YesGnome, the small game development team based in both India and the U.S., has made a mark on the industry with high-profile hits Champions and Challengers - Adventure Time and Star Trek™ Trexels. With the recent release of Star Trek™ Trexels II: The Next Resolution, YesGnome continues to demonstrate their ability to create exceptional games for big brands.
In this interview, YesGnome discusses making sequels, Star Trek fandom, and navigating big brands.
[KONGREGATE]: Today we are chatting with YesGnome, creators of Star Trek™ Trexels and the recently released sequel Star Trek™ Trexels II: The Next Resolution. YesGnome is a social mobile gaming company based out of the United States and India.
What is the YesGnome origin story? What were your backgrounds previous to starting the team?
Ravi: YesGnome is a spinoff of PurpleTalk, Inc. (DBA [x]cube) -- PurpleTalk was started to build games for iPhone, and it actually had a Match 3 game called Firedrop in the App Store when there were fewer than 70 free games in the store, but due to market pressure, they became a digital consulting firm and have grown from a 6-member founding team to 600 people now.
About 5 years back, the founders decided they wanted to build games again after working with a lot of mobile gaming companies and helping them build top grossing games. Most of YesGnome is from [x]cube, EA, Gameloft, Ubisoft and a lot of local, young talent.
Starting my career as a gaming QA, my interests have revolved around design, game analysis, UA, player re-engagement and project management. YesGnome, being the young, dynamic team that it is, has given me the opportunity to contribute in all areas and presently, as a producer, my focus is to create the best possible gaming experience with the team I manage.
Jeff: I’ve been a developer for about 20 years now and worked with other large IPs from my childhood, so getting to work with the Star Trek universe was another chance at being a kid again.
Rajiv: I have been a game programmer for 12 years now. Starting my career with EA mobile where, over 6 years, I was involved in building titles such as Need For Speed: The Run, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Bejeweled, The Sims 2: Castaway, etc.
I arrived at YesGnome with substantial experience in the mobile gaming space and several game engines and programming languages. At YesGnome, it's been fantastic working on newer genres with IPs such as Cartoon Network, Mattel, CBS and so on. Here our main focus is building optimised, scalable and reusable game frameworks, and I lead a lot of R&D on that front.
Gogo: I have been associated with YesGnome from its inception, and it was always envisioned as a fun team passionate about gaming and crafting amazing and unique experiences. Within 5 years of starting our journey, we’ve worked with studios such as CBS, Mattel, Cartoon Network, Fox, Dreamworks and others to bring their IPs to life in new ways. It’s really been an amazing ride. My background as a student of literature and my keen interest in gaming enabled me to create a space for myself in a gaming studio where I could polish my storytelling and imagination to contribute to the great stuff we are doing here.
Daniel: My academic background is Computer Science; however, drawing has been my passion since I was a child, and at some point in my life I mixed both tech and art to become a professional game artist around 10 years ago and full-time for the last 5 years.
Early concept work.
[KONGREGATE]: How did you first get involved in the Star Trek brand? What made you want to make a Star Trek game? Were you fans of the show and movies prior to developing Trexels?
Ravi: I was the associate producer for the original Trexels and a lifelong Trekkie. We have been very lucky to work on the first Trexels. I'm personally a huge fan of TNG but The Original Series has its moments too. :)
Jeff: Like a lot of kids, I used to annoy my mom by imitating Data. Working in the gaming industry puts you next to uber-geeks on a regular basis, so Star Trek has always had a big presence in my life. Picard is also my TV hero.
Rajiv: I have always been a huge fan of sci-fi and wanted to develop a game in this genre. I am pleased to work on Trexels II, which is a mix of Simulation, RPG and Strategy. My personal favourite Star Trek movie is First Contact, which had a great script, the best ever villains (The Borg) and awesome special effects.
Gogo: Well, I hadn’t really watched the old Star Trek shows such as TOS earlier. However, I was a big fan of DS9, Voyager and the movies. Also, I loved the new Discovery. While playing a bunch of sci-fi games, some of which featured the Star Trek universe, I used to think it would be really cool to make my own game on it some day. Glad that I got the chance with the original Trexels and now again with Trexels II.
Daniel: Growing up as a geek, you usually pick a “side” between fantasy and science fiction; the latter has always been more interesting to me. Having the opportunity to work on a Star Trek game is a dream come true.
Early store flow concept work.
[KONGREGATE]: What type of time sinks, process struggles, and additional tasks should a small developer expect when working with large brands and entities?
Ravi: There is usually another layer of reviews and approvals -- so proper planning is important.
