We’ve been getting quite techy recently, chatting to games developers like Kevin Glass of Coke and Code. Last week I got chatting to Joseph Lavoine, creator of indie iPhone game Origami Adventure and the company behind it, Done Right Studios.
I really liked the look and feel of Origami Adventure and was curious to find out a little more about Done Right Studios so I thought, what the hell, let’s have another techy interview this week. Hopefully there are plenty of games designers out there that will feel the same way.
Let’s talk about Origami Adventure. What’s the inspiration behind it?
I’ve always been interested in all sorts of crafts. Whether it’s origami, jigsaw puzzles, needlepoint — if you can do it on a rainy day and can create something unique and interesting from it, I love to try it! Inspiration often comes from strange places though, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve actually done any origami myself. When I was taking a walk and trying to think of new ideas for an iOS game, the image of origami animals just popped into my head: something simple, recognizable, and original (while there are plenty of apps on how to make origami, I don’t know of any games that featured them as the characters).
As the basic component of Origami Adventure, the origami animals really worked out quite well. They are colorful and iconic, and the artist (Aimee Seaver) did a great job creating a consistent look between the animals. They have a nice blend of cartoony graphics yet still retain the look of real paper origami.
You’ve released both a free and paid version. What should I expect from the paid version that’s not available in the free?
As a person who always wants to try a game before I buy it, I felt that I needed to have a free version for people who shared my point of view. The free version (which does allow players to upgrade to the full version from within the app itself) is a small portion of the entire game that gives people a little taste of what the gameplay is like. Origami Adventure features 9 different animals, four environments, and over 60 levels. The free version of the game showcases 3 of the animals and one of the environments over 8 levels. If a gamer enjoys playing through those initial 8 levels, upgrading to the full version offers more challenges, puzzles, environments, and the continuation of the game’s story.
Done Right Studios is your own startup, having worked in the games industry as an engineer for many years. Obviously (given the name) there’s a lot that’s done wrong within the games industry (that I’m assuming you hope to put right or at least highlight). The name is obviously a statement as well as a business name; could you give a little background into the events that led to this name?
To be bold and frank, I’ll say the biggest problem with the games industry revolves around project planning and scheduling. There can be a variety of reasons for this – having worked at 3 separate companies, each one had their own unique situation and problems with scheduling. By no means is it easy to create a schedule, and in some ways it can be futile (because of the dynamic and flowing events that can happen during a project). While it can be possible to botch a schedule from the start, it’s equally dangerous to not be able to adapt to things during production. Since cutting a feature, especially if it is perceived as important, is often the last resort, and moving deadlines is usually impossible (giving one or two extra weeks for a feature to be completed isn’t really moving a deadline if the project’s launch date isn’t also moved), the solution is frequently to throw more man-hours into it.
There are lots of crazy stories in the industry when it comes to people’s weekly schedules. I’ve had friends tell me they’ve done 80-100 hour weeks, and there are well known incidents like EA Spouse. Because the industry is so deadline driven, there are going to be times when additional time and effort are necessary. But there is a big difference between pushing yourself to meet a deadline, and having to work unreasonable hours (usually including weekends) for weeks or months in a row. When companies fall into this rut, it’s bad for everyone: bad for the people working under the stress and long hours, bad for the players who receive games that are rushed, buggy, and incomplete, and bad for the industry when talented people get burnt out.
I started Done Right Studios because I wanted to take everything I learned over the years, and apply it in real, practical ways. Doing things like building extra time in the schedule for unexpected bumps, being realistic about project scope and expectations from the beginning, and prioritizing/cutting features as needed really help alleviate a lot of the problems that creating a game poses. Now, it’s certainly a lot easier to do these things when you are 100% in charge of your own project, but I truly hope that by speaking out and setting an example, things can change for the industry.
Origami Adventure is no small project. It’s currently in 8 languages and has over 60 levels, which is pretty impressive and I know you’ve worked with translation services, music contractors, and art and sound contractors to make this possible.
Yeah, it was really quite an experience! I think the most difficult part of working with all of the outside contractors was just deciding who to choose. Since it’s such a big decision, you spend a lot of time looking for people, researching standards and formats, and getting quotes. Even though it can be stressful, I think the more time that you spend in this phase of a project, the easier time you’ll have once everyone is on board. All of the contractors I wound up working with were great communicators and hard workers, and I think it shows in the final product.
Working with contractors and developing a game to this spec would be nerveracking to most designers without your professional experience, any tips you’d like to share?
I think the most important thing is something everyone knows (deep down inside): Stay organized! This really extends into every single aspect of the process from interacting with contractors to designing the game, testing the game, and so much more. This is also closely related to another big tip: Have a plan. Especially if you are an independent developer, showing other people that you are organized and have a plan goes a long way. When I was searching for an artist, providing a design document and art asset list helped get me attention, inspired confidence, and got realistic quotes on how long it would take to do something (and how much money it would cost). When it comes to working with other people, be honest and frank from the get-go. If a person you’re working with is starting a new job, or still going to school, be comfortable knowing that your project won’t always be their top priority, and make sure that fits with your own schedule.
Another great piece of advice is to temper ambition with realism. I think the most important thing for an indie developer is to finish their project. A finished project brings confidence, achievement, and is a great thing to show potential employers (if you are interested in getting a job in the industry). Everything is always more complicated than it seems, and even simple features or ideas might become too time consuming to implement. If you think to yourself that you’re taking on a lot, you’re probably doing way too much. Pulling back the reins will improve the project’s focus and help get it finished, which will make you all the better equipped to tackle larger projects in the future.
Finally, I think the hardest thing I had to come to grips with was marketing. It hasn’t been long since Origami Adventure has been launched (the free version came out on October 7th, and the paid version on October 13th), but one thing became painfully clear right away: how much marketing matters. It sounds so obvious, and I don’t think it’s something people ignore on purpose, but for small development teams, it’s really easy to get tunnel vision; the most important thing is finishing a project (which is true), but not taking the time along the way to build the marketing power and relationships you need to make your game successful is ultimately doing yourself a great disservice. I think one practical way of tackling this is to budget real time for marketing during a project. Make sure you take at least half a day a week (spread over the course of the week) to do research on ways to market your indie game, and really put yourself out into the community. Maybe the focus isn’t always on your project, but just making connections and seeing (and learning from) other projects is so important, and something I regret not doing enough of.
In closing, care to share a few words on the future of both Origami Adventure and Done Right Studios?
A little time has passed since Origami Adventure has been finished, and I’ve since thought of some really great extensions I could make to the gameplay. If there was enough interest from fans of the game, I think it would be reasonable to add an update or two. It would probably be a combination of free content and in-app purchase expansions, which would add more origami animals, environments, mechanics, and story.
As for Done Right Studios, it’s something I’m very passionate about. I have a number of ideas for other projects, and would love to grow and bring other people on board and really implement the ideals of the studio on a broader level. At the end of the day, a big part of the studio’s future relies on the success of Origami Adventure. But regardless of what happens, I’m glad I decided to take a chance and form Done Right Studios. I’ve worked with some really talented people in the indie community on this project and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far!