Downcast Systems Interview

DowncastInterview

Quiz-based puzzle games fused with RPG mechanics are an extreme rarity. Capcom attempted something similar back in the early 90s with their title ‘Quiz of Dragons’ but nothing of the same type has appeared since. Downcast Systems have evidently spotted this gap in the market, developing ‘Puzzlewood Quests’ for iOS and Android and giving ‘Brain Training’ a run for its money in terms of handheld tests. A representative of the studio has agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about their first game.

MBU
Firstly I’d like to thank you for sitting to answer questions for My Boxed Universe. Can you introduce your company for those not familiar with its output?

DAVID HAYNES
As stated on the company website, I consider Downcast Systems a “purveyor of fine electronic goods.” It’s not a company that specifically makes games, although I would like it to be that someday.

Before Puzzlewood Quests, Downcast Systems released a MIPS assembly language editor called MIPSter (2002), a mobile game called Christmas Crazy 8s (2011), and a flashcard app to go along with a book I wrote called How to Find and Land a Microsoft.NET Development Job (2011). I removed the game and flashcard app from the stores this past year for various reasons, but mainly because their quality, while passable in 2011, was lacking in 2015.

MBU
What is your background and role within the company?

DAVID HAYNES
I’ve been developing professionally for over 15 years. I got started way before that, on a TRS-80 my grandfather bought at a yard sale. My mom bought me a BASIC programming book, and I was in nerd heaven! As for my role with Downcast Systems, I’m the President, founder, sole developer, marketer, and occasional graphics artist.

THIS is what happens, though, when I’m the one in charge of marketing:

PWQ2

MBU
What drew you to the idea of developing an RPG/Puzzle game mash up of this kind?

DAVID HAYNES
When Nintendo’s Brain Age came out, I loved it and played it every day… for about one month. Then I was tired of it. My brain age had reached a plateau, and it became laborious to do the daily exercises without seeing any gains. In short — it got boring, and I wished there was a reason for me to continue.

That thought stuck with me, and I loved adventures and RPGs, so one day while brainstorming ideas for a puzzle game, I wondered what it would be like to combine Brain Age with a casual RPG to give the player a reason to continue beyond the brain training exercises. Puzzlewood Quests was born.

MBU
What is your personal history with the RPG genre? Do you have any favourite games?

DAVID HAYNES
I’ve always been a fan of what I consider lite RPGs: Legend of Zelda, Fate, Diablo, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, etc. I guess I prefer dungeon crawlers mostly. It’s always fun to get some loot, level up a character, and spend some attribute points. I never played the deeper RPGs like the Baldur’s Gate series, and I feel like I missed out on a lot of the old DragonLance and Bard’s Tale games because I didn’t have a computer that could play them back when they were released! I tried to go back recently and play some of the classic games from that era like Lords of Midnight, which has been re-released on iOS, but it’s hard. It’s not the graphics, but the overall gameplay and UI presentation.

Currently, I’m enjoying Mass Effect 3, but A Link to the Past is one of my favourite games of all time. I don’t think there’s ever been a game where cutting down bushes has been so satisfying!

MBU
Which games helped inspire Puzzlewood Quests?

DAVID HAYNES
Definitely Nintendo’s Brain Age, but I’m a big retro game fan, so a lot of my favourite retro games inspired me as well, like Legend of Zelda, and maybe surprisingly, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. I’ve borrowed UI concepts from everywhere, including Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm too. (Sorry, Blizzard!)

I was reading The Wheel of Time series of books for inspiration during parts of the game’s development, so there’s a lot of that in there too, as well as Game of Thrones.

MBU
How many question types are there in the game?

DAVID HAYNES
There are currently 16 different game types, but I have a new one on the way in the next update. It’s currently called “Missing Letters” and will be similar to hangman.

puzzlewood 3

MBU
Character art is extremely good, using a cartoon style. Who produced these 2D illustrations?

DAVID HAYNES
Downcast Systems doesn’t have an artist. I have to buy art straight out, which can get quite costly. I bought all the characters and backgrounds from an artist named Daniel Ferenčak. I created most of the UI elements myself, like the buttons, dice, etc. Basically, anything that looks odd or out of place in the game is my fault!

MBU
What inspired you to add four different campaigns with four characters?

