Venan Entertainment is the creator of the recently released Space Miner: Space Ore Bust, which we absolutely loved in our review. Space Miner is the first game from Venan, but we liked it so much that we decided to feature them in this week's developer profile.
Brandon Curiel, the CEO of Venan, was kind enough to agree to be interviewed by us, and I got the chance to find out a little bit more about him, his company, and his games.
Touch Arcade: Could you give us a brief history of the company? How did you start off?
Brandon Curiel: Venan started in the summer of 2002 in my spare bedroom. We had just left a dot com bust, and having worked in games prior to that, the five of us we decided we wanted to get back into that market. Our initial target was the Xbox, and we spent a year working on a game demo and shopping it around, but didn’t have much luck. So with our savings getting low, we decided to switch gears and aim for something more modest – mobile development. Our first game, Super Putt Classic, got sold into Sprint by Mforma (now Hands On Mobile) and from there they started offering us contracts to do new games. One game led to another, and to another, and eventually we built up our business being a third party mobile developer.
We got started on the iPhone pretty early with a contract from EA to bring Monopoly over, which we had done on mobile and the regular iPod. It was like a breath of fresh air after having to deal with the fragmented Java/Native landscape for so long. Since then we’ve done four iPhone games, three for EA and one for Sega, but Space Miner is the first one we’ve developed as an internal title. We’re hoping to be able to dedicate more resources to internal titles going forward.
Touch Arcade: What was the inspiration for Space Miner?
Brandon Curiel: Space Miner is an interesting story, because there was no direct inspiration for it. Initially we were just trying to prototype a control scheme. The idea was to use the accelerometer to determine the device orientation such that when the user turned the device, we’d take the world and pivot it around the player. Seeing some of the success smaller developers were having, we thought we’d knock out a quick game with this nifty control scheme idea, so we brainstormed for some ideas that might work. Eventually we settled on a classic asteroids style game.
Since we’re not talking about the game I just described, something obviously didn’t work. To be blunt, the whole idea was a colossal mess. I can say that, since it was my idea! There were so many problems, like not having anywhere to put a UI, getting tangled up in headphone cords, and the undeniable fact that flipping the device around like that was just not fun and liable to get it dropped. So, having developed an asteroids “engine”, we had to rethink what exactly we were going to do with it.
Having to start over again I think made us take a deeper look at the App Store to figure out what exactly was out there and where we could be different. What we found was that there were a lot of “snack” type games, but not a whole lot of the type of deeper games like those you’d find on the DS or a PSP. So, we decided to be different. Instead of going in the same direction as everyone else on the App Store, we decided to do back to our roots and just blow out the whole asteroids concept into something we’d want to play. And that meant narrative, RPG elements, and all the things that you see in Space Miner now.
Touch Arcade: What's a game that you'd love to make in the future?
Brandon Curiel: Dark Blossom. It’s a name that means nothing to anyone (it shouldn’t at least), but it’s a classic fantasy RPG we’ve had kicking in the background in one form or another for at least five years. Prior to Space Miner, we had been working on it as an original DS title, but gave up because the market there is very tough if you aren’t Nintendo. I’ve personally always wanted to make an epic fantasy RPG, so hopefully we’ll get the chance someday to port it over to the iPhone and try reviving it once more.
Also, Space Miner II. First since that will mean the first Space Miner was successful. But really we always have had a plan for a sequel and have tons of ideas we couldn’t get in the first one.
Touch Arcade: Who wrote the dialog for Space Miner? Can you tell me a little bit about the decision to make the game humorous in nature?
Brandon Curiel: The story was primarily a collaborative effort between me and Alex Kain, an associate designer here. I dealt more with the story elements and the arc, and Alex handled the actual writing (and re-writing) but we both did some of the other as well. We also brought in an extremely funny writer we worked with on Ninjatown, Robbie Telfer, to help “funny it up.”
As for humorous, well, I think that was a natural fit. Once we hit on the mining angle, it took all of 1.5 seconds for Uncle Jeb to be created in our minds, and that character is just funny out of the box. We wanted this to be fun, light, and accessible. We were just so sick and tired of all the dark, gritty stories you see in these games that have just been done to death. So the tone was very conscious, from the UI, to the plot, to the dialog, to even doing the space station as a bobbing 2D billboard.
Here's a gameplay trailer for Space Miner:
Touch Arcade: What's an interesting fact about your company?
Brandon Curiel: There’s an ongoing agreement with the employees that if we sell 100,000 units of Space Miner, I’ll get them a pinball machine. We have a long way to go though…
App Store Link: Space Miner: Space Ore Bust, $4.99