April 2, 2018

Efficient Development

I often get asked how I develop games so fast with high quality. Usually I shrug my shoulders and give an "I don't know" answer because it's half the truth, and I don't want to sound like a know-it-all fool. I've been pondering on it for a while, however. I think the actual answer is quite complicated and has to do with a combination of a variety of things that connect together. I'll try to put these thoughts in words.

To start out with a simple statement, I think effectiveness comes through experience and focus; being able to steer away from time-consuming decisions early on throughout a project and knowing how the different processes evolve from start to finish.

Keep in mind that I develop casual mobile games (mostly), so the following is written that in mind, and much of it I wouldn't suggest to a hardcore game developer.


This image is here just to break the wall of text.


Experience


Since I've shipped so many titles on mobile, I've gone through the process multiple times, having stumbled on the same repeating problems. With every published title I become more aware of the problems that await in every project. Because of that I prepare for them before-hand making them basically non-existent. Many of these headaches change over time due to software updates, new devices, limitations, restrictions and whatnot, but by publishing often I keep my self up-to-date with them.

The published projects build up a "framework" of solutions that I re-use in the next projects. This saves the most time I believe. There are so many aspects to a mobile game that need to handled in order for it to be considered a "full" game, e.g. in-app purchases, advertisements, social mechanics, UI, audio handling, cross promotion, input handling, economy and whatnot. For me this framework has built itself up over time. Each of the features take a lot of time to implement if done from scratch, but by using them in all my projects they get refined over time and take even less time in each new project I start. 

I recycle a lot of other, non-technical, material from game to another, too. If you look at any of Part Time Monkey's games you'll notice that especially the UI looks more or less the same in each, with just different colors and compositions. I try to recycle much of the ingame art too, if possible, but always in a fashion that it doesn't feel like the previous.

Having a technical background in game art for a number of years gives me the ability to make constant decisions that remove or minimize later development steps, for example performance-related issues. From the beginning of time I've approached game art in a more technical way rather than artistic. This means getting to know the software, its tools and shortcuts in an efficient manner, making it so that I don't have to learn new things when trying to achieve a certain look for a game.

I've always been very nitty about naming conventions, project hierarchies and making sure that a project never has any legacy or otherwise unneeded assets in it. As I've done this since always, it has become a subconscious way of being, and therefore I don't need to think about it anymore, it just happens. This goes deeper than just the project hierarchy; I group and name layers within PSD and 3D files, have solid naming conventions in scripts and even keep my folders and files in Windows tight and clean. Having everything organized helps to save time for always knowing where something is and how it has been created, in order modify something or create more similar material. I think that this paragraph becomes even more crucial in effectiveness when working with a team, and needs to be applied to the whole team.

I never start developing anything unless I have at least a hunch of how it needs to be executed and how it will look like. This way I avoid an uncertain timeline and can plan further without yet having everything in place. I say no to a lot of ideas of my own (and from others) just because I don't know how to do it easily. If there's something interesting to be achieved in an "unknown", I try to take baby steps towards it by using other people's expertise, or Google and Unity's asset store. Examples of this could be shader programming and advanced mathematics, or new software and/or plugins. I think it's much more valuable to execute fast with a good look 'n feel instead of waste time on forcefully trying to achieve something new and unique.

Through experience I know I lose motivation on long-lasting projects and tasks, and I've accepted it. This "self-awareness" has lead me to drop projects early if I feel it's gonna take more than 2 or 3 months to get it in a presentable, almost shippable, state.

I'm a workaholic but I don't often do long days. I'm a workaholic in the sense that not a minute goes by that I wouldn't think about something work-related. It makes relaxing harder but keeps my motivation straight.

I don't stress or worry at all. I used to stress a little, but over time I've realized that it doesn't help me at all. Now I get tingly sensations when I'm on a tight timeline in an excited way. I might get frustrated too, but it's mostly about me not being able to solve something that I know should be solvable within minutes if I just did something right. It's a great challenge. This may sound weird, but deep down I don't care if I don't hit some specific deadline, since in the end I know that I did my absolute best, and the deadline wasn't met because I made some humane error in estimations or predictions. I take full responsibility, but I use the failure to be better next time. Don't worry, be happy!

