Developer Interview: Count to a Billion

Count to a Billion is a bit of an anomaly in modern gaming.  It’s a pure button masher without apology.  Stand-alone button mashers have been a dead genre for decades.  Bringing out a new one in 2012 seemed almost brazen.  Developer RAWR! Interactive took it as a challenge to resurrect this style of game.  I spoke with their co-founder Mario Wunderlich about what went into creating Count to a Billion.

And yes, Count to a Billion is the official sponsor of the Leaderboard.  It doesn’t mean they’re getting all softball questions.  I enjoyed Count to a Billion, but I do have a bone or two to pick with it.

By the way, if you Tweet this interview, you’re entered into a chance to win a free copy of Count to a Billion.  Valid tweets must include the hashtag #IGCbillion fuck it, just tweet the damn interview.  We’ll be giving away not one, not two, but three copies!  Even if you can’t count to a billion, you can count to three.  Winners will be drawn on Saturday, September 1, 2012.

Kairi:  Button mashers are games that studios dress up and try to pretend they’re something else.  You guys outright embraced being a button masher and flaunt it.  How did this come about?

Mario: Count to a Billion, as a concept, was born from the desire to use the iPhone’s screen capabilities to the max. Most games use but 1 finger, sparingly, for everything. We wanted ta have players use all fingers (5 on iPhone, 10 on iPad) and do it in an intense fashion.

We worked it up from there to a pure button masher. There is no need for deceit, no need for disguise. We believe button mashers can be fun if the incentives and mechanics are well designed. And the iPhone/iPad screen is a perfect medium for it.

It is so simple, and yet it really is a lot of fun.  And exhausting.

By the way, the game was originally called Count to a Million… but we just kept escalating the game in intensity, and soon realized that big numbers accurately reflected this – and that’s how Count to a Billion came to be.

Kairi: It’s such a rarity that a game, even a small indie game, centers completely around button mashing.  I asked some gamers what was the last button masher they liked.  Most answered Track & Field, an early 80s arcade game that later got some home ports.  So it’s been a long time since this type of game resonated with gamers.  Why take the risk?

Mario: As a company, RAWR! Interactive’s vision is to explore new game mechanics for mobile platforms. Because of our vision, all our games will be risky investments by nature – but we think it’s well worth it, we might find something that players really love. Maybe it’s Count to a Billion, maybe it’ll be another game. But our mission is to find new ways to play with an iOS device.

With Count to a Billion, we wanted to get away from the super laid-back game mechanics that have been used over and over in 99% of mobile games – and explore intense game mechanisms. It this case, the intensity is quite physical. Sore arms. Numb fingers. And players have kept coming for more!

Kairi: The majority of gamers I know are super apprehensive about the potential of a button masher.  Straight honesty on my part: I thought Count to a Billion was going to suck.  I really did.  And in fact it’s very enjoyable.  So how do you go about convincing people that your button masher is different from any other button masher ever created?  Because, well, it is!

Mario: Thank you. And you’re right about that too. People have a preconceived notion of what a button masher is – the last one most gamers saw, like you noted, was probably in the 80s… and left it at that. So our job now is to show gamers what a button masher can be. It can be as fun and as involved as any other game.

So for Count to a Billion, making the game was just 50% of the journey. The other 50% is all about PR and marketing. And to keep on innovating. So yeah, Count to a Billion’s release was just the start – we have great new things planned for it. And we’re working around the clock in the hopes that it’ll be seen as more than just another “button masher.”

Kairi: As I touched on earlier, your game has no theme to it.  It’s just about smacking numbers.  Was there ever a point where you had something other than the minimalist look it has now?

Mario: The idea was always minimal, but making a game out of button mashing took a lot of experimenting. We went through 7 versions getting a feel of how best to get the gameplay mechanics, getting the look and feel right, creating a set of goals and achievements to give the game a sense of progress and of winning – it’s the details that make a game, and with a game as drastically different and minimalist as Count to a Billion, we really had to discover them from scratch.

Kairi: I’m ranked 53rd on the leaderboard, and I would be ranked better if it wasn’t for some of those damn sliders.  Especially the “C” slider.  The game is critically acclaimed, but also everyone is complaining about these.  How did this slip by?

Mario: Initially, we wanted the game to be not only fun, but also a tough, challenging experience. The “C” Slider is probably the toughest challenge in the game. After working on it for so long, however, we made the mistake of forgetting just how difficult some of these where. We even got used to the “quirks.” But we’ve listened to our players, and our next update addresses these.  The challenge will still remain, but it will be focused more on getting that high score, less on trying to avoid errors.

God Damn this fucking shape!! I officially declare war on all things that begin with the letter C! Well, except for things named Cathy. I can’t declare war on myself obviously, unless you count all the smoking and late nights spent watching Dana Carvey movies.

Kairi: The YouTube integration was a stroke of genius.  How come you guys didn’t include feature for tweeting scores?

Mario: Thanks! To be honest, we wanted to limit the number of options in exchange for a smoother User Experience. As part of this trade-off, we thought about all the available social options, and concluded that Facebook and YouTube where better platforms to brag about your skills. Twitter is a fantastic social tool, but unless you’re constantly tweeting or have a huge following, singled-out tweets simply won’t get noticed.  However, we listen to our users. If twitter is a big wish-list item for many, we’ll make room for it and include it.

Kairi: So far the game is doing well, at least critically.  Other than addressing complaints, do you have any features planned for addition?

Mario: We have many new features planned. This first release was just the beginning. One particular feature will be the addition of a 30 second blitz play-mode, where you’ll be able to create your own “decks” with challenges in a particular order so you can maximize your game. These are possible game-changers – but the core will always remain: intense tapping and sliding action for billions of points!

Kairi: Anything else you have to say to potential players who remain skeptical?

Mario: If playing an intense, challenging game that is quite different from anything else you’ve ever played isn’t enough, then how about trying to earn all 68 achievements!? And coming soon, we’ll have an in-game “store” where you’ll be able to trade in billions of points for cool, new playable stuff!

Check out Count to a Billion for sale now in the App Store.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

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