Pinokl Games is a Ukrainian game development studio with a team of 12 people who love games and would rather develop a game more like a service than a one-off product. Their game Mecha Titans is about tactical combats, a three-fighter team of robots. There are missions, a story, collecting, multiplayer to kill the bosses, and tournaments. “We’ve got high quality graphics, 70 robots with 4 active skills each, and over 200 types of weapons, an RPG system, characters development, skills learning and improving””, co-founders Igor Arterchuk and Oleksandr Potapenko explain, telling the creation story of Mecha Titans.
Prior to Mecha Titans we were mostly focused on games for Russian social networks. In the beginning there were four of us – a designer and two programmers, but within a year the number of those crazy ones rose up to 12. The two of us have been making games since our student years. Not all of them became hits, some didn’t even become games, but we get a lot of pleasure from the creative process itself, and each launch makes the result better.
We met Andriy Borysov two years ago. Having a lot of business experience, he helped us move from a hobby to a more serious process, and together with him we started building the company and team.
Robots are Our Cup of Tea
For a long time we’ve been excited about an idea of making a game about robots, spaceships and real tactical battles. But we understood this topic wasn’t popular enough. Meanwhile, we made a few simple games for kids. And then realized that social networks already have tons of like-minded people, and there’s enormous demand for tactical games. And then it started…
We’ve experimented with styles and shapes a lot. There were both cartoonish and vector robots… A few concepts later we ended up with a couple of funny iron chickens.
Photorealistic graphics, effects, explosions, shootings and reflections were enchanting, this was exactly what we were looking for! In four months the game was ready and launched in three social networks. Within a year 4 million people had played it, and this obviously made us happy.
Social projects gave us much more than money and audience. We’ve now got servers that went down a necessary number of times, and are not afraid of hundreds thousands of people a day anymore. A huge experience of working with community has been gained, as well as with clans development and cooperative battles. It’s so thrilling when 100 people call each other, set time and get together in a single battle! But we wanted to grow, and saw our development path in mobile games.
Not Really Into Casual
It was too risky to make robots as the first game, so we decided to go for something smaller. Oleksandr Ponomaryov set to working on a plain “arcanoid for Android”, artists Eugene Boichenko and Serhiy Polobyuk have also done a great job. The result turned out awesome – the game won a contest from one of the publishers, got launched on GooglePlay and Amazon. We became more confident, as well as encountered the majority of platform change problems. But we didn’t like working with casual games. The game gets launched – and there’s the end of development story. We prefer creating a product, living with our players providing and developing the service.
Hardcore on Mobile
Having attended some Russian game development conferences we fell under the impression that hardcore games are of no interest for mobile platform publishers. But the situation soon changed. Casual Connect in Hamburg had brightened our cold February of 2013. We knew the organizers through their events in Kyiv and went to Germany as volunteers. Our main purpose was to listen to the lectures, but we ended up with having no time for them between all the networking, new people, publishers and representatives of really interesting services and platforms. Though the videos posted online helped us to still hear the sessions.
The most unexpected discovery was meeting publishers of hardcore games for the iOS and Android markets. We didn’t suspect they exist, and, obviously, didn’t even dream of meeting them in person. We came back without a doubt about hardcore being alive, tactical fightings being needed, and free-to-play prospering. It was just the time for our game!
Dmytro Tkhoruk was the first one who settled his hands to programming the mobile version of Mecha Titans. He got one of the biggest responsibilities, that of designing the general architecture. Shortly, Oleksandr Ponomaryov joined to solve technology issues. Like, Unity’s particle system works excellent, but is for 3D, and for various reasons didn’t perfectly fit the 2D framework that we chose. That’s why we created our own, the one we used for all effects in the game – both in battles and interface designs. The game and the development process happened to be so addictive that the whole team eventually got involved.
Remaking the Game to Keep the Style
Tablets are not web – we thought we understood this and were able to evaluate the difficulties.We developed an animations parser, the battles, removed the “mouse over” effects – there’s no mouse on tablets, you can only tap or swipe. The game was ready, only minor adjustments were left. 2 weeks have passed since the beginning of the development process.
Having played our creation, we decided to add some fun and arcades. Controls were updated with gestures and flying objects, as well as speed-based mini games were added to the whole project… It took us a long time to implement all this. We ended up with something beautiful and dynamic, but totally out of place. “10 clicks a second” totally doesn’t correspond with a measured pace of a step-by-step battle. The decision to throw all this work away was hard but necessary. The game was almost ready in 2 months since the very beginning.
The strengths of our game are in tactics, strategy and fighters’ development. So we decided to unwrap the game in this direction and eventually to remake it totally. One fighter in the arena has been replaced with a team of three. Linear development of a fighter was changed for a system of collectibles. Three robots of your choice turn into a set of 30. This added variety to the team lineup and choice of battle type – providing space for tactics and combinations while creating a team. We’re starting to make the game again. 4 months have passed since the beginning.
Resting from Work at a Game Jam
Working on a single project for six months keeping the passion on the maximum is quite hard. Sometimes you should have fun and rest. We discovered a fast and reliable way – the Ludum Dare game jam. This was an opportunity to distract ourselves and express all the joy and excitement from our long-time working on the project. It resulted in a game about a cook slaughtering animals in a bloody basement. 🙂
We switched tasks: the programmer was working on sound, the producer was programming, and just the artists couldn’t help drawing. 48 work hours in 3 days, and the whole team is excited.
Mistakes and lessons? There are none. We did everything right but neither from the first try, nor from the second :). We inaccurately called the process “porting”, but in fact it was development of a completely new game as a spin-off from the social one. We couldn’t fully use the animations, twice had to draw the interfaces from scratch, and the gameplay has been changed a lot too.
A new platform and development framework are the new difficulties you can’t read or find out about. One should personally go through all the pitfalls of optimization, and this takes time.
The main point is to enjoy making games and prefer your favorite genres and settings. In this case any obstacles just make you more excited and spark the thrill. In the opposite situation, when the team doesn’t like the game they’re making, the slightest problem slows development down a lot. So there’s no good in “attempts” or “small projects” if you’re not really passionate about them.
About a year has passéd, as well as a few more concept changes, and – here they go with a totally new game that has been finally launched on iOS in December 2014.