Vail Valley locals develop mobile app Smash Boats |

Vail Valley locals develop mobile app Smash Boats

Play in the tub like a kid again

We all remember it — sitting in the bathtub, hair molded into a mohawk with soap, bubbles floating all around us, smashing our toys together in a make-believe sea battle. Soon, those memories can become real again thanks to Smash Boats, an app developed by Vail Valley locals Denise and Jeff Johnson, as well as Jeff’s colleagues Genco Serpen and Tommy Spampinato.

From left to right: Jeff Johnson, Genco Serpen and Denise Johnson.
Nate Day | Special to the Daily

Smash Boats, a mobile game, is exactly what it sounds like — a game in which you take control of a boat and smash into opponents.

The app was developed nearly three years ago as most apps are: during what’s called a “game jam;” simply put, a team brainstorm. In this particular team, Jeff and Serpen handled the development, Spampinato created the art and Denise handled the business side of things.

“Tommy is a bit crazier than us,” Jeff said. “He said ‘I remember I used to sit in the tub with legos and smash them together until they broke.”

So they ran with it.

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The team

Nearly three years ago, the Johnsons’ company, Smash House Games, convinced Serpen to visit the U.S. from Turkey to aid in the development. Jeff and Serpen had worked together at Midway Games where Jeff developed projects such as sequels in the “NBA Jam” franchise.

Serpen visited for a month before heading home, and since then, has worked every day with the team to create Smash Boats, despite the time difference.

Serpen wasn’t the only traveler, however. Jeff and Denise made the move to Vail specifically to work on the app.

“We came here just to finish,” Jeff said. “There’s too many distractions in San Diego.”

Moving to Vail also allowed the Johnsons to be closer to Spampinato, who not only provided the art for the game, but also the music. His band, Hard Proof, can be heard playing the background music.

The game

The idea of the game, as Jeff puts it, is to “keep bashing enemies and to move through the arenas.”

“Arenas” refer to a themed group of challenges, called pools, that a boat must smash its way through. Among the arenas in the game is a bathroom, dropping the player first in a bathtub. Once a particular number of enemies are defeated, the player will jump to other pools (think sinks, toilets and showers) until they’ve cleared the bathroom of invaders.

Each boat has a special ability such as a boxing glove that punches or invisibility.

In addition to the various arenas, there are “mayday” events — an opportunity to earn gems that can be used to purchase various boats. Similarly, the game will challenge players to complete challenges such as destroying a number of enemies within a specific time frame.

“We’ll have obstacles like octopuses with blades,” Denise said. “And poop, there’s poop.”

As gems and “booty” are earned, more boats can be purchased, each having a special ability. The first boat given to the player has a boost ability, while others can become invisible or shoot lasers.

“There’s gross elements and there’s funny elements,” said Jeff. “We try to keep it fun and amusing.”

The testing

As with any app development, there’s plenty of testing involved.

Next week will see the app’s soft launch in Turkey (a smaller, more controlled market tha the U.S.) to test the game’s analytics and in-app purchases, as well as to receive feedback. Any negative feedback they receive or bugs that appear will be quickly ironed out before a large-scale release roughly a month after the Turkey launch.

However, Smash House Games has already been hard at work garnering feedback.

“We’ve been asking our friends’ kids to play it all the time,” Denise said.

Additionally, the app won the Audience Choice Award at the Denver Indie Games Expo in 2018.

The game will see a soft launch in Turkey in order to see whether any bugs arise.

“Most people like the game a lot,” Serpen said. “Some have a hard time with the controls because we use real physics, real water physics.”

For those that can’t seem to get a grasp on the controls, the settings will allow for joystick and even tilt play.

The development

Smash Boats is an entirely new game, but other games have had a strong influence on it — games you’re likely familiar with. Hungry Shark and Angry Birds were among the games cited by Jeff, and Serpen said that for game controls, he looked at several different action-type games.

“We’re not a racing game, but we looked at lots of racing games for their controls,” Serpen said.

During the game, player collect gems and booty in order to obtain new boats.

With a small team and no knowledge of whether the app will reach Flappy Bird levels of success, Jeff said the project has “a budget of zero,” and that everything has to be done in-house

For instance, each of the team members provided voice-over work, bringing in a friend with a “nice microphone” to do the recording right at the Johnsons’ kitchen table. Denise’s sister, JC Cheng, even provided her voice to the project.

The future

There’s no hard-and-fast date for the app’s release in the U.S., but assuming the soft launch goes well, Smash Boats could hit the app store within the next month or so. That’s not stopping Jeff from thinking ahead, however.

“I think it will work really well on the Nintendo Switch,” Jeff said. “Once it drops on the app store, we want to immediately start selling it to Nintendo.”

Until then, Smash House Games will focus on creating the perfect game for people in the Vail Valley and beyond.

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