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Sortee sound designer Philip T.B.C.: “Music production is a hard work”
Music and sound effects in Sortee are by drum’n’bass DJ and producer Philip T.B.C. who was, for example, an opening act for the famous Prodigy. Although Philip is a musician with over 14 years of experience, Sortee was his first game project he worked on. “Until now, I only made music the way I wanted. Contract work is different and I wanted to try it and it was great experience.” Enjoy the interview with a great producer and a legendary DJ.
Filip, Sortee is your first gaming project. What is your relationship to games?
You are right, this was my first job related to games, and it was great experience. I’m a “big boy”, but like every man I’m essentially still a child in my mind, and so I enjoy games. Our whole life is basically a big game, and one needs to stay on top of things.
What attracted you most about the collaboration?
I like exploring new things, and this looked interesting. Until now, I only made music the way I wanted and didn’t care whether anybody liked it. Contract work is different; I wanted to try it. In the end, it was fine, no run-ins and stress. I wish this were always the case with everybody :)
Your music style is generally rather rough, while the music in Sortee is a nice ambient dub. Was it a difficult change?
It’s true that as a DJ, I tend to play harder pieces; however, in my production I move between various styles and various degrees of hardness. I just like good music, no matter if it’s drum’n’bass, reggae or pop.
Is it a big difference to make music for yourself and for a commercial project? Is your way of work different in any way?
There was definitely a difference, but not as striking as I expected. It also depends on who you make the music for. With Sortee, it was totally smooth, communication worked fine, and when we agreed on what we actually wanted, it was all about time and “nursing” the tracks to our satisfaction.
Do you have your own recipe for composing good music? Do you have some rituals in the studio to make it work?
I wish I had such a recipe. Each track is an original; sometimes it’s a great pain, and you end up wiping out the whole project after six hours of work, and other times it’s a piece of cake. Unfortunately, the first scenario is more common, so it’s mostly time-consuming. Once I didn’t comprehend how anybody could be recording an album for two years, for example. Now I fully understand it; you really spend hundreds of hours in the studio. Even though it doesn’t seem so, music production is a hard work. Concerts or DJ performances are just icing on the cake, as a reward for the hours in the studio. But the most important thing is doing what you enjoy, so I have absolutely nothing to complain about.
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date and where would you like to get?
My greatest achievement is that I keep making music and having fun with it. Then there are partial achievements that made me happy at that moment. For example, an invitation by the Prodigy to be their opening act. Or DJ Shadow appreciating my tracks. I wanted to jump two meters high at that moment, because he’s been my idol for more than 15 years. Also a personal meeting with DJ Krush, people’s respect at concerts and parties, releasing two albums. But also waking up in the morning and being able to get up, having a place to live and something to eat. I’ve travelled around the world quite a bit and seen lots of poverty, so I really appreciate what I’ve got. And where would I like to get? Every little success is a success, and my work is to make people happy, so what else can I wish for :)
Filip, many thanks for the great collaboration which we enjoyed tremendously. Thanks for the interview, and keep having fun with your work.
www.PhilipTBC.com - free tracks, mixes, videos
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Philip-TBC/55972720770 - facebook fan page
http://www.youtube.com/user/philiptbc?feature=mhee - youtube channel
http://soundcloud.com/philiptbc - free album/music
Sortee single will be available on iTunes Music Store from 31-1-13.
An interview for gaming magazine Level published in July 2012 with some updated facts.
Slick office building in Prague houses so called “technology accelerator” . Do not expect white coat scientists or vibrating subatomic particles. Business thrives here. Techsquare is a home for many important Czech startups, emerging Czech technological companies. Flow Studio, led by Richard Horin (39) and Petr Fodor (31), is one of them. They successfully published their first iOS game, Power of Logic, at the end of the last year and are working on another project.
What brought you to the field of game development?
Richard: I spent 15 years in an advertising agency, Petr spent a bit less there. Such job makes you tired after some time. We realized that we have spent time doing a boring job. That’s how we decided for a big mind-switch.
So you haven’t had any game development experience before?
Richard: Of course we have been playing games since childhood, we were monitoring mobile gaming recently, but we have never actually tried the development. The whole crazy idea came last Christmas. I said to myself: screw this, I’m gonna do what I enjoy and fulfill my childhood dream. It had something to do with the massive mobile gaming market development as well. Gaming devices are becoming common with the people. So, if you want to start, it is better with mobile platforms. I asked Petr whether he would be able to go through this change with me. We had quit the agency, where we had very lucrative jobs, and stepped into uncertainty. We do what we 100% love. We used to look forward to the weekend, now we look forward for Monday.
How did you cope with building the company, hiring people, etc.?
