The three of Wisageni Studio team members decided on starting their own company after meeting at Gamelan, a local game developer community in Yogyakarta, Indonesia back in 2014. Each of them has previously worked for companies that make games for PC, Flash, or do outsourcing. “So when we started Wisageni Studio, we used our background experiences and created some Flash games and worked with some sponsors”, recalls Wisageni Studio’s co-founder Vania Marita. As the Flash games market declines, in November 2016 they finally tried to redirect development to the mobile platform with the release of their first mobile game, Nonstop Show.
Secret Santa: It’s a Stealthy Xmas is an HTML5 stealth-based platform game with a Christmas flavor targeting a young audience. In the game, players take the role of Santa and deliver presents under several Christmas trees while remaining hidden from the various family members inhabiting the different homes/levels. The developer, Adsumsoft, is a tiny mini-micro-studio based in Singapore. It actually consists of just one person, game designer and author Roberto Dillon, but the team can easily expand on a per-project basis whenever needed, or even find creative and original uses for existing PD and CC-licensed assets to complete development. Roberto shares the experience of creating a seasonal game that has an advantage: it can be rediscovered and updated every holiday season.
No Enemies, Drama or Failing
The idea behind Secret Santa was to create a joyful experience, without real enemies and drama for failing. In other words, it was designed to put players in a good mood suitable for the festive season.
A set of Christmas carols was needed to achieve the right atmosphere, and a few well-known ones were easily available from A-M Classical to accompany players in all phases of the game, including the “Game Over” screen which, as mentioned, still had to be perceived as a celebrative moment and not as an angry, disappointing failure.
Graphics wise, the idea was to keep things simple and cute, thanks to self-contained levels in each screen and a retro art style reminiscent of old classics like Little Computer People which, incidentally, is one of my all-time favorite games. The art assets used in the game were done mostly by Lanea Zimmerman and Trent Gamblin and fit the setting pretty well, delivering the kind of style that was originally intended.
The reasons behind this choice varies. For example, being an “old” guy who grew up with 8-bit games, I obviously have a soft spot for retro-inspired graphics. Anyway, even from a less sentimental and more practical perspective, this type of graphics also makes sense, since it’s easier and cheaper to make than other styles and allows faster iterations if something needs to be tuned or polished further later in development.
All About Jumping and Hiding
Secret Santa is a platformer with a simple stealth gameplay at its core, where players have to exercise patience and then be quick in their movements.
Besides jumping around, hiding behind doors is the other core mechanic.
For the game to work, it was essential to make funny and interesting ways for the player to hide. So almost every piece of furniture in the houses has been designed as a platform to jump on and get to locations that remain out of sight to the family members: even a bookshelf or lamp, apparently too high to be reached, can indeed be a great hiding spot to wait while a little kid or an auntie passes underneath checking whether Santa has already delivered presents for them.
Besides jumping around, hiding behind doors is the other core mechanic. Glass doors can be opened to let Santa hide for a while as well, visible to no one but the player!
Controls: Buttons’ Functions Change with Santa’s Position
Controls can make or break a game on any platform, and even more so in mobile gaming. Great care was put into them to make sure that Santa’s acrobatics were as intuitive and easy to handle as possible, both when playing on PC and on a mobile touchscreen.
In touch versions, directional arrows for running were placed at the sides of the screen (left arrow on the left side, right on the right) with a button above each of them. The functionality of the buttons varies automatically according to Santa’s position and, in all but one specific case (i.e. while on the stairs), pressing either one will result in the same action, allowing players to use either thumb.
By default, the buttons are light blue and pressing them would result in jumping but, whenever Santa is next to specific objects, like Christmas trees or doors, the buttons turn red to signify something different can be done. That’s how Santa can go in and out of chimneys, hide behind doors and step away from there, use the staircases and, last but not least, deliver the presents under the Christmas trees.
Predicted Problem of Discoverability
The game was developed using Construct 2 and while the production workflow went very smoothly, it was kinda troublesome to fully exploit HTML5’s flexibility to deliver the game on multiple platforms and operating systems, since performance still varies significantly across browsers and devices. Eventually, we decided to focus only on PC desktop browsers, iOS (with the game ported by using Ludei’s CocoonJS) and also give a shot at the new upcoming Tizen platform, while temporarily leaving others behind due to lack of time for organizing proper testing.
Tizen caught our attention because releasing HTML5-based games on this platform is quite straightforward.
