How a broken arm led to the Apple Design Award

Ján Ilavský is a Slovak indie developer based in a small village called Tlustice in the Czech Republic. Located halfway between Prague and Pilsen, you wouldn’t expect this place of 930 inhabitants to be a creative hub. But still, Ján just came back home with a developer’s “Stanley Cup”, an Apple Design Award for his fast-paced auto runner game called Chameleon Run.

Once Ján appeared on stage during the Award ceremony, the local community was amazed but not surprised. A multiple participant of Ludum Dare who doesn’t miss a single game-jam in the region and the most entertaining presenter at apps as well as at games competitions, confirmed that such success was only a matter of time. Find out in the interview why the most frequent response on Ján’s Facebook and Twitter was “You’ve deserved it!”.

Ján, how was your quick trip to San Francisco? You were there only 72 hours and rushed back home to your computer, right?

The trip was awesome! My wife came with me, so we did some sightseeing and generally took it as a nice and short holiday.

What’s your impression from the Awards? Did you meet some interesting people there?

I managed to meet many great people, for example, people from Square Enix Montréal, or Luke Whittaker from State of Play who won an ADA too. It was nice to see that everyone struggles with the same problems as I do when creating games.

Let’s start from the beginning. Chameleon Run is originally a game from Ludum Dare, tell us more about it.

In the summer of 2013, I broke my arm when driving a kickbike. Because I had started to be a big Ludum Dare fan back then. I decided to participate even though I had only one usable hand to do the actual development. Fortunately, the theme was “minimalism”, which fit my one hand handicap perfectly and this limitation led to the concept of Chameleon Run. Since then, I haven’t had much time to continue working on it but one of the rules of Ludum Dare is that you should make your source code available for download. Unfortunately, one guy just took it, changed a few things and then started selling it in the App Store and Google Play. Later, I found more games which were inspired greatly by my prototype. Then in October 2014, I decided to revive the game and started working on it.

Wow, so you’ve spent 1.5 years working on the title? Was it a full time commitment or did you keep contract work to finance the development?

It wasn’t a full time commitment because I have got some contract work arranged for next year already. I spent about 2 months working on it in 2014 and then had a break for several months. Full time development started in August 2015 and the game was 99.9% finished on December. 3 months before Chameleon Run’s release, I had already worked on new game ideas.

One thing which is pretty impressive about you is the skillset. You’re a great programmer, designer and musician who plays live with the band. Was there a single thing you’ve outsourced for the development or is it really 100% your work?

Actually the font used in the game is not my work 😉 Everything else is.

There were two main challenges during the development which went through many interactions: the character and color scheme. I remember playing the first prototype with a cube instead of the running character.

The character was a quite easy and fast decision. I knew that the “game with the cube” wouldn’t work for sure as good as a game with some kind of character. The only problem I had was how to create it. Because I’ve never done any rigging of 3D models before, I decided to go with separate geometry for all limbs, body and head. It might look like I was inspired by Rayman, but I just created what worked from a technical point of view.

The colors were more tricky. I’m colorblind, so I didn’t choose the best looking stuff most of the time. Fortunately, my wife helped me a lot and picked the yellow and pink for me. Then I just did several more small tweaks and the final color scheme was finished.

It was at Game Developers Sessions where we talked about your decision to go with the publisher for the first time. Why did you make this decision and what was your criteria when you looked for a partner?

After releasing my previous game (Perfect Paths), I wanted to take a break from all the marketing and PR. Since Chameleon Run was still a super small project, I didn’t expect it to be very successful, so I thought I had nothing to lose. Noodlecake Games were one of my favourite publishers a long time before I even contacted them. They’ve published many games that I enjoy and have a lot of premium stuff in their portfolio. Also, I got a recommendation from my friend Whitaker Trebella, the creator of Pivvot and Piloteer.

Looking back now, how much luck was involved in such a massive support by Apple which was crowned by the Design Award?

I have no idea. You should ask Apple but I doubt they play dice when they choose what to support. Anyway, Noodlecake had a great track record of previously featured games so getting on the radar with their support was definitely easier than if I would have tried on my own.

You’ve tweeted “It’s awesome that it’s Monday tomorrow. Can’t wait to go back to work!” only a few hours ago. So my last question is, what’s the next big thing in the life of @Split82?

This tweet was just about the pleasure of doing some work again after a week long break. I’m working on new features for Chameleon Run right now. The new project might start in few months so follow me for upcoming news!

Thanks for the interview Ján and good luck with your new projects!

All images are a copyright of Ján Ilavský

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