Thumbstar Game Designer, Matthew Dunthorne and artist, Craig Anderson tell us all about the inception and creation of Thumbstar's first internally developed title, The Adorables released for iOS and Android on 6th December 2012. Yes, this is what our studio looks like all the time. It's amazing we get anything done really.
Where did the original idea for The Adorables come from?
Matthew: It all started with the games original name, ‘Adora Borealis’. I love cats and before setting off for my first day at Thumbstar my cat Coco was being especially adorable, from out of nowhere I said to her “Well… aren’t you just Adora… Borealis” (Don’t judge) and instantly knew I had to design a game with that title. The Aurora Borealis was on my mind because my fiancée had been talking about trying to see it on our honeymoon. In the end the name didn’t stick!
How did you go about designing the mechanism for a pachinko game that you can control?
Matthew: Well I told Thumbstar Designers Tom Boggis and Ross Neal the title on the walk to work and then began thinking what the game could involve. I knew the end goal was to create the beautiful Aurora Borealis and that it had to be Adorable, from that I decided that it should be about a group of cute, ball-shaped creatures that fire themselves into the air to create the Aurora Borealis. The Pachinko influence came from a desire to create a game like Peggle (an amazing game!) that allowed the user to affect the ball after it was fired. By dinner time on my first day I had a working prototype of the game and pitched it that afternoon.
The level design progresses through the worlds introducing new mechanisms as you go. Did you have ideas that you decided against in the end?
Matthew: Yeah loads! I like to aim big in the initial pitch and then refine my ideas as we begin development and other ideas begin to form and take shape. Some of the level elements we decided against in the end included ‘Adora Cannons’ which would have fired the Adorable across the level, ‘Lightning’ which would hit the Adorable and caused it to become unresponsive and ‘Rain’ which would have gotten the Adorables wet and made them heavier.
The character design for the Adora’s is gorgeous. Where did it come from and what sort of personalities do they have?
Craig: I think that I was influenced quite heavily by my girlfriend’s 2 rats, Comma and Em-dash. I had never met rats before and it turns out that they are AWESOME. I wanted to keep the shape of the Adora simple because I knew that I would be animating them by hand with paper so I didn’t want to have to keep drawing too many fine details. Once I had the basic form down I kind of went crazy and just kept on making different characters, I don’t know how many we ended up with but cutting the list down to just 5 was pretty hard.
The bunch that we ended up with are pretty cool though, Syd is the kind of cool loner type but is super lazy so prefers to just have a nap rather than do anything crazy. Ping likes to slide about on his belly like a penguin and is good at making things. Sneaker is always up to no good and playing pranks on people. Ruffle is a great cook and loves to sit and watch the night sky. Mu… well, he doesn’t really understand what’s going on, but is happy to be involved.
The different worlds offer different landscapes and themes where did they come from and how do you think they speak to the gameplay?
Craig: We all had a load of ideas on what kind of worlds we wanted to include, but when we discussed it we all came to the same conclusion that the five worlds in the game were a nice spread of colours and themes that linked with the Aurora and the general feel of the game. Much like the designs for the Adora we had a long list of potentials.
What have been the biggest challenges in bringing The Adorables to life?
Craig: None of us had really used Unity before, so that was a bit of a learning curve. Our programmer, Sean Tromans of Needs More Ninja Studios http://www.needsmoreninja.co.uk is a dab hand with it so helped us get up to speed with it quite quickly. There was a lot of artwork to create so I was pretty lucky to get some much needed help from one of our other artists, Andrew Bales, who took care of all of the technical aspects of the art for the game and also came up with all of those amazing particle effects that we have!
Matthew: For me it was learning how best to implement the controls without buttons. Designing games for touch screens is a far cry from making console games, where you have loads of buttons available and very accurate control through the analogue sticks.
Do you have any tips for getting through some of the more challenging levels?
Matthew: Study the level before you start and plan a route around it in your head. A lot of the later levels were designed to allow huge scores if the player can find the optimum path. Also, if it’s a level with Anti-Gravity take a couple of deep breaths before you start; some of those levels caused our tester Dan to have a meltdown because everything you know about the game is flipped on its head.
Craig: Tilt really helps me get through some of the tougher ones, but as a general rule I think you just need to figure out what you are going for when playing the level - you can always come back and play it again if you miss things the first time around. Also, get the time pick ups!
How has designing for mobile been for the team in comparison to working on console games?
Craig: For me it has been quite a liberating experience. In the past when I worked on console games the teams were huge and filled with protocol, guidelines and hierarchy. At Thumbstar we have kind of done away with that approach and just got back to the basics of making games - having fun and making something that we enjoy. I think it’s this free-form approach which helped me settle on the art style so easily, but it also made me realize some things about the way I worked in the past and how to avoid them. The general structure of the work is the same, concept the game, plan the work, make the game, but our approach is much more fluid than a console game development cycle and it allows us to act on changes quickly and efficiently. Thankfully we have some killer production guys who have mad skills with spreadsheets and calendars to make sure that we get everything done on time and don’t end up concentrating on things that we shouldn’t be.
Matthew: Liberating is definitely the right word. As I mentioned before, the spark of the idea, the prototype, the pitch and the sign-off all happened in the space of a day. Moving from a large team where I was told what I was working on to having such a massive amount of freedom was truly mind-blowing and really exciting too! Purely from a design point of view I had to adapt to designing a game that a very small team could create in a short amount of time.
Can you tell us a little about what the studio is working on next?
Craig: One of the best things about working here is the sheer number of ideas kicking around. Every day someone has come up with something new to try out or created an amazing bit of art or figured out a way of streamlining our approach to make things easier for the next project. There is lots of cool stuff on the horizon.
Matthew: We have a very unique word game coming soon which was designed so that everyone from primary school children to oxford scholars could have fun challenging their friends in vocabulary throw-downs. We’ll share more soon, promise!