Ludum Dare 29 and Me

So earlier this week the 29th installment of Ludum Dare happened. This time the theme turned out to be the wonderfully evocative Beneath the Surface. Joachim and me had been meaning to join in for over a year now, and this time we managed to actually do so. However not together.

Ludum Dare Logo

Ludum Dare Logo

Joachim and his wife Mel joined the jam, which gave them 72 hours to build a game with a team. Their little piece is called Mars Station 23. Check it out! Considering this was Mel’s first time creating pixel art it turned out pretty damn nice.

I on the other hand took part in the compo part, which gives you 48 hours to build a game on your own. My little game is called Happy Birthday. It’s not a coincidence that my birthday is actually today. This Jam ended up being a very personal journey for me and I’d like to share it with you here. It’s going to be very candid and open. Also there will be spoilers for the game.

Happy Birthday Title Screen

Play Happy Birthday

First Thoughts

So, I started Ludum Dare knowing I didn’t have a lot of experience building a game completely on my own. Also I knew I had bunch of things planned on the weekend so I wanted to go with something really small. Having just recently played Electric Tortoise, which I enjoyed, I knew that I could do something of a similar complexity. I also still had the free version of the Unity Plugin Dialoguer lying around. This meant that this was a doable coding challenge and it would let me flex my writing muscles for a change.

So then, what could I write about given the theme of Beneath the Surface?

I quickly knew that I wanted to write about a conversation that could be only on the surface level, but if the player would want he could delve deeper and see what’s beneath the surface. I decided to deal with depression or sadness that’s hidden beneath the surface. This is a very personal issue that I’ve been dealing with for a while, one that has also impacted my creative side. In the last couple of months I’ve also had similar conversations with friends, from both perspectives. In essence this game ended up being a conversation with a weird sort of version of me.

Initially the game was supposed to be a real conversation, possibly even multiple spanning a few days. The idea was that it would be triggered by a serendipitous meeting of the two characters. However during development it eventually morphed into a single facebook-conversation (for pragmatic reasons) with the all too common “happy birthday!” post as the starting point. Posts like that are well-meant wishes and they are an excellent opportunity to get in touch with someone you rarely speak with, yet they almost never go deeper than a wish followed by a thank you.

My Facebook wall today

My Facebook wall today

So I had my start, my medium and my content.

The Message

I knew however that I wanted to make this conversation difficult. Talking to someone who has personal issues and is not very good at sharing is a bit like walking a tightrope. For me it’s finding the right mix of listening and providing some perspective when helpful. When I want to share, things take time and it’s sometimes better just to listen and not to provide lots of insightful advice.

There’s a lot of other things that can go wrong and that only make the other party feel worse. Some things I’ve encountered and others I’ve (unfortunately) practiced in the past. An obvious mistake is to not take someone’s personal experiences seriously enough. Or to outdo them by telling them how you’ve had it even worse in the past. Or by bringing in empty platitudes.

Because this decision between talking and listening is very important I decided that the the conversation always progress automatically, if you don’t decide on a line. This can be good in some cases, as your conversation partner keeps sharing, and can be bad in others when he’s left hanging.


So, then I went to work.

I started looking at Dialoguer and then adjusted it to build the conversation behavior I wanted. This meant mainly adding the wait times, the conversation history and adjusting the looks accordingly. This went pretty well. I was making good progress and feeling pretty good about this thing. The early sort of euphoric phase of a project, I guess.

A Brief Motivational High

A Brief Motivational High

However when the system was in place to build the conversaion I needed to start writing. And that’s when I pretty quickly hit a wall.


Whatever I wrote, I just wasn’t happy. I didn’t like my texts. Everything felt overly whiny. I was convinced nobody would care about this sort of self-indulgent bullshit. Why should they? Fucking artsy-fartsy crap. I tried to slog on but why would anyone want to play this at all?

Eventually I just gave up.

I put the project down and watch five episodes of The Wire to get my mind off it. I went out to a party and got drunk, yet the project wouldn’t really leave me.

