The Phoenix Digital Group (PNX Digital)
Co-owners of The Phoenix Digital Group (PNX Digital), Eric Ewing and Travis Tobias have provided us at App Apes with some great details about their mobile game AirBoy, what got them into the business, as well as some hints about their plans for the future. The two are far more down to earth than their initials E.T., or the thought of their high flying hero, AirBoy, might suggest. The duo share interests in “gaming, films, music, craft beer, animation, and of course game development.” Both Travis and Eric have backgrounds in multimedia design, and have made a living doing everything from graphic design to web design, to development, to animation for films and television, to filming reality TV shows, as well as commercials. They reveal that a typical day for them consists of miscellaneous freelance projects and marketing for Airboy, their Android and IOS game app, and then that they end their days, often working well into the night, developing games.
In a joint effort, as the PNX Digital group, Travis and Eric started developing apps late last year (2013). Before this, both worked in similar fields, and Eric asserts that he is a graphic designer, artist, and animator by trade. Game development has always been more of a hobby to him–a hobby he has pursued since the early 1980’s. At the start, the PNX Digital company was primarily animation focused, but with their mutual love for games, the duo shared ideas for mobile games that they wanted to play but could not locate in any of the app stores. Taking the initiative rather than waiting for someone else to create what they desired, Eric and Travis laid out there ideas and began to figure out which of the ideas they should create first.
As for inspiration, Travis names the ever-popular Angry Birds, as well as the more obscure Gunman Clive and Adult Swim’s Adventure Xpress. He finds that Angry Birds is a game he can put away for a awhile and return to with a renewed sense of enjoyment, while Gunman Clive is “pretty much the only mobile game with a D-pad that I like.” He claims he’s played it at least three times, and part of the reason why is that he really enjoyed the unique art style of it. Other than these, he has enjoyed Jetpack Joyride and geometry Dash. Eric on the other hand is into RPGs. He’s been an Ultima fan since its initial release, and really enjoys Ultima Forever, as well as Perilar and TapQuest. On top of RPGs, Eric really “digs” physics bases games such as Cut the Rope, and states that he’ll “probably never stop playing” it.
Neither Eric or Travis are alien to challenges and obstacles, and have run into plenty on their quest to create the games they once merely hoped to find in the app store. They’ve had an arsenal of digital tools to help them along, as well. When the duo began working, they did so in ActionScript, an object-oriented programming language, while developing corporate games for client’s websites. Eric has also made games, specifically Shockwave Applets, using Lingo. Both members of PNX Digital use AfterEffects and Photoshop, while Eric uses GIMP for editing TMP files, as he likes how it is designed to save as export. When it comes to the 3D work, Eric uses Maya, while Travis prefers 3DS Max. Eric states that “when it came time to build AirBoy, I’d been looking for a friendlier dev-kit than the tools in Xcode, which would also let us publish to a variety of platforms. The ones I liked best were unity3D and Stencyl3 PRO. Stencyl keeps getting stronger with each release. However, we are currently developing an RPG using unity3D.” As the mobile platform was new to both Travis and Eric, they were faced with a series of challenges and learning opportunities. Perhaps the most troublesome issue resulted from having to learn how different types of hardware handled graphic assets at different sizes and this admittedly “dogged [the duo] throughout the process.”
As for Airboy, the app was in production for nearly six months. Travis asserts that the tagline they have been using for AirBoy is “An Arcade Adventure with a Billiards Twist.” Nevertheless, he believes that that is the best way to describe the app is as being some combination of Mario, Flappy Bird, and Billiards (a.k.a. Pool). Eric agrees that Travis’ description and the tagline sum the app up pretty well, but would also like “to expand on the exploration/platformer aspect of it,” stating that the duo plan to expand upon the game. He says, “everyone who buys the game is entitled to the updates we’re planning at no additional charge. I’m pretty excited about some of the new worlds we have been working on.”
As for their target audience, Travis suggests that it is a bit of a wide range. “AirBoy’s graphics look more like a young kid’s game and young kids do seem to enjoy it, but it takes [a lot of] skill to earn all of the achievements. I have been told kids as young as four and grandparents play it regularly, but our target audience is probably nine and up. My kids, ten and eleven, were our test audience with AirBoy. We would judge their reactions to see if it was working or not.” Eric agrees that it is good for kids of all ages, adding that his “niece and nephew, who are younger than Travis’ kids, also played it as it came together and really liked it, but they were less adept at the challenges. Still, the controls being as simple as they are, both my niece and nephew were able to finish levels on their own and explore all of world 1 without help.” Without blood or hard violence, the game is certainly appropriate for all ages.
When it comes to tips for other developers, both Travis and Eric agree that the most important thing it to market your app(s) early. Travis states that “it’s never too soon to start getting your game out into the universe. Don’t wait until you’re done or even almost done. The more people you let test it the better you can tell what works and what doesn’t. You are going to be releasing your game into sea of other games; the earlier you can get the word out, the better chance you have of getting noticed.” Eric agrees that marketing is hard and perhaps the most challenging aspect of app development.
Finally, for the future of PNX Digital, Travis and Eric take their own market early advice and reveal that they are working on a couple new games. One is an endless runner type game and the other falls into Eric’s favorite category: Role Playing Games (RPG). They state that the endless runner will probably be out soon, perhaps early 2015 if not sooner, but the RPG will probably take a while longer, being more complex. Both of the games are in pre-production phase but Travis and Eric are both really excited about them.
If you would like to learn more about The Phoenix Digital Group (PNX Digital), as well as Eric Ewing and Travis Tobias, please visited their website, follow AirBoy on Facebook, or add them on Twitter. We at App Apes look forward to the release of both their endless runner and their RPG, and we are sure they’ll spawn new success after new success like a phoenix rising from the ashes–the ashes being a well received AirBoy, and likely a well received endless runner/RPG.