Monday, May 21, 2018

New Focus and New Feels for 2018!

A lot has happened so far in 2018. It is already looking like a very busy year for Atooi. Here’s a list of the key events so far in 2018.

February 15 – Xeodrifter released on Nintendo Switch.
March 1 – Totes the Goat released on Nintendo Switch.
March 1 – Mutant Mudds Collection on sale at 50% off for 20 days.
April 1 – Xeodrifter on sale at 50% off for 20 days.
April 5 – Chicken Wiggle Workshop successfully Kickstarted for release on Nintendo Switch.
May 1 – Totes the Goat on sale at 20% off for 20 days.
May 16 – Development of new secret game started.
June 14 – Soccer Slammers releasing for Nintendo Switch on same day the World Cup kicks off.

Looking at that list I would understand someone thinking that everything is chaos and stress at Atooi Towers, but it is quite the opposite surprisingly. Sure, we’re busy. No doubt! But, everything is going really well with positive energy flowing through each project. Quite a contrast in emotion compared to my previous blog posts.

A lot of this for me is a matter of perspective. I have accepted the fact that I missed out on the gold rush that happened for the lucky indie devs who were allowed to release their games in the first 6 months of Nintendo Switch. Am I jealous? Yeah, totally. But, I am also genuinely happy for them. The launch window of a new platform is a short and exciting time to release new games. I was lucky enough to be a part of this with Mutant Mudds on the 3DS eShop. I tried to be a part of this golden time on Switch, but it didn’t work out. Hakuna matata.

I have also accepted the fact that I cannot and should not expect marketing support from Nintendo. My VIP membership has expired. 😊 And, that’s fine. Each business must do what it thinks is best for their own business. I am fully embracing that concept and focusing on what I must do for my own business without relying on others. Obviously, I wouldn’t say no to some help from Nintendo’s marketing machine, but it is healthier for me to assume it is not going to happen and forge my own way ahead.

I hope this does not come across as a rant, because that is honestly not how I feel about it. I am at peace with it, and I feel driven and energized to make my own independent path ahead. We have managed to release our current catalog of titles on the Switch and have new games on the way. Everything is going really well, and I am very thankful for that.



Soccer Slammers
We just finished up Soccer Slammers, which was a really fun project I created with programming pal Phil Elder. We first created a prototype for the game in June 2017. We spent about two weeks trying out different ideas to see what would work well. Initially I wanted to try it with no goalies, but that made it too easy and too simple. It lost that sense of mystery with shots on goal.

One of the first elements to get working right was the camera. We opted for a simple camera that does not move up or down, only horizontally. It’s like it’s locked on one of those rails that Spielberg would use to film a tracking shot in Indiana Jones! This combination of smooth, fast, and locked positioning shows off a great deal of the field, which does a good job of keeping track of most of the players in the game while staying focused on the ball.

The slam tackle went in pretty fast and felt good immediately. It was a balance of getting the slam speed, duration, and the period of time the player is static at the end of the tackle to produce a good sense of risk and reward when performing the move. Slamming someone and stealing the ball feels great.

The player movement speed and sprint took some finessing to present a nice feeling of jogging at default speed and really feeling like you rocket off when using sprint. A parameter of this was also the sprint meter, which controls how much the sprint can be used and not abused. When we got the smoke trail behind the player working properly I was very happy. The goal was to capture a similar feeling to the smoke trail in Super Mario 3D World, and I think we got pretty close.

Massaging all of these elements together to form a cohesive experience was a ton of fun, and it came together very well over a short period of time. A lot of my inspiration came from a combination of NBA Jam and Speedball and seeing how that gameplay could be adapted for soccer. Working with Phil was very easy and fun. That really helped the process go well. Positive attitudes go a long way.

We didn’t return to the game until late January 2018 – after Totes the Goat was submitted to Nintendo Lotcheck for approval. Since then, we’ve been hammering on Soccer Slammers pretty hard to finish up and polish the gameplay experience and add the structure of the different modes and features. We submitted the game to Nintendo Lotcheck on May 9, 2018. It was approved on May 17, 2018. We got lucky. That’s a very fast turnaround!



Sales Promotions
During the first few months of 2018 I decided to put all of Atooi’s Nintendo Switch games on sale. The timing for Mutant Mudds Collection felt natural (3 months after release), while the timing for Xeodrifter and Totes the Goat was a bit quicker than normal. Due to the nature of the Nintendo Switch eShop market and the fact that both games are direct ports, I felt this was an acceptable move to make. Not something I would be eager to do with a new original title on Nintendo Switch (read: Soccer Slammers will not be going on sale as quickly).



