Sometimes, four and a half months can seem like an eternity. However, if you’re graduating from a Masters program, starting work at a successful game studio, and launching your very first app in the iTunes App Store, it can go by in the blink of an eye. Just ask recent MDM graduate Steve Pastro.
Just a few months ago, while finishing his final semester in the Masters of Digital Media Program, Steve began development on his now-popular iOS application, Light Byte. The game, which Steve likens to a mixture of the classics Tetris and Space Invaders, is an engaging and addicting game for pretty much anyone with an iPad or iPhone. “Pick it up, but don’t expect to put it down,” notes review site 148Apps.
It all started mid-way through the Spring 2012 term. On February 4th - the day before the Superbowl - Pastro started development, finishing a “very, very basic” prototype of the game. Knowing he’d have a captive audience at a Superbowl party the next day, Steve brought Light Byte with him for some early gameplay testing with friends and family.
“The kids were playing it, and they didn’t quite understand it, but they liked it,” notes Steve. “The parents who played it really enjoyed it. So I decided to keep it as a hobby…”
It quickly became more than that, however, as Steve saw an opportunity quickly approaching.
“I knew GDC (the annual Game Developers Conference) was coming up and I decided I would work towards it and see where it (the game) was…ultimately, I decided that it was far enough along that it was worth going to GDC and talk to different companies about ways to market it or potentially find a publisher.”
While at GDC, through a combination of elbow grease, networking and dedication, Steve was introduced to Ayopa Games, an up-and-coming indie publisher from San Francisco. Although Steve wasn’t entirely sure what he was looking for, Ayopa seemed like a good fit. In the weeks after GDC, the two camps stayed in contact with one another, working out the particulars of their forthcoming deal.
“It took a few weeks…but everything came together. We signed the deal and it’s been awesome working with them since,” notes Steve a few days after the release of the game. “They had a lot of really good ideas in terms of the progression of the game…they really pushed me to add elements, to have upgradeable powerups, and have a lot of things you can unlock. [It] really filled out the things that were going to make people want to come back and play the game.”
[L-R: Screenshots from earlier to later to current builds of the game show its stylistic progression]
Although they had sorted out the majority of the details prior to the launch, there were still some 11th hour additions to the game. “In the last weekend before we submitted, there was an absolute whirlwind. There were four new game modes added, there were crazy changes to the tutorial…” explains Pastro. Among other changes were the additions of a glossary and in-app purchases to unlock game modes if users got stuck at a particular point. With the support of Ayopa’s Elliott Chin, who, according to Steve, made himself available virtually 24 hours a day, the game was sealed up and ready for launch on June 14th, 2012.
Once the game hit the iTunes App Store, it was quickly listed in the ’New & Noteworthy’ section, giving Steve the boost needed to recover from the marathon last minute additions to the game. However, the fact that the game was featured was unbeknownst to him at the time:
“I got about four texts from my friends saying ‘Light Byte’s on the front page of the App Store! Light Byte’s featured!’ and I thought to myself ‘No, they’re joking…’ Why would four people text that, though? So, I went to check and it’s been hard not to go look at the rankings every couple of hours.”
Further fueling Steve’s cause to celebrate were a series of great reviews: the game received Editor’s choice from 148Apps, 10/10 from App-Score, a great write-up from TUAW and consistently high scores from players in the iTunes App Store. “It’s been fun to watch the reviews come in,” says Steve.
Having taken a new job as a technical designer at Exploding Barrel Games (where Steve also did his MDM internship) with fellow MDM grads Ben Swee and Keith Alexander, Pastro is thankful for the incredible support he has had from his new co-workers:
“They’ve been very, very supportive. A lot of them have been sharing it on Facebook and Twitter and trying to help promote it. A lot of them have gotten some pretty high scores and they’re pretty good at it too! It’s fun to see them play…”
Steve is currently in talks with Ayopa about what should be contained in the game’s first updates and plans to dedicate every spare moment to continuous support and development of the game. If early results of the game’s success continue to hold true, Steve has some exciting times ahead of him.
View Ayopa's trailer for Light Byte