Tizen caught our attention because releasing HTML5-based games on this platform is quite straightforward. Besides, we developed the game while the Tizen million-dollar App Challenge was on, so we decided to give it a try. Naturally, we didn’t win anything, but are still curious to see how the game will perform next Christmas on these new devices.
Being a very small studio and completely lacking marketing muscles and distribution power, it was easy to predict discoverability would be an issue, and indeed it was. Secret Santa was released as freeware in the second half of November 2013. The web version running on Clay.io and Facebook was the first to be launched, with iOS following soon afterwards.
Monetization was planned through ads on the web and voluntary donations through PayPal.
Monetization was planned through ads on the web and voluntary donations through PayPal on iOS (no ads there to provide a pure, undisturbed playing experience) with 50 percent of any eventual donation to be devolved to charities supporting children in South East Asia.
Overall, by the end of 2013, the game had about 55k users, mostly playing on the web, while on iOS, Secret Santa managed to break into the Top 100 Arcade and Family games in only two countries (Macau and Laos). Sadly though, nobody donated anything (yes: you read right, not even a single person!).
The reason for the complete lack of donations was that the game is targeted at children.
Most likely, the reason for the complete lack of donations was that the game is targeted at children who, for obvious reasons, can’t donate directly but need to ask their parents first. Probably, the latter were not keen to do so.
Seasonal Games: The Chance of Being Rediscovered Every Year
Secret Santa is a seasonal game, which means interest will peak only at a specific times of the year. This means there’s not much purpose in doing an update right now, since nobody would notice. On the bright side, seasonal games will periodically be rediscovered and get new chances for reviews on blogs, websites, and YouTube channels. In the end, when done right, they may actually have a longer tail than other games whose novelty factor and interest burns out quickly.
They may actually have a longer tail than other games whose novelty factor and interest burns out quickly.
Taking this into account, a proper Android version may be released in time for Christmas 2014: maybe we will get a donation this time!
Secret Santa is available on browsers, iOS, and Tizen platforms. Roberto is currently working on a couple of new concepts: an “on-rails” RPG game named The Innkeeper’s Tales and Defense: Evolution, a sort of tower defense/RTS hybrid based on cellular automata theory. To remain up-to-date with his work, check out Adsumsoft’s Facebook page or Roberto’s Twitter.
Megafuzz is a Danish indie game studio founded in 2013 by Jeff Jensen. With their flagship game Spoiler Alert conceived at a game jam, they are all about passion, creativity, and fun. A genuine love for the game is their strongest foundation. Jeff discusses the ups and downs of creating Spoiler Alert.
When Everyone Goes Right, Go Left. Literally.
In true indie spirit, Spoiler Alert was born at a small Danish game jam in Viborg in 2012. I remember the jam’s theme had just been announced: “resistance”. As many jammers in the corners were discussing various rebel games, friction-based games etc., I had a slightly different train of thought. I was thinking of “resistance to mainstream”. And what was the most mainstream thing I could think of in a videogame? That you had to complete it! Why not uncomplete it instead?
The jamming was about to begin, and I still hadn’t found anyone with whom I really got along. I was about to go solo when a tall, calm guy approached me, introducing himself as Martin Pedersen, a graphics artist. I explained to him my idea for the game (a reversed Super Mario), and we made an official team. Discussing ideas of how to proceed with our game, we immediately hit it off, and there was chemistry unlike anything I’ve ever felt before with a game jam partner.
Internet and Phone – Connecting Developers
The game jam was a success to us; Spoiler Alert won first prize for best game, best pitch, and also received a Judge’s Favorite, as well as Audience’s Favorite award. A couple of weeks later, it also got mentioned favorably in the Danish newspaper, Politiken.
Martin and I felt that we had a fun game idea, and, with the response we’d gotten based on our little 48-hour prototype, we wanted to turn it into a full game. We still believed there was a lot of untapped potential in the gameplay. Armed with nothing more than the idea and intense passion to carry it out much further, we launched a full assault on taking Spoiler Alert from a game jam prototype to a full game. We live in different cities with a significant distance between us, so we have to rely almost exclusively on the internet and phone for communication. Facebook and Google Docs are among our favorite go-to tools.
Making a “Reversed” Game
Even though I’ve worked on numerous small games before, this was my first serious project, as well as my first time working with a partner. As for Martin, it was his first time making a game. Period. So, neither of us was that experienced. On top of that, we were doing a rather unique game, with a lot of uncommon design-related challenges. Just wrapping my own mind properly around everything going backwards was difficult enough at times.
