Harvest souls and get rich! EA’s latest mobile game Ghost Harvest, created in conjunction with 8lb Gorilla, comes out tomorrow on iTunes. We had the chance to sit down with 8lb Gorilla Producer Mike Pagano and talk about games, how to break into the industry, and his company’s latest adventure. While you wait for your free iPhone or iPod Touch download to finish, check out the interview!
Thanks for being here with us Mike. Could you tell us what Ghost Harvest is about?
Ghost Harvest is a game where you harvest souls for money- the short and skinny of it is you stumble upon a mystical cemetery that has the power to send souls to heaven. You get coins for each soul sent up to the pearly gates- good karma and great money. Out of the kindness of your heart, you take over this cemetery and vow to make it the biggest and best soul saving enterprise around. Now, the local inhabitants think you're actually playing for the other team, selling souls to the devil. They will stop at nothing to try to ruin your altruistic revenue stream.
What was your inspiration for the game?
I liked the harvesting style games out on the market, but was frustrated that there wasn't much gameplay to them. It was plant, wait, harvest, decorate, rinse and repeat. I thought we could do more so we added a purpose: use the ghosts grown to protect your cemetery. That and I wanted to poke a bit of fun at the proliferation of these types of games recently. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor throughout the game.
Was that humor a goal setting out? Quality humor isn’t something you see a lot in handheld games.
Well I wouldn't say it's quality humor, but it had me laughing out loud a few times. Humor was indeed a goal up front. I'm a silly guy and I gravitate towards games that don't take themselves too seriously - especially in casual games. I think it goes a long way if you can boot up the game and get some quick chuckles.
Definitely! While we’re on the topic, what games do you play in your spare time?
Love to play on almost all mediums honestly. I just had the opportunity to head over to the US again and picked up LA Noire, Dead Space 2, and Bulletstorm - as with most developers I'm behind on my console kick. Been playing the bits out of Army Attack and starting up Empires and Allies. Actually, a few weekends ago, I chugged through a ton of XBLA titles - Might & Magic: Heroes Clash being a big stand-out. When I'm rolling around on my iPhone away from computer/consoles, I try to play everything on the App Store. High Noon was a big one for me - very clever design and implementation.
What introduced you to video games and what drew you to them?
I was 7 years old and the game was Joust on the Atari 2600. It blew my mind and became an obsession/love affair. From then on, I vowed to make video games. Just like most folks from the 80s, I played mostly console games with some PC. I was a big twitch gamer growing up with some RPG gamer tendencies. Been playing games ever since.
How did you get your start in the gaming industry and what finally led you to 8lb Gorilla?
Let's jump in the way back machine. I was going to college in SDSU and heard about a school named DigiPen; a school dedicated to educating their students for the game industry. I cut ship with the state run school system and headed up Redmond, Washington, DigiPen's campus above the Nintendo warehouse. A classy place, I assure you. Got a BS in Realtime Interactive Simulation then headed down to LA after graduation to work at Warner Bros developing mobile games as an engineer, then rapidly transitioned to a producer. Either my project leading skills are good, or they just didn't like my coding. We'll just say it's the former. From there I moved over to Disney, then EA where I made some of the first iPhone games including Spore Origins, SimCity, and Yahtzee working for a great group named Future Tech. Built up a good body of work and some fantastic experience which led me to tackle a new initiative of no name - which soon came to be 8 lb Gorilla.
What’s it like working with a huge company like EA while still getting that indie game feel?
It honestly feels like a startup more than anything else- which is great! When we first kicked this off, we joked that I'm off to be an intrepreneur as opposed to an entrepreneur. Small studio with everything pitted against us, but inside of a big organization as opposed to outside. It's like a warm blanket. Thankfully, 8 lb is as far as you can be outside of EA without actually creating another business entity. We get to march to the beat of our own drummer!
What attracts you to smartphones as a platform?
Honestly, it's the size and availability of the market: huge and easily accessible. I set a goal a while back to improve the world by increasing the amount of fun everyone has. The more fun one as, the happier they are. The happier they are the better it is to be around them. The better it is to be around someone, the better the world becomes. Simple, right? The smartphone market is incredibly large and it's for a consumer to obtain a device (say over a $1000 computer for SNS games). It is amazing when you can say that millions of people have played your game. And we're not talking just 1-2 million, we're talking 5, 10, even 50 million people! Imagine if 20 million people played a game from your team. It's staggering.
What’s the creative/logistic process like for creating a game?
It's different for every game. When coming up with ideas, we usually involve a lot of baiju, dice, and Macau. For logistics, we have a dev team just like most other studios - the only difference is that the 8 lb team is actual a staff of super humans powered by Tibet Beer. The benefits of working in Beijing.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get into making games?
Get a few friends together and just starting making something that you've always wanted to play. For everything you don't know, just start googling the solution- the power of the internet will guide you. Start small with an easy to learn platform- don’t' go hog wild on a giant scope. From there, get a college education at one of the major institutions for games. I went to DigiPen and highly recommend it. If not there, try USC or another college that dabbles in game development.
If you could say one thing to motivate people to get Ghost Harvest, what would it be?
It's a free game with a metric ton of gameplay!
What’s next for 8lb Gorilla?
We're going to continue to work on Ghost Harvest expansions as long as everyone digs it. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page. We'll be servicing the vocal users, so head over there to post, and make your voice be heard! We're also working a few top secret games which we will be debuting in the near future.