On 8 March, the hotly anticipated Mass Effect 3 will go on sale around Australia — accompanied by a full third-person iOS sister title. We chat to Jarrad Trudgen, design director at Aussie developer IronMonkey (also responsible for Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, The Sims Freeplay and Need for Speed), about the company's upcoming new title and mobile gaming development down under.
Can you tell us a bit about the background of IronMonkey? Who are you, and how did you get started?
Jarrad Trudgen, design director, IronMonkey Studios
(Credit: IronMonkey Studios)
IronMonkey is a Melbourne-based developer of high-quality iOS and Android games. The studio founders, all local console developers, saw a gap in the emerging mobile market for games with high production values and started IronMonkey in 2005 to fill that gap. The App store/smartphone boom took off shortly after and the rest is history.
How did you get involved with Electronic Arts?
IronMonkey was acquired by EA in early 2010. We'd already developed a number of successful mobile games for EA, so it felt like a fairly natural next step in the partnership. I personally joined the studio in 2009, fresh from another EA-owned studio, Pandemic Brisbane.
(Credit: Electronic Arts)
Tell us a bit about your latest release, Infiltrator. How does it work, and how does it relate to Mass Effect 3?
Mass Effect: Infiltrator is a flagship third-person cover shooter for iOS and Android. It boasts gorgeous graphics (preview events have drawn comments that players would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a console game and Infiltrator running through an iPad 2's HDMI out), an original storyline and innovative touch controls that are highly accessible without sacrificing depth of gameplay.
Infiltrator is a great stand-alone experience for players unfamiliar with the Mass Effect universe, but has some cool bonuses for the hardcore fans. As well as providing an interesting parallel narrative to the events of Mass Effect 3, Infiltrator also allows players to boost a couple of stats in ME3 while they're on the go.
I understand you built your own game engine. How has that evolved, and what are your plans with it for the future?
Our engine technology has evolved from what we used in Dead Space and our other iOS titles. In this iteration, we have added post-processing and an advanced material system, giving our artists much more freedom. We are constantly looking to improve the feature-set of the engine, and have always tried to push each device to its limits. We believe that Mass Effect sets a new benchmark for technical fidelity on the platform, and I hope we can continue to raise the bar for future titles.
There's massive competition in the mobile gaming market. What do you think your titles offer that other games do not?
Our studio is uniquely positioned as consistently delivering high-quality entries in huge, beloved franchises that are faithful to what makes those IPs [intellectual properties] great without being wholly derivative of them. We never make straight ports of existing games; our strength lies in adapting to the platform to bring something new to the licence, be it a narrative element, control scheme or feature. As a result we create big console-style experiences that don't feel clumsily shoehorned onto a platform they weren't designed for. We also take great pride in our achievements in artistic and technical quality.
(Credit: Electronic Arts)
What has been the biggest challenge for IronMonkey? How do you overcome it?
I think every discipline has its own unique challenges in every studio. As a designer, probably the single biggest challenge we face is developing elegant control solutions for the complex feature sets of our titles. Some of the licences we've developed for carry an audience expectation of huge, console-scoped feature sets that are incredibly challenging to make accessible for a range of players. We always strive to satisfy existing fans and hopefully create new ones.
As a studio, our shared challenge is successfully juggling resources between the usual three games we have in development at any one time in spite of often conflicting development and release schedules.
What do you think is the essential ingredient in a truly awesome mobile game?
You'll notice a theme here ... nailing the controls.
What is the best thing about working in mobile gaming development? What is the worst?
Like a lot of people in the Australian games industry, I spent several years working at different studios on a variety of games that were canned or just unfinished before the studio was shut down. To start at IronMonkey and have Mirror's Edge designed, built and available on the App Store in a little over six months was a revelation. You learn so much from a complete development cycle that it's a huge coup to experience so many of them in a relatively short time.
The worst aspect is that there is still a stigma in some parts of the industry that touchscreen-only devices are somehow not "proper" gaming devices. I hope that our work continues to erode this stubborn and increasingly indefensible position, but every time a developer releases an iOS console port and just slaps a dozen virtual buttons on the screen then the cause is set back.
(Credit: Electronic Arts)
What advice would you offer aspiring devs looking to set up their own mobile game studio?
There's so many great tools out there for indie devs now. Get yourself a copy of Unity and start experimenting! Prototype, play test, iterate and get something in front of people so you can get feedback and do it again.
What's next for IronMonkey?
Whatever it is, you can bet it's going to be big.
Mass Effect Infiltrator has no set release date as yet, but is due around the same time as the Mass Effect 3 launch on 8 March. You can check out more of IronMonkey's titles on its website.