The next paragraph will sound a little vague, but it's something I often think about so I wanted to put it out there.

Many people will say that the last 5% of effort mean the most, but I think it can be easily misunderstood by using a lot of time on some certain - often non-important - features, therefore leading into a game where parts have been done to "the full 100%" and others with a 20%-attitude. I'm a strong believer that with casual games 80-90% is enough, as long as it's executed all-around the project. 















Art, Design & Audio


My projects often start based on other games, sometimes even straight up copying mechanics. But as the project evolves, it usually turns out to be something else than a rip-off. If it doesn't, and it feels too much like its predecessor, I'll just scratch it and start something new. However I think it's a good starting place to rip off something that works well, since someone else has done most of the design work already, and I can reap some of the benefits by making a new version of the same. In the end, everything is a remix anyway.

I'm not a good traditional artist but I've got an idea on what looks good. I've realized this early on, which has lead me to only approach simplistic art by using my technical knowledge. Most of the art in my games are just plenty of "disguised primitive shapes" put together with an idea of how the big picture should look like. This, again, enables me to create good looking stuff fast without having to spend time on concept art or even learning how to actually draw. I use a lot of references to skip the concepting phase, meaning mostly going to Google and search for "<desired thing> cartoon" and quickly glancing on how others have conceptualized the same thing.

For small mobile games I don't think audio even really needs to enter your thoughts, it just needs to happen. There are so many good-enough free or very cheap sources online that it makes no sense to create your own SFX or background music. It's fun, but not necessary in order to be efficient. I've done some audio myself, and had my friends do, but for the bigger picture I know it doesn't make sense. Sometimes, though ,it makes more sense to spend a little longer on something just to have fun, to keep one's motivation straight.



















Getting Downloads


A lot of people who I've discussed with about getting visibility on the mobile markets are strong believers that it's more or less lottery. They also claim that there are thousands of games that have earned visibility but just haven't. I don't agree on that at all. While it's true that there might be games that for example have a good mechanic, interesting meta-game or a unique idea, I claim that they all lack at least one or more key ingredients that don't make them worthy of publicity. A game doesn't earn its visibility for just one good thing while ignoring other aspects to it. It needs to have, more or less, "everything right." Most indie developers come from a programming background and may ignore for example art, first time user-experience or UX altogether over just good technical implementation or complex gameplay that they find fun.

This comes back to having everything 80-90% right rather than 20-100%. I strongly believe that the reason for my games' visibility comes through not ignoring any aspect of a game. I find it even more true for the fact that when I released my first game Monkeyrama, it didn't get the visibility I thought it had earned at the time. Now I understand that even though it had good visuals and core mechanic, it lacked the depth and consistency that my more successful titles have had.

Something else


I don't think I am a very good leader. I expect same efficiency, results and like-mindedness from others, and when I don't see it, I get frustrated and don't communicate my thoughts very well. I think the reason for this is that I spend so much time inside my own head consciously and subconsciously mixing everything I know, that it becomes something that I can't even verbally pronounce, it's just something that makes me efficient. 

But Part Time Monkey is already a two-person team, and I can always get better at teamwork by putting my mind to it, and employing the right type of people who can bear me being a little ... cranky at times.

Conclusion


By having worked as an artist, technical artist, core-designer, meta-designer, producer, audio dev, and a programmer, and having published close to 10 games on my own with and without publishers, I think my efficiency comes by being able to mash all the learnings and thoughts in my messy head, which leads into quick development by seeing with multiple eyes.

Or... I have no idea what I'm doing and I've just been insanely lucky. Who knows.