Richard: That’s where we do have a lot of experience. Building a company in the legislature point of view is easy. Looking for talent, analyzing who will be good to cooperate with or who is talented, but working on a project with him is a suicide - that’s where we do have many years of experience. We might be a little older than expected, but that’s why we have a lot of experience in pragmatic business. These experiences stay with us and make us more careful, not so headless.
Petr: Our hypothesis, which we did confirm during a few first months of careful game business monitoring, was that there are many skilled programmers and graphical designers in the Czech Republic. They often lack strategy however. I mean, what do we do, how do we make it so that people like it, to make it salable. We built our idea upon this. Neither Richard nor I are coders. Our strength lies elsewhere: we’re able to manage a programmer or a graphic designer thanks to extensive experience we had with large projects involving tens of people. After the year, we know our hypothesis was right. We have broad perspective, we work on other things than technical details. We believe these things are what decides about the success of the game. Let me exaggerate: today, anyone can code. To make the game really good, funny, to reach the people, that´s where most Czech developers often fail.
When you started, did you have a clear idea of your first game, some more detailed plan?
Richard: Sure, we had the plan ready. We intentionally opted for very simple game, a toy maybe. One that is commonly known, I personally knew it from my childhood. We worked with the fact that people know it and can talk about it. It is also simple and easy - from the user and developer point of view. There were not many technical problems, so we were able to manage it and publish it eventually. I know a lot of projects with great plans and ambitions… what counts in the end, however, is the released game.
Petr: We do have ambitions, but we know it is necessary to go step by step. We need experience to be able to go further with our next title.
How many people worked on your first game, Power of Logic?
Richard: Me, Petr, art designer and coder was the core team. The whole team from localization to web development was about 25 people. It was a small game, but we saw that game development until the release is a very complex endeavor. It was just enough for us to handle it as our first project, to be able to release it in a reasonable time we had set.
What was the price range of the investment?
Petr: Roughly $10000. We really tried to keep costs as low as possible.
Richard: Not including our own time, these are just investments to third parties.
Did you get it back?
Richard: Yes, the game is generating profit already since spring.
How many copies of the game did you sell and what is the player feedback?
Petr: We released the game on 22 November 2011 and have over 700 000 downloads since then. Free downloads compose a large part of the total, but those are important as well because we are also monetizing the game through in game advertising. The feedback was extremely positive. Just look at the App Store ratings - 4.5 stars out of 5. The game was intended more as a gadget than a game, yet many people all over the world love it. People like that it looks nice and behaves predictably, or that it is a classic concept with neat visuals. We are sure this means we’re on the right track. We need to polish the game a lot, look for any details, no matter how simple, and improve those to add to general experience of a good game. That’s our mantra. Create nice, playable, vivid games. We remember this since the first sessions with Richard, where we discussed how do we wanna do it.
Richard: We did this intentionally for a start, but we want to go further in the field of playability. Anyway, the above said should always be on your mind. When I play on my phone, I want to kill some time. There are more complex games of course, that I play in bed before I go to sleep. Most of the games are aimed for the phone, where simplicity is expected. I can’t start my strategy game between two subway stops. There are so many disturbing elements there, that simplicity is good.
Petr: We have one design rule: will I be able to play this using one hand in the subway when it is braking? This is the core of casual gaming for us and our games need to be ready for this.
Do you think mobile games are the future of gaming industry?
Richard: Mobile is the emerging platform today. We see the future of mobile gaming as new user group. Those are different players - probably do not play on desktop, started gaming with mobile or tablet. A new group of players emerged and it is not nearly satisfied yet. It is exciting to watch as a new generation of gamers is being created. It is an adventure and we love it. A mobile display offers completely different gaming experience than a computer with a mouse. The magic of this new development is to think via the hands of the player. How do I convey the experience through a touch? I do not think that FPS with virtual joysticks will be massively successful gaming experiences. The control is just not natural and it will change with the 3D surface displays.
Petr: Try to play Cut the Rope with a mouse - it’s only about one third fun compared to cutting ropes with your fingers.
How about your other projects?
Richard: We are working on another title, that is a little more ambitious. It is not a clone, it’s new, absolutely original. It will be a logical arcade but much more dynamic and fun. We’re working on it for six to nine months. We started to code our first demo. We would like to release it approximately at the end of September. We use Unity 3D engine that is becoming very popular. It is easy to port to another platforms, so we’ll go for Android with minimum costs to see what the market will do.
Petr: Our concept is really simple and straightforward. We created it when working on Power of Logic. We are happy we had a lot of time to polish the idea - we often deliberately simplified it.
How much time do you devote to marketing?