A picture from my last birthday

A picture from my last birthday

In hindsight this is kind of funny for three reasons:

  1. I’m working on a game about being depressed and being dissatisfied with everything I’m working on because of that depression. And then of course I’m dissatisfied with the game I’m working on.
  2. I’m writing about loneliness and of course feel isolated. Everyone is having fun at awesome Ludum Dare locations, Jo is working with Mel and all I’ve got is my boring white Ikea desk and my monitor.
  3. I’m writing about the difficulty of sharing deeply emotional content. And of course I think it’s shit. I don’t want to bother anyone with my problems. The main reason I have such a hard time sharing my feelings.

So Sunday rolls around and I show the game to a friend of mine (Thanks Pepe!) looking for some positive feedback. It’s not enough though and I decide not to submit the game to Ludum Dare Compo. After all I didn’t work on in enough and most of the text is missing and a couple of other made up excuses. On Monday I think I could submit it to the Ludum Dare Jam but again chicken out.

However the itch remains.


Over the first few days of the week I talk to a few people about the game. Describing it and the ideas behind it. I feel silly doing so as it’s very personal, and I’m bad at this. But I know that talking about this helps me – I’ve learned that much.

And it did help.

Writing Process

Writing Process

Today I sat down, hungover from the early birthday celebration, to finally finish the game. I had to cut some content but now it’s done and I’m damned elated. Happy Birthday is not an excellent game and I don’t think the writing is anything special. But my journey has been.

I’ve finally managed to start a project and see i through the end, in spite of all the frustration and discontentment. After a long time of nothing I finally made a game again.

And god damn it that feels good.


Martin - Game Designer

Martin – Game Designer

Touch of Death Free released

So we’ve had Touch of Death out in the wild for a good bunch of months now. Unfortunately the game didn’t really have any success so far. About 150 downloads in total. Even our change in graphics late last year didn’t change the numbers much. This is below what we expected, as we think the game is fun and engaging and can stand on it’s own.

Touch of Death Promo

We feel that the reason for the lack of success is primarily found in the fact that we chose to make the game a premium app. With so many free games out there it is hard to convince people to pay up front, before even having tried out the game. This only seems to work when there’s a hype, or when the game is an already proven IP (such as The Walking Dead, X-COM or anything from Vlambeer ;) ).

So to figure out if Touch of Death works better when it’s free, we have now released Touch of Death Free. It’s available on all major app stores for free, with a banner in the main menu and interstitials after each fight. Give it a try!

iOS App Store Badge

Google Play Store Badge

Samsung App Store Badge

Amazon App Store Badge

Trouble in Paradise

We here at Sharkbomb Studios hit a bit of a roadblock lately.

For the last six months we didn’t really make much in terms of progress. Of course our day jobs and regular lives were keeping us plenty busy. Yet we still had time for Sharkbomb Studios and we kept working on our games. We published Hipster Zombies on the Amazon and Samsung app stores, we added new art to Touch of Death. However the one thing, we were looking for didn’t seem to happen.

A new project

Mid last year, after Hipster Zombies and Touch of Death were released, we started looking for a new project. We were aiming to maybe go for something bigger, more complex than our last two games. We had a bunch of ideas and we were enthusiastic to start.

Hipster Zombies photo shoot

Hipster Zombies photo shoot

We both took vacation for January and February well in advance. The plan was to have a concept by then so we could start the new year with a new project at full steam. We spent October, November and December prototyping, throwing around ideas, but nothing stuck. Instead we were only going back and forth with little to show for it. Eventually the new year came and we still had no new project.

So we changed the way we went about things. Instead of larger ideas and prototypes we tried to go for small, concepts. More of a jam than a real prototype. But try as we might, nothing stuck. Again. Drained and tired we hoped that maybe the Global Game Jam could provide some new energy. But, as you might have read in our blog post about it, that didn’t really happen either.

The root of this evil

From what we can see, the reason is pretty simple:

Global Game Jam 2013

Global Game Jam 2013

The two of us are, at heart, quite different players. While I, Martin, am more of an action gamer, Jo generally dislikes fast-paced games and prefers strategy titles. We’ve been aware of this from the start but we were confident that we were able to find some middle ground. Now however it’s been making our life difficult.

