[Our own Simon Parkin caught up with ex-Lionhead staffer Tak Fung, founder of Supermono (EpicWin, MiniSquadron), to discuss the company's ongoing attempts at fulfilling its motto of "capturing the imagination" through games and apps.]

Media Molecule isn't the only successful studio to have been founded by ex-Lionhead staff.

Tak Fung, one-time coder on Black & White and Fable, also left the Molyneux camp to start up development on his own, forming Supermono with artist Dave Ferner, and launching full-time into iPhone development a couple of years ago.

Since then, Supermono has found widespread success, not only with more traditional games such as its shoot-'em-up MiniSquadron but also with creative, game-like software such as EpicWin, a to-do list app with an RPG-esque leveling system overlaid.

We caught up with Fung to find out how things are progressing, where things are headed for the two-man studio and what's next on the developer's own to-do list.

How did you get started as an independent developer? What did you do beforehand?

I became an independent developer in a very gradual fashion. I started off in the games industry working for Lionhead Studios just after it had released Black & White, when the studio was just 20-odd people. I was put on integrating physics into the secret Project Dimitri before eventually moving onto Graphics and Special FX coding on Fable and its sequel.

It was a great time professionally and personally, as I experienced working in an environment of a handful of people right up to about 200 people at the end of my six-year tenure. However, it was at this time that I felt I was ready and well-skilled enough to go ahead and try different things. There was talk around this time about more exciting things happening in film post-production, and being a big tinkler in graphics code, I took off to become a mercenary contract coder in London.

This worked out pretty well, and I ended up contracting at many famous visual effects and film studios, including Passion Pictures and United Visual Artists. Once I got the hang of looking for work by myself and getting "half my independence" back, I eventually decided to try and actually go ahead and make things by myself and bring on "full independence".

So eventually, I took a final contract job at Sony, and after that, hooked up with the iPhone and created MiniSquadron as a full independent developer! It was a long journey, and fairly gradual -- but importantly, each step was a small leap of faith that you have to take. I guess you get bolder with each leap (until you jump down the wrong hole).

Where are you based? Do you work primarily from home?

I am based in London, and I primarily work from home. My Art Director Dave Ferner (whom I met at UVA) works in North London and I'm in the West, so although we try to communicate by phone and Skype, there are times when I do a lot of cross-London trekking to get together.

I also work with a group of contractors all around the world, which is pretty cool. I am looking to expand and get "an office", whereby I actually mean "moving out of my parents' house and getting a shitty one-bed flat in London to live/work in" but it's a struggle since the whole property situation in London is a total mess.

Although it may sound like this is an unrelated thing, when you are an independent developer and you get to sample things like the labor market first-hand and living costs of your chosen locality -- everything matters. It's not a case of you work and "go home"; everything is one and the same, and your whole ethos of living changes (or at least it did for me).

How did the idea for EpicWin come about? What was the reception like?

EpicWin actually came about from my friend Rex (of Rexbox and LittleBigPlanet fame). He was looking into creating a fun to-do application for the iPhone that people like us would actually use. They all simply lacked the "silliness" and "fun" that would get our attention in the first place. You have to understand that my favorite to-do application up until this point in my life is basically paper and a pencil, so anything beyond that would be confusing for me!

Anyhow, EpicWin was designed with this simplicity in mind, and with loads of charm from Rex's illustrations, and it just so happened that there was all this "gamification" topic being bandied about (this was near when Jesse Schell gave his talk at DICE about gamification of everyday activities).

So when it was released, everyone pretty much got it straight away and the reception was pretty amazing, to be honest -- getting picked up in places like the New York Times, Lifehacker and eventually LA Times, too.

It's really exciting for me, because it is being used and played by people who are not particularly interested in games, and I find communicating and playing with people outside of my immediate interests always generates new ideas for me.

Is game creation your sole source of income? If so, how is that working out?

Game creation is indeed my sole source of income, and it's working out fine -- I am able to pay bills and rent (to my parents - yes I still pay rent! I just keep it in the family, as opposed to random landlords). I worked really hard to diversify MiniSquadron by putting it on Android, WP7 (coming soon), PSP (also coming soon) and also putting out more titles like Fox Vs. Duck and EpicWin quickly in order to give myself a buffer of sorts.

Since all my games are paid apps, I have to compete harder than free apps with DLC, although in the future my pricing strategy will likely change. I would probably say we are precariously balanced in keeping afloat, but that's the nature of running a small business in what is an intensively competitive industry.

What have been your most successful titles thus far?

Both MiniSquadron and EpicWin have been super successful, lots of downloads, nice reviews, awards and nominations! Fox Vs. Duck was probably a bit too simple, but that was my attempt at trying out a super-casual one-mechanic game, with a very unconventional art style (monochromatic and very design-centric). The intersection of those aesthetics with the casual audience market is probably not so great, though.

