Pocket God's Dave Castelnuovo Talks Innovation, Episodic Gaming and Unexpected Success
By Louis Bedigian GameZone.com
Despite the never-ending list of iPhone apps and games available, Pocket God managed to break through and become a smash hit. But did Dave Castelnuovo, the game's lead programmer, ever think this would happen, even in his wildest dreams? "We never expected for Pocket God to be even a top 100 app," he says. "We only hoped that it would allow us to build some internal technology and sell well enough to justify development on a new game."
"The primary directive for designing Pocket God," he continues, "was to come up with something that would take no longer than a week to create and submit to Apple. We had previously worked on a flash math game where you could drag and drop these little characters shaped like 1s and 0s and we thought it would be a fun template to explore. Then we came up with the idea of putting it in a tropical setting and Allan [Dye, lead designer] started doing little sketches right there at lunch. He settled on the final look pretty quickly."
From both a development and sales perspective, when you first began to work on the game, what were you hoping to achieve?
Dave Castelnuovo: At first I hoped that we would get between 200 and 500 sales per day. If we could create two or three games that sold in that range, we could quit our jobs and do this full time.
What were some of your initial ideas for gameplay?
DC: At first, the gameplay was just to have these little guys walk back and forth on the island with the ability to drag and drop them anywhere on the screen. That�s it. As we started working on it, I thought it would be funny to be able to drop them in the water and watch them drown, so we implemented it. Then the next day, I thought it would be funny to flick them into the distance as if you are flicking a small item off of your table. This was the entirety of our first release.
Was Pocket God always intended to be an iPhone game?
DC: Well, originally it was a reaction to a very popular app called Koi Pond. No game, no rules, just an open sandbox where you can interact with these characters. Overtime, we started adding mini games and other elements to increase play time.
What are your thoughts on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform, and how does the iPad compare?
DC: I think it's a great platform. The people at Apple are the best product designers in the world. Even Nintendo stole a page out of their playbook with the design of the DS and Wii, they are both very iPod like (pre iPod Touch). I also think that one new hardware upgrade per year works very well, I think it will work much better than the fragmentation you will see with Android and Windows Mobile 7. As far as the iPad goes, I own one and I love it. It's off to a great start and I look forward to how it will improve over time.
Pocket God has received about 30 episode updates, many of which helped expand the gameplay. Do you think episodic content is the future of game design?
DC: I think it's one future. I'm not really of the mindset where someone finds success with a particular business or game model and then everyone has to jump on the bandwagon. Episodic games are great and will probably grow in sophistication and popularity, but you can only really do weekly or bi-weekly updates with certain types of games. I personally love large-scale, story-driven games that contain 10-20 hours of play and it's hard to turn around content on those kinds of titles very quickly. The iPhone actually needs more games in this category I think, that's the only thing that sets it apart from a DS or a PSP. Freemium is another type of game model that will also grow in the future.
What has been your favorite episode thus far?
DC: It changes all the time and depends on what we are working on. Our new episode is coming along really well and I really like it a lot. I also liked when we added zombies, and the Pants on the Ground dance. The lightning function made me laugh out loud while developing. The underwater scene with the spear that you can impale Pygmies on was another favorite. I also love our game titles, for whatever reason we can still keep coming up with Gems like "Great Job Ice Hole" to "Stop my App is on Fire!"
Another episode is due in the near future. What is it called and what can you tell us about it?
DC: The new episode is called "Crack is Wack." which is a take on a famous saying from Whitney Houston. The new function involves creating cracks in the Earth that swallow the pygmies into a underground lava tube. Inside the lava tube is a new mini game called 'The Runs,' where obviously, the Pygmies has to run its butt off to survive. The game is probably the most in-depth game we made for Pocket God yet. The theme music for the game is awesome and we have a lot of background bells and whistles going on to make it a really cool experience. Also, did I mention that the mini-game is free to anyone that has already purchased Pocket God?
Verizon Wireless is said to be getting a version of the game later this year. What can we expect from it?
DC: It will be a mobile version of Pocket God, something you can play on any BREW compatible device such as an LG flip phone. We redesigned a lot of the game to take advantage of the different hardware and it�s a lot of fun. There are four fun mini-games and a pretty large open sandbox area that user's need to explore in order to unlock their god powers.
Speaking of new versions, Pocket God may also head to the Nintendo DS. How might this version differ (since you'll now have two screens to work with and a camera, if made for the DSi)?
DC: I don't believe in taking the exact same game and just porting it to a bunch of devices. Every platform has its own strengths and we want to create a version of Pocket God that plays to those strengths. We don't have any news about the DS in particular but we are actually looking into not only the DS, but the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3. As far as what the game will look like, we believe the core experience of Pocket God is the cute characters and the humor behind sacrificing them in many different ways. Given this we think we can explore lots of different ideas, all the way from our current open sandbox environment and mini-game collection to something that pushes the game in ways people might not expect.
Finally, with the 3DS unveiling this summer, and 3D coming to PlayStation 3, it seems that three-dimensional gaming will soon become a permanent part of the industry. Have you thought about this at all and what the technology could one day allow you to do for a game like Pocket God?
DC: I do think about 3D a bit, and while I think it adds a lot to the immersive quality of a game, I have a tough time figuring out how you can take advantage of it in an actual game mechanic. To me, things like the Wii remote, Natal, and Move offer a better chance of doing new things with Pocket God. Although, I am sure that Miyamoto San will probably school us all in what 3D can do as soon as they show the 3DS.