Some folks have recommended that I start a blog of some sort, so... here it is! Rather than talk about updates and Mika Mobile news, I figured I'd use this as a platform to blither about game design, the industry in general, and other stuff that may not be of much interest to most people. :)
I figured I'd start by talking a little bit about my game design philosophy. As you can probably tell from playing Mika Mobile games, animation is at the top of my priority list no matter the project. Animation had been my sole career focus up until a couple years ago - I was mentored during college by veteran animators at Pixar, and have worked as a character animator for several years on a handful of triple-A games since then. The animation industry has a very specific culture, and it has a way of beating some concepts into your brain through prolonged exposure. One of these core principles which translates not just to animation, but design in general, is the idea of appeal.
Appeal, from an animator's perspective, is a combination of posing, proportion, character design and motion that comes together and feels "right" somehow. If you've ever done figure drawing from a live model, you've probably heard the same idea - the goal isn't to just copy what you see, but to exaggerate/modify here and there to make an illustration that pleases the eye. What any given person finds pleasing may seem entirely subjective, but our brains are actually hard-wired to react positively or negatively to certain visual impulses, much the same way that we find certain audio patterns pleasing (or annoying). The more you draw, and the more you animate, the more you develop your eye for appeal.
So when it comes to games, I think the appeal of the characters from a purely visual standpoint is extremely important in order for the game to get its hooks into you. I spend a lot of energy when I work obsessing over the drawings of the characters, the thickness of their outlines, trying out player movement in a test environment, tweaking their movement speed and animation until the way they move around the screen just feels good. Little details such as the "bounce" the characters do in Battleheart when selected, or the way they "plop" themselves into place after moving to a designated spot may seem superficial, but it all helps to create an appealing visual experience which draws you in. If the game were comprised of different colored cubes that moved around the screen in a rigid, lifeless fashion, nobody would bother to play it, or get anywhere near as invested in their party even if the mechanics underneath were exactly the same.
This doesn't just apply to characters either, I think it extends into everything we interact with. What's so compelling about the iPhone anyway? The touch screen was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. The act of tapping, swiping, and pinching, and the surprising responsiveness of the OS was groundbreaking when it first made its appearance. It's the little details, like the way your pages of apps animate when you swipe from left to right - its not linear, it actually has some deceleration that smooths it out. When you rearranged icons, they don't just pop from place to place, they slide around smoothly. It's all in the interest of making the experience more tactile and appealing. Other popular iPhone games have capitalized on these same concepts - I think Flight Control owes much of its success to a charming art style, the satisfying audio-visual response you get when tapping a plane, and the snappy, accurate, but slightly-auto-smoothed line drawing that results from your finger movement. Cut the Rope is another one that combines appealing art, sparse but effective audio queues, and a very tactile, responsive input mechanic into a masterpiece that is compelling to the human brain on a very primitive level, yet still satisfies your higher brain functions with smart puzzle design.
So in short, it's easy to forget when you're making a game that you're not just building a set of rules, or a pile of content. You're crafting an experience, and most players aren't willing to give your game a chance unless it grabs them somehow. Animation happens to be my weapon of choice to achieve this. Once I've got the player hooked with some initial visual polish, they'll stay with me while I go elsewhere, into more complex rules, strategies and RPG mechanics.