Chicken Wiggle Workshop
To throw a Kickstarter campaign in the midst of all this development activity could have been a disaster, but Chicken Wiggle Workshop was the right kind of campaign for that moment. I felt that if the Kickstarter video and the Kickstarter page effectively presented the concept of the campaign, then it had a chance to have an explosive start with a steady middle period and a spike towards the end, which is very common for successful Kickstarter campaigns. Thankfully, this is what happened.

It was a simple proposition: do you want this 3DS game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch with fancy new artwork and possibly a stretch goal that adds a sweet orchestral soundtrack? If the video and page showed off the qualities of the original game and what it would look and sound like on the Nintendo Switch, it left the viewer with a simple yes / no answer. 1553 people said yes and raised $35, 634. Wow! Amazing!! A huge thank you to everyone who supported the project. I’ll have some delights to share on our progress soon.



Treasurenauts
Since we finished Soccer Slammers we have been able to dive back into the development of Treasurenauts. This is now Phil’s fulltime focus. We were working on the game in 2017 too, but then we spent some time to get Totes the Goat and Soccer Slammers finished up.

The current task is moving all of the original goodness over to Unity. We want to get everything working on Unity for many reason, but the short version is that it makes everything simpler, quicker, and easier for us in the long run. Progress on this is going really well. I will join Phil in creating new content for the game soon, which I am very much looking forward to.

Each time I return to the development of Treasurenauts it is a wonderfully interesting experience. I spend a little time getting reacquainted with everything. It’s like going to the pub with old friends you haven’t seen for a while. After the first pint it’s just like old times and everything comes rushing back like no time has passed at all.

What’s really nice is that I have been able to bring my new experiences to Treasurenauts on each of my revisits. I haven’t been able to do that with any other game. Sometimes it is a small idea or detail, and sometimes it’s a big change that fits perfectly into the big picture, improving the overall concept.

My vision for the game is clear. It’s just a matter of making the time to finish it and finish it well. I know it will be a really fun game. It will probably be the best 2D platformer that I have had the pleasure of working on to date. That’s why I don’t want to rush it out for the sake of it. It will be done when it’s done, which will not be 2018 unfortunately. It will offer a bright shiny piece of treasure for folks to look forward to in 2019.



Secret Project
We are developing a new secret game. It is for Nintendo Switch and will release sooner than you may expect! It’s sort of new territory for me, and I am very excited about it. It is not connected with any other Atooi property. It is completely new. It is my hope that it leverages two future public events and benefits from its connection to them. How’s that for a cryptic clue?



New Focus
My focus for the foreseeable future is to try and be more mindful of the games that Atooi publishes. The two simple goals for each game is 1. High quality. 2. High sales. That is nothing new. But, how those goals are achieved differs greatly from project to project. Soccer Slammers was a case of making a fun arcade soccer title to coincide with the World Cup. I believe the game is high quality, and the soccer theme of the game should align well with the World Cup fever. Whether that is a recipe for high sales remains to be seen.

More Secrets!
I have one other exciting secret for 2018, which should be happening sometime between June and August. I have done something similar to this in the past, which was successful, and I hope this works out well too. I run the risk of setting high expectations for myself, but I think the dangers are somewhat limited with this one. Fingers crossed! More news soon.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and if you like watching videos, here's a VLOG entry I made recently:


Monday, January 29, 2018

Whine & Dine with Watsham

MORNING COFFEE
Every now and then I like to write about what's happened over the past few months. It is a cathartic exercise for me, and hopefully offers something of interest to you. A common theme over the past few entries has been one of complaining about bad things that have happened. This may present an impression that I am a negative person who likes to whine about things. My friends can back me up that nothing could be further from the truth. I am naturally a very optimistic and positive person. I don't think I would have managed to start two video game companies of my own and developed titles such as Dementium, Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter, and Chicken Wiggle without a hopeful outlook on the world.

If everything was going well, I would title this entry Fine Dining with Watsham. We're just not there... yet (there's that optimism).

My previous blog entry discussed the results of Chicken Wiggle's launch on 3DS, which was unfortunately less than stellar. However, once I picked myself from the floor and dusted myself off I was ready to make my mark on the Nintendo Switch with Mutant Mudds Collection.


BREAKFAST
Mutant Mudds' entry to the Switch library could have been a vanilla one. It would have been fine to release only Mutant Mudds Deluxe on Switch at $9.99 and then later release Mutant Mudds Super Challenge as a separate title. But I did not want to do that, because I believe first impressions can be important.