Jeff: It depends a LOT on the brand/entity. Having a specific target to shoot for in terms of art, likenesses, audio, etc. does add a great deal of work, but being able to play in the Star Trek universe makes the experience more than worthwhile. I’ve got nightmare stories from projects in the past -- having a healthy relationship with your stakeholders is important; Trexels II wouldn’t have been possible without engaged partners.
Gogo: I would say developers need to be as passionate about the IP as the owners. A lot of things would naturally fall into place as the drive, desire to provide a great experience and attention to detail would be the same on both ends. Our experience with working on the Star Trek IP over the last few years and love for the shows and characters have meant that the stakeholders didn’t have to be looking over everything, as they were confident about the IP being in good hands. At the same time, having our publisher’s vision of making this a great game motivated us to keep innovating and polishing. Whatever rework and new inputs we incorporated were done with love for Star Trek, and that makes any amount of hard work eventually enjoyable.
Daniel: One of the main perks of working with a brand like Star Trek is the immensely vast universe; there are many ways of producing stories, art, or any content. This, combined with the support and teamwork from our partners, makes everything just “flow.” Having worked with brands and teams of different sizes, the ease of work is about how professional the project is taken, independently of the size.
Concept artwork vs. final 8-bit reel from @JoeCreates.
[KONGREGATE]: Trexels is a highly rated mobile game; when did you decide to make a sequel and what did you want to expand upon that the first doesn’t do?
Ravi: The original Trexels’ focus was to tell a story and transport Star Trek fans into a series of episodes whenever they go on an away mission. There wasn't much to the gameplay, but we did spend years writing the fun stories, which players loved. That said, player feedback was always focused on making the game mechanics more engaging, and when we were asked to consider a sequel, we knew we wanted to have more depth to gameplay this time, so we created tactics based away missions along with a variety of ship building and seamless PvP.
Jeff: We wanted to give players more choices and more gameplay, especially in away missions. I also wanted to make good on the original promise of being able to own different types of ships, even alien ones, and how that could fit with the brand.
Gogo: Compared to the first game, we wanted to mainly improve on the away missions and make the builder more exciting by giving players access to a variety of ships. I mean there’s just so many different types of vessels, both alien and Federation, that it’s a no brainer that players would LOVE to collect them all. We did add a PvP module to the original Trexels where you could get those ships, but it was nowhere as satisfying as what Trexels II offers.
Daniel: I think that more than a sequel, this is a progression, the evolution of the first game. In the Art department we wanted to create more consistent pixel art for every single asset and the combination of everything on the screen; having that established we also wanted to bring more life to the environments, characters and effects with richer animations and details.
[KONGREGATE]: What major evolutions (if any) has the game gone through during its development? What caused these shifts?
Ravi: As a studio, we have levelled up since we did the original Trexels and we wanted to see what we can visually add to Trexels II. At some point, we even considered voxel style but ended up deciding on a 16-bit pixel art.
Jeff: We originally wanted to have the players build starbases instead of ships, but there was another similar game being released at the same time. We toyed with ideas like planet colonization, but ultimately we wanted to stay true to the “be the Captain” kind of game that everyone could enjoy.
Rajiv: Trexels II demanded lot of graphics (which you see in the maps, ships, etc.) and extended range of game mechanics. Handling these needed intense optimization to make it scalable across a range of devices so that it may reach a large fanbase. My focus from the very beginning was to maintain the game's versatility while keeping it lightweight and efficient. Through the development cycle, we devised several new ways of doing this, which are now being put in practice for our upcoming titles as well.
Gogo: Apart from Jeff’s point about starbases vs. ships, we also put in a lot of thought into the PvP design and how we wanted officers to impact the battles. The initial thought was for them to add attack/defense bonuses to ships, but we felt it would be really cool to impart unique abilities to officers, which would make battles more exciting and officers more desirable. We believe players would have a lot of fun collecting officers and looking forward to what they can do in space battles.
Daniel: One of the major changes that I strongly remember was the way the ships were made in early designs. We were tinkering with the way of building the ships in the background before presenting them to the player, meaning, the way the art was being produced and then put together by the engineers could have been like using the same puzzle pieces for all ships, which would have made the ships look very different and not so close to the original Star Trek designs as we have them today.
Early battle/mission concept art.
[KONGREGATE]: Was making the sequel easier or harder than making its predecessor?
Ravi: Every game is unique with its own set of challenges, but it did get easier in terms of approvals and reviews as everyone knew each other.
