Rush Digital: All aboard the mobile rocketship

Rush Digital: All aboard the mobile rocketship

Rush Digital Interactive is doing big things. What can we expect next from them – and what advice have they got for fellow game developers?

Back in 2007 while studying software engineering at Auckland University, Danushka Abeysuriya set the wheels in motion for what is now Rush Digital Interactive (RDI).

RDI’s break came in 2010, when Ray Thomson from Ice Angels invested and massively accelerated their growth. Today RDI is a three-person operation based in the award-winning Ironbank Building on Auckland’s iconic Karangahape Rd.

One of its most interesting creations is a smartphone game creation framework – IgnitionWare  – designed to make it easier to create video games. They’ve used this to produce some truly cool games on the platform (and assist on production of others). And they’ve let this early success go to their heads and have dreams of world domination firmly in their sights. As you do.

The most notable game titles RDI has been involved with in the last 12 months would have to be in-house title Drift Legends and Howling Mouse, where RDI worked alongside Tim Nixon’s great team down at Runawayplay in Dunedin. The RDI team also launched Hope’s Quest on both iPad and iPhone, and although this has yet to reach the commercial success they’d hoped, it has helped them mature their technology.

Hilary Jackson from Gamedojo puts a few questions to Abeysuriya...

Gamedojo: Hey Danu! Thanks for taking to the time to talk. Let’s kick things off with a little game-designer-self-reflection. Just what do you think are some of the most valuable skills to possess for game designers? And, which do you appreciate having yourself?

Danu Abeysuriya: Three things – Critical Evaluation. Creativity. Passion. You need the critical thinking to be able to recognise a bad idea just as much as you need it to recognise a gem of an idea. The creativity… well it’s a creative industry, so obviously a benefit. It’s the passion that really binds these two attributes together and allows you to take an idea and make it a success in all senses of the word – it’s the source of the hard work and the perfectionism.

I’m an engineer through-and-through (for better and for worse) so I rank on the Critical Evaluation and Passion. I like to think I’m creative as well, but that’s probably more along the “Creative” as-in “That’s a Creative shirt you’re wearing Danu…” kind of way.

GD: Hindsight as we all know has 20/20 vision…and we’re sure you have some valuable lessons to share in terms of setting up your own gaming studio! Care to share any hard-won wisdom for other NZ gaming studio startups?

DA: 1 – Move faster. The mobile space, phew, what a rocket ship to be on board! It’s getting a little less “gold rush” and recognised as something that’s here to stay (and dominate). I feel that if we had been able to move faster, get product to market faster and focus on iterating post-release (rather than trying to nail it before launching) we could have learned a lot more, a lot faster.

2 – Be as picky as possible about your hiring. This seems really obvious, but when you’re facing a mountain of work and a lack of applicants, you’re eagerness to start may lead you to compromise where you wouldn’t otherwise. Thankfully we haven’t had a bad hire, but this advice comes from difficult situations that I’ve looked back on and thought: “Wow, I’m glad <Person>’s part of the team!”

3 – Get a “work-wife”/business partner you get along with.  It’s something I feel was really missing for me in the early days. With the speed and ferocity of the mobile games market, I feel it applies even more so to game studios. This person keeps you in check, helps you sound out ideas, and gives you another perspective. Ideally you work so well together that when neither of you can agree on something, you’re comfortable enough to get into a heated discussion, figure a good compromise, then forgive, forget and get the job done. There’s a great talk entitled “The Atlassian 10 commandments for start-ups” by co-founder and CEO Scott Farquhar that I would strongly recommend to anyone in a start-up or thinking about one.

GD: At last month's Game Developers Meet-up in Auckland, you talked about your upcoming HTML5 2D game engine. For those who didn’t make it there, can you repeat yourself all over again (briefly!)

DA: The next version of “IgnitionWare” has some amazing features that we think are some of the best around. It’s part of our re-focus on 2D games (Angry Birds is evidence that this is actually where the action is). We’re making game creation more approachable to existing developers and to people totally new to programming.

