So what is Looking For Group? If you’re even a bit of an RPG fan, you will know of this comic:
There is a place, set in a reality and time unlike our own where the eating of small children is not necessarily frowned upon; where beings of extraordinary power can destroy entire villages with only “because I could” as an excuse; where families are comically torn apart and sold into slavery in exchange for powerful weapons or a really nice hat; where prophecy, magic and adventure is as common place as setting fire to, then reanimating a chipmunk into a skeletal minion (it happens more than you’d think); and where an epic journey can begin by an accident of fate.
To get the funding together, we’re going to launch a Kickstarter campaign on June 20th. We’ll keep you posted when this all launches – and in the meantime just check our blog to see what it’s all about.
LFG: The Fork of Truth is coming out on PC and Mac, and you will be able to play with up to four people in co-op mode. The prototype we’re building is hilarious, and I hope you will love it as much as we do :)
These are super exciting times for us! And as we have done with Momonga, we will be blogging about the whole process as we go along. So stay tuned, and see you around!
As you probably know, we just released our new game Nikko RC Racer. It’s a sweet little off-road RC racing game, and we are proud of it – while it doesn’t pack all the bells and whistles of major racing titles, it has something that most iOS racers don’t have: multiplayer ghosting. We think it’s a blast! :)
However, much as we like it, in the past few days users have reported crashes on their devices. Even after intensive testing, we did not catch the crash bug. At Paladin we take quality very seriously, and I speak for the whole team when I say that we are truly sorry (and frankly, embarrassed) about the crashes.
We just released the update to fix this crash bug, so the problem should be solved now. However, I want to let you know what was going on, so this post is to give you a status update on the problem and solution. I will also provide some technical background information for your entertainment. ;)
First some statistics of the game launch:
The game has been downloaded over 330,000 times since the launch – and thousands of players are joining the game every day
We got 85 1-star reviews, most of which were related to crash issues
By comparison, we got 32 5-star reviews, and 16 in-between reviews
The most popular countries are China, Thailand, France, UK, and The Netherlands
Players have logged over 1.1M sessions, and the median session length is roughly 3 minutes
Those are some awesome stats, and we hope you guys are enjoying the game as much as we are! :)
Soon after release we got the first crash reports, and right away we started intensive testing on our side. The problem was that we had never seen the game crash during development. It turns out that in order for the crash to happen, you need to do a completely fresh install. For new users, that is always the case, but for us, we need to completely remove every trace of the app before we start the test (I’ll explain why in the next section).
(Our test setup the past days)
When we did the fresh-install-with-background-processes tests, these were the crash results:
iPhone 4: 0/32
iPhone 5: 0/10
iPhone 4S: 1/15 (jailbreak)
iPad 2 A: 3/25
iPad 2 B: 0/15
iPad Mini: 0/29
iPad 4: 0/10
iPod touch 4th gen: 10/10
Looking at this data, we concluded a couple of things:
iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPad Mini, and iPad 4 worked fine in all cases
When it’s a jailbreak device, the game is more likely to crash
iPad 2 crashes sometimes (roughly 1 out of 13 times)
iPod touch 4G always crashes (which was expected, as the device is unsupported)
Note that this is a *very* small slice of tests, and the problem could have occurred on some of the devices where we found no issues (such as iPhone 4). The good news is that the crashes occurred on a small set of devices, and only some of the time. We know that there have been iPhone 4 users with crash issues, so we suspect that the iPhone 4 might be more prone to crashes than the tests suggest.
The most notable crashable device is the iPad 2 A – a specific subset of the iPad 2. To make it crash we needed to run plenty of background processes, like Spotify and Skype. Otherwise it seemed to run fine most of the time, even with these processes running in the background. The iPad 2 B did not crash at all, which could be a coincidence, but it could also be because it was a different type of iPad 2.
