I would like to make a POST-MORTEM about «NINDASH: Skull Valley», my first mobile game experience.
As I’m French, apologize my conventional English.
Adrien Bariau, young game-designer almost at the end of his contract, decided to show his student game prototype METEOR DASH to Tot, the ANKAMA’s Boss. He requests advices to Loïc Roger, an Ankama veteran who recently created a small game development cell in the studio and initiated some cool mobile games as KING TONGUE and DRAG’n’BOOM. Loïc told Adrien his prototype wasn’t very “sexy” and would needed some visual assets to take the boss fancy. He spoke about me, as I’m also a Ankama veteran, with more than 10 years of work as game artist/illustrator.
METEOR to NINJAS!!
METEOR DASH gameplay was pretty simple.
THE DEAL & THE TEAM
We had the green light and full liberty of our game content. The only constraint was to create the game with a team of 3 in only 3 months. The team was:
– Adrien Bariau: Game-design/Level-design
– Thomas Baron: Development
– Romain Pergod (me): Art direction
We also have the support of a few ANKAMA talents in various skills:
– Sylvain GUERRERO: FXs
– Grégory DESMURS: Sound-design
– Pierre-Jean BAUDOUIN: Music
– François HOUSSIN: Logo
– Davy GIRARD: Text
What NINDASH is ? NINDASH, it’s:
– 1 Demon door,
– 2 Ninjas heroes,
– 3 months of production,
– 6 BOSS & environments,
– 9 musics,
– 11 Skull enemies,
– 13 characters/creatures illustrations,
– 30+ characters skins,
– 60+ sounds,
– 90+ game levels,
– 100+ background assets,
– 270 gold shurikens to collect,
– 666666+ Downloads on iOS the first week,
CHERRY TREES, BONSAIS & GRAVES.
For my first mobile game experience, I wanted to create a world easily accessible to everybody!
It’s a good way to start: think about first colors, moods and shapes.
However it’s not magic and was still long to change all previous assets.
One of my main reference was Zelda Minish Cap, even if I never played the game.
NINJAS & SHURIKENS.
PILE OF BONES.
Buttons and Bamboo.
NINDASH: Skull Valley game economic model is very topical.
Nowadays on mobiles, most players DON’T want to pay a cent to play. It’s a (sad) fact.
The most common economic model is Free-to-play, with ads and/or in-app purchases. For Nindash, we choose to sell a few exclusive characters skins next to a not-too-agressive ads monetization.
• What went wrong:
It’s been more than 10 years I tried to create a small video game next to my work, it always failed for various reasons. NINDASH was published so it’s for me like a victory!!
Creating a video game is always about to solve what went wrong, it’s about constant adaptability.
Nothing were dramatically wrong!!
• What went right:
– Our vision of the game was good: we didn’t discard a lot of things of our work.
– Team alchemy. Each member of the team has his own specialty and we respected the part of everyone. However, we were very exigent and often discuted on some global aspects, like game-design or User experience.
• What could be better (or different):
3 months is a really short deadline for a video game project.
At the middle of the production, we decided to reduce spectre of our ambitions and we cutted a few things:
– We have gone from 7 environnments to 6… but 3×2 is still goood yeah!
– We stopped to work on the ENDLESS mode. It would be a great mode but it could be a full-blown apart game which needed so much time and settings to be really interesting and well-balanced. We chose to focus on the STORY mode.
– We reduced the number of Bosses from 6 to 3. To design properly a good BOSS, it needs at least two weeks of work: design, animations, integration, gameplay, patterns, test, debug, additional feedbacks, spells and FXs, test/debug, balance, test/debug, etc. The main regret was to give up the Final BOSS. It was literally impossible to spend time on it during the final rush. We preferred to polish the game and the current Bosses than to add a Final sucked Boss!
– One other (very) important thing we sacrified is : scenario. :'(
At the beginning, I had a nice idea about the narrative aspect of the game, I wanted to create a cinematic which explains the role of the main characters, using 5 illustrations. I drew the first, then a piece of the second. Then I didn’t found time to finish it, overworked by the requirements of the core-game. It wasn’t conceivable to spend 2 weeks (1/6 of the production) only on a skipable cinematic, which would have not even represented 30 seconds in the game. I also had cool ideas for the penultimate and final bosses. But as I said previously, we have to skip this part. « Nothing is lost but everything is transformed » : we finally used the illustration I done for the ending cinematic, which we integrated at the very last moment.
