Interview With Three Flip Studios

by Gale on October 25, 2014
INTERVIEWS

Interview With Three Flip Studios

INF_logo

For our latest interview we got the chance to speak with the Anthony and Rob of Three Flip Studios, the developers of Influent – a word learning game that actually makes you want to learn stuff. Quite a success, I’m sure you’ll agree. If you’re hoping to get some insight into the development process behind this game, its makers or anything in-between, this interview should have you covered.

Gale

Gale 2

So, you guys are basically a two-men development team, right? What are your stories? Were you already working in the industry before kicking Influent off or is this your first gaming project?

Rob Howland

robh

Three Flip Studios consists of Anthony and myself but Influent’s development was actually just me. Anthony is in charge of Influent’s online presence such as the website, social media, and marketing. In the industry, I went from game tester to producer and didn’t really love any of it. I despised working on games I wasn’t passionate about so I quit my producer job in Japan and went all-out indie. Fortunately, Influent’s kickstarter funding along with a research grant from the Japanese government kept me afloat during the game’s three-years of development. Influent was not only my first indie game project but also my first programming project. The whole thing has been an incredible learning experience. I’ve taken on so many roles since development began: game designer, level designer, modeler, animator, programmer, tester, video producer, video editor, community manager, marketer, the list goes on!

Anthony Prusakowski

Anthony

I met Rob while attending the Art Institute of San Francisco, majoring in Interactive media design. We started our friendship by playing Counter Strike and Command & Conquer Generals together. We used to edit the .ini files and play custom made maps. Since my background is in web development, I began working with Rob, developing different websites for a variety of projects. After college I began my career in the web industry, working as a web developer and marketer. I worked for a number of web tech agencies in the bay area. I have always had an overwhelming passion for video games. Personally I found webtech to be soulless and felt dirty at the end of the day. Last year I found myself looking for a new position and figuring out what direction I wanted my career to go in. Rob contacted me asking for help with Influent, I soon started working on playinfluent.com. When March 2014 rolled around, Rob was presenting Influent at GDC (Game Developers Conference in San Francisco), he asked for my assistants to run the booth. I jumped at the chance to be involved. The second day of GDC, Influent was released to the world. I asked Rob how well Influent is doing? He checked, and asked me, would you like a job?

Gale

Gale 2

Could you tell us how the whole idea of a game such as Influent came to be? (we spoke about this over the chat and you mentioned the post-it story in the podcast interview, but I feel that the readers could enjoy an origin story nonetheless)

Rob

robh

The idea behind Influent came from my time as a research student in Japan. I was serious about staying in Japan long-term so I was doing my best to learn Japanese. I’d made hundreds and hundreds of little flashcards to help with studying all the Kanji characters. One day I took some of the nouns and taped them to various objects all over my apartment like the fridge, the microwave and the mirror, so that when I saw the objects in real life, I could also see how the word was written in Japanese. I found this method to be very engaging and started telling friends about it. Suddenly it hit me that this method could make a really great game! I pitched the idea of researching the gamification of this method to my professor at the Entertainment Computing Lab and he was intrigued. So I downloaded Unity and the rest is history!

Gale

Gale 2

How difficult was it to mash all those ideas together and come up with what we currently know as Influent?

 

Rob

robh

The general concept for Influent was all I had in my head when I started programming. Everything else in the game just happened organically as I went. I knew wanted to make the game as useful as possible but I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew. At times the project seemed overwhelming but I still managed to keep it together.

Gale

Gale 2

 

What about all the different languages you have on offer? Implementation of all that can’t be easy.

Rob

robh

You can say that again! Originally, the game was only designed to teach Japanese (hence all the special features for Kanji, Kana, and Romaji) but as development went on, I realized that it would be foolish to ignore the potential to include other languages as well. So I went to work designing a system with an interchangeable database. This was actually not as simple as I originally anticipated. Many languages require special fonts with specific character sets, not to mention that some languages just don’t have words for certain things. For instance, “Recycling Bin” has been an absolute nightmare! But in trying to incorporate each new language, I’ve managed to learn a lot about their various nuances and unique cultural differences, which has been a very rewarding experience.

Anthony

Anthony

A few of the languages come from community members who wished to contribute. The most difficult part is keeping people organized and getting high quality audio recordings.

 

Gale

Gale 2

 

Could you describe us your development process? Does it include gallons of coffee, perhaps?

Rob

robh

Lately my development process has consisted primarily of implementing new languages into the game, which usually starts with me pinging friends online to help locate a native speaker of a highly requested language. Since the game’s word database is stored online, it allows me to work remotely with people all over the world. The pronunciations are a bit more challenging, as I actually need to sit down with native speakers and painstakingly record each word, one by one. Mistakes generally occur and it’s not uncommon to have to arrange 2 or 3 recording sessions per language. From there, I go through each audio file individually to remove the background noise, normalize the volume levels, and properly name the files for use within the game. Thankfully, with the help of macro programs, I’ve managed to automate most of the editing process.