Instead, we set out to make Mudds on Switch special. Combining MMD and MMSC into a single game was a fun idea, and to top it off we decided to throw in a mudderized version of Bomb Monkey, called Mudd Blocks, which not only offers variety in gameplay to the trio, but also supports two player action. I was convinced this would be a big hit on the Switch among all the news of indie titles selling like hotcakes on the new platform.

Feeling good about the content of the game - having spent a lot of time and effort to add 100+ HD Rumble entries to cover every conceivable opportunity in the three games and support online leaderboards for all three games - I turned my attention to the other aspects that contribute to a games' successful launch: Pricing and PR.

My first thought was to set up Mutant Mudds Collection with a loyalty discount, so folks who purchased any of the muddy games on 3DS or Wii U would be able to buy the game at a lower cost. Unfortunately, this feature is not currently supported by Nintendo. OK, so the next best thing I could think of was to offer the game at a lower price as a pre-order so muddy fans could at least save some dough that way.

I wrestled with the pricing of the game for a long time. Many indie games had released at $19.99 on Switch, and that was becoming the norm at the time. But, due to the fact that MMC was a port of older games, and my thought that the indie gold-rush was coming to an end due to eShop saturation of games, I believed $14.99 would be a more attractive price. With that, I decided to put the game at $9.99 as a pre-order, which was surely a very appealing price for anyone interested in the games.

OK, great - that hurdle was figured out and now I needed to think about PR. I sent out dozens and dozens of codes to websites, youtubers, and anyone else who might give a little exposure of the game to a new audience - which is all fairly standard practice. In addition to this, I was fortunate enough to land a spot on IGN's Nintendo Voice Chat on the week the game was set to release. So cool!!

IGN is located in San Francisco, and I am located in Austin, Texas. I am becoming somewhat of a homebody as I get older, but this seemed like an opportunity I had to jump on. The folks at IGN are truly great people, and the chance to get the word out about MMC to an audience I may otherwise never reach was just too fabulous to miss. I invested in the time, flight, and hotel to make the appearance happen. It felt like an investment that would pay off.

I set up some Facebook ads as well as promoted some Tweets to try and get the word out during the pre-order period as well as post release. It's always difficult to gauge exactly how effective this can be, but I wanted to leave no stone unturned for Atooi's debut title on Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo's social channels on Twitter and Facebook are potentially massive opportunities to get the news out about your games to an audience who is likely interested in your game - or at least curious enough to check it out on the eShop. I emailed folks at NOA to put the game on their radar for consideration of inclusion in their social activity.

It felt like I did everything within my power to launch an interesting game on Nintendo Switch at a great price and get the word out so folks knew it was available. I had heard stories of games selling tens of thousands of copies within the first two weeks. Even though I always try to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, I truly felt that this could be a big hit for us.


LUNCH
I don't want to dive too deep into the sales details, because this blog entry is not purely about the sales of Mutant Mudds Collection, but more about everything that's going on right now. MMC has sold only "OK". I really shouldn't complain, but it's difficult to keep expectations in check when you read about success stories like Enter the Gungeon selling 75,000 copies in it's first two weeks. The same two weeks your game released, and you're seeing results less than 10% of that. The sales of MMC will help Atooi move along a little further, but I won't be throwing a celebratory party any time soon.

Why did Mutant Mudds Collection not sell as well as a game like Enter the Gungeon? It is difficult to say, exactly. Everyone will have their theories, and I expect many of them will be written in the comments section and/or tweeted at me. But, without actual data it's all anecdotal assumptions. The comparison of Mutant Mudds Collection and Enter the Gungeon is a very interesting one. Gungeon was originally released in April 2016 and Mutant Mudds Super Challenge was originally released in March 2016. Both are pixel games. Both were priced at $14.99. Gungeon was not offered at $9.99 as a pre-order, though. And, MMC is a collection of three games.

Enter the Gungeon was published by Devolver Digital, who is a fantastic publisher. I have many good friends who work at Devolver who I love and respect. I am truly happy for their success with this title, and for the developer who created it (Dodge Roll). But, I can't help but be a little jealous of their success over mine and try to determine what might have contributed to the different results. I always assume I made mistakes, and I expect I made many, but I also look for significantly different events that may have contributed to one games' success over another similar title.

I know that Devolver Digital is very good at promoting their games, and I am certain that this played a big part in the games' success. Maybe I just need to work with them... hmmm!? Another key event that I noticed happening prior to the launch of our games and on release day was the activity on Nintendo of America's twitter channel. Enter the Gungeon was retweeted prior to the games' release - announcing the release dates - and was also retweeted on launch day. I know that this may not be the singular reason a game will sell 75,000 copies in its first two weeks, but being tweeted out to over 8 million folks sure won't hurt.