We want to do a game that we’re really enthusiastic about, no compromises. And so far we seem to be unable to find something that excites the both of us. This could be mitigated if one of us was able to hype the game and get the other one on board. However by now we’re both pretty drained and that just doesn’t seem to be happening.

Next steps

So, what now? We take a break.

A Maze 2013. Photo by Julian Dasgupta

A Maze 2013. Photo by Julian Dasgupta

We’ve decided to put Sharkbomb Studios as it was on hiatus. That doesn’t mean we’re closing it down. Sharkbomb Studios will still exist but we won’t continue in it’s current form.

We’re still friends, we still love games, and we’ll probably still make them. However we won’t neccessarily be making them together. The current plan is to keep Sharkbomb Studios still open and running. Instead of it a joint-development effort it will now be more of a label that the both of us can release games under. And who knows, maybe now that we’ve taken the pressure off we might just find something that the both of us are enthusiastic about.

Either way, things are changing.

– Martin and Jo

Global Game Jam 2014, Karlsruhe

So the dust has settled, I’ve had a good night’s sleep and some good food. Time to write a little recap of the Global Game Jam from my point of view.

Joachim and me again attended this years GGJ at the HFG Karlsruhe (University for Design). We really enjoyed it last year and decided to join in again. Primarily because it’s a great time but also because I was itching to do something besides game design for a change. And lastly the both of us were looking for some inspiration. We’ve been struggling with the search for a new project for a while now.

I’ve got two out of those three, so that’s not bad. Find out which ones below.

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”


After the keynote, when the theme was announced you could hear a lot of mumbling in the room, as people were trying to figure out what it meant to them. A small group formed and we sat down at a table going for a round of brainstorming. We initially just discussed the theme, coming up with ideas of what it could mean or how we could interpret it. Then in a second round we tried to create actual game concepts out of this mass of ideas.

Global Game Jam 2014 - Brainstorming

Sticky note brainstorming

Here’s a few of our more fleshed-out ideas:

Familiar Perspective

The game is about a few siblings and their different interpretation of their shared experiences. The player explores the history of the family through their retellings, playing different scenes from the different perspective, trying to figure out what actually happened. Maybe there’d be an inheritance involved or something.


A first person game where the environment is invisible at first. Now as the player makes sounds into the microphone he “feels around” the air, temporarily uncovering parts of the map. Maybe high sounds light up walls and traps at the top, while low sounds show what’s on the floor. It might be about escaping a maze and the fact that at some point the player might have trouble with his voice from constantly making sounds would be part of the experience.


Here the game is a network of words, that the player navigates through, quite similar to the Visual Thesaurus. This audiovisual experience changes as the player moves through the network, based on the area the player is in. Because you will have different associations than other people it would be your unique path. At the end the game would create a video or replay of your personal experience.

Word Network Graph

Word Network Graph

Reverse Empath

In this game the player can project the emotion of his character on the other actors in the world. That way he can get them to behave a certain way and to achieve his goals for him. The perspective would be a simple top down view, and it was intended to be more of a sandbox than a real game.

Joachim was really fond of this idea and even though no one else was really inspired by it he decided to try to go for it on his own, while the rest of us kept looking for more concepts.

Rohrschach Test

Here the game would be a sort of funny and interesting psycho quiz. The game would present the player with an inkblot picture and let him pick something that he associates it with. We discussed ideas of drawing on the inkblot to show what it reminds you of. The game could possibly be multiplayer with one player rating the others drawing and interpretation among a few psychological axes.

Concept Roadblock

So we had a bunch of ideas but they didn’t really stick. Two hours after the start of the game jam we had a public round of pitches but I was still unhappy with everything we came up with. In the end we struggled until about ten o’clock, growing more and more frustrated. You can clearly see our exasperation in the picture below.

Global Game Jam - Discussion

Late night concept search

I’ve been thinking about why it seemed so difficult to decide on a concept, even though we had a few clearly workable ideas. I’ll have to shoulder some of the blame for that: I’m generally a very critical and vocal individual. Both are pretty good attributes for a game designer but I can sometimes come across as dismissive. By itself that wouldn’t be a problem but as of lately it’s been very hard for me to be enthusiastic about my own ideas, and this very difficult to inspire others.

