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"Bunny Cannon" post-mortem

camaleonyco

  • Posts: 204
Hi everyone! My name is Enrique and I make Flash games with my girlfriend Dulce. We are both graphic designers (http://www.laventanita.com.mx/gallery/index.php), but I also like to code. On December last year, NotDoppler released our first Stencyl game and I want to share my experiences. I have never written a post-mortem, and english is not my first language, but I will do my best here.

I'm not a coder, but I wanted to make a mobile game, and when I read about Stencyl on FGL forums I thought it was a great opportunity to dive in the mobile market.

I wanted to make a "chain reaction" game like Infectonator or Manhattan Project, and since I love PopCap games, Peggle was a great source of inspiration. I got a simple idea for a game (working title: "Horny Bunnies"), because I wanted to work on a simple project, something I could get done in a month or two.

I downloaded Stencyl 1.3 (iirc), read half of the Stencylpedia and made a prototype to see if it worked. It looked like this:


By the way, at this point the working title was "Bunny Breeding Pachinko".

That prototype took less than a week, so I though it was going to be very easy to make the full game. Dulce made the art, I fixed the engine and after 2 or 3 weeks the game took shape. We were very excited, in a little more than a month we had a Flash game ready for auction, but I wanted to offer both Flash and mobile versions as a bundle. I knew that the game wouldn't get great bids unless we offered mobile rights, so we bought an iPad, paid iOS developer program's fee, Stencyl subscription... and pressed the button: "Convert to Mobile Game"... I sent it to StencylBuilder, expecting to get a fully functional iOS game back. What I got was just an error message. And that's when the fun started.

Lesson Learned #1: Before starting a project with a new library, framework, engine, etc... be sure that it works.

Weeks passed before I could compile. More weeks passed before I could play a level on my iPad. More than once I found myself this close to giving up, but the money and time invested kept me working. I was working on Stencyl 1.4, as 2.0 was on beta. Many of my problems could have been avoided using 2.0, but when I tried to convert my game I got a ton of new bugs, so I decided to keep working with the old version. I realize now that this was one of the biggest mistakes I made, but I just wanted to finish this game as soon as possible and move on. Later, when I tried to find answers on the forums, I usually read "Don't worry, that would be ready on 2.0". The new version hadn't been shipped yet, and the old version had almost no support, and I felt like left behind on a shipwreck.

Lesson Learned #2: Before starting a new project, get the last version of your framework/library/etc and if a better version is around the corner, wait for it.

I was used to work with Flash errors. You get an error code, with a description pointing the exact line of code where the problem seems to be, fix it and compile again. This wasn't that easy. As a Windows user the debugging process was a living hell. Every error code was a riddle, and I had to learn a bit of ObjectiveC to fix some of those bugs. I have to thank all the people that offered me help on the Stencyl forums, but to be honest the StackOverflow was more helpful for the harder bugs.

Lesson Learned #3: When you need an answer, look everywhere... You can rely on one single source.

After some months the port was ready, but then I thought that no one would buy a physics puzzle with only 30 levels. After all, there are a lot of great and cheap puzzle games like Where's My Water or Cut the Rope with hundreds of levels, so I decided to make 60 more. That's easier said than done.

When you make puzzle, you want to explore all possible variations of your game mechanics, no matter how simple they are. Once you have the engine working, it's very easy to make a level, or two, or ten. As you design more levels it gets harder to find a "twist" for each one. We drafted all of them on a notebook, because it was faster, and we could work simultaneously... but it was not fast enough.

Lesson Learned #4: Before starting a new project, know your game's scope.

I realized that we didn't need the final product to find a publisher so I started to contact some of them. We recorded a video demo, sent many emails and got some responses from big publishers like Alawar and Chillingo. They tried a beta version, and liked it but a couple of weeks later the 3 bigger ones passed because of the same reason: The game was luck-based, and that wasn't good for them. That was heartbreaking. I thought the game was about skill, like playing pool with chubby bunnies, but they thought it was more like a slot machine.

That's when we started the auction at FGL. We uploaded the Flash version and got some attention from many big sponsors. All of them were interested in the mobile version, but it was very confusing for everyone. Many of them didn't have any experience in the mobile market, and FGL's auction system wasn't suited (and I think it's still not suited) for these kind of deals. Also, communication with the bidders isn't very easy there. But I knew what I wanted: A decent upfront amount and a 50/50 revenue share deal with a nice sponsor that would commit to the marketing of our game. After a month of bidding, that's exactly what I got.

NotDoppler sponsored 2 of our previous games: Moby Dick 1 & 2. We knew that John was a nice and professional sponsor. He was very interested in exploring the mobile market and he offered the deal we were looking for. So, we signed a contract and tried to get the gold version done. It shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks, right?... right?

At this point we had more than a hundred levels, we just discarded some of them, and gave the best 90 levels to our testers to rate the difficulty and to sort them. There was just a tiny detail to solve: the iPhone version. I tried to make a universal version before the auction, but I couldn't. Then I made an iPhone beta version, and tested it on the iPad... everything worked perfectly. Dulce converted all the levels to make them fit the new resolution and we bought an iPod 4. The game crashed while loading every single time and it took me several days to open the level selection screen on it. The problem was that this iPod had retina display but not enough RAM, nothing to worry about... we removed some animations, rearranged the atlases, removed sound effects, and tested again. Sounds easy, but it took some time to get the game working. It didn't look as cool as the iPad version, but the real problem was that the game wasn't that easy to play on that screen resolution. With some tweaks it became playable, not as smooth as on iPad, but good enough... or at least that's what I thought.

Lesson Learned #5: Always beta-test on the targeted device with the lower specs.



John asked us to add in-App purchases, and we thought it was a good idea. Nothing intrusive, we just added Undos. You get some undos, and when you run out of them, you can buy some more. There were 3 different packs: 5, 15 and 75. We found that 1.4 didn't support consumable iAPs, so we just added many undo packs on iTunes Connect. If you have bought "5 Pack A", then we sold you "5 Pack B". It looked like a consumable iAP, and I didn't expect that some one would buy more than 5 packs, so we added 10 of each kind, just to be safe.

John also requested a "Rate this game" button, a better tutorial, and an intro. All his requests made sense, because he is a very reasonable guy, so we added everything we could. However, we found a problem with the intro. On Flash is relatively easy to make an animated intro, but on Stencyl we had to use a simple comic stip-like intro. That was not the problem. The thing was that we had a cute game about bunnies mating. Bunnies having sex. In a family-oriented game. The game could easily got banned if we didn't find a delicate way to explain the gameplay. You can have gore and guts in a videogame, but you cannot have bunnies f*cking.

Lesson Learned #6: Avoid sensitive topics on your games.

We knew from the beginning that the game was about how a little bunny understands reproduction, so Dulce draw the cuttest explanation she could on a comic strip. John approved it and the game was ready for release.

The intro has some animated texts that explain better what's going on here.

We had to wait some months before the release, because John had another game he wanted to release before ours: Earn 2 Die. That game has currently hundreds of thousands of paid downloads and it can be considered a great hit. We were happy, because that meant that NotDoppler was a good choice as a publisher. When our turn came, John did a great job promoting the game. We got great coverage on many important portals. We got on the front page of TouchArcade and Kotaku. IGN posted our game's trailer (  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXN9wIdoFCM ). NotDoppler got a Bunny Cannon themed skin, we were very excited.

But everyone hated it.

Lesson Learned #7: Lower your expectations, and then lower them more.

It's a shame, because we got a lot of hate frome people who didn't even play the game. The game has a current Metascore of 74/100 on Metacritic, but since it only counts 4 reviews that doesn't tell much. However, from other reviews I have read, I would say 7/10 sounds like a fair rating. Here are some of them:

Quote
148 Apps (4/5)
It’s incredibly difficult not to have a good time with Bunny Cannon. It’s a familiar concept, sure, but it freshens it up quite a bit with some new ideas and mechanics. More importantly, no matter how anyone sees it it’s simply loads of fun to play.

Arcade Sushi (7/10)
This is a pleasant, easy-going game that won’t instill a burning desire to continue playing it, but makes for a lovely way to pass the time.

GameZebo (3/5)
Pros:Colorful and cartoony graphics with matching musical score. Lots of levels with plenty of variation in each.
Cons:Relies too much on precise shooting than luck-based bunny bouncing. Many levels are all-or-nothing: you’ll either complete it with three stars or spend an hour trying to beat it at all.

PadGadget (4.5/5)
What I liked: Bunny Cannon has fun, innovative Pachinko style gameplay that is both challenging and fun.
What I didn’t like: I wasn’t thrilled with the graphics, which honestly, weren’t impressive. I was also disappointed that the game has two different versions for the iPad and the iPhone rather than a single universal version.

