Interview: Makers of Canabalt Talk About Bringing Their Hit Flash Game to iPhone and iPod touch

Canabalt's detailed pixellated graphics (zoomed here) draw you into the game.

Canabalt's detailed pixellated graphics (zoomed here) draw you into the game.

With its simple tap-to-jump gameplay, high-speed scrolling and gritty dystopian atmospherics, Canabalt proved a hit Flash-based sensation when recently unleashed online. The game has now been released for iPhone and iPod touch—one of the first truly successful Flash-based games on the platform. We spoke to Adam Saltsman and Eric Johnson of Semi Secret Software about how the game came to be.

Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, annoying pigeons.

Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, annoying pigeons.


Cult of Mac: How would you describe Canabalt to people who’ve not heard of it?
Adam Saltsman: Canabalt is a one-button ‘daring escape’ platformer. You play as a little dude attempting to escape from a city under siege by forces unknown!

What were the origins of the game? Why did you decide to create it, and what were your influences?
Adam: Canabalt was created for the Experimental Gameplay Project, a cool monthly activity organized by some of the greatest minds in indie games. The idea is you have seven days to create a game around a specific theme; the month that I made Canabalt, the theme was ‘bare minimum’, which had a big impact on the game.

I love minimalism in games anyway, but this was a good excuse to push it further. Canabalt uses six shades of gray and one button and is still pretty exciting. A shotgun list of influences would include Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, District 9, District B13, Mirror’s Edge, Half-Life 2, and Flashback.

Was the iPod version an afterthought or always part of your plans?
Eric Johnson: The iPhone/iPod version of Canabalt was always in the back of Adam’s mind as he created the Flash version—hence the one button/one tap interface. When the Flash version became an overnight hit, it seemed a no-brainer to begin work on porting to the iPhone.

About to go splat from a great height.

About to go splat from a great height.


How did you find developing for iPod and the App Store process?
Eric: Developing for the iPhone/iPod was a pretty quick experience, largely due to the fact that we have been working on iPhone games for the last year. We’ve got a few other games in the pipeline right now. When we started working on Canabalt, we put those others temporarily on hold, and were able to leverage a lot of the source code that we had already written in Canabalt.

How has having the Flash version available online affected word-of-mouth and sales regarding the iPod release?
Eric: This seems to been huge in generated anticipation for the iPhone/iPod release. For example, Canabalt has already managed to crack the top 100 paid apps, whereas with our first title, Wurdle, this took several weeks. This may also be due to the fact that Canabalt is simply awesome.

What was the thinking behind the price-point? Similar games for iPod are often a buck, so why the more premium point for Canabalt?
Eric: This is something that we were a little nervous about. The app store unfortunately has the trend of games selling for just a buck. We feel that Canabalt is a good game, and that $2.99 is a good price regardless of the platform. We really hope that people will support us as independent developers so that we can continue to make awesome games.

What’s in store for Canabalt’s future?
Eric: We’re planning on at least one major update to add our user profile and high score system, as well as some other things I can’t mention yet. Beyond that, we will just listen to feedback and figure out what makes the most sense!

Canabalt is available for $2.99 on the App Store, and you can play the original online at canabalt.com.

  • HammyHavoc

    I absolutely love Canabalt! One of my favourite iOS applications.

About the author

Craig GrannellCraig Grannell is Cult of Mac's designer and an occasional contributor. He also runs iPhoneTiny.com, a Twitter-driven reviews site for iPhone apps and games. Follow Craig on Twitter @CraigGrannell and visit his website, Snub Communications.

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