The Ambient Universe of Ellipsis: Interview with Salmi Games
Salmi Games' Ellipsis is a space-themed strategy game where you navigate a ship through a dark and mysterious universe. In addition to winning Best Indie Game designation at MomoCon 2016, Ellipsis also won Intel's Game of the Year Award. Our official review of the game rated it a 9/10, stating:
Ellipsis is a fun game that will redefine what you think mobile games can offer. You will be challenged, you will evolve, and leave all the better.
Yacine Salmi, one half of a two-man development team, took some time to chat with us about Ellipsis's creation and development process.
GameSkinny: What games, art and experiences influenced Ellipsis?
Yacine Salmi: Art -- Geometry Wars, Eliss, Osmos. Games -- Super Mario World and Zelda -- the games of my childhood. Mario was a major influence in terms of pure fun and polished design. With all its dungeons and cannonball mazes, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past particularly stuck with me. As for experiences, all the great games out there that don't hold the player's hand and yet are so extremely polished, so intuitive, where you feel the developers took care of every aspect of your experience. We want to pay homage to games like that.
GS: What made you take the plunge into game development?
YS: When I was a kid, I couldn't fathom how games came to me. I understood a Nintendo cartridge contained electronics and chips but I didn't grasp the concept of software. QBasic broke that mental barrier for me. It came with a few games and access to their source code. This is when I first understood how games are made. But it wasn't until after my bachelors, struggling to find work in the post-dotcom bubble world, that I seriously considered games. I came across what was, at the time, one of the first Masters programs in Games Programming (Hull University). That's when game development turned from a distant dream to a distinct possibility. These days it's much easier to take the plunge with all the tools available online. It's fantastic.
GS: In your press kit, you mentioned that you purposefully made Ellipsis without text to make it accessible to gamers from other countries. Is this something you'll incorporate in games moving forward?
YS: Yes as much as possible. I don't think it's always possible to completely do away with text, but it's important that games are as intuitive as possible. Constraining ourselves to not use text forced us to solve countless design problems which led to an overall more intuitive and fun experience for all players (including those that can't read yet!) We hope all our games will hit that same quality level.
GS: If you could go back to the beginning knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
YS: Probably release much earlier. We took a long and circuitous route to get here, making a lot of mistakes along the way. Obviously we wouldn't repeat them, but even more so, I think it's important to release early and often. Especially in the mobile world where you are rarely going to hit success on a single title. You need to build a repertoire of games to increase your chance at success and sustainability.
GS: Can you share a memorable success and a memorable disappointment during the development process?
YS: The most memorable success would be the day after we launched, we appeared on Apple's list of Best New Games. To be recognized that way among the hundreds of games that came out was a huge honor.
Biggest disappointment...releasing the game in a broken state for all players on iOS 7. It was such a simple stupid oversight, and easy to fix. It took us weeks to even understand what was causing people to have crashes. And when we discovered the cause (and the simple fix), we had to hold back on deploying it because of how updates reset your ratings on iOS. I was very disappointed that we made such a simple oversight after all the efforts we put into the game. But such is life and we certainly learned from it.
Ah let's balance that one out with one more success point: getting featured in Spiegel Online (Germany's equivalent of the New York Times) was simply amazing.
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GS: What advice do you have for those hoping to make their own game?
YS: Just do it! Don't hesitate. Start and produce something. Don't seek success (at least at first). Make something you want to play, something you wish existed but doesn't. Focus on creating and releasing. Do it often, gather feedback, learn from it and repeat. This is the fastest path to success and expertise.
GS: What's next for Ellipsis and Salmi Games?
YS: We have lots in the pipeline, but as a two-man team it's a challenge to prioritize and get everything done. We released a free version of Ellipsis for Android. It's ad-supported and compliments the premium version we have already on the market. We want to offer options to the broad Android market. Some other coming updates include:
- Another (free) level pack for Ellipsis to round off the year. Think 'secret road' from Super Mario World. It will be super hard.
- A GearVR version of Ellipsis - this one is super fun.
- Prototyping a procedurally-generated infinite version based in the same universe.
- And experimenting like crazy with room-based VR. We're very excited about the possibilities in this area. So many new design problems to solve.