Clapfoot Games Talk “Tank Hero: Laser Wars”

How did Clapfoot’s founders meet up and decide to venture into the mobile game industry, and how many members have you picked up along the way? When you released Virtual Tennis 3D, did you know for sure Tank Hero would be up next, or were there a number of ideas brewing before you settled on the tank combat/puzzle mashup idea?

Mark: I originally worked on Virtual Table Tennis 3D as a side project outside of my day job. It took me about three months to write the code for it. After it was published I wanted to take on a larger scale project so I asked my friend and former colleague, Alkas, if he wanted to develop a game together. We both grew up playing classic tank games like Battle City on the NES, so doing Tank Hero was the logical choice. We may have considered a few other ideas, but I can’t remember what they were.

We released Tank Hero with no expectations, but to our surprise it became a big hit almost immediately. Several months later we both quit our day jobs and began dedicating all of our time to Clapfoot. Since then we’ve brought on board two additional team members: a programmer and a concept/3D artist.

Suffice it to say that Tank Hero has become a mega hit on Android and iOS alike. Pretty good for your second game! Would you say there was a certain event – an update, a barrage of coverage, a sale, featured status, etc. – that caused your first big spike in downloads? And did the game’s success on the Android Market transfer pretty readily into the App Store, or did the game take a while to catch on with iOS players?

Alkas: There were two major spikes in our download numbers. In the beginning, we launched a public beta and made an announcement on reddit. The reddit community was very helpful in giving us feedback for the beta and for spreading the word. During the month we ran this beta, we garnered hundreds of thousands of users, which gave us a strong user base to start with. Once we released the full version, the game took off immediately and we reached one million free users within a month or two.

The second major spike took place when we launched the iOS version of the game. Several small-to-medium-sized iPhone blogs helped us out by handing out promo codes and reviewing the game. This helped us reach top rankings on the App Store in several countries.

How scary is it to make that leap from having a “traditional” day job to developing games full-time? Has Tank Hero given you a fairly sustainable revenue stream to rely on, or is there a huge pressure to gun it and roll out the next game before income dries up?

Mark: It wasn’t an easy decision. We all have financial responsibilities and it’s a constant stress for us even to this day. However, I knew that I would regret it later on in life if I didn’t take the plunge and try to start my own game studio. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of doing, and now there was this opportunity to do it.

When we first quit our jobs, our revenue was enough to sustain ourselves, but we had no idea how long it would last. However, the release of Tank Hero on iOS and other platforms has certainly helped us boost our income to a point where we don’t have to worry as much anymore. We’ve gotten to the point now that we have the financial resources necessary to expand the team and make more games in the future.

Due to the ongoing popularity of Tank Hero, there isn’t too much financial pressure to get the next game out the door. However, we do put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves to finish the next game, just because we’ve been working so hard on it and we’re excited to see how users will react.

How much of the game engine you developed for Tank Hero is being re-used for the sequel, Tank Hero: Laser Wars? What new technical features have been added for Laser Wars, and did you have to make any tough decisions to drop support for older devices as a result?

Mark: We re-used some of the base engine code, but we rewrote all of the game logic (to better support different gameplay modes) and we also added in several new graphical features. The biggest technical feature we added was support for global illumination lightmaps. This is the technique used by many AAA games to achieve highly realistic lighting and shadows for static environments.

Surprisingly, the only devices we had to drop support for were the first generation Android devices, which don’t support programmable shaders. Every Apple device that ran Tank Hero will be able to run Tank Hero: Laser Wars.

So, obviously, you can’t have a proper sequel to a tank combat game without lasers. Just how many kinds of lasers can Tank Hero fans look forward to, and what new gameplay possibilities do they open up? Besides lasers, what else can fans look forward to in Laser Wars?

Alkas: Laser Wars will initially have the following weapons: pulse cannon, double barrel pulse cannon, ray gun, plasma howitzer, and sonic cannon. We’ve also added a ton of new features to our levels, including force fields, exploding barrels, power-ups, and more. There will also be boss tanks.