iOS Video Games

Exclusive Interview: “Surfy” Lead Game Developer Sam Russell


In 1963, The Beach Boys said we should go surfin’ now, since everyone was learnin’ how. But what if you can’t swim, don’t live near water, or just fear sharks so much that you won’t even go into a pool, let alone the ocean? No worries, you can just play Surfy, a new iOS surfing game from DreamWalk Interactive. Though in talking to lead game developer Sam Russell, it seems that doing well at Surfy won’t necessarily mean you’re good at surfin’ the U.S.A.

Surfy 01

I always like to start at the beginning: What is Surfy and how do you play it?

Surfy is a fast paced, side-scrolling, surfing game that’s designed around performing crazy aerial stunts you could never pull off on a real surf board. All you have is a left arrow and right arrow to turn each direction, and you play by turning to navigate around obstacles and using the various power-ups available to you to get off the wave and into the air.

Where did you get the idea for this game?

Surfy is kind of an ode to classic 2D games on the late ’80s/early ’90s consoles. We grew up on Sega Master System and NES classics, and with Surfy we draw a lot of influence from the side-scroller titles you’d see frequent those platforms.

Like which ones?

The only game I’ve seen even remotely resemble Surfy would be California Games Surfing on Master System. This game consumed a lot of my childhood, and though the mechanic was much simpler, it had the basis for a good mobile game. California Games Surfing was all about surfing on the wave, where we really wanted to explore what could happen if you could suspend reality, remove gravity, and jump into outer-space. We also felt that this kind of game lends itself well to the endless-runner genre, but instead of scores out of 10 for a run, we thought it’d be fun to score people based on how crazy their stunts are and only punish them when they mess up a landing. Add to this mix network turn-based multiplayer and worldwide leaderboards, and you have Surfy in a nutshell.

So does anyone on the team actually surf?

None of us. That’s why we built the game, so we could be good at it, even if it’s in a virtual world.

How realistic did you guys try to get with the surfing in Surfy?

You’re right on the money with the surfing in space thing. We do have gravity in the world, but we are crafty with its use. If you hit a tornado in-game or jump off a boost ramp, expect to have real life gravity turned off in favor of massive jumps and even the occasional meeting with god up in heaven…if you’re good enough to get up there. Essentially, Surfy rewards you for doing well by bending the rules of physics. But, at the end of the day, what goes up must come down.

Surfy in space

Given that you go into space, did you ever consider going to Marvel Comics and asking if you could adapt Surfy into a Silver Surfer game? Though if you do, don’t call it Silver Surfy, please.

Funny you should mention this. One of the early prototypes of Surfy — before we had player art in — had a blank silver 3D model of the player and board as a placeholder. It looked a lot like the Silver Surfer, and we all joked about including it as an Easter Egg. It didn’t make it into the game, but never say never. I’d love to get a call from Marvel for a spin-off, but then I kind of like the sound of Silver Surfy.

Uh, that’s copyright 2014 and SemCo Industries. You do have copyright laws in Australia, right? Which actually brings up a good question: You guys are based in Australia. Does that mean Surfy only lets me surf the Australian coast, or do I also get to ride the waves of California and other places?

Yep, we’re based in Melbourne, and we’re a bit over an hour from Bells Beach, where they host the Ripcurl Pro each year. But don’t expect that to limit our imagination. If you get a good enough run going in Surfy, you’ll be surfing in locations right around the world, even past the Greek islands and into Antarctic waters.

Are waves in Australia different from those in California?

Yeah we do have some pretty awesome breaks here, but if I had to compare Surfy to a specific style of surfing, I’d say it’s closer to those guys you see fly out on Red Bull choppers and get towed onto massive ocean swells that look like death is only one wrong move away. Surfy is one big, never-ending wave, every Surfer’s dream. We don’t have that kind of thing in real life down under.

Surfy is currently only available on iOS devices. Are there plans to bring it Android or other ones?

Surfy for Android is in production as we speak, and we have plans to release on other platforms following that.

Cool. What about to game consoles? Could be fun on the WiiU.

We’ve tested using game controllers, and the game actually ports quite well to that style of control mechanic, so I wouldn’t rule it out. With mobile, you are really limited by what the hardware can run smoothly, so if we were to go down this path, I think we’d probably look at building a sequel, with new features that wouldn’t work that great on mobile, such as live-action network multiplayer, Mario Kart style.

Surfy whale

In the game, you earn coins and find treasure chests. What kinds of things can you buy?

Well, the game is all about doing insane stunts, so we have 18 surf boards of varying styles and strengths for players to earn, as well as 5 power ups that are all designed around getting bigger and better tricks out…and landing them successfully, of course.

In terms of real currency, Surfy is free, but has microtransactions. Why did you decide to go this route?

In testing, we found that a lot of the appeal in Surfy is in challenging friends to a Surf Off where each player has one run until they die and the higher score wins the round. As a result, we really wanted to lower the barriers to entry for people challenging friends and inviting new people to the game, so giving it away for free just made more sense.

In recent months, there’s been a number of games that have irritated their own fans by being aggressive with the microtransactions. What did you do to make sure Surfy wouldn’t annoy its players?

I think the solution lies in how you design the game. A lot of the time when you see users getting annoyed it’s because the developer has put all their focus into how to exploit users’ wallets instead of just making a fun game. With Surfy, we came from the premise that the game must be enjoyable as a standalone experience without having to purchase anything. Everything you can pay real money for in Surfy can also be earned organically by just playing the game. In essence, purchasing things gives the user a shortcut, not an advantage.

Surfy 02

Finally, if someone enjoyed Surfy, which of your company’s other games would you recommend they play next and why?

Have a go at Jam for iPhone, which you can use to record your own soundtrack to Surfy. If someone shares a good enough creation, we might even give them a shout out on our Surfy social media channels.




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