Jeff: About the same. We had more early-project woes with Trexels, but the polish that we wanted to put into Trexels II pushed us into redoing a lot of work. It was totally worth it, though.
Gogo: I believe it was slightly easier. We learned a lot from the challenges faced with Trexels, how we could simplify them, and above all, we’d created a fairly large group of highly involved players who wanted to work with us and constantly provide suggestions on new features, content and so on, which immensely helped us in understanding the kind of mechanics and systems that would be really appealing to Star Trek fans. Of course, there were newer challenges with this game, but our experience and learnings with the IP provided much needed intel on what to go after and what to steer clear of.
[KONGREGATE]: Why do you think Star Trek fans are going to enjoy the game?
Ravi: Star Trek fans are not adrenaline junkies. They are looking for thoughtful, strategic, play-at-your-own-phase gameplay, and we feel like Trexels II provides that while retaining the best of the original Trexels.
Jeff: In Trexels II, you can create your own experience in the Star Trek universe. You can build your flotilla from a variety of Starfleet and alien ships. Your bridge crews and officers can be almost anyone in the show, new or old, or both! And the missions that you’ll get to play take place on a plethora of planets, some which are eerily familiar and some are… where no man has gone before. (Sorry, I had to.)
Rajiv: Trexels II has a lot to offer to fans of the show as well as of this game genre. It involves officer/crew management, ship management, missions, and PvP. I am sure players will enjoy exploring a range of mysterious planets and owning a variety of ships.
Gogo: The missions should be super fun with an engaging story, a variety of characters and enemies from movies and shows, and the ability to collect and build up all those iconic ships. I believe this would be a real treat for Trekkies of all ages.
Daniel: There are many Star Trek games out there, but Trexels II is the only one that gives you the freedom and variety of mechanics to experience this universe in different ways, like making your elite team with characters from any generation, exploring planets, engaging in space fights with your favorite ships, building your ships, all that and more, whenever you want!
[KONGREGATE]: Following up on a recent GamesBeat panel, you mentioned that a new carrier in India has helped bring more games to more people in the country, and that the market is gravitating towards playing and creating more high-quality games. How is this affecting the gaming culture in general for India? What is the game development culture like in Hyderabad, and how is it evolving with the advancements in available tech?
Ravi: The Indian market is where China was in 2012. Ready to explode in the coming years, and as a studio with western sensibilities to polish and quality, we feel we are in the right place to take advantage of that.
Gogo: Well, it’s getting really interesting with more subscribers coming online, discovering a world of games and adding more value to an already lucrative market. I look around and see people playing games on their smartphones all around, and it’s awesome to think of the difference we’ve made compared to 8-10 years back. We have more gaming events, gaming cafes and meetup groups coming up and it’s all incredibly exciting. Institutions are offering courses on game design, art and development, resulting in an upsurge of indie developers and new companies showcasing their creativity.
[KONGREGATE]: Hyderabad is home to several game development teams; what is the game development culture like there?
Early "Room" concept work vs. live version.
Ravi: We are one of the top studios in Hyderabad and participate in local game jams, board gaming events and actively help in bringing more talent into our industry. Hyderabad is home to a large game developer community. Google recently selected 8 indies from India to be part of a south Asia mentoring program and 3-4 of them are from Hyderabad.
Gogo: It’s pretty great and getting better all the time. Walk into any gaming event or meetup and you’d be amazed at all the new games you get to see. Schools and colleges organise game jams regularly. I’ve visited a few of those events, and the creativity on display never failed to amaze me. The government is also encouraging gaming startups by providing them the infrastructure they need. Over the last few years, Hyderabad has been hosting the NASSCOM GDC, which is one of the biggest game developer conferences in India, owing to the vibrant game development culture here. Exciting times!
[KONGREGATE]: So, to end the interview with the most important and hardest question. Which Star Trek episode or movie is your favorite?
Ravi: Majorly into TNG. While I loved a bunch of episodes from The Original Series, TNG is what got me really hooked.
Jeff: My favorite series has to be TNG, but Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country are some of my favorite movies.
Rajiv: My favourite Star Trek movies are Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Beyond.
Gogo: Voyager and Discovery among the series, with Discovery getting a slight edge. I also love the new movies.
Daniel: Series is TNG, the episode “The Measure of a Man”; I also like Discovery. In movies, I like the first and second from the Kelvin timeline.
We appreciate the YesGnome team for taking the time to chat with us. View all YesGnome Games, download their latest game Star Trek™ Trexels II: The Next Resolution, or read more developer interviews on the Kongregate blog.