David of ZebraFox Games has provided App Apes with some interesting details about the company, its products, and some ideas for future projects. There is also some information on their biggest success thus far, Dr. Sweet Tooth, as well as on the company’s newest production, Gummy’s Thanksgiving Feast, which has been released at a most convenient time: a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
David has been developing games since 2007, when he took an Intro to Game Design course at the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s a modest man, but the facts speak for themselves, and his professor spoke up for him, landing him a job at a local game design company, 5000Ft, where he refined his graphic skills, developing art for various casino slot machines. Until the market crashed some four years later, David served as the primary artist and had his work features on several casino floors. After leaving the company and spending some time abroad, David realized that he wanted to utilized his artistic ability to create games. He had dabbled in game design as well as web design since high school, and some of his early work can be found on his company’s website zebrafoxgames.com. It was his design of the Pac-man Pachinko game that landed him his job at 5000Ft, but that was just the start of his journey into app design.
David has always enjoyed the challenge that graphic design and computer programming have provided him, but he admits that his background and skill are heavily geared towards the art side of things. Still, he’s learning as he goes and plans to get a computer programming degree on top of his bachelor of arts, with a focus on digital media. Everything he knows currently about computer programming he learned himself through tutorials online and through trial and error. He did take a 3D computer imaging and design course during High School at a Technical school, but again this was more art than programming.
What David was never particularly fond of writing–stories, descriptions, press kits, whatever he had to write was a painful undertaking. That is why he invited Russell in on his game making. Russell has an artistic eye, just as David does, but he expresses himself through the written word, not graphics. It was Russell, David claims, that create and wrote the story for Felipe Femur and all its continuations, wrote the descriptions, and served as a creative director for less word based games.
Despite David’s obvious skill with a computer and particularly Photoshop and making games, David pays his bills with a lot of free lance work. He still calls upon his talent in web design to craft interesting, responsive websites for clients, and makes art for others, all while using much of his free time to develop new Android games. Besides this, he assures us that he “still gets some sun,” and that he frequents the nearby Lake Tahoe.
When it comes to citing inspiration, David confidently states that he is influenced by Subway Surfer, Clash of Clans, and Triple Town. He also adds that the more recent game, Retry, is a close fourth. All of the games have done a great job of keeping him engaged and he’s likely to never uninstall any one of them. He admires their creative designs and ability to keep him coming back day after day, and he especially likes the simplistic designs of Spry Fox games.
What wasn’t simplistic were the obstacles and challenges ZebraFox Games had to overcome throughout their careers in app design. “Unless you go viral like Flappy Bird,” David says, “There’s not too much money to be made in app design.” David and Russell create out of love for the creation process, and also with a little hope that they’ll wake up millionaires someday. There have been other issues beside the strictly monetary kind, as well. David explains:
“Back in college my professor introduced me to Game Maker 7. Back then the program could only create .exe files. These days they have progressed to Game Maker: Studio. The fact that I spent so much on all the add on modules is one of the main reasons I still use it to design most of my games. It makes it very easy to create a game and then export it to whatever I want with a few clicks. The program is a little limited compared to something like Unity, but we currently are only a two man team, so 3D games are not something we need. This makes Game Maker the best option for us. The only other major setbacks we have experienced are issues with Google and their policy violations. They are not very dev friendly when they find an issue. It’s really a frustrating game of finding out what the issue is. We’ve had this problem with Felipe Femur and are still dealing with it.”
Production times for ZebraFox Games apps vary. For the more complex games, like Felipe Femur and Dr. Sweet Tooth, it took the two man team around 4-6 months. For smaller games like the most recent couple holiday specials, Halloween Campfire Stories (which won App Apes 2014 User Choice Halloween app award) and Gummy’s Thanksgiving Feast, it took around 1-2 months. David has noticed that with practice comes not perfection, but a greater output. He feels that production time for each game are decreasing as he grows more efficient with computer programming.
Gummy’s Thanksgiving Feast and Dr. Sweet Tooth
When asked about ZebraFox Games newest game, Gummy’s Thanksgiving Feast, he states that he wanted to get something simple out for the holiday. “It’s a continuation of the Felipe Femur and Dr. Sweet tooth game , in a way. Gummy is still toothless, so the new game takes place after the events of Dr. Sweet Tooth. Russell likes to tie everything together, which is why Gummy’s house makes a cameo appearance in Dr. Sweet Tooth.” David is most proud of Dr. Sweet Tooth, and it took the most time to develop. It took Russell quite a few rewrites and a couple scrapped storyboards before they had a story they liked. From then Russell suggested features, asked for changes and collects royalty free sounds while David set to work on making a truly unique puzzle game with competitive eaters that can vomit when confronted with a rotting tile or roach, as well as several fun challenge levels.
For Zebrafox Games, the bigger the audience, the better. They try to keep their games friendly, and suitable for all ages and skill levels. A lot of their games are targeted for kids, but have features adults can appreciate. All the Felipe Femur games were specifically designed for kids, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them as well, with the ironic nature of the characters and enchanting graphics. Dr. Sweet Tooth is the first game that is aimed at a slightly more mature audience, but to be able to enjoy the vomiting eater and roaches, one must maintain a certain level of pleasant immaturity. David says, “I think everyone can enjoy it, as it’s not difficult to get the hang of, but the game play is surprisingly strategic at points. So mastering it takes patience and it can be kind of gross.”
When asked if he has any tips for other developers David jokingly says, “Give up. We need less competition.” He clarifies that what he really means is to never give up something you love to do. It’s not always about success, but rather self satisfaction in the process and completion. As Winston Churchill once wisely, but depressingly said, “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” And those at ZebraFox Games certainly seem to maintain enthusiasm for the art of app development, for as David says, “If all we cared about was success, we would have given up a long time ago. Thinking about what we’re going to create next really makes us excited, and having that excitement is something all developers should have.”
Speaking of what’s next. David claims that the future is looking very bright. ZebraFox Games has a game they’ve been wanting to make since 2011 about to start production again called Blame. David has already created some assets, Russell is polishing the complex story for it and programming will start soon. It’s going to be their biggest game yet, by far, and something different from what they usually do. They are also planning more Holiday themed Felipe Femur games, that will tie in nicely with their Halloween and Thanksgiving app, as well as the Felipe Femur website for kids www.felipefemur.com. Next is Christmas, David says. Russell is also writing a story based game with choices–a choose your own adventure type–that will be tied in as a prequel to the more ambitious project, Blame.
You can find more information about the ZebraFox Games studio and their apps at the company’s online website here, or follow them on Twitter / Facebook, or if you’re interesting in the Felipe Femur world, visit the Felipe Femur website here.