That means if there’s no one else in the group who’s crazy about their ideas that it will be very difficult to settle on something. Eventually though I turned off the criticising part of my brain and, we managed to find a concept. We went back to some interesting shapes that Wendy had scribbled and all of us liked. We wanted to see more do more of those so we came up with a concept around that, inspired by the awesome Moon Waltz.


In StarChild you take care of an unformed being. At the beginning the being has a lot of potential. As it progresses through the world you can decide with what stance it deals with the challenges it faces: Forceful, Creative or Thoughtful. As you overcome challenges the StarChild crystalizes, it’s potential diminishes as it develops in a certain direction. The more challenges you face the more you will advance, reducing your potential. At the end of the level you will feel like you have a unique being, but after the reaching the goal you’ll find out that you’re just like many other people.

StarChild goals

StarChild goals

Building it

By the time we had that concept though most of the other people from the intital group had already found another project to work on. Who remained was Wendy (art), Martin (sound) and me. Since I was the only one with some coding experience I took on programming duties. I decided to go with flash because it was perfectly suitable for the project size and even though I hadn’t used it in a while I was familiar enough with it to be sure that I could deliver.

We then set down to building the game. With the help of the awesome Avoider Game Tutorial I quickly got started on the game and already had a playable, albeit ugly, version running by late afternoon on Saturday.

Global Game Jam - StarChild in Progress

StarChild in Progress

From the on I was able to do some code polishing, adding a music system, menus, score tracking and an animation system for the obstacles. Most of Sunday was then spent on moving assets into the game. Unfortunately we had some incompatibility issues, with me using Flash CS3 and Wendy using Flash CC.

StarChild screenshot

StarChild screenshot

In the end we had to cut a lot of our planned content because we simply did not have the assets in place. We wanted to go for seven or eight possible final-forms but ended up with only three.

Presenting it

By the time we got around to presenting it to the other jammers I already had a few beers on a mostly empty stomach so I’m afraid I rambled a bit. Regardless, the presentation was fun and people enjoyed finding out how the different obstacles reacted to the three approaches. There was definitely a sense of exploration and discovery at work, that tells me that the concept was a good idea that could be explored further.

The team: Me, Wendy, Martin

The team: Me, Wendy, Martin

In the end I am very happy with the result. I’m pretty proud that I managed to code a fully functional tiny game in flash in 48 hours, considering I have no formal education in the field at all. I think that it would simply need more content to properly transport the idea behind it but I think what’s there is pretty good for a small game jam team.

Play it

Game Jam Resume

So, as mentioned in the beginning, I participated in the Global Game Jam for three reasons:

  1. To have a good time
  2. To do something besides game design
  3. To get over our inspirational hump at Sharkbomb Studios

After the grueling concept finding phase was over I got to delve into programming. I really enjoyed the challenge and opportunity and had a lot of fun with it. So the first two conditions were certainly met. But what about the last one?

Well, that didn’t really happen. Since Jo and I went on different projects we, as Sharkbomb Studios, didn’t really get what we wanted out of the Game Jam. Our inspirational hump is still there, but that’s a story for another time.

– Martin

Coming Soon: Unity3d basics video

If you want to get to know Unity3d, this might be your chance.

My buddy Anjin Anhut (who made the Touch of Death graphics) and I have been wanting to do a little skill share. I will give Anjin an introduction to Unity3d while he will share his knowledge on Art Direction with me.

Now we’ve finally found time to get started with this. And since both of us are very open people we decided to go public with this. Our sessions will be streamed and recorded, for your convenience.


Introduction to Unity

We’ll be starting with my part first: An introduction to Unity3d. We’ll be on Google Hangouts on Air on February 1st 2014, at 2:00 PM, German time. We’re planning to run for about 4 hours, probably with some short breaks in between. Follow us on twitter (@mnerurkar or @anjinanhut) or check out the Sharkbomb Studios Google+ or YouTube page to join.

