Last week, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Mike Lasch, the developer of Paragon Infinite, a charming and surprisingly difficult iOS game, based around rhythmic decisions and timing. We spoke about what it was like developing for iOS, being an indie developer, and what makes being an indie developer beneficial some ways, and a hindrance in others.
1. How are you? Tell us about yourself, and Paragon Infinite
I’m fine thanks! Well my name is Mike Lasch, I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I work at Lowe’s full time, and develop games in my spare time. Paragon Infinite is my latest game, in which a ball rides vertical rails and you control it by jumping off with precise timing to bounce through holes in ever approaching columns. You get one point for each column passed, and if you’d like to press your luck you can get five points by collecting gems scattered about the stage, but if you’re not quick enough your ball will collide with the wall of death on the left side of the screen. It’s an ultra-difficult game which requires a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it it’s super fun to push yourself to get higher and higher scores!
2. What inspired Paragon Infinite?
The inspiration for Paragon Infinite actually came from the desire to bring my PC game Paragon to mobile, but not being able to for various game-play and engine related reasons. This was a bit frustrating to me, until I saw someone started a “Flappy Jam” game jam based around Flappy Bird game design, and I thought that combining Paragon with Flappy Bird mechanics would be the perfect way to bring it to mobile in some capacity!
3. Why is the studio called Bipolar Design?
One day I was trying to figure out how to make an emoticon-like string of characters to represent a battery, and came up with this: [- +] I liked it so much that I decided to make it my logo, and after a brainstorming session thinking of various words that could represent batteries, energies, poles/opposites, and game development/design, I settled on BipolarDesign. I think the ‘bipolar’ aspect of it accurately describes all the “hats” I have to wear as an independent game creator: programmer, artist, composer, designer, marketer, PR, customer service, etc.
4. Paragon was originally an arcade game for the PC. Why did you decide to develop Paragon Infinite for iOS?
I think this question was pretty well answered in #2, but to elaborate on iOS specifically: I had already created one game for iOS, Neon Snap, which kind of flopped on iOS, both in sales and in press. Bringing Paragon Infinite to iOS was kind of a way for me to try again with Apple devices, and see if I could have some success with a different style of game. So far downloads have been decent, but sales have been pretty underwhelming. I think I will try with one more game before I give up on Apple altogether and stick with Android and PC.
5. As an indie developer, not having a publisher can be a either good or bad. Is there anything that happened during development that made you wish you did have a publisher?
Developing and releasing Paragon Infinite was relatively smooth, but overall I think having a publisher would be an excellent benefit when it comes to being fronted funds to hire help, and having someone do marketing for you. None of my games have sold very well, so any artists, musicians, or writers I hire I have to pay out of my own pocket, so it’d be nice to have an allowance of funds from a publisher, which I could pay back via sales of my game. Also marketing is extremely difficult for me. It’s very hard to write up a good press release that is unique, sells the idea of your game, is neat and concise, and catches the attention of writers and reviewers while they’re wading through hundreds of other emails trying to do the same thing. I’ve been very lucky with Paragon Infinite, in that I came up with a unique way to present the game to the press through afew poems I wrote based on the gameplay. I originally tweeted them out, but when that did not gain any traction I decided to put them in my press release emails. I’ve had a better response from those emails than anything else I’ve ever done! But, having a publisher with dedicated writers to worry about that kind of thing for me would be amazing.
6. What was the hardest part of developing Paragon Infinite? The easiest?
The hardest part was definitely the marketing, other than that I’d say porting to iOS was a huge pain. Apple does NOT make it easy to publish games on their platforms… the whole process just feels like pulling teeth. From getting your licenses and keys set up and ready on a Mac (not to mention renewing them when they expire), to getting an iOS device ready to test with, to making sure you’ve checked every box and filled out every form perfectly when your submit your game, to the two week plus wait while your game is being reviewed for their store (and the addition two weeks if you’ve done anything wrong and have to resubmit). Ugh.
On the happier end of the spectrum, the programming and design for Paragon Infinite was fairly easy! I cheated a bit and reused a bunch of assets from Paragon PC, including graphics, sound, and music. I did redo all the code though, and actually formatted it in a much nicer way than the PC game, since I knew exactly what I was doing at this point. Honestly if I wanted to I could use the code from Infinite and finally do what I set out to do originally and create a game more akin to the original PC version, with new levels designed with mobile in mind. I have no plans to do so at the moment though, as the sales of Paragon and Paragon Infinite are not anywhere near high enough to persuade me to make a third entry in the series.
7. Do you plan to release Paragon Infinite on any other platforms?
It’s already on PC, iOS, Android, and Ouya, so probably not at this point. If I had access to a Windows Phone, I’d love to bring it to their marketplace! I would have to purchase Windows Phone exporter module for my development studio (I use Clickteam’s Fusion software), but yeah I think that’d be neat to have a game on their market.
8. What sort of games do you play personally? Do you have a favourite indie game?
Independent, Nintendo, and Valve games are my favorites. It’s pretty rare to pique my interest in anything else nowadays. My favorite indie game would have to be Fez, hands down. I even have a tattoo of one of the tetromino strings you find throughout the game, this one is [spoilers] found on the door in the “Giant Waterfall” area which takes you to my favorite rooms in the game, the “Music Rooms” where you hear my favorite track from the soundtrack, Sync!
Tattoo: Tweet with image of tattoo
(Search “Waterfall Secret” on this page): Tattoo Inspiration
9. Is there anything else you’d like to add to this interview?
Well, my next project is titled Space Jelly, and as an experiment will be brought to iOS first, before any other platforms! A bit of detail on the game, plus concept art and a download of my Ludum Dare entry this game will be based on, can be seen here on my projects page: www.bipolardesign.co/projects.html
Paragon Infinite is a triumph in hyper-difficult mobile games. If you’re a fan of games like Super Hexagon and Super Crate Box, I highly recommend picking it up. The art-style is smooth and sweet, and the music makes it feel intense. You can pick the game up for free here and here, as well as on the Ouya and Itch.io, but keep in mind that there are some in-app purchases that add content to the game.