This week we had a short conversation with Erik Mork, the founder of Silver Bay Labs. They are preparing to launch the Ronnie Robot app and we wanted to get their perspective on their app development precess. We appreciate Erik’s time and hope you’ll take a moment to check out their lovely app.
In the past, Silver Bay Labs has been well known for building digital projects for others, but you’ve recently created some original products like the Ronnie Robot app. What was the biggest challenge of striking out on your own?
The biggest challenge for us is knowing when something is done. There’s a line between “this feature is done” and “you just went too crazy deep on a feature”. Let me give you an example. We’ve had a cow in the game for a long time. We’ve also had a UFO in the game for a good while, too. When Ronnie climbs inside the UFO, she flies around and has a blast, and that’s a pretty great feature. And it’s also a fun thing for kids to discover. Probably should have stopped there, but last week Jon (the Project Manager) added a shrink-ray to the UFO. It was hilarious. We were all watching Ronnie zip around the world and shrink tractors, gophers, buildings, just everything. But then… at some point someone mentioned we have both a cow and a UFO…. so of course we had to do a cow-abduction scene. And we’ve spent a lot of time on those kind of things. Our user testing isn’t promising that people will discover all of these thing and so we’re torn. On the one hand it’s amazing to have all of this super deep, discoverable content. But on the other hand, we probably should have shipped last month.
We all love that playful element of your game here at NDS. When you created the Ronnie Robot world, were there any people who made a specific impact on your thinking? That is, was there a writer, artist, or developer who made your team think, “Let’s make something like…” or was it more connected to your own imagination?
Ronnie is very much a character created in our imaginations. But of course every game depends on those that came before it, and so I’d have to reference any number of cute robots from games/movies… They’ve formed this genre where Ronnie feels at home. In terms of game mechanics, we really wanted to make it feel like there is a robot “below the glass” of the iPad. And so we’ve spent a lot of time with various illustrators trying out ideas and styles of robots. And that work is paying off. We’re all watching Ronnie’s world come alive, and it’s very exciting. For instance, we just started integrating a piece of the Ronnie world, and it’s a pretty mundane piece (a camper), but it’s crazy fun to watch all of the design, animation and programming work come together. Jon spent a long time (what felt like an hour) just staring at smiling at this new item that we’re giving to Ronnie.
This year, The New York Times, Wired, and even Gawker have published articles about the overcrowding of the app marketplace. What made Silver Bay Labs decide to enter independent development now?
We’ve been developing software for a long time. But when the iPad came around, the apps (including those from Night & Day Studios ) blew us away. It was the start to a whole new way of interacting with applications. That was years ago now, but the impact remained. So the answer I guess is that it’s simply something we’ve wanted to do… And so we’re following that thread. It may not be the most thought-out decision of all time, but I can tell you we’re having a lot of fun making this robot and watching Ronnie explore the world. And so we’re hoping (and maybe even expecting a little) that the rest of the world feels the same way.