Anthony

Anthony

My development process starts with Tea, Hot, Earl Grey, a sketchbook and some chiptunes. No matter what I am developing, be it frameworks, gameplay ideas or web design I always write them down on paper first. I will then start translating things into an digital environment. My process then leads me to Photoshop or Notepad ++.

Gale

Gale 2

 

And your office? Or is it a work-at-home situation? Currently working on an office location.

Rob

robh

It’s less of a work-at-home and more of a work-all-over situation as I’ve been pinging around like a pinball lately. For starters, I moved my whole life from Osaka, Japan to Brisbane, Australia at the beginning of 2014 after a much needed change in scenery. Since the game’s release in March, I’ve been focusing primarily on bug fixes and new language releases while hitting as many trade shows as possible to make press connections and get people playing the game. Influent launched on Playism in Japan at BitSummit 2014 in Kyoto and then on Steam/Humble at GDC14 in San Francisco. Most recently, I travelled to Italy to record the Italian language pack, which we just launched in September, and from there I brought Influent to Gamescom in Germany along with Anthony and few other close friends who helped with running our booth. Like I said, it’s a work-all-over kinda thing!

Anthony

Anthony

Currently working remote out of a home office in San Francisco. We are in the process of working towards opening a studio here in the bay.

 

Gale

Gale 2

What about your rig? People seem to be interested in the machines games are developed on these days. How beefy is your bugger? And did you need to upgrade it to cater to all the software you suddenly needed to begin working on Influent?

Rob

robh

Haha, well my bugger is pretty beefy but since finishing all the heavy lifting in 3D, my workload shifted to my little ThinkPad and then lately to this super-slim Hackbook Air. I’m really not one to use Mac products but seeing as I required one for preparing OSX builds, I opted for portability and immediately got it hooked up with Windows. Thanks M4tt!


Anthony

Anthony

I have a number of computers, however, my main rig is way past an upgrade at this point. Planning on building a new PC this year. We would like to get into streaming on Twitch and Hitbox for some Influent projects, a new build will be needed for that.<3 PCMR

 

Gale

Gale 2

In regards to the relatively confined apartment in which the game takes place, do you have any plans to add other locations?

Rob

robh

As you might expect, this question gets asked quite a lot. I don’t think most people realize it but currently I am Influent’s sole developer. I mean, it used to be me and one other person but things didn’t work out between us so now it’s just me. To answer your question though, I am not at all opposed to adding more locations and it’s actually something I had planned on doing from the very beginning. But since the original artist lost hope and left for a full-time job just prior to release, it’s been difficult to find an equally talented artist who is ready, willing, and able. I think I’ve finally found that person but the issue is now a financial one. Hopefully the sales from Influent’s upcoming bundle will enable me to bring this artist on full-time to help make these new locations a reality! But even when all that art is finished, there are equally difficult translation and recording hurdles to jump for each language. It’s not impossible, it just takes a lot of time and effort and a lot of things have to go right in order for it to happen. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

Anthony

Anthony

We are interested in adding to Influent, we would love to add new locations, words and objects to the game. We hope Andrew Cross gets over his agoraphobia and will open that front door. We are working towards expanding our development team and funding so we are able to bring the next chapter of Influent to everyone.

Gale

Gale 2

What is the future of Influent? Obviously, you keep adding new languages, but is there something else coming up?

Rob

robh

The immediate plan is new languages as there are still quite a few that are highly requested like Portuguese, Arabic, and Hindi. There are a handful of other, less-spoken languages in the works as well but I’m more eager to start on an actual content update as opposed to tending to every last spoken language in the world. Regarding what that update might entail, I’m actually most interested in expanding on the game’s story through adding a few new animated shorts to keep things interesting. Motivation plays a large role in effective learning so having more story elements to work toward and unlock can be highly engaging. I’d also like to include a more interactive tutorial, as the current one is completely textual and a bit dry.

Beyond that, Influent will need to see a significant boost in sales before I’m able to hire on the help needed to take on the creation of new environments and new functionalities. When the time comes, I’d like to incorporate features like counting systems, sentence structure, and common phrases. There’s so much room for improvement that it can be a bit daunting at times. I’m constantly receiving new feature requests and often times they come off as more demanding rather than suggestive. As a one-man dev team, it can get pretty discouraging considering how long it takes to program even the smallest of features.

Anthony

Anthony

To give context to the question above, we are working hard to build our development team while opening a permanent studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. Due to funding and development team size we are currently supporting Influent with language packs and continued patch support. We are passionate about our creation and will continue to support it. We have a few things in the works. Something big is coming, but we are not ready to talk about it just yet.

Gale

Gale 2

 

What was the first batch of comments on the game once Influent went live?

Rob

robh

Influent received a slew of positive comments from people who had been waiting for something like this to help with their studies. Most comments were along the lines of “Finally! Just what I’ve been waiting for!”

