The story of Divey Jones: Bitey Shark (and, more specifically, the entire line of Divey Jones games) stems from one of those circumstances where you really don’t know you’re making a game until it’s almost done. You think you’re just prototyping an idea, you think you’re just tinkering and learning new tools and skills…and suddenly you have a viable product. You look at your teammates and say, “Hey, with a little push, this could be a shippable game!” – Zygobot founders and developers Roy Papp and John Amos thought. John tells what happened next.
To tell the story of Divey Jones: Bitey Shark, we probably need to start back at the very beginning of our team’s formation. We were game industry veterans, had served as artists and managers at a variety of companies, had worked at EA together, and through a series of layoffs, moves, and other events found ourselves working together again at Full Sail University teaching in the Game Design Masters department. As with all creative types and/or instructors, we had side projects on which we were working. I was working very seriously on a tongue-in-cheek point-and-click adventure (prototyping via AfterEffects video), but Roy was pushing his education further by experimenting with Unity.
He had conceived of a character (who had no name then) who would operate in an almost “reverse-Doodlejump” capacity, a diver who was descending into the depths instead of bouncing in the sky. Remember, neither of us were engineers, so I was impressed with his tenacity at attempting to learn and overcome the technical hurdles of programming and scripting. He basically had a prototype complete, as well as a few assorted game mechanics that set it apart from what I considered to be an endless runner — in particular, an “air meter” that the player needed to keep filled by grabbing bubbles or Divey would run out of air and die. The twist was that if the player got TOO much air, Divey would become buoyant and start to float back up, which would many times prevent him from getting a collectible or being able to make it to the next air bubble.
Long story short, I soon bailed on my side project (or “shelved” it, to be more accurate) and began helping Roy design and create artwork for this new game, which would come to be known as Divey Jones: Ocean Odyssey. It was a great pairing as we meshed well creatively and trusted each other.
The project took many twists and turns (even going from being an endless runner to a level-based game with Divey getting a treasure at the end of each) and was often hindered by our “day jobs”, but we had assistance and support from some great and very positive designers, engineers, students, and artists. And luckily, being an indie developer, we had no investor or producer prodding us to finish — we had all the time in the world. We plowed through the business formation, Xcode snafus, Unity upgrades, and submission process…and learned A LOT, of course. Yet we never lost that desire to create an endless runner.
RIPTIDE and UNEXPECTED UNDERTOW
On the very day we submitted to Apple, one of our team members began treatments for cancer. Very surreal! That detail is germane to the story in that it brought our marketing drive and the commencement of a sequel to a screeching halt for several months. We threw a few fun advertisements and teases up on social media…but other than that, we couldn’t get very far with just one of us shouldering all of the work.
That downtime did, however, give us a chance to reflect on some things, to do a little research, to mentally plan a bit…and to find a way to integrate Full Sail interns into our development process.
BACK TO THE DIVING BOARD
As soon as we could, we jumped back into development of a sequel, which we already knew would be an endless runner (with the added functionality of being able to buy items from a virtual store to help you in your dives). We loved our characters and knew that we wanted to use them again as well as all-new characters and enemies to help grow the mythology and fill out the “world”. We began vigorously working on “Divey 2.0” (with the assistance of our enthusiastic interns) and even began to design games outside of the “diving” format that would utilize Divey and his friends in ways that Mario Kart and Mario Party featured the popular Nintendo cast.
NEW SCHOOL OF FISH
The interns brought an energy to the project(s) that really buoyed development. Fresh ideas and perspectives, new procedures and tools that we would normally not have had exposure to…all very valuable additions to production. The only drawback there was that, as students, they typically had full course-loads and other interests and side projects of their own. Their capacity was often as unpredictable as ours was because of our regular jobs.
USING THE DINGHY
And this new game turned out to be quite complex and robust. Everything from the amount of art necessary to the technical challenges seemed to amplify once we dove into development. Along the way, though, something happened: in our typical silly fashion, we decided to include a hidden easter-egg level that would spoof the Flappy Birds of the world, yet with our hero Divey (and his sister Jayne) traversing a never-ending gauntlet of ravenous sharks. It was funny to us, and we thought we could bolt it onto “Divey 2.0” with very little effort.
But the more we thought about it, the more we determined that this little one-off level could be a fun play-while-you-wait game on its own. With a little extra art, we could distribute additional content that would bridge the gap between our initial release and the new games we had in development. It would also do several other things for us: a) whereas Ocean Odyssey had been 99c per download (and our next game will include in-app purchases), Bitey Shark would be free — but would give the player the option to watch ads and earn a “shark cage” for protection — so that enabled us to experiment with a different monetization model; b) it allowed us to expand our portfolio and to lay the groundwork for a potential “franchise”; c) it would let us test some tech that we knew we would be using in “Divey 2.0”; and d) it would quickly give our interns a published product that they could use as resume material to aid them while they sought jobs.
PUMPING THE BILGE
Despite the fact that this small product would most certainly be a novelty game, as with any project you might really care about, it threatened to have its own share of bloat. We had to resist the siren’s call of adding more — because the more we wanted to add, the more the game just seemed to be turning into what was already designed as “Divey 2.0”. Even the more conservative on the team were suggesting that we “convert the characters to 3d” or “add more varieties of sharks” or “include a shark counter” or “randomize the environment at the start of every dive”. But we knew that that wasn’t this game. We knew that Bitey Shark could and would be fun with its colorful art and its simple core mechanic. And for simplicity’s sake, we even ditched the air meter (making the sharks the only real threats) and items associated with it, like the bubbles. We knew that we would save the deeper ideas for Divey’s next adventures.
Divey Jones: Bitey Shark hit the iOS and Android markets on May 2, 2015 and has seen some moderate success and acclaim by those who have played it and embraced it. We were very excited to have it out in the public — we immediately got some interesting feedback (good and bad), impressions of playing habits and dynamics, and ideas for upcoming releases. Though decidedly no Flappy Bird in terms of installs and financial return, we have felt that Bitey Shark was a success because it accomplished what we set out to do with it. (And we discovered a great audio guy while we were at it!)
X MARKS THE SPOT
We are a very small operation, as you might have been able to determine — we finance everything ourselves and hope, like everyone else who is in the business, that our efforts will reward us someday in some fashion. But while we really appreciate the idea of striking it big with our IP…we go through all of these perils and headaches and “what went wrongs” because we simply love doing it. We have been asked to speak at elementary schools, we’ve been told by kids that our games are a lot of fun…that makes it pretty worthwhile in our book. And just think: it all started kind of accidentally?!
As of September 30th, 2015, the team is furiously trying to submit their third game THIS WEEK with the fourth one right behind it. They’re even attending a game show in Orlando, FL on the weekend, called OrlandoiX. “We’ll be set up at a show table, ready to demonstrate all of our properties! People who visit us can even get a sneak peek at the game we’re about to submit!” – John shares.