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Postmortem: RiverMan Media's MadStone
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Postmortem: RiverMan Media's MadStone

January 14, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

[Gamasutra's first-ever WiiWare postmortem reveals the story behind overlooked block puzzler MadStone, with technical, design, marketing and productivity lessons galore.]


Eighteen years ago, my brother and I decided to make a Nintendo game. I was eight years old and he was four. I didn't know what we were going to make, much less how to make it. Nevertheless, nearly two decades later, we actually managed to achieve our childhood goal. This is the story of our first game for a Nintendo console, a WiiWare game called MadStone.


MadStone is a 2D falling block puzzler that costs $8 on WiiWare. It was designed to mimic the simple-but-deep mechanics of games like Tetris Attack, Meteos, and Puyo Pop. It features a linear 1-player arcade mode and several competitive modes.

Before releasing MadStone, my company, RiverMan Media published two moderately well-received PC casual games, Cash Cow and Primate Panic.

A screenshot from the final version of MadStone

What Went Right

1. Stalking Nintendo

I work part time at IBM as a user interface designer. One morning, one of my coworkers stopped by my office. He had just read an article about WiiWare, Nintendo's downloadable software service targeted at smaller projects and indie developers. My friend suggested that my company should pursue making Wii games through the program.

My initial reaction was, "No way!" I'm a huge Nintendo fan and I love the Wii, but I thought that we were way too small, too inexperienced, and too underfunded to actually pull it off. Also, the prospect of directly pursuing my childhood dream scared me a little. What if I screwed things up?

My friend left my office and curiosity got the better of me. Sitting at my desk, I Googled Nintendo's corporate phone number. Not really expecting anything to happen, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed them up.

Apparently Nintendo's receptionists don't get a lot of calls from random people asking to develop Wii games, because after an awkward moment they actually put me through to someone.

The WiiWare representative I talked to told me that he'd be at the Austin Game Developer's Conference the next week. He told me that he'd be happy to tell me about WiiWare in person. Woohoo! I bought some expensive last-minute tickets and headed to Texas.

Unfortunately, there was a flaw in my strategy: I had no firm plans for when or where to meet up with the guy! Nintendo didn't have a booth, and when I arrived at the conference, I found myself frantically scanning name badges, hoping against hope that one of them would say "Nintendo." No luck.

Finally, in desperation, I Googled Nintendo's phone number yet again. I pleaded with them to give me the representative's phone number so I could get in touch with him. Of course, giving out employee cell numbers is understandably against company policy. I explained to them that my entire reason for being in Austin was to meet up with him, that the conference was almost over, and I really needed help. Finally they broke down and gave me his number.

Just a few hours before his flight home, the Nintendo representative and I met up for coffee. I told him about my company and explained how much we wanted to develop for Nintendo consoles. He agreed that RiverMan Media sounded like a good fit for WiiWare. I left the meeting feeling absolutely ecstatic.

All told, it took us about three months, dozens of phone calls and emails, and lots of pestering before we finally crossed the threshold of becoming Wii developers. We are a small team and Nintendo clearly wasn't overwhelmed with our credentials. It was a frustrating process and I often wondered if I'd made the right decision.

However, a lot of good things came out of the ordeal. We became closer with several key people at Nintendo, and we got a chance to develop our core technology without the temptation of diving right into a game. Nintendo even helped us get development kits at a reduced price from a company that didn't need them anymore!

The Lesson: Getting your foot in the door is not easy. Crossing the threshold will almost certainly require you to move beyond your comfort zone.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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josh roulston
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I'd just like to mention that you could have bones, skinning and NURBS in 2D. I'm not saying that you should, just that you could :)

Calle Kyhlberg
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Having recently launched our first game, I really appreciated the article. Will you continue to pursue wiiware?

Jacob Stevens
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Absolutely, we plan to continue pursuing WiiWare! I still think Nintendo's business model is one of the best there is for small Indy's.

We'll be announcing our next game soon.


Keep an eye on our next project... there's some 2D technology in there that might be interesting to you. It's not bones or skinning *exactly* but it will provide many of the same benefits!

Jacob Stevens

Russell Carroll
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Fantastic read. I appreciated the time you took to write this and the self-critical analysis.

Madstone was buried in a sea of puzzle games, and now I feel kind of guilty for not giving it more personal attention! However, I did really like the visual style and am very intrigued at what you will do next.

Olli-Matti Rautiainen
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Most inspirational postmortem I've read in a long time. Makes me work all the harder today. Congratulations on shipping MadStone and best of luck with your next game project!

Sean Parton
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As a new indie dev myself, and also a long time Nintendo fan, this was both entertaining and insightful to read. Some of the comments (read Slashdot when I should be working?..) certainly hit home.

I appreciate you doing this postmortem for the public. In commemoration, I hope to go home and download your game in the near future and give it a shot (I do love my puzzle games).

Good luck for the future, RiverMan Media.

Carlos Obregon
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A great article indeed.

I think it is really important to have reviewers have an early look on our projects to pinpoint those things that sometimes are not so obvious to us.

I also think that it is really important to have an open dialog with users surfing the web and reviews so they really understand the reason behind some decisions. Sometimes they seem to overblow everything while sometimes there is a some well intended reason behind a decision.

I also wish RivenMan Media, the best luck on the future!

John Krajewski
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Thanks for the very candid and honest look at your project. As an indie developer as well there's a lot of lessons in your article to take to heart. Good luck on your next project!

Andrew Goulding
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Thanks for a great article. As a contract programmer working in the casual games field and wanting to create some original contract this article really hit home with me.

I envy your ability to find a team that's dedicated to work for a royalty split, I sometimes feel so isolated in that respect.

Andrew Goulding
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Oops, that was meant to read "original content" =0). No way to edit posts here it seems, I'd best be more careful next time!

robert toone
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Thanks for this most excellent article. Your way of admitting frustration and anger of Media comments and then adjusting your point of view to be more objective is really awesome.

You have some great lessons in this article and i hope that any people doing games development, or wanting to, read this first.

I hope that i can be as open to what people say about my games, now and in the future.

Good luck on your future games.

Benjamin Quintero
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congrats guys. you're living my dream =). Keep it up.

Jacob Stevens
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Hi Everyone!

I'd like to thank you all for your support and positive feedback. I'm really glad you found the postmortem interesting and useful. Please let me know if you have any further questions.


RiverMan Media

Jerome Strach
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Having worked in the industry for a little while, beginning my work developing for the Atari Lynx, this article rings of particular truths and importance for me. I too would extend my applause in your ability to provide valuable, personal, painful insight and to allow others to learn from your experiences. Most of us that have gone through this shake our heads in agreement as we empathize sincerely.

Ultimately, it's important to realize a couple things.

1) We learn far more from our failures than our successes. I think Kevin Costner recently said in an article, "We take failure in this country far too seriously."

2) You achieved a life-long dream; what's more important than that?

Fight the good fight!!! Thanks for sharing...

Raymond Grier
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You can always release a deluxe version later :) Upgraded software is cheaper to produce too ;) Good luck!!

Roberto Colnaghi
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I must confess I've seem myself reading this article. I'm going the same path writing a game for iPhone.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Nick Matantsev
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When all is said and done, did you and your team at least break even on time invested, etc? That is, were you able to pay yourself a salary from the resulting sales?

I don't mean to pry for confidential info, of course; just wondering if despite the mixed reviews you were able to recoup some money and time invested...

Darren Schnare
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This is the most enlightening postmortem I've ever read. Good job, and you can bet that I'm going to give MadStone a try.

I am also curious, like Nick Matantsev, about the pay off for this title.

Kudos to you and your team!

Voldi Way
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Excellent postmortem! Very well written. I felt like I was there with you through the whole journey. Having just been through the process with LIT, I can empathize with the challenges you struggled through. The difference is that you only had three people on your team who also had day jobs, and you were still able to pull it off in record time! You guys are amazing! Best of success on your future WiiWare games as well!