You might not have heard of Chillingo, except for having seen its logo in a brief flash when starting up the iPhone or iPad game that has consumed more of your life than you'd like to admit.
A British game publisher, Chillingo is responsible for bringing massively, unimaginably popular titles like 'Angry Birds', 'Cut The Rope' and 'Feed Me Oil' to iOS smartphones and tablets, and into the minds, subconsciousness and uneasy dreams of millions of mobile gamers around the world; their games have been downloaded almost 150 million times, making them the number-one game production team for iOS devices.
And so you may be asking, having never heard of Chillingo: What Would You Say ... You Do Around Here?
Game publishers aren't game developers; the developers do the actual creation, the code-writing and the engineering. The App Store is set up so that any developer can submit their finished game to the Apple store -- so why are game publishers necessary, and what do they do?
Chillingo co-founders and co-managers Chris Byatte and Joe Wee said during an interview at The Huffington Post offices that Chillingo is kind of like a book publisher and editor in one: They support the developers "with time, staff, experience and reputation" and most importantly, they said, with solid advice from veterans in the mobile gaming industry.
"We like to say that we take games that are a 7 out of 10 and make them a 10 out of 10," Wee said.
"If we wouldn't buy this game," Byatte chimed in. "We wouldn't release it."
"The developer might think it's ready," Byatte continued, "Take Angry Birds, for example. [After we got it from Rovio] we added a lot of polish to that game -- the trajectory of the birds, the pigs grunting. Originally, when you'd sling the bird, there wasn't a trajectory line; there was no learning. Another great one was pinch to zoom; there was no holistic view. The pigs didn't grunt, the birds didn't do somersaults when they landed. We call it the final mile of polish."
Rovio is so successful and well-known for their mega-hit Angry Birds games that it no longer needs to use a publisher, but Chillingo continues to dollop that "final mile of polish" on games made by independent, unknown developers, generally pushing out one or two games per week. They are already responsible for over 100 games for the iPad and iPhone, 10 of which have gone on to be number one best-sellers in the iTunes App Store.
Below, we asked Chillingo's two co-founders and directors for their favorites: The games they play at home, the games they think deserve to be downloaded more, the best games they've released and their favorite game (any platform) of all time. One of these might be your next Angry Birds (if, that is, you've moved on from flicking your birds).
Cut The Rope is, by some measures, the fastest-selling game in the history of the App Store. It's also Chillingo's second highest selling game ever, behind Angry Birds. Like many of Chillingo's hits, the game description is totally absurd: The objective is to drop a piece of candy into the mouth of a green cartoon monster (named Om Nom) by cutting a series of ropes from which the candy hangs. Yes, you are feeding a green monster candy hanging from ropes. The game has sold millions of copies and is totally addictive. It is available in a Lite version with 18 levels for free and in a full version for $0.99 on the iPhone and $1.99 on the iPad. Cut the Rope is also available for Android devices.
iDracula holds a special place in the hearts of the Chillingo team, as it was the first game they released that reached number one in the App Store. It was also the first "dual shooter" for the iPhone, a game that you can think of as using two joysticks: one to aim the gun, and one to move the character. iDracula is fairly unsophisticated, and the visuals aren't sharp by today's standards, but it's still a nice old-school play: You take on the role of a hunter, outfitted with an array of weapons and tasked with killing vampires, werewolves and other baddies. A nostalgic favorite of the Chillingo guys, there is a lite version available for free and a full version for $2.99.
Contre Jour is one of the most beautiful iPad games I've ever played. The graphics, the music and the gameplay are all so relaxing that the experience becomes almost therapeutic or stress-melting. It is my favorite Chillingo game, and it is one of the games that the Chillingo guys are most proud of. The design of Contre Jour is all about the contrast of lightness and dark, and the game is backed by a hypnotic piano soundtrack that Chillingo commissioned specifically for the game to round it out. The gameplay is simple: You have to maneuver a little alien with a huge eyeball into a hole, by manipulating the ground around him into hills or by slingshotting him with spinning tentacles. There is nothing jarring or fast about Contre Jour, however; everything happens at a very natural, slowed-down pace. Highly recommended for iPad at $2.99, less recommended for iPhone at $0.99, as the smaller screen isn't as immersive for this gorgeously-rendered game.