How have you been working to make your titles stand out? Where do people primarily come across them from?

Being a naturally graphics-inclined person along with Beardy Dave, we strive to make our games and apps stand out by being visually impressive. Dave in particular has a strong eye for design-centric visuals -- clean lines and economic use of forms and all that -- but I guess I have the more "bizarre" ideas.

Sometimes they come together and make our titles look great! Alongside this, I like to make sure our games are fun and "non-frustrating" to play -- which can be a challenge when the UI is touch-based. The real secret I have, though, is bigger than any specifics like graphics or gameplay and it's basically "capturing the imagination" (this is our company motto).

Can you capture the imagination of someone looking at or hearing about your idea for the first time? Will it fire up their minds and let them go on journeys of what may be possible? That is far more important to me and everything I do is to hopefully get that effect.

People come across my games mostly from the app store features and from web reviews. I'm still learning about advertising intelligently on a non-existent budget!

Which has been the most successful distribution channel for you thus far?

The App Store has been really successful, but that's also down to the fact that all my games are developed for the iOS platform as a primary platform.

MiniSquadron has also done well on Google's Android Marketplace, but that was helped by being a launch title, along with OpenFeint's crossplatform strategy. The recent improvements in the Marketplace have also been encouraging -- but they need to move faster.

Do you have any frustrations with the App Store as it currently stands? What could Apple do to improve the service for you?

It's not too bad at the moment -- I mean, for my purposes, it's very slick and has massive reach. There are the perennial problems with discovery, but it's not Apple's job to market my game for me (although they have been very good at featuring all my games - yay Apple!). I'm pretty happy with it, to be honest with you -- it's good enough that I don't think too much about it, and just get on with making games and ideas.

What are your influences?

My influences have changed as I get older -- which isn't unusual, I guess. Being born in Hong Kong and surrounded by a very Asian culture that involves giant Mechs and anime has undoubtedly had an effect on my tastes, especially in that I enjoy the full spectrum of Japanese animation and anything with giant transforming, combining robots in them.

This has grown to include all animation, but I find the weirder the better -- things like FLCL (Yoji Enokido), Dead Leaves (Production I.G) and Evangelion (Gainax). MiniSquadron's "busy cartoon graphics" was inspired in part by the "Pixel Art"/"8-bit Art" that a lot of web designers have been introducing to the world. Paul Robertson's stuff always makes me laugh!

Gameplay-specific influences vary; I generally enjoy quick arcade games like Street Fighter, but I play all sorts (including 5 a.m. binges on Civilization). I also find inspiration watching music videos - Michel Gondry, so-me are recent favorites (got to love those French designers!). The weirder the better really - I get influences from anything, in fact I think I sometimes go out of my way to try and be influenced by things outside of games on purpose.

Aside from visual things, I get influenced easily by world events. Security and privacy (with Wikileaks only being one facet of it that has been popular with the masses) is very exciting to me, and also in a very general sense, people and the everyday problems they face particularly in difficult countries (e.g. creating an interactive map to avoid police kettling -- stuff like that is cool).

What's your primary aim in your games?

The primary aim in my games is to convey my idea at the time to the players. This may be "fun" or "excitement", but it depends on the idea in the first place. Essentially with games I am trying to get other people to experience what I would enjoy - it's my medium to share my views through the power of interactive pixels, man!

Concretely with MiniSquadron I am trying to get people to enjoy a busy shoot-em-up and collect cute little planes, but sometimes I wish to make something that amuses people, maybe a little toy they can play around with - who knows. I certainly am not limiting Supermono into creating just games - one of my useful tricks I've devised for myself when I think of what to make is by trying to catch myself saying "Wouldn't it be cool if ..."and then using the "..." as a basis for an idea.

Obviously, I am severely constrained by the immediate problems of having to make things commercially viable so that puts a dampener on what I would *really* like to make, but I hope to make the journey so that one day I can be in a position where that won't be such a problem.

What's the biggest challenge currently facing you as an indie dev?

Money and visibility. As is the same with most small businesses - cash flow is very important. We live in a wonderful world of fiat currency, and I need it to survive. And because we do not live in a vacuum that means competing in a global pool of superbly talented people all vying to catch the eye of buyers.

Being indie and having low costs does give us some slack in staying afloat, but I am certainly not in this to simply "stay alive" - I am not brave enough to say that I will die for my art as it were. So in the end it's a fine balance between making what you want and making something that sells, in order to creep towards *another* level of independence - one where you can make whatever you like and not fear the consequences.

Where would you like to be in 12 months?

In 12 months I would like to have a couple more games out, and to complete rolling out the network backend I am developing in order to link all my games up into a giant SkyNet type system for online social/multiplayer goodness. I will call it "TakNet" and I hope it will become sentient by 2020. Investors take note - you really don't want to miss out on this bad boy...