The story of Hogrocket: Making pigs fly
It feels strange writing about the past for Hogrocket when it’s still very much the beginning for us. Yet it feels like a good time to regroup and recap now that our first title, Tiny Invaders, has been released. Ben’s previous article ended with the three of us theatrically shaking hands in Steve’s apartment. Occasions such as these really stand out from that period in late February. However, in retrospect, we wasted a lot of time after that. It is very easy to get caught up in the romanticism and excitement of starting your own business, and we were no exception.
Coming up with a company name is important as so much of your identity is wrapped up in it. It is an opportunity to distil everything you want to be into one or two words and this process requires much dialogue, group introspection and thoughtful debate to achieve that. We ended up with Hogrocket.
Yep, I don’t know what went wrong there either. Believe it or not, we took two weeks to end up with that conclusion. We were efficient at first, creating our own name generator made up of words that represented the fun, bouncy, dynamic and energetic qualities to which we aspired. However, this soon gave way to pontificating, ‘sleeping on it’ and soul crushing domain name searching. In the end the dawning realisation came to us that it’s really your actions that define the quality of your name, not the other way around. So we stuck with Hogrocket. It rolled off the tongue and was memorable, and if we were ever being pretentious we could claim we were making pigs fly.
Once we had decided on a name we had a whole bunch of other company related matters to sort out, including the incorporation of Hogrocket and our bank account. Luckily my fiancée is an accountant so this side of things was a very smooth process.
What took up a great deal of time was the time we spent looking around for offices and meeting with people. More often than not it meant a whole day gone because of the travelling and our own discussion related to the meeting before and after the event. A lot of people are interested in talking to you when you set up a business and it can be a very comfortable trap to talk to them all.
We also visited many office sites over a couple of weeks before coming to the conclusion that it was an unnecessary expense. Really this whole period was one of getting our heads on straight and getting over any delusions of grandeur or naive excitement over starting a business. Maybe everyone goes through this stage, I don’t know, but looking back it was an inefficient use of our time considering our limited resources as a self-funded company.
We had better make a game, then
To be honest, we never gave much thought to developing for any platform other than iOS. It was the platform with the lowest barrier to entry from both a development and financial perspective – it was a no-brainer. The device and audience also represented a fresh new challenge for the three of us in contrast to the AAA development we had been doing for years. So the choice of platform was equally as much of a creative choice as it was a practical one.
During a fairly intensive two-week period we prototyped and brainstormed quite a few interesting game concepts or just simple interactions and mechanics. We knew our game had to be simple and accessible with a one-touch interaction. It was a set of constraints that we found very liberating in comparison to the myriad game control mechanisms we grappled with in the console world.
Much of this time was a very experimental and fun. We tested out interesting ways in which the player could interact using the touchscreen and realised we could develop games that were as much toys as they were games. This is something quite alien when coming from the console space, but we loved the change.
I think what is quite common during this phase in game development is the process by which one idea gradually starts to take precedence. Developers are drawn to the greater possibilities and revelation of depth of one concept over and above others. I’m a great believer in this Darwinian approach to game development and it worked for us well.
We began to flesh out one concept named Trains in particular. The simple dynamic of a train going around on track with the player changing junctions was fun. We then discovered that it was an interesting twist to test player greed by allowing them to control their speed and push things as hard as they could against the clock without crashing. From here we never looked back; you just know when you have something with potential.
So there we were. In the space of a month we had lost our heads a little and found it once again – and we hadn’t even officially announced our existence to the world yet…