I remember making an entire boss fight, being satisfied with it, showing it to Martin who was also satisfied, and then we realized I did it going forward (like a “normal” game). We both looked at it without realizing that. Instead of swallowing his own fireballs, the boss was shooting them – just to name an example. This sounds simple and stupid, but it caught us both a few times before we really got used to designing everything in reverse-logic.
About midway through the project, we saw a handful of issues. First off, the game wasn’t suited all that well for handheld devices (which was a strong focus), because we made the levels fairly long (2-5 minutes). So we cut them up into smaller pieces, and added a lot more new levels. We went from having 30 long levels to 100 shorter levels.
Also, there were virtual buttons; one for jumping and one for using your powerup. The problem was, that as you didn’t always have a powerup, 50 percent of the GUI was redundant and confusing. We discussed having the powerup button only appear when you had a powerup, but then became afraid people wouldn’t notice it. Also, we thought it would be inconsistent. We ended up removing virtual buttons altogether. Instead, tapping anywhere on the screen would make you jump, unless there was a fireball to catch, in which case you would swallow it. In other words, we made it context-based. This worked much better and was way more streamlined.
We’re Done! Oh Wait…
About eight months of development later, and we were done! Or so we thought. We were about to release the game, but were forced to wait a few weeks as I was in limbo with paperwork (I was registering Megafuzz as a company, getting it approved as a business at Apple, doing bank stuff, and many other grown-up things). These weeks let us take a step back and look more critically and objectively at our own game. We realized that, in the end, we just weren’t satisfied. We could do so much better!
We chose to postpone release, and took Spoiler Alert back into full re-development. This was a long process, which extended into another 6-8 months. Things became much better; the graphics got a huge overhaul, many old levels were improved and new ones added, UI was animated, and, thanks to extensive testing, we found out that the game was way too hard and unfair. We spent a lot of time making Spoiler Alert more intuitive, and re-balancing its difficulty. I’d estimate that we’ve reduced the difficulty level about 10x since the first version. At least.
The Encouraging Impatience of YoYo Games
We were knee-deep in development, moods were high, but exhaustion was also there. Spoiler Alert was developed using GameMaker: Studio, and I would often use the game as a basis for bug reports to YoYo Games. I guess this is how they noticed the game, because we didn’t really advertise it, but, all of a sudden, I got an email from their PR manager. She said that she and some of her colleagues had been playing around with the game, and would like to include it in their (at that point, non-existing) official games showcase. This definitely gave Martin and me some extra fuel, and we were promised to be included in their showcase as soon as it went live a few months later.
Eventually it was there, and I was supposed to email YoYo Games some materials for Spoiler Alert so they could put it up. Even though I really wanted us to get in the showcase, I deliberately waited until the game was in a state I would be more comfortable showing off. I actually held off for several months after the showcase went live.
I guess they got tired of waiting because one day in November 2013, I saw a mention on Twitter that Spoiler Alert was now in the showcase. As we hadn’t given them any proper materials, it didn’t look its best, and we had not submitted proper info either, so the showcase stated that the game was out, and provided a dead link. Being honored and excited, we understood we had to hurry and send in some proper materials and correct information. Even though we were fast, in less than an hour after the game info went live, I received the first email from a user who asked why he couldn’t download Spoiler Alert, and said it looked awesome. It was a mess, but a fun kind of mess!
A Team of Three, Yet Two Have Never Met the Third
I mentioned this was our first real game, and we’ve learned a lot from it. Martin has obviously improved very much as a graphic artist, and we’ve both gotten a completely new understanding of what it means to make a game. It’s a fun, but long and tough process, and often it pays to over-estimate schedules and times.
One of the areas in which I’ve personally grown the most is my own “quality bar” – it’s been set much higher. I’ve spent more time than ever on small but important polishing-related things, and have learned much about trying to make the interactive experience as intuitive and foolproof as possible. I’ve also gotten significantly more experienced in level design.
I’ve learned a lot about working with a team – Martin, and our musician and sound technician Roland La Goy, who’s based in the USA. It’s been interesting to make a game with a team where most communication is virtual, and two of three people have never met the third person. I’m still amazed that this worked out well, but I’m just blessed with having such awesome people in the team.
Spoiler Alert will be available for download in February 2014, on iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS X, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, OUYA, Ubuntu, BlackBerry and Tizen. It also won the Most Promising Game in Development award at Casual Connect Europe‘s Indie Prize Showcase.