Games and Dev Times

Breakout Ninja, ~3 weeks
Monkeyrama, ~1.5 months
Space Bang, ~2.5 months
Silly Walks, ~4 months (together with Simo Kovanen and Asmo Jussila)
Space Frontier, ~1.5 months (published by Ketchapp, designed by Antti Ilvessuo)


March 30, 2018

SUMO League, i.e. Pong Remastered



Three weeks of development behind, and we're getting somewhere! 3 arenas are now available for testing, each with distinct visuals and slightly differing arena shapes!

Another new addition is the Power Toss! Players can now execute a devastating forward toss simply by catching the ball in the air and then using their normal toss.

We've been fine-tuning controls, testing new mechanics and creating new arenas. Rudimentary menus are in place too, so you can select levels etc. New input mechanics are now supported too, including keyboard (two-player capability with keyboard alone!) Also other controllers should be supported,
but not tested. XBox controllers work like a charm.



Squeeze in with your friend, because local multiplayer with a single keyboard is now supported! Pressing Esc while ingame lets you see the key bindings.

In the coming weeks we want to experiment with multiple playable characters each with different attributes. This should create interesting variation to the gameplay. We are also testing new arena styles.



Download the game on www.derpleague.com! You're welcome to come by our office in Helsinki to test it live, too, just drop us a message!

March 23, 2018

SUMO League (previously known as DERP League)



Our DERP League now changed to SUMO League!

DERP League didn't necessarily bring enough uniqueness to the table so we decided to do something else. We started to prototype a Sumo wrestling game this Monday, but ended up scratching that too. We quickly changed to a kind of volley ball soccer Windjammers type of thing yesterday, and here's the result...

It's surprisingly fun to play already! But you still need two XBox controllers and a friend to play with. Other input mechanics may come later.

So far it's been very eye-opening to develop on an entirely new platform with so much more possibilities in game mechanics than mobile. It's also proven not to be very easy to make synchronous versus game, since there's a lot to balance and take care of.

Two more weeks to go, which is plenty, especially now that we're probably not going to change everything anymore.

You're welcome to visit our office if you wanna try the game out.  😎

Or download it at www.derpleague.com

March 16, 2018

For the love of split-screen!

As big fans of Rocket League and split-screen gaming, we are disappointed for the lack of split-screen games out there. So we figured to make one for ourselves!



Introducing DERP League! It’s a free 1vs1 game for PC, requiring two XBox controllers. The core idea is pretty much the same as in Rocket League, but we plan to make the gameplay very different. In the first version, however, we wanted to get the basic controls right and the look ‘n feel OK, so it is currently only a simple version of Rocket League. But it’s still fun! We hope to bring quirky new features in the next build!












The plan is to take a one month break from our regular work of developing mobile games, and just have fun making a local multiplayer game for everyone to enjoy!

We started the project a week ago on 12th of March. We’re going to release a new version of the game every Friday until the 13th of April. Whatever state the game is in at that point, we will consider it as “final.”

Download the game at www.derpleague.com

We would very gladly hear feedback and suggestions at contact@parttimemonkey.com. Good crazy ideas will be implemented!

September 19, 2017

From Zero to 15M Downloads, an Indie Dev Journey

I've been an indie developer for two years now. My initial goal was to experiment, learn, and have fun as a mobile game developer, and for the lifetime of Part Time Monkey I've been able to do so. Here's a look on what has happened during that time, from oldest to newest.


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TIM - THE UNSATISFIED ARTIST
Goal: Experience the Process
Dev time: ~3 weeks
Downloads: ~50


At the very beginning I wanted to know what it takes to start a project from scratch and have it published on the App Store and Google Play. There was no expectation of reaching lots of downloads or revenue, so I just basically cloned Flappy Bird with a slightly different control mechanic.

I learnt a lot about programming, as I hadn't done any real game programming before, and got to familiarize myself with the platform portals and tools (Google Play, iTunes Connect and XCode). The project was a success for what I set out to do.