• What I didn’t expect:
– I animated all small skull units with Adobe Flash, exported in image sequences which were re-imported in Unity. A technical issue has arised when I drew the first Boss: his big size did not allow to use this technique (the generated spritesheet would have been so big). Finally, I designed a ‘puppet’ of the Boss. Then, I learnt in one day how to create efficient and dynamic animations directly on Unity.
– To spend a third of the production time only on the User Interface design and feedbacks.
– The most difficult part was to switch all the time between 16:9 (mobile) to 4:3 (iPad) format. It was problematic because we have to choose what format to prioritize, at the expense of the other. We choose the mobile format. It was particularly difficult for User Interface design. Sometimes it was well-polished on 16:9, sometimes better on 4:3. We have to do some compromises.
– About ‘FEEDBACKS‘, if you are working on a small video games with a small team, it’s certainly the word you are hearing the most. The Boss will attacks, feedback! The Boss is stunned, feedback! The skull died, feedback! Player position on the level, feedback! End of the level, feedback! Button was released, feedback! Player collected 10 souls, feedback! There are feedbacks everywhere!! The second most-used word is ‘REWARD‘. It’s a perfect Combo, reward (reward is a feedback :p)! The player won a new skin, reward! The player unlocked a new environment, reward! The player finished the level with 3 stars, reward!
– I spent one entire week to work only on the game icon and stores pictures!
• What went hot:
– We have integrated the final Splashscreen and the ending cinematic in the last two days.
– At the last moment, Thomas did a critical Unity update, inescapable to add Apple stickers app’. It wasn’t a good idea because all the game graphics crashed. Fortunately, he quickly found a solution.
– The iPhone X was released a few days before the soft-launch of our game. iPhone X is a very particular device with a more panoramic screen and a notch on the top of it. We had luck because one of our early tester has this new iPhone (thank you Letsuky). He told us that part of User Interface were cropped and the game didn’t work very well on this new device. It was problematic because we wanted to be highlighed by Apple. So Adrien had to rework and lengthen all 90 level backgrounds of the game at the very last moment!
If you don’t know what a soft launch is, check the following Wikipédia definition:
” A soft launch is a preview release of a product or service to a limited audience prior to the general public. Soft-launching a product is sometimes used to gather data or feedback regarding its acceptance in the marketplace, prior to making it widely available during an official release. […] ”
I know Apple really like Soft launch for games. It is really important for testing your game, even if there isn’t a lot of players.
10th November: Apple validation of the game.
28th November: Publication of the game (Belgique/Canada)
5th january 2018: Apple did request for App Store Promotional Artworks. Good sign for a highlight of our game?
It’s difficult to analyze our Soft Launch, it recovers rather from the marketting pole.
At my level, I noted that it was already difficult to target Belgian and Canadian audience.
Our newsletter reach was pretty low (11,48% opened, barely 1,56% clicked), facebook reach is worst and worst, etc. We had about 1500 players… It’s not really much!
• First patch:
The NINDASH team took 3 days for a first patch to increase the beginning of the game and to do a few bugfix.
9th january 2018: International release.
For the release, we had the support of several ANKAMA social networks, it was a good way to start, particularly on the French and Russian Apple Stores in which we quickly had a lot of players comments and good reviews, with a 5✩ Note!!
11th january: First Apple highlights!!!
NINJAS & ANDROID.
• GAMAKNA: SHURIK’EM UP! [FR/EN]
• GAMAKNA: NINDASH « Les météores, c’est nul ! » / « Meteors, that’s boring! »
• NINDASH on Touch Arcade / TIGSource / AFJV.
• NINDASH Game of the Week on PocketGamer.biz [twit]
• NINDASH Tips & Strategy Guide on Touch, Tap, Play
• NINDASH OpenClassrooms Devlog. [FR]