Developer Workshop: Monkeyland Industries

Developer Workshop is a series of profiles exploring the current state of the mobile marketplace from the point of view of the software developers mapping out its future. Each profile focuses on a developer with a compelling story to tell, and offers their perspective on what the industry's doing right, what it's doing wrong and how to make it better. Check out our previous workshops on Shazam, InfoMedia, Viigo, Meet Now Live, Shortcovers, Pint Sized Mobile, Geodelic, Spark of Blue Software, Tarver Games, People Operating Technology, Booyah, Bolt Creative and Thwapr.

This week FierceDeveloper profiles video game maker Monkeyland Industries.

Developer workshop
Monkeyland Industries logo

Gamers may recognize Monkeyland Industries co-founder Pete Metzger's name even if they've never downloaded one of the startup's iPhone applications: For the last six years, he's served as a videogame critic for The Los Angeles Times, also directing more than 20 short films and music videos along the way. In tandem with his wife, artist and designer Candace Metzger, he's now shifting from criticizing games to creating them--Monkeyland's video-based uChoose evokes the classic 1980s young adult book series Choose Your Own Adventure, enabling players to make storytelling decisions that determine  the narrative fate of an illustrator struggling to finish his latest project.

uChoose follows on the heels of Monkeyland's debut iPhone release Captain Famoso Says, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Mexican wrestling's Lucha Libre tradition featuring actors Chris Harper (iCarly) and Amelia Meyers (General Hospital). In the weeks ahead, Monkeyland plans to continue pushing the boundaries of good taste (not to mention the limits of the App Store approval process) with the release of Cougar in Your Pocket, which spotlights the adventures of a single, 45-year-old woman on the prowl. FierceDeveloper spoke to Metzger about the transition from reviewing games to making them, the appeal of video-based mobile apps and the importance of loving what you do.  

Pete Metzger  monkeyland industriesPete Metzger on creating his own games: I've always been a creative person, and games are a nice outlet to show off your creativity. Having video game knowledge has been really helpful. Some games are so terrible--the user interface is ridiculous.

We're not doing anything to compete with something like Splinter Cell, but I'd like to see us put out a game that's addicting and amazing. We're doing live-action video, which is something different. We started on iPhone because I'm very comfortable with the Apple line of products and programs. I have years of using Macs, so I'm familiar with the different graphics programs. But we're looking to branch out into Android next.

Metzger on developing video-based mobile apps: I've been doing short films and music videos for years, but I never had any reach--I never had distribution. With the iPhone, there's built-in distribution. Also, you don't need high-definition on an iPhone, although it's tough finding the balance between what looks good and what isn't so small that people pull want to their hair out and scream. You need to make the video look decent enough that people want to play it.

The problem with video-based apps is that a lot of times, you might have a good concept but you don't have good performances--the actors and actresses are kind of blah. If the performances are stiff and robotic, people will be turned off. But we have amazing actors.

monkenyland industriesMetzger on navigating the App Store submission process: My goal is to try to push the limits. When we first submitted Captain Famoso Says, Apple rejected it--they said that because we had a woman in a bikini, we were objectifying her. We explained that's how Lucha Libre ring girls dress, and the next day we were approved. Our new game Cougar in Your Pocket is in the same format as Captain Famoso, with a woman who's a total cougar and her daughter Mandy. They're fun characters, but we're toeing the line. I'm hoping that once Apple sees it, they won't have complaints.

It's frustrating because I can find other examples in the App Store of applications that are more objectionable--it would be a lot easier if [the submission process] was black and white, but it's gray. The thing that frustrates me most is I that have a seven-year-old daughter--I know what's not for kids. But when we finished uChoose, I was so proud to show it to her and her friends. I'm looking forward to moving into Android and hoping we won't have to deal with the same issues there.

Metzger on how creating his own games has transformed his critical perspective: I'm more demanding now. I see so many games that get rushed to market, and put out before their time. A lot of menu interactions are really bad, for example, but in my titles, they're all spot-on and perfect. I question the logic behind things--I appreciate the effort that goes in to developing a game, but why don't people realize when that game isn't ready to go out? You want to make sure there's quality control.

Metzger on advice for aspiring developers: Have patience. Don't expect it all to happen right at once. Mobile devices are ever-changing--you've got to roll with the punches, do your best to approach it calmly and rationally, and pay attention to every detail you can. The key is to enjoy what you do. Find something you feel passionate about. I'm so excited about these characters and the idea of sharing them with the world that I will jump over every hurdle Apple throws in my way.