I should add that I was thrilled and deeply appreciative when I saw Mutant Mudds Collection included on the Switch news channel as one of the indie titles highlighted for December. I have no data on how many folks view the news channels on the Switch, but it was wonderful to be included.

As a quick side note, if Mutant Mudds Collection sold 75,000 copies we would be looking at NET revenue of over $780,000. WOW! That would literally change Atooi's future over night. It is difficult for me to think of this in light of it being possible but not achieved with Mutant Mudds Collection, but I have to look at it as something that is still achievable and soldier on with that goal. I have had to do this multiple times in my career as an indie developer, and this is no different. One day I will achieve this sort of success, and I will use that success to make games that knock your socks off!


DINNER
So, what's next? If you follow me on twitter you may already know that Xeodrifter is coming to Nintendo Switch February 15 for $9.99. After the exhaustive efforts I put into setting up MMC for success and its sales not meet that effort, I am opting for a more restrained and simple release of Xeodrifter. No pre-order. No triple pack. Just bringing an excellent mini Metroid game to Switch at a reasonable price. We did take the time to add HD Rumble and make sure the game runs super smooth and awesome on the Switch. Fingers crossed it finds its audience.


I have also announced that Totes the Goat is coming to Switch. This is a port of Atooi's very first game. A mobile title I released as a side project while still active with Renegade Kid. The original game was developed in Unity, so bringing it to Switch was fairly quick and simple. We still took the time to polish it up nice and pretty for the Switch, and added some new playable characters for players to unlock. Totes is going through Nintendo lotcheck now. No firm release date yet. It will be priced $4.99 and not have any of the ads or in-game purchases of the mobile release.


We have a new previously unannounced game that will be coming out in time for the World Cup! WHAT!? I know, right!! It is a fun side project that we've been kicking around for a while now (pun intended). It's an arcade soccer game, called Soccer Slammers. Taking inspiration from NBA Jam, Soccer Slammers is a 2-on-2 arcade soccer experience focused on fast, fun gameplay for Nintendo Switch.

We'll be bringing Soccer Slammers to GDC to show it off to anyone who's interested. :)


What else? So much more!! I'll get to Treasurenauts in a sec. But, first... Chicken Wiggle: Re-hatched. I put the call out to folks in the twitterverse to gauge interest in potentially running a Kickstarter campaign to bring an HD version of Chicken Wiggle to Nintendo Switch. Even though I know results on twitter are no guarantee, the most I expected to get from asking is whether this was a good idea or a terrible idea. I conclude it is a good idea! More on a Kickstarter campaign for Chicken Wiggle: Re-hatched coming soon!


DESSERT!
And now, onto Treasurenauts!!! Treasurenauts is going to be fantastic. If there is one thing that I have learned from the recent releases is that nothing is as exciting as a new game. It can be a port of your favorite game, but it's still something you've already experienced. A new game!? That is full of potential and excitement.


Treasurenauts is something that I have worked on and off for many years now. I first revealed the game back in 2013, which was clearly too early. :) It has been a really fun project to revisit. Each game that I have worked on and even each game that I have played has contributed to what Treasurenauts is today. It is the amalgamation of everything that I have learned about platformers, and it is a game that is truly special to me.

The design of Treasurenauts is complete. I continue to tweak small details of the design here and there, but the bulk of what Treasurenauts is has been established. Now, we just need to finish all of the content and wrap it up. I have no doubt in my mind that it will be my most ambitious and best platformer that I've had the pleasure of working on. I am constantly surprised and thrilled that people are still out there asking about the game and demanding its release.

The reason the game has taken so long is because it is larger in scope than my other platformers, and as such can't be rushed. However, that also means that it is not earning money for Atooi. Therefore, other games must be developed and released in order to generate money to enable us to continue with development. This is why games like Xeodrifter, Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, Chicken Wiggle, and Soccer Slammers exist. They were each a delight to develop, and they all fit within a time period shorter than Treasurenauts, which made them great candidates to release and generate cash. Admittedly, Chicken Wiggle development totally went off the rails and ended up taking 16 months, but I am proud of the results. :)

I will be bringing a playable of Treasurenauts to E3 2018. I will have more news on the game at that time. Until then, thank you for your continued support.

Now, before I go: I wrote this for me and for the folks out there who care about me and want to know what's going on in my life. If you see this as whining or want to give me shit for it. Go fuck yourself. :) I don't usually swear publicly - even though I swear like a sailor privately - but, it's getting to the point where people sending me asshole comments on my blog and twitter is just getting boring and tiring. I don't care about your negative comments. They are a reflection of you. Not me.

