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Ben Simpson (Founder) Arrogant Pixel
Ben Simpson is the founder and lead designer / programmer at Arrogant Pixel, a company he launched in 2012. Arrogant Pixel is best known for the point and click adventure The Tale of Doris and the Dragon, that proved hugely popular on several indie portals such as Newgrounds in 2015. The original release of the game was created, almost single-handedly by Simpson. Arrogant Pixel is now a small team of five game developers based in South West London. Darren Rea caught up with Simpson as Part 1 of The Tale of Doris and The Dragon was released on iOS and Android...
Darren Rea: What are the origins of The Tale of Doris and the Dragon? Where did the idea originally come from?
Ben Simpson: The idea for Doris and the Dragon came from a number of places. I have always loved graphic adventure games and I had always been very close to my grandmother growing up, so naturally, after she passed away a few years ago I was devastated.
It wasn't that I just wanted to create something that honoured her, as much as I just started wondering what she would be doing if she was still out there somewhere and knowing her, she was more than likely giving someone a piece of her mind.
I generally think when you put a little bit of yourself and your experiences, or the people you have met into any creative project, it becomes something special. So I quickly began sketching some ideas and they developed into the first scenes of the game and it really all progressed from there.
A lot of iOS games are very similar – the market seems to be swamped with Candy Crush style matching games and Tower Defence games. Do you think there could be more diversity out there?
I definitely think there could be a lot more diversity in the mobile market. There is the odd title that comes up now and then that really tries to do something new and the team really take their time over development but those titles are generally lost in the constant onslaught of remakes and knock-offs. Speed of development seems to be valued more than the production value or scale of the end product and this sort of thinking has started to be adopted as good practice in the industry.
With the majority of iOS games being free to play, under £5 or offering in app purchases, is it hard to know with which model to go with? Also because of the low price is it harder to make a profit with apps?
I think that is a big part of the problem with the mobile market. Most developers don’t see it as something that can turn a decent profit for them. Even if they make an AAA game, they have to cut the price for the app stores because they think the maximum people might pay for an app is £5 - £10, which may or may not be true to some extent. This is the main reason we see games that are produced very quickly being sold for 59p and games that take a little more time generally opting for an in app purchase model, because it’s the only way they can re-coup development costs and still compete with other apps on the app store. We decided to take the path less travelled and go for an episodic release.
How do you go about getting funding as a new company?
At Arrogant Pixel we don’t do funding like normal game developers. Most would opt for Kickstarter for funding or seek out a publisher that could offer them an audience boost as well. We tend to self-fund. At this stage we pay for most things out of our own pockets, from money we earn doing freelance work, which means that we can carry on making games indefinitely. We own everything we produce and we don’t owe anyone a thing.
What's the one thing about The Tale of Doris and the Dragon that you're most pleased with?
Probably the early reception of the game. It was released on Newgrounds last year as a web game because I was tired of working on it and I just wanted to get it out there. This is back when “the team” was just me. So I decided to upload it to Newgrounds and people just went crazy for it. I mean this is a heavily narrative driven game. It’s not exactly something that was particularly trendy at the time, or even is now, but people seemed to like it. I really didn’t think people would enjoy it as much as they did.
If the game is popular can you see a time when it might be developed for Next Gen consoles?
It would be amazing to see Doris on the Wii U or NX. I think the control system would work perfectly on the system, so that would be something that would be very exciting for us. As for Xbox One and PS4, who knows? I wouldn’t say no.
What sort of games do you enjoy playing to unwind?
I have recently clocked up about 320 hours on Sid Meier's Civilization V. I don’t know how because I thought I was busy. I also play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive every now and again.
As for games I played growing up I always really enjoyed anything by SquareEnix / Squaresoft. Anything Shigeru Miyamoto had a hand in creating. Same goes for Tim Schafer. Also I have been a crazed Pokémon fan since around the age of 9. So yeah, I play everything.
How many episodes are you planning the game to include? And how regularly do you think you'll be able to release them?
We plan on making it a trilogy. So three episodes in total with a 6 - 8 month development cycle between each game.
How important is the score to the game, and how did you come to hire AssadB as the composer?
The music is extremely important to the game due to the minimalistic nature of the artwork. The music really provides the foundation for everything to be built upon.
I first met AssadB when my fiancée was attending university at the University of West London. He ran the Art, Anime and Video Game society that she was a member of and we all became close friends. Since then we have been a part of numerous projects together, both music and game related, so it seemed only natural that I worked with him for Doris. Plus he’s a super talented producer and can rip a mean Gameboy solo.
Of all the creatures Doris meets, which was the hardest to get right? Which, if any, did you have the most trouble with?
I don’t think I really had a problem with writing any of the characters I’ve worked on so far. Each of them seemed to have a personality all of their own once I started giving them a little backstory. I generally tend to play on certain stereotypes when creating characters, then take that stereotype and twist it a little bit. Not only for Doris’ character but also things like the way the Ferryman in the game is also an avid gardener.
The Tale of Doris and the Dragon: Episode 1 is released by Arrogant Pixel on 01 September 2016