Pocket-lint (N/A)
When we heard that Not Doppler, the makers of zombie smash-a-thon Earn To Die, was releasing its latest iPhone title, Bunny Cannon, we anticipated more fast-paced blood, guts 'n' gore. But no. Bunny Cannon merges cute and cuddly kid-friendly graphics over a seriously challenging set of levels. It's tricky, sometimes seemingly impossible gaming, but it'll keep you coming back for more... just like a rabbit on heat.

Jay Is Games (3.5/5)
Plenty of variety over the course of 90 levels, and even though the core gameplay doesn't change much, it's still a fun, high-score-trouncing ride from beginning to end. Sorting rabbits is so much more challenging when there's a dozen of them careening around the screen at once!

Technology Tell (N/A)
So, if you’re looking for something new to play this week, take a look at Bunny Cannon. Be warned, though, that the game will easily get you hooked, and you might continuously play it for a couple of days. But that’s not a bad thing at all; it only goes to show how fun this game is.

AppAdvice (N/A)
Lethargic Lagomorph Game Found In Bunny Cannon... isn’t as entertaining as the name implies. Bunnies? Being shot out of a cannon? Cool! I could go for that. Bunnies falling out of a weird dispenser thingy as a metaphor for reproduction? Now I’m afraid you lost me.

Digital Spy (4/5)
Bunny Cannon brings a satisfying new twist to puzzle games, with bite-size level chunks perfectly suited for a game on the go.

My favourite review is this one, from AppSpy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9er4-ysvb-o

He pretty much nailed it, spotting the strengths and weaknesses of the game:
Quote
AppSpy (4/5)
The problem with this style of game is the over-reliance on luck. Peggle managed to overshadow this problem with great sound design, and a variety of special moves. Bunny Cannon's variety comes from its levels, but the adherence to a rather strict bassinet goal on each stage quickly highlights this fault. However, because of the bizarre reasoning behind the gameplay, there is a level of amusement that comes from watching multitudes of baby bunnies springing forth out of nowhere, spiraling down chasms to cause a chain reaction of rabbits. Perhaps its this charm that will be the selling point of Bunny Cannon, and really, what's more amazing than the miracle of life, as ill-informed as this interpretation may be?

Due to our contract with NotDoppler I can't discuss figures. Maybe you have been reading this hoping to get some numbers... sorry about that. What I can tell you is that the game was a flop. Even with the coverage, even with the possitive reviews, the game never took off. If I had published the game by myself, it would have been a total disaster, even if we had made it within the intended 2 months. I couldn't afford a 6 pack of beer with the iAPs revenue. The upfront amount NotDoppler offered us was the only thing that helped us to recover some of our investment.

Lesson Learned #8: Always get a publisher to back you up.

The Flash version was released some weeks later, to promote the game. It had only 30 levels and 2 million plays later, it proved to worth almost nothing. I don't have the stats, but I doubt it got more than 100 sales.

Lesson Learned #9: Flash players want to play free Flash games, not to buy iOS games.

Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of the game. I think the level design is good, I love Dulce's art and the music is awesome. It was composed by Alberto Maya, by the way, a dear friend who also composed the music for our previous projects (Days of Monsters, Moby Dick 1 & 2). But all of that was not enough to get a successful game. I think that the biggest mistake I made was that I asked for feedback too late. The Flash version was ready before I asked anyone to try the game. I don't know how would I have fixed the gameplay, to avoid the luck-based feeling, but it should have been easier to fix on an early stage of the development. I should have tested it on the iPod earlier, too. iPhone users feedback came too late.

Lesson Learned #10: Ask for feedback as soon as you have a prototype.

This was the sad story of our game. I was so depressed that I quit game development for a while. But I love games and when I tested some of the cool 2.2 features I got back to Stencyl. I will tell you that story on a different post, if you are interested.

If you want to buy the game here are the links:
https://itunes.apple.com/app/bunny-cannon/id569343897?mt=8 (iPhone)
https://itunes.apple.com/app/bunny-cannon-hd/id578578620?mt=8 (iPad)

Lesson Learned #11: It's never as easy as it looks.
Lesson Learned #12: Don't make cute games. Play safe and just make a zombie shooter, or whatever...

« Last Edit: September 14, 2013, 11:44:14 pm by camaleonyco »

colburt187

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  • Posts: 2091
Really interesting insight, thanks for taking the time to post this, some valuable lessons for everybody.

Your games are amazing, keep it going man.

Innes

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  • Posts: 1963
#1 Thank you for taking the time to write and share this detailed post mortem. There are some valuable insights in there.

