iTête à iTête – Interview with Guillaume & Romain from DotEmu – Bringing back the classics to the AppStore

In this bustling world of the triumph of modern technology, a recent trend has been a rapidly rising demand for nostalgia gaming. It isn’t that much of surprise if you come to think of it. After all, people who grew up on the classic games of 80′s and 90′s are now in the position of making decisions and spending money… Sometimes, a LOT of money… And this in turn gave rise to a new breed of companies, focusing their efforts on bringing the classic games to modern platforms. One of the more prominent players in this market has been DotEmu, known for porting titles for almost every platform imaginable, from modern PCs and Browsers to Smartphones of all breeds. And more recently – the iOS family of devices.

Joining me today are the co-founder and CTO of DotEmu – Romain Tisserand and his Head of iPhone applications – Guillaume Siorak. The topic at hand: the recent release of the cult classic – Gobliiins (TMA Review), along with more general talk of the iDevice world.

As usual, my questions and comments are in modest bold.

1. Guillaume, Romain, thank you for giving me this amazing opportunity. Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves and DotEmu?

Romain: My name is Romain Tisserand, I’m the co-founder and CTO of DotEmu. I manage the engineering and technical aspects of DotEmu projects.

Guillaume: Hello, I’m Guillaume Siorak and I’m developer at DotEmu. I am in charge of the development of iPhone applications.

Romain: DotEmu was founded back in 2007, with the goal to bring back classic games from the 80s to early 2000s on new platforms such as Smartphones, PC, Browser, and more. (founded by Xavier Liard and myself)

2. DotEmu is one of the few companies looking back on how it all began, providing modern gamers a way of rediscovering old hits. How did you decide on such a business model?

Romain: It’s “more than” a business model actually ;)

We are a team of passionate gamers. We actually felt, back in 2007, that there was no obvious, legal option to play back these games on PC, Web and mobile devices. And that the retrogaming was becoming a widespread, popular phenomenon.

And it’s on this basis that DotEmu was established: in order to provide a legal and “easy” (for the end consumer) way to rediscover classic hits.

Is DotEmu a big team at the moment?

Romain: Well, yes and no. We have a small, but efficient internal team of 7 employees, and some other people working externally on a regular basis. So it’s around 10 people.

3. How did you finally decide to expand on the iOS Platform?

Romain: When we started back in 2007, and released our first game for Smartphones (Windows Mobile 2003 / WM5, Palm OS, Symbian S60v3), that was a completely different story!

Actually, the iOS platform just became huge thanks to the App Store distribution channel, which has definitely changed the industry. iOS is an obvious channel to expand our activity since the user base is growing quickly, and since we think most of these classic games are well suited to mobile devices.

Guillaume: With the App Store and the number of apps still growing, yes it was logical to go on it too and in some way to concentrate our engineering for mobile platforms on the iOS.

4. There are only a handful of titles released on the AppStore by you, some of which you went through publishers (like Bulkypix for Gobliiins). Which way do you prefer? How do you plan on doing it in the future?

Romain: True. Honestly, there’s no generic rule. It all depends on business opportunities. All our games are licensed from original creators or actual right owners, so we need to give them back royalties obviously. So it actually depends on which option gives us the best chance for success on App Store. As you know, the App Store is crowded with apps and it’s not that easy to get noticed.

We are going to release some games in the future by ourselves and some others with third party publishers.

5. Bringing such a prominent game as Gobliiins to the iDevice is certainly a feat. Is it your first adventure release for the iPhone? Why did you choose it as the first step into the adventure genre?

Guillaume: Yes, Gobliiins is the first adventure/puzzle game we released. Before there was Nicky Boom (more a platform genre) and R TYPE (TMA Review) published by EA – a shoot ‘em up.

Romain: And Golvellius – The Valley of Doom, but it did not get much attention ;-)

Guillaume: So yes Gobliiins is the first adventure game. Like we said, we are gamers and Gobliiins is one of these games we played a long time ago and we love it. So why not bring it to the iPhone? Moreover, there aren’t a lot of adventure games on the App store and Gobliiins is obviously a cult one.

Romain: It’s a project which started back in 2008, but it took time to get a iPhone license. Licensing such games is always a long time discussion.

6. What would you say are the main challenges in bringing such a game to the iOS?

Guillaume: There are a lot of difficulties in bringing such a cult game on the iDevice.

First of all, like we said, it’s really cult, so we had to keep the spirit of the game and to be faithful of the job of the creators of the Gobliiins series.

Then, the iDevice is not a PC, you just have your finger to play. So we had to make some obvious change to play it on the iPhone. The gameplay had to be intuitive like moving your finger on the screen to have some help (the hotspots), display all the actions possible with the gobliiins because you haven’t got a mouse to right click and select the best action.

So yeah, these are examples but it’s a real challenge to keep the spirit and try to offer something enjoyable and intuitive for iDevice players and new players who didn’t know the game before.

Were any of the original developers of Gobliiins involved or consulted in making the port?

Romain: Yep! We did meet Pierre Gilhodes in order to discuss the game with him and to understand better the Gobliiins universe, how it was created back in the days.

Did you have any inkling of changing bits of the game here and there to make it more iDevice friendly?