The whole session will be mostly covering the basics. I’ll try to help you get familiar with the engine. Anything from the interface to library management and export processes. We will probably also talk about some basic gameplay functionality like collisions, movement, which will provide an inroad into scripting. Since the session will be unscripted I can’t really give you a specific rundown yet. I still hope to see you there!

– Martin

Touch of Death 2.0 released!

Today we’ve finally released our big update to Touch of Death! The gameplay is still the same hypnotic fun it was before. But now we’ve improved everything else!

iOS App Store Badge Google Play Store Badge



The game looks a lot better with all new artwork from our good friend Anjin Anhut. We now have a total of 6 enemy types: three male and three female fighters. And not only that, each of these has five different heads, that provide an awesome flavor. And some of these heads are rarer than others, requiring you to keep your vengeance up for a while!

Exchangable Enemy Heads

Exchangable Enemy Heads


In addition to the new art there are two new levels available to fight and die in. The mountain temple set in a remote and peaceful area. Well it used to be peaceful until you showed up to take your revenge! And then there’s the snow village, which is just waiting for you to turn it red!

Snow Village Intro

Snow Village Intro


And the proably biggest change is that you can finally play the game on smartphones. This required us to make a few changes and improve performance but now you can burst hearts on the go! Be aware though that we had to make some changes to the gameplay for the smaller screen, so it’s not going to play perfectly similar.

Touch of Death 2.0 on a Nexus 4

Touch of Death 2.0 on a Nexus 4

And that’s it from us. We hope you enjoy the game and let us know if you have any issues or questions!

– Martin

Hipster Zombies data analysis.

I hope you like numbers, cause this article will be chock full with the beasts. Not only that, there will also be graphs! I’ll be looking at the performance of Hipster Zombies over the entire lifetime. That includes, among other things, downloads and revenue for iOS, Android, Ouya and Samsung Apps.

Hipster Zombies: Numbers & Graphs

Hipster Zombies: Numbers & Graphs

Let’s start from the beginning:

Soft Launch

We decided to try our hand at one of these fancy soft launches. To that end we silently released Hipster Zombies on Google Play. The game went live on the 10th of March in Austria (as a test for Germany) and Canada (as a Test for the US). It was on for five days before we launched for real.

Here’s a look at the downloads during that time:


As you can see there was only a single download during that time. From an Austrian account no less. To be honest, we expected a bit more downloads and attention, simply from being new in the store listing, yet that did not happen.

  • Learning 1: A silent launch without marketing is not a launch at all.

Instead of some downloads, we got something else though:

Android Piracy

Even before we released Hipster Zombies on the 15th we already had pirated APKs flying around. Obviously that was from that one Austrian, who grabbed the soft launch copy, presumably just to crack and distribute it. So pirated before release? Achievement unlocked, I guess. So we were off to a good start but how did things develop from there?


This is a graph of all downloads on Android seperated by marketplace. The blue set are all downloads that went through the Google Play Store, the red are all those that did not have a marketplace set. From what we can see they represent the pirated copies.

Oddly enough there’s one huge spike from the 30th to the 31st of May. We have no idea where it came from but that was about 2500 downloads in a single day. We also had pretty good growth with the pirated version, probably because we were in some nice, exposed spots on the apk piracy websites.

Regardless, what you can see it that piracy makes up about 50% of our total Android downloads. Looks scary but we don’t really feel like we’ve lost much revenue there, especially since we’re a free-to-play title. If Hipster Zombies was an upfront payment app we’d probably feel different.

  • Learning 2: Don’t underestimate the speed of pirates. They could be a great multiplier to get the word out.

But where did all these pirates come from?


As you can see most of them come from China. We’re assuming that part of that is because the Google Play Store is not available in China and there is simply no other way to get Hipster Zombies ;)

Total Downloads

So on to more positive things. How did we actually do in terms of legal downloads? The following graph gives an overview over the total lifetime downloads of Hipster Zombies so far. As you can see we released Android first, then iOS, OUYA and finally on Samsung Apps.


The graph does not represent uninstalls but you can clearly see the launch effects. It’s a bit difficult to read from this graph but the iOS launch effect seems to be a bit more pronounced but not to hold on as long. What is evident though is that Android makes up the majority of our total user. Here’s a closer look:


  • Learning 3: There’s lots and lots of Android users.

