Jobs to get Jealous of – Luke Muscat, Game Designer and brains behind Fruit Ninja
Once upon a time, you could put gamers into two categories, ‘hardcore’ gamers who played 10 or more hours per week, and those classified as ‘casual’.
But since the arrival of smart phones, almost anyone can be categorised as a casual gamer. With interactive and addictive games like Angry Birds and Words With Friends taking the world by storm, gaming apps are a huge market, and a lot of money can be made from apps costing only a couple of dollars to download.
Luke Muscat is one of many game developers in the cusp of this changing environment. As Chief Creative Officer at Halfbrick in Queensland, Luke is behind best selling games such as Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride and Monster Dash, while also managing and developing a team of designers.
Fruit Ninja, which celebrated its 2nd anniversary in May, still holds a place within Apple app store’s top 10 most downloaded apps, and was downloaded 3.5 million times at $1 per download in its first year alone. That’s a lot of coin, and a huge amount of success for such a conceptually simple, yet addictive game.
We spoke to Luke earlier this week and asked him how he came up with the idea for Fruit Ninja.
“The original idea came from a late-night infomercial on TV for these dodgy knives, where a guy throws a pineapple up in the air and slices it to demonstrate how sharp the knives are. One day my partner and I bought a good set of knives and when we got them home we had a bunch of tomatoes there. So like extremely responsible adults we started throwing the tomatoes in the air and slicing them.”
“But it wasn’t until a year or two later while brainstorming ideas for an iPhone game, figuring out what kind of interaction would feel really good on the screen, for example this kind of slicing, swiping action, when all of a sudden the ad, the tomatoes sliced in the kitchen, and the slicing motion all kind of fell together and seemed to make so much sense.”
Luke says smart phones have made a huge impact on the gaming industry, creating larger gaming audiences and more opportunities for developers.
“It’s really interesting, for one we’re seeing games opened up to brand new audiences, which is really exciting. So many people have smart phones and tablets that are checking out games and getting involved. They don’t classify themselves as gamers and they don’t associate themselves with any of those typical stereotypes that have been cast over the medium in years gone past.”
“As a result you see a whole new type of game catering towards these audiences, and some really exciting things being developed which leverage the capability of the devices, like asynchronous games such as Words with Friends for example, because you’re always connected to the internet and you always have the game with you. So it’s incredibly exciting.”
And is also creating more accessible means of publishing for independent developers.
“Absolutely, the age of digital distribution has really lowered the barriers of entry so you don’t have to be a big-time developer with a publisher relationship and access to development kits, and massive contracts now.”
“If you’ve got the skills, an idea and the time you can make a game and get it out on the app store or the net yourself. More people can bring their ideas to the table which is fantastic.”
Luke warns that publicity on recent studio closures might painting an inaccurate picture of the state of Australia’s gaming industry.
“Obviously it’s been a hard time for a lot of Australian developers, we’re always reading about the latest major closure and all that but conversely the uprising of indie development in Australia is just so awesome.”
“There are so many small studios that are being born out of the ashes of these larger studios closing down or downsizing. I think the state of independent development in Australia is really exciting. I’m actually surprised how much of the stuff out there is actually Australian and people don’t realise.”
As a perk of working for a hard working but laid back company, Luke commonly works in board shorts and no shoes. But if you think being a developer involves playing games all day, think again.
“Something you don’t really think about when you’re aspiring to be a game designer is the way that games and business intersect. All of the early games I worked on were under contract, so there were licensors and publishers and various sorts of relationships and hierarchies to manage. And even when you’re making your own games, you’re just trying to get paid enough to eat food at the end of the day and fund your next game, so the realities of business certainly took me by surprise at first.
“But other than that it blows me away how many people are passionate about games and how talented some of the guys I get to work with are, and it’s really been a really exciting kind of dream job in those aspects.”
If you haven’t already you can buy Fruit Ninja for the X Box Kinect, or download it through Apple and Android app stores.