Making video games is the culmination of a decades-long dream for Spokane Valley resident Jason Stock.
“There was this new mobile thing, that you could do it yourself,” Stock, 36, said last week from the offices of Firecracker Software, which he founded with friend Ben Ritter and others in 2011. “I’m like, maybe I could do this again. You know? Live that old college dream, now that I’m a little bit older.”
Firecracker has made its name in the mobile market selling applications that assist players with word and puzzle games. Their so-called “cheat app” for the wildly popular “Words with Friends” game, Word Breaker, has been rated more than 30,000 times on the Google Play store. Later this month, Stock and Ritter will unleash the full version of “Blast Trivia,” a completely original work that seeks to blend the best of the popular quiz game show Jeopardy! with the trivia app du jour, Trivia Crack. A bare bones version was released in the early days of the company in summer 2011.
“The cheat apps, they’re fun computer-science type projects,” said Ritter, who designed the game’s retro space-age look and sound. He said the experience of creating a whole new game is different, but not necessarily more rewarding than the praise they’ve received for their other apps.
A full version of Blast Trivia, with more 1,500 new questions, will release on the Google store Feb. 25. The game is free to download, with in-game currency used to unlock new modes and features available to buy with real-world dollars.
In the game’s original mode, the player is given a choice of categories similar to Jeopardy! with increasing levels of difficulty and point rewards. A question appears, with four possible choices available. The player has a limited amount of time, which can be increased with power-ups that match the game’s interstellar feel, to answer that question before “taking damage” to their spacecraft – which means losing points.
Unlike Trivia Crack, Blast Trivia has a single player mode with leaderboards to add to the multiplayer experience. After playing long enough, a user can also unlock “marathon mode” in which they must answer questions of increasing difficulty with a decreasing timer. Three wrong answers and it’s game over.
Ritter and Stock said during in-house beta tests at their offices near the Mirabeau Park Hotel and Convention Center that the marathon mode, new to the re-release of the game, had the best reception.
“One lady loved the marathon mode. She would not leave,” Stock said, laughing. “She was here for two-and-a-half hours. It was awesome.”
Rigorous testing has led to constant changes in the game, including switching its soundtrack, improving the display and offering more ways to play. The game was running smoothly last week on a Google-connected high definition television, played with a remote. It will also be available on smartphones and tablets.
Most of the changes were made during back-and-forth between Ritter, Stock and other members of Firecracker’s small crew. Ritter said one of the major draws of developing for mobile platforms, as opposed to the blockbuster consoles put out by Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, is that small, independent teams can strike gold with an innovative idea.
“The best thing phones have done, is they’ve made garage projects a thing again,” said Ritter.
But Stock worries that small market vibe may not be sticking around long, with mobile developers like Machine Zone paying $40 million for advertising, including a Super Bowl spot, pitching its free-to-play title, Game of War, starring supermodel Kate Upton.
“Now we’ve got to compete with those guys,” Stock said. “I hope the app dream isn’t going to slip away from small companies.”
Stock, who left a job at a software company to start his own gaming outfit on the second floor of a business park, said he enjoys the creative process of the small team, and hearing his six-year-old daughter boast about what her daddy does for a living. The namesake of Firecracker Software (“She’s my little firecracker,” Stock said, laughing) recently rode past her dad’s office on her way home from a birthday party.
“The parents were like, ‘What’s your daddy do?’” Stock said. “She said, ‘Oh, he plays games all day.’”
For Ritter and Stock, two gamers from the days of modems and DOS commands, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Ritter said the plans for the company are modest, but that’s how you’re successful in the cutthroat mobile game market with ties way beyond the small outfit in Spokane Valley.
“Do something within your scope, make sure that it’s good, and hopefully people like it,” he said.
What are they playing? The Tech Deck asked Firecracker's Jason Stock and Ben Ritter what games they're playing right now. Here are their answers.
Ritter: Believe it or not, we're working on League of Legends stuff right now.
Stock: I'm borderline addicted to League of Legends (laughs) ... I really enjoy it. I've got to uninstall it so I can get some work done.