We started work on Blowfish Meets Meteor close to three years ago.
That's a lot of time for an iPhone game. A suicidal amount of time, in all likelihood. In hindsight, it feels like a ridiculously stupid move. So why did we do it?
Let's start with the stigma.
Mobile games have a reputation. They're cheaply made. They're crammed full of ads, or, worse, microtransactions. They're repetitive -- the same thirty seconds of content stretched across hundreds of thousands of identical endless runners. They constantly interrupt you, asking you to rate the game, tweet about it, or post your scores to your Facebook wall. They are creations unloved by their creators.
We wanted to help fix that.
When we started Blowfish Meets Meteor, it was all about subverting expectations. It's a mobile game -- but it has real production values, and it has a console-game-sized campaign! It's a block-breaker -- but it quickly dovetails into an insane platformer genre hybrid, where gigantic bosses and ridiculous setpieces are the norm. The title screen dumps you into a relatively simple block-breaking stage -- and then victory whisks you off to a sprawling world map, packed with unique locations and secrets! And all without a single advertisement or microtransaction. In its own weird way, Blowfish Meets Meteor would be a commentary on the entire mobile marketplace.
We started looking to the games we loved for inspiration. Block-breaker games like Breakout and Arkanoid, of course. And then -- Super Mario Bros. Donkey Kong Country. Even a little bit of Super Metroid crept in.
It turns out, the game we were envisioning basically was a console game. And it turns out those take a while to make.
A River In Egypt
Whenever talk of timelines or budgets came up, we dismissed it by using the first half of the equation: mobile game. Block-breaker. I made a prototype in a single afternoon. It had... a ball, a paddle, and some blocks. If I could do that in an afternoon, surely we could finish the rest of the game in a few months, at most!
So we started the game, and it was going fine. Maybe a bit more slowly than we had hoped -- it took a lot longer to program the protagonist as a fully-functioning sprite than it did to program it as a big rectangle, for instance -- but fine, nonetheless.
Then the first boss (of eight total) came around. Imagine: it's nighttime. You're in an earthen grotto; there's water up to the screen's midpoint, and you're surrounded by tropical plants. All is peaceful.
Suddenly, with a blood-curtling screech, the ceiling collapses in on itself and a gigantic battleship with the sentient head of a bird crashes through, landing atop the waves with a shockwave that shakes the entire room. The boss music kicks in. The boss screeches again and starts spewing fireballs.
Several tense minutes later, the fight is over. Victory music plays. All is calm once more.
Then the battleship's zombified corpse starts to fall. Tense music begins to play -- think Ridley's theme from the Metroid series. If you can't outrun this, you'll be squished to a pulp.
All told, this boss encounter and the subsequent escape sequences took us over a month to implement, not including the constant hours of testing and tweaking we did afterwards.
But don't worry, we thought. It's just a block-breaker. It'll be done before we know it.
That naivete carried us through the entire project. We went through the all the typical start-up phases: we ran out of money. We put the project on the back-burner to do contract jobs that would keep the lights on. I moved in with my dad temporarily to make ends meet. We borrowed money from friends and family alike. And, around every turn: "don't worry -- Blowfish Meets Meteor is almost done!" I think we sincerely believed it, every single step of the way.
In a lot of ways, it feels like the universe had hit the pause button on that entire period of my life. Life continued, to be sure, but at the end of the day, Blowfish was the endgame, always lurking just out of sight. It's a terrible and cliched description, but it's 100% true.
And, suddenly, that's over, and we have this big indie-console-game-in-a-mobile-game-wrapper on our hands. And the initial reviews are positive! It's a bizarre feeling -- humbling, exciting, and twinged with more than a little of what I can only imagine is pospartum depression.
Let's break this into some easily-digestible bullet points
What went wrong?
- I can't for the life of me believe that this game took us three years. In hindsight -- hindsight that I literally gained this very morning, on the release of the game -- we should have admitted years ago that the project was simply two huge for a two-man team and done something smaller. Now we have this big monstrosity of a game on our hands and no name recognition whatsoever as a developer. That's a terrifying thought. We should have acknowledged our scope creep years ago; from there, we should have created a polished but small project and released it to get our name out there.
- Platform identity crisis. I firmly believe that Blowfish Meets Meteor could have been a console game. Not that I don't love my iPhone -- it's a gorgeous piece of hardware, and it's with me everywhere I go! It's also an incredibly different market. The game has no ads and no in-app-purchases, and that's how we want it to stay. And, given that, selling it for a bottom-of-the-barrel price to an audience that largely doesn't appreciate the old-school console games that inspired it feels incredibly strange.
- Lack of a marketing push. We put three years and an incredible amount of money into this, and we promoted it... well, like a small Indie studio promoting its first title. Instead, we put all of our resources into polishing the game all the way up to the launch. Great for the end product, but probably bad for awareness.
What went right?
- I'm incredibly happy with the end product. At six worlds, sixty totally unique levels with their own mechanics, eight complete bosses, and a ton of hidden secrets, the game feels big enough and polished enough to be an indie console game.
- We didn't end up starving in a gutter. I don't know how. Moving back home was a strange hurdle, but it kept us functioning and it kept the project going. Pausing the project to do freelance work was a constant momentum-killer, but I'm grateful to have had the opportunity, and it got us where we needed to be.
At the end of it all, we're in uncharted new territory. We made a lot of mistakes, but we also made a game we're incredibly proud of. It's strange to think that our art no longer belongs to us; it's for everyone, now. I genuinely hope you enjoy it.