Sean Murray thought he had another day.
Hello Games' founder chose Joe Danger's Jan. 10, 2013 iOS release date well in advance. It seemed reasonable. People would have new devices after the holidays, and the studio didn't seem to be launching their first iOS game against any big competitors. But it was just a guess, and as they scrambled to wrap up development, they learned something surprising.
Jan. 10 in the App Store is not the same as Jan. 10 at the studio's headquarters in Guildford, U.K. The studio had lost a day it was counting on.
"We're totally new to this — we're naïve," Murray told Polygon in a recent interview amidst a chortle. "We didn't realize that when we chose the tenth of January to release the game, that means it gets released in our timezone on the morning of the ninth of January."
And Hello Games hadn't even made a trailer for the game that was on the cusp of release. So not for the last time, Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games did what they thought was right: They pulled an all-nighter.
And all of this was for a game that Murray never intended to release.
"I really didn't want to make it. It sounded like a terrible idea to me."
"I never set out to make Joe Danger iPhone," he said. "I really didn't want to make it. It sounded like a terrible idea to me."
Murray just couldn't picture it working. The first two incarnations of the Joe Danger franchise were console games, and the idea of porting their gameplay to a touch-based device seemed absurd. He was rarely impressed with iPhone ports, likening them to the early days of the Nintendo DS when developers who didn't quite know what to do with the second screen ported console games to the new platform.
"They were crappy versions of games that already existed on consoles," he said. "They had really crowbarred mechanics, that just [tried to] make some sort of use of that second screen, but they didn't really make sense."
About two years ago, he grew tired after working on multiplatform releases of Joe Danger games. The grind of working with publishers forced him to spend more time managing projects than he would have liked. So he started developing Joe Danger for iOS as a hobby just to get back into programming.
"My joke is always that I think I'd be quite happy if I went to prison or something like that, but I could still have an iPhone and a Mac and I could still make games. It wouldn't matter to me," he said. "I would probably enjoy prison."
"He did this terrible thing, which is he started to turn it into an actual game."
In his spare time about two years ago, he started to mess around with a Joe Danger prototype to get into iOS development. It wasn't until he showed the project to Steve Burgess, a friend and designer who'd worked on LostWinds at Frontier Games, that its path to the App Store began.
Burgess had left Frontier Games and had been working on projects as an independent developer, and he and Murray would swap projects for fun.
"He did this terrible thing, which is he started to turn it into an actual game," Murray said.
Things changed when he started to look at it as an actual game rather than a hobby. It became a challenge — a way to prove that Hello Games could make a credible iOS port of a console franchise, not a "crappy" port like other games he'd seen on the DS and iOS. The prospect of fully embracing the unique capabilities of the platform got him "fired up," he said.
He still wasn't convinced of its viability, though. It wasn't until Hello Games brought the game to PAX East in early 2012 that he understood its potential. They'd tucked a "pretty playable" version of the game away in the corner, just to see if anybody took interest.
"That was like our experiment to see if people liked it, then I guess we could make it into a game," he said.
When people started asking if they could buy it, he made the decision. Joe Danger for iOS shifted from a hobby to full development about nine months ago. Hello Games was going to make one more Joe Danger game, and they were going to go out in style.
"We said that whatever happens, this is going to be our last Joe Danger game," he said.
"We did that because we didn't want to be one of those groups who just made sequel after sequel. But we also felt like we had a lot more that we wanted to do, and we felt like that would give us impetus. It would really drive us on and make us enthusiastic ... we'd just leave nothing on the table."
Determined not to make the same mistakes he'd identified in other games, the studio built every bit of the game from scratch. It runs and controls like an iOS game because it was built from the ground up for iOS. And now release day was upon the studio.
"We said that whatever happens, this is going to be our last Joe Danger game."
After exhausting themselves producing the game's first trailer through the night, the team stayed up to watch the early morning launch in New Zealand. When some early purchasers reported a bug, the studio got to work again, doing what they thought was right. They found and squashed the bug during another all-nighter.
The experience was frenetic but fun, and Murray's happy that Joe Danger's going out on a high note.
When asked if there's more iOS development in the studio's future, Murray says he doesn't know. The studio starts with a feeling and figures out what platform that fits on from there.
What he does know is that it's time to move past Joe Danger. Hello Games' next title, known internally as Project Skyscraper, has been in the conceptual stage for a while. To hear the excitement in his voice as he describes it is to hear the same feelings he evokes when he talks about turning a hobby into a shipped iOS game.
"It's something that's really different for us. Different genre. Different platform. Different everything."
You can check out the $2.99 universal app in the iOS App Store here.
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