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Our Best Game Yeti

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.

Money Matters
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.

Publishing Dilemma
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.

Mimo’s Future
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.

Posted in games, Uncategorized, Web

Where do good ideas come from?

A video that explains how sharing and combining ideas leads to creativity and innovation.  The insight gained from this is that our connected world is allowing more of us to collaborate and share ideas than ever before and this could possibly lead to more  innovation overall.

 

 

Posted in games, Software

Game Pill to create international Adventure Supergame for 9 Story’s animated comedy series Almost Naked Animals

9 Story Entertainment & Game Pill

 

Toronto, Canada – May 15, 2012 – Leading game developer Game Pill is creating a new side-scrolling adventure Supergame based on the international hit children’s animated comedy series Almost Naked Animals, produced and distributed by 9 Story Entertainment.

Joyously irreverent, Almost Naked Animals features an oddly lovable assortment of free-spirited animals in their underwear running a beach-front hotel like kids at a summer camp – doing their best to make each day more fun than the last. Lead dog and hotel manager Howie, heads the comically dysfunctional ensemble cast.

“We’re really excited to be bringing 9 Story’s hugely popular Almost Naked Animals brand to the interactive game world. The supergame will be a robust adventure, fully tied into the mayhem and fun of the tv series, adding a new level of enjoyment for its loyal fans,” said Michael Sorrenti, President (mad scientist), Game Pill Inc.

“We are delighted to be working with the talented team at Game Pill on this perfectly targeted expansion of the Almost Naked Animals brand engagement,” said Vince Commisso, President & CEO of 9 Story Entertainment.

The platform game will give players the chance to become part of the crazy world of Almost Naked Animals by choosing one of the quirky characters to run their very own tropical hotel and compete to become the bestest hotel on the strip. With unexpected twists and turns, the Almost Naked Animals game will bring the wackiness of the TV series to the gaming world, for kids of all ages to enjoy (that means you Mom and Dad).

Named one of the top children’s shows to watch by People Magazine, Almost Naked Animals, now in its 3rd season, airs on Cartoon Network US, YTV Canada, CiTV UK, ABC Australia, Disney Channel Italy, Disney Channel India, Disney Channel Latin America, Disney Channel Spain and Portugal, NPO’s children’s channel Z@pp/Zeppelin in the Netherlands, Super RTL Germany, Canal+ Family and TéléTOON+.

Game Pill Inc. is a leading developer of online games, interactive marketing, mobile apps and web development. With a focus on evolving branded entertainment and pushing the boundaries to new limits on any device, the company has brought properties of Fortune 500 Companies to life and has worked with top broadcasters including Astral Media, Corus Entertainment, Nickelodeon and National Geographic. Game Pill’s hit games, including the award-winning Tattoo Artist and Sasquatch Survivor, have garnered over 37 million plays and are among the most played in the world. Game Pill’s boutique studio of animators, programmers and art directors is located just north of Toronto. http://www.gamepill.com/

9 Story Entertainment is one of the industry’s leading creators, producers and distributors of award-winning animated and live action content for young audiences around the world. With an extensive animation studio in Toronto, 9 Story has over 200 creative and production staff, and has produced over 600 half hours of quality children’s and family programming, seen on some of the most respected children’s channels and platforms around the world. The company’s distribution arm, 9 Story Enterprises, offers a rapidly growing catalogue which includes several beloved brands such as Wibbly Pig, Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, Wild Kratts, Almost Naked Animals, and new seasons of Arthur. Their much anticipated new shows include Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Camp Lakebottom and the primetime animated comedy Fugget About It. www.9story.com

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For further information:
Mary Powers, MPowers Communications +1 416 767 8692, mpowers@mpowers.ca

Posted in games

Game Pill will be exhibiting at Casual Connect 2012 in Seattle, July 24-26

Game Pill Casual Connect

Game Pill is proud to announce that we will be at Casual Connect this year.

