Humble beginnings
Published 5 years ago
A game startup experience
Our Experience
Before both Grid Shuffle and Power my Robot are looked at, let’s just quickly see how Warp Lemon came to be as a company. The founders and brothers, André and Marcelo always had a knack for games and technology since TK-83 and Atari. Each took a different education path, decades apart from one another as Marcelo graduated in Computer Sciences back in 1991 with Masters in Software Ergonomics and André went for Graphic Design in 2003 followed with Masters in Games Design.
Marcelo works for a local company, one of the biggest in the sector and in the state of Santa Catarina for over 20 years as Senior Programmer and André had experience in printing, video editing, UX/UI and software development. Between the two of them, there have always been the desire to get together and make games and upon the return of André to Brazil after 7 years living in London, Warp Lemon was founded.
First Experience - Grid Shuffle
The first project the was created had as the main goal to first go through the whole process of game creation, from idea to final product, learn Unity and also to align the experience of the founders. Because the focus was to learn, the decision to use a pre-existing game concept and improve upon was made. The game chosen was 15 square puzzle (also known as Gem Puzzle, Boss Puzzle, Game of Fifteen, Mystic Square and many others) and extra mechanics and embellishments were then added.
With this idea in hand, the design document was written, which was the starting point for the whole development. After that an online Kanban tool was used to transfer all these ideas in smaller workable stories. Although the GDD was the starting point, as development moved forward, ideas were refined, added or even removed inside Pivotal Tracker. This is an excellent tool to allow teams to work online and to keep the workflow organised. Even though the tool is better suited to software development per se, i.e. for the actual development, we used it to keep track of the design, bureaucracy and other internal chores.
Once an initial prototype of the game was ready, with placeholders and a very crude UI, testing began. And testing and testing and testing. Without question, testing is and it will always be the most important part of game development. An idea might work perfectly in your head, but as soon as the game is in someone else’s hand, it simply might not work and you need to go back to the drawing board. After all, you are making games for your players, not for yourself. So if an idea does not work and the players do not understand how to play your game, they will stop playing and move on to the next game.
One major issue during the development of the game was localisation. The biggest mistake made was to create the text inside the image of the buttons themselves rather than to create a dynamic text file where the language could be picked from based on the OS of the user. The problem with this approach is more work and bigger application size. Learning from mistakes, the second game already uses the second option as it is quicker to add another language and smaller application size.
Which leads to the chosen platforms - Android and iOS. What was learned is that for quick tests, using Android was way faster than iOS because all it required was activating the Developer Mode on the device and either copying the file to the the device and installing or simply building directly from Unity. Once the game was almost ready, we created the XCode project and made the tests and build for iOS. There were minor glitches but all in all, not much work was needed to be done to have it ready to run on an iPhone.
A Pinball-esque Game
After gathering the necessary experience from Grid Shuffle and receiving lots of positive feedback (from friends and family), the second game was the real deal. As a company, the main focus is to create something different and innovative, hence the choice to create a puzzle that uses physics and gyroscope called Power my Robot. The whole development process was very much alike to the first game - idea, GDD, Pivotal Tracker, development of the game with lots of testing (essential). As it happened with the first game, we got confirmation with this one: it will take longer than you thought. If you estimate it will take x amount of time, it probably will take 3 times longer. No questions asked. This tends to happen because the estimation is based on the GDD and as soon as detail are defined, all the plugins required are installed, all the incompatible APIs are met and some power failures later, the development cycle will certainly increase.
On a positive note, this second game was larger, which involved more features and experience. As mentioned earlier, localisation was done properly this time; taking the OS language from the device, Marcelo than created language files with tags and their corresponding translation (i.e. in Portuguese it was “Play=Jogar” and English was “Play=Play” and so on). We default it to English, so if the OS is in German, it will show English.
Another desired feature was In App Purchase and Social Media integration. Although Unity 5 is trialing with IAP now, our options were different back then. But luckily Soomla was available which allowed for their single plugin to have IAP and Social Media Integration for both Android and iOS. There was still the need to setup some things separately per platform but this definitely saved a lot of time.
In both Android and iOS, there were huge improvements for Beta Testing. Android create both closed and open Alpha and Beta which might need to minor improvements on organisation on the Developer Console. And iOS, which had an extremely closed version for beta tester (which it made it almost impossible to have beta testers during the development of Grid Shuffle) was made possible and much easier with the acquisition of TestFlight by Apple. Although many people that were interested in participating in the Beta Test did not receive the invitation for whatever reason. So thumbs up for both Google and Apple.
During the beta test phase, a very important tool that helped analyse the game, player behaviour and improve upon was Google Analytics (or your favourite analytics tool). This way, on a first analysis, the game flow was totally incorrect. The stages were way too difficult and the players were quitting earlier and this is not desireable. So having an game analytics helped smooth the flow and progression of the game, and this was confirmed via player feedback. So, if you do not have analytics in your game, please consider it.
And this leads to launching the game and marketing. As an indie developer, we were worried about telling people about our game and someone stealing the idea. Well, this was probably our biggest mistake. We missed feedback, the hype, previews and all that comes with it. Now, we are struggling with marketing, but it is moving forward. But marketing is a story for another time.