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Firetail Games, the journey so far

Developing our first free to play mobile game and more or less all other stuff that happened besides it.

In this blogpost I will mainly go through how we ended up developing Trippy Viking, why it took so long for us to develop and what other things were happening in our company during the time of development. 

 

The Idea

It was a dark evening in fall 2014, when our composer did a song called Space Quest. It gave me this stupid idea of what if you combine flappy bird with a Space Shooter, and so I started making a prototype, which sometime later would be called Trippy Viking.

 

 

The core mechanics and the main idea of the game was: 

  • Hard gravity mechanics like in flappy bird
  • You can shoot the objects that you're not supposed to hit
  • You will collect items on your way which gives you projectiles
  • The more projectiles you are holding the heavier your character becomes

 

The prototype was done quite fast and our CFO created some nice pixel space ships to the game. For me it was too generic and boring. We needed something more interesting as the concept of the game. I was running through ideas of a space worm eating suns and shooting fireballs out of its mouth towards planets. 

I thought that this is still too boring and that I really like games where there is a lot of cool characters, and planets were kind of unlively and dull to my taste. After that i was thinking, what if there would be Vikings, in outer space, throwing massive hammers at aliens. That was the concept until the release, we still added rainbow vomit, some pink clouds a massive alien planet to top it up a notch. 

 

The struggle 

After this the game was on hold while I was doing my exchange in Belgium for some months and when I came back we decided, that let's develop 3 games for 3 months, 1 month at a time, to see if we can make something better than what we already had done by that point. 

The games in short: 

 

Slingshot Bushero(2D FPS)

A game about destroying flower pots of a grandma’s house with a slingshot. Which further developed into a game where you had to defend the grandma in the house from possessed Raccoons and garden gnomes, and every now and then Disco Death (A Grim Reaper with an afro) himself would come and you would have to fight him. The game was controlled by tilting the mobile device in your hand to aim and tapping the screen to shoot. 

In the original idea, you were supposed to just destroy the flower pots and avoid getting caught by the grandma, but I thought this is kind of sad, and also kind of boring. So what if the rascal would have come there to annoy the grandma, but then realizes the raccoons, gnomes and death himself is attacking the grandma’s house. At this point the rascal would become the hero and he is trying to save the grandma. The original mechanic of destroying the flower pots and annoying the grandma stayed there, but it was used to position the grandma, to get her away from the danger. 

 

Bouncy Maze 

Kind of like a sumo game, where you were standing in the middle of a field, blocks were coming that tried to push you to the top and the bottom + enemies started to spawn that also tried to push you. The game was also controlled by tilting the mobile device in your hand to move the character. The mechanic I tried to simulate was this old wooden labyrinth game we had when I was a child.  

We ditched these two concepts, just by the thought that making the controls work fluently in a way that was feasible for a common mobile gaming situation was really hard. It was interesting to design games that actually takes advantage of the tech, but also it was quite risky to lean on that solely. We realized that the control scheme really limits the angle you need to hold the device in order to play, and that people have different preferences how they play their mobile games. Also for example if you're sitting in a shaky bus, it can be quite hard to keep the experience pleasant and not feeling unfair. 

This was the point when we started to develop Trippy Viking as our only project and damn we were optimistic about the launch schedule. We were planning to launch the game in march 2016, because at that point I was naive as a project manager, thought making and publishing a game is only about pushing out a build from Unity3D and put it out on the market. For some reason doing some research never even popped to my head, so there we were not knowing what we would yet have to face. 

Also our main programmer somewhere around this time decided that he does not want to continue anymore, but we got a new very promising programmer to fill in the gap, and it didn't take long until he was already fully a part of the team. 

Later in February 2016 we founded the company and everyone was full of energy but also a bit scared of what was to come, all the responsibilities etc. At least I was. The further we realized how unaware of the situation we are, the more we started panicking and the faster we learned. There was a lot of stuff that had to be done and many frustrating moments, but we kept on pushing. 

 

First conference

It wasn't many weeks into founding the company when I got a hint about this convention in Helsinki for mobile games (White Nights Helsinki) and we had some funding so I was like, yeah let's do this. The conference was a really eye opening experience. First time I was showing our little game to experts in the industry, getting feedback, speaking to people from companies I knew, who were just normal people. It gave me a totally new picture of the whole industry I had been dreaming to work in for more or less my whole life. 

The biggest question that opened up was, how we will monetize the game. At this point our thought was that there will be ads, but we had no clue on how to implement them or how to place them. I was speaking with the people from Unity Ads and they gave us an advice that watching an ad for a chance of some random upgrade works very well. 

When I came back to the studio after this conference I had many of new ideas and things to try out with the game. Which didn't go quite as well as planned. 

 

Back to the studio

What we realized though was that our code base wasn't as modular/flexible as I had imagined. We didn't plan to develop the game for so long in the first place and add so many features. Also, thanks for this misleading picture in the company, we never went for refactoring the code base. As you can all imagine this just multiplied our problems every time we implemented something new to the game. 

We had no clue about analytics, about how to implement ads, how to put in iOS leader boards, achievements and all these other features, that are quite important in a mobile F2P title. So the problems just kept on coming.

