EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Maze Crusade Developer Britt Myers

Sometimes life feels like you’re running around a twisty maze with a wall of spikes chasing after you. For those times when it doesn’t, though, you can play Maze Crusade, a new iOS game from Britt Myers, who previously made W.E.L.D.E.R. Though in talking to Myers I learned that some obvious influences on this game weren’t really influences at all.

Maze Crusade 1

For those who haven’t played it yet, what kind of game is Maze Crusade?

Maze Crusade is a mash-up of Pac-Man, match-3 games, and endless runners.

Where did the original idea come from?

I felt like maze games offer so much possibility, but was a genre that has not been beaten to death on the App Store. Mazes require you to make lots of ongoing strategic choices, and I wanted to create a maze game that had high production value and was unique. Games that scroll upward are also great for the phone, as you can play them one-handed. I also felt like the endless runner genre could somehow be expanded by matching while running, that matching items would give you powers or special abilities.

So I’d just been thinking about all of that for a while, and then during a brainstorming session for a large company that wanted some game pitches, I thought…an upwards scrolling maze, a knight, and a rolling wall of spikes…go! And I was like, “No way am I pitching that idea.”

What other games do you think it’s like? Because I see elements of the old Zelda games, for starters.

Everyone says Gauntlet. I played Gauntlet for like five minutes when I was eight years old, so it’s hard to say. I was never allowed to have a Nintendo as a kid, so never played much Zelda either. I tried to iterate on a bunch of different genres but I didn’t really think about any one game or another as influence. I mean, obviously Pac-Man. When a henchman is running after you and moving a little faster than you as you are running away from him as you are navigating through the maze…it feels like a very Pac-Man moment to me.

Would you cite Pac-man as an influence on Maze Crusade?

I feel like I pull my influences from a lot of different areas, and mostly from things I thought were cool or funny or ironic when I was younger, but I sort of forget what those things are now. I guess I just put a lot of my own personality into my games, for better or for worse.

What about the art style, what influenced the way the game looks?

I tried very hard to go with a pixel art style. Every design felt like it was worse than the one before it. I think maybe I thought this was a game that, with a pixel art style, would appeal to a certain group of gamers who love pixel art. But personally, I don’t really love those games, and ultimately I felt like I was going against myself and would just make something that felt like an imitation of that style, rather than something rooted in that style. Finally my designer came back with a hand drawn knight, and that was it.

He kind of looks familiar.

It took Jon about fifteen minutes to draw him. After about fifty attempts at other styles and looks, that particular character happened really fast. Though he was really hard to animate because he is so simple and so much of the time he is moving upwards with his back to you. He looks best I think when fighting side to side.

At one point I had a plan for the “head start” to be a catapult, like the knight would catapult over the maze. But that seemed kind of hard and complicated for a number of reasons. Also, my two-year-old son is really into horses, so I was like, “This guy has to ride a magic horse.” That was a very satisfying moment when we got that to work.

Maze Crusade horse

Why did you decide to go with a cartoony kind of look, as opposed to something more serious?

Well, the knight is a very serious little dude. I like the juxtaposition of all the characters looking kind of goofy, but they all take themselves very seriously. I try to let them just “be” while all the insanity happens around them. I find that to be really funny.

In the images I’ve seen, the mazes seem to consist of dungeon-looking places and things that look like the hedge maze from The Shinning. What are some of the other environments you’ll explore? And did anyone suggest a corn field? Y’know, for obvious reasons.

Right now, the game has garden, forest, dungeon, catacombs, ruins, mountains, crypt, swamp, and volcano mazes. I was planning to do a corn maze for my first update over Thanksgiving, but I had to push back release date by two weeks, and then got bogged down in the post release bug fixes and complaint-addressing. Certainly I plan to get to corn mazes, as well as seasonal mazes that I think could be really funny.

For a while I was also hoping to add a new enemy with every maze, but characters are complicated and expensive and that’s an area I would love to flesh out more. I’d love to have bees or beetles, or something that is small and travels in large groups attacking you. Or a more fleshed out boss character. I also want to stick a henchman in a large vehicle with a drill on the front and have him driving down the maze from the top knocking down walls trying to run you over but, alas, there’s only so much I can do at once.

