Category Archives: Development

Good Blocks is now awaiting App Store approval

We’re excited to report that our latest game app, Good Blocks, is now waiting for approval. Once approved, we will have a confirmed launch date.

From the press release we are currently working on:

The core gameplay of the game app is simple: the players are presented with ‘blocks’ featuring self-talk statements such as “I am useless” – and have to respond as quickly as possible by throwing the ‘bad block’, therefore rejecting it. When given a positive statement, such as “I am reliable”, the players are expected to embrace it by pulling it towards themselves. As the game advances, more blocks appear simultaneously, mimicking a Tetris-like frenzy.

Good Blocks screenshot

More details soon!

Super Ninja Quest to feature music by Spaceman Fantastiques

Super Ninja Quest, the next instalment in the indie Super Ninja Therapy franchise, will feature music by the amazing Spaceman Fantastiques.

I am really happy to announce this piece of pixel news, as the music is, on top of being fantastique, truly accompanies the game’s style and rhythm.

I promise to do my best to do a little interview with Spaceman, so you can hear about his music making process and inspiration.

Here’s a little glimpse of the soundtrack:

Spaceman Fantastiques: Overlooked. Not Outshined.

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How Super Ninja Therapy was made (part 2)

Alright, so in part 1 of this post I described the early development of Super Ninja Therapy and how it all unraveled.

Now for the rest of it.

So one thing I forgot to mention in part 1 was how I discovered the manifesto of the Micropreneur. A few good things happened to me in my short career and two of the major ones are thanks to my friend Stephen from Melbourne. He introduced me to a big client when I did web development, making me suddenly learn the art of mastering high management meetings of an international client in a London HQ. The other thing is a link he posted on Facebook – the link to the manifesto above.

For those who don’t want to read it all, it basically says that you can be on your own and still achieve great things. Quoting from the text, it’s not about getting rich quick, not even getting rich at all. It’s about creating a sustainable way to live and work, relying on your own ability to work and create alone.

So far there’s nothing new, but the news for me personally was that it connected with a fear I always had, that one day, when I decide that I really want to do something substantial, I will have to start a firm, hire people, rent a place, etc. And then I will become a management slave, but that is the price I’d have to pay for making big things.

But according to the manifesto, this may not be always the case. You may not be able to invent, design and manufacture iPads on your own, but you can still create great software, games, literature, art, and many other beautiful things.

And, by doing this, you have to stop freelancing. Yep. Tell all your clients that you’re not available for contract work. So there is no flowing income. And now, starting from zero Armenian Zlepchkos per month you have to dig your way up with a teaspoon.

Ok, this is already getting long, therefore I’ll jump to the next assumption I had: that I will find it hard to work on my own and keep myself motivated.

Reality proved to be a total opposite. Apparently, when you’re finally and ultimately on your own, you may become focused, driven, sharp and creative. It may take a bit of time to get into focus, and find the right project to work on, that will keep you interested and so on, but all in all, the feeling is much better than people tend to think.

Doing everything on my own is very natural to me, and finally I didn’t have to feel bad about it, like I am not a team player and so on. To prove that I can be a huge collaborator, I found Ninja 9000, the pseudonym os Gisle Martens Meyer, a Norwegian musician I really liked, and licensed his music for my game. So there is one thing I didn’t do by myself, luckily, and now the game had fantastic music.

Please feel free to check out Gisle’s work on his various project websites.

At some point I had a game coming together. I spent time with friends and family (yes, you have to involve them in a lot of thoughts and decisions when going solo) analysing things I have learned along the way, insights and new ideas I had.

Then you start wondering when the game is going to be ready for launch. This sounds like a simple task, because there is a game design document and you just have to follow all the specs and add all the features and… what? I don’t have a game design document.

Listening to another mentor, I decided to follow the ‘game design log’ idea and instead of completing a GDD early on, just document my design decisions along the way. So this is more of an ongoing open world kind of saga, and there is no real way to tell when to stop.

