Specialbit Studio is a Ukrainian indie game development company founded in 2006 by three college friends – Max Ryadchik, Dmitriy Cheglakov and Konstantin Malakhov. Almost 10 years ago they were dreaming about a new world, new opportunities and cool games. Haunted Hotel was not only an afterwork project and the first game they made, but it also brought them to success and filled with optimism to leave their current jobs and start their own studio. Dmitriy shares the story of their totally different game Tap The Blocks that they showcased at Casual Connect Tel Aviv 2015.
We grew from the three of us to a small office of 15 in Lugansk, Eastern Ukraine. We focused on making HOPA games and did that pretty well till 2014, when the war broke out. We had to leave everything – our homes, our office, our relatives – all our life there in Lugansk, and start it over again in a new place. That year was very difficult for our studio to survive, because all its members became split around the world. We had to rearrange all working processes to a remote scheme and find new people, since some of the former employees could not work with us anymore.
Current HOPA projects were far from finish and their releases were delayed. But it was not just our crisis. The HOPA genre in its paid copies mode was dying. The adventure games industry was invaded by free-to-play titles. We needed some fresh idea.
Then Max Ryadchik with his wife Yulia, our game designer, made a simple prototype of a funny game – quite unusual for us – some combination of a clicker and a match-2. Very soon we all became addicted to that gameplay – it was so simple, yet funny and brand new to us. We called it Tap the Blocks.
Casual Connect Conference in Tel Aviv 2015 was near and we decided to bring the game there and started to work on it very fast. Konstantin Mashkarin, our artist, made a wonderful background for the game – Indian jungle with falling Mayan blocks. Everyone was so excited about it that new ideas were generated in dozens.
We wanted to make boosters to help players smash more blocks, different game modes – like underwater Atlantis and Egyptian pyramids. This all sounded great but we realized that we’ll never be ready with all this stuff by the time of the conference. We wanted to showcase a real working project. So most of these features were declined, but not forgotten – we are going to add them in the future game updates.
But of course some things remained in the game. The brightest bad guy in the game is a Shaman who is pulling the rope to bring more blocks on the scene and make the goal more difficult to achieve. The round lifetime is shown by the living beetle flying on the scene in the beginning, crawling during the round and flying away in the end.
Before Tap The Blocks all our games were made on our own game engine. It could do lots of things but was too volumetric for such a simple game as Tap The Blocks. And we decided to try something new. After some research I suggested using Unity. This game engine seemed to be just perfect for Tap the Blocks.
I showed the prototype to my friend Igor Kovrigin, a talented programmer and Unity fan. He liked the game a lot and agreed to assemble it in Unity. But Igor already had a job, so he was working on our project all weekends and evenings. It’s thanks to Igor that our Shaman began to jump, but what is even more important – Igor implemented music and sounds generated by the game engine – the drums beat was increasing from the beginning till the end of the round.
Smash the doubts
When time came Tap the Blocks was good enough to be shown at the conference. Max and I brought the game to Tel Aviv and the opening day was really scary for us. We all liked the game, but didn’t know if everyone else will like the game as much as we do. Fortunately our hopes dashed. Of course it wasn’t real launch, but live feedback encouraged us, made us believe that we are on the right track. It was so great to hear from one of the conference participants that he was playing our demo during his whole flight home.
Going away from paid games was necessary long ago, but we were afraid. Afraid to leave our comfort zone, afraid to change team goals and many other fears. Tap the Blocks helped us try something new. We are still afraid, but now we feel like moving ahead instead of drifting in the sea. We know there is much else to do: marketing, soft launch, bug fixes, updates – but there is no way back, and we won’t turn around.
The team has recently found some critical bugs and has been using Parse cloud services in the game. Parse is closing now, so they had to invest time in replacing it. Now they’re back to QA and hopefully will soft launch soon. Their plan is to soft launch on iOS first in New Zealand, Canada and Russia.