So we had downloads, but how did people like the game?

Mobile Reviews

One of the good things on mobile platforms is the ease with which users can review and give feedback. Granted, there’s often lots of frustrating feedback but it’s nice to get a feeling for how well your game is received.


So looking at the average review for the Google Play Store we end up at around 4.5 stars after a total of 160 reviews. That’s pretty satisfying to us. The 5.0 rating on iOS should be more satisfying but considering that it comes from only 5 reviews, that’s by far not representational.

  • Learning 4: The Google Play users like Hipster Zombies.

Speaking of the amount of reviews given, here’s a look at the number of reviews given per week.


As you can see on iOS and Google Play, there’s an initial spike from friends and family. Where iOS stops completely, Google Play keeps the reviews coming consistently. Why? Well one reason is that we put in a review prompt on Android sometime in mid July. But that can’t be all of it because you can notice a clearly higher frequence of reviews before that time. Our assumption is that this is because it’s easier to write a review on the Play Store than it is in the App Store App.

And if you’re wondering why we did not put in a Review Prompt on iOS: Initially we didn’t have the plugin and when we did, we just forgot about it.

  • Learning 5: The review prompt has an effect. Just add it. Especially on iOS

Halloween Update

As we mentioned before, we’ve tried our hand at a little Halloween update earlier this year. Here’s how that panned out in a graph of the daily downloads by platform:


It’s a bit difficult to read with all the noise but you can see that both Google Play and the iOS App Store didn’t really move the needle much. In fact you can even see the steady decline in Google Play downloads. However the OUYA saw a spike in downloads. We’re assuming that happened because we were featured in a few of the official Halloween communications from the OUYA team.

  • Learning 6: Seasonal updates are another chance to get featured, nothing more, nothing less.

Revenue by App Store

So after all these users, how did we actually do on the money side of things?


Considering the OUYA only makes up 5% of our users but 44.5% of our revenue, that’s a pretty good cut. If you’re wondering where Samsung is in that graph: the Samsung Apps version is not monetized, it is simply released without in-app purchases because we did not really have time to deal with their store system yet.

Revenue per Download by Product

If we look at that revenue a bit different you can see which product on which plattform brough in the most money per download. And you can also see the total money per download.


The OUYA clearly wins here, with a revenue/download just shy of 0.08€. About 5.5x the revenue/download on iOS or over 15x the revenue/download on Google Play. That was quite surprising for us but might point towards the more hardcore console and pc audiences being more willing to spend money on their entertainment.

Two additional notes though: Firstly the monetization model is also different on OUYA: Instead of selling items to accelerate the gameplay experience, we only give out the first 2 levels for free. Further levels need to be unlocked in game. Secondly the OUYA team gave out some free store credit to all backers, which happened around the time of our release. We believe that this made some people more willing to spend, among other things, on Hipster Zombies.

  • Learning 7: iOS users spend more than Android users, and OUYA users spend more than both.

Time spent

So after all these words and numbers on the performance of Hipster Zombies, how did we actually get there? Luckily we decided early on that we wanted to track our time spent. Among the two of us Hipster Zombies took about 980 man-hours (or about 120 man-days or 6 man-months).


As you can see the primary part of that was code work. The art aspect was also significant, followed by design. As mentioned during the Hipster Zombies postmortem, we believe that this is actually too little time spent designing and we could have improved the game if we had kept a better balance.

  • Learning 8: Art creation takes longer than you think.

The Bottom Line

So after all these numbers? How did we actually do? To be honest? Not that well…

After substracting everything we only made about 315€ (about $425) in revenue with Hipster Zombies. Counting all the way up from March up until now, about 9 months later. That’s not a lot, and it’s even less if you consider how much development cost us:


Putting in an average flat fee per day for our hours spent and adding our expenses for office, audio, plugins etc. we came up with a total project cost of about 50.000€. And that puts us pretty far away from break even.

  • Learning 9: Even a small game project is really expensive.