Finally, for the task of deciding when the game is ready to launch I decided to simply follow my instincts. By this I mean, when I feel like my interest in the game, entusiasm is starting to fade, when my fears of failure become a bit too apparent, when I feel like pressure from outside is piling up… this may actually be the time to wrap up things. Sounds obvious, but it’s not. because when you do start to get the project to a conclusion, you need to be in great focus.

This is when it’s time to add a lot of little details, to add mute, pause buttons, to clean up things, to optimise code. To fix bugs. To add some fun little easter eggs. To create a trailer. To realise it may not be good enough and create another one.

So here we are, tonight the game is finally going to be hopefully downloaded by thousands, and it’s very exciting.

People say the most exciting part is seeing the high scores get added up on Game Center, so this is going to be fun… and then all the rants and 1 star reviews and annoying feature requests and bugs and a new version that fixes it all, almost.

Nobody promised this was going to be easy, right?

Thanks everyone.


How Super Ninja Therapy was made (part 1)

Right after I finished working on Tiny Fireman, my game for children, I knew the next game was going to be for grown ups. The reasons for this are few: First, there is a need to vary your work when working almost on your own. Second, promoting a game for kids is very different to promoting one for adults. You basically have no direct communication with your players.

A few years back, when I did mostly contract web work, I had a couple of weeks free, so I decided to take some time and create a game. The game was inspired by my animation short, Sketchbook Samurai, and it came up as a pretty solid Flash fighting game. On the first weekend after I uploaded it to my server, and submitted a link in a couple of online games websites, it attracted 695,000 hits. It was pretty phenomenal. Now, it can still be found years later pretty popular on free game websites. What I took from this experiment (remember that at the time, the App Store did not exist), was that there’s a huge demand for games, even made by one person.

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Sketchbook Samurai: The Game, 2003

In the following years I developed web applications, focusing on user experience and rich media applications. This later led me back to the games industry, when I started developing games for pretty big and well known clients such as Cartoon Network and AETV. When I worked on games for corporate clients, I enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with some very talented teams, creative individuals. Cross-atlantic Skype conversations about gameplay, design, features and potential pitfalls were exciting and I cherished the ability to share my expertise while learning from others.

However, I soon found out one pretty interesting truth: Apparently, when working on a project for a client, it doesn’t matter how many great ideas you have, because usually your clients will choose following the most banal and obvious path. Furthermore, the nature of such projects creates very high stress levels with eventually pretty average results. Yes, the games came out pretty nice, but playing through these often made me think, this could have gone much much further, with very little effort, if not much less effort.

Then one summer, as I was working on a pretty stressful project, based around a Solitaire game, my body started reacting pretty badly. While I was working on the game, and trying to fix a horrendous bug on which clicking on the card stacks sometimes produced awkward results breaking the game along the way, my fingers started protesting by bursting out some itchy and nasty looking blisters. The blisters didn’t disappear so quickly, and while I thought I was ‘taking it easy’ as I took some time off the bug fixing to watch a football game at the local Irish pub, my mind wasn’t really off the code, ever. Then one night I called the client and said I can’t finish the game.

Two weeks and 2 volumes of GRR Martin’s novels later, I managed to finish the game, with bandages on my fingers and some prescription drugs in my blood, and after finishing it and going live, I took a few weeks off work and  kept reading the rest of ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series. Slowly I became ispired again, but also weary that I will not be able to finish a stressful project again.

Then I started prototyping what was earlier known as Tracksuit Ninja, also code named Ninja Raider Absolute. Yes, when choosing a name eventually you leave behind all these other great ideas, but you have to keep looking ahead.

Ahead I charged, and started adding enemies, attacks, platforms and backgrounds. The game slowly became playable, and even more slowly enjoyable. I put a lot of effort on the virtual controls, as these often are the make or break of mobile platformers. Inspired by games such as Super Crate Box, and classics like Karateka, I took a game design path the tried to focus on skill, quick decision making and rigorous trial and re-trial.

Super Ninja Therapy prototype
Super Ninja Therapy at early stages

From the very first days it was clear that Super Ninja Therapy is going to be a pretty hard game, and while my friends protested and said it is way too hard to be satisfying, I kept balancing the game, but not by making it much easier, but by making the playing experience satisfying regardless of failure or success.