We are innovators and specialists seeking out partnerships and team members that will allow us to make further advancements in the casual gaming space.

To schedule a face to face meeting visit the Casual Connect website or email us directly at: info@gamepill.com

We will be at Copper Table C4E if you would like to drop in.

Copper Layout

The Event
Casual Connect is the place to learn more about an industry which entertains 300 million people each month. Learn all about iPhone, Social, Android, Flash, Browser MMO and Download Games.

The Location:
BENAROYA HALL & TRIPLE DOOR
200 University St
Seattle, WA 98101

Posted in games

Game Pill Inc. Wins the Addicting Games showdown

Best Game from planet random for Tattoo Artist
First-of-Its-Kind Convergent, Prime-time TV Event Draws More Than 5 Million Votes

SAN FRANCISCO, June 28 /PRNewswire/– The “envelopes” were opened and the best games named during Nickelodeon’s “AddictingGames Showdown” (Saturday, June 27, 8-10 p.m. ET/PT), the first-of-its-kind convergent, prime-time TV event honoring the coolest, funniest and most addicting games. More than 5 million votes were cast for the cream of the crop from AddictingGames’ library of 3,500 games. Honors went to games in 10 different categories, including:
“Best Game From Planet Random” – Tattoo Artist;
“Greatest Escape Game” -Escape the Car;
“Mostest Edumacational Game” – Magic Pen;
and “Most  AddictingGame” – World’s Hardest Game.

“Congratulations to the winning games and the developers who created them. We applaud the innovation and creativity of everyone involved in creating such phenomenal online games,” said Dave Williams, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Nickelodeon Kids and Family Games Group. “‘The AddictingGames Showdown’ was born from our knowledge that our audiences are experiencing their entertainment on multiple platforms, so we combined their biggest online activity–gaming–with TV.”

Hosted by iCarly’s Jerry Trainor, the “AddictingGames Showdown” was created to spotlight the booming online games industry, which grew 23 percent in 2008 and now reaches 86 million players according to comScore. The winners were announced on TV and on the “AddictingGames Showdown” microsite which drew 16 million game plays and 26.5 million page views since its launch on June 3, 2009.

“The AddictingGames Showdown” winners include:

Best Game from Planet Random
Tattoo Artist
Developer: Game Pill Inc.

Posted in games

Game Pill Working With Youth

Game Pill was happy to be part of the Global Kids program in Brooklyn New York to help students to create a game based around the events of hurricane katrina.

Global Kids, Inc. – the premier non-profit educational organization for global learning and youth development – works to ensure that urban youth have the knowledge, skills, experiences and values they need to succeed in school, participate effectively in the democratic process, and achieve leadership in their communities and on the global stage.

Young people examine global issues, make local connections, and create change through peer education, social action, digital media, and service-learning, while receiving intensive support from GK staff.

Posted in games, Social

Games that create change

When I was a kid there was no time more exciting than the Holiday’s. My wish list always included several games and I recall playing the game all morning and having to be pulled away to spend time at the table with my family. This time of year I also recall that when I was a kid I always wanted to create a change in the world for the better. While I love creating game concepts and seeing our games being played there has always been the question of how our games affect people’s lives for the better or create a social change. I can think of no better time to bring up the topic of social gaming than the holidays, a time where we reflect on giving of ourselves to others.

We have been involved with online media and game development for awhile now but when we were approached by Global Kids to help them to create a game we were caught a bit off guard. Not because being approached to create a game is anything new but because of the topic of the game we were to create.

As a company we are conditioned to creating games that are fun to play such as driving games, and side scrolling adventure games where the goal is to collect widgets and fight off monsters. Naturally, when the topic of Hurricane Katrina was presented we were a bit taken aback. Firstly because it was out of the norm of requests we get on a daily basis and secondly because Hurricane Katrina is an event that was and still is surrounded by a lot of controversy.

