Interviews: The iconic art of Pocket God’s Allan Dye
I happen to be a huge fan of the iPhone game Pocket God, and I’m obviously not alone. So far over 1 million iPhone users have downloaded the pint-sized God-simulator in which you alternately punish and reward (ahh, let’s face it, you know you just punish!) your reverently adorable Pygmy islanders. And with nearly weekly updates since its initial release back in January, there is no denying that its developers are being rewarded for the huge amount of work they are putting into the game.
Above: An early conceptual sketch of the islanders.
Much of my love for Pocket God has to do with the wonderful art design of the game, supplied by illustrator/animator Allan Dye who is co-creator of Pocket God along with programmer Dave Castelnuovo.
Above: Allan creates the art for Pocket God using Flash.
Unlike most iPhone games, nearly all of Pocket God’s 18 updates have been substantial, adding creative new ways to mess with your worshipers, and almost all have also come with a brand new game icon for the iPhone’s screen. In my opinion these icons are real works of art, and they are so well-designed that many times you can guess what the new features of each update might be simply from the icon alone.
Above: Another early conceptual sketch of the islanders.
To that end, I contacted Allan and asked him if he would be nice enough to send us the complete set of icons to date so we can take a look at how the game has evolved in the last 6 months, as well as get an idea for how the Pocket God design process works. (Allan was also nice enough to give us an exclusive preview of the next two icons as well as a little peek into what the updates will hold!) So read on to witness the evolution Pocket God’s icons as well as the evolution of your godlike powers.
“Dave and I worked together on a lot of Flash projects over the past 7 years”, says Allan. “We developed a great working relationship and when Dave started developing for the iPhone, he asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating on a project with him. I tend to always have a side project going…usually an animated short of some sort and was trying to decide on my next one. After some consideration, I thought it would be a good experiment to see if I could do a side project that might have some upside so I said sure. That was one of the best decisions I ever made!”
Above: Jump to the 3 minute mark of Allan’s Flash game reel. Believe it or not, those little 1’s and 0’s are the beginnings of Pocket God.
Dave had the initial idea of pygmies on an island. It was loosely based on an educational flash project we had done a a few years ago. The objective was to pick up cute little ones and zeroes with googly eyes and put them in order to create a binary number. If you dropped them in the wrong place, they looked panicked and yelled “whoa” and dropped off the screen. When playing this, we found it was more fun just to to torture the characters than to play the game. Anyway, we took that idea and brainstormed that we could give it a tropical theme and make the player their “God”…..We decided the basic structure of the app in about 15 minutes.
Episode 1: Nowhere To Go, Nothin’ To Do (01/09/09) At its launch, there was not much you could do to the pygmies aside from levitate them with your godlike finger, thus the icon.
Episode 2: Does this Megabyte Make My App Look Fat? (01/14/09) The 1st update, launching a week later, provided only bug fixes, and the icon did not change.
“When Dave and I started,” says Allan, “we didn’t plan on constantly changing the icon. But when we committed to the update-a-week, we kept trying to think of ways to let people know something was new. The first update we changed the icon was the You Always Hurt the one you Lava. And all I did was swap out a few assets….But when we got to the lightning update, i thought it was so cool i just wanted to do something completely different….and then I was stuck! I had to make a new one every time.”
Episode 3: You Always Hurt the One You Lava (01/20/09) This update added a volcano which you can flick Pygmies into. After three hits, the volcano will erupt sending lava onto the island.
Episode 4: Shake That App! (01/29/09) (icon did not change) This update added a gravity features which allowed the Pygmies to be slid across the screen and into the water. You can also create an earthquake by shaking the device.
“For the first several updates, we would finish the new icon AFTER we submitted it..which meant the icon on the iPod/iPhone was different than the one on the iTunes store. Kids would complain about it on our blog. It may seem obvious to keep them synced up, but a) we didn’t think anyone would care and b) at the time, Dave and I were still doing our regular freelancing so we were squeezing things in..We’d finish an update at 4 in the morning on Sunday and the last thing we’d want to deal with was a new icon. So I’d just do it sometime between the submission and the approval and update the iTunes store. However, as Pocket God got more successful, I started shedding my freelance work to work on Pocket God full time. That was when I pushed to have all game art AND the icon done for each update submission.”
Episode 5: A Storm is coming (02/04/09) This update added Storm Clouds Lightning which can electrocute the Pygmies.
Episode 6: And on the 7th Day, Rest! (02/14/09) This update added the ability to change between Day and Night.
Episode 7: Just Give Us 5 Minutes (02/20/09) This update added the ability to make the Pygmies dance by tapping the screen. This is unlocked after playing the game for five minutes. The boulder was also added.
“Given how busy we were at first, sometimes we’d be less than happy with the icon but too exhausted to do anything about it. The boulder icon was a hard one. We were trying to put a pygmy in an Indiana Jones pose and it looked kind of wack….Dave encouraged me to rework it, but I just didn’t have time.”
