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Iconic actor Warwick Davis on his crossover role as app avatar

by Stephen Danos

Despite WiFi connectivity issues and a Skype credit drought, I had the great pleasure of talking with the ever-pleasant Warwick Davis.

For the uninitiated, Davis is a British actor who played memorable characters in the Harry Potter films, Star Wars, Willow, and stars in the tremendously successful HBO series Life’s Too Short. Warwick’s collaborative involvement with creator Matmi and producer Offficial in the development of PocketWarwick, a Tamagotchi-style simulation game, is the impetus for this interview.

What makes this game stand out from others? In it you get to take care of a digital version of Warwick. You assist him in finding acting gigs, dress him in costumes, winning awards, and buy luxurious items as he lands more roles.

Here is what Davis has to say about the game, his favorite apps to drink to, and his love of all things Apple.

APPOLICIOUS: Provide a little background about PocketWarwick’s origins. What led you to develop your own app?

WARWICK DAVIS: I’ve had a smartphone for a number of years now, and I’m a big fan of gadgets in general. I think I own every model of Mac Apple has ever made. I don’t seem to get rid of them and look after them meticulously.

These days, we live with our phones all the time. In my acting career, I find that developing my own projects is very fulfilling. I was interested in creating a game about the world of acting, while balancing life with work and the money coming in. That was kind of the birth of PocketWarwick.

APPO: How hands-on are/were you in the app development process?

WD: Very. I was able to push the folks at Matmi and Offficial, but they were working simultaneously. Originally I wanted a two-dimensional animated game. However, the developers wanted a two-dimensional face on a three-dimensional body. I learned that developing a game is very different than a movie... when you release a game it doesn’t have to be the end. You can add updates and features. I'll continue to give input on the range of outfits that can be purchased using the in-game currency system. Since the game exists in parallel with my real life, versions of costumes from upcoming roles of mine will show up in future updates.

In terms of what I wanted for the game, I knew the experience couldn’t be shallow. I personally wrote over 350 parody film titles and synopsis that exist inside the game. When the agent offers auditions, you can have a laugh. Some of them sound so interesting that I might end up making them! I can access the database of titles and have been thinking about Twitter competitions where fans make up their own funny titles that we can add to the game.

What amazes me about the process is the length of time it takes. Fifteen people work on the game full-time. I watch them work and think about how people moan about the price of games. 40 pounds for a PlayStation game or whatever, they don’t really know the effort that goes into this process.

APPO: What features were most important to you in PocketWarwick’s gameplay mechanics?

WD: I wanted the game to play on two levels. First, the game needed to be one that you can pick up and play. I was inspired by apps that simulate drinking a beer so you can have a laugh at the pub, but also wanted PocketWarwick to be more in-depth like a simulation game. It’s entirely possible to play the game all the way through from Z-list to A-list without spending any real money, but in-app purchases are there if you want to speed things up.

I wanted the whole game to be free, but have the options to buy coins and speed up the process. My friend's four-year-old was playing the game for an hour and a half, dressing little Warwick up and doing basic domestic tasks like showering. My son enjoys leveling up digital Warwick’s XP and improving his celebrity status. I wanted the game to appeal to a broad range of gamers, including casual folks.

APPO: How did you incorporate your current HBO show Life’s Too Short and your previous film roles into the game?

WD: Definitely Life’s Too Short’s sense of humor, in showing the funny side of being a little person in this world. My personality is in the game, including scenarios I find humorous. For example, when PocketWarwick discovers his autobiography, he says “Oh, this is a short story.” We can’t use exact film titles and characters due to copyright, but there are costume elements in the game that are close enough.

APPO: The game is very similar to old-school electronic games like Tamagotchi. What are some of the advantages in adopting this game format?

WD: I didn’t sit down to make this game in a formulaic way. We ended up realizing that in the end, there weren’t simple ingredients to make a game like that. I didn’t look at it as an advantage. If people like looking after something or somebody, it would appeal to them. The developers and I stumbled upon the current incarnation of PocketWarwick.

We had a physics professor working on the game to help with character movement. I think a free experience is important. You can choose how you want to play the game. If you do well as an actor, you can buy the big screen TV one day.

APPO: How does it feel knowing that very soon thousands of people will be able to interact with your game-based avatar on a daily basis?

WD: I hope it is thousands! It will be a weird thing. Usually people recognize me from movies and television, but now maybe people will say “I was just playing your game!”

I’ve been testing it over the last months, and it’s interesting how you play the game and switch it off. You can say “Let’s check how he’s doing.” Digital Warwick keeps living in there, and you don’t want him to get too hungry or deteriorate.

The right reaction to PocketWarick might be “this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen!” It’s quite surreal and I am excited to see people’s reactions to it. I love Apple and what they do, so it’s nice to have a close association with that, having an app launched in The App Store.

APPO: Are you at all worried that players will become so obsessed with making PocketWarwick’s career work that they’ll forget about their own?

WD: Play it sensibly! I wouldn't want anyone to lose their job, but that would be the biggest compliment if someone was that into the game! If someone says they lost their job, I would be both sad and quite excited.

APPO: What are your favorite mobile games, other than PocketWarwick?

WD: Reckless Racing and Reckless Getaway. I love games with intricate, detailed graphics. Pick up and play games especially. I used to play SpinBall 2 on the Amiga. It was my favorite game, and the newer version has the same classic sounds as the original.

It’s no secret that I am not a brilliant gamer. On the other hand, my daughter is a completionist when it comes to games. She needs to get three stars on every level of Angry Birds. When I played Angry Birds and Flight Control I got to the point where my brain almost blew a few fuses.

APPO: If your first foray into mobile is a success, do you see yourself developing more games and starting your own mobile gaming empire? What other types of games featuring...yourself...would you want to see in the App Stores?

WD: I have other ideas for games. For PocketWarwick, we took 70 photographs of my face and recorded a lot of audio. I would like to use performance capture in a game, just as I have in movies. My kids motivate me to continue developing games, because they love playing them. We’ll see where it goes.

APPO: In the Harry Potter universe, Professor Filius Flitwick is the Charms Master, which is like being an app developer … does he use an iPhone or Android device and why?

WD: Definitely iPhone. I think Apple would describe them as being magical.

Here is a trailer for PocketWarwick: