First look at the first picture above this line. That ladies and gentlemen is a real screenshot of my gameplay of Soda Dungeon. I’m well over 100 hours in and I am still happily and hopelessly addicted to it. I think I beat all the main bosses. I think I got everything. I don’t care. I cant, stop, playing it.
Soda Dungeon has “it”. Whatever it is, game developers needs to play this game and figure it out. Because it’s amazing. So amazing that I had to find out more about this game. After some Bing & Google work I found the Soda Dungeon website and sent an email to the Afro Ninja email, then stalked looked up what/who Afro Ninja is. Say Hi to Shawn Tanner. Shawn is the co-creator of Soda Dungeon and our interesting interview today!
Afro-Ninja Productions Interview:
Shawn can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Shawn and I’ve been creating games under the alias of ‘Afro-Ninja’ for around a decade. Most of my projects have been in flash but in the last couple years I’ve been transitioning to mobile and console environments.
What inspired you to jump into the gaming industry?
I wanted to create memorable experiences. Though I enjoyed plenty of other media, I always found that games left the largest impression on me. I was also intrigued by the inner workings- how were games programmed?
What inspired your company name?
So the whole ‘Afro Ninja’ thing was a nickname given to me in high school by my friend Alex. The hair part is pretty self-explanatory. But sometimes I would show up at the lunch table without anyone really noticing, hence ‘ninja.’ These days I feel a bit silly as a 30 year-old man introducing my business as ‘Afro-Ninja Productions,’ so I tend to shorten it to just ‘AN’ 🙂
Can you tell us about how Afro-Ninja Productions got started?
Before I made games I made bad animations in flash. One of the first things I created was actually an animated version of a comic that Alex drew. It was pretty dumb, but when I put it on Newgrounds I decided to upload it as ‘Afro-Ninja,’ because why not. As I continued to create animations and eventually games I stuck with that alias.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the gaming industry?
Depends what you consider the ‘industry.’ I’m self-employed and tend to work on small projects. If you want to earn a living making games I would suggest that you simply start pursuing it as a hobby. In particular, learn some programming fundamentals. Many skills are needed to make a game, but the programmer glues it all together. Also accept that your first games are going to suck, and learn how to deal with criticism. While I certainly enjoy what I do, being an ‘indie developer’ isn’t particularly glamorous. In fact it’s pretty stressful, not knowing if your next game is going to earn you a living wage or not.
What can you tell us about the gaming scene in Ohio?
I can only speak for Columbus, which is where I currently live. Ohio certainly doesn’t have the “games” representation that the east and west coasts have, but it’s a lot stronger than you might think. There are a couple of dedicated games studios in the area, and also a yearly event downtown called the Ohio Game Developers Expo. It’s very motivating to see locals working on cool projects.
Soda Dungeon is a collaboration between yourself, Poxpower and the support of Armor games. Can you explain how that works to us?
I can’t really divulge any numbers, but I can tell you that our relationship is pretty straightforward. Pox and I created the Soda Dungeon prototype, which we pitched to Armor Games. They offered to provide us up-front funding and marketing assistance in return for a piece of the game’s future revenue. The remainder is split evenly between Pox and I. Pox lives in Canada, which can make communication a chore sometimes, but we pretty much work out everything over IM.
How do you feel about the recent popularity and proliferation of schools for game development?
Not sure how I feel about ‘Game Design Programs,’ since I never experienced the curriculum of one myself. All I know is that I’ve seen commercials that are misleading and appear to just be cashing in on a trend . I’m sure they have their merits, and probably serve as a good starting point. But honestly you’re fine if you just understand programming fundamentals, are willing to practice in your spare time, and aren’t afraid to put yourself out there a bit.
What inspired you while making a Soda Dungeon?
Soda Dungeon is mostly just a throwback to old-school RPG mechanics. However about 1/3 of the way through development Pox got me hooked on Clicker Heroes. We wanted to capture that same feeling of constant forward progression and accumulation. Clicker Heroes inspired our ‘dimension’ system, as well as the ‘relics’ to an extent.
Can you tell us a bit about Soda Dungeon and its creation? The thought process behind it, funny stories, etc.?
Soda Dungeon was born from the remains of an abandoned project. Pox had been working with another programmer on a game that fell through, and he was left with a huge folder of enemy sprites and effects. So every enemy you see in the game was pretty much finalized before there was even a concept in existence. Pox came to me and asked if I’d be interested in putting something together with the sprites, and I tinkered with the engine off and on for a couple of months. The game slowly shaped into what you see now. The combat itself was pretty much a given. We came up with the idea of a tavern as a home base, then that you would always hire a new team of people. We knew we could only make so many dungeon ‘areas,’ so soon after came the ideas of the 100-level repeat, and the need to warp with the wizard. I think our original idea used ‘death’ as a character that rewarded you for bringing the souls of your fighters to the dungeon for him. It was sort of a moral gray-area so we dropped that part. Most of the original drinks were alcoholic in nature but as you can see we changed that a bit too 🙂
Do you realize how addictive Soda Dungeon is? How did you know when you had it just right?
I knew we had it right when I asked my friend to test out the game and he didn’t hand it back for at least an hour. I almost never experience that- most of my games are one-time plays, or require more in-depth explanation to understand. Almost everyone I had try the game out would play well past when it offered new content, so I knew we were on to something. I tried to design the first dungeon trips very specifically so that each time there was always something new just in reach. In the past most people would hand my game back after dying a few times. So since you can’t really die in Soda Dungeon or lose your items (…at first), it can be hard to put down.
What are some of the most challenging parts of making Soda Dungeon?
