Developer Interview With David Fox of Electric Eggplant Discussing Rube Works

Today’s interview is with David Fox of Electric Eggplant. Please visit their website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Thank you for participating in our interview. Please tell us a little about yourself.

I’ve been a game designer for 35 years but “Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game” is the first game I’ve designed in quite a while. I was one of the first game designer hired at Lucasfilm Games (which became LucasArts) way back in 1982 and mostly created graphic adventure games during my 10 years there.

How did the idea for your app come about?

I’ve always been intrigued by Rube Goldberg’s chain reaction machines, even when I was a kid. I remember “finger walking” through the steps of his cartoons in the Sunday paper, and loved building things with my Erector Set.

Soon after I started developing our own apps three years ago, I saw a simple physics puzzler. Even though the graphics and production values weren’t very high, it was a lot of fun. I started thinking I could combine my experience building graphic adventure games with a physics puzzler, and come up with something really fun… a Rube Goldberg-like game. In fact, when searching to see what had already been done, that’s what I found. Lots of Rube Goldberg-LIKE games but nothing that actually had Rube Goldberg in the title.

I found displaying many of Rube’s old cartoons (he died in 1970 after a very long career as a cartoonist, screen writer, vaudevillian, sculptor, song writer, and more), sent them an email, and got a call the next morning from someone named Jennifer George, who turned out to be Rube’s granddaughter! (WOW!) We hit it off, and I had the rights to use his cartoons in a game within a couple of weeks. (I’m still pinching myself… how did I get so lucky?)

And how long was the process from the original idea to the release of the app?

About two years. I first contacted Jennifer around this time in 2011. I spent about 4 months designing the game and doing a simple proof-of-concept prototype, then started showing it around to publishers. An old friend (from LucasArts), Tony Garcia, was looking for titles for the newly formed Unity Games (part of Unity3D). He loved the concept and we were on our way.

Did you hire a developer or do it yourself?

I knew I was going to need a lot of help, and didn’t want to build a team myself. Since we knew we were going to build the game in Unity3D, and we were on a tight schedule, I needed an experienced team that could jump right in without a learning curve. A team that already had a great production pipeline in place. Tony suggested Kalani Games in Austin. And since Kalani Streicher was another old friend from LucasArts, I knew we could easily work together.

What has been the hardest obstacle you have had to overcome in the development process?

The first obstacle was getting adequate funding to do the game justice. That’s why I spent the time looking for a publisher. We considered a Kickstarter campaign, but that wasn’t a good fit for this game and property. That took almost a year from the time I started looking until the contract was signed (though I also used that time to design the game).

Another one was figuring out which of the hundreds of cartoons I got from Jennifer’s team that I wanted to use in the game. I got a lot of help from friends/colleagues in narrowing the field. Number one requirement: it made me laugh out loud. Number two: it had to make other people laugh out loud. Number three: I needed to be able to picture it as a game level.

Have you had much support during the development process (from family, peers, Apple Inc.)?

Yes, enormous support from my wife, Annie. Especially during the last 4-6 months (when I was putting in 80-100 hour work weeks). Even though I had a great development team, I found I could do a lot of the polishing of the levels myself, faster than it would take for me to describe in detail what I was looking for. So Kalani Games did all the heavy lifting, art, animation, scripting, and I got to do what I like best… tweaking it so the timing and sound effects were perfect.

I also had a lot of support from other ex-LucasArts friends… Ron Gilbert and Noah Falstein spent a couple of days with me way back at the start, brainstorming the gameplay. Then near the end of the project, Julian Kwasneski, a brilliant sound designer, created the several hundred sound effects we needed for the game.

Plus all the great beta testers we had (some more ex-LucasArts friends among them).

And of course, Unity Games gave us a lot of support throughout the project!

What are your plans for the future? Will you be developing any more apps?

I’ll most likely take a short break from Rube Goldberg games and finish work on the third Middle School Confidential app. Then I’m looking forward to Rube Works expansion packs, and maybe sequels.

What sort of feedback has your app been receiving so far?

People are loving it! We intentionally created it as a casual game… something that people could pick up for 10-15 minutes at a time to complete a level or two. What we didn’t expect was how families are sitting around their iPad, puzzling out the solutions as a team. And it’s already being used in classrooms, especially those that are building real-life Rube Goldberg machines as class projects.

We’re getting great comments from kids too… “difficult, challenging, but lots of fun.”

And finally, what advice would you give to anyone considering creating their own app?

Number one, make sure you’re passionate about your concept. It’s a tremendous amount of work, and if you’re not in love with it, you’ll likely get burned out or start hating it way before it’s done. That said, also do some research to see if there’s already something like it in the marketplace. Can you add something special/unique that no one has done before? And will people actually want it? And can you get a decent return on investment? It doesn’t have to be money… it could just be experience, if that’s what you’re looking for.

If the answers are “yes”, then go for it! It’s immensely fulfilling to watch people laughing as they figure out how to complete the levels, and their excitement when they see a Rube Goldberg machine come to life. A friend glowed as she said, “Wow, I actually got to build one of Rube Goldberg’s actual machines!”

Thank you so much for talking with us today and sharing a bit about your company. We really appreciated the chance to get to know you!

Rube Works Facebook Page

Rube Works Twitter

If you would like to download the app please use this link: Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game – Unity Games