Soon after being approached we did some research and found out all about Global Kids. They are pioneers in the field of socially conscious online games. Through the Playing 4 Keeps program, young people at Canarsie High School in Brooklyn gain the skills necessary to design challenging games about world issues and their game is then produced and is taken to market.

After giving the idea some thought we decided to take the challenge and to help the Global Kids team and students with their Hurricane Katrina game. The overall idea was simple. Create a game that creates social change by educating both the students and the public to the events of Katrina as well as to the facts of disaster readiness. That was our main mission.

The question quickly became how do we do all of this and make a game that is fun to play?

This was a challenge. The first item was to decide how the students would be involved. We decided that they should be involved in as many aspects of the game creation as possible. They had a final say on the character design, character name, overall look and feel of the game, final dialogue choices, items located within the game, and music. The students learned not only about the process and decisions surrounding creating a game but also about the real world historical event, the people of New Orleans and how they were affected, the items that were crucial to survival and more.

The next challenge was how to make the game challenging yet still have it remain true to the events of Hurricane Katrina. Doing this was no easy feat but we decided as a team that the issue of local heroes was an important theme and we could address the challenges they faced. We created a level timer that depicted the sun setting slowly. The goal of the game is to interact and help fellow residents while finding your mother. The element of time creates a challenge as the player must sacrifice time to help others and at the same time increases their chances of losing a life in the game. Other items that were used to create challenge for the players were: the need to gather information, the need to avoid flying debris, and the need to trudge and swim through water.

This project was a good example of creating change through the use of a game. There were many learning outcomes here for the students, our team and the Global Kids team and the game lives on to educate future players. That is the point of such a game. To educate repeatedly.

This is a new and growing segment of gaming that really can influence society in a positive way. Barry Joseph, the director of Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program helped found Games For Change, an organization which brings together non-profits and their partners to explore the use of digital games to advance organizational mission and societal change.

Here are some examples of social games that I have found while doing research on the topic. While I have and always will enjoy the commercial games we create this avenue of gaming is very interesting and I hope that we can all reflect on this type of gaming and the impact it can make in the world. After all we are a growing industry with a global reach and there is no medium quite as tactile in terms of sending a message as game development is. I appreciate any feedback or discussions that come from this article and can be reached at info@gamepill.com

Tempest in Crescent City:
PLAY THE GAME: http://tempestincrescentcity.ning.com/game
LEARN ABOUT THE PROGRAM: http://www.amd.com/us-en/0,,3715_14217_15653_15654,00.html

Darfur is Dying:
PLAY THE GAME: http://www.darfurisdying.com/

Ayiti:
PLAY THE GAME: http://ayiti.newzcrew.org/ayitiunicef/

Posted in games

Learning by Playing

Games are typically seen as entertainment. But as anyone who has played a game of any difficulty can tell you, in order to truly enjoy a game, you must first learn how to play it. You must learn the rules, master certain skills, develop strategies, and make a lot of mistakes. But as defeat becomes victory and you advance from level to level, you become increasingly proficient, learning first to wield your sword, for example, so that you can later slay the dragon, which in turn prepares you to beat the endgame boss. The early stages of the game thus prepare you for the later stages.

It’s not surprising, then, that games have made their way into schools and corporations, employed by marketers, recruiters, teachers, and trainers to help us learn what they want us to know.

Games as Branding Tools
Companies are learning that games can be used to teach consumers about their brands and product offerings. A case in point is Jeep, which developed a 4×4 game named Trail of Life, immersing users in the off-road driving experience. The user feels the physics of the Jeep, learns the different controls and features and off-road capabilities—all without sitting in the actual product. The game provides more information—and a lot more fun—than a brochure ever could.

Marketers might achieve something similar by integrating their product into the game-play of an otherwise unrelated title. Let’s say a game requires a character to use a PDA as a communication device. In order to master the game, a user would likewise have to master the PDA. Adding such items to a game allows the user to interact with the virtual device perhaps even before realizing that there is a physical counterpart. This reduces the learning curve while building brand recognition and familiarity.

