Interviews: Firemint - Flight Control

The two-million selling iPhone app is coming to DSiWare very soon...

Flight Control is coming to land on DSiWare in Europe and Australia on Friday, February the 19th for only 500 Nintendo points - sadly the US release date is still up in the air.

To coincide with this imminent arrival we took the opportunity to fly some questions over to Firemint's Community Manager, Alexandra Peters, about this upcoming iPhone translation:

Nintendo Life: To kick things off can you tell us a bit about the background of Firemint?

Alexandra Peters: Sure! We've been making games since 2001, although back then it was just our founder Rob Murray. The first game Rob made was a GBA title called "Nicktoons Racing", which we still reckon is great fun (Rob was particularly proud of the giant vacuum cleaner that sucks karts back up when they fall into a hole). The studio has grown over the years, and we've mainly focused on developing mobile phone games for large publishers such as Electronic Arts. We've got almost 40 people now, and last year we started publishing our own original games, which is probably every studio's dream! We had some fantastic success on the iPhone with Flight Control, and we're now spreading our wings to Nintendo DSiWare.

NL: What factors encouraged you to bring Flight Control from the iPhone to DSiWare?

AP: Well, the most obvious thing was the way everyone embraced Flight Control on iPhone, and the fact that people kept asking us whether it was available on other platforms. The DSi is a really great fit for Flight Control, it makes beautiful use of the touch screen and stylus, so it was the natural next step.

NL: For the uninitiated, please give us a brief overview of the gameplay in Flight Control.

AP: In Flight Control, you take on the role of an Air Traffic Controller at a busy airport. The screen looks down at the airport layout and various aircraft arrive from the edges. You have to touch the aircraft with the stylus and draw a flight path to the correct landing zone. It starts off quite calmly but it can quickly get chaotic as more and more planes and helicopters arrive! There are ten different aircraft and five different airfields, each with their own flavour and a few twists along the way. One of the airfields, "Snow", is totally new and not available in the current iPhone version.

NL: How will the top screen be utilised in the DSi version of the game?

AP: The top screen shows the current airfield and your score, and breaks that down into the number of each aircraft type you have landed.

NL: We understand that Flight Control started out as something of a side project on the iPhone. What gave you the idea to develop such a game?

AP: Flight Control started as a holiday project for our CEO. Rob's been busy guiding Firemint through its growth over the last few years but his background is in game programming, and he was keen to get some hands-on development time again. He really liked the line drawing game mechanic, and was thinking about some interesting professions that could be a good fit for that. Once he hit on the idea of air traffic control and tried that out, it felt like a match made in heaven so he developed it further. Rob brought the original rough game into the studio and we all got hooked on it! Our Art Director Jesse West decided to replace Rob's programmer art with the wonderfully retro menus and cute little planes, and I helped to tweak the interface, sourced the music and sounds, wrote the cheesy text and did some general hands-on production. The three of us worked on the first version of the game on weekends and evenings, and it wasn't until the first update that we brought Flight Control fully into the studio.

NL: Did you ever anticipate that Flight Control would break the 2 million downloads barrier on iTunes?

AP: No, we were not expecting that level of success - it was all a big unknown for us when we started, and while we thought that Flight Control was great fun and all our friends and family got hopelessly addicted to it, it's always hard to be objective about your own game. We’re incredibly grateful for the way people have taken Flight Control into their hearts. There's nothing better than seeing strangers playing Flight Control on the train (or plane)!

NL: Aside from the bargain asking price of 59p/$0.99, what other factors do you attribute this overwhelming success to?

AP: We have a brilliant fan base of people who love showing Flight Control to their family, friends and colleagues, so we get great word of mouth recommendations. Flight Control has that classic "just one more go" quality about it that makes it incredibly addictive. At the end of a game you always feel like you should have seen the crash coming, and that you can do better next time... it also seems to fire up your brain in really satisfying ways, it's just plain fun to track all the little planes, predict which one will be where when and to manage the chaos. The simplicity of the gameplay also makes it really easy for anyone to understand it and have a go, so it has very broad appeal. My mum loves it!

NL: Apple’s App Store famously only takes a 30% cut from sales revenue. We understand that Nintendo are not quite so generous. Are you concerned that a higher cost on DSiWare might alienate some potential customers?

AP: Nintendo are also far more generous than many other distribution models, so we don't have any complaints there! I think most developers have found themselves selling games on the App Store for less than they are really comfortable with. We originally intended to sell Flight Control for US$2.99 (which also seemed like a bargain to us), and we promoted it with a "Grand Opening Sale" of 99c. At the time we fully intended to increase the price, but after Flight Control took off like a rocket and became such a success, it felt like the wrong thing to do. To thank the community for their support we have left it at the sale price since its landing on the App Store. We still think that it is worth more than US$2.99 though, particularly once you consider how many hours of entertainment it has provided for players. Our intention with DSiWare is to price Flight Control appropriately for that market, so that it is available at the same price point as games with a similar level of content on the platform. Hopefully potential customers will still consider it a bargain priced at 500 Nintendo points!

NL: Did you find moving from the delightful iPhone SDK and development environment to be a steep learning curve?

AP: Not at all, we were already familiar with the DS from previous titles we've developed for publishers, and we've developed on far more challenging platforms as well, so we didn't have any problems.

NL: Do you have any plans for multiplayer modes or online leaderboards in the DSiWare version?

AP: Flight Control will ship with a multiplayer mode, where you can play with a friend and pass certain aircraft to each other off the side of the screen. It's up to you whether you want to play co-operatively to jointly land the highest number of aircraft, or whether you want to cause pandemonium and try to make each other crash!

NL: What’s next on the horizon for Firemint? Might we see Real Racing on DSiWare or even PSP Minis in the future?

AP: Anything is possible! We're working on several brand-new games at the moment, but we haven't announced any details just yet. We're on Twitter and Facebook as well as posting updates to our Blog, and we're looking forward to sharing news as we get closer to finishing the various games we're working on.

NL: We were hoping to bump into you at Nintendo’s developer meet-and-greet last September but you were mysteriously absent. Did you have some flight control problems of your own?

AP: Back in September 2009, Rob was on his way to attend a Nintendo event in London. As his flight from Melbourne, Australia was approaching Hong Kong, it became more and more bumpy and the passengers became more and more worried. It turns out that Choi-wan, a Category 5 super typhoon, was causing havoc in the area and after one failed landing attempt, the Hong Kong air traffic controllers diverted the flight to Manila. Rob said he understands how the people in this video must have felt and that he'll always be grateful to those ATCs! All flights in the area were grounded and so ironically Rob missed the event, but luckily Choi-wan didn't cause any loss of life or major damage.

NL: Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers in closing?

AP: We hope your readers will enjoy playing Flight Control as much as we've enjoyed making it - it really is a delightful game!