Digital Eclairs is an independent game development studio founded in 2012 with the main office in the heart of the Silicon Valley. They released their first game titled XnO in May 2013 on the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon App Store. Aditi Shah, founder of Digital Eclairs, shares their story.
Taking the Plunge
I am Aditi Shah, and I am thrilled to share with you our journey of XnO creation. In my previous life, I had worked on software like simulation for chip design and portfolio risk analytics. Very cool and nerdy, but wait …. some of my friends were in the game industry building games. Can you imagine playing games for work, day in and day out, everyday?!
We would talk for hours about gaming and where game industry was headed. The storytelling aspect of games always fascinated me. So back in Fall 2011, I decided to take the plunge and start building my own game. One of our close friends George Flores offered to help. He was on his sabbatical at the time to work on his Taekwondo (don’t mess with him, he is a black belt now). And thus began our journey.
The Start of Digital Eclairs
I am a software engineer, but I knew nothing about game architecture and/or engines, so I started watching Youtube tutorials (here’s a shoutout to TornadoTwins and BurgzergArcade). George, in that same period, started polishing his illustration and modelling skills. Just for the purposes of mock ups, we built a basic carnival-style game with obstacles. We called it “Ice Breakers”.
During the whiteboxing stage, we used basic components: boxes, cylindrical blocks as targets and a cylinder attached to a sphere shooting a ball to demonstrate and tweak the gameplay. We shared our creation with friends and family, and they all loved the gameplay, but (there’s always that ‘but’) unanimously hinted that graphics need some serious work. Fortunately, we already knew that. We had enough reasons to take the project forward and that brings us to the time when we formed Digital Eclairs to do things more formally.
Choosing Game Ambassadors
Having already formalized the gameplay aspect – a physics-based 3D action game – the question now was: What sort of game do we want to build? What message do we want to convey? After long brainstorming sessions with everyone involved, a few traits on everybody’s mind were nonviolent, fun, challenging, and no cowclicker games. And most of all, we wanted our game to carry a strong community message. Obviously, we were missing an ambassador to carry that message. So we chose penguins as our game ambassadors because they are not just cute and cuddly, but also have strong personality.
In our course of researching about penguins, we realized how little people knew about the dangers and threats these lovely creatures face: oil spills in oceans, overfishing, and iceberg breaking among many others. Out of the 18 known species of penguin, nearly 13 are either endangered or threatened– that’s more than 70 percent. So we decided to use our game as a platform to raise awareness about penguins, their habitat, and threats and danger they face. That will be our message to the world.
To set an example, we at Digital Eclairs adopted two Magellanic Penguins and named them X and O from XOXO Hugs and Kisses. They are five years old and live in Cabo Virgenes, Argentina. We chose to adopt these Magellanic Penguins, and not the famous Emperor Penguins that everyone relates to, because these penguins are majorly affected by oil pollution off the coast of Argentina, and we wanted to highlight our concerns for them. We decided to name our lead characters X and O and our game XnO.
Farewells and Welcomes
And, by August, 2012 here we were:
Everyone felt our game was the best and so did we. We thought what if we did not have excellent art work, at least we still have excellent gameplay. This time, we showed it to people in the games industry. The jury was in and our reaction…OOPS! Things started heating up, but unfortunately, George’s sabbatical came to end. He had to take a full time position. Now what? I was left as a one-woman team and didn’t wish to abandon this ship. I just loved it too much.
Fortunately, a friend Emmy Toyonaga, offered to help. She had just quit her job and was taking a break for a while. Then came Creath Carter and Gia Luc. Emmy did character concepts, Gia did environment concepts, and Creath did modelling. Voila! In a matter of days, we had a full team. No wait…we didn’t have the ‘music guy’ yet. Craigslist came to help here. We found Tom Scollard from Canada.
It was already December 2012 when all the art assets got finalized. We had most of the core gameplay already done, but this time, we decided to focus primarily on building the character’s personalities and enhancing gameplay with a goal of making XnO as fully polished and just as good in quality as a major publication house release. This is when we brought Ishmael Hoover on board to help us with immediate art asset needs. He also helped us improve our user interface and create marketing/promotional art assets.
As time passed, we developed the story and how these penguins lived in the whimsical land of Vazooka. To emphasize the importance of characters and yet maintain their familiarity with the player, we introduced penguins from all walks of life: lawyers, sheriffs, sportsmen, and warriors, each with a distinguished personality. To build climax, we introduced a lady penguin which has to be rescued, and around whom the story revolves.
Set It Free
Finally, in April 2013, we had everything done and submitted the game to Apple. We set the release date to May 11, 2013.
We had excellent success on Facebook (35K+ Likes as of this writing) and naively presumed that this was enough to carry us forward and translate into tons of download and in-app purchases. Boy, were we wrong. This being our first project, we did not know what beast marketing was. We had done nothing: no promo codes to reviewers, no presence on blogs, our press release went out late, the gameplay video came in last minute, and that’s just a few of the things we did wrong. But we worked at it day and night after the game release. We now have good reviews and daily active downloads on Apple Stores from all around the world. We are not done yet though. We are still actively working on the game to add in-app purchases and shooting for a free-to- play gaming experience. We are positive that with your love and support we will be able to reach a broader audience.