Ticklebot is a tiny independent game studio, located in Serbia. The idea for Ticklebot formed soon after the meeting of its only two members, Stefan and Milica, and came to life in the spring of 2012. The name “Ticklebot” is derived from the founder’s true nature, as Stefan is a real human resembling robot and Milica is sort of a tickling maniac. This article is on their soon-to-be-published game Super Sub Hero.
Super Sub Hero is a puzzle platformer with an unusual kind of mechanics, a wintery atmosphere and a laid-back feel to it. What we started with, six month before its release, was a funny little ballet dancer hopping around and doing silly jumps. We wanted to make a game that would make players smile and relax while using their brains as well.
Art imitates art
Our inspiration was originally a puzzle game Midas: The True Weight of Gold, by Wanderlands studio. We came across it and were instantly drawn by the simplistic concept, unique mechanics and the fact that it was based on a well-known myth. These are the main qualities that we wanted to show in our game. We try to expose ourselves to various forms of art looking for inspiration, so we came up with a main character that is a prince from the classical ballet piece Swan Lake. It was an attempt to combine the storytelling and unique mechanics with humor, giving the game little bit of charm, but keeping it simple.
Now that we had a puzzle game that was somewhat funny, it was still lacking something crucial to make it worth players’ attention. At this point, we started experimenting with mechanics and it resulted in the core of our latter version of the game. We knew it was something to hold on to when we realized how fun it was for us to play around with it and explore the possibilities. The fact that you could easily alter the structure of the level, and the way of solving it gave us a whole new perspective.
As excited as we were to discover numerous possibilities – and with many ideas in mind – we started to move further away from our original concept. Focusing on the puzzle part, and leaving out the humor, the story telling part happened spontaneously. However, we felt like we went too far into that direction and could not put all the pieces back together. It started to feel like we were getting lost in the mess of our own ideas, so we needed to stop for a moment and just think about which way do we want to go. It was clear to us that we wanted to keep the new mechanics, but we felt like the prince slash ballet dancer did not fit anymore. So we concentrated on our starting goals and worked from there. It was important for us to make a pleasant environment for the players, to make it simple and to retain the modest, not pretentious feel.
As we got deeper into developing it got more and more complex and we were making a lot effort to keep the creative work alive. We were both in our home cities and had lots of other things going on as well. Most of the time we weren’t in the same room – or even in the same city – but it was still working well. We were constantly trying to improve the game play, and changed design and art style many times. It was getting better and better, we felt we were nearly there. Somewhere around the last iteration of the character design, we started to feel drained. We gave 100% and it wasn’t enough, It was devastating. We tried really hard, not even noticing how exhausting it became. There was no creativity left, and we lost the energy to bounce back. It was time to make a break.
We put aside everything and left everything that reminded us of work. It was a time to go out, ride a bike, go hiking, have a picnic, have fun and just restart. We did that, trying not to think about, talk about, or look at Super Sub Hero. In our spare time we made one small game (Uniwords) because we were broke. It helped us cover some expenses. After about a month, it was finally time to get back and get working on Super Sub Hero. It was amazing how a break like that has helped us to recover. We were happy to go back to Super Sub Hero and worked harder than ever. It was the most productive period, we were having fun with it and we were finally seeing everything fall into place.
Understanding the need for creative time, for letting go when it’s not working, has been crucial for us. It is such an obvious thing that we never even gave it a thought, like it was going to happen by itself. But after learning to listen to ourselves we made a big progress. We learned to communicate more clearly and direct, to be open and give chances, to let go when we were in a dead end. Even though it has been a (relatively) short and not very demanding project, it has given us valuable experience. Our confidence has grown as well. Our goals seem clearer and we are in a better understanding with ourselves, as well as with one another.
There are a lot things that could have been done in a far better way. Every time I look at the game now that it’s been finished, I see many things that need to or could be improved. Every day you learn something you could implement in your work. And if you give yourself time to be playful and childish, to be free and careless, you can’t help but bring a part of that into what you do. Now that it is all done, and the game is released, we still need to wait and see how the players will like it. As for us, we are satisfied, and the reactions so far have been good, even promising. A better timing would have been a much bigger success, so that is another lesson learned. Overall, it has been a hard learning experience, but also the biggest inspiration for us to keep doing what we love. After releasing Super Sub Hero, we started working on a few concepts and are expecting to bring one of them to an end soon.
Super Sub Hero is set for an early 2013 release. Ticklebot will be sharing more in-depth insights on Super Sub Hero during their indie-postmortem talk during the Casual Connect Europe conference in Hamburg, Germany. To see what Stefan and Milica are doing in the mean time, have a look at their website.