52 Hertz Whale are 3 guys from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. They were once working at the same local IT company and decided to create an indie game together. Inspired by titles like Limbo, Badland and Ridiculous Fishing, these developers tried to create something unique and gorgeous, and they got it. JELLIES!, a color-matching arcade game. “It has a great simple design, unique entertaining gameplay and awesome little wicked jellies”, says Mikhail Shagin, the co-founder and developer in 52 Hertz Whale, as he shares the story of the game.
We had absolutely no experience in game development but it has always been our dream. We started designing our first projects and thinking about a team name. We then found a story about the 52-hertz whale. It’s the world’s loneliest whale “speaking” at the uncommon frequency of 52 Hz. We thought it’s a good name for our company because we had no game development community by our side, and also no knowledge about how it all works. So, we were something like this whale swimming alone.
The idea of JELLIES game came to us all of a sudden. We first started developing a series of mini-games about alphabet. We wanted to make an interactive scene with each letter, so that when a player completes it an appropriate word appears. It turned out to be harder and longer than expected. And we focused on the scene with jellyfish, looking like the “E” letter. Players should connect those of the same color with a rope. After completing this level the word “embrace” appeared. It became the title of our game in the beginning.
Instagram: Good for Initial Promotion for Indies
We started our social networking activity from regular posting to Instagram. It proved itself as the best and easiest way for new indie developers to find partners, community and first feedback. Just add #indiegame – and they’ll find you. There we met Ajay Chadha from Balloon27 who was later taking care for our promotion. We tried to concentrate on the game itself and wanted to collaborate with other people. So we contacted an independent recording & multimedia label Acid Pop who created the original soundtrack for our game. We started searching someone perfect for sound effects, and ran into Oscar Rydelius. He made awesome SFX and even found a voice actor for jellies — Johan Carlberg.
What Matters and What Doesn’t: The Eternal Beginner’s Problem
When working on a game for the first time, developers usually don’t understand what features really matter. We did the same thing, and implemented everything that seemed cool for us. It took a lot of time to complete tons of unimportant details – which seemed very important at that time. We were working on Easter eggs while none of the essentials were done, we designed tricky algorythms and remade everything many times. It’s fun to remember it now. We realized that it’s very important for indies to concentrate on so-called metagame and core gameplay. Details and some low-priority features should appear later, we think. This discovery of ours could help other people starting their first game to actually finish it.
JELLIES was featured by Apple in Best New Games, and we got a lot of downloads during the first week. It feels awesome to see how people like your creation. And then we became Apple’s Best of June, which was very pleasant again.
Later we were featured as the App of the Week, which gave us an amazing amount of new players, about 3.5 million downloads. It was exciting to read all comments and reviews, our email was totally “spammed”. One of the comments was like – “There is one thing that has been bugging me tho.. Something I need an answer to.. Is Bob Dexter Morgan?!?! Is he killing Jellies instead of people now?? I bet he is. He only killed people that hurt/killed other people. Jellyfish hurt other people so…”
Lesson: Stick To One Core Idea
We’ve learnt that it’s better to focus on the main game cycle. For a small team and a first project it’s best to stick to a very simple core game idea, because creation of a full-blown game is much more than just that of gameplay. Maintaining high quality also takes a lot of time, which is so precious for indie developers. The only way for a small studio to stand out in app stores is to put their heart and soul into the game.
JELLIES! can be downloaded in the AppStore. Meanwhile, the 52 Hertz Whale team is now working on a sequel coming in summer of 2015. You can track their updates on their Facebook and Twitter pages. With any suggestion of collaboration, investment opportunities or other questions, feel free to contact the team.