Meet the Developer: Adam Holcomb from The UDDA

This is not something that we do here at iPhone.AppStorm. We don’t do interviews with people who have Kickstarter projects, because otherwise that’s all we’d do. But in this case, I will freely admit that I’m biased. That’s because Adam Holcomb from The UDDA is not only a talented artist and designer, but he’s also one of my favorite people.

Adam and I worked together at a magazine in Arizona back in 2008. He was the quiet art director in the corner who only opened his mouth to say something crazy, and I was the new guy who was in a bit over his head. He was — and is — excessively talented in what he does, and that’s why when he approached me about a new iPhone app that he was working on, there was just no way that I could turn him down.

This is the story of Zammis and the Kickstarter project that aims to bring the spirit of festival culture to the iPhone in a game.

Like the article? You should subscribe and follow us on twitter.

Take me back to the beginning of this whole thing. You’ve been doing design for a while — how did this all come up?

Besides doing magazine layouts and regular design work, I’ve always had an interest in doing illustrations, art and painting on the side. Over a year ago, I started concepting this character up. It evolved into a story, and things around me that influence me — especially in the San Francisco area, culture trends — I wanted to incorporate into it.

I love Kickstarter, and I love the opportunity — I’ve donated to a couple of Kickstarters myself.

For a while, I was interested in game concept artists. I was looking at tutorials on how to do digital painting and pushing myself creatively in that way because I think it’s a great way to express your imagination. I look at game artwork and digital painting as a way to spark my imagination. Sometimes I feel like I get thrown into this world and it’s just a static image.

The intro screen for Zammis Adventure.

The intro screen for Zammis Adventure.

Being a member of the Dribbble.com community, I feel like some of those artists can do this artwork so much easier than I can, so to me, it was a way for me to challenge myself; to see if I could be as good as these other artists that I was idolizing. With my experiences in the multimedia realm — it’s pretty small, my experience with games. When I started off in design, I started doing web design and multimedia at school because I got excited about the idea of taking my artwork and being able to animate it. Right away I wanted to dive into multimedia, then I made a couple of games in Flash and Director. Eventually I went into print media, but it’s great to circle back from that initial interest that hooked me in school.

Once you had the idea in your head and decided to push forward with this concept, who did you contact to help you with the actual development side of things?

I have a local developer that I’m working with, and I talked to some of my connections that I’ve worked with in the past. There’s a game developer from Tango and he gave me a lot of feedback. Of course, they’re super swamped and not interested in making the game themselves, but they are interested once the game is done, because they might see if they could bring it into the Tango family. I’m using that as a fallback strategy, but I want to keep the game as indie as possible. But with Tango having 130-million users, it’s nice to have that kind of relationship to fall back on.

Adam and some of the artwork he painted for the game.

Adam and some of the artwork he painted for the game.

Starting into making the game, I just wanted to do all the artwork and concepts. I work with developers all the time — they’re not games, but I’m familiar with the lingo and asset production, and that’s something that I can provide. I thought that one of the incentives was that I’ve done all the work, here are all the assets, here’s how you need to make it, I’m not using anything crazy, it’s pretty much off the shelf programming that we’re using. I thought it could be pretty appealing that way, and I started shopping around for that, and a lot of people have game ideas. I think everyone has a game idea, and so do developers, so I feel pretty fortunate that I was able to find a developer willing to jump onboard and willing to work on the project.

How deep does your involvement go in this? Are you creating sprites for the game? How deep does it go?

I was doing all the work for over a year, probably a year and three months. Recently, I started to bring on resources within the company that I founded, The UDDA. We have Levi, who is one of our designers who works primarily with our client Tango, and he’s a talented animator and artist. With the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, he’s going to be really useful and help us progress more rapidly. Desi, he’s our business consultant, and he’s driving the ship on figuring out all the little details that come up with launching a Kickstarter — it’s like a micro-business. He’s been instrumental in laying the groundwork, and he’s really good at project managing too, which is makes it easier on me because I like to design and managing is not what I should be doing on this project.

The first year I was there I saw the fire spinning, but I just glanced at it. It wasn’t until the second year that I was just like, “What the hell are all these people doing?”

