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Simogo co-founder Simon Flesser on making iOS games that are new, surprise, and not standing still
Simogo is one of the finest and most inventive iOS developers around, having notably wowed in 2013–2014 with a trilogy of stunning and atmospheric interactive stories: Year Walk, Device 6 and The Sailor’s Dream. And even though the developer’s earlier games were far simpler arcade fare, there was artistry at their core to set them apart from their contemporaries.
Co-founder Simon Flesser recalls the early days of iOS fondly, enjoying Hook Champ, Eliss and Drop7, along with Space Invaders Infinity Gene, which remains his favorite iPhone game. “And from a games development standpoint, it just seemed like a really exciting platform to be involved with,” he says. “It was easy to get into, with a decent infrastructure for small developers, and a cool environment for games. We were also excited about the prospect of designing for new and unique interfaces, such as multitouch and motion controls.”
A matter of distinction
As already noted, there was a keen sense of artistry even in the earliest Simogo titles, with graphics that look hand-made. “I do try to find a unique look that works well with a game, but mostly it’s all about finding something that empowers whatever feel you’re trying to communicate,” explains Simon. “However, it is also important for a small company to make distinct games, since we can’t sell purely on scale and production, like big studios can.”
This sense of individuality became especially noticeable with 2012’s one-thumb classic Beat Sneak Bandit. This single-screen platformer also had stealth and rhythm action overtones, as you collected clocks and tried to stop the evil machinations of the nefarious Duke Clockface. “Many of my favourite games — Rhythm Tengoku, Gitaroo Man and Ouendan — are rhythm-based, and so I always wanted to create something in that genre,” recalls Simon about Bandit’s origins. “But we also always want to make something that feels unique, hence trying to mix in puzzle elements to a rhythm.”
Despite some niggles with making a sound-based game in game engine Unity — “very much not built for that kind of thing back then” — Beat Sneak Bandit was a critical success, and likely the moment an awful lot more people started taking notice of Simogo. But no-one was prepared for what came next.
In 2013, Year Walk arrived. Steeped in Scandinavian folklore and resembling a kind of interactive picture book, it was an intoxicating mash-up of horror, adventuring and narrative. Later that year, the ballsy Device 6 was released, literally turning the story’s words into pathways you traversed, and integrating all manner of brain-bending puzzles. 2014’s The Sailor’s Dream took this style of Simogo game to its logical conclusion — an intriguing narrative experience designed to satisfy your curiosity and reward repeat visits.
According to Simon, Year Walk benefited from being based on an unused movie script from friend Jonas Tarestad, but mostly was about that common Simogo theme of “trying to make new things, surprise and not stand still.” Device 6 arrived from similar thinking, but doubled down on being very specific to iOS, requiring you to regularly reorient the device. “There’s something very special when software and hardware become one,” reasons Simon. “No matter the platform, it’s something I’d like to see more of. By contrast, I feel cheated when I see games on the App Store that are reliant on virtual controls and yet strip them away in advertising screen shots.”
Making a SPL-T
With its most recent iOS title, SPL-T, Simogo again refused to stand still. Seemingly very much at odds with previous titles, this ostensibly simple puzzler looked like it had been squirted across to your iPhone from an early 1980s home computer. Again, though, players soon found plenty of ‘Simogo’ within, through play mechanics that took time to truly master and a semi-hidden storyline (albeit one far slighter than in the developer’s prior releases).
“We try to do the unexpected and surprise as much as we can,” says Simon on SPL-T’s creation. “We’d talked for a while about making a very clean, mechanical puzzle game, with very constructed rules. We also thought it would be interesting to release a game with almost no marketing or teasing at all, which felt very fitting for such a small game! Hopefully, nothing we do is ever very indicative of our next move!”
Our Simogo top-five
1. Device 6 ($3.99/£2.99)
Superb mash-up of spy movie, strange text adventure and multitouch puzzling.
2. Year Walk ($3.99/£2.99)
A horror novella squeezed into your device, peppered with puzzles and scares.
Hugely playable one-thumb platform-puzzler-rhythm-action-stealth game!
4. SPL-T ($2.99/£2.29)
Interesting puzzler, based around splitting boxes, countdown timers, and cascades.
5. The Sailor’s Dream ($3.99/£2.99)
A contemplative, beautifully designed exploratory creation that challenges the notion of what a game could (or should) be.