Interview: Ivan Kovalov on His Unforgettable Puzzler ‘G30’

G30 (out now, $4.99) is one of the most intriguing and affecting gaming experiences I’ve had on my iPhone in recent memory. So when Ivan Kovalov, the solo dev behind this impeccably crafted puzzler, got in touch with me recently to see if I’d be interested in covering the game on iFanzine, I jumped at the chance to pick his brain about its creation, social message, award-winning success, and more. Check out our chat below…

Thanks so much for joining me for this interview, Ivan. Can I start by asking you to introduce yourself and talk a bit about your background and how you got into game development?

I’m Ivan, and G30 is my first project. Game development was always appealing to me, but for a long time I didn’t know where to start — so I worked in other industries. Design and music in particular. But then I took a game design course, read a few books about it, entered a games jam — and just went for it.

What’s your key philosophy or mission statement as a game developer?

I consider game development as another powerful medium and a creative activity that provides a unique experience and influences gamers (the same way as music, cinema, books, art or photography do).

Where did the idea come from to base G30 around the story of a person grappling with a cognitive brain disease?

The idea was shaped in two stages. The first one was the gameplay core itself — reconstructing visual images and associating them with memories. I was riding a bus in the winter and there were frost patterns on the glass that reminded me of something — that’s when I started thinking about how our brains form memories.

As I was doing the research I started delving deeper into cognitive disorders. While I was aware of the seriousness of those diseases, it was still shocking to learn what people suffering from them and their relatives have to go through in their lives. I decided to make it a central theme of G30, and I’ve made sure to learn as much as possible about cognitive disorders, so the game would be respectful and accurate.

That was the second stage — now G30’s concept was complete.

What do you hope people who play G30 will take away or learn about memory-affecting diseases?

It’s more about people, not the diseases themselves. I hope that after playing G30 you’ll be able to understand those suffering from cognitive disorders more. And you could empathize and care for them. In G30 the players can experience (to some degree, obviously) what it’s like — that’s something you can get only in video games. And I feel we can use games to help us better understand each other.

G30’s dial-based puzzles are very cleverly crafted and satisfying. Did you look to any existing games for inspiration when designing them?

I get my inspiration from great artistic games in general. Of course, each of them has their strengths that influence my perception of gaming: Monument Valley and its atmosphere, PUSH and others with their well-designed puzzles, Shadowmatic for the way it shows how our brains interpret shapes.

I read somewhere that you personally handled every single aspect of G30’s creation, from the coding and game design to the art and music. That’s quite the feat! How long did you work on the game for overall, and do you have any best or worst memories from that time?

Yes, doing everything on your own is a challenging task. Besides the obvious need of skills in every development aspect, it’s also very important to focus and manage your time. I still can’t say I’m a pro at that, so G30 took a little more time to finish than I originally intended — the game was in active development for year and a half. The best memories from that time are the moments when I’ve been working on the level for a long time and finally finished it — to see that it was worth it. And then my friends play it and agree that it’s good — that’s the great moment, feeling you did well.

The worst part (if we can say so) is perhaps just the lack of sleep and rest, but now I can say that it was all absolutely worth it.

G30 launched to rave reviews from players and critics alike and has also won a slew of prestigious awards. Earning that kind of recognition must feel great after all the work you put into the game?

Obviously it feels great when players and critics appreciate your work. The comments I read on the App Store give so much inspiration. Some people say that they cried at the game’s ending — it means so much for me, that I was able to make people care for the character.

We hear so many horror stories these days about how difficult it is to successfully launch a premium game on mobile, so can I ask how pleased you are with G30’s performance sales-wise?

It’s not easy, as you can guess — without big marketing budgets, free-to-play user acquisition mechanics and so on. If you’re an indie developer, you can’t just copy some successful game and hope for the best — you have to stand out and be different. And work on your game’s promotion, of course. Apple’s curated App Store selections are a huge help too. They give a chance for unique and artistic games to have a spotlight.

As for the sales, it’s a little too early to talk about it — it’s only the beginning for G30’s journey. In the coming months I’ll share more details about sales and the next steps. But I can say that for a premium mobile game made by a team of one person, G30 has done well.

Do you have any words of advice for other companies and individuals who may be trying to break into or succeed in the mobile games industry?

Two things — believe in yourself and keep learning. The industry can be very challenging, so it’s important not to lose faith in your ideas. And at the same time you have to learn new things constantly, so these ideas are based on a professional knowledge. Keep up with your expert field, with the ones surrounding it, with the industry as a whole, with art, with what’s trending — and be open to everything new.

What’s next for you, Ivan? Do you have any upcoming projects in the works or planning stages that you can tell me about?

First of all, as I’ve mentioned, there are next steps for G30 — polishing it, adding new languages and bringing it to other platforms. But there will definitely be a new game at some point. I’m just not ready to talk about it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or mention before we wrap this interview up?

I just wanted to say how great it is to be an indie developer and how important it is for the community to unite and to help each other. And of course we always have to remember that we should not be afraid to create something new.

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