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There’s no question that action-packed, story-driven video game franchises like Uncharted, BioShock and Call of Duty keep hardcore gamers coming back for more. With elaborate worlds fully realized in stunning high-def graphics, challenging game play and online multi-player capabilities there’s certainly a lot to love.

I’m also sensing that even the hardest of the core enjoy the occasional break from all of the bloody mayhem. That’s why I’d like to draw attention to Fireflies! a new iOS game that looks and sounds fantastic on the iPad and only requires one touch to win you over with its tranquil beauty.

I recently caught up with Jeff Meador, Principal and Founder of
So Much Drama Studios, creators of Fireflies!, to learn more about its creation and the rising appeal of one-touch games.

Did the idea for Fireflies! fall from the sky? Or was the initial intent to create something simple?

Jeff: The idea for Fireflies! came about in phases. I first started playing with balls of light on the screen as some studies in how objects interact. I found it rather peaceful to sit and watch the colored lights float around the screen, so I decided to develop the study further into a game. I had a lot of trouble finding a hook or narrative element for the game, and then was playing it in low lighting one night and it hit me: these reminded me of the  fireflies I would watch at my grandparents’ house.

The rest of the game evolved from there, but in a few stages. I wanted to use colors, but needed to make sure that they meant something, so I invented fireflies with different personalities and behaviors.  I wanted a game that could be enjoyed on the go, so a Story Mode with short levels seemed like a good idea, but I still felt strongly about an extended experience, so created Arcade Mode for a different type of challenge. My nieces and nephews loved the prototypes, but were still a bit young for a true game, so I made Zen Mode for them: no scoring, no beginning, and no ending. I set out to create something that was fun and engaging, and I think we landed at something that’s much more than that. Fireflies! is a simple yet elegant game that draws you in with rich details, and all you need to do to enjoy it is to touch the screen.

Are simple, one-touch games like Fireflies! hard to develop?

Jeff: The challenge in developing a one-touch game isn’t so much in the programming and technical execution but in the design of the game itself.  You really need a strong concept that supports that idea.  You need to have a reason to touch the screen, but you also need a reason not to do anything else. For Fireflies!, this meant keeping the game engaging while the user wasn’t doing anything, or rather, keeping the game engaging because the user wasn’t doing anything. This was by far the most challenging part of building the game. I worked a lot with game balance: speed of the fireflies, burst distance, challenge goals. Building the technical infrastructure was somewhat straightforward, but tuning the behaviors in the game to a point where a simple touch can lead to a rewarding experience, that took a lot of time. Sometimes limiting yourself like this leads to wonderfully imaginative ideas. For us, keeping the controls this simple really helped us build this wonderful, immersive environment where the user’s interaction, the visual elements, and the sound all come together to create something amazing.

It would appear that there is a rhyme and reason to where you touch the screen to draw in other fireflies. Is there a hidden learning curve here? Meaning, the more you play, the more you pick up on the ebb and flow of each level?

Jeff: There is, indeed, a strategy to when and where you tap, especially in Arcade Mode. In Story Mode, we introduce you to the different fireflies fairly quickly and use the majority of the game to experiment with different combinations. You learn that some fireflies are best used early, and some are better to save for later. In Arcade Mode, where you have a series of taps to reach different checkpoints, there’s a strategy on how you can optimize your score and also in how long you can last in the game. What’s great is that I thought I had a pretty solid strategy for how to play; after all, I designed and built the game!  But I’ve had some users show me some pretty cool tips and tricks as well.

I'm not really thinking about beating high scores when playing Fireflies! Is this the right reaction you want to draw from people who play this game?

Jeff: You’re spot on there. We track scores because a lot of people like some measure of how they’re doing, but this isn’t a high pressure game. Fireflies! is meant to be something that relaxes you and lets you enjoy the experience of playing as well as the visuals and sounds that you can create from within the game.  Score is really secondary to all of that.

Talk to me about the importance of music and sound in Fireflies! Did you spend a lot of time trying to figure this out in order to capture a relaxing mood?

Jeff: We were so fortunate to work with Bay Area Sound, who did such a fantastic job on the music and sound for the game. I showed them a working prototype of the game and they were instantly drawn to it. I talked a lot about the mood and how I envisioned sound working within the game, and they ran with it.  We arrived at the overall concepts and basic sound structure surprisingly quickly, but we did a lot of iterations of tweaking sound levels and interaction noises to get the right balance for each level. While I love the music, I think some of my favorite sounds are the small ambient sounds that generate when an orange or pink time-delayed firefly begins to burst. And I find Level 27 just magical; there’s a lot of delayed fireflies on that level, so it makes a wonderful extended chime that echoes through the snow.

Angry Birds, Canabalt, Jet Pack Joyride and many other one-touch games are immensely popular. Why?

Jeff: I think games like this are so popular because they really embrace the fact that the delivery platform is a mobile device. By keeping the controls simple, I think you get a better result because you get a game that’s designed for the device, rather than forcing a game to work on a specific platform. This leads to a lot of innovation, and it creates experiences that really engage the player, and, as a player, I find that very rewarding. But it’s not just the gameplay that makes these games successful. One-touch games have necessary downtime when you’re not touching the screen. Look at how they fill those moments: there’s engaging elements from a narrative, visual, or audio perspective. You’re hooked in not only through the simplicity of the controls but also by the overall experience of the game. I knew this was important when building Fireflies!, and I’m thrilled with the end result and the wonderful response we’ve received.

When you’re done catching fireflies feel free to come to the light on Twitter @TClark01.

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