One of the biggest things on my list is adding pets that fight along with you in the maze. I think a pet dragon would be fun.

The thing that separates this from games like Zelda is that your knight is under constant treat of being crushed by a spiked wall that is constantly moving up the screen. Is there a reason you went with wall of spikes as opposed to lava or water or some other threat? What about a giant ball? And you could put a fedora on the Knight’s head and do a whole Indiana Jones thing.

Ha, yeah. I had an outside game designer lend some ideas to the concept at one point, and he pushed for things like that, or like, green dragons breath chasing you. I guess I just like the simplicity of this large unrelenting object fixated on your death at all times. I feel like the spikes are their own character of sorts, and I love how unforgiving it is. Like, everyone in this game is subject to the same reality of eventually being impaled. It’s immediately apparent what it is and that it is bad, which is nice too.

I have thought since launch that a cool alternative version would involve more story and no spikes, but that is a different game.

Maze Crusade is currently only available for iOS devices. Is there a reason for this? And are there plans to bring it to Android devices or other mobile platforms?

I’m planning on an Android port sometime in 2014. We wrote it in Objective C and Cocos2d-iphone, which is just a language I am most comfortable in, and just recently a platform called Apportable has arrived that will allow easy porting to Android from natively iPhone written games. So I’m excited to try that out.

Maze Crusade main Maze Crusade 2

What about consoles or PCs? Because I could see this game working really well with a controller or keyboard. Maybe even better than a touch screen.

Yes! I feel the same way, and definitely want to do a Mac port, which should be pretty straightforward. It would work great on PCs with a keyboard for sure.

As for the iOS devices it is on, are there any major difference between the iPad version and the one for the iPhone and iPod Touch?

No, they are very much at parity with each other. The game is technologically pretty complicated — all the mazes are generated by a very large algorithm in real time while you play — so it plays best on iPhone 4S and later. Though I’m working on further optimizations for older devices.

Maze Crusade is free, but you can buy add-ons. And one of the criticisms of the game is that it’s structured in such a way where you kind of have to buy stuff to get ahead. Do you agree with this criticism, and if you do, is this something you’ll be addressing?

My philosophy was pretty simple. Everything you could spend goats on — goats are the currency in the game — should add more fun. I feel that some genres play really well to it, and some are just a square peg in a round hole. Maze Crusade is, at its heart, an endless running game — though it is completable — and so I felt it fit best following the temple run/subway surfers IAP model. You can upgrade the timers on all the power ups, you can swap the basic invisibility spell for more powerful spells, and you can get upgrades to your towers and collectibles and head starts when starting a game. All of these upgrades help you get further in the game, not unlike Temple Run or other endless runners, but there is no paywall and I know from personal experience the game is completable without paying for upgrades.

I think in terms of the criticism, the issue is not so much whether I agree — I don’t — but why people feel this way. Obviously, I don’t want people to feel like the game is just trying to get you to spend money, as I feel like looking at other freemium games you reach much more aggressive paywalls and get hit with much more aggressive tactics for spending.

When you first play the game, until you get the hang of it, it is kind of hard to earn goats. But, once you become an adept player, it’s actually very easy, especially if you go for magic dice and get the coin magnet, and then upgrade the coin magnet with your winnings. But I think, when it launched, that perhaps the paths to earning currency just were not clear enough. In the 1.02 update, I added a “save the goats” feature, where goats are stranded throughout the maze, and running across them will “save” them and earn you a goat. Otherwise they get crushed by the spikes. I think this helps. But the update just came out and I’ll wait and see.

Maze Crusade coin magnet

Lastly, I joked earlier about doing a whole Indiana Jones thing, but that does seem like it could be cool. If you could do a version of Maze Crusade based on a movie or TV show or even another game, what would you want to do?

Game Of Thrones. But like, the goofy LEGO version. I love the LEGO games and their fun spin on things.

 

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