> Girls and Warplanes is the 8th project of the Minsk-based studio of Neskinsoft. It all started from a small experiment in the genre of action. Even though the company has got some experience of creating dynamic games for the midcore audience, they admit they still have room for improvement. Their previous title, (Run, Vova, Run) has been praised by the players, but, despite thousands of positive reviews, in terms of monetization the product was far from even covering the development expenses. “In order not to fall into the same trap again, we decided to take a sneak peek on the solutions of more successful colleagues from the Asian market”, , the CEO and co-founder of Neskinsoft explains.
Prototype: Brave Girls On Cool Warplanes
So we started making a game about three brave girls on incredibly cool warplanes saving the Earth from an alien invasion. Within a few weeks before winter holidays a small team of four people managed to create the first prototype of Girls and Warplanes. Bosses are shooting, planes are flying… Everything looked like the project would be ready very soon. But, as usual, this “very soon” actually meant long months of exhausting work and polishing. Nevertheless, we dared to show our first prototype at the Indie Showcase at Casual Connect Amsterdam 2014. Surprisingly, everything happened to be not as bad as we expected — those who are into dynamic shooters paid some attention to us.
Not All Work Is Visible
We decided to go on with this game. Graphics, effects, constant experiments, daily builds… Often a project is changing right in front of you, while sometimes you need to dig into the SVN history to see the difference: there’s plenty of important tasks hidden in the depths of the project, and working on them directly impacts the future stability of the game, potential for updates, and the timeliness of the launch of these updates (the latter, though, isn’t going as smooth as we want it).
Even on the initial stages of working on the project, when it’s too early to even think of updates, developers constantly balance between perfect technical decisions and the deadlines dictated by reality represented by the project manager. If you save some time in the beginning while creating the architecture, like – “let’s simplify it, even though it will not look pretty”, in order to make it by the deadline, later, with the updates, you’ll have to do loads of complicated and kinda ugly tasks to implement even the plain features. Well, it’s a rough description of it all.
In Girls and Warplanes the dialogues system turned out as the weakness — we paid little attention to it in the first version of the game. When in an update it was time to simultaneously notify the player (in separate windows) that he has beat a friend’s record, gained enough experience to get a new rank, and also there’s a discount for Aigul’s airplane… Here come the bugs and new sufferings — leave it as is, or rewrite and make a new system of working with dialogues.
What I mean is that making the “F” feature before the launch is much easier than making the same “F” feature after launch. In this second case you are already dealing with a live audience and therefore have to take into account all ways and consequences of implementing this feature at least not to break anything. What is more, it’s mentally hard to work on a project where the tremendous amount of work you’ve just done doesn’t really influence the game’s visuals. So we had nothing else remaining than taking it out on the players, tweaking the difficulty curve to the highest. 😉
The UI: Producer’s Criticism and Teamwork
The UI is a nightmare even for a programmer married to MVC. It’s about endless arguments, hundreds of mockups and the search for that best decision that would eventually satisfy the majority of players from the model of reality dwelling in the producer’s head. The competition in app stores makes us pay more attention to details – it is them that creates the impression from the product, which is particularly important in the long-ago overpopulated genre of 2D scroll shooters. That “click-and-find-out what-it-does” button might result in loss of 30% of the audience who made it to the game through all those marketing paths of yours. Several months have passed before Girls and Warplanes got the interface you can see now. Buttons with beveled corners, sci-fi reminiscence, pretty transitions – producer’s criticism along with well-coordinated teamwork does wonders!
Technology and Cross-Platform
Having put together a close-to-the-release iOS build, we played it on a tablet. So, how about starting the Android version? Sasha, the chief programmer for Girls and Warplanes, sets up the project, lights a candle on the table and starts the compilation… Our new office is on the 3rd floor, so jumping out of the window isn’t as convenient as before. This is what the programmer often feels like, because he is aware of a certain range of cross-platform development problems with cocos2d-x. Like, for instance, the missing option of using IDE for proper tune-up of the game on the device leaves him hunting for some intricate bug just through the logging for days! Even mentally strong people can end up a little bit on the crazy side. 🙂 Everything might be much easier with Unity, we should take a closer look on it!
Actually, cocos2d-x that we used to develop the game allows launching the project on iOS and Android without any problems. But you can’t avoid extra work even if you initially add support of both platforms. Platform-specific poker games are also a reason for this. For example, iOS doesn’t have such thing as the “Back” button, while in Android you have to deal with it in the most unexpected situations. All third-party libraries should be integrated separately for each platform, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. I wouldn’t say there was something extremely hard for our team, at least with Girls and Warplanes everything felt more or less equal. Nevertheless, things happen, and there can be a surprise in the most common spot of the most reliable library.
What is more, in front of you there are upcoming iterations, server work, integration of additional libraries, unavoidable bugs and iterations again.
The Android version of Girls and Warplanes already got more than 400 000 downloads, which is 4 times as many as on iOS and can be explained through the distribution of current audience of the Vkontakte mobile platform which we chose for launch. 37 734 players of all 49 177 who have rated the game gave us 5 stars, and we thank them with amusing updates.
Launching With The Vkontakte Platform
The deal about a collaborative launch with the Vkontakte company on the just announced (at that time) mobile platform of theirs made the whole team pull up their socks again in order to finalize the project for both iOS and Android in time. We were launching with the first batch, for the Russian audience of App Store and Google Play. We did our best to be ready by the official start of Vkontakte’s platform for mobile devices, and the “effect of something new” proved itself well. This is one of those rather cool market strategies: track this kind of announcements from the big companies and react to them in time, arranging partnership as early as possible.
As for now, Girls and Warplanes has gained around 500 000 players. Four major updates are behind, and in the nearest future we’re planning to entertain our Russian players with online tournaments and a deeper system of power leveling. And, obviously, we’re considering finding a reliable partner for a global launch!