Interview With Magnetic Studio’s Peter Lacalamita

Let’s start off by learning a little about the one-man army behind Magnetic Studio. Are there any particular works you’ve produced over the course of your illustration and film animation career that you’re especially proud of? What do you do when you’re not creating videogames?

I’m based in Toronto and I’ve been creating digital imagery for various companies in Canada and the U.S. since 1994. My clients over the years have included magazine art directors from The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, RedBook and other noteworthy publications. But with childhood memories of creating games with my Commodore 64 and a love of short film animation, I sought to one day combine my skills to develop cool and exciting games.

I’ve won two awards from the Canadian Film Centre, for The Red Kite and Moonstruck. I have a special fondness for Moonstruck in particular because it has a hook at the end that is unexpected. I also feel this short could potentially be the basis for a great game. When I’m not creating games or working, I’m enjoying time with family, friends, and the odd movie.

So how did an advertising industry veteran end up dabbling in game design? Did your work lead you to videogame industry clients and that’s how you made the jump to iOS development?

Gaming has always been a part of my life and I was coding basic games in grade school. Interestingly, I’ve found that those simple lessons learned when I was a kid have also helped me understand coding in Unity3D (my preferred choice of game engine).

With the notion of convergence in mind, the communication arts industry is allowing artists to leap outside of their comfort zones in specific media and apply their vision to something else, like game design. Often in my career, a client has had a requirement for character design. But when finding out I can animate, they then expand the project to include animation. I’ve seen the same thing happen recently with game art. I started doing game art/animation for a game based on a kid’s TV show about three years ago and am now the lead iOS developer for it. So yes, the work in illustration has definitely led to other media platforms like TV, film and gaming.

Why the focus on younger audiences with your first App Store releases, 123 POP and Adam’s Amazing Dream? Do you see yourself creating more kids’ apps in the future?

My first game apps were for younger audiences because I do have an interest in youth oriented media. My client list contains several companies that create children’s products, such as Yoplait, Scholastic and Fisher Price. However, I think a big reason for it is that I could do fun and simple apps that would not take too much time to create. The priority was more about experimenting with the App Store than about creating commercial successes. I wouldn’t rule out making more apps in the kids category in the future, but I’m really excited now about making games like Sky Battles that are truly what I’d be playing myself in my spare time. I believe apps are going to be around for a very long time and working on different genres makes it all the more interesting.

Let’s jump to your upcoming game, Sky Battles. Seeing the preview footage really brought to mind Star Fox, a pseudo-rail shooter where the player could move a fighter craft around but was still constrained to a tunnel-like path through the environment. Would you describe Sky Battles as conforming to that style, or would you say it has more of a free-roam style by comparison?

It’s great that you mention Star Fox because I’m always looking at YouTube clips of Star Fox for inspiration. I love the simplicity and the various environments. I especially love the larger-than-life boss enemies that ooze character. My initial design direction was in the style of Warhawk, the first game I ever bought for the PS3 and that I still play. But later I fell more in love with Star Fox. The Sky Battles footage you’ve seen on the web is for the single player missions, where the player’s plane (currently named The Barracuda) is constrained similarly to how Star Fox is, but with more area for maneuver. In other words, the POV behind the plane does move around the 3D scene but with eventual limitations.

The multiplayer mode for the iPad, on the other hand, is completely freestyle within the game environment, allowing the player to play against another human opponent. This mode is my favourite because you get to fly around and engage in dogfights utilizing the various terrains to your advantage. This mode will also give players the option of using mines and momentary stealth that makes your plane blend into its surroundings. Playing the prototype thus far with my kids has been a blast and I know many will find it appealing!