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MONKEYRAMA
Goal: Make a Premium Game
Dev time: ~1,5 months
Downloads: ~200K


The idea was basically to mimic Boom Blox and Angry Birds in 3D, and see how a premium game ($0.99) is received on the stores. Initially the game didn't get much featuring, to which I think the reason was that it didn't have much features overall, and no platform-specific features at all. As a premium game it didn't get many downloads, but it was very well received by the players who ended up buying it - with avg. rating of ~4.7/5. 

I eventually made the game free with one rewarded ad placement, and as such it's gotten ~10X downloads and revenue compared to it's premium life cycle. So it was pretty obvious that my games would be free with ads from that point on.

At that point I still didn't feel very confident as a programmer, so I couldn't implement many of the features I would've wanted to.


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Image result for party soccer part time monkey

PARTY SOCCER
Goal: Experiment with local multiplayer
Dev time: ~2 weeks
Downloads: ~5K


I had a bit of spare time while waiting for Monkeyrama to go through the review process, so I had a little bit of fun making a local multiplayer soccer game for just iPads. It didn't have any monetization in it, but helped me learn more about programming and to again experience the process of launching etc.



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PROTOTYPES
Goal: Find the next game
Dev time: ~1.5 months


After Monkeyrama's failure I started prototyping a bunch of different things. I had recently watched Star Wars, the one with the pod racing bit, which served as inspiration for the prototype. The meta-design on that became too much of a burden, and the level design required too much manual labor, so I ended up dropping the project.

I had also played Hill Climb Racing, and I figured I could basically do the same but in 3D, prettier, and with physics. It was fun, but as people tested the prototype, their initial comments were along the lines of "so this is just Hill Climb Racing?" which was enough of a hint for me to drop the project. Not cool to be a rip-off developer.



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SPACE BANG
Goal: Monetize through F2P
Dev time: ~2.5 months
Downloads: ~100K



Through the previous prototyping phase I ended up with a space shooter game. I figured to dip my fingers into "real F2P gaming" and for the first time implement IAPs, social features, multiple rewarded ads, infinite gameplay, upgrades and whatnot. The "test" here was basically to see if the market is so f*cked up that it's enough to make an OK game with lots of monetization possibilities to become rich. Thankfully, I found out that it's not enough.

The game was fairly well received and got a bit of featuring, but still wasn't enough to keep on updating forever and make a business around it.

To this date, though, Space Bang is the game with the highest LTV ($0.2) of all my games, so from user acquisition point of view this would've been the thing to keep on doing. However I didn't feel like I want to keep on doing games like that, as in very basic gameplay with no real excitement and the focus on milking the players.


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GTA EXPRESS
Goal: Make an endless playground-game
Dev time: ~1 months


I had played too much GTA 5. I figured I could do that for mobile, with cartoony graphics. I didn't have a clear design for it, so I just started making all kinds of features. In the prototype you could 
- do missions as a policeman, fire fighter, gangster, pizza delivery guy
- gamble at the casino
- buy and drive different kinds of vehicles
- race against AI
- visit the movie theater
- buy properties that generated money
- receive text messages and phone calls through your mini iPhone
- and whatnot

The player's goal was... uh. I don't know. It became a big blur of stuff, so I just dumped it.


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SUBCONTRACTING
Goal: Make some money
Time: ~4 months


I did a bunch of prototyping for other companies such as Ubisoft, Rovio and Armada. I got to learn a buttload about making games of different genres, while someone else was paying for it! I even got to do a 3-week gig in Ubisoft Romania, which was a great experience.

Ultimately I figured that as the prototyping was going so well, I could perhaps form a business around just that; prototyping for others. However, in the end I had to be true to myself and keep on fooling around on the indie frontier.


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KIDS DISCOVER DINOSAURS
Dev time: ~1.5 months
Downloads: ~100K
Goal: Experiment on kids' games


During my time at Romania I met a dude who really wanted to form a business around kids' games. He had a prototype and most of the art already done, but needed a developer to take it til the end. I figured why not try out what it'd be like to do games that are completely different from what I had gotten used to - on design, monetization and target audience. 

