We sat down with Slow Life Games Co-founder Dorothy Finnigan to learn about her path to game development. Slow Life Games recently released their new game Ivory Tower Defenders and are proud to announce that it has made its way to the top 50 Strategy Games on the App Store.
Tell us about Ivory Tower Defenders. What inspired the idea for this app? Were there others like it on the market?
College was one of the most dramatic times I can remember. Everything about it was epic: the buildings, the Professors, the stress. But it wasn’t just students like me who were stressed about keeping up with classes and activities and friends, it seemed like Professors were stressed about getting published and earning tenure.
We set our game in a University with Professors and Slackers as characters because it was even more exciting to us than a fantasy setting. I don’t know of any other games that used the same theme and tone that we did.
There are other tower defense games on the market. But we added something to the design of our tower defense game: instead of having “runners” try to get across the screen and off the other side, our runners try to take their seats on screen. The result is a lot of variation in gameplay because one student taking a seat can alter the playing-field dramatically.
How long did it take from coming up with the idea to creating your first prototype, and what did that look like (e.g. did you make it on paper first)?
It took about 2 months to create our first interactive prototype. We didn’t do much paper sketching. Instead, we used GameSalad. Our first interactive prototype didn’t have any graphics to speak of, it was just a shape walking on screen to a designated location while another shape threw projectiles at it.
What features took longer to get right? Can you walk us through some of those features? What can you tell us about learning from failures during the development process?
The pathfinding was the most difficult programming puzzle to solve. We have different rules for different students: Straight As always try to sit in the front row, Slackers always try to sit in the back. When a student is defeated on the way to a seat, all other students need to recalculate their trajectories. It got complicated!
Memory leaks and memory management were also difficult to deal with. We actually started development on Ivory Tower Defenders over 3 years ago using a game engine called iTorque. When we were nearing the finish line with iTorque, we ran into major memory leak issues that prevented us from completing it. We then switched to Corona and had to start building the code again from scratch.
Corona has turned out to be great and it’s able to create apps for both iOS and Android. We learned that picking the right platform is critical. Find a community that has a lot of energy behind it and a lot of active users on its developer forums. That way, you have people to turn to when you need help. And in the case of Corona, their developers are always working to fix bugs and make their tool better.
How did you decide how much to charge for your app (our teams have to create a business plan along with their app to compete in our program)?
We wanted to get as many people playing our game as possible while still charging something. That’s why we picked the lowest price possible: $0.99. Our goals is to be able to make more games, and we hope that by gaining fans for Ivory Tower Defenders we can do that.
You have a unique background in things you’ve studied and done. What were the experiences that helped the most in getting you where you are today and creating this app?
I performed as a juggler on the street and paid my way around the world when I was 18. Street performing is like the app marketplace because there’s nothing between me and the audience. I get to make something people will find entertaining; I put it out there, and if they like it, they can choose to pay.
And, like street performing, I like that people don’t have to spend much to be entertained. What makes street performing work is that you have a lot of people in your audience, each paying a little. The same is true for app development. If we can get a lot of players, then no one has to pay more than $0.99.
What is your advice to middle and high school girls that are participating in Technovation Challenge?
Don’t give up.
Many more people start games than finish them. It took us over 3 years to get this game published. But I’m so glad we didn’t give up when the first game engine didn’t work out.
In the past, women were prevented from learning to read and write in order to keep them them from gaining positions of power within society.
In the modern world, technology is power.
By studying technology, you’re gaining the skills to be one of the builders of art and creators of culture. We need you!
Dorothy grew up traveling in a motor home with her family, teaching juggling at schools around the country. As an 18 year old, she street performed solo around the world, then, settled down to become a Yale student. After a few years at Yale she decided to pursue other interests. That’s when she founded “Slow Life Games” along with her partner, Django. Check out Ivory Tower Defenders on the App Store or Google Play! Contact Dorothy @Slow_Life_Games or Dorothy(at)slowlifegames(dot)com