Greetings and salutations! I’m back in the iDevBlogADay rotation starting this week. I have several interesting things coming up to blog about. This week, I want to give you an update on Unicorn Rush, the main game project we’re currently working on.
Project Background & Evolution
Unicorn Rush was originally conceived at the 360 iDev Game Jam in San Jose in 2010. The theme of the Game Jam was “tiny”, so I came up with a story of a tiny unicorn name Punicorn who was being tracked by a secret government organization. Here is what it looked like using placeholder art at the end of the Game Jam:
Original “Punicorn Escape” Concept
Anyway, partway through the Game Jam, someone mentioned Robot Unicorn Attack to me in the TouchArcade.com Game Jam forums. I was somewhat disappointed since I thought I had an original idea with my jumping unicorn. Although there were obvious similarities between the two games, I decided that my take on the concept would be different enough to warrant pursuing the project.
I wasn’t really happy with the cutesy theme of the prototype though. I wanted more of a fantasy feel for the game, so after I got home, I created a mockup in Photoshop of the sort of style I wanted to see. As usual, I made liberal use of images from iStockphoto.com and Google image search. Here is what I came up with:
Programmer Art Mockup of “Unicorn Rush”
I spent some time looking around for an artist and eventually found one located in the Washington, D.C. area whose style I really liked. Several weeks later I had 90% of the game art complete. You can see the results below, which is a current screenshot from the game:
Current “Unicorn Rush” Screenshot
I also brought my sound and music guy onboard around August 2010 (Mattias Holmgren of Morningdew Media in Sweden) and he created several epic tracks to go along with the game.
Due to various other projects and priorities, I never got started on implementing the game code until late last year when I found the Pixelwave engine. I decided to take a shot with this new engine, and it’s been a really good platform so far. The main thing missing right now is a particle system, but John and Oz (the Pixelwave team) are working on that right now.
Getting Some Help
In mid-December, I realized that I had too many other projects on my plate to continue developing Unicorn Rush alone and still have it come out this decade. I’d paid for the art and wanted to get the game out, so I decided to get some help with the game. I posted on TouchArcade.com indicating that I was looking for a developer to help out with the game.
After some discussions with a few developers, I chose one. Although some initial work was done in December, things really got rolling in January. New builds were coming frequently with new features and improvements.
At that point, I basically took on the role of Project Manager for the game, and frankly I’ve really enjoyed it. This is in no small part due to the fact that the developer I am working with is awesome. He just “gets things done” unlike most of the outsourced developers I’ve worked with in the past where you need to tell them every little thing, even if it seems obvious.
One very interesting point about our working relationship is that we have only ever communicated via email and MSN. There have been no video chats, no phone calls and we’ve never met in person. Despite that, we have had practically no misunderstandings or communication problems.
Doing the Business Model Shuffle
Originally, the plan for Unicorn Rush was to sell it for $0.99 and market it in the traditional way. Over the past few months though, I have seen some other iOS developers launch some amazing games at $0.99, get good press coverage, get featured by Apple, yet still not do well financially. This made me reconsider the business model for Unicorn Rush.
I’ve been watching the changes in the Top Grossing charts a lot recently and have seen the success of the freemium model. I have decided that Unicorn Rush will go the freemium route. Players will be able to download and play the game for free, and will be able to make in-app purchases.
I Know It’s Free, But How Much Does It Cost?
The Endless mode of the game will be free to play. While playing the Endless mode, which presents the player with a never-ending series of randomly selected, randomly placed pieces of land to navigate, the unicorn can collect pinches of Moondust that are swirling around in the game.
In addition to the Endless mode, there will be a collection of hand-designed levels called Gauntlets. Gauntlets are fixed-length race courses which players will try to negotiate in the shortest time with the highest score. In addition, players will need to collect the 10 stars placed strategically throughout each level.
In order to enter a Gauntlet race players will need to pay the entry fee in pinches of Moondust. More prestigious Gauntlets have higher entry fees. Players can play the game completely free forever in this way or they can choose to purchase Moondust in order to race on the Gauntlets more frequently.
In addition to the free Endless mode, there will be one free Gauntlet for players to practice on. This will be a fairly short course and it exists mainly so that we have a place to show tutorial elements that are specific to racing in the Gauntlets. I don’t want to interrupt players with tutorial messages if they are trying for a fast time and high score in a real gauntlet that they’ve paid to enter with Moondust.
The gameplay is basically complete. Here is a list of the main areas left to complete the game (still quite a bit of work!):
- Add particle system special effects (explosions, sparkle trails, etc.)
- Implement in-app purchase features
- Implement Gauntlet selection screen
- Create the actual Gauntlet levels using the level editor
- Implement tutorial system
- Beta testing, feedback and rework
- Implement special viral marketing feature (the subject of an upcoming blog post)
- Polish and balancing
Stay tuned for more information on Unicorn Rush next week, when I will discuss the creation of an in-game level editor which we are using to create the Gauntlets (and which may well be made available in the game for players to create and share levels in the future).