Our technology uses the cross platform JavaScript programming language to implement all the game logic – it’s a language that web developers are ninjas at, and it’s easier to figure out the basics of than say C++. We believe that picking up our technology should be more about building a fun game and unleashing your creativity than it is about learning new tools. Video game development should be as pleasurable as actually playing video games!

Think of it as a mobile web browser for iOS and Android, but on steroids, made specifically to “kick-ass and take names” at running video games [points for anyone who gets that video game reference!]. We’ve got a set of features that we’ll announce soon that’ll make the offering that much more enticing.

It’s a great move for RDI and our customers. We’ve taken all our expertise in 3D graphics and applied it to this new version. It’s as a ground-up rewrite with a truly multi-threaded software architecture that’s comprehensively tested and has a real focus on ease of use, speed and features.

GD: We heard along the gaming grapevine that you guys have a brand new game in the development oven, and the timer is about to go ‘bing’ on “Rally Legends”. Love to hear more. Tell us why we’d want to play it, what are the unique game elements? 

DA: Rally Legends has come about from our success with Drift Legends – which is ranked the #4 racing game in Japan, and #1 in NZ on and off. The game is super-addictive and if you’re a competitive person, you’ll love it. It’s a top down 2D racer, where you’re sliding your way around winding and twisty rally and street tracks based in locations all over the globe.

The feature we’re probably most excited about is the head-to-head challenge mode. This is where you play a track, totally own it, and then send the ghost car replay to a mate’s phone and taunt them to try to beat you. They then load up your replay and get just one shot at beating you. Lets just say that it’s getting a little over-competitive in the office already…

Screenshots from Rally Legends

The game has three fantastic game modes: 1 – Time Attack: Try and be the fastest around a track. 2 – Race Line Attack: Carve out the best race line in a given time and 3 – Style Mode: where if you get a great score, you can power slide (aka. Drift!). Darren (the game’s designer) totally nailed the physics in Drift Legends. We’ve built on top of that and improved the learning curve so it’s fun for a wider range of players, but still a challenge when you get to the more advanced events and cars.

…and when are you aiming for release?

DA: We’re looking at the weekend of April 21-22, so not far to go!

GD: Well Danu, that’s well enough about you, now let’s talk about us.  From what you know about Gamedojo, what do you hope to see it contributing to the NZ gaming industry?

DA: I think that Gamedojo has the potential to contribute just as much towards New Zealand’s future as it does to the games industry itself. NZ needs a tech-savvy economy and software like video games has low export cost, high margins, massive growth potential, if you didn’t already know games are a billion dollar industry bigger than movies and music. Games are a creative industry so this is somewhere we can really shine that also gives us a real edge over more manufacturing based economies.

The best thing about Gamedojo is that it enables collaboration – something that’s crucial to bringing new businesses and new ideas to life. It brings the right people together that might otherwise not have met, and it provides a stable foundation to set your sights higher as a startup. Being a young entrepreneur myself, and understanding some of the harder won lessons of tech start-ups, I feel the mentorship aspect is probably the thing that’s going to get the biggest leaps forward in terms of success rates. I hope to see it eventually become a globally known concept and brand and a (duplex) gateway to worldwide collaboration.

GD: Hey thanks Danu, we love your vision for us, and like you we’ve got big plans! It’s been great to learn more about what you’re doing at RDI. To finish off, we’d like to take a short sashay into your personal world: firstly, if you weren’t a game designer, what else would you be? 

DA: It would have to be something to do with cars and motorsports. Driver, Mechanic, Team Manager or similar!

GD: Books! What are you reading at the moment? Any good?

DA: “Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story.” Good read, gets you to really think about how you present your message and think twice about the “expected” format.

GD: Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

DA: I’m Sri Lankan but grew up in Zimbabwe.

This post originally appeared on Gamedojo – Levelling up the New Zealand game industry. If you’ve got some burning questions for Danu, join the discussion on the Gamedojo forum.

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