When I asked Chris and Joe for their favorite games of all time on any platform, Joe went with Super Mario 64 for Nintendo 64, a solid, if conventional, choice. But Chris' answer surprised me. He went with Rainbow Islands, a game released for arcade machines in 1987, but which Chris enjoyed on the long-defunct Commodore A500 Amiga computer. The strategic, single-purpose simplicity of a game like Double Bubble -- getting your character to the geographical top of a level -- is one that the most successful iPhone and iPad games generally emulate. It also resembles one of Chillingo's latest releases: Roll in the Hole.
A saccharine-sweet game released in early-October for iPhone and iPad, Roll in the Hole has users attempting to roll a circular panda bear named PoPo into a portal, chasing after a gorilla who stole the bear's ice cream bars. Unlike in Rainbow Islands, in which you were going from bottom to top, here you are guiding PoPo from top to bottom, fighting against gravity as you roll your way to the hole while attempting to capture all three ice cream bars as you travel. Roll in the Hole isn't quite as addicting as Angry Birds or Cut The Rope, but I can see it becoming a hit among kids, with its upbeat music, easy gameplay and silly sound effects. It's $0.99 for iPhone and $2.99 for iPad -- I prefer the iPhone version, as the controls aren't quite as precise on the tablet.
Any article about Chillingo has to mention Angry Birds, the most successful iOS game of all time and a name-maker for both Rovio and the game production team that brought it to Apple devices. Both companies have changed since releasing Angry Birds two years ago: Rovio no longer needs Chillingo, having grown so big on their own that they are readying an IPO, and Chillingo has been purchased by Electronic Arts in an attempt for EA to get into the mobile market. The story behind Angry Birds' success is interesting: At first it was a flop. Byatte blames the pricing. "When we first launcher [Angry Birds], it was $1.99 and it didn't do that well. When we updated, we added 45 more levels and dropped the price to $0.99 and it went straight to number one. With that game, the stars aligned." If you don't have it, and you are prepared to commit a large amount of time to a mobile game, the original Angry Birds works best as an iPhone game and is available here for a dollar or as a free lite version here. The game no longer has a Chillingo connection, but it remains a bright jewel in their crown.
When I asked Byatte which Chillingo game he was currently playing most, he said that he only really had time to play games with his young son, and that his son's favorite game was DrawRace 2, an innovative car racing game from RedLynx (who are best known for the game Trials HD for XBox Live Arcade). Their first foray into mobile gaming is a great kids game called DrawRace, best enjoyed on the iPad but also available for iPhone. DrawRace 2 is a car racing game with a twist: Each racer independently draws the path on the race track that his car will follow before the race begins; then, when the race starts, each racer presses a turbo button to determine his car's speed on straightaways and turns. It's a super simple multi-player racing game that is easy enough for anyone to learn quickly, and it's another well-animated, well-executed game produced by Chillingo. Available here (iPhone) and here (iPad) in the App Store. Unlike many of their other games, however, this one was not made by an indie developer, but rather an established player in the gaming industry; one of the games the guys at Chillingo are proudest of, however, was made by a 17-year-old Spaniard. It's called Infinity Field, and it's a wild experience.
The story behind Infinity Field is, for my tastes, more interesting than the game itself. Chillingo was approached by a sixteen year old Spaniard named Manuel Martinez-Almeda with a dual-stick outer space shooter that blew them away. I wasn't blown away the game -- I found it almost intimidatingly busy (it is branded as "Ultra Intense Gameplay"), and I'm not a huge fan of dual controls on the iPad/iPhone -- though it has become a huge hit for Chillingo. To each his own: It's in the App Store for iPhone and iPad.