Blast from the past two: interview with David Frampton on Chopper 2

In another of my “Blast from the past” series, here’s an interview I did last year with David Frampton, a Wellington iPhone developer, who’s a nice guy to boot and made the great Chopper 2.

David Frampton first started dabbling in iPhone games just before Apple’s App Store launched in July 2008. His first project? An iPhone version of his Apple Mac freeware game Chopper, which he made in 2003. It seemed the natural choice, he says.

“When Apple opened up the iPhone for developers it seemed like a huge opportunity. I already had experience with the development tools, and with touch screens and accelerometers, and Chopper seemed like a good fit for the platform. It looked like a great way to get my game out to more people, and help me switch to full- time indie development.”

Chopper went on to sell 300,000 copies – and is still being downloaded two years on, despite the release of Chopper 2 – but Frampton never expected the game to be as popular as it had become.

“Initially, while I was working on Chopper I really had no idea it would do so well, but when I did stop to think about how many iPhones had already been sold, how many developers would be working on games, and kind of worked through all the probabilities in my head, I started coming up with some pretty big numbers. In the end I think it exceeded even my most hopeful of guesses.”

Chopper was pretty much done as a “one-man band” and Frampton puts the success down to that it was a day one title on the App Store – “There were only a few hundred games to choose from on launch day”. It also had brand recognition due to the Mac version and filled a gap in a genre, and “people generally enjoyed playing it”.

“Chopper 1 development went remarkably smoothly. For a while I only had the simulator to work with as there were no iDevices available in New Zealand at the time, but as soon as I got an iPod Touch I was in business.”

Chopper 2, however, was a much more time-consuming endeavour.

“Chopper 2 has been a 16- month-long project, and in that time Apple have released a number of new devices including the iPad and iPhone 4, which I have had to cater for. This added a bit of a challenge and a few weeks to development, and just the general complexity of the game made it take a long time.”

Frampton said despite the success of the Chopper games, it can sometimes be hard being an independent iPhone developer.

“There are many struggling independent iPhone developers out there, and some really sad stories around the web of people putting their heart and soul into a project to see it only get a handful of sales. I’ve been one of the lucky ones, getting a foothold early on, and being able to take my time getting the sequel right.

“But Chopper’s success is definitely not the norm. It’s a difficult industry where it can be nearly impossible for new players to get noticed, but the payoffs can also be huge.”

Frampton said that because Apple’s devices tend to take a while to arrive in New Zealand, with Chopper 2 he had a colleague in the United States send him over an iPad for testing. “I also flew down to Christchurch to get a day with one of the first few iPhone 4s in the country (when it launched) so I could make sure it worked on that device too. I still don’t even have my own iPhone 4, so it has meant there are some features I haven’t been able to provide yet due to a lack of device to test with.”

New Zealand has a growing iPhone development community, especially in Wellington, says Frampton, and developing for iDevices would appear to be easier than developing for gaming consoles. ” It has a much lower barrier to entry than the consoles, and a larger and more active online community when you need a hand.

“Also once you have completed a game for the iPhone you send it off to Apple and immediately it becomes available to roughly 100 million iDevices with credit cards attached. There is nothing like that in either the PC or console world, so it’s easier to make a buck, although it’s probably just as hard to make a million.”

I gave Chopper 2 four out of five stars.

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