So, today we are launching Momonga Pinball Adventures! If you follow this blog you know that it has been a long ride home :) I thought it would be nice to tell you about the development process, from the humble beginnings to today’s launch.
In 2010, I never would have thought we would be making a pinball game. We were working hard on several projects – most of them not even games. The two projects that kept the company going were an urban development toolkit and an interior design toolkit. Both were done in Unity, and they were pretty cool and technically challenging – but very business-oriented, and nothing close to games.
(This is the type of project we were working on back then)
We did, however, start to make money. And this opened up some possibilities. We had been brooding on making our own games from the day we started Paladin in 2005, but nothing much came of it except some ideas and little prototypes.
(Vouwvriendjes, one of the prototypes we built in 2009)
When we launched EnerCities in 2010, it was the first big “game-like” project that we actually completed. It almost brought us to the ground financially, but we loved working on it.
When we got back on our feet in 2010, we did a little test case to see if we could make a mobile game and publish it. Jimmy Pataya was launched in April 2010, and again, it really felt like something we wanted to do more. But the game never really took off, and aside from some updates and prototypes for new games, we somehow failed to finish anything big.
One experiment of note was a city builder concept for Facebook. We built the prototype but soon realized that it was waaaay over our head – the project died soon after.
(Half a year later, the city builders on Facebook were making big bucks)
At the same time, we saw that mobile was on the rise. So we took another step back and started work on an old graduation project of mine, called Hill Riders. It was a side-scrolling race game, similar to many of the line rider type games out there. But that project soon died as well. We simply never got to the point where we took it seriously enough to actually finish it. A paid project would come along, and our prototypes would end up on the shelves, catching dust.
(Sketches for Hill Riders)
We were making money with work for hire projects, but I knew we needed to make the strategic shift to our own products to become the Paladin Studios we wanted to be. And this required more than a couple of enthusiastic attempts.
When I discussed this issue with my advisor, Wynand Bodewes, he suggested something that would change our entire approach to game development. The problem was that we needed full commitment, from the entire team, and for the long-term. And the only way to get that was to think long and hard about a game concept, and test the waters early. We came up with a staged selection process, where we would go from 100 ideas to 10 designs, then 3 prototypes and eventually one game.
We already had one prototype: Hill Riders. Coming up with the other two prototypes was fairly straightforward. We scheduled one week where anyone could add game ideas to a big pool, using a simple form on Google Docs. This generated a ton of ideas, and we voted on the coolest concepts. 10 games remained.
The next step would be to create a better picture of these games, because I needed to evaluate the business sense. Using an excel sheet with a lot of variables, I scored and ranked each game. I rated the games based on things like innovation, feasibility, competition, and the possibilities of spin-offs and other monetization options. Another thing I did was to create “fake” advertising, to see which games (and taglines) would sell best.
It was a close shot, but apart from Hill Riders, two games were at the top of our list. One of them was an “Infinite Pinball” game that our developer Yorick came up with, the other a multiplayer arena game that co-founder Dylan Nagel came up with. We built the prototypes and invited testers to come over to the office and play the 3 games. Something interesting happened: People would sit down with the pinball game, and entertain themselves for at least 45 minutes.
(Folks loved this!)
It turned out that the pinball game was the highest rated game of the day, and seeing the twinkle in the eyes of the players made me realize that we had something special here. I decided to go for it, and we kicked of the early phases of development. This was January 2011, and I fully expected the game to launch that year. :)
Most games start with a prototype, and Momonga is no different. We knew that the mechanics were pinball, and we wanted the theme to be something cute – in particular, “cute with eyes”. Here are the fluffy pinballs that we came up with at that time:
But, alas, the infinite pinball concept was soon killed. Here’s the thing: pinball is a really, really tough genre to do right. We had no clue what we were getting into. It’s not just the physics, it’s the level design which proved tricky. We felt we needed a firm grasp of the basic principles before we could even start thinking about a random level generator. So at one meeting in the sun, we decided that we would do fixed levels. At the time we thought that would make our lives easier – but it turned out to be just as hard. In effect, we changed the genre from a casual game to an action-adventure game, we simply didn’t realize it yet.
When we switched to levels, the door was open to add a storyline and improve the characters a lot. This is definitely a good thing, because it allows you to build on your IP for future games. We were well into 2011 by this time, but the game started taking shape. Here is a video of the prototype in action:
Finishing the Game
Early 2012, development started to accelerate a bit. We had a bit of spare time on our hands, and devoted all our extra time and energy into Momonga. The first levels were done, and at GDC 2012 we had a pretty good prototype to show potential publishers. I still wasn’t sure whether we should self-publish or partner up, and the conversations I had at GDC were great. IN the end we decided to do it ourselves, because that was what we set out to do. Not only did we say “no” to publishers (who would have invested real euros into the game) but we also said “no” to several other paid projects. In effect we were betting the farm on this one. And the reason is that we believed in the concept. We remembered the testing sessions, and new sessions confirmed that people really, really loved the game. So we pressed on, and when we felt we had enough levels, we announced it to the world.
(The preview trailer now has over 15,000 views on YouTube)
That was April 2012, and the press picked it up beyond all our expectations. Kotaku, Touch Arcade, Gamezebo – all the big guys were there, and what’s more, they praised the concept and visual style. That’s when we knew we were really on to something. But it also created a lot of expectations, and to meet those expectations is hard. Very hard. We raised the bar, but had to make several decisions that delayed production. Other projects required our attention – in the end, we had to pay the bills. Weeks became months. We fully expected the game to be out half-way 2012, but the submission of version 1.0 was early December 2012.
On New Year’s Eve, we got approval from Apple. That’s when we knew that the game was truly “done” – we could launch then and there if we wanted. An excellent way to end the year!
And that brings us to today. I have focused all my energy on the launch in the past weeks. And it was a lot more work than I expected – banners, screenshots, trailer, a game page update, and new Apple policies – it took many more hours than I thought it would. But that’s okay. We did it. We finished the game. And did it good. It’s something we’re proud of, and people enjoy playing it. That’s what we’re doing it for – to make you smile.
At this point, I have no clue whether we will ever break even with the project. But I do know that we have learned a lot of lessons.
So I will keep writing about these lessons, and keep you posted on our adventures. Expect more Momonga Mondays in the upcoming months.
Have fun! :)
PS: If you want to try the game, please download it in the App Store and give it an honest review. Thanks for supporting us! :)