any more with that. Of course, we really like that game - it’s a great piece of entertainment. Just compared to CTR it was a moderate success. It’s a bit more of a hardcore game and gets quite punishing.
Is casual the way forward for mobile games developers?
Well, mobile phones are able to reach the audience that are never touched by hardcore/console gaming. It’s both a good and sad situation – there are some really great games, but they struggle because they don’t reach the top charts. To do that you need as many eyes as possible from different ages and genders.
What are your favourite five games on mobile?
Infinity Blade – not a hidden gem, really sets a high standard for any 3D game.
Helsing’s Fire – Published by Chillingo was really cool and indie feel.
One game I also want to mention Let’s do Pottery, where you form a shape.
A project I was involved in doing that was one of the favourite projects I worked on at Digital Chocolate was California Gold Rush. I worked on the first part of it, and it was a great experience.
Plants vs Zombies – played that on the iPhone on the way here.
Oh and Bad Air Day from Gamehouse/Mr Goodliving - a really simple concept but well presented with good character.
What’s your prediction for mobile gaming in 2011?
We’ll definitely see more big titles coming. At the moment we all know what the big iPhone game names are, like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds. But the market is expanding, a lot of new talent is getting involved, so I definitely expect to see some really great things.
This keeps us realistic about our success. There are games coming that are even cooler than ours - we’re not going to be there forever unless we learn and improve.
Any plans for 3DS, Xperia Play, or NGP?
We’re looking at all of those. I’m a game developer – I’m especially interested in 3DS. No-one really knows if they’ll be able to sell games for £30-40 - let's see. You can go to fancy coffee places to get more expensive coffee and that works.