To the lovers out there - keep on loving. I love you all! 💓

Friday, September 8, 2017

Breaking Eggs - Making Omelettes

The transition from 3DS to Switch is upon us! Today is September 8, three weeks after Chicken Wiggle released on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. I was confident all of the effort we poured into Chicken Wiggle for 3DS would pay off. The excitement level built up from releasing screenshots, and then short video clips, ultimately culminating with the trailer and footage of new gameplay features seemed to have folks excited about the game. My calculations were very wrong, apparently.

First day sales were shockingly low. Worldwide sales for Chicken Wiggle on day one were about 10% of Xeodrifter's day one sales in North America. Xeodrifter’s numbers dwarf Chicken Wiggle’s, but Xeodrifter’s numbers weren’t particularly impressive compared to what is considered a “success” on the 3DS eShop. Chicken Wiggle’s first day sales were so low, I thought there was an error in the sales report. Many of my developer friends thought the same when I shared the news. “That can’t be right!” echoed in my mind.

I gave it a few days to see if the report changed the next day or the next, hoping there was a delay in reporting and the real day one numbers would catch up. Sadly, the numbers never changed. It was indeed the real data. The next logical step was to hope that sales would increase the following days. Maybe the release day was just a slow day for sales? Nope. Less copies were sold on day two, and even less on day three. It continued to drop each day. As of September 8, the number of copies sold worldwide in 22 days is a little more than half of what Xeodrifter sold on its FIRST DAY in North America. Wow!

Clearly, I misjudged something. Perhaps the game is not appealing to the 3DS eShop audience? Perhaps it is overpriced? Perhaps the 3DS eShop audience has moved onto the Switch? Maybe it is one of these things. Maybe it is all of these things. Maybe it is something else that I am unaware of. It is shocking, to say the least. Trying to find answers, I am torn between trying to find someone else to blame and asking myself what mistakes did I make? It’s not a fun place to be, but it is important that I try to find answers and learn from it so I can try to avoid it happening again.

This feels all too familiar to Mutant Mudds Super Challenge. After tremendous effort in the development of the game and what I thought was a successful PR campaign, the sales results were less than stellar for Super Challenge. At least I could blame the possible confusion with the name of the game. Was it a sequel or an expansion? Should I have called it Mutant Mudds 2? The other factor that seemed to contribute to low sales was the increased level of difficulty. Most people felt that the original Mutant Mudds was challenging enough. Ratcheting the challenge up even more was simply not interesting to many players.

I can’t adopt the same reasoning for Chicken Wiggle. It was clearly a new game – no confusion of it being an expansion. The level of difficulty is purposely approachable, but with some challenge to keep it interesting. Most folks seem to be able to make their way through it and enjoy it without too much trouble - remarking on the variety of gameplay from level to level. So, I don’t think the game itself is the main issue here. I feel confident that if you liked Mutant Mudds and/or Xeodrifter then Chicken Wiggle would be appealing to you. I could be wrong on that, though. Price is always a tricky thing, but so far the feedback that I have received suggests that it is priced perfectly, if not too low according to some. Maybe everyone is just being kind and supportive. Based on the data I have recovered, it leads me to believe that the 3DS audience has moved on.

Here's what the press had to say, prior to the games’ release:

10/10 “You need Chicken Wiggle in your life." - Games Reviews.
9/10 “Excellent platformer that fans of the genre should not miss.” – TodoJuegos.
4.5/5 “Atooi has proven it still has that magic touch.” – Oprainfall.
4/5 “Everything about this game is so lovingly crafted.” – Nintendo Okie.
8.5/10 “Novel play mechanics offer varied gameplay dynamics.” – Nintenderos.
8.5/10 “Great platforming and game design tools.” – Pure Nintendo.
8.5/10 “One of the best games with a level creator out there.” – Shigeru News.
8/10 “Blends simplicity with sophistication into a cohesive whole.” – Cubed3.
8/10 “Fun, adorable platformer with some genuinely clever features.” – NinMobileNews.
8/10 “You start playing and you can not stop.” – Nintendo.pe.

While big titles like Miitopia and Metroid will surely sell more than Chicken Wiggle on their first day, they are Nintendo titles that have a strong brand and marketing budgets behind them. Sadly, I believe the Nintendo 3DS eShop is dead for “Nindies”. The audience that buys indie titles on Nintendo platforms has moved on to the Switch. I expected the Switch would impact the success of Chicken Wiggle on 3DS, but not to the extent that it has. I would be amiss if I did not mention the fact that Chicken Wiggle was nowhere to be seen on the main 3DS eShop shelf in North America for the first two weeks. It could be found inside the New Releases folder, and the Newest Videos folder. That was all. Whereas in Europe, Chicken Wiggle scored the premium landing slot. It literally couldn’t have been positioned better in Europe. I am extremely thankful of NOE for supporting my game this way. The crazy thing is that the breakdown of day one sales is 75% in North America, and 25% in Europe. Go figure!

