Interview With Dioxis Mining’s Donovan Vice

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Dioxis Mining’s Whirl the Squirrel had a bit of a rough ride to begin with (see our less than enthusiastic original review). However, since then, the game has undergone several tweaks and improvements, and attracted a very loyal following among iOS gamers in the process. If you count yourself as a fan, you’ll definitely want to check out this exclusive interview in which Donovan Vice, the Founder of Dioxis Mining, chats about the various inspirations behind Whirl, offers some sage advice for fellow indie developers, and hints at what the future holds for his studio.

Let’s start things off with the most obviously demanded initial question: how exactly did your team come up with the long line of rather bizarre names for the things that Whirl is attempting to keep his ‘Nenemies’ from stealing?

Whirl’s world is colorful and fun, and we wanted the names of his Treasures to have the same playful and light-hearted feel. So when we came up with the first name, “Bizboozle,” and saw how much it sounded like something Dr. Seuss would have come up with, we downloaded a list of every name of a person, place, or thing ever used in a Dr. Seuss book and used that as inspiration for the other names. Then we took out any names that were inadvertently filthy, which is always a good final step with anything.

uniracerwhirlOther than the obvious answer, which I assume to be Sonic the Hedgehog, did any other classic platforming games help to inspire the design of Whirl the Squirrel?

Actually, the original inspiration was the SNES classic Uniracers (a game everyone should play). Its classic high-speed 2D racing with half-pipes and big jumps was something we hadn’t seen on the App Store. Since we always want to give our players great, fun, and unique games, Uniracers got us thinking. And while Whirl is an entirely different game, the model of pure racing with the occasional hazard persisted until the first major alpha test.

The majority of the platforming elements came in later, once we saw that pure high-speed racing just wasn’t entertaining enough. At that point we began adding more hazards with better effects, giant cliffs jumps, more enemies, all with different ways of wreaking havoc on your race, and simultaneously threw out or recreated every level. That’s how it turned into a racing platformer instead of just a racer: throwing out and redoing everything a couple times.

Although Whirl the Squirrel is presently somewhat on the short side, you have promised more levels will be coming soon. Do you have any ETA on the release of these additional stages so far, and could you furthermore give us any insight into what new features they might possibly introduce?

Whirl is short? Definitely not. Whirl released with three great worlds of very big levels. These aren’t tiny micro levels like you get in a lot of mobile games today. They’re more like traditional console levels in terms of length, and that’s what we wanted to give players. With that said, we do like micro levels, and have even considered constructing sets of them for Whirl.

As for new levels: absolutely! We started working on new content as soon as we submitted Whirl for approval, though post-launch work has delayed their release. One of the core new features will be movable platforms to zip around levels. These will feature prominently in the new levels. As for a release date, we tried those in the past, with little success. Since we want to release only the best, now-a-days we just go with “It’s done when it’s done.” But soon. Very soon. It’s our main focus right now.

img8I must admit that Whirl the Squirrel’s artwork is definitely one of its stronger points, will a future update potentially add more storyboard story sequences – like the one found at the opening – to the game?

Thanks. We love Whirl and his ‘Nenemies. As Whirl‘s content increases in future updates, we’ll be looking at adding more story sequences, but right now our focus is on additional playable content, and other extras, like a stats screen and shelves for Whirl to store his Treasures on. We think players will appreciate extra levels more than anything else, but after that, the sky’s the limit. We have a very big list of things we want to add.

One could definitely say that Whirl the Squirrel had a somewhat rocky launch, although it seems to largely be fixed up at this point. What have you learned from this experience that you would offer as advice to other hopeful iOS developers?

The main, and really only, gameplay issue at launch was a too-steep difficulty curve in most of World 1. That definitely caused problems for a number of players (Whirl’s a very fast game, so skills need to be built up). But, as you said, that’s all been fixed in the most recent update. Almost every level was tweaked or redone for difficulty, and a level skip button was added (for free; no IAP).

The learning curve problem was the result of using the same (wonderful) group of testers throughout Whirl’s development. By the end of testing they were just too good at the game; their skills no longer represented those of a first-time player. We knew this and adjusted for it, but just not well enough, it turns out. For hopeful iOS developers, I would say: keep your core testing group, but bring in virgin testers many times throughout development for a fresh viewpoint. That would have caught our difficulty issues with ease.

The central non-gameplay problem at launch was one of discoverability. Even after the update it’s proving extremely difficult to get the game in front of players. This is a perennial problem of distribution these days, but must still be taken into account by new developers. If their marketing plan is “Our game is so great that it will go viral,” then they’d best have a Plan B. When it comes to great game design and marketing, one isn’t more important than the other, but without one, the other won’t matter.

Other than Dioxis Mining’s already stated objective to add extra stages to Whirl the Squirrel, does your team currently have any plans for other new games in the pipeline? Furthermore – if you do – could you possibly share with us what those are, or at least give us some sort of hint as to what they might be?

Yes, while most of our attention is on adding content to Whirl the Squirrel, and finishing a trial version to hopefully entice other players, we have been prototyping new games heavily for some time now, finding the most entertaining of our new ideas (which start as pencil sketches and then move into cheap, quick demos). I won’t give away details about the gameplay yet, since it’s still being fleshed out, but the new title will be radically different than Whirl the Squirrel. Though the likelihood of Ninjas is fairly high.enemies

A huge thank you to Donovan for taking the time to answer our questions. If you haven’t tried Whirl the Squrrel yet, here’s the App Store link. Also, be sure to follow Dioxis Mining’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to stay informed on what they’re up to next.