DAVID HAYNES
I didn’t want it to be a single quest, but multiple quests, each with their own unique storylines. I wanted to have a character for everyone: a man, woman, boy, and girl. I also originally planned to sell characters beyond Askeladen, so I wanted to have a few ready to go at launch.

MBU
The game has space on-screen for more characters, are their additional updates planned?

DAVID HAYNES
There are, but I have to find time to write the stories. I have several ideas. The next character will probably be a warrior mage, a pirate, an astronaut from another planet who crash landed in Puzzlewood, or something else entirely. It might be fun to play the game from a low-level mob’s point of view. I won’t know, though, until I write it.

MBU
I understand that originally this title was free to play instead of pay-once?

DAVID HAYNES
I launched the game as a freemium game with in-app purchases last year. Lilian, Jack, and a Puzzle Pack (including 4 game types) were all $.99 USD purchases. The game was much harder and more unforgiving, requiring you to buy the magic items as a necessity, but the magic items were really too expensive unless you bought gold with real money or spent a considerable amount of time grinding. There were also ads.

I was following “the rules” I’d read online for how to make money with mobile games these days, but I hated all of that. When I relaunched the game as a Premium pay-once game, I made several changes for the better. No ads, no in-app purchases. All items were reduced to 1/5 of their original prices. No need to buy gold. Much more gold and XP per enemy killed, so less grinding. All characters and game types unlocked. It’s how the game should have been in the beginning.

MBU
What have sales of Puzzlewood been like since launch and relaunch?

DAVID HAYNES
The Premium edition made 5 times more the first week (on iOS) than the Free-to-play edition made in 8 months. On Android, it’s still struggling to find its audience.

MBU
Do you have another game in the pipe-line?

DAVID HAYNES
I’m still focusing on adding games and characters to Puzzlewood at the moment, but I’ve got plenty of ideas for the future. I’d love to do an arcade style game. I’d also like to make a game called The Mouth of a Deep Dark Hole, just because I think it’s a great title! (It’s also a reference to a great song by The Handsome Family called “Bottomless Hole” which you can find HERE)

One day I’d like to go back and make the game I was making before it turned into Puzzlewood Quests. It was a game where you had to match patterns by swiping rows and columns left, right, up, and down.

bingozee

MBU
Can we expect to see a Puzzlewood Quests 2?

DAVID HAYNES
That would completely depend on whether the game continues to be as successful as it has been the last couple of weeks. I would love to be able to play with the underlying mechanics a bit and make the game bigger and more immersive.

MBU
Would you consider delving further in RPG mechanics in the future?

DAVID HAYNES
Oh, definitely. I’d like each character to have special abilities that could alter the gameplay. In a future game, I would love to have branching storylines based on player decisions. I want the player to feel very much attached to his character because it’s his creation, defined in his own way. And I like the idea of permanence, where once a player makes a choice, he’s stuck with it for the life of that character. It gives a lot of weight to decisions.

MBU
Have there been many bugs you’ve had to squash or changes for different versions of OS’?

DAVID HAYNES
Puzzlewood Quests was written in Lua using Corona SDK. For the most part, the code is 95% identical on both platforms (iOS and Android). The only major issues I’ve had in that regard was related to playing sound effects. There are known sound-related bugs on early versions of Android. You might tap a button and hear the “click” a half second later, which feels unresponsive and broken. I wrote code around it to mitigate the problem as best I could, but it still shows up sometimes.

PWQ1

MBU
Have you considered releasing a PC edition for school use within the education system?

DAVID HAYNES
Corona SDK supports building Windows programs now, so it’s definitely a possibility in the future.

MBU
Do you have any words of advice for budding game developers?

DAVID HAYNES
Be realistic about goals and expectations. I wasn’t very realistic when I launched the free-to-play version last year. I didn’t take the time to calculate exactly how many downloads I would need for the game to be successful. I spent a lot of money on advertising that made no sense. I’d pay $100 for 100 clicks which might generate 5 app downloads and no in-app purchases… I just kept hoping it was going to go viral. I did a lot of hoping when I should have been doing math!

MBU
Thanks again for your time today. For those who want to learn more they can visit the official website for Downcast Systems HERE and find versions of Puzzlewood Quests for iOS HERE and Android HERE.

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