The low sales of Chicken Wiggle has prompted me to put the game on a flash sale for two weeks to see if it gains some extra exposure and/or energizes folks to buy it. It's worth a shot, right? It feels way too soon to put the game on sale, but I don't have any other options right now. There are over 300 user-created levels on-line to download. There are tons of excellent creations - some added to the "Atooi Favorites" search category. It is a joy for me to play and experience them. Thank you if you are one of the eggcellent few who has already purchased the game, and another thank you for the eggstraordinary levels that have been uploaded. They have exceeded my expectations. It's a good time to pick up the game and enjoy all of the great content.

I think it should go without saying that I have no plans to release any more titles on the 3DS. This saddens me, greatly. I love the 3DS. But, if a polished title like Chicken Wiggle can’t find a home on the 3DS - a 3DS exclusive at that - I don’t know what indie game can. Anyway, I do want to say thank you to those players who have contacted me to tell me how much fun they have had with the game. The levels that you have created and shared on-line are truly impressive. Many of you are doing things with the level editor that I have not seen before. It is very exciting to see.

Chicken Wiggle will go on a two week flash sale in North America starting September 14. The price will drop from $14.99 to $9.99 during that period (33% savings). A two week flash sale will start in Europe the following week, September 21, also with 33% savings. The eShop game page is located here.
  
I have already revealed that we’re working on Mutant Mudds for Switch as well as Treasurenauts for Switch. I am very excited about both titles. I will have more news to share soon on them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Making a Game Maker: Hatching Chicken Wiggle 🐣



Development of Chicken Wiggle started in February, 2016 with a single image I created; an idea for a player package. The majority of Chicken Wiggle's production was done by myself and Matthew Gambrell. Matthew did the programming, music, and sound effects. I did the design, art, business, and marketing.

Please try to ignore the fact that the little red dude is the hero from Xeodrifter. :)
At that early stage, I did not know what the main player(s) was going to look like so I grabbed the nearest sprite on hand.

The main emphasis with this player package was the balance between the short jump/close attack range and the far range “hook shot” ability that enabled the player to travel up/across relatively long distances. The two extremes seemed to complement each other and rely on each other, which was a pleasing concept. Later, we decided to use the “hook shot” to stun enemies – making the close-range attack less scary to use – which really cemented the synergy between the player’s different abilities.


The core gameplay idea was originally something that could be described as a 2D Pushmo; played from a side view perspective. Draw simple images with a handful of colors to create a level, and then navigate through the level by jumping/destroying tiles of the level to reach a goal. Looking at what Chicken Wiggle ended up being, we might have gone a little further with the design and complexity of the game. Maybe a lot further.

But, before I get ahead of myself I should chat about how we decided on a chicken and a worm as the stars of the game. As shown above, with the initial player package, we started with a compact character that was the same unit size as the level tiles they interact with. This immediately puts a framework in place in terms of size and proportions. He’s basically square!

I kicked around a few different ideas for what the player could be, in terms of a theme that could work across the whole game. Some of the early candidates included a cute mountain climber with grappling hook, a kid with a yo-yo, and a bird with a worm in his backpack. None of them are technically right or wrong, better or worse. It really came down to personal preference and what we thought was fun to embrace.


The cuteness and absurdity of a bird and worm combo was too funny to resist. I experimented with many color variations to make it not look too similar to the many bird characters out there, such as those found in a certain game about birds that are angry. This led me down the path of considering a chicken instead of a “regular” bird, which immediately adds an additional level of fun and absurdity.


Initially, I adopted a similar 8-bit-ish style to Mutant Mudds, with a black outline and very few colors. This worked fine, but I further experimented with a more shaded 16-bit SNES style with colored outlines and more colors for highlights and shadows. I was much happier with this look. You’ll also notice that the worm got a lot bigger than the original bird/worm design. This was to ensure he could have visible eyes, which immediately makes him more interesting and identifiable than without – ignoring the fact that this chicken is either super tiny or has a GIANT worm in his backpack. Chicken Wiggle was born!

Wanting the game to be something really special, we let our imaginations go wild. Designing the gameplay for Chicken Wiggle was very different than designing Mutant Mudds or Xeodrifter. With Chicken Wiggle, we first had to create the level editor that the user would ultimately use in the final game before we could design any levels for the game. This was difficult, frustrating, and a little maddening. But, it had to be this way. I wanted to make sure the level editor was awesome, and what better way than forcing myself to use it to make the levels for the game itself?


