An iPhone Game Designer Explains How Your App Addiction Gets Made

Behind the scenes with the designer and illustrator of 'Tilt: Quill's Quandary.'

If you've ever struggled with Tetris addiction, or stayed up late into the night lobbing Angry Birds at an impenetrable fortress constructed by evil swine, you'll definitely want to get to know the newest HBOC of the puzzle game scene.

His name is Quill, and he's a hedgehog whose dreams of adventure on the high seas are exceeded only by his love of fabulous hats.

Quill is the star of "Tilt: Quill's Quandary," a game for iPhone and iPad in which players roll the hedgehog through sliding mazes made up of Tetris-like pieces. (Tilting your device slightly rolls Quill across the board; tilting it more moves the heavier puzzle pieces to open up a pathway to the endpoint.)

How does an app like this go from concept to release -- complete with a pirate hedgehog for a hero? MTV News caught up with app designer Noah Rosenfield and illustrator Danny Rivera to learn more about how your puzzle sausage gets made. (Interview has been condensed and edited.)

MTV News: So, Noah, obviously you and I are related, and I know you've always been big on puzzles, but how did you end up creating one?

Rosenfield: I really just wanted the game for myself, at the start. If something like this had already existed on the app store, I would have been happy to just play it, but I was having a hard time finding puzzle games that were challenging in this specific way. I've always liked physical puzzles like rubik's cubes, and using the accelerometer seemed like a good way to make that parallel and use the iPhone in a different way. There's so much technology that isn't utilized, just using the touchscreen.

MTV News: What was the first concept for the game like?

Rosenfield: It was totally abstract, just a circle and some squares. I thought that if each element operated the same way but by slightly different rules, you could create a puzzle out of it, and that was where it started — just seeing if I could make that work.

MTV News: I just realized that you didn't just come up with the concept, you had to build 100 different levels with different solutions. What was that process like?

Rosenfield: It was three years from when I came up with the concept to when "Tilt" released, so I had a lot of time master the game and understand how different shapes interact, how you can combine x and y to get a certain result. Other times, I'd throw some stuff onto the board without an actual goal and just move things around for an hour until I figured out what the hardest spot to get to was.

MTV News: Do you always put the endpoint there? It has to be hard to find the right balance, psychologically, where a game is enjoyably challenging but not so hard that people get frustrated and abandon it.

Rosenfield: That was a big consideration, because I didn't want it to become trial and error — like, "There's 20 moves you have to make in one specific sequence, good luck figuring it out!" I'd either make sure there were multiple solutions, or I'd try to make the solutions more organic, where you'll shift something, and a pathway opens up, and you can see the natural progression of where you'll go next and what you need to do.


MTV News: So, how did you go from "a ball and some blocks" to "a hedgehog on a cargo barge"?

Rosenfield: The only things I could think of that made sense to be rolling around were a hedgehog and a pillbug, and the pillbug didn't seem like a really great option. So I spent a lot of time looking at images of hedgehogs in various poses and of varying, um, obesity levels. We also talked early on about doing something where there's a bunch of unlockable characters, and there's not a story behind it, you just have different skins, basically. So I was thinking of things like a beach ball, an eyeball—

MTV News: You were going to make a game where the object is to roll a disembodied eyeball across the floor and into a hole?

Rosenfield: You could have done some really great themes with that, the eyeball could leave a little blood trail on the floor! ...But that was an idea that was ultimately rejected.

MTV News: I can't imagine why. So this was the last element, then. How'd you guys go from the idea of a hedgehog to "We have a hedgehog so adorable that it gives people cute aggression"?

Rivera: When Noah came to me, he had designed the hedgehog already, really simple. He just wanted a look, and that was where I came in. Textures, colors, the feel of what the game should look like. So we'd meet at a bar, drink beers, and draw back and forth to come up with ideas. And yeah, "cute" is definitely a word we used a lot during these meetings.


MTV News: The little animation that starts the whole game off is pretty evocative, too.

Rivera: We went through different versions on that — you know, trying to figure out the right emotions to give the hedgehog. Tilting his head, moving his eye, until he looked really sad.

Rosenfield: I definitely spent a lot of time acting this out in my apartment, like, "Oh no, I'm watching my hat go away, what do I do with my hands?! I need to rest. I'm feeling overwhelmed."

MTV News: You had to become the hedgehog.

Rivera: We did.

Rosenfield: We still are.

MTV News: We are all pirate hedgehogs now.