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Exclusive Blazin’ Aces Q&A with designer Duncan Bell discusses mobile development and homegrown talent

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Last week Johannesburg based indie outfit Red Dot Lab released its first mobile game Blazin’ Aces. Naturally we were keen to learn more about the project and the challenges associated with developing and publishing a mobile title in South Africa so we set up a Q&A with the game’s designer Duncan Bell.

You can read the full Q&A below where we talk to Duncan about the South African game development scene, what initially inspired him to become a developer, and much more besides:

El33tonline:

How difficult is it to break into the mobile gaming industry as a South African developer? Are there any blueprints for success from our local developer community, or any South African titles that have been a great success worldwide?

Duncan:

From what I’ve seen it’s rather difficult. At the end of the day, you’re competing globally. South Africa game development has been picking up some great momentum lately, so it’s always exciting to see when our games get international press.

The studio that stands out the most for me is Free Lives in Cape Town. They’ve had such a great impact in the international scene, and they’re really passionate about what they do. Their latest game BROFORCE is an absolute blast to play, and it deserves every bit of attention it gets.

El33tonline:

What’s your history as a game developer? Did you release any games prior to the freeware version of Blazin’ Aces?

Duncan:

I initially started with game development back in 2000. I started off creating player models for games such as Half-Life and Quake II. I messed around with that for a couple of years and as time went on, I felt more of an urge to create original games.

I stumbled across Game Maker when it was still in a very early stage, and from there created many games that were mostly copies of games I enjoyed. I made all types of games from platformers to athletics to top down tank games.

They were all small projects so that I could get a good understanding of how to use Game Maker.

Blazin’ Aces was the first “finished” project I had made. I challenged myself to complete a game, so that I could move on. As my skills increased, I thought that I could give the game a complete overhaul since I felt the gameplay mechanics were strong enough.

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El33tonline:

What first inspired you to become a game developer and how did you go about achieving that goal once you knew you wanted to make games?

Duncan:

I’ve always had an interest in tinkering with games, seeing how they are made. To me it’s always been the ultimate form of entertainment, as you are directly engaged with what is happening.

I love the collaborative process of everyone making one final awesome product.

El33tonline:

How long did it take to develop the mobile version of Blazin’ Aces and were there any major obstacles you encountered along the way?

Duncan:

It took roughly two years to develop, all done in my spare time after work. One of the larger issues was deciding what platform to target.

At rAge 2013 I was showcasing a Desktop version with Xbox controls. Although that worked much smoother, I ended up targeting mobile, mainly because of how easy it was to distribute worldwide.

El33tonline:

What are the main features of Blazin’ Aces that you think players will enjoy?

Duncan:

I think the formula of the game works well with the platform. Most mobile games are short bursts of play, and the game fits well in with that.

By adding the skirmish option, it also allows for more re-playability where players can test their skills.

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El33tonline:

For all the budding game developers out there in South Africa – what’s involved in getting your game on one of the major app stores? How complicated is the application process and what is the cost involved?

Duncan:

Interestingly enough – it’s not too difficult to submit a game to the mobile app stores. The biggest deterrent for me was the technicality that goes into it. Once you understand the requirements, the process is pretty straightforward across all platforms.

Another small issue was the fact that all three platforms require an upfront fee that you pay as a developer. As a sole developer it can become costly, it’s roughly $350 a year for all mobile platforms.

El33tonline:

Blazin’ Aces was slightly delayed on Android due to Google Play not allowing for South Africans to set up a merchant account. When can we expect the game to appear on the platform and what was the process behind getting a publisher on board for the Android release?

Duncan:

Yes, it was rather frustrating for me as Android was the first platform I had fully tested and completed development.

Luckily, a friend of mine who is also a developer in SA, has a UK business set up. This will allow us to publish worldwide through the Android store without having to go through a publisher.


Blazin’ Aces is out now on the Apple and Windows Phone app stores, with an Android version due soon. Head over here to visit the game’s official website and let us know if you’ve had a chance to play the game since its release last week.


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