Interview with Icy Tower creator Johan Peitz
If Harold the Homeboy rings any bells, you might be familiar with Icy Tower – a classic freeware platform game by Swedish developer Free Lunch Design. The game originally debuted almost 10 years ago and has managed to not only become a smash hit with more than 20,000,000 downloads, but found its way to several platforms as well – be it PC, Mac or even the iPhone and Facebook. I talked to Icy Tower’s creator, Johan Peitz, and discussed various aspects of the game – from the initial idea, lifespan, support, possible future ports and more…
Icy Tower. A classic many players are probably already familiar with. Nevertheless, could you please briefly introduce yourself, the studio behind it, and what’s the game’s premise?
OK, hello readers, I’m Johan Peitz! I’m almost 35 years old and working with games. I started out 15 years ago making downloadable PC games. From there I moved on to web games and currently I mostly work with social games on Facebook. When the first version of the game was made I was running a game studio called Free Lunch Design. We focused on making arcade style, gameplay centric titles. The studio had produced a number of titles that were popular, but Icy Tower quickly dwarfed everything in terms of popularity.
The game itself has a simple premise. As Harold the Homeboy you have to climb a tower by jumping from floor to floor. Easy at first but it is complicated by the fact that the screen starts scrolling upwards, and if you fall off the screen it is game over. Luckily you can jump higher by running faster and the core gameplay boils down to jumping and running from left to right and back again like crazy, trying to get as high up in the tower as possible.
What convinced you to make this game in the first place? What was the initial idea?
At the time (2001) I hung out at a forum called Pixelation. One of the forum members wanted to play something new and started a challenge for the forum members to make small gameplay focused titles within three weeks. The winner would get a Gameboy Advance and I decided to enter. The original idea is based on an old *nix game called xJump. I took that and added to it until I had something that stood on it’s own. Eventually there weren’t that many entries submitted and Icy Tower claimed the GBA.
Icy Tower came out in 2001, with a 10th anniversary inevitably approaching come this December. Have you ever imagined or hoped the game would have such a long lifespan?
We had no idea the game would become as popular as it did, or that it would continue to live as long as it has. The combination of the game reaching new fans today, and old fans coming back years later keeps it constantly alive. It has been a truly amazing ride and a very humbling experience.
What do you think made the game so popular that it managed to withstand the competition throughout the years? Especially in such a large jungle the freeware world is?
I think it boils down to three things:
1) The game is extremely simple at it’s core and anyone can understand what it is about at first glance.
2) It’s a small download and has almost no system requirements.
3) It is very easy to compare results and compete with your friends.
Since the game is freeware, meaning anyone can play it instantly for free, what motivates you to be putting out updates and new builds even after all those years?
The first few new versions included obvious fixes and updates that made the game slightly better each time. Then, when the game got really huge, the fans more or less demanded updates 🙂 Anything from bug fixes to better tournament support. Lately, updates have been a bit slow but we try to get a small update out every now and then just to keep the ball rolling.
Now-a-days the game can be played on several platforms and dozens of devices – be it on PC, Mac or iOS. You have even set up an online version on Facebook, giving instant access to millions of potential players. Was porting the game in any way a challenge? What had to be left out or adjusted?
Porting a game to a new platform is always a challenge. Even if they are similar like PC and Mac, there are differences in how people expect the interface to work, how accessible the game has to be, even the demographic matters. I think the biggest change to the game was made for the Facebook version where we really toned down the hardcoreness of the downloadable version in order to make room for a much more forgiving and casual experience.
Have you thought about any additional platforms the game could be, officially, developed for and played on? I know users of Maemo 5 (Debian Linux) would welcome Icy Tower on their Nokia N900 devices for sure. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 come to mind as well. Any chances we’ll be seeing Harold the Homeboy doing insane combos on these platforms anytime soon?
I think Icy Tower suits itself very well to being ported and adjusted to new platforms. The main issue for not spamming it onto every platform imaginable is that we want to be able to give each version the best support we can. We are not a big company and supporting multiple platforms requires a lot of people keeping the game up to date, and at the moment we simply don’t have that luxury.
Speaking of combos, what’s the world record? And how many floors does the game have? To me it seems endless…
Heh, it has been debated wheter the tower has an end or not. I think it depends on how you perceive an end. When people mail me and ask I usually say that there is an end and if they just keep playing they will reach it.
As for the world record, I’m not really up to date. There are some championships every now and then and I would guess it is somewhere around 1500 – 2000 floors depending on which version of the game you play.
Lastly, to shed some light also on other projects of Muskedunder Interactive and Free Lunch Design, what are you currently working on? What should the readers check out?
Well, if you haven’t tried Icy Tower on Facebook yet, I think you should give it a try. We also run a game on Facebook called Hello Adventure, a very light weight adventure game that is really picking up some traction right now. If you’re more into hardcore non forgivable arcade games like Icy Tower, try out our newly released iPhone game Warp Dash! It is a very difficult endurance racer set in a harsh future world.
Thank you for the interview!