#2 I don't think that you should be too disappointed that the game was a 'flop'. You had a major publisher behind you, and they obviously thought that it was going to be a success. Sometimes, success requires more than a good game and skilled marketing; it appears that there is often an element of luck.

#3 Your English language skills are excellent! Your English is better than that of many who speak English as a first language. Considering the length and technical content of your post, there are very few errors. In fact, I think most native English speakers might have made a similar number of errors.

#4 Good luck with your future projects. You deserve it.
Visit www.TheStencylBook.com - the only published book for learning Stencyl.

camaleonyco

  • Posts: 204
#1 Thank you for taking the time to write and share this detailed post mortem. There are some valuable insights in there.
I like to read post-mortems, and I think I have learned a lot from them. I don't know if this is going to be useful to anyone, but it's what i got. I would love to contribute more to this community, and I will try to do it in the future.

#2 I don't think that you should be too disappointed that the game was a 'flop'. You had a major publisher behind you, and they obviously thought that it was going to be a success. Sometimes, success requires more than a good game and skilled marketing; it appears that there is often an element of luck.
Indeed, to succeed on the AppStore you need luck. A lot of it. Nothing can guarantee you your game is going to be a hit (maybe a million dollar budget for marketing can). However this game lacks of that viral element that every successful game has. It was a blessing to have NotDoppler as our publisher, but I still consider it a flop because it wasn't cost-effective, also... when you spent so much time in a game, you want it to be played. We still hope that more people will download it once the full version goes free.
#3 Your English language skills are excellent! Your English is better than that of many who speak English as a first language. Considering the length and technical content of your post, there are very few errors. In fact, I think most native English speakers might have made a similar number of errors.
Thanks! Dealing with sponsors and publishers is really hard and misunderstandings comes with a price, that's why I'm trying to improve my English.

#4 Good luck with your future projects. You deserve it.
Thanks for your kindness.

Satyre

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  • Posts: 276
Thanks for sharing your experience with us :).

It's a shame that Bunny Cannon didn't get as much reward as a mobile game as it should have deserved. But it's only a problem of the audience, because nowadays the survival / zombie etc theme is too overrated and every developer which is making another theme, will have his difficulties.

By the way, I like your game, in point of view as a player and developer. You did nothing wrong.

I have a small suggestion about an future update für bunny cannon. Halloween is not far, and you'll have the chance to revamp the graphics into a retro or modern monster design, like some bunnies wearing a zombie hat or mummy bandages.

h1rnz1lla

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thanks for the post, well done. I bought your game and really liked it. Its hard to compete with a strong game like Peggle. A lot of people are familiar with the mechanics and have high expectations. keep on working!

camaleonyco

  • Posts: 204
I have a small suggestion about an future update für bunny cannon. Halloween is not far, and you'll have the chance to revamp the graphics into a retro or modern monster design, like some bunnies wearing a zombie hat or mummy bandages.
That's a good idea. After spending so much time in a game, it would be wise to recycle the engine. I would need to convert it to 2.2, thou, but now that I understand how Stencyl works better, I guess it won't take as long as starting a new game from scratch. I know some developers that make 10 games recycling the same engine. Even when they don't get a great sponsorship for each one, it's very profitable in the long run. Maybe I would make one for Christmas.

A lot of people are familiar with the mechanics and have high expectations. keep on working!
That's true. It wasn't exactly a clone, but it looked like one. We got this kind of messages: "I'd rather just get peggle which looks better...".

Jon

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Along the same lines of recycling engines is releasing seasonal variations of your games to coincide with major holidays. If you price aggressively (or offer a limited product for free) and cross-promote, you can build up a brand that way.

thinkster

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That was definitely a interesting read!

Just about to release a game on iOS myself, so it has given me some points to think about.


Jay123

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hmm interesting, it's a pitty you didn't get more success from it as too me it looks very polished.. i agree with what some others said about recycling the engine , different themes etc.
thanks for sharing defiantly got some pointers from this.

I feel like i'm stuck in groundhog day - same code, same pc, same shite... no retreat, no surrender yaa !!!

altobi

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Thanks for the post!

I really enjoyed your game, and i really hope your next projects will earn you more.
You're lucky for having started the journey, and succeeded with a well designed product. Failing is only the first step on the success ladder, and thereafter its only upward.

Good luck mate!

GeorgeN

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You released a polished game and you learned a lot. In my opinion these things are > than any money because on your next games your skills will be better.

Thanks for sharing this and we (Stencyl community) love you (as a developer) and your games.