Neopix has been in the digital services industry for over three years – building websites, mobile apps, desktop applications, interactive programs for airports and malls, and more. The company’s employees share a special camaraderie – hanging out over beers and even vacationing together. Employees are welcome to voice their opinions at all times, feedback is often sought from others, and everyone feels valued.
It seems like an ideal workplace. However, a little over a year ago the team at Neopix felt that they were missing something. That something was game development. They wasted no time in making their dream reality – beginning work on two different titles: Shards of Memories and They Mean Well. “This is something we wanted to do because we’re all passionate about games and really want to make our own product,” says Neopix game designer Milan Andrejevic.
Balancing Work and Work
For Neopix, one of the trickiest parts of creating their own games has been finding balance between the client work that pays the bills and the work that goes into their own game development.
Eventually, Neopix decided to make a clear division between those working on games and those who work with clients. While this helped streamline things at Neopix, resources were still spread thin under the gaming division because the company was working on two game titles at once.
Things got really crazy when early iterations of They Mean Well made a bigger impact than the studio expected. “We didn’t want to lose that momentum of positivity that sprung around They Mean Well,” Milan says, “but it did prolong development time for both games.”
They Mean Well
For all the recognition and support They Mean Well had received, the game has humble beginnings. The initial build was created in just two days at an April 2015 game jam. The title’s popularity may be due to several of the game’s unique concepts and features – most notably its playable characters and monetization model.
“They Mean Well is a game where you play as a planet trying to maintain the balance the human population on it and the current capacity to sustain that population,” explains Milan. This unique take on a game character is a direct result of the restrictions Neopix set for itself when deciding what to build at the game jam. In order to explore new ideas and seek a more creative theme, the team had agreed beforehand not to create any kind of human or anthropomorphic main character.
You start the game as planet Earth. Currently, the player’s main tool is a shield which you use to deflect comets – though you can also allow comets to hit you to reduce the human population. The humans advance through different stages of civilization and your ultimate goal is to allow the human race to grow enough to reach space colonization without them becoming so populous that they destroy you. Too few humans and advancement stops, too many and your shield (effectively also your health) deteriorates until it is gone.
There are also different kinds of comets that create different effects – some that are one-time effects, and some that last for a period of time. For instance, red comets cause war – which reduces the human population continuously for five seconds. Green comets are a gamble with a chance of either restoring your shields or causing disease and wiping out humans. Gold comets are a rare find that advance you a level.
If you play the game right and advance, more planets open up for human settlement. Each planet has its own personality and unique challenges as well. Earth, for instance, is a loving, motherly type – and the name of the game comes from one of her oft-repeated phrases about the humans who consume her resources and damage her in the process: “They mean well.” Mars, on the other hand, is a cold, hardened character who sees humans as invaders.
Neopix is currently in talks with several charity organizations that are combating the issues present in They Mean Well – such as pollution and deforestation – and the hope is that there will be an end-game option for players to donate money, with a portion going to Neopix and a portion going to charity. “That is basically our monetization model. We didn’t want to put in ads or that sort of thing. It’s a socially conscious game.”
Polishing the Product
After receiving an abundance of positive feedback and recognition – including being invited to Slush, a top-tier event for startups in Helsinki – Neopix decided to take They Mean Well to the next level. They completely redesigned the game graphically, rewrote the text and even added a voice actor.
However, since the game was based on a game jam entry, there were some unique challenges Neopix had to face as well. “When we set out to make the full game, we should have put up to scrutiny everything up to that point,” Milan says, “but it was easier to think of some things as complete.”
While the company made many sweeping changes, they left the core mechanics intact. “We shouldn’t have,” Milan explains. “There was room for improvement, and it took us longer than we care to admit to act upon it.”
After entering the game into the Indie Prize Awards competition and showcasing the game at Casual Connect Tel Aviv in October 2015, the team gathered important feedback from new users. They are currently revamping They Mean Well’s gameplay and mechanics and Milan says that players can expect the end result to play a bit differently than what they have seen and heard about so far (including the gameplay described above), though they are still working out the details.
While the transition into gaming has been bumpy, things are beginning to smooth out. The development of their first two titles has taken longer than expected, but the company is currently negotiating with publishers on the release of Shards of Memories – and the experience with They Mean Well, which they expect to release in December 2015 or January 2016, has them considering the future.
“Imagine how good it would be if there was a platform where any game could be utilized to provide aid to those who need it the most,” Milan says. “Imagine that anyone could make a game and connect it to this platform in order to help the charities that are part of it. This is what we want to make. This is our goal. Hopefully, gamers can become a great driving force in making positive changes in the world around us.”
Casey Rock is a staff writer for Gamesauce. Casey loves rock climbing, hiking and singing in indie rock band Open Door Policy. He also streams games under the moniker The Clumsy Gamer. You can catch him on twitter @caserocko and @realclumsygamer.