It was fun to do, and a key learning for me was that even though this kind of games rarely get featured, they could potentially be a real business. The conversion rate from a downloading user to a paying user is insanely high: it's getting downloaded from 50-100 times a day, but the one IAP that it has is being purchased 5-15 times a day. That is somewhere around 10% of downloaders also use money on it. Obviously it is the parents who buy it for their kids, I hope. The game was launched a year ago, but this phenomenon is still steadily happening.

So, I would imagine, that there would be a real business, quite "effortlessly", to make quality kids games, re-skin them with different themes, and ultimately generating a nice steady revenue stream that isn't affected by the same rise-and-fall syndrome than "normal casual games."


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BREAKOUT NINJA
Dev time: ~3 weeks
Downloads: ~2M
Goal: Minimalistic approach


I had played a lot of Ketchapp games, especially Ketchapp Summer Sports, and really got hooked on it. The control mechanic was fresh to me, so I wanted to try it in a different environment, and add vertical movement to it. 

I also wanted to approach a visual style that is fast to do and easily transformed into different themes. I ended up going with a silhouette approach where the silhouettes can be just re-colored through programming.

This game was my first mega-hit on my scale. 2M downloads and more than a year's worth of income. It was the first moment where I felt that I could do this full-time without the constant fear of soon having to think about getting a job.


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SPACE BANG (published by iDreamSky)
Goal: Publisher experience
Dev time: ~3 weeks
Downloads: ~100K


After Breakout Ninja I was approached by a lot of people, including publishers. One of them was iDreamSky, who had previously launched games such as Subway Surfers and Temple Run on the Chinese market. They wanted to publish my previous game Space Bang in China, which sounded good to me.

I ended up getting a lot of experience on what it's like working with a publisher, and implementing external SDKs. The game wasn't a huge success, so we didn't continue to update it, but nonetheless a great and eye-opening experience.


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SPACE FRONTIER (published by Ketchapp)
Goal: Publisher experience
Dev time: ~2 months
Downloads: ~11M


Through my subcontracting phase I got to know the founder of RedLynx, Antti Ilvessuo. RedLynx and Ketchapp were both acquired by Ubisoft. Antti is a big fan of Ketchapp's games, and so am I. Through the acquisition of Ubisoft-Ketchapp, Antti had an idea to publish a game through Ketchapp which was partly done within Ubisoft, and he was looking for a developer partner which ended up being me.

Antti was in charge of game design and getting the deal done, while I was in charge of the development. We had the game mostly done in the beginning of year, and ended up working on it on-off throughout the first half of year implementing SDKs and so on. Finally it was released in the beginning of August, and became an immediate hit.



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SILLY WALKS
Goal: Publish a "Real Game"
Dev time: ~4 months
Downloads: ~2M


I had been searching for a second Monkey Man to join me in my adventures. There was quite a bit of interest and I eventually started a project with Asmo Jussila from Ragemode Entertainment, a fellow Finnish indie developer who had released a bunch of games with minor success.

Silly Walks is based on one of Asmo's prototypes, from which the control mechanic is taken. We designed the world around it and figured out our roles; Asmo would work on game and level design, and I'd work on design and implementation. Together we came up with the visual look of the game, and ended up finding Simo Kovanen, a great artist to take it to the next level and to do all the assets that we'd need.

While this game was a big success on its launch week, and still is doing OK, it seems like it may be a better idea to focus on the next games instead of keep on doing infinite updates.

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Summa summarum

I set out to experiment many different things, and ended up going through many variations of the opportunities a game developer has. 

I learned that the "luck" behind becoming a successful mobile game developer isn't just about a single game's success on launch, but instead picking the right opportunities wherever you go, and keeping at it.

February 3, 2017

The Search for the Second Monkey Man

The initial search for the second Monkey Man has started. The role is rather vague on what I'm looking for so let's see where this post takes us, if anywhere.

