Interview with David Wingrove of Golden Hammer Software

This week David Wingrove of Golden Hammer Software graciously took a few minutes out of a very busy schedule to let us know what his development studio is currently working on, his thoughts on the mobile landscape, and future plans for game development. Golden Hammer Software has shared several of their apps in the Share Your App project, including Trick Shot BowlingBig Mountain Snowboarding, and Scribble Worm.

Tell us about Golden Hammer Software.

Golden Hammer Software was founded in 2009 to make iPhone games.  We have since expanded to most mobile platforms and PC, having released 4 games.  The company is mainly David Wingrove and Katie Merrill, and we occasionally bring in others for some short term help.

Tell us about your background.

I was doomed to programming video games when I started playing and programming MUDs in high school.  In college I got into the quake 3 mod scene and helped lead the total conversion Bid for Power.  From there I got a couple small programming jobs and landed at Blue Fang to work on the Zoo Tycoon series where I was focused on tiny parts of the game without much say in the overall product.  When they eventually laid off the console/pc side I decided to go back to making my own games.  I teamed up with Katie Merrill, another ex-Blue Fang programmer, and Golden Hammer Software was born.

What got you interested in coding and development?

I was big into MUDs starting at age 15.  MUDs are online multiplayer games where the prize for winning is you get to program your own levels into the game for everyone else to play.  I already had an interest in programming, but MUDs gave me an audience to make things for.

What games do you currently have published?

Trick Shot Bowling: Trick Shot Bowling has both classic 10 pin games and our own trick shot pin configurations. Pick from 24 unlockable balls with different weight, speed, and hook to find the perfect ball for the challenge. Control the direction and spin of your ball with a swipe of your finger or a move of the mouse, and bounce your pins into a perfect strike. 

Big Mountain Snowboarding: Ride our huge and varied slopes with the most responsive and realistic controls around. Come see why over 3 million players have enjoyed this game. Turn too fast and you skid. Straighten out and ride edge to edge. Jump with a turn to trigger spins and try to land straight for huge trick scores. Our 12 trails feature glades, chutes, huge cliffs, mogul fields, and parks that you'd have to be insane to ride in real life. Try to beat the bronze, silver, and gold challenges on each map.

Scribble Worm: Draw worms with your fingers and watch them come to life in this adorable puzzle game! The worms' movement is based on whatever pattern you draw. Avoid the red walls, bounce off the blue walls, and slide on the gray walls. Watch out: some walls move! Pattern anticipation and timing are a must in this challenging and addictive puzzle game. Play through all 48 puzzle levels and then challenge your friends in the 2-player head-to-head mode. Race your worms to reach the apple first. 

Castle Dungeon: Explore the depths of Castle Dungeon in this role-playing game adventure. Use the controller to navigate through all 20 floors of the dungeon on your way to meet the guardian dragon. Find the best magical armor and weapons to become more powerful. Each game is a different adventure with a randomly-generated environment, monsters, and treasure.

What are you currently working on?

We are currently preparing for the MassDiGI Game Challenge, and for showing off Big Mountain Snowboarding 2 at PAX East and GDC.  We need to be able to easily explain why it’s awesome and be able to show a demo that backs that up.

Tell us about your app projects you have going right now; what are your future plans for these?

We are continuing to maintain and expand on Trick Shot Bowling.  Our primary project though is finishing up Big Mountain Snowboarding 2.  We’re doing everything we can to outdo the original without losing anything that people liked about the first game.

We’ve added many more tricks, flips, and falls to the game.  The graphics are on a whole different level from the first game, and we’re concentrating on a story-driven campaign mode.  It’s a chance to fix any complaints people had about the first game.

What Intel tools/SDK did you use to develop your apps?

We used the Intel extensions to the Android NDK to compile natively for Intel tablets, and used the Samsung x86 Galaxy Tab 3 for development.

What do you think are the standout features about your apps that everyone should know?

Trick Shot Bowling is a very realistic bowling game.  We’ve had personal messages from bowlers saying that they love the game.  It also includes things you can’t easily do in a real bowling alley like playing different trick shot pin layouts.

Big Mountain Snowboarding has some of the best controls in any snowboarding game.  We’ve spent a lot of time tweaking those to be just right.  It’s a place where we can compete directly with the giant budget console games.

What programming language did you use and why?

We use C++ wherever it is available, and we use it because it is widely available.  It also lets us control the bare metal performance where necessary without having to worry about it most of the time.  It’s a language that mostly lets you pick how you want to do things without enforcing a particular path on you.

What IDE or development framework did you use and why?

We primarily use Visual Studio for development because it has the best debugging tools.  Then for release we use the official IDE for the platform.  For Android that’s the ADT bundle.  We have not used much middleware in the past but are using Bullet Physics going forward.  It’s a fully featured physics system that gives us full access to the source code.  Having the source access is important to us because we can port it to any platform as necessary.

Tell us about your experience Intel technology while developing your app – SDK, compiler, etc.

Adding support for Intel on Android was a mostly painless experience.  We did have one bug exposed by the new compiler, but it was a bug in our platform-independent code that should have been causing problems everywhere else.

What project(s) are you most proud of?

Scribble Worm is a game we made that everyone who plays loves.  Sure there’s plenty of room for improvement, but it’s a novel mechanic with a cute art style and challenging puzzles.  I’ve seen several young kids play Scribble Worm over everything else already installed on their iPads.

What is exciting for you right now in app development?

Just the sheer volume of people we can reach is the most exciting part of app development these days.  Over 3 million people played Big Mountain Snowboarding, and it’s not even a top hit.  There are now enough people that we can find a niche subset of the whole and still survive.

Mobile hardware has come an incredible distance from the iPhone 3g that we started on.  It used to be a problem of trying to find a game design that could actually run on the hardware and make it work.  We’re now able to do any game type that we’re capable of building without worrying as much about low end phones being able to handle it.  We’re now targeting pc graphics and scaling them back, and when we started we had to really concentrate on the scaled back versions and maybe add some scaling up for the high end.

What trends do you see in app development?

The number of developers making apps is insane right now.  The large majority of those developers never cover their own costs.  For games, there’s very little chance of making any impact with a paid game unless it’s a port of a high budget console game, so it’s going to be more and more free games with alternative ways for the developers to make a living.  Right now that’s micro-transactions, but I’m hoping we move more towards a TV model where the games are free and advertisers pay for placement.  Ads exist now but the advertisers are getting a great deal due to lack of demand.

Also, the days of making a game for a single platform are over.  There’s still some distinction between pc/console and mobile, but people shouldn’t be making a game for just iOS or just Android anymore without also including the other and some other platforms like WP8.

What do you think has been the biggest challenge for you personally in app development?

Absolutely the biggest challenge is exposure.  With so many games released every day it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.  We need to design games that people want and will be able to find.  The actual technical aspects are much easier than designing something people want that isn’t already done by hundreds of other apps. 

The biggest success story?

Big Mountain Snowboarding has been a game that somehow continues to find an audience.  That people are still finding and enjoying a game we made 4 years ago is a great feeling.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s still a great time to be a small developer.  Big companies like Intel seek out and listen to the little groups, and there’s an audience of people looking for experiences outside of what the multimillion dollar AAA games are offering.

Thank you to David Wingrove of Golden Hammer Software for sharing his thoughts on mobile development, and we look forward to much more from Golden Hammer!

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