Today, we are sharing with you an interview with Martin Pittenauer (pictured as behind the maid) from TheCodingMonkeys in honour of them submitting the Carcassonne expansions to iTunes. You will know them from their superlative app implementation Carcassonne. For more than a year the Carcassonne app held the number one spot on ipadboardgames, especially impressive if you take into account the period where it was an iPhone only app prior to December last year.
Angelus: I would conjecture that of the various game properties, TheCodingMonkeys were very lucky to negotiate the rights from Hans im Gluck to produce this. In some respects, this property is a dream and there is no short end of work with the amount of expansions there are in the physical game. What sorts of things did you have to demonstrate to Hans im Gluck in order to produce this?
Martin: Our contact at Hans im Glück already knew us from a german videogame podcast we regularly appeared in. On that show Dominik, my co-founder, told the story about him being a hardcore board game geek, complete with having had test-played prototypes for publishers in the past. That lead to a mail exchange and us asking if they still had a game board license available for porting to iOS. We could not have hoped for a better answer than “Yes. How about Carcassonne?”. Indeed a childhood dream coming true.
So in short, there was quite a bit of luck involved but having a strong background in both board games and Mac/iPhone development certainly did not hurt either.
We are very happy about the collaboration with Hans im Glück as they understand and share our focus on rather taking longer and making it better, instead of rushing releases and cutting corners. Like not implementing online multiplayer for example.
Angelus: I would also conjecture that there are a number of factors for the success and longevity of the Carcassonne app. For one, of the various eurogames, Carcassonne is definitely one of the most recognised games within the gaming community. Secondly, Carcassonne’s tile placement mechanism lends itself quite naturally and intuitively to the iPad interactions. Thirdly, the rules of the game are themselves fairly intuitive and accessible. In developing the app, what did you find the most challenging aspect of coding it into an iOS format, and what was the most rewarding or unexpected outcome?
Martin: Carcassonne certainly is a board game that is pretty much perfect for making an iOS version: Universal appeal, easy to learn, hard to master.
We did start work on Carcassonne before there even was such a thing as an iPad, so bringing the game to the pretty small screen of an iPhone most certainly was a bit of a UI design challenge. Having little to no space for anything but the game board itself ment to spend quite some time thinking about how to organize the interface without sacrificing the user experience that we expect from a good iOS game.
In terms of an unexpected outcome I certainly would not have predicted two years ago that we’d be a game studio today, that writers and developers that I considered heroes in my childhood would find favorable words for our game. It’s been – and still is – a pretty wild ride.
Angelus: As you are aware, this review is in honour of the upcoming expansion for Carcassonne, which includes the River II and Inns and Cathedrals. Clearly this has been a long time coming, and you’ve managed to warn all of us hopefuls via your website (carcassonneapp.com) that we could expect a long delay in its implementation. For us viewers at home, it would seem intuitive to think that an expansion would take much less development than the app itself. How true is this expectation when it comes to apps, and what were the most challenging parts of these apps to develop or implement? Additionally, is the Rivers II going to have any relation to Rivers I expansion (which tends to come included in most physical releases of Carcassonne)?
Martin: We tend to take a lot of time for new releases, yes. It took us about one and half years for Carcassonne to be ready for iPhone and iPad and we’ve spent more than six months on getting the first two expansions ready. The reasons for that are varied. We are trying to make this as good as we possible can, because we really love Carcassonne and want to give it a digital version it deserves. That involves spending a lot of time on reiterating designs and play testing on top of developing new features, AI and UI that let’s you play with (and without) any expansion. There’s also the online infrastructure and servers that need to be updated. And there are always new features that want to be implemented and bugs that want to be fixed.
Apart from that Apple keeps us busy by adding new technologies like Game Center or the Retina display to the platform that we have adopted in the past to provide a gaming experience as good as we’re able to.
So, long story short, we’re a slightly bigger but still pretty small independent software development team that tries to be the best game studio it can be. Bigger studios certainly have faster development cycles, but we’d rather compete in quality than in quantity.
Regarding “The River II“, it is probably pretty much what most people already know as the river expansion. It’s also the one included with physical releases. The second edition of the river is compatible with newer expansions, e.g. by featuring a volcano for a dragon, and has a bifurcation tile that was missing from the first edition. Historically it’s probably better to think about it as the improved river than as a separate expansion altogether.
Angelus: On the subject of expansions, there are numerous ones for this game. Not including the aforementioned expansions, this includes Abbey & Mayor; Bridges, Castles, and Bazaars; Catapult; Corn Circles, Plague & Tunnels; Cult, Siege and Creativity; King & Scout; The Mini Expansion; The Phantom; The Princess & the Dragon; The Tower; Traders & Builders; and The Count of Carcassonne. If you were to go roughly by publishing order (and utility) I would predict that Traders and Builders would be the next you turn your eyes to. Is it a fair assumption that TheCodingMonkeys will pursue some or all of these expansions? If so, which ones would you like to see expanding your app, or which ones do you see expanding the iPad app well? Otherwise which expansions do you think you’d avoid?
Martin: We will try to emulate the release order of the original expansions for the most part. Maybe we will mix it up a bit according to feedback we get from our players. Traders and Builders is certainly one of the expansions that will be available rather sooner than later. We will continue to add expansions as long as there’s interest in them, although some might be a bit of a challenge to bring to the platform.
Angelus: In a similar vein, Carcassonne has a number of spin off games, which are either the same game with a specific map and scenario rules, or a variant like Hunters and Gatherers. Do you seeTheCodingMonkeys turning its attention to any of these spin offs? I would imagine the scenario games would possibly be somewhat easy to implement, or is that a naive expectation? Is Hunters and Gatherers something that would be on your radar?
Martin: Right now we are not working on them, but it certainly would be something we can imagine doing in the future. Even though we know most of them by heart, it’s still hard to decide which one would be the best candidate for an iOS conversion. Bringing those spin offs to iOS with our current foundation certainly won’t be as difficult as creating them from scratch, but I wouldn’t go so far to call it “easy”.
Every game deserves its share of love. And that takes time and effort in any case.
Angelus: With Hans im Gluck publishing Rio Grande games in Germany and Rio Grande publishing Hans im Gluck games in the US, you are possibly the most likely choice when it comes to developing their properties. We know that both Dominion and Race for the Galaxy are slated for 2012, and if you are able to can you confirm whether you are the company developing this game? If so, what possible tidbits can you share with us about them?
Martin: We are avid fans of Dominion and would have loved to work on the iOS version, but we aren’t involved with that, unfortunately. So far we’ve worked with Hans im Glück for Carcassonne and didn’t have a lot of contact to Rio Grande Games in that process. Anyhow speaking from a player’s perspective, we certainly hope Dominion get’s a great iOS version!