Gunpowder: How We Brought a High Quality Premium Game to iPad (and Steam)

 (Or: Even if it seems nuts, just ask nicely -- sometimes you’ll get what you ask for!)

Gunpowder is a one of a kind physics-based puzzle game featuring colorful cartoon style artwork, a charming backstory and what we think is pretty clever game design that we aimed to have appeal to gamers of all ages. Gunpowder is easy to pick up, but offers ever-increasing challenges through thought-provoking brainteasers, constantly evolving physics-based gameplay elements and numerous environmental objects that offer new surprises.  With it out on iPad and Windows 8, and enjoying fantastic critical reviews, I wanted to reflect briefly on how the game got to where it is now, as it’s a bit of an unusual story that may provide some helpful perspective.

Genesis

People commonly ask a question similar to “How do you come up with new game ideas?”  I imagine that this is just as relevant a question to developers as to random interested parties.  It’s at least a much more interesting question than “Wow so you get to play games all day long for work?!”  Sigh.

Every team designs games differently, and with different goals in mind.  It’s a bit silly to think one teams’ method is going to work for many others, but many times it’s having just the right spark of inspiration that kicks everything off. Here’s what happened with us.

When we first started Rogue Rocket in 2011, Nick Bruty and I sat down and started brainstorming on what kinds of games would really work on mobile. We were working on pitching Infected, but we knew we also wanted to create more pure, simpler experiences.  So we got out a pen and paper, made some stupid jokes, and just started coming up with ideas.  Neither of us had experience building games for the mobile market, but we knew instinctively that the best mobile games are those that can be played with just one finger (easy to control) but still had a ton of gameplay depth (not easy to master).  Well... that or something with porn in it, but we decided that would be too easy and preferred the challenge of making a legitimately original and fun game.

Thus came about a pile of ideas; most of them were utter garbage.  Things like Oh No, ROADKILL! and Recess Riot, which would probably never see the light of day.  But a few gold nuggets bubbled their way up. The best of those were ones both Nick and I immediately grabbed onto -- ones that would cause us to easily spitball more ideas that we could laugh at.  One of those seemingly silly ideas became our first game, Sushichop.

As a warm up, what if we tried to improve on Fruit Ninja, except instead of fruit, they were fish? And when you chopped them, perfectly formed pieces of sashimi would shoot out in a ridiculous splash of gratuitous blood?!  

We laughed at the absurdity of it.  Who would make or want that? And then we made it, just to see if we could.  We did it in a month.  With two people.  Well, two and a half; our now long time cohort Loren joined us part way through its rapid development.  Among many other things, he contributed what to this day I feel like is an amazingly solid app icon.  But I digress.

During this time, Nick also came up with this neat idea that involved laying down lines of gunpowder with your finger and solving puzzles by igniting them.  Drawing branches of trails would make the lines burn outwards in different directions, just like you'd see in cartoons, and then there would be a gratifying explosion of powder kegs, complete with ridiculous chain reactions.

OMG, YES!”, I remember squealing, shifting uncomfortably in my seat from excitement, and trying not to be too annoying in the back area of an entirely unrelated company we were renting some desks from at the time.  “That sounds effing awesome! But ... it sounds like too much for our first outing, let’s pick something we can finish before Infected gets started.”  So we shelved it and went back to making fish explode.

Getting a game signed based on two pieces of paper with pretty pictures.

Fast forward to 2012:  We had a meeting with Microsoft at GDC.  We showed them some new game concepts that we had cooked up, thinking we knew what kinds of stuff they’d like to see. Concepts with really nice 3D art, explosions, etc.  We were met with a resounding “meh”.  

“Got anything a bit more, oh, I dunno, casual?”, they asked.  

Nick and I glanced at each other.  In that moment, I telepathically asked Nick through uncomfortably direct eye contact, “Gunpowder?”  And I swear I saw in his eyes, “Yeah.. do it”.  

Turns out, he was just thinking, “Oh well. Lunch?”  Luckily, I misread him and went for it anyways, bringing up a dusty old write up of Gunpowder on my laptop.  Immediately, our Microsoft contact lit up and asked us to write up some more details for her team to review.

Long story short, Microsoft green lit the thing based on two sheets of paper with a nice write up and some pretty pictures made by Nick, ultimately starting out life as a Windows 8 store exclusive shortly after its launch.  

Unfortunately, the premium app marketplace on Windows 8 didn’t materialize as we had collectively hoped. Eventually, Gunpowder was pulled by Microsoft along with several other quite good first party published games, despite never dropping out of the top 100 apps.

Through a very strong business relationship with Microsoft and their support,  we were granted the ability to bring Gunpowder to other platforms.  This constitutes the second time I was very pleasantly surprised.  I chalk this up to making an honest effort to being a great partner, not just a great game developer.

Thus Gunpowder gained new life in the form of an iOS version, which is now available.  We are super excited that we can share this game with a fresh audience, and we’re not going to stop there.  Soon (or maybe already depending on when you finally found and read this), we will be bringing it to Steam and other platforms.

At the time of this post, we just launched our Steam Greenlight campaign to make Gunpowder our first foray onto Steam.  It will be exciting to bring it to more players on different devices.  The game plays just as well (if not better) when clicking and dragging a mouse, so we hope our new players will enjoy it just as much!

Also: Read the full length post on Gamasutra, here!