The developer we met maybe four weeks ago. He has a rev prototype that will be done by the end of this week [Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on July 17, 2013]. It’s a start. Considering that he’s only been working on it a week and a half — he’s currently working on it on the side while he currently has his job — and depending on the success of this Kickstarter campaign, we could bring him onboard full time or we can use those funds for other outsourcing costs. Right now our goal is $30,000, but after Amazon and Kickstarter takes their cuts, that’s 8%. Then you have to pay out all the prizes and the shipping, which takes another 30%. So you’re left with about $15k to make the game. A lot of us are just investing our time into doing this.

Level design for Zammis.

Level design for Zammis.

That’s the thing about a Kickstarter — it’s all a gamble. That said, [Kickstarter] wasn’t available just a few years ago, so it’s great that we have the opportunity to do this now.

I love Kickstarter, and I love the opportunity — I’ve donated to a couple of Kickstarters myself. Hopefully people will think the prizes that I’m giving … it’s not like you’re giving me money for free, I think we’re giving you something in return that’s equal or more value. I think this is a smart way to do business. There are a couple of blue jean companies here in San Francisco that are able to sell these normally $250 jeans for $90 because they have people in their store that will be like, “We’ll order this brand and pattern of blue jeans if 20 people pre-order it.” Instead of just carrying all this wasted overhead, I think it’s a smart way to do business and I think a lot of people appreciate it. I also think a lot of people appreciate being part of the process of small business. I think a lot of people can feel burned by big corporations.

The world is falling.

The world is falling.

How did your experiences with festival culture push you into developing a character who comes from space?

If you go to a festival, it’s kind of like this surreal, alien experience. The first year I was there I saw the fire spinning, but I just glanced at it. It wasn’t until the second year that I was just like, “What the hell are all these people doing?” Eventually, I started getting into and learning how to do fire spinning. I’m taking my interests and hobbies and putting it into this game. I’m a big fan of mythology — there’s these 10 principles and I wanted to throw those in there — it’s interesting how the game evolved, too. I feel like every year that I evolve, too. When I first started the game, I was like, “They’re going to have these fire sticks, it’s going to look cool, there will be DubStep, flashy, it’ll look like the Playa, the scenery will look something like a festival.” When I first started concepting, I had the characters using fire sticks as weapons. A couple of months ago, I just thought that I didn’t like that idea anymore.

Adam showing off his fire spinning skills at the Zammis Kickstarter launch party.

Adam showing off his fire spinning skills at the Zammis Kickstarter launch party.

One of the challenges that we’re working through is having the characters fire spin, and rather than hitting creatures with it, they’re making friends through it. There are certain bonus levels in the game — and I’m working on concepting one of them now — where there different types of gameplay within the application. There’s going to be this section where you’re in a tunnel and the iPhone is responsive to it, and then there’s side scrolling. Then there’s a third one where Zammis is fire spinning and it will be kind of like Tap Dance Revolution or Simon Says, where you’re kind of playing along with the music and Zammis is spinning fire. One of the challenges is to have enough skill at it in order to impress the creatures around you in order to make friends. Those can be the boss fights, essentially. I like the learning mechanism of that, too.

The concept screens just keep on coming!

The concept screens just keep on coming!

If Zammis is successful and takes off, those are the kinds of games that I want to do. Learning games, education, etc. I feel like that will be our business model — feel-good games, learning games and so on. If we make [our funding], is an iPad app for toddlers where you take blocks and stack them up. It’s simple, but it features the Zammis characters. I have friends who have kids and their kids play with the iPad, and they say that there’s really not a lot of good iPad apps for toddlers to mess with. I think where you can have a toy for adults and a toy for kids using the same characters, maybe you’ll have a family who will appreciate something a little bit more holistic.

You’ve got 30 some-odd days or so then, right?

We’ve got 33 days, and we need to raise $30,000. Fortunately, we were able to do that with a developer that we found locally, but other than that our goal originally would’ve been $50,000. We really fine tuned these numbers down to the lowest possible number that we could come up with. It’s like, these are the numbers we need to really do this successfully.

Want to donate to the cause?

If you like what you’ve read, hop on over to the Zammis Kickstarter page and check out the video, images and stretch goals. I know I’m behind Adam and his mission, and I can’t wait to see Zammis on my homescreen.