These Former Big-Budget Shooter Devs are Overjoyed to Bring You the $.99 Twist Pilot

Steve Ellis is responsible for the beloved multiplayer aspect of Rare's classic Nintendo 64 shooter Goldeneye 007, and was a founder of Free Radical Design, the studio behind the TimeSplitters franchise. Martin Wakeley was a designer and producer at Rare, creating beloved titles like Blast Corps and Jet Force Gemini before joining Ellis at Free Radical. Lee Musgrave was the head of art at Rare, where he designed the look for Microsoft's Xbox Live Avatars.

These three men, with decades of work on big budget, triple-A console titles between them, just released a $.99 maze game called Twist Pilot on the iPhone, and they couldn't be happier.

Ellis, Wakeley and Musgrave are the managing director, technical director and art director of Crash Lab, a studio founded in 2011 to work on mobile games. Twist Pilot, released on iOS through a publishing agreement with the increasingly mobile-focused Zynga, is the first title from the new studio, though there are three more in development, aimed at release before the end of the year.

Short development cycles are one of the many reasons that Crash Lab doesn't regret turning away from the big budget console market.

"When you spend three years working on a game," Martin Wakeley told me during an interview prior to Twist Pilot's iOS debut, "At the end of development you have a three-year-old game."

Twist Pilot went into development early this year. The concept, as with many mobile titles, is rather simple: Pilot a rotating rod named Phil through a series of maze-like levels, using your doubtlessly exquisite sense of timing and manual dexterity to navigate tight passages and avoid enemies. Over the course of 72 levels the challenge ramps up until things get all spidery.

There was no pressure from a publisher, no demand that Crash Lab take or avoid risks to make the game appeal to a wide audience. They took an idea they liked and made a game they felt was fun. Though Zynga published the game on iTunes, they were strictly hands off, allowing Crash Lab alone to make the game they wanted to make.

"Zynga has been an ideal partner," said Wakely. "They've been happy leaving development decisions to us, and we've been happy leaving distribution decisions to them."

Wakely is optimistic about player reaction to Twist Pilot on iOS, thanks in no small part to the game's release earlier this month on Sony's new PlayStation Mobile service. PSM gave the team the ability to monitor player progress, see how far they were getting in the game, where they were getting stuck... it sounds as if Sony's service might make an excellent place to test a mobile game before going wide with it.

Twist Pilot has gone wide (then narrow, then wide, the narrow again) on iTunes, and it comes highly recommended.

The men once known for their proficiency at creating entertaining first-person shooters (and Haze), are glad to leave the shooter developer label behind. The three other titles in the works at Crash Labs are all much different from the company's initial offering, so they don't have to worry about being pegged as "those rotating rod guys" either.

Well, except by me.