Petr: Marketing of games might be more than half of the success. We thought at first that advertising company experience will be beneficial. The competition on App Store is huge, there are over 700 new apps being published daily. We used Power of Logic to test many things, and we just continue experimenting. We are often faced with the simple fact, that not everything from classic advertising business works here. Media play a key role because they can communicate with player masses. We are also more and more convinced about the word of mouth - people will just tell each other about the game. Right now we think a lot about how to make the players spread the game themselves, so that it is more competitive, so that they can easily play against each other. We’re looking for tools to motivate people to this spreading. Forcing it does not work, player’s interest must be natural.
Andreas Illiger, an author of the famous iOS game Tiny Wings, is so far the best example of indie developer success. Players flooded with bloody shooters found his beautiful game not only entertaining and addictive, but also tender, optimistic and soul pleasing. “The first month was really scary,” Andreas comments on what was happening after Tiny Wings had hit the first spot in the US App Store. An avalanche of interest was so unpleasant that Andreas decided to disappear from the public and get back to his passion: creating games. More then a year later after Tiny Wings’ release, Andreas is close to finishing his next title. We are very pleased he agreed to record our short informal interview after A MAZE Awards in Berlin held on April 27.
Hi Andreas, what are you working on these days?
I am finishing a new game right now so it is pretty stressful. I am have been on it for the last ten months and it should be done in less then three weeks. It is hard, because I am still one man band.
Can you tell us little bit more about the new title?
It will be for the iOS platform again, that’s an obvious thing. Otherwise it’s a big secret, I am not telling anything to anyone :)
What was happening after your big success with Tiny Wings?
It was really hard life when Tiny Wings become such a success last year. You have no clue what success means before it happens to you. Suddenly the whole world went to my room and everybody wanted something: to buy me, to buy the license, sell merchandising stuff, make cinema movie. It was totally crazy. I am a quiet guy and I like my quiet life. For me personally, nothing changed. I still live in a small flat, I don’t have a car because I don’t have a driving license, I haven’t bought anything except of a new computer. So I am still the guy I was before Tiny Wings and I just want to make cool games, that’s my passion.
Tell us the story behind the making of Tiny Wings. Did you have anything particular in mind when you started the development?
The main idea was to make a game about the dream of flying. When I was a child I dreamed about flying. I crafted planes, jumped from the roof of our house with my aircraft. The funny thing is that I am afraid of heights so I don’t fly even nowadays. I also wanted to fill the game with positive emotions. There are many destructive and negative games so I wanted to figure out if it is possible to make a game which makes you feel happy. That was the great aspect of the success, I think. I received a lot of feedback from people who said the game touched them. My passion is also making music so I was curious if I can touch people with any game, the same way I do with music.
Has the first idea of Tiny Wings changed over the time of development?
I was thinking about what game I could make for a 1,5 year old. I played many different versions in my mind before starting the real work so there were only small changes eventually over 7 months of development.
Can you tell us more about your background? You are great designer, musician and coder. Where are the origins of your renaissance personality?
I studied graphic design. Music is my big passion, as a child I played a piano. I have been learning programming the whole youth because I have had really bad school experience. Computers, programming and making games was my therapy. I also do animation film and I would like to do more music… It is difficult to get focused when you have so many interests. That’s the reason why I create games. They are complex and I can merge all my skills.
Andreas thanks a lot for the interview, it was a pleasure to meet you in person. Good luck with your new game, enjoy making your further games and have fun.
Maybe crazy, maybe smart. Two guys who never programmed or designed anything started their own game studio. And they even want to make games for living!
We have spent almost 10 years in advertising business on client’s service side. And those who were involved in the industry understand the change was inevitable. Serving others and creating things that no one cares about (or even hates) is frustrating. “Now or never,” was Richard’s quote on the lunch when we decided for the big switch to the business we now love.
Although Account Manager Richard has strong background in arts as former architecture student who accidentally started in the agency in the “wrong department”. Petr was during studies and other activities always involved in marketing, project management and content development. Hypothesis we have set on the beginning was that there are many great artists and skilled developers on the Czech market but what they usually miss is strategic approach and so much needed birds perspective on the development.
Many months later we can say we were right. We worked in “dual mode” almost a year. Day shifts in an agency and then nights and weekends studying the game business environment or with programmer was a tough test not only for ourselves but also for our families and family budgets covering development. But our approach to minimize all risks required such sacrifice until we get some experience to start development as a full time job. Our first title Power of Logic was published on 24th November 2011 and more then a month later we quit agency. The agency we in fact co-founded as a first employees five years ago and now we started our own business. With only development cost covered but lot of enthusiasm and energy to work.
It was a huge mind switch. From an employee serving clients to owners creating own products in completely different field of business. But we know there is no way back now and we work pretty hard to really make games for living.