Developer Spotlight: Self Aware Games | webOS Nation

Developer Spotlight: Self Aware Games

by Derek Kessler Wed, 06 Apr 2011 9:01 am EDT

Join us as we talk to developers large and small in the webOS community. First up, Derek talks with Self Aware Games. Are you a developer interested in getting spotlighted? Hit us up!

Name: I'm Seppo Helava, the lead designer and one of the co-founders (that's me on the right). Dan Kurtz, our primary webOS developer, who you may have seen on the developer forums, is in the black shirt in the middle!

Company: Self Aware Games

Location: Redwood City & Oakland, CA

webOS Apps: Word Ace, Card Ace: Hold 'Em & Card Ace: Blackjack (which are now all part of) Card Ace: Casino, Fleck (upcoming)

Current devices: Pre 2, iPhone 3GS, iPad 2

Tell us about Self Aware Games.

We're a group of people that make games you can play with your friends. Our goals are sort of twofold - first, to create the kinds of experiences that you couldn't have had before, and second, to make things that people really love. With our card games, we wanted to make something that really captured the experience of playing with people. The connectivity of things like the Pre were really new at the time, and creating a game where you could play with (or against) real people any time, anywhere was something that really appealed to us. A year+ later, and we have tens of thousands of players online every day - and we get e-mails from people telling us about the lasting friendships they've formed both in-game and in the real world. To us, that's a sure sign we're doing something right.

And with our new project, Fleck, we're taking the social elements we've developed with Casino in a whole new direction.

What in your background led you to develop for webOS?

Competition is a healthy thing - and having a variety of platforms competing in the mobile space is a good thing for everyone. When webOS was originally announced, we saw a big opportunity with a really cool, unique OS with some fantastic new hardware. The presence of a hardware keyboard was one of the critical bits that led us to dreaming up Word Ace, and something that really made real-time chat a natural fit. Being an early developer on a new platform has a whole host of unique challenges, but we had a team with the right set of skills to take it on, so it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up!

So why do you continue to develop for webOS?

We have people who started playing Word Ace on the day of its release who are still playing on a regular basis more than a year later. We have webOS players who play Hold 'Em every night for hours with their friends across the country. Without question, webOS has been an absolutely vital part of our success. When Word Ace launched, our first players were on webOS. For the first year, our games grew almost exclusively through word of mouth within the vocal webOS user community, and we got tons of feedback from players that helped us refine the experience over the last two years as we added Hold 'Em, Blackjack, and then merged all three into Card Ace: Casino!

On top of being a really spectacular OS (nothing compares to its multitasking), the passion of the users has been an incredibly powerful reason to keep developing for the platform. We want to make games that people love playing, and it's clear that the webOS community supports the things they feel passionate about.

Do you do any development for other platforms?

We develop on webOS, iOS, Android, and the web - so we've got just about everything covered.

Cool, how does your webOS experience compare?

webOS has a couple really powerful things going for it - it's easy to develop for. HP/Palm's been really involved with the development community - in a pretty significant way, the difference is people. You can go on the forums & talk directly with the folks who developed the platform - which is always a help when you're trying to do something strange and new.

What’s your take on the current state of webOS development?

Right at this moment?

Yeah, right now.

I think the easiest way to say it is that it's a period of transitions. The Mojo to Enyo transition, the WebOS 1.x.x to 2.x transition, the Pre/Pixi/Pre2 to Veer/Pre3/TouchPad transition, and of course the Palm to HP transition. All those things happening at once makes for an interesting landscape to navigate. No point in beating around the bush - it's a difficult time for webOS, but there's a lot of progress. The new hardware looks fantastic, and HP has the resources to give webOS the attention it deserves. Hopefully that'll make it a year of one more kind of transition - a transition for users to webOS. :)

Where do you see webOS development going in the future? In particular, how do you see Enyo and devices like the TouchPad running webOS 3.0 affecting your development?

We're excited about Enyo and all the new stuff coming out this year. I love the integration between the Pre3 and the TouchPad, and I can't wait to see what it's like to use on a day-to-day basis. We started tablet-based development at the end of last year with Card Ace: Casino HD (which is available now on the iPad, for those of you who've got one). The thing with tablets that I think a LOT of developers are missing is that you can't just blow up a phone interface and call it a day. It's much, much more tactile, and I think if you're not taking advantage of that, you're really missing the point.

We redesigned the *entire* interface of our card games from the ground up to take advantage of the new form factor. You don't fold by clicking a button - you fold by dragging your cards into the muck, just like you would if you were playing with real cards. You don't bet by changing a value on a spinner - you bet by moving chips around & sliding them into the pot... just like you would if you were playing with real chips. We have some shortcuts & such in there because hey, it *is* a videogame, and videogames can make things a lot of tedious things easier - but the focus of the design was to play cards like you're playing cards, because the tablet interface lets you do a lot more interesting stuff.

Couple that with the unique features of the TouchPad, and you've got something really, really cool. Say you started playing a game on Hold 'Em in Card Ace: Casino on your Pre 3 on the bus ride home from work. When you get home, just bump your Pre 3 with your TouchPad and continue the game exactly where you were on a bigger screen, with an interface that makes perfect sense for the platform. On top of that, the whole interface is designed to be completely playable even with the software keyboard open - so you can chat & play simultaneously with no interruptions at all.

And of course, Casino HD is completely cross-compatible with the standard version of Casino, which is completely cross compatible between webOS, iOS, Android & the web. So you can play with your friends no matter what platform they're on, whether it's a tablet, a phone, or a desktop. And with our next game, Fleck, we're taking that connectivity somewhere completely different.

Given the chance, what’s the one thing you would change about the webOS development process?

I'd just jump a couple months into the future where everything's on Enyo, all the new hardware is out, and there are tons of new users. :)

What are you working on right now?

We just released a new update to Card Ace: Casino that changes up a lot of the gift store & how people give gifts to each other in-game. You can now give a gift to someone at any time (including chips & powerups!), and a lot of the UI has been updated & made a lot slicker. We're also working on getting Card Ace: Casino HD onto the TouchPad as fast as we can.

The other thing we're doing is a brand-new game called Fleck. It's a massively-multiplayer game that takes place on a map of the real world - but more than just taking place on a map, it's a game that uses a ton of real-world data. From restaurant data pulled from Yelp, Flickr photos, local weather & more, Fleck uses real data about real places to create the world. 

This isn't a "Social Game" where you play a single-player game & then spam everyone you know on Facebook. Fleck's a real-time massively multiplayer experience where you're playing in the same world with hundreds of other real people! Beautify your neighborhood, plant a bunch of things, and fight zombies with your friends. Wander around the world & check out the spectacular things people have created, or check out Fleck-ified version of landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Space Needle, or Carhenge!

There are tons of cooperative things to do, and ways to help each other out. Complete a scavenger hunt together, help maintain your friends' gardens, or complete dozens of quests to earn $$ & level up!

Fleck's not just a new place to hang out with your friends, it's a whole new way of looking at a place you already know & love - your home. Check out the open beta now, and when it comes to TouchPad (and iPad, with other platforms following later), you'll be able to keep the account you're using! The game's growing every day, so jump in & check it out today!

Awesome, thanks so much. Any parting thoughts for our readers?

We give our games away for free, with the hope that players will love the game, and choose to spend their hard-earned money with us. Over the last two years, we've been able to keep making Casino better and better, and work on something insanely ambitious in Fleck - because of the support of our players. Thank you for letting us have the best jobs in the world. We'll work hard to make sure we keep making things you all enjoy.