Making a level editor is basically like making an application, like a paint program or a sophisticated word processor. You must think about the layout, content, interactivity of each element, and much more. It’s complex, so it takes deep forethought, some trial and error, and a lot of time to carefully build it one brick at a time. All the while, I would try to make rudimentary levels, but I had to accept they would never represent the final levels because I didn’t truly know what the final level editor product would look like until it was finished.

It took a lot of discipline and patience to wait until all of the 100+ ingredients that are at the user’s disposal were all designed, implemented, and working properly before making level 1-1. I made countless experimental levels to ensure the level editor was functioning as desired, while also exploring level design approaches. I didn’t know how I wanted to present the “game” aspect to the player, so it was a good opportunity to make lots of different styles of level designs to find the right one.

Should a single level focus on a single item that is available in the level editor, and fully explore all the ways of using that item as a way of teaching the player how the ingredients can be used? Or perhaps each level can contain any number of the ingredients, and the focus should simply be on fun!? In the end, I went with something that explores a small handful of items in a single level to show them on their own as well as how they can work with other items – all while considering a gradual difficulty curve from the beginning of the game to the end.


I have always enjoyed playing and analyzing Nintendo’s work, and especially Mario games. Super Mario World was a big inspiration for Mutant Mudds level design. But, with Chicken Wiggle I had a much larger pool of ingredients to play with! This led me to look at New Super Mario Brothers, Mario Galaxy and the newer Super Mario 3D Land/World titles. In addition to playing the games, I also watched a lot of gameplay videos on YouTube, which is great when you just want to analyze the content of something instead of how it feels. This led me to Mark Brown’s “Game Maker’s Toolkit” video series.

One particular video resonated with me in a major way and helped me cement my thoughts. It is called “Super Mario 3D World’s 4 Step Level Design" (included above). In the video, Mark dissects how the level design of 3D Mario games have progressed over the years, and culminate into a very concrete system with the release of Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U. As with most things that inspire me creatively, I try to understand the core principles of what the source is achieving and then I see how that may apply to the unique needs of what I want to accomplish in my game.

In this case, I created a seven-step level design guide to follow:

Step 1: Introduce new device in safe environment.
Step 2: Repeat device without safety net.
Step 3: Introduce new hazard.
Step 4: Repeat device with new variation and safety net.
Checkpoint
Step 5: Repeat hazard with extra challenge.
Step 6: Combination of device and hazard without safety net.
Step 7: Repeat device with safety net to reach goal.

The level above is the first level in Chicken Wiggle, after the playable intro level. Let's go through the steps! Step 1 introduces the spring device in a safe environment where it is impossible to be hurt. I also include a ring that can be grappled up to, reminding the player of the grapple ability established in the intro level. Step 2 repeats the same device while introducing death below. This ensures the player understands how to interact with the device before continuing in the level. Step 3 introduces a new hazard in the form of a stationary bat. I also included the destructible pink block (first introduced in the intro level, prior) to remind the player they can peck to destroy things. Step 4 repeats the device with a variation in a safe environment. Familiarity with a twist. Check point! Step 5 repeats the hazard with a variation. In this case it is the simplest of variations. The player is required to jump and grapple-stun and/or attack. This is to ensure the player knows this is possible and potentially expected in the future. Step 6 combines the device and hazard with death below! This allows the player to put all of what they have learned into practice in a hazardous situation. Exciting! Step 7 is a calm reward for making it to the end; the same device with another slight twist to present something familiar with something slightly new.

As you can see, this level design approach generally relies on the use of two items. One “device”, and one “hazard”. In this example the device is a spring, which makes the player bounce higher, and the hazard is a static enemy that hurts the player if collided with. Really basic stuff. Then, there can be supporting items that facilitate the level, such as solid blocks (ground, walls, and ceiling), death spikes, wind currents, and jump-through platforms, and so on, which can all help create a level flow that is interesting, varied, and/or dangerous.

And then there are the pick-ups, which can provide an addition goal and sense of accomplishment in the form of 100 gems to collect in a level and three bonus FUN letters – some of which are perhaps hidden away slightly off the main path for a sense of mystery and discovery.