(Click for Bigger)


















THE ROLE

To start out you need to be a great artist with a passion in game design and content creation. You don't necessarily need to have much experience on making games as long as you have the enthusiasm and eagerness to learn for it. I will teach and help you to become a solid pro in Unity and design/content creation in general. You will need to have 3D experience as Unity works in 3D environments, and that will be your main tool. When we make games together, I'll provide the tools for content creation and we'll further design and iterate them together.

You don't have to do any UI or programming if you don't want to, as I get the kicks out of those. However it's not a negative aspect if you have the desire for them too.

There will be miscellaneous tasks to share with me, too. Such as communicating with players, making videos, cleaning up player data, updating websites, QA, "marketing", etc. They don't take much time though, and are very adhoc usually.

To "market" this to you, this is not a normal job where you do shit and then get paid. Instead it's an opportunity to learn how games are really made inside out from an expert (yeah, I count myself as one!), and eventually become a partner in Part Time Monkey.

THE DEAL

The deal would start out as a freelance gig with something like 20€/h with a revenue share deal on all the games we collaborate on. We'll raise those figures as we go and the more certain we are that we're a match made in heaven. Eventually, ultimately, the goal is to make you a full-on partner in Part Time Monkey with shares, benefits and whatnot.

The hours will likely vary quite a lot, as there might be times that not much is going on and times that all hell is broken loose. Eventually I will include you in all my projects (other collabs and subcontracting gigs etc.) if you want.

At first we'll work at our homes, hopefully having face-to-face meetings every now and then. Most of the communication will happen through Skype or similar. Possibility to work together at my home studio also exists.

THE GAMES 

We will focus on creating small casual games with short development times (max 2mo per game). When something flies, we'll keep doing updates for it with dev times ~1-2 weeks. The games don't have a specific genre, so anything goes, really. The design should always start a portrait game with one-button mechanics, and elaborated later if seen fit.


Send all queries to contact@parttimemonkey.com or ask in the comment section.

February 2, 2017

Breakout Ninja, the Tail (+ v1.1 Update)

As promised, here's "the tail" of Breakout Ninja, i.e. "What happened to the revenue and downloads after the launch week." It's not very surprising though.

(click for bigger)








Between 5th and 7th the launch with the feature spots happened, so the revenue started streaming in, with the highest paying day being the launch week's Sunday.

Between 13th and 15th the feature spots updated again, and Ninja wasn't very well featured anymore, which led into the noticeable drop in revenue.

The latter part of the tail seems to be shrinking slowly day-by-day. I'm a little surprised it's still doing about $100-$200 a day, as I assumed it'd soon go down to a few bucks per day.

The download counts follows pretty much exactly the same curve, being now at a pretty constant 1K - 1.5K a day.

Total revenue now: $36K
Total downloads now: 865K


MONKEYRAMA RISES FROM THE DEAD

What I definitely was not expecting during this period was a feature spot for Monkeyrama in China. My guess it has nothing to do with Breakout Ninja, and everything to do with the fact that the "Year of the Monkey" in China is ending, as the feature spot was in a category called "Quit Monkeyin' Around." 

That spot ended up more than doubling the download amount of Monkeyrama, which is now 156K.

Monkeyrama has no IAPs and only one incentived ad-placement, which can only be used when failing a level. I find it quite interesting, because the spot also ended up more than quadrupling the revenue of Monkeyrama, being now at $11K + IAPs.


BREAKOUT NINJA UPDATE (v1.1)

After the holidays I had about 3 days to make the first update - if I wanted to stay in schedule. The last 3 days have been quiiiite a busy time, as I've clocked in about ~14-16h per day. But now it's done.

The update has pretty much a completely new design. It has 4 "Infinite" levels, 4 "Three-Star" levels and 12 "Hard" levels. It's also got iMessage Stickers, a new menu system and a bunch of improvements here and there. The IAP also now unlocks all the levels on top of removing the ads.

The update will be out next week's Thursday (9th of Feb).

Here's a sneak peek video, which only shows some parts of the "Three-Star" levels.