Totem Tutorial the 3rd

(Epilepsy warning: Contains flashing images)

The tutorial system in Totem Topple is something that we’ve wrestled with over a number of iterations. In the launch version of Totem Topple, it worked, in the sense that it gave players enough of an understanding of how the game’s basic mechanics worked to be able to play. Similarly, the complimentary Help system worked well in allowing players to see the underlying stats and numbers for the various heads and enemies.

However, the fact that many players resorted to using the Help showed how much the game was lacking in visual feedback. Many of the minor changes made to Totem Topple for the 2.0 release try to give players a better sense of how their actions affect the game.

Circular Confusion

For example, some heads give a bonus to their neighbours, as indicated by the radius wheel behind them. Unfortunately, the wheel itself, whilst it is clear where it is coming from, it’s not clear what it actually does. There are no visible links or changes on the heads it affects. In fact, some players confused it for some sort of shield or radial attack.


Instead, now indicator arrows point between heads, wings and beaks, allowing players to see when any one element on the totem pole affects another. For health buffs, the affected heads gain a purple glow as a show of high strength, at least give some indication to the player that this head is different to others. However, we’re still looking at ways to make it even more obvious when one head or wing afftects the health of another.

Go Faster

When it comes to rate of fire changes, the differential between the lowest and highest rates was not big enough previously. Whilst the way the game was balanced, a higher rate of fire made a big difference to the player’s ability to kill lots of enemies, unless they looked really closely, players were unlikely to be able to tell that.

To improve this, firstly the balance of the game was changed so that low rate of fire really did mean one measly arrow every couple of seconds, whilst the highest rate creates an almost constant stream. Further to this, a higher rate of fire actually means the arrow physically moves faster. The arrows also gain “go faster stripes” or speed lines as they are called by illustrators. These emphasise the speed, but also give an extra visual pointer to show that things have changed when adding a wing, or that this head-beak combo is better than another.

rof motion stripes 1

Adding in a simple, two step animation of the bird beaks opening and closing every time an arrow fired also helped to give players an extra visual clue that one head/beak is a lot more active than the others. Especially so when arrows are flying in all directions.

beaks open


There were also a few combinations where beaks would have a zero rate of fire or arrows would do negative damage. To represent this, beaks would be closed, or fire broken arrows. Even so, this is probably a bit confusing for the player, so long term, we’re aiming to remove the need for these by rebalancing.

broken arrow 2

Flaming Arrows

For damage, arrows now start off black and then slowly turn more and more brightly coloured depending on the damage type being fired. The highest damage dealing arrows are then given spectacular trails of flame, snowflakes or water jets to really drive home that these arrows were specially powerful.

flame arrows 1


Another problem was simply telling heads apart from each other. It’s not intrinsically clear what a bear or a wolf or an eagle does or represents. Unlike, say, a scifi themed game, where the players can work things out using existing knowledge: That gun-looking structure is probably a turret, and the box that emits a glowing shield is probably a defensive mod.

Previously we’d coloured the heads according to function. Blue for defensive and orange for offensive. However, players didn’t pick up on that, viewing each head individually, and trying to work out what each did one at a time.


So we gave each one a unique colour. We also simplified the designs. A lot of detail was getting lost or creating a pixellated mess on lower resolution screens, which made the heads all blur into one. Simplifying the graphics also helped to make the overall game aesthetic look cleaner. We did the same for the enemies, using the original higher-resolution enemy images for the much larger, newly created boss enemies. This had the added bonus of making them appear more special compared to their smaller, plainer counterparts.


Another complaint from the launch version of the game was that the hitboxes were too small. Players would see their arrows whisk right through enemies, apparently failing to hit them unless the arrow hit dead centre. However, increasing the enemy hitbox size caused a different problem, whereupon enemies would often hit the second bottom totem head as they moved into the base of the tower. The game is programmed as such to ignore these hits (as it massively complicates the game and its coding if non-bottom heads / heads half-way through the stack can be killed). As a result, the new enemies would often completely fail to knock the totem pole down.

The solution was actually to make the arrow hitboxes significantly larger instead. Some re-balancing in other areas made sure that the game didn’t become too easy as a result.


Some aspects of the game didn’t get a mention in the tutorial, yet were not common features to other games in the genre. For these, rather than let the player figure it out for themselves as before, “interrupt” style tutorial messages would pop up informing the user of key bits of information the first time they did something significant but otherwise non-obvious.

For example, the placing of towers and turrets is a key part of most tower defence games, yet Totem Topple eschews this as one of the limiting factors of the game, forcing players to plan ahead a bit more than they might otherