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Jungle town: how we wanted to change the world for the better by creating a children's game

by Dmitriy Makeyev on 05/06/21 10:23:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The history of our game began in 2016 with the purchase of an Apple TV set-top box. It was a very coveted device, on which I found several games, including games for children. One of them was from a famous studio, and I liked it so much that I told my wife and muse: "Honey, I want to make a game for our daughter!" She supported me.
I had the idea of ​​creating my own game or application before, but it seemed to me unreal, just outrageous. And at that moment the fire came on, and I decided to go only forward. “You need money and like-minded people to create a game,” you say. Yes that's right. At that time, I was a top videographer and was making good money, so I naively thought that my wife and I would find a team and just finance and manage the project.

Game scenario

The first thing we had to do was find a scriptwriter. We were lucky, the search was short-lived. We explained our goals and objectives to the author, told us which games we liked and began to look forward to the result. Having received the text in our hands, we were surprised by the super brief content of what was written. It turned out that instead of the expected scenario, we made the so-called "Bible" of the game, in which 6 characters of the characters, the game world and almost thesis gameplay were described, one might say, the idea of ​​game mechanics. Since, placing an order for the "Bible", at that moment we did not understand how it differs from the script, it became a good lesson for us to continue to discuss to the smallest detail what we pay money for.
Having received this document, we did not quite understand what to do with it, but the content was so inspiring that we started looking for the next artist who could describe in detail all the interactions in the game world. At that moment, I was so excited by the process of creating the game that I no longer had fear and doubts about moving forward, the beginning was exciting, but ... if only I knew what lay ahead 

The first depression

Since we have been engaged in video production for many years, we understood very well that we needed a director's script, and we were looking for people who could competently cope with this task. When communicating with the first performers, we were corrected that this was not a script at all, but a design document. It was, of course, uncomfortable that we actually know nothing about game creation, and this was the reason to start learning the terms and some important things related to game development.
During further communication with various performers, we heard a lot of negativity and pessimism about our plans, goals, many people told us: “You don't know anything, nothing will work out for you, the games are not done in a short time (by the way, we expected to meet 6 months), you won't make money in the children's segment ”, etc. Hearing such conversations, we understood that it makes no sense to work with such people, they will not offer us anything creative. All this drove into depression, and thoughts began to visit me, such as: who I am, where I climbed, this is beyond my power, I need to stop. I don't know if it is possible to believe in horoscopes that say that Aries are very stubborn and purposeful, but there are such traits in my character, therefore, after thinking for a few days, I decided to send everyone away and invited my wife to paint the design document themselves, how we painted the scenarios for filming.

Design document and search for references

Based on the setting of the game and the characters of the characters, we started writing a design document, creating 3 categories in it: visuals, mechanics, hero actions. We did not know how the pros do it, but the samples of design docs found on the Internet seemed to us not entirely clear for the performers, so we decided to stick with our own scheme. Step by step, we went over in our head ideas on how to saturate the game world with outstanding mechanics, revised many games for children, found disadvantages in them and tried to get rid of these disadvantages in the scenario of our future game.
Taking inspiration from Green Riding Hood, Good Night Circus, Sago Mini and Cut the rope, we wanted to make something simple to perform, yet functional and beautiful. In addition to analyzing games, we found many references for performers. The choice was difficult, I came across a lot of illustrations of backgrounds and characters in both flat and full styles, preference was given to the flat style, because it could be drawn faster.
Design document grew page after page, the initial concept was changed and supplemented more and more, so that the game was even more interesting and difficult against the background of other games from the children's category. Our trick was to come up with a mechanic that would allow the child to understand what to do without voice and text prompts, plus this made it possible to make localization universal. There were situations when the mechanics were so incomprehensible that they had to make sketches or appliques and “play” on paper.
As a result, we wrote a 40-page design document. It was "wow!", We overcame another obstacle course. My stubbornness did not disappoint me)))

Finding performers and again difficulties

The first step was to find a character illustrator. The sites Behance, and Artstation served as the basis for the search. In 2016, there were not very many such specialists in the post-Soviet space, and of those who liked it, many were busy or did not fit our budget.
Finally, we settled on one Armenian studio, which offered a full cycle of character development, from sketches to the final color drawing, as well as the creation of backgrounds and animation. From them we learned about the Unity 3D development environment and the wonderful Spine 2D package for animating a future game. During the negotiations, it turned out that their prices were too high for us, and we settled on a couple of other performers. The guys drew several versions of a test character and a background, but that was not what we wanted. We paid for the work, although according to the contract we could not do this, but the performers themselves impressed me so much that I wanted to thank them for their work. Subsequently, I realized that in addition to an excellent result, I need people with whom it would be comfortable to work, because I had experience of interacting with different guys, and sometimes I felt uncomfortable due to the fact that my wishlist was cut at the root or demonstrated stellar character.
We decided to talk again with the Armenian studio and revise their full cycle, in the end we successfully agreed to develop the characters and set them up in Spine 2D without animation. From that moment all the fun began. I really liked the guys in their work and communication, we began to receive the first sketches of an elephant and it was like the birth of a child. The sketches were drawn by different artists from the same studio, and we were faced with a choice of character stylistics.