Final Words

Welp, we didn’t get rich on Hipster Zombies. We didn’t expect to but the financial success (or rather lack thereof) is beyond what we had hoped for. However we’re still proud of the product. We think it’s a fun little game. And so far we managed to reach over 30.000 people with a consistently high app review score. That’s a pretty nice success in our book.

However if we ask ourselves if we would do it again, we probably wouldn’t. Not that we regret the time spent but we started Hipster Zombies as a small, fun project. A pragmatic test run for us to get used to the tech and the market. While it fulfilled these goals it also ended up too big, costing too much time, energy and money. Instead the next time we’ll be focusing on a project that’s truly dear to our hearts.

  • Learning 10: Spend your time on something truly awesome.

And that’s it. Any questions? Any comments? Feel free to let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.

– Martin


You’re busy? Here’s all our learnings condensed:

  • Learning 1: A silent launch without marketing is not a launch at all.
  • Learning 2: Don’t underestimate the speed of pirates. They could be a great multiplier to get the word out.
  • Learning 3: There’s lots and lots of Android users.
  • Learning 4: The Google Play users like Hipster Zombies.
  • Learning 5: The review prompt has an effect. Just add it. Especially on iOS
  • Learning 6: Seasonal updates are another chance to get featured, nothing more, nothing less.
  • Learning 7: iOS users spend more than Android users, and OUYA users spend more than both.
  • Learning 8: Art creation takes longer than you think.
  • Learning 9: Even a small game project is really expensive.
  • Learning 10: Spend your time on something awesome.

Hipster Zombies postmortem.

We started Hipster Zombies in Late August 2012. We had plans for a bigger game but decided to start with something small first. We hoped that the funny idea of hipster zombies would provide some viral fuel for the game. We also wanted to have one complete, simple game first. That way we could get acquainted with the technology and get into the flow of things. We set ourselves the goal to be ready by Christmas. That didn’t really happen.

Here’s why.

What Went Wrong

1. Going new ways… into dead ends

Sometimes trying to do something different is a bad idea. For some reason we wanted to make a game without touchscreen buttons.

Hipster Zombies touchscreen buttons

Hipster Zombies touchscreen buttons

We spent a lot of time experimenting with various control schemes, yet nothing seemed to work. We took way too long on this. And that even though the game still had other, much more important flaws at that time. Eventually we just gave in and implemented on-screen buttons. And that just worked. Obviously. I guess sometime it’s just better to go with tried and true instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

2. Leaving Pre-Production too early

Since we wanted this to be a quick project and we already spent a lot of time without any progress we were in a rush to make progress. We left pre-production before we were truly set on that game itself. Everyone tells you it’s a bad idea, and we knew it ourselves, but with our noses to the grindstone we just didn’t see it.

We should have spent more time iterating over the core gameplay. We should have only proceeded into production once we had a core that was truly fun. We didn’t and so we had to change a lot of things in the middle of production. We still made a fun game but we were just too far along to fix some of the flaws. So instead we did our best to smooth them over.

Hipster Zombies Damage Feedback

Hipster Zombies Damage Feedback

One example flaw is the indirect damage system. The player takes damage when zombies leave the screen on the left hand side. The issue is that the causality between the zombie leaving and the player taking damage is not at all intuitive. We tried a lot of other options but in the end we stuck with the simple system and just improved the feedback as much as we could.

3. Badly designed Menu

We had a bunch of issues with our menu. We really like the look and style but the structure wasn’t optimal. Even though we did a complete redesign in the middle of the project we still had some shortcomings. Primarily that the menu is not intuitive and not easily extensible.

The fact that we had players complete the game without ever switching weapons was a pretty damning verdict. The weapon selection in particular is another one of these „let’s do it differently“ thoughts. It’s not clear that the player has to scroll and how. We should have definitely gone with something much more traditional.

The other issue, extensibility comes because we had the interface in place even though the game wasn’t done. We had to change a bunch of things around, add new options and the screen just got more and more crowded. Add to this platform changes for OUYA and it just get’s chaotic. The next time I’m doing a UI design I’ll make sure it’s a lot more flexible, even if it ends up being generic.

4. Too few tests and testers

And our last mistake was that we tested too little. We tested way too little. We were busy with the many different issues of the game and we were in a rush. We just didn’t take the time to play regularly or to let other people test.