Guillaume: Yes, like I said on the iDevice, it has to be a lot more intuitive and I want to say “easy” because an iDevice player is spending approximately 10 to 15 minutes playing on his/her phone. So in order to keep the spirit of the game and to offer a more enjoyable and intuitive game we added some elements like the hotspots and the hints. These help the player to find the best way to resolve his current puzzle. So it’s in this way we changed the game.

Romain: We’re also looking closely on user and press feedback on the current version (v1.1) for future updates and improvements.

7. I know you used ScummVM as the backbone of Gobliiins. How did you negotiate with the team that builds and maintains this product? Did you use the existing Cydia port of ScummVM, or did you do the port from scratch?

Romain: We did start from the official iPhone port of ScummVM as released in 1.0. We’ve been in touch with the ScummVM team for a long time. Some other games use ScummVM too on the App Store, but we contacted to be sure everything would be fine on the legal side.

And we gave them the source code for review before submission. It is available on http://www.dotemu.com/en/gpl as GPL compliance requires it.

8. Are you planning of making an iPad native version of Gobliiins?

Romain: We are evaluating that currently, but nothing sure yet.

9. In any project there are lots of funny stories. Could share one or two of them from your projects?

Romain: <thinking….>

Wow! It sounds like there are projects that are not funny enough!!!

Guillaume: Yeah it’s kind of tough, how sad! About Gobliiins, not really…

10. What can you say on the future of the iOS devices as a platform for adventure games and retro gaming as a whole? How would you compare it to the other similar devices on the market?

Romain: I think iOS will continue to grow. And retro gaming seems to be liked by customers. I think it’s a great platform from a technical point of view for porting retro games, and a great way to reach a broad audience. We have a lot of upcoming projects on iOS :)

Guillaume: Regarding DotEmu, we are constantly looking for good old classics and a lot of them deserve to be brought back on this Device.

11. If you went back to the start of the project, what would you’ve done differently?

Guillaume: There are still a lot of improvements to be made on this game. I’m thinking about the hints – some of them a maybe a little spoilerish. But at the same time it’s true that Gobliiins is one difficult game and balance must be maintained in this issue.

Then, there are a lot of changes in iOS, at each update. At the beginning, game center was not available and I think that this element adds some fun in iDevice game.

So yeah, I think that if we started to develop this port today the game could have been a little bit different. But we are currently studying the comments on the game so updates will come in time to keep improving it.

12. What can you say about Apple’s approval process? Did you have any difficulties? After all, one might say using ScummVM as the backbone violates certain ToS, concerning executing code.

Romain: No, we did not get any issues on this side. They changed the rules about this part a while ago. I think the approval is quite straightforward, a bit long but that’s the same issue for every developer.

13. You have an impressive array of titles for the desktop. Will you be bringing some of them to the iOS devices? What are your future plans for the iPhone and the iPad?

Romain: We have a very, very nice game which will be released before Christmas (hopefully) on iOS.

And I know you have parts 2 and 3 of Gobliiins planned for release. What is the current target?

Romain: This is under discussion with Bulkypix. I can’t tell for sure right now, but Q1 to Q2 2011 sounds good for the Gobliins 2 release. And we are taking into account feedback on the first game to bring cool features and improvements to Gob 2 and 3.

14. Are you planning of creating original titles for the iDevice?

Romain: No. That’s not the purpose of DotEmu. We think some people do create games better than what we would be able to achieve. There are a lot of classic games to revive, and we prefer to focus on that.

15. What do you think about the iPad? It has certainly revolutionized the tablet market.

Guillaume: Yeah i think that games on iPad are really fun. You have a bigger surface to play with and a game like Gobliiins would be very fun, as a lot of adventure games. But I think this device is still for a family purpose. Like the iPod Touch is much more the students because of the average price. The game market on the iPad is growing up but it’s still a little bit complicated in my opinion.

Romain: The iPad is a great device, but I think it’s a bit overpriced.

16. We’ve seen some developers publicly announces that they suffer enormous amounts of piracy and lost revenue. What’s your take on piracy on the iOS platform?

Romain: lol

Gobliiins has seen a “scene” (pirate) release one hour after release on the App Store. So yeah, it sucks, and I’m afflicted to see people not willing to pay less than 1$ for a game. But it’s not worse than other platforms. In the past, we used to make some games for Symbian. Piracy was just… incredible.

That’s a difficult issue to solve, except for multiplayer/MMO games where you can resolve the issue by detecting pirated copies.

Guillaume: And it always will be there in some ways.

17. And what about jailbreaking?

Romain: Jailbreaking as itself (not involving installing pirated IPA games) is not an issue for me. It’s a matter of choice. I won’t jailbreak my iPhone personally because of security issues.

18. What are your top 3 favourite apps and games for the iPhone?

Guillaume: On the iPhone, at the moment, I play mostly to Angry Birds (TMA Review), Fruit Ninja and Sentinel 2: Earth Defense, a really good tower defense!

Romain : Pix’n Love Rush (TMA Review), Bejeweled 2 + Blitz, and ZENONIA.

19. Guillaume, Romain, thank you for your time. Could you say some final words for the TMA readers?

Guillaume: Thank you for reading us and we hope you’ll love our incoming ports and the other two Gobliiins! See ya!

Romain: Thank you very much for the interview, and we’re hoping to bring you back more great memories from the golden days of gaming on your iDevices.

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