Every week we used to implement some new features, our only programmer used more or less 2 weeks to fix bugs after. Then you can repeat this a couple of times and maybe you have a picture why the game was just released a year after we started full time development. 

 

The beginning of Final Tale

We had been jumping around with other ideas and we realized before Nordic Game, that we need something new to the table. We wanted to show others that we are not only working on Trippy Viking. That's when the idea of Bouncy Maze, jumped to the table again. 

I started prototyping new controls to the game, because I really liked the characters that had been created to the game. I tried the sumo game idea with new input methods and something racing like but eventually ended up blending the character ideas to a Top Down Zelda / Binding of Isaac kind of game. 

We didn't have anything more to show at Nordic game of this title, than a single picture in a power point and some specs of what we wanted to have in the game, which were something like:

 

  • Push your foes and survive the longest
  • Six unique characters with unique abilities
  • Gather soft currency to upgrade and customize your character’s skills and abilities
  • Procedurally generated stages
  • Epic boss battles

 

At this point the game was still heavily arcade inspired, but as we went deeper into development, we saw that the game started craving more elements that boosts the lifetime of the game. This I will open more in my Dev Blog of Final Tale. 

 

Nordic Game 2016 in Malmö

We went with our programmer and some other fellow game developers from the city of Joensuu, to check out what's going on in Nordic Game. Our aim was to find a publisher to Trippy Viking and we discussed with a handful of them. To summarize the feedback, we got:

 

  • Scope was too small(everything new the game has to offer could be finished in less than 1 minute by a skilled player)
  • Lack of In App Purchases
  • Not a single finger game preferably in portrait mode 

 

Overall the feedback was positive, but in the end, we did not get a publisher. And I don't know if this was in the end a bad or a good thing. Self-launching Trippy Viking was a highly valuable experience to our team and next time if we need to do it will not be such a painful process. Also, as I told you before the code base wasn't really flexible, so I don't know if we could have been able to make a development loop fast enough to cater the needs of the publisher.

But this was all a learning process, and even if Trippy Viking won't become a commercial success, it was really important to the team to get through. Also, it feels kind of great to finally publish your first game, after making your first prototype with Game Maker over 10 years ago. 

 

Soft Launch

At this point we already knew where we were with the project, but we still wanted to have a soft launch to get some more feedback and fix what we could fix, without having to put another month of development to the game. The country we decided to soft launch to was Finland, since our UA budget was limited or nonexistent, and we thought that accessing people in Finland will be easier than some foreign country. We were just slowly collecting feedback as people played the game and in the meantime developing Final Tale more or less full time. We wanted to get a pre-alpha demo of it to show at Pocket Gamer Helsinki, so Trippy Viking was secondary at this point. 

Basically, what we fixed at this point was just making the input setup clearer with more visually overlapping indicators. We also did some quality of life upgrades to the UI, for example: making the Fortune Wheel spin collider bigger. This was made because people weren't fully aware of what to press on the screen to spin the wheel. It's actually very interesting to see how the user behaves completely differently as you imagined they would interact with your game. Also, things that you thought would be obvious for any player to understand, is completely impossible for the average player to understand. 

 

Very Big Indie Pitch (Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki)

We were to supposed to join the competition with Final Tale, but could not get the game to a level of development where we could capture footage of the game properly until one day before the conference. The deadline for joining the competition was several days before the conference, so I thought let's go with Trippy Viking, to gain some experience of what is going on in the competition. 

Basically, the very big indie pitch is a competition where you pitch your game to several tables of judges many times in a row with in a very short time, then there will be 5 finalists and the audience votes for which game they like the most. Was a very different and more casual experience than what I'm used to when doing stuff related to pitching.

Eventually we did not get to the final, but now we know how the competition works and we will be much better prepared when we will attend the competition in PGC London in January with Final Tale. 

 

What we learned

8 months ago, when we started the company our picture of the industry was very different than what it is now, and I think we have grown as a team and as a company a lot during these 8 months, and if we keep going with this phase I think we can achieve great things in a couple of years. But the main things we learned throughout this in my opinion was probably:

 

  • Got used to setbacks
    • There was many
  • Learned to appreciate even the smallest accomplishments 
  • Learned to value the work you have done in other forms than what it brings you in profit
  • Self-publishing a game is just not getting a build out of Unity and pushing it to the app store
  • Users are highly dependent on Paid User Acquisition
  • Make your code base flexible in the beginning of development, even if it takes more time, you will most likely save time in the end, when it matters
  • Do QA as early as possible, we waited far too long before we got the game to the public

 

Some of these points are probably obvious to most of you, and I don't know if this piece will have any value to anyone of you. It's my first blog post, so be harsh if you want to but be aware that there I'm not an expert and still new to both running a business and writing blogs.

I was planning to start a dev blog of Final Tale here also, if people are interested in reading about how the project is progressing. 

If someone managed through this thank you and hope at least some parts of it was gave you some valuable insight.

-Murg Out

Links to Trippy Viking

Google Play

App Store (Huge build size, thanks to some unity issue)

Micro site

Global Launch Trailer:

Soundtrack:

 

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