This is an awesome time to be in mobile. The core mission of Powerslyde is to make app discovery social and easy. It's not just through technology that we achieve this but also through cultivating strong relationships with our fellow industry developers who are as obsessed with creating innovative apps and sharing cool content as we are. This means we're lucky enough to get to meet a lot of amazing folks – including our fellow friends at Reactive Studios who happen to be finalists (just like us) in this year's GDC Next/ADC Best In Apps Competition. Before hopping on a plane to LA this week, we made time to chat with Jonathon Myers, the creator of Codename Cygnus.
-Alexandra Tinsman, @pslyde
Hey Jonathon – tell us about your app. Codename Cygnus is an interactive radio drama available for download on the App Store using iDevices with iOS 6.0+. Players take on the role of a secret agent in an interactive fictional world inspired by old time serial radio dramas. With either a spoken word or a simple tap on the screen you can progress through the story in multiple-choice dialogue moments like those you often find in adventure or RPG games, but in this case it is audio-only. Players can choose between options to accomplish mission objectives and listen to the drama unfold as characters react to the decisions. You get to be the type of spy that you want to be in an audio-only world of action and intrigue.
Ok, confession time. This is a ridiculously cool and different type of mobile game. You had me the moment the trailer said, "So-o. Ya wanna be a spy, do you?" I immediately went and download the app to my iPhone. Don't judge but I've been listening to it while I work out at the gym. It's really fun. Tell us about the team behind the app. We have three core members on our team. I'm the Creative Director (Jonathon Myers) and I handle the narrative design, writing, voice direction and all general management of the company and production. Bruno Batarelo is the CTO and he handles or supervises all engineering. Shannon Daly is our Sound Director and she handles all sound design, audio recording, sound effects, processing and editing. We also have several others who we work with regularly. Xiao'an Li provides all the original music as the Composer, Xue Au Zhang provides all visual elements as the Lead Artist & UI/UX Designer, and Heather Albano works with me on story as our Lead Writer. There are many other contractors who have contributed to the game, including over 25 voice performers!
How is your app different from similar apps or competitors? The app makes use of iOS voice recognition technology for a speech-operated experience of voice performance, sfx, and music. Your iPhone/iPad recognizes your speech (or accepts the tap of a button) to trigger and play the next sound file. Because there are no visuals it enables us to focus entirely on highly polished performances, sound and music. We're also set up for the release of additional episodes. We hope to engage an audience over time with a longer series.
Cool icon. How did you design your icon and app UI? Almost all of the credit goes to our UI/UX Designer Xue Ao Zhang. She's incredibly talented and I highly recommend that others check out her work at https://hi.xue-az.com. It was difficult at times, because even with the gameplay our primary design principle is that someone must be able to experience it with their eyes closed. We knew we wanted something minimal and mostly menu-based that provided an audio delivery system for episodic content. And we knew how the speech-recognition and tapping for choices would work, but the rest was unknown. Xue iterated several times to find something that was slick and spy-like but also provided a simple interface and intuitive flow of experience. The icon came out of earlier work on the red swan logo that is the branding for Codename Cygnus, but we knew we needed something that conjured thoughts of spies and intrigue. Xue came up with the idea of a stamp of the logo on a manilla folder and it evolved pretty quickly after that.
What process and/or people inspired or assited you in creating the app? There's so much to say! We met with the Indie Game Collective earlier on to gain feedback and they provided great advice. For narrative design, we attempted to use many different tools before settling on Articy: Draft by Nevigo. Their CEO Kai personally helped us to adopt their tool to our pipeline and without his consultation it would have taken us much longer to release. Also, our project was funded by a Kickstarter campaign this past July and our backers have provided some amazing support and encouragement. It gave us the necessary bump to get us to launch. The Indie MEGABOOTH was central to our showcase and launch at the Penny Arcade Expo.
Yeah, I love the foks at The Indie MEGABOOTH. It's a great way to get facetime with the people who end up loving your game and who doesn't love PAX? Outside of Kickstarter, what other lessons did you learn building your app? The key to mobile development is to work fast, iterate quickly, and get your product out there as soon as possible so that it is tested on the market. A product or business will have trouble getting off the ground if you spend years developing your concept and first release. Also, thinking early about the right content pipeline will save you a ton of time later on. Finally, it takes so much more work to keep engaged with the fans of your product than we originally thought it would.
So what went right and wrong with the final development release? Our development was fast and deadline-driven. We set our goals and pushed ourselves to get there, so all of that went well. However, I also made the very silly decision to require a Facebook login for the purchase of additional content in our app. I was initially working on Facebook games and we needed a simple sign on to save game progress on our servers. I didn't think it would be an issue. For mobile, it really bothered people and so we immediately had to remove that requirement. Many players can now only save their game locally and as a result there are some issues with the backend that we've had to redesign and fix. In hindsight, I wish I had thought that through carefully. Thankfully, we're arriving at a better solution.
What were you doing before you created Codename Cygnus? I was already an established narrative designer and writer in the games industry. I was a game writer for Zynga Boston's Indiana Jones Adventure World to start. I was also the narrative designer and writer of the hit mobile game Jack Lumber, which was made by Owlchemy Labs and published by SEGA. I then helped to design and execute the narrative plan for Game of Thrones Ascent, which is an interactive adaptation of the George R.R. Martin series woven in with original narrative. After that, I got together with Bruno and another co-founder Matt and began prototyping this project. We soon formed a company and Shannon jumped on board. She received an MA in Media Arts from Emerson, where she studied audio drama, and later gained some experience as a sound designer in the games industry working on projects such as Girls Like Robots by Popcannibal.
Alright. Your turn to confess. What are some of your favorite apps? I love Zombies, Run! and it has been a huge inspiration and influence on this game. I met the lead writer Naomi when she visited Boston and I showed her an early version of our app for feedback. They're doing a great job with their development. The photo sync feature of Dropbox is crucial for grabbing screenshots and getting them to others immediately during testing. Kik is also a great group messaging service.
Thanks, Jonathon! Big congrats to you and the Reactive Studios team! We'll see you at GDC Next on November 5th. For the rest of you, head on over to the app store now to download the free-to-play radio drama Codename Cygnus!
Hey you! Wanna be featured like our friends at Reactive Studios? Be sure to check out www.powerslyde.com/developers.