Le Vamp Interview With High Voltage Software's Keith Hladik
Earlier this month, High Voltage Software entered the iPhone and iPad arena with Le Vamp, an endless runner with a twist. Instead of taking direct control of the main character (in this case, a blood-sucking vampire boy), players keep the little guy alive by flicking pigs in his direction and interacting with the environment, swiping trees to create makeshift bridges and plucking creatures from the ground. As it turns out, it's one of the more engaging titles on iOS. To find out how the project came to be, we caught up with producer Keith Hladik, who spoke about the game's evolution and the possibility of bringing it to different platforms.
How many people worked on this game, and how long did it take to develop?
We had a core team of around eight people and well over a dozen more who helped on-and-off during development. All told, the game took about six or so months.
What was your inspiration for designing Le Vamp?
Le Vamp began as a cute drawing of a child vampire and a few denizens of his world. A small group of people at High Voltage were working on creating new internal properties and they fell in love with this idea of a little vampire kid. A charming video was made and shopped around but nobody was biting so we tabled it for a bit. You can actually see that video here.
Some of the initial design was inspired by the great one-touch endless running games. We wanted to take it a bit further and expand the genre. Taking some inspiration from Pixar, the team came up with the idea that we stuck with through development: Le Vamp is a vampire boy traveling through a fantastical French world, and it's up to you to feed and protect him along his journey.
This game plays somewhat differently from all the endless runners on the App Store. Is this how the project began, or did things change over time?
When High Voltage Software started creating a mobile title initiative, Le Vamp was one of the first on the list. We didn't have an exact idea for what the gameplay would be, only this unique intellectual property. We knew we wanted to stay true to the video: French, cute, embracing quirkiness and oozing with vampire themes. There was a clear goal of creating a mobile title that appealed to a wide market for both casual and hardcore games alike - which is a difficult goal to achieve.
The core team got together to brainstorm a perfect mobile title for the IP, and since our timeframe was limited, we decided that the endless runner genre was perfect. But it absolutely couldn't be a complete copy or rehash of a title that already existed. Another game that has always stood out to our designers was the N64 game Blast Corps. and the idea that you are clearing a path. We wanted the player to be Le Vamp's guardian, protecting this hapless vampire child from harm.
Early on, we sold the idea of interacting with the environment and flicking something at the character as well as that intense feeling of an infinite runner. The team was also adamant that we have a background element that people could interact with, as it added an extra dimension to the gameplay. An image that sticks out in my mind is the initial idea we had of putting your finger on the screen and Le Vamp clamps on to where your finger is. He's actually biting on to it and you drag him where you want. It evoked an emotional response and this was the eureka moment we had when trying to come up with the design. Ultimately that idea didn't really work for the game we created, but it's a strong image nonetheless.
When we finally came to the basic idea for the game, it opened the floodgates. We had a lot of enemy and hazard ideas, but through the prototyping stage we decided to stick to the ones we have currently. We also played around with having a more dynamic mob, one that actually started pretty far behind Le Vamp and actually caught up with him over time. Feeding him pigs actually sped him up. We went with an easier-to-understand health system and a mob that had discreet distances.
Charms and Curses are on the way. What can you tell us about these items?
I don't want to give too much away. To sum it up, these are purchasable one-time-use power-ups. Charms will positively affect little Le Vamp but negatively impact the score players receive. Curses will negatively affect Le Vamp but give the player huge score boosts.
How satisfied are you with the game's performance on the App Store?
I know I'm pretty satisfied - it's been a wild week. High Voltage Software has been making console titles for 20 years now so we're relatively unknown to the mobile world, and its giant sea of games. Coming out with Le Vamp as our first iOS title and getting Editor's Choice seems to be a pretty rare thing and something we really appreciate. We've been very excited with all the positive media and user reviews. We knew we were on to something with this take on the endless runner genre, and we're pleased everyone who's played it has had a great time and recognizes our efforts.
We have over 30,000 people on the leaderboards and it grows and grows every day. I don't think I could have asked for a better launch.
Did everything turn out the way you planned game wise, or is there something you need to fix? Did anything get left out of the final release?
As usual with game development, a lot of things get left out - but what's so great about mobile development is that you can bring it back later down the road. During development of Le Vamp, we wanted to maintain a tight focus; keep what's fun and be extremely wary of feature creep. It's easy to get caught up in constantly iterating the game design, but our goal was to really keep it simple right off the bat. Thankfully, there really isn't anything that we need to fix per say.
We did a good deal of play testing around the office to ensure the game wasn't too easy or too hard. Since the aesthetics of the title appeals to a broader audience, the team wanted to ensure the gameplay wasn't so brutal that players wouldn't quickly become frustrated.
I think we were able to get a good balance - we strove for a two-to-three minute gameplay experience. Any longer and people would get bored, and any shorter and we'd probably anger a few people.
As for stuff getting left out, as stated, we have tons of ideas back in the Le Vamp vault that might escape for a future update.
Any chance of seeing Le Vamp on other platforms?
We'd really like to bring Le Vamp to as many platforms as possible. With the continuing success of the iOS version, I'm sure we'll bring it over to Android in the not-too-distant future. Otherwise, we're open to any platform that's viable for the game.