Apple Jack 2, the sequel to the incredible Xbox Live Indie Game Apple Jack, will be coming out sometime “early 2012.” Creator Tim Sycamore of My Owl Software was able to take some time away from development of Apple Jack 2 to answer some questions.
CRITICAL HIT!: How did you think up the design for the characters and world of Apple Jack?
TIM SYCAMORE: It was pretty random. I’ve got a thing for characters with enormous heads and an apple seemed about the right shape. As for the world, I’d much rather spend my time running around the countryside than the town since the scenery is nicer, so I tried to make each world a place I’d like to visit. I’m also pretty limited in my artistic talents, so I couldn’t get too ambitious.
CH!: Apple Jack has some really interesting and unique enemies. How did you think up enemies like the astronaut and the washing machine?
TS: Their form is based on their function, so when I needed an enemy that trundles along platforms until it reaches the edge and falls off, the first thing that sprang to mind was an out of control washing machine. For the astronaut I needed needed something to hop slowly around the screen. The laser shooting owls made sense because I needed something that could swivel its head left or right to show when it was about to shoot. Of course there isn’t any theme to all this, so it adds a kind of surreal randomness to the game.
CH!: I personally loved the soundtrack. What made you go for an instrumental folk soundtrack, and how did you find Josh Woodward? Can we expect more in the sequel?
TS: Aside from liking that sort of music, I thought an acoustic soundtrack suited the rural setting of the game. I wanted it so seem like there was someone sitting in the room with you, gently strumming on their guitar, and while I couldn’t really manage that, I was lucky to stumble across Josh Woodward’s website, where he offers all his songs for free in both vocal and instrumental versions. He really was a godsend!
For the second game, I was lucky enough to come into contact with Oxford band This Eden, who have made an excellent soundtrack for the game, again using acoustic instruments like guitars, banjos and ukuleles.
CH!: The difficulty in Apple Jack varies greatly from level to level. Was this a conscious effort or did it just sort of happen?
TS:Yeah, it just kind of happened. I designed the levels in order, from first to last, and what ever Idea I had in my head became the next level. Because of this, balancing the difficulty was pretty tricky and although the game does get broadly harder from start to finish, there are some nasty difficulty spikes.
I’ve used a similar method to create the levels in the new game, but this time the user can select the difficulty they want to play at, with easier difficulties allowing the player to rewind their mistakes. Hopefully that should smooth things out a bit.
CH!: Based on how Apple Jack plays, I can assume Super Mario Bros 2 was a large inspiration. Did anything else serve as inspiration?
TS: In terms of game mechanics, Mario 2 was as you say the biggest influence. In terms of tone and humour, I tried to make the game very British, in the style of old Spectrum games like Manic Miner and Monty Mole. Apart from Fable there aren’t really any games being made with british sensibilities nowadays, which is a bit of a shame.
CH!: Do you think co-op play might work well in an Apple Jack game?
TS: I reckon it would work very well, yes. You could build some good puzzles around having to pass an enemy between two players, and in areas with a lot of combat things could get pretty hectic. If I make a third game I’ll have to see if I can do something like that.
CH!: Do you have any more projects planned after Apple Jack 2?
TS: I’ve got ideas for loads of different games – Shooters, RPG’s and more platformers, but I’m not sure what I’ll do next. The two Apple Jack game have taken a year+ each to make, which is a huge amount of time, so I’d like to do something which I can realistically finish in a few months. I really like making games though so I won’t be stopping any time soon!
The answers I got back from Tim honestly surprised me, in a good way. Many of the design decisions for Apple Jack were made simply because they made sense, rather than attempting to apply some sort of deeper artistic meaning. To me, this made Apple Jack seem more like a lovable idea. All the nonsensical characters, colorful landscapes and calming background tracks were put in because they fit, and they made sense as gameplay elements. Tim is obviously a gamer, and he made a game that a gamer would want to play.
Apple Jack is currently available on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, and Apple Jack 2 should be coming sometime soon. My Owl Software’s development blog is located at http://myowlsoftware.blogspot.com/