Sasquatch Survivor – The Adventures of Mimo Postmortem
By Michael Sorrenti
Sasquatch Survivor – The Adventures of Mimo is a platform puzzler in which you control Mimo, a young yeti who was accidentally left behind after a massive snowstorm forced his tribe to travel to warmer climates. The game follows Mimo as he spans harsh terrain and fends off predators, building the ramps, bridges and defenses needed to survive the journey south. Each level consists of either a puzzle that must be solved in order to span a gap in terrain or a defense that must be built to thwart oncoming attacks from beaver, rams, bears and other unfriendly critters. The game uses mouse and/or keyboard controls for the online version and uses touch controls for the mobile version.
The idea for Sasquatch Survivor seemingly came out of nowhere. It began with an idea for a new kind of game mechanic (or at least new to my brain). That mechanic may have been inspired by my daughter’s Mega Bloks, or perhaps by the construction taking place outside my office window. Now usually when I have ideas I put them in a folder—a folder now brimming with long-forgotten ideas. But this idea was different. I knew I would make this game.
Testing the New Mechanic
As far as we know, there is no game out there like ours—and we are happy about that. But a new mechanic requires that you teach players the game mechanics through game-play, which in turn requires many more hours of play-testing. After months of working on the game from concept to initial build, it became almost impossible to see the game the way a new audience would, which made outside testers absolutely vital. We enlisted testers from all walks of life: male and female, young and old.
Testing changed the game-play in several ways. For instance, in early implementations, blocks that had been placed could be easily knocked over or accidentally moved when placing additional blocks—which was very frustrating for play-testers. We solved the issue by adding more weight to placed items. Based on tester feedback, we also adjusted the way players select and place inventory items in the play area. We discovered that a drag-and-drop approach is much more intuitive than clicking to select and clicking again to place. Controls were also a big eye opener. What felt too fast for some testers was too slow for others. So we repeatedly tweaked the speed of Mimo’s movement until his controls felt universally tactile and responsive. We also discovered that bite-sized chunks of game-play were most effective in maintaining a player’s attention. Whether the player is building a defense or solving a terrain challenge, we found that the levels needed to be short and punchy and that the game needed to move quickly between building and results.
Working to Create an Emotional Bond
As we were working on Sasquatch Survivor, we wanted to make a game that the whole family could enjoy. We also wanted a game that featured a character that players would care about, thus creating an emotional bond between the player and the game. Since our team was comprised entirely of males, we wanted a variety of perspectives to ensure that the character would appeal to both genders. We went through dozens of character concepts and tested them out on our wives, children, and close friends to come up with the final design of Mimo. We also put a lot of thought into how the character would be animated, striving to make sure that Mimo’s actions were tentative and vulnerable, rather than macho or heroic. We felt that this would be consistent with the character’s circumstances while also helping create a deeper bond with all types of players.
To deepen that sense of connection, our story was designed specifically to help create pathos. Mimo is trying to rendezvous with his lost tribe, after all, and we believe that the emotions surrounding separation from and reunion with family are universally relatable.
Game Pill is a studio that partners with clients, does work for hire, and creates its own IP—a triple threat. We are always on time and on budget with all of our client projects. What made Sasquatch Survivor different was that we kept coming up with improvements, and we were continually iterating on the build. Now we hope all this pays off financially, but it did put us over budget. In the future, we will involve our accountant to create a formal budget upfront that we will constantly monitor to identify cost overruns, opportunity costs (the cost of not working on something else), scope creep, etc. Next time we will also allow 10 percent of the budget as a cushion for potential over-runs.
We considered a number of revenue options as we prepared to release Sasquatch Survivor, including flat fee, micro-transactions, and donations. Ultimately we decided to release the game as free-to-play in order to gain as many fans as possible. As a source of revenue, we are surrounding the game with ads. For those fans that really love the game and want to try it in tablet form we are offering a link to download the Android version that will feature an additional five levels and extra in-game items that can be purchased for Mimo. We also found porting to Android from AIR to be relatively simple and worth the associated costs, including time, testing and device costs.
So far, the response has been very promising. As of March 30th 2012, we had generated 450,000+ plays, with many more to come as we release the Android and iOS versions.
Working as a Team
The core team that worked on Sasquatch Survivor included a project manager, an artist, and a programmer. Another three team members came on and off of the project to contribute to writing, music, and testing. Although we had a game design document, we were not closely tied to it, as many revisions and edits were made along the way in an effort to constantly improve the programming and artwork. But allowing that sort of design fluidity created a number of ancillary challenges:
Communication – When you’re not working from a rigid design document, communication within the team is more critical than ever. We were working remotely at times and it is amazing how much of a difference it makes when you can talk in person as opposed to via e-mail or Skype. It is easy to make assumptions or misinterpret things that would probably be quickly resolved by a simple conversation. Overall, the occasions on which we were able to sit down and hash things out were productive and important to the development of the game.
Prioritization – It is always tempting to want to add one more cool little thing to a game, but you have to make sure you’re focusing on the things that really need to be accomplished before you start throwing new ideas into the mix. We also created a lot of art that was unnecessary (enemies that never made it into the game, for instance) because they were “in the plan”; but if it had been created on an as-needed basis, we probably could have saved some time in the long run.
Perspective – It is really easy to get tunnel vision when you’re working on a single task, so it’s important to pull back and get a sense of how things look as part of the whole. What looks awesome as a standalone piece of art or code may not necessarily fit in, so you need to ensure that what you are working on is consistent with what has come before. This is especially true with the art and animation: You need to make sure that when you drop new art into a screen with all of the other assets present, it is aesthetically seamless.
Overall, it took about a year to build the game from concept to release. Without a team that cared about the project and the story—and that worked well together—we could never have done it.
To date, we have been lucky to find publishing partnerships that have consistently resulted in a win-win for both sides. In our studio, the greatest obstacle to creating our own IP is finding the funds, or rather the guts and funds, to try something new. As a studio that does both work-for-hire and work inspired internally, it is a constant struggle to pick partners who are right for us and for our audiences.
My first inclination was to approach a partner with the Sasquatch Survivor idea to minimize our risk, but the concept was so original I did not think it would fly. Taking a chance is something I rarely do, but in this case, I was compelled to. But I have no regrets. Taking calculated risks is what life and business is all about. Even if the game doesn’t make a dime, I am happy I took the chance—and I’d do it again in an instant.
My hope is that this game will have great success and can develop into more than just a game. I would like to see our character spin off into toys, a TV show, and clothing. And of course we want to build the sequel. Will this happen? We do not know. But we do know this: The game is really fun to play. Available at: http://www.sasquatchsurvivor.com, and on the Chrome Web Store.