Hopefully, you can see that we start to have a decent set of ingredients to play with as a designer. But, we now need figure out what to use where and why, and with what? In order to accomplish this, I listed all of the devices in a column and then in the neighboring column I tried to match them up with what could be interesting hazards. Something like this:

Springers             Blubats
Springers             Eyehoppers
Balloons               Thorny Vines
Balloons               Spike-a-boos

And so on…

Once I had a long list of every combination that I thought were decent in concept, I graded each combination with what seemed to be a suitable level of difficulty, from 1 to 5. 1 being easy, and 5 being difficult. Throw into this mix the need for ghost themed levels and levels that utilize power-ups, the list of possibilities quickly became quite huge.

I set myself the arbitrary goal of eight worlds with six levels in each – totaling 48 levels. That seemed like a reasonable number of levels for the story mode, knowing that I intended to upload “Official Atooi” levels after launch for players to download at no extra cost.

The final level list is below. It may have changed slightly once everything was in place, but this represents a fair idea of what I felt was a good way to present the ingredients of the level editor to the player in an informative and entertaining way. I don't think it's much of a spoiler, but if you would prefer not to even get a whiff of what may be in the levels you should skip over the table.

Cloud Tower
1-1
Springers
Blubats
2
1-2
Hero Mask!
Windies
3
1-3
Touchables
Eyehoppers
2
1-4
Invisibles
Vert. Flyers
3
1-5
Peckables
Blubats
2
1-6
Cloud Reprise
All
2
Treetop Tower
2-1
Balloons
Thorny Vines
3
2-2
Speed Shoes!
Spike-a-boos
3 or 4
2-3
Jumpers
Flame Heads
3
2-4
Secret Walls
Spin-a-spikes
3 or 4
2-5
Cloudaways
Slyders
3
2-6
Forest Reprise
All
3 or 4
Dusty Old Tower
3-1
Balloons
Tough Eyehoppers
3
3-2
Demo Hat!
Catbats
4
3-3
Jumpers
Slyders
3
3-4
Invisibles
Goblins
3 or 4
3-5
Touchables
Spin-a-Spikes
3
3-6
Dusty Reprise
All
3 or 4
Tubular Tower
4-1
Peckables
Mr. Bones
3
4-2
Jetpack!
Flame Heads
3
4-3
Cloudaways
Prank Imps
4
4-4
Ghost Touch!
Hori. Helmets
4
4-5
Peckables
Green Gobs
4
4-6
Tubular Reprise
All
3 or 4
Slumber Tower
5-1
Balloons
Spike-a-boos
4
5-2
All The Power
4
5-3
Accord-a-likes
Prank Imp
4
5-4
Secret Walls
Mr. Bones
4 or 5
5-5
Jelly Jelly
Thorny Vines
4
5-6
Reprise 5
All
4
Temple Tower
6-1
Rollabouts
Tough Eyehoppers
4
6-2
Hero Mask!
Spin-a-spikes
4
6-3
Springers
Eyehoppers
4
6-4
Invisible
Growers
3 or 4
6-5
Switcharounds
Cannon-ons
4
6-6
Reprise 6
All
4
Under Construction
7-1
Jelly Jelly
Eyehoppers
4
7-2
Jetpack!
Tough Green Gobs
5
7-3
Balloon
Catbats
4
7-4
Secret Walls
Reactors
5
7-5
Switcharounds
Tough Eyehoppers
4
7-6
Reprise 7
All
5
Tours De Dessert
8-1
Touchables
Slyders
5
8-2
Demo Hat!
Prank Imps
5
8-3
Rollabouts
Spin-a-spikes
5
8-4
Invisible
Vert. Helmets
5
8-5
Jelly Jelly
Tough Green Gobs
5
8-6
Reprise 8
All
5

The really exciting thing for me was that the story mode all focused around the “Rescue Friend” gameplay rules in the level editor. This fit with the story presented at the beginning of the game. However, there are five other gameplay rules to choose from: Grab the Loot, Remove Meanies, Lock & Key, Take Me Home, and Destroy Blocks. These are rules I will be exploring with the Official Atooi levels that will be available for players to download.


In the end, Chicken Wiggle drew on a collection of different games for inspiration. Super Mario Maker for the whole level creation aspect, Banjo-Kazooie for the duo and backpack and classic story vibe, New Zealand Story for some art and level design styles, and The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse for art style and some music style. I’m sure there are many other sources of inspiration for the game, but these stand out in my mind.
Illustration by @anniemae04

We finished the development of Chicken Wiggle and submitted the game to Nintendo for lotcheck approval on June 9, 2017 – 16 months after we started. After two failed attempts and some fixes later, Chicken Wiggle was approved on August 2, 2017. The game could have been released on August 10, 2017 in North America, but with the additional time and complexities involved in a European launch due to the number of countries, the earliest simultaneous release possible was August 17, 2017.

Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!