One note on the iPod touch 4G. It is not supported, because it has too little memory for all the 3D models to load. Unfortunately we cannot restrict the iPod touch 4G users from downloading the game, because Apple does not provide a way to block this device without blocking other supported devices too. That said, with version 1.0.9 it crashed instantly, also when it loads the main menu. So we will provide users with a message that their device is not supported – which is less crappy than a hard crash.
What was going on?
After intensive monitoring, we found the cause of the issues.
The problems happen because of the way we initialized the app. For this we use a technique called mipmapping. It is a technique where a high-resolution texture is scaled into multiple resolutions. We use mipmapping to automatically scale the resolution of textures to the appropriate device resolution. This way we only have to create one build for the best possible device, in this case the iPad 4, and let mipmapping gradually scale down the textures. This works wonderfully – and the irony is that we use this technique to prevent memory issues and maintain quality.
This is a mipmapped image
That’s all nice and wonderful. So where dit it go wrong?
The application checks the resolution of the screen, and determines which quality setting suits the device best. So for iPad 4, it picks the highest resolution, and for iPhone 4 it picks a lower resolution. However, on the first startup, Unity has to load the first scene before it can determine the type of device. It happily loads the first scene at the highest quality – in our case the iPad retina display.
So those beautiful retina textures are loaded in memory, even on older devices. Most devices can (easily) handle it, but when there are many applications running in the background, the device hits the memory limit and it closes the app. Sometimes. And only on the first startup. But when it happens to you, the simple fact is that you won’t be able to start the game. That’s enough to get pissed off – and rightly so.
After the painstaking bug hunt, the solution was simple: We added a new startup scene that handles the initialization of the game. Only when that first scene is loaded, we move on to the main menu, and the textures are loaded in the right size. That first scene is as small as possible, and even though it’s loaded in the highest quality, older devices will be able to handle it.
We have submitted this update to Apple, and they were kind enough to provide an expedited review process and approve the app. I sincerely hope the crashes are history now.
Again, I apologize for the screwup. We have learned a lot of hard lessons from this, and it will not happen again. I hope you guys will be happily back to RC racing again. The good news is that we cut the loading times in half too, so go ahead and grab the update from the App Store and have a go! :)
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! :)
I know you have waited long for the release. The original announcement was in April 2012, and it took longer than we thought to get it done. We wanted to get it just right, and that takes time.
We finished the game last year and submitted it to Apple. They approved it on New Year’s Eve (what a way to party!) and we are going to launch it tomorrow. YES, tomorrow! :-)
So what’s next? Well, the official launch date is Thursday January 17th. That means that, right now, the game is available for download in New Zealand, Australia and Asia. After midnight your timezone, you can check the App Store and find it waiting for you :-)
Until then, here are some goodies to ease the waiting:
Happy apocalypse Holidays everyone! Boy, what a year. We moved offices, finished our first game, and we worked hard on amazing projects. I even turned 30. You only turn 30 once in your life. ;)
The absolute high point for me was last Monday. After nearly two years of development, and roughly 9 months delay, we finally – finally! – submitted Momonga Pinball Adventures to the App Store. The game is done. Our baby now patiently waits for someone from Apple to check it out and give it the green light.
The launch will be in January, so stay tuned – we will be giving away goodies and promo codes on Facebook, Twitter, the newsletter and of course this blog.
For Momonga, this is just the beginning. We have new levels in the making, and the game will be available on Android and other platforms later in 2013.
Pinball is not the only thing we’ve been working on. There are three more iOS releases scheduled early next year – a race game, a hidden object game and a 2D adventure game. We are proud of these projects, and I think you might like them too.
I want to take this moment to thank the incredible team, especially the folks who worked late nights to get things done. You know who you are. It is a pleasure to work with you, and I hope that 2013 will be even more awesome.
And thank you, dear reader – for you are the reason we’re doing this. I hope we put a smile on your face last year, and rest assured, we fully intend to do that again in 2013.