Game Dev Interview Series 004: Simon Crack

'Break the Line' Game Dev Interview

Simon Crack, indie game dev and founder of Scotland based studio; Dead Cool Apps has been successfully creating games and conquering the mobile app business since 2012. His studio has developed over 200 apps. And many of his games have reached the top charts or have been featured, generating millions of downloads.

We had the opportunity to chat with Simon Crack about his game dev journey, how he approaches games design, the inspiration behind Break the Line, and the best game dev strategies for achieving success in the app business. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to get into the game dev business?

Simon Crack: I’m a graphic designer by trade, and it wasn’t until I was made redundant TWICE by two separate design agencies I decided to go it alone and become an entrepreneur. I thought what is the point of working your butt off for someone else, only for them to turn around and make you redundant? So I initially started a niche passion website teaching magic tricks I’d learned growing up (which I still maintain to this day 11 years later!).

Just when the App Store was taking off I decided to create a simple magic trick app; basically, it just pulled all my magic website content (RSS feeds) into a little app – this was in 2010. That first app got me interested in app development. I’ve been an avid gamer all my life getting my first Nintendo (NES) console when I was a kid. So I decided to make a platform game – based on a magician character. I spent $2k on making the game, and it totally bombed. That’s when I knew I needed to have a different plan.

I’d always followed Trey’s stuff, and when he released his first rudimentary game builder Project Zero I jumped on it! I built my second game with Project Zero for literally $100 (I purchased and modified some art) researched a more popular theme and released it within a week. That game went on to make over $10k!

That’s when I knew this kind of game builder was the way forward, and I have used every single game builder Trey has brought out to date. I’ve made hundreds of games with them over the years!

As a game dev just starting out, what was the most difficult challenge that you faced and what did you learn from it?

Not to put all your eggs in one basket – instead of spending $2k on one game I should have spread the risk and built four games @$500 each. With Buildbox you now have the luxury to make loads of games with very little outlay. That was not the case when I was starting out.

As an experienced graphic designer, how do you approach game design? Any tips for new game devs that might not be as skilled in graphic design?

With regards to actual design often less is more. You don’t need to be able to create awesome flashy graphics; you just need to train your eye on what is good or bad design. All of my successful games use super simple, flat design. Just with carefully chosen color pallets and fonts. Oh and it’s never ok to use the font ‘Comic Sans’ EVER! Ha ha.

In terms of actual game design, you will become better at level design the more games you make and the more games you play. Not a bad past time to have!

How has using Buildbox helped you with your game development process overall?

The short answer is it’s enabled me to build games fast. The long answer is it’s streamlined my game building process immensely. When working with a coder (unless you can both code and design – which is very rare). You get them working on a project, they show you what they’ve got, you go back to them with tweaks they come back the next day or two with changes – you go back to them with more changes, and it goes on. It can be super frustrating. With Buildbox you can jump in straight away and get stuff knocked out. Even if you have someone working on games for you, you can go in and tweak stuff easily without having to explain yourself. Anyone without any technical knowledge can take back control of game making for the first time which is very refreshing.

What was the inspiration behind your latest game, Break the Line?

So with Break the Line, Ketchapp’s Manaquin Challenge was our main inspiration, It has a similar mechanic (in that you have to tap to change direction) but feels and plays very differently. In Break The Line you need to collect stars and break lines to get points / go to the next level.

Break The Line Trailer:

You’ve made dozens of unique games from Rebound and Panic Rooms to Break the Line, how do you come up with different gameplay mechanics and concepts for your games?

We always start with the mechanic and try our best to make it as unique as possible. We do this by literally playing in BuildBox and seeing what we can come up with that’s different or has not been done before. A lot of these rough demos do not make it to a fully fledged game. It may be that the feel of the game is just off – or we are utilizing a glitch which doesn’t lend itself to a full game for one reason or another. The ideas almost always start out as sketches. See my rough sketch of Circulate – nothing fancy just a quick brain dump. Then we try to re-create the idea in BuildBox.

Circulate Sketch Image

First Rough Sketch of Circulate

We try and push ourselves to create unique games using one or two buttons max. This can be challenging but helps to boil things right down to the bare minimum. The restrictions of BuildBox we find advantageous as it keeps us laser-focused on simplicity.

With 17 Apple Featured games under your belt and counting, can you share a few actionable steps that game creators can take to help them create a feature worthy game?

  • Play a lot of the top charting games – ones that seem to stick around.
  • Make a lot of bad games first! This is almost a prerequisite. You will improve every time.
  • Try combining ideas from a couple of games to make your unique game.
  • Playtest your game to death. Give it to family and friends to beta test – they will find stuff or do stuff you had not anticipated.
  • Don’t be afraid of pushing BuildBox, some of our best games have come from happy accidents.
  • Polish. Polish and polish some more.
  • Unique gameplay is a must!
  • Unique Color pallet helps it pop from the competition.
  • Good graphics are required – even if they are very simple, they need to be considered.

What’s one piece of advice that you think every game dev should follow if they want to succeed in the app business?

Keep at it – success rarely ever happens overnight. I’ve been doing this for years and have still yet to get my chart-topping Number 1 game (I’ve been close ;-). That’s my motivation. That’s my WHY and I think you need that, or you would just give up. You need a lot of patience to plow on when things get tough. Just keep moving forward. Even if it’s just a little bit each day – it compounds. Remember ROVIO made 50+ games before making Angry Birds. It’s also useful to take a break sometimes – time away from the screen; otherwise, it can drive you crazy, and you can be at risk of burning out! If you are struggling with ideas, I find it super useful to plant the seed in your brain that you want to make X then do something else and let your subconscious work on it. Ideas can come at the strangest of times; I frequently email myself in the middle of the night!

What can we expect to see from you and Dead Cool Apps in the future?

We have some fun projects in the pipeline – can’t say too much but there will definitely be a sequel or two!

You can follow us here:

Twitter: @deadcoolapps
Instagram: @deadcoolapps


Tiana Crump

About Tiana Crump

Tiana Crump is a journalist and social media manager at Buildbox with a passion for inspiring others and driving brand awareness. As a gamer and creator, she enjoys sharing game development insights, tips, and success stories from the Buildbox community.