We decided to send the options to friends and acquaintances in order to help them decide, in the final we connected our 4-year-old daughter to the choice and completely trusted her. Later, she actively participated in the development of the game as the main tester and all this time was looking forward to the release.

So, the artist started to draw sketches of the rest of the characters based on the chosen style. They needed to be corrected, and I realized that I could not at all explain what I wanted, I had to use my "abilities" and finish drawing those details that needed to be corrected. It was an interesting experience, a lot of paper was crumpled, because I corrected the sketches with a pencil. The work was very inspiring, and we fluttered with happiness, looking at our cuties in pencil technique.
But now we got the colored versions of the characters, and then clouds thickened over my head. What we saw, in my opinion, was terrible.

First colored characters

Sorry guys if you are reading me, but in reality the characters in the sketches and in color were completely different. As it turned out, a specialist left the studio to draw color versions. I decided to see what would happen when they set up the character setup in Spine 2D, hoping that all the imperfections would be smoothed out and the animation would look different, but, alas, this result did not suit me either.
I had to sit down again and look for performers in order to get beautiful colored characters from sketches. This dragged on for 3 long months, I very carefully went through the specialists, asked for trial drawings, but everything was unsuccessful. I decided to try to draw the characters in color myself. I thought it would be easy with my design skills, but it wasn't. I had to buy a graphics tablet and master it, change the appearance of characters, their proportions and clothes in the process of drawing, study drawing lessons, look for references to finalize the picture, and it was not easy, because design is one thing, but being an artist is quite another , besides, in a very short time I wanted to achieve the result I needed. The first character - a porcupine - was drawn painfully and for a long time, it was especially difficult to work with the eyes, I could not make her look childishly cute, plus I had to draw all the other characters in her image. Once the work on it was over, the rest went like clockwork, hero after hero.

After drawing, the question of animation arose, my wife joined the work, she drew wonderful sprite facial expressions for each character, which, unfortunately, we did not have to use.

The work on the characters was completed at the end of August, I didn't become an artist over the summer, but I coped with my task. In October, we finally found an illustrator of the game world (also not on the first try), but a month later - an animator who was supposed to start his work in January 2017. In parallel, I studied Spine 2D, began to animate characters and objects, but not I planned to continue doing this, I was just interested. In addition, this knowledge helped to understand the process of working in Spine 2D and integration with Unity 3D, so that in the future I could communicate with the animator in an understandable language and set the right tasks for him.
January 2017. The work was in full swing, I continued to do business, earning money to play, and at the same time I was in touch with the guys, setting tasks and controlling the process.
We immediately found a common language with the artist Anton, he was imbued with our project and promised to draw the backgrounds in 3-4 months, but, unfortunately, due to the parallel work he had, everything lasted for about 14 months. Of course, this was not part of my plans, but it was comfortable to work with him, so I decided to ignore this moment. The same story was repeated with the animator Andrey. Oh, this freelance! How easily things can get out of hand! Time, unfortunately, is merciless, and all plans to finish the game as soon as possible collapsed before our eyes.
In the process, Anton studied each level and made many of his adjustments. For example, in the design doc it was written that the player should pump up a tire for a bicycle, but Anton suggested thinking about a more interesting method (we have a jungle where eco-materials are used), and we started to fantasize. The first idea: use a snake instead of tires, thought for a long time how to pump it up, laughed a lot, then Anton suggested taking caterpillars instead of a snake and feeding them pumpkin juice, and when they were full and swollen, they would simply fall, and then the player would drag them to the wheel rim. And so they did. Children simply adore this level.


In terms of the stylistics of the characters, the game was supposed to be in a Flat style, but the backgrounds turned out to be more complicated, and, in my opinion, Anton managed to harmoniously combine two different styles. We decided to draw the UI in Flat too and make it very simple. I had to suffer with hints, initially it was supposed only to graphically depict the task in a separate window, but, as it turned out, it was difficult for the player to find and call a hint, so we decided to add arrows and fingers. In some moments, this was not enough, so the idea was born to add a light bulb "Eureka!", So our game has a lot of various tips.

I also had to puzzle over the map of the game, it was necessary to harmoniously place the houses of the heroes in order to create a small cozy town. Initially, to move to a new level, it was planned to click on the houses, but this idea was abandoned, since it was not entirely clear which level was passed and which one was not. But they came up with a board on vines, which drops out on the map, where you can see the progress of the game.

It was as comfortable to work with the animator Andrey as it was with Anton. We started the animation with characters, each of them needed the following kit:

3 states of waiting for player actions - idle;
1 animation of observing the player's action - look;
1 reaction to the correct action - correctly;
1 reaction to a wrong action - wrong;
3 states of joyful emotions at the end of each task - emotion;
about 5 animations related to tasks, intro, final cartoon.

The animated characters turned out to be very cool, it was an amazing job. Everything was fine with the items too, but most of it had to be redone myself when importing into Unity 3D. If the programming work was carried out simultaneously with the animations, I could set the right tasks for Andrey, and since the work was going “blindly”, later I had to close my eyes to the need for rework and hope that there would be not so many edits.

In parallel with the artist and animator, I planned to work with a programmer, but realizing that the work was taking more than a year, I began to study Unity, in particular, integration with Spine 2D. It was a nightmare, I looked at the monitor and blinked: what? where to? what for? I tried to throw one animated level into the program, and when I brought the first animation to the phone without programming, just animation, an angelic halo formed over my head. It sounds ridiculous, but I felt like a programmer)))

I remembered my words to my wife that if we start making a game, I will only set tasks and control the process. And then the moment comes when I tell her: “Imagine, I found a way to make a game in Unity without code! Now I will just try to collect one level in order to continue to be smarter in the eyes of the programmer ", to which she answered me:" I did not even doubt that you would definitely do something with your own hands. " I adore my wife for the fact that she always allows me to move forward and create, does not extinguish this fire in me.
I chose the PlayMaker visual programming method.

I spent a month and collected one sublevel in the first level. This period almost broke me, I wanted to quit the game, everything seemed very difficult, terrible thoughts were constantly spinning in my head that I would collect everything, but it would not work. In the end, I pulled myself together and said to myself: "Everything will work out, I can handle it", besides, the guys were happy with the result, and my success in terms of animation and software became more and more with each stage, and I felt more confident. It is very good that I started with visual programming, because all the mechanics that were described in the design dock have changed a lot in practice, I even began to think a little differently. Over time, my knowledge grew so much that I learned how to write actions for the Playmaker, which are necessary, for the most part, to work with Spine 2D.

In 2018, it was time to write music for the game, and I met the wonderful composer Gennady. He liked our game, and he also, as they say, put a piece of his soul into it. For many years I worked in production with video and music directly, but, to be honest, I could not really explain what kind of music I needed. We trusted Gennady and he wrote such cool tunes that kids hum every time they play in Jungle Town.

The next step I began to look for performers for the voice acting of characters and objects. From 4-5 times we approved the voices of the characters, but it didn't work out with the sounds, we had to take the load on ourselves again. I didn't know how to approach this process and first of all decided to record the whole game with music, and overlay the sounds that I downloaded as a demo from Audiojungle on top of the recording. After I edited everything in Premiere Pro, bought the used sounds, a surprise awaited me: the demo sounds came in one file, and the purchased ones - in separate files, I had to search and manually synchronize the desired file on the timeline. Then it turned out that the sounds need to be exported exactly so that they match the animation, otherwise they will not be synchronized in Unity. Here, on my life path, I met another wonderful person, Ilya, who knows C # well, he helped me write the code for the Animator State in Unity. The epic with sounds did not end there ... After testing them on a mobile device, I found that the sounds creak, make noise, in general, they are not at all as cool as on a computer. It turned out that phone manufacturers cut frequencies, thereby increasing the volume of sounds. I had to make a control for listening to sounds from Unity in real time, work with frequencies, find an acceptable option and apply it to all sounds.

Hooray! This is the end of the long, long development!

Release and income expectations

In February 2020, it's time to release. Versions for iOS and Android were prepared, while publishing in the App Store, there were slight difficulties with analytics in children's applications. The game was rejected many times, but after all the fixes and removal of analytics, we were finally published.
We applied for featured in both stores, but, after 6 months, we did not receive it on the main page.
Incomes were very low, the first purchases were made by our friends and acquaintances, and then everything calmed down. In April, there were active sales, not as many as we would like, but they were. It turned out that we got featured in the App We Love children's category on the iPad in the US, stayed there for about two months, and again were left with almost no sales.
For a long time they tried to understand what was happening, set up ASO, changed pictures, experimented with discounts and giveaways, built and tested hypotheses. As a result, we came to the conclusion that the premium model does not work in our case. And making a product is one thing, but selling it is quite another. This is a whole science that we still have to master before taking on the continuation of our wonderful Jungle Town ...

The game Jungle Town is currently launched in the following stores in Premium and Freemium versions:

App Store, Mac App Store, Apple TV, Google Play, Amazone Store, HUAWEI AppGallery, Steam, Windows Store.

The game works on both desktop and mobile platforms, there is an adaptation for game consoles. We plan to release a series of Jungle town games for kids. We really hope that the result of our labors will delight you and your children.

To be continued!

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