Mindblock: "All Your Mosquitoes Are Belong to Us!"

Related: 3D, Adobe, Flash, Games

Mindbock is a small company dedicated to developing games for iOS. Their first product, Pest Fest, was released in mid-February, and that’s only the beginning for them. What makes Mindblock special is the fact that it’s the first (and, currently, the only) company in my country to focus exclusively on game development, which makes Pest Fest the first game developed in El Salvador for an established platform, in this case, for iOS.

The company was formally founded by 3 guys at the end of last year: Eduardo Barillas, Zhonghua Liu, and Edmundo Landaverde. However, they’d already been working together for months, a formula that has been followed by many big names.

Eduardo majored in game design in the Netherlands, and, while working as an Unreal Engine instructor here in El Salvador, he met Liu, who’s a very keen programmer (seriously, I have to admire anyone who’s willing to learn programming for games in this country, where most programmers will only work on custom office applications). Later on, they met Edmundo, who’s a professional illustrator and character designer.

At first, they were going to work on Facebook games, but, after doing some research, they found they needed a big server infrastructure, even for the simplest social games. So, they changed direction and aimed for smaller games for a different platform.

Then, they considered the PC, but they finally decided to work on iOS games. Around 3 months later, they released the first version of Pest Fest.

This was not the first game they worked on, though. Before coming up with Pest Fest, they had come up with some game prototypes, including a rhythm game (the tap-and-dance kind of games), a fighting game and even a small RPG, but these didn’t see the light as a final product (although they won’t deny that they will come back to these concepts and polish them a little to make them into commercial games).

The idea for Pest Fest came one day while they were trying to come up with an idea for a casual game. There were a lot of mosquitoes bugging them, and then Liu said, “we should make a game where you kill mosquitoes just for revenge,” and that was the first step towards the actual design and development of the game.

The gameplay mechanic in Pest Fest is very simple. It’s a kill-them-all game: you’re in your bedroom, and you must kill all mosquitoes before they suck all the blood out of your partner. There’s no actual “ending” in the game, so you only have to focus on getting a lot of points. This sounds very simple, but the game itself is very addictive.

Pest Fest includes several enemy classes, meaning different mosquito classes, and each mosquito has a different look and behavior. Currently, the only difference between them is the color, but for the upcoming update (the one I was shown) they’ve also made more changes to them. So, for example, there’s a strong mosquito that looks like a body builder, and a crazy mosquito that’s wearing a straight-jacket.

To develop the game, they used Adobe Flash and its iPhone app builder, but for the next update (to be released in around a month) they’ve switched to Corona, since the game offers better performance there.

“Flash is easier to use,” Eduardo says, “but I think it was better suited for utility apps than games since the game actually runs on top of a ‘Flash layer,’ and that conversion makes it lose performance.” They also mention Adobe recently shipped an update to the Flash iPhone builder, but they didn’t deploy and test it since they had already switched to Corona by then, and it wasn’t wise to go back and forth between engines with every update.

However, the switch also posed a new set of problems. Corona was originally aimed for developing Utility apps, and games were a recent add-on, so to speak. On top of that, it does not offer an environment for managing graphics and art, and everything has to be built directly on code. “I’ve found myself having to learn about coordinates and how they work in the code, even if I only do illustration!” says Edmundo, while Liu hinted “if anyone out there is willing to write a graphic front-end for Corona, he’s more than welcome to do it!”

For the upcoming update, they’ve also implemented OpenFeint integration, so you can share your scores with the world via social networks and leader boards, and promote healthy competition as players can try to beat other players’ scores. This version will also include achievements for performing special things, like combos, chain hits, and such. They actually plan more updates, but they had to put a limit on what would be added to the next version, since switching to a different engine took a lot of time and resources.

Pest Fest isn’t the only game in Mindblock’s ovens, as you can imagine. They currently have 2 or 3 more concepts in prototype stage, but it’s too early to talk about that right now. They did mention they would really consider going back to one of their early concepts.

Right now, their plan is to continue developing for iOS. They say the Android market is interesting, but it’s very fragmented, and, from a developer’s point of view, they think it would be difficult to maintain the same experience on the wide variety of Android devices, and dealing with all the different Android marketplaces is very difficult. Porting to Windows Phone 7 would also be difficult, since that would force them to switch to XNA, and they just made a switch to another coding language already.

Being a Salvadoran company, they’ve faced some problems. “Some iPhone hits started their fame in the local media. They became a hit in their home country and then that success exploded across the globe,” said Liu. “But that is impossible to do here,” he concluded. “There’s no mobile gaming culture in the country, or even in the region, so we have to compete directly with those in the big markets,” added Edmundo.

Still, that is not stopping these guys from pushing this project forward. “Despite all the problems and headaches, we don’t see ourselves doing anything else,” says Eduardo. He’s really serious about this, though, since they have plans for future releases and games, as I said already.

Having changed directions, and then coding languages, it may seem like a waste of time, but they actually think that’s earned knowledge, since those experiences help them do things better or apply that knowledge to present and future projects. For example, Eduardo doesn’t think they would ever go back to Flash for iOS development, but the games-oriented Flash knowledge is something they could use for interactive PC applications, or stand-alone and web-based mini-games.

Mindblock is one of those companies that play hard, and thus, should be taken seriously. They are, literally, going to places no other company in El Salvador has dared to go. They dream big, but start small. And, above all, they have all the drive in the world to get where they want to get. Personally, I’m looking forward to see what they come up with in the next release of Pest Fest, and, more importantly, their next game.


Pest Fest guided tour

Links:


Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.

April 18, 2011

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