Microsoft Spotlight: Mortar Melon

Microsoft Spotlight: Mortar Melon
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

April 12th 2013 at 10:01AM

Mudvark on developing a game for Windows 8

[To read all of Develop's Microsoft Spotlights, click here]

Developer: Mudvark
The game: Mortar Melon
Who are they? An indie formed by two friends thrust into the limelight by a number of awards, including a BAFTA win
What is it? A physics puzzler for Windows 8 that’s part Super Meat Boy, part Angry Birds, and part like a visit to a sadistic fruit market
www.mortarmelon.com

The duo of developers that make up youthful studio Mudvark have had an impressive debut in the games industry.

Friends from university, Henry Hoffman and Dan Da Rocha both have award-winning games to their name. Hoffman led the team making Mush for the Dare to be Digital development contest, which ultimately went on to receive a BAFTA, while Da Rocha headed up Toxic Games, creator of Q.U.B.E, itself an accolade-winning title.

“We’re still at those respective companies, but we’re experimenting with this crazy new venture, trying to make great games faster, releasing often, improving and learning as we go,” explains Hoffman of setting up Mudvark.

“Games are super-iterative and you really miss out from the healthy dialogue with players when you’re head-down engrossed in a multi-year project.”

And the current project occupying the mindset of the Mudvark team? It’s a physics puzzler named Mortar Melon, currently available on Windows 8.

A PROTOTYPE FOR SUCCESS

“For us Windows 8 was about testing the water,” states Hoffman of the decision to debut on Microsoft’s latest platform. “We knew that if we maintained a high-level of portability in our codebase, we could release on Windows 8 to get feedback, and then iterate for a full release on larger platforms.”

It’s an interesting approach to Windows 8, harnessing it as a platform for establishing a workable game model, and one many studios would do well to consider.

But as it happens, Windows 8 provided Mudvark with more than a testing bed for new game ideas. Presently Mortar Melon is nearing 150,000 downloads, and the rate of daily downloads continues to climb. In fact, so unexpected has the success been, that Mudvark are already readying plans to make more Windows 8 games.

And like many new studios embracing Windows 8, Mudvark is bolstered by the BizSpark program, which provides a wealth of games studios with free access to a generous suite of tools and support.

What’s more, Microsoft has also supported Mudvark in adopting the cloud through its Azure Mobile Services platform. Many still consider the cloud to offer smaller studios little more than streaming and storage, and while it capably does both those jobs, to indies and triple-A studios alike it can provide a wealth of other abilities.

“We’re only just getting going with using Azure Mobile Services and didn’t know much about it when we first got started,” admits a frank Hoffman.

“It soon became apparent that it’s an incredibly valuable resource for storing data in the cloud, syncing across devices and providing a seamless experience. We’d looked at rolling out our own server system in the past, but I wouldn’t trust ourselves when it comes to security or scalability.

"That’s the main thing with Azure Mobile Services – peace of mind. It’s incredibly easy to set up too, so it’s a great time saver too.”

HEADS IN THE CLOUD

Looking to the future, and inspired by their introduction to Azure, Mudvark’s founders have bold plans for harnessing the cloud.

“We’re planning to implement a deeper integration with a cross-platform level editor, so that future players can pick up any device and share their own levels with anyone. Windows 8 users can create and share custom levels with those on iPad and vice versa,” explains Hoffman, who also intends to harness Azure’s ability to sync data from user profiles, saved games, friends lists and achievements, as well as for supplying behavioural data and metrics.

Hoffman concludes with some advice for other studios considering making games for Windows 8. And it’s guidance that should serve to put many minds at rest.

“I’d say not to get too caught up in reinventing the wheel. Windows 8 supports HTML5 games natively, and there’s lots of fantastic game engines that allow for very quick prototyping and building. We use Construct 2, but there’s also GameMaker, GameSalad or Stencyl, all of which have a very low barrier to entry and can produce just as excellent games.”

Combined with BizSpark’s arsenal of software, those accessible, affordable solutions mean Windows 8 could provide a truly tempting platform for all kinds of indie and small-scale studios.

For more information on the support available from Microsoft, visit www.ubelly.com/gaming.

This feature was originally published in Develop #136, March 2013