The most challenging aspect so far has really just been designing cross-platform functionality and trying to make sure we meet all of the small requirements that each platform has. Stuff like local notifications, In-app payments, ads, achievements, and more all work differently for iOS and Android. In addition to making sure we checked off the game requirements we had to coordinate a lot of promotional materials like the video trailer, screenshots in multiple sizes, t-shirts, the website, the mailing list, and so on.
How does it feel when you start looking up reviews on your games?
It’s great! Feedback for Soda Dungeon has been fantastic. The only frustrating part is that most of our bad reviews are due to iOS compatibility issues, and I can’t respond directly in the App Store to anyone. It pains me when I see someone struggling to play the game and not understand why it’s freezing for them. Aside from that I’ve responded to hundreds of positive emails, tweets, and posts since the game’s launch! We were also lucky to get some coverage on bigger sites like Kotaku and Touch Arcade.
What improvements do you think can be made to improve the iOS app store?
Like I mentioned above, the ability to respond to reviews would be very helpful. Aside from that… I’d say that the process required to actually get your app in the store could be optimized on the developer side, but that’s sort of tough to explain.
How do you feel about in-app purchases & Freemium gaming?
As evidenced by Soda Dungeon, I think they’re fine when implemented in a non-obtrusive way. Too many apps are greedy though, and they’ve given a bad name to freemium in general. My goal with Soda Dungeon was to win over the loyalty of our players by allowing them to purchase items but never making it feel like you had to. We probably didn’t generate as much up-front revenue as we could have, but I’m hoping it will be worth it in the long run.
How worried are you about other developers cloning your work?
Not too worried at the moment. There are hundreds of minecraft clones and it does just fine. We’re not minecraft though, so I could be singing a different tune in the future.
Any thoughts on the evolution of tablet/ phone gaming and its effects on the larger game industry?
What I like about mobile gaming is that it forces us to simplify our interfaces and focus on the most important information to show to the player. The downside is that it can also be too simple. Some games require complex controls that a touch screen simply can’t facilitate. Part of me worries that the focus on touch devices will result in overall less effort put towards intricate game designs, but only time will tell. Some of my most memorable experiences from childhood involve working through an esoteric NES or SNES game. Mobile experiences usually aren’t that deep, and that includes Soda Dungeon. I tried to weave some story threads through the game, but I hope that kids aren’t missing out on the rich game experiences offered on other platforms as well.
What are your thoughts on the next gen consoles and what they mean for the gaming and media entertainment as a whole? Which one are you most excited about? What are your concerns?
I recently bought a PS4, though at the moment I do most of my gaming on PC. What excites me most about the newest generation is that cross-platform is much easier than it ever was, which means an ever-expanding audience that I can reach with a single product. I tested the waters a bit back when Xbox’s “indie” section was a thing, but I’m looking forward to completing a larger-scale multi-platform console release some day.
What was the first game you can remember playing that just wowed you? Have any games recently blown your mind?
While Super Metroid is my favorite game, I think the first game to really ‘wow’ me was Super Mario World. I loved playing the original Mario and this was my first experience seeing what a ‘next generation’ system could do. Compared to the original, Super Mario World felt like I was playing a cartoon show. Now that I’m older it’s much harder to find games that ‘blow my mind’ anymore.
What types of games do you normally like to play?
Technically speaking the game I have played the most by far is Super Smash Brother Melee, but I consider that a unique case. Otherwise I tend to play platformers and action/adventure style RPGs. Sometimes I’ll try an FPS, racing game, or something weird like Surgeon Simulator, but I usually end up back at platformers and RPGs.
What sorts of mobile games do you enjoy?
I don’t play mobile games as often as I do console/PC- but when I do I enjoy low-commitment games that I can play for 5-20 minutes and then put down. This helped shape the design of Soda Dungeon. Anything with a higher skill requirement can be frustrating because I’ll just wish I had a controller or mouse to use.
What do you do for fun and or to de-stress?
For fun, I usually just play games- In particular I enjoy playing co-op games like Rayman Legends/Origins with my fiance. We also go to a weekly movie night hosted by some friends so I get a chance to catch up on a lot of movies I’ve missed out on over the years.
What is your favorite comfort food?
Pretty much anything with sugar. But my teeth are bad so I try to stay away from that. If anything I’ll snack on cereal, which still contains sugar, but it’s much better than your average candy bar.
What is the best show you are currently watching?
I’ve been really lazy with actual shows lately. Most of what I watch now is just Youtube clips. Anything from Stephen Colbert to CinemaSins, Zero Punctuation, and Red Letter Media. The last show I truly watched was Breaking Bad.
Best book/comic you are reading?
I haven’t read a work of fiction in quite some time. But I try to always have some kind of informational/ educational/ non-fiction book to read through when I take a trip to the coffee shop. Right now it’s ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Donald Norman. It offers a lot of insight into the design process and how to correctly design your system for an end-user.
What gadgets can’t you live without?
I’m sure it’s a common answer, but I suppose just my iPhone. I use it for everything now- phone calls, text, navigation, calculator, my alarm clock, flashlight, pocket reference, etc.
What is your favorite advice you have been given?
Lots of good advice has come to me over the years. I’ll try to paraphrase a couple pieces:
“Never be completely satisfied with your work. When you are, you will stop trying”
“When viewing someone’s success, don’t forget about all the failures it took to get there”
How does it feel to be an accomplished developer?
I’m humbled by the question, but I’m not sure I consider myself an accomplished developer yet. I think that ties in with the advice above. As soon as I start to consider myself an ‘accomplished developer’ I’ll become too complacent. That being said, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far.
Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on now?
Right now I’m prepping the Android release for Soda Dungeon. After that… well.. probably more Soda Dungeon updates, and then a Steam release. And if all goes well, maybe we’ll have a sequel on our hands! I have a notebook of ideas for other games that I toy around with now and then, but I think Soda Dungeon is going to be my focus for right now.