Episode 8: Jump the Shark (02/26/09) This update added a shark to the ocean which can eat the Pygmies.
“The vampire and shark icon were also debated about. Dave thought something wasn’t quite right about them, and we went through a few revisions before we thought they were “good enough.”
Episode 9: Idle Hands (03/06/09) This update added a top menu and more gravity functionality, as well as more idle animations to the Pygmies.
“I used to use illustrator to design vectors and Photoshop for images that needed blurring or texture or a combo. When i started in Flash, I didn’t originally design in it but after years of getting sick of going back and forth I slowly got accustomed to drawing directly in Flash. I have a Wacom Cintiq 21ux which makes it easier. Now I only use illustrator for really tricky vectors (since Flash’s bezier points suck)….and of course I always use Photoshop.
Probably people will be surprised that I design them in Adobe Flash. I export most of the game sprites as PNG sequences from Flash. Not only that, but dave has created a system where I can animate the sprites in Flash, and the code captures it for use in the game. So I am in Flash so much, it just keeps me in the groove to not venture out of it. People are used to Flash looking a bit flat, but i use Flash’s clunky image filters to give the images depth. It ends up giving the image an interesting “soft” look.”
Episode 10: Hi, Dracula! (03/15/09) This update added the ability to tap the moon and unleash a vampire bat which turns an Pygmies into a vampire which knocks other Pygmies off the island and is destroyed at daytime. Also added an eclipse with the boulder and sunrise – hold the boulder over the sun.
“I would try to vary the color scheme away from the island palette as I went . So you will notice that I try to cycle through different color schemes in order to signal people the icon has changed”
Episode 11: A Mighty Wind (03/24/09) This update added the ability to create a hurricane which hurls the Pygmies around the island and then drops them in the ocean.
“[Episodes] 12 and 13 were released the same time because 12 was rejected by apple…and we had already finished 13…instead of trying to backtrack the codebase to 12, we just resubmitted it with both updates in….it ended up boosting our sales a lot because there was such a long delay.”
Episode 12: Something Fishy…(04/08/09) One of the few “nice” updates, it added the ability to Added a fishing rod and fish to catch and eat.
Episode 13: March of the Fire Ants (04/08/09) This update added an anthill and magnifying glass to the island. It allowed you to burn the Pygmies and release the man-eating ants.
Episode 14: Say My Name! (04/17/09) This update added the ability to name the Pygmies and tribe. It also allowed you to see exactly how many times you sacrificed a Pygmy and how many gifts you gave them.
Episode 15: A New Home (04/28/09) This update added a new island to explore that contains an outhouse, as well as a mysterious egg.
Episode 16: The Tyrannosaurus Strikes Back! (05/08/09) When the player drops the egg three times, a dinosaur appears and begins eating the Pygmies. Also, the Moai statue is changed to an octopus god and a story about the islands background included that you can read if you press the help button.
Episode 17: Return of the Pygmy (05/19/09) This update allows you to give the Pygmies a spear to fight the T-Rex. There is a health bar at the bottom of the screen and once it is emptied (by hitting the T-Rex with the spear) the T-Rex will fall into the water. There are also buttons for toggling the outhouse functionality and cracking the T-Rex egg. Also, an easter egg was added so that if players press the octopus god statue a few times in rapid succession, the Pygmies that are currently on the island are vaporized and the statue mumbles ‘You Know You Like Pocket God’.
Episode 18: Surf’s Up! (06/01/09) This update added the ability to generate a tsunami by pushing the water from side to side. This opens up a new underwater area with a new danger. A mysterious statue protects ancient ruins. Tap the statue and release a deadly spear that ‘skewers’ the Pygmies. Push the water down to return to any Island. The new god stat screen is fixed and allows users to change their god type and shows user their achievements.
“The trophy icon is for “Fun n’ Games until a Pygmy Gets Hurt” and that’s because we’ve started an “Achievements” system turning some of the Pocket God scenarios into mini games. If you beat your personal best in say “consecutive coconut bounces” an alert will appear congratulating your new personal best and your God Stat screen will be updated.”
Episode 19: Fun n’ Games until A Pygmy Gets Hurt (TBA) This update added three “micro games”: Max Coconut Bounces without hitting the ground, Max Lighting during a hurricane without slowing the hurricane down and Max Shark Snaps without letting go of a Pygmy or allowing the Shark to catch the Pygmy.
Episode 20: Stop! My App is on Fire! (TBA) This update gives the Pygmies wood to make a fire so they can cook fish and warm themselves. You can also cook the Pygmies.
When asked about rumors that Pocket God’s episodes might be coming to an end soon, Allan says not to worry.
“We have no current plans to stop the updates. We are letting sales guide our continuation of the project. It will happen eventually but not episode 20. Dave and I are working on a second project together but we are going to work on them both in parallel.”
We’d like to thank Allan again for providing us this tip down memory lane. If you’d like to see any other of Alan’s kick-ass designs, check out his personal site allandye.com.