A game can also teach users about product features they might not learn in any other way. For example, in its most basic form a Webkinz is merely a plush animal. But at www.webkinz.com, that toy comes to life in an online world where it takes on a complete personality, moving, thinking, communicating, and eating—even conversing with its owner. The value added is immense and would be very difficult to convey without such a learning tool.

Games as Recruiting Tools
Games are sometimes used to test prospective employees and determine who is best suited for a job. Such testing allows recruiters to narrow the applicant pool while providing quantitative measures of each prospect’s suitability for a job. Depending on the profession, a game can even go so far as to test each candidate’s response to a variety of on-the-job scenarios.

Perhaps the greatest example of online recruiting thus far is America’s Army, the online game used to recruit potential candidates for enrollment in the U.S. army. On the one hand, the game allows users to enlist, choose a specialty, and test skills that would be required of a professional soldier. At the same time, America’s Army allows the Army to gather useful information on that specific person’s abilities. It also enables recruiters to contact players to offer them additional information and engage them in a conversation about joining up.

Using games as predictors of success in the workplace promises great benefit to employees and employers alike, as it allows both to find the right match. In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which prospective employees are required to play a game as part of the interview process, with only the top performers chosen to proceed to the next level of interviews.

Games as Educational Tools
To take advantage of the broad popularity of video games, educators are developing interactive games that teach kids in ways that no textbook ever could. What better way to teach kids math than to allow them to play a game that rewards them for accurate answers? The great thing about using a game to strengthen academics is that learning can become more immersive than it may have been in the past, engaging an array of senses for a more comprehensive learning experience. Plus it’s more fun. Building your vocabulary with a crossword puzzle is more interesting than just memorizing a list of words.

Typing tutorials were among the first to take advantage of the fun factor to engage and teach. It’s one thing to learn to type The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. But it’s more fun to do it as a race against the clock—more fun still when each correct keystroke fires a missile at invading space marauders. Besides, the interactive nature of the experience makes the teaching more effective.

Games as Training Tools
The great thing about games is that they can closely resemble reality. Flight simulators were developed to help pilots hone their skills and learn to respond to emergencies without placing people or equipment at any actual risk. Such simulators were actually among the first “video games.”

Now the emergence of faster and less expensive development models allows more and more companies to take advantage of games to train their personnel. Games can be used to teach users how to drive vehicles, how to operate machinery, and how to manage employees. They can used to reinforce policies and procedures, to teach team-building and collaboration techniques, and to help employees get up to speed on new software. Employees can complete such training at their convenience no matter where they are in the world—and they’re more likely to do so because, well, it’s fun.

Games as Work Tools
The next frontier in gaming as learning will be games as work. Imagine you are a city planner and you need to lay out roads and buildings and plan master communities. Right now such things are accomplished primarily with plans and studies and uninteresting software. Now imagine taking that software and making it into a game in which the planner can configure buildings, streets, schools, stores and vehicles and run a simulation to see firsthand how effective those plans are.

Similarly, any time an employer uses competition among employees to make difficult work more engaging, there is a game at the heart of it. For example, imagine that you are a phone kiosk worker. Your job is to sell phones to consumers. Let’s say you are tied to a network of thousands of kiosk workers and you are competing against your peers to do the best job possible. You log in everyday and you are shown a screen that gives you your sales standings, your customer satisfaction rating, and your possibility for promotion meter. On this particular day your screen displays the newest handset and announces an incentive for the rep who promotes the new product and sends the potential consumer an email about the it with a coupon code. Now work is a game fueled by competition and rewards. And now work is fun.

Conclusion

So what have we learned? We’ve learned that games help us all learn better, teach better, and work better. And we’ve learned that if this article had instead been turned into a game, you probably would have enjoyed it more and gotten more out of it.

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Posted in games