Especially the latter is so invaluable. Getting someone who never played your game to try it is really essential. We got a lot of good and helpful feedback that way. Unfortunately it came at a point when we were unable to change things so deeply. We’ve vowed to never do this again. And to help us I’ve made a little poster that’s now gracing our office walls.

Play Early, Play Often - available in print

Play Early, Play Often – available as poster

So in spite of all these mistakes we still managed to release a fun game. Hipster Zombies hit the App stores on the 15th of March. Instead of the planned three months it took us a full six. That doesn’t speak to our ability to plan. Still we had a good time making the game and we’re happy with the results.

But not all was bad. Here’s a few things that went well during the production:

What Went Well

1. Fitting Art Style

The only artist we have is me, and I’m only alright. So to go into production we needed to find an art style that I could reliably produce at a consistent and satisfying quality. To that end I spent a good chunk of time researching and experimenting, and the time was certainly worth it. Admittedly the production of all the artwork took longer than expected but we’re quite happy with the quality.

Various Hipster Zombie scribbles

Various Hipster Zombie scribbles

2. Time-saving Unity Plugins

Since we’re a small team, working on everything part-time we need to save as much time as we can. To that end we did some research and found a lot of useful Unity Plugins that took some of the weight of Jos shoulders.

The Unity Asset Store

The Unity Asset Store

We were especially happy with the Prime31 suite of plugins, which are well worth their money. They have specialized in providing unity plugins for mobile apps. They provide relatively quick access to things like in-app-purchases, game center and many other platform specific features.

3. Audio Outsourcing

Neither of us is an audio whiz. And neither of us had time to spare to become one. So we looked to outside for some help in the audio department.

Lawrence and Sebastian, the Hipster Zombies Audio Team

Lawrence and Sebastian, the Hipster Zombies Audio Team

Luckily a good friend of ours, Sebastian, was happy to help us with the music. You might remember him as the monk in the Touch of Death trailer. Even though he was only composing in his spare time the tracks were great and frequently mentioned in positive reviews. Yet we still needed someone for the sound effects. So I spent many hours searching for and getting in touch with audio artists. This took a lot longer than expected. Especially writing the audio brief was a solid load of work.

In the end we went with Lawrence from Satsuma Audio. We found him via His sample audio was convincing because it had both breadth and fidelity. And not only that, he also seemed excited by the project.

Collaborating with Lawrence was a joy. He was able to deliver everything on time, even though we got in touch with him way too late. Thanks to his skill and the detailed briefing there were only very few revisions to make on the sounds, and those were quickly resolved. All in all we’d absolutely recommend him.

Also as a little bonus, Lawrence made the audio source files he used for the Hipster Zombies SFX freely available as a FreeSound Pack. Check them out.

4. OUYA Release

We both backed the OUYA Kickstarter back in the day so when we got our hardware we had to try and port Hipster Zombies to the console. Just for the fun of it.

Hipster Zombies in the Ouya Store

Hipster Zombies in the Ouya Store

We spent about two weeks on this. In the process we decided to simplify monetization. On iOS and Android the game features in-app-purchases. On OUYA instead the game is a simple full-game unlock. On the 2nd August 2013 we published the game to the OUYA store.

And the reception was far beyond what we expected. After having only very limited success on iOS and Android we’d set our hopes pretty low for an OUYA release. However we were positively surprised by the gamers’ reception. Looking at all our platforms up to date we probably made most of our money on OUYA. And that considering we released on OUYA about 5 months after the smartphone release.

Granted even with the OUYA sales we’re still pretty deep in the red with Hipster Zombies, but that’s a story for another time.

tl;dr – Our Takeaways

So to condense this postmortem down into a few handy lessons:

  1. Don’t start production unless you’re damn sure where you’re heading.
  2. Don’t rush your project just because you want to be finished.
  3. Look up more often. Time spent on prep & research is always well worth it.

Granted none of these are terribly new or groundbreaking but it’s good to be reminded of them. So we hope you learned a bit from our mistakes and successes. We certainly did.

– Martin