After a few weeks of work, I started wondering when the itchy blisters will come back. At what point, I thought, will the stress involved with a personal venture into commercial work show itself? But months passed, and I felt great. Inspired and creative, at the same time productive. Friends helped keep the balance of studio work and meetings, and my family supported by being there for me and also accepting that I won’t always have the time to fix a gourmet 3 course meal every day for lunch. I even managed to write a children’s book and get it selected by a publisher (coming early 2013 I hope).

Prototyping and early development are very crucial phases, but later come months and months of production, as well as the opportunity to introduce additional talents to the project, such as Norwegian musicians.

But more about these on part 2, to follow up in the next couple of days.

from character sheet

The SESM Method: Why we charge $2.99 for an incomplete game

In a word of indie mobile game development, we often struggle to get an early feel for a project we’re working on, to be able to tell if we can build upon the core idea and if it eventually grows wings and becomes something of its own. If we work on something for two long, we can end up missing the target completely, and the polish and finesse of a badly designed game become a beautifully crafted tombstone for a dead on arrival product.

iOS App Store gives us, however, a different option: we can develop a game, get it approved and available, then start growing a community of players and fans as we grow the game.

SESM Indie game development: typical lifespan

Phase 1 – Small community. Friends, family and acquaintances

Phase 2 – Early adopters, forum enthusiasts, journalists, reviewers, trendsetters

Phase 3 – Selective buyers, Niche fans

Phase 4 – Mainstream

So based on this list, it’s easy to figure out why, for example, phase 1 doesn’t need to be perfect: that’s because your friends and family will (hopefully) support and be positive regardless. From phase 1, however, we can learn important lessons about general first impressions, usability and general appeal (for example, your non-gamer friends may not have a lot of patience for games, if they do spend time playing it, it’s a good sign).

So that’s how it works: we create and prototype an idea, then add the majority of the core gameplay, without the full spectrum of secondary elements we so easily attach to game design without even thinking. For example, in Burning Things, I could easily get too early into building secondary mechanisms on top of the core gameplay, such as power-ups, bonuses, and the ultimate killer app – in app purchases.

However, I chose a different method. The emphasis was on getting the basic idea, in this case driving around a fire truck, splashing water and saving victims on the way, to work as simply as possible, clean it up a little bit, create graphics and animations, and get the game up and running.

This way, we could have an assessment whether the main idea works, while investing about 50% of the time generally required for a similar project to be completed.

Quickly enough after going live came the first update, which solved a couple of bugs that made it to the original release. And that was fun – I was always scared of updates, of waiting for review again, of being rejected – but the cool thing is that while you are waiting for approval, you can already work on the next version.

Version 1.2 can therefore become a more substantial update, with introduction of new gameplay elements. At this point the game is looking pretty solid, and I had some time to rework the opening screen. The stress in the week of the original release seems by now like a far and forgotten experience.

Slowly, players start responding and commenting on forums (e.g. TouchArcade’s), giving important feedback. One, for example, advised that the game isn’t suitable for kids younger than 5, while I claim the game is for ages 3-7. That may sound like painful criticism to some, but at this point there is no issue for our little game. I can listen to the criticism, revisit the game’s mechanisms and tweak things around. No reason to panic.

So how is the game going to be picked up for New and Noteworthy this way?

Thinking that my game will be featured by Apple before it reaches some level of maturity (at least phase 3) is just naive. I believe in second and third chances. I think there’s actually a better chance this way, and although it’s always easier to jump ship to a new project, once dealing with the urge to start something from scratch, it’s a lot of fun to grow with your game this way.





Tiny Fireman 1.3 update details

While our upcoming update for ‘Burning Things’, version 1.2, has mainly bug fixes and compatibility enhancements, the next version (1.3) will have a brand new gameplay mode.

The new mode will utilize Red Truck’s currently passive ladder, and allow players to rescue fire victims from the rooftops of burning buildings.

Players will have to tap or drag around the ladder to place it in the correct spot – to let Cat automatically advance to the next platform.