Philadelphia Area New Media Association

Joe Kauffman Talks About Developing Mobile Games

In January 2017, Joe Kauffman of Fire Maple Games (http://firemaplegames.com) presented for PANMA at Wharton’s Huntsman Hall on “Developing a Mobile Game for iOS & Android”.

Below are three things we learned from Joe Kauffman to get everyone started in their quest in creating mobile games.

Niche Games Can Be Key To Success In The App Store

For over 10 years, Joe has specialized in developing gorgeous point and click adventure games. He has done “really well”, selling millions of games, and “it beats working.” His second game, “Lost City”, ascended to become the #1 app in the world for about 3 days, “even taking out Angry Birds”. Go to Fire Maple Games: http://firemaplegames.com for the full portfolio of games that Joe has developed.

Joe’s customers are mainly older educated women who are 65+ and some of their grandchildren. As he remarked, “I don’t have a lot of street cred with the ‘middle [age brackets].” Joe isn’t sure where exactly the downloads are coming from, but he believes it’s “lots of word of mouth.” Because of the App Store’s restrictions on knowing who your customers are, Joe doesn’t have access to people who have bought his games, but he does get email in ALL CAPS from nursing homes 🙂

In these games, you can’t lose and you can’t die. You’re never being chased by anything. You simply explore a property. In “Return to Grisly Manor” – http://firemaplegames.com/returntogrislymanor.html – you explore an old, renovated house and its surroundings. His most successful game “Lost City” is set in a jungle.

Making A Point And Click Adventure Game

To begin Joe has a story in mind and a goal of 100 items for each game. Each of these 100 items can be part of the puzzles in the game that the player has to solve, while trying his best not use locks and keys. To be more interesting, he’ll use items like a pillow in place of a standard lock and key. The process of figuring out the map is an iterative process where the layout of items and rooms will be rearranged many, many times. Joe uses all paper and a whiteboard to iterate through this process.

Relatively speaking the mechanics are easy, and Joe likes to spend a lot of time on the artwork. His games are essentially a stack of gorgeous artwork. For his newest game under development, he recently took hundreds of photos around the Wissahickon Creek (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wissahickon_Creek). One or more of these photos could become a scene in his game. After correcting the photos for light and the time of day, he will paint over the top of the photo. Most of the scenes in his games are collages of stuff. For example, an old car in a scene set in a shop might come from a Craigslist ad posting.

For Aspiring Game Developers

Many of the audience’s questions revolved around the theme of “How do I get started making games?”. Joe started out 20 years as a Flash programmer at Sealworks (http://sealworks.com/). He was a Flash programmer during the day, and a Flash programmer at night (his first game). In his programming career, he doesn’t think that “he’s ever used math once”, as it is “all English and logic.” For your game focus on the gameplay, animation, and graphics, not the code. You don’t need to think about “the logic of the phones/chips”, just the “logic of the game.”

When he started two decades ago, there weren’t many tools available. Joe used the analogy that when Edison was making movies, he had to make his own camera. Now, there are so many tools that it “decouples the technology from the creative process.” He emphasized that you just have to get started and “to download a tool and play around with it”. Joe uses Corona https://coronalabs.com, and he also mentioned GameSalad http://gamesalad.com, Unity https://unity3d.com, and Stencyl http://www.stencyl.com.