 

Anthony

Anthony

Overall the community reaction to Influent has been positive. We have a passionate Steam community that provides us with feedback, bug reports and language suggestions. Being the Internet we will get our share of trolls, which our community has been quick to respond to. We do encourage constructive feedback from our users so we can make Influent better.

Gale

Gale 2

Setting Influent aside for a tad bit, do you have any ideas for some other projects? If you do, could you tell us a bit about them?

Rob

robh

 

On the back-burner at the moment is another little project that we’ll be announcing soon.

Anthony

Anthony

 

We have a few projects coming up. Including a new game, that we are not yet ready to talk about. I can say, It is not an educational focused game and it will be awesome!

Gale

Gale 2

How do you approach your playerbase? Do you have any special techniques or do you improvise on the go?

Rob

robh

 

It’s really all improvisation but I generally try to let everyone know that I’m just an indie dev doing my best. :)

Anthony

Anthony

I take a very personal and hands on approach with our player base. I feel being open, honest and personable is the best way to reach people. For example, on just about every Youtube video you will see a post from “Influent.” This is me.

Gale

Gale 2

And criticism? I’ve seen people who don’t seem to grasp what Influent is about trying to piledrive it into the ground. How do you guys manage something like that?

Rob

robh

It is unfortunate that some people go to extremes like that but thankfully we have a good community with strong supporters that come to our aid whenever a disgruntled troll decides to start whaling on Influent’s lack of grammar and limited learning environment. On that note, I’d just like to say on record that there is nothing deceptive in nature about the way Influent is presented and I encourage anyone who is interested in Influent (or any game for that matter) to read the description and check out the reviews before purchasing.

Anthony

Anthony

I take the approach that everyone has their own opinions and hope they share them with us in a constructive manner. That being said, the internet isn’t always a kind or logical place, something I say is “You could give someone a bag of gold and they would bitch it is heavy”. Personally, I don’t believe in censorship, I will not take away someone’s voice, be it a steam post or YouTube video. Pulling a “day one garry’s incident” stunt is the last thing I want to do.

Gale

Gale 2

 

What are your thoughts on the situation the industry is currently in? How did it reflect on your game?

Rob

robh

The mainstream stuff in the industry has been repetitive and boring lately and in a lot of ways I think it’s helping the indie scene a great deal in rising up, just due to the innovative, risk-taking nature of the average indie dev. The reason a lot of devs decide to go indie is to make something new and different and that’s exactly what I wanted to do when I decided to make Influent. There just isn’t a big push to develop good educational games. As a society, we have the technology to do so but there just isn’t enough motivation or interest in developing games that aren’t geared toward entertainment alone. Hopefully this pattern will change.

Anthony

Anthony

This is a wonderful time to be a part of the industry because more and more people are playing video games. Most people nowadays grew up playing video games and do not have an irrational fear of them. This only helps us grow our audience as many users share how much they enjoy learning through gamification.

Gale

Gale 2

 

And the indie scene in particular?

Rob

robh

The indie scene is awesome and I’m happy to be a part of it. The indie devs we met at GDC and Gamescom have all been amazingly helpful, especially our booth buddies at Krillbite (Among the Sleep) and Black Forest (DieselStormers). They were all so friendly and extremely helpful both at the conferences and beyond, providing press contacts and promoting our game via social media. It’s great to be part of a tight-knit community where everyone knows what the other is going through in terms of workload and discoverability and we all help each other along the way.

Anthony

Anthony

Indie developers have many platforms to help achieve their goals these days. Influent went through a successful Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight campaign. Web sites such as the Humble Store, Twitch.tv and Steamgifts have helped us reach a larger audience.

Gale

Gale 2

 

Finally, do you feel that things need to change?

Rob

robh

Yes and no. I think things are headed in the right direction for the indie scene so in that sense, we’re already on track. That said, I’d like to see more funding programs take flight, such as the Indie Fund. It would also be nice to see some other cool ideas designed to help indies like the shared-space offices at Double Fine. On one hand, it’s great to see things like this happening, but on the other hand, there just isn’t enough of it to support the whole scene. Personally I’m very interested in the idea of helping to usher more shared-space offices into the world where indie devs can become part of a larger support network. Our biggest weakness is our single-digit team-sizes but if a few teams were to come together under one roof, they might find that they complement each other’s skill sets quite nicely while still maintaining that indie flair.

Anthony

Anthony

One of the things I wish would be improved upon is Steam quality control, right now there is none. I don’t wish to name, names, but there is a number of products on Steam, that I feel are frankly not good enough to be sold as a retail product. Personally I am a fan of Jim Sterling’s weekly show the Jimquisition, which he has highlighted this issue several times.

And that would be it. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it. Mouse ‘n’ Joypad would also like to thank Anthony and Rob for their time and input, as well as for this collaboration. If you’re interested in their upcoming projects -and you absolutely should be- this is the website to keep bookmarked.

 

 

 

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