Exclusive InterviewsIndie

Planet of the Apps: Winning With a Circle Sweep

March 31, 2017 — by David Radd


Exclusive InterviewsIndie

Planet of the Apps: Winning With a Circle Sweep

March 31, 2017 — by David Radd

Circle Sweep is a mobile puzzle game from developer Planet of the Apps. While mobile puzzle games is a popular genre, the developer feels like they have an original spin that people will enjoy.

“Planet of the Apps is a small studio and we love doing games,” said Ben Engel-Kacen, Planet of the Apps Founder and CEO. “Our strength and passion had always been innovating new gameplay mechanics. We have released over 30 different games and with each we did our best to create an original gameplay mechanic which we enjoy playing ourselves.”

“At one point, we saw that the matching puzzle genre is a very popular one but with very little innovation. Everyone just keeps copying the same mechanics, and sometimes even art style, from the leading games, making all games feel the same,” added Ben. “We felt the time is right for a fresh game mechanic, and that if we’ll manage to hit the right one, we may even win a large percentage of the players.”

Circle Sweep is, of course, not the first game from Planet of the Apps. “We launched a POC (proof-of-concept) game called Enso in May 2016 which had the base core mechanic but in an endless game setting. The game performed well, both in players’ reviews and in metrics, and we knew we wanted to do something bigger with it than that basic POC game,” described Ben. “Also, and not less important, working on other games helped us optimize our development pipeline, especially since we put a lot of emphasis on experimenting with different variations of gameplay mechanics.”

Satisfying Pattern Recognition

One of the big twists for Circle Sweep is the addition of brain teasers with the color combinations. It’s designed to exploit the human brain’s natural pattern recognition abilities.

“You train your brain to recognize a pattern and then you just keep looking for it, and you are rewarded with a good feeling every time you are successful. All matching puzzle games are based on this, but we kept seeing a ‘dumbing it down’ trend in the games released over time,” said Ben. “The new games that came out are just trying to make it easier and easier, and we felt this crossed a line where the games became less interesting. With some of the modern popular matching games you can practically just touch random places on the screen and pass a level.

Circle Sweep screenshot

“We wanted to combine that satisfying pattern-recognizing gameplay with some thinking. Show some respect to our players and ourselves. You can still ‘get into the zone’ and be able to solve whole levels but you need to train your brain a bit differently than what current mind-numbing matching puzzle games are asking you to.”

Big Eyes, Small Circles

Circle Sweep has a particular aesthetic wherein it’s very colorful and has large-eyed characters. Planet of the Apps had some particular and very interesting reasoning for doing this.

“Since our game is based on a ring, we wanted all the visual style to be around circular elements. Big circle eyed creatures are ideal here. While playing with different styles we were considering different animals that could fit the theme and we found the Slow Loris to fit perfectly as a base for our characters. Plus it’s a mega cute animal,” laughs Ben.

Another particular element of the design is the power ups, which is a common component to mobile puzzle games. “We played around a lot with what types of actions fit to be power ups and what fits to be a special orb,” said Ben. “To clarify, power ups are special actions you get or buy and you can activate whenever you want to complete the level faster or when you don’t like any of the moves you can do on the board.”

Take Risks, Be Different

Ben thinks that indie developers should find their own strengths and focus on them. Whether that’s an art style, visual effects, genre or humor, that’s the area to focus on to build a fan base.

“Small indies can’t beat bigger studios on resources so don’t try to clone stuff better,” noted Ben. “Don’t make ‘me-too’ games. Take risks and dare to be different. If everything works out well you’ll be unique and rise above the me-too noise. Even if the game fails, at least you could show something innovative you can be proud of in your portfolio rather than another X game.”

“What also worked for us is doing a lot of POCs and experimenting with different gameplay mechanics,” Ben continued. “We validate them first with as many players as we can and we launch the more successful ones fast. This allowed us to build a portfolio of over 30 games very fast and quickly see what mechanics work and what don’t. Then you can take the more successful ones and expand them into bigger games.”

For Planet of the Apps, focusing on mobile games has worked for them, though they play all available platforms. “The main reason is that mobile games are still the fastest to create on and bring to global players. This well-established, easy pipeline makes it faster for us to iterate and improve the game based on players’ reactions and metrics,” detailed Ben. “Having said that, as part of our change in strategy and growth we believe that Circle Sweep can be a great fit for Facebook. It’s a fitting genre with unique gameplay. We want to make it accessible to as many platforms possible. We are going to make it available soon as we are getting great feedback from our partners and users.”

“We want to focus on only what we do best – bringing our own ideas and innovation to the games market,” Ben said.

Testing in Sprints

Testing is an important component for every game’s development, and for Planet of the Apps it has been an evolving process. “For a long time, we worked without a QA team, each developer was responsible for the testing of the features they had developed and the whole was always at their disposal to help,” said Ben. “It disciplined our developers to make less mistakes and eventually made them better for it.

“Today we are working in sprints, and do full internal and external QA at the end of each sprint. After each build is released we are doing the best in our power to introduce the game to as many new users possible, to get feedback and tips along the way.”

One of the most notable moments came when a developer took a prototype version of Circle Sweep back home. “When his girlfriend asked him to show her the game he worked on, she played it around 40 minutes,” noted Ben. “The same thing happened on the following day. At that very early stage of the development we understood that we are onto something special. Simple as that.”

Surrounded By Inspiration

When it comes to deciding what to do, Planet of the Apps has as many brainstorming sessions as possible. While the whole team deals with technical aspects, monetization and game design together, one of the producer’s responsibilities is to prioritize all the tasks.

“We all sit physically together,” said Ben. “While virtual can work well for other teams in different stages of operations, we found that the core of our work – which is to experiment with new gameplay mechanics is best done when the team sits physically together.”

When asked about inspiration for Circle Sweep, Ben said, “Alex, the lead game designer, had his ‘ah-ha’ moment when he looked up and saw his workmate, Dotan, working on a new game submission and arranging screenshots in a particular order. Dotan wanted to rearrange the images but the platform he was working on didn’t permit him to unless he did it in a specific order. In that moment, Enso was conceived.

“At that moment, the team realized the potential impact that this game could have. There was an ‘all hands-on deck’ approach that Planet of the Apps adopted to bring this idea to life. Every team member, from every department, was encouraged to be part of the process of how to take this simple yet brilliant concept and turn it into a game that our community of users would love.”

“We are trying to get inspiration from everything that surrounds us, it could be an interaction between the team members, movies, classical literature, etc.” said Ben.

Luck is Not a Business Plan

Planet of the Apps feels it has some time with Circle Sweep. However, they have had a low point in recent memory related to another game.

“One of our games, Balls and Holes, was featured by Apple in numerous countries. The same week, we decided to update the game and added additional content. Unfortunately, we uploaded a very buggy version of the game (since we really rushed to make it during the featured period). Two hours after we uploaded the game we understood that the game crashes on almost every Android device,” said Ben. “Luckily, after only 36 hours in a row we managed to fix all technical issues and upload a new version. Hurray!!!”

When asked about what would be the dream project for Planet of the Apps, Ben said, “We had this idea circulating for quite a long time to create a real-time multiplayer game but without user/player control. User acts only as a manager and spectator of the battle. The user goal is to take care of the creature, training, feeding etc. But when a battle takes place, he cannot interfere.”

On the subject of advice for other indies, Ben said, “Don’t count on luck. ‘Luck’ is not a business plan. Despite what the industry media conveys, games hardly ever ‘miraculously’ become hits.”

“You must put in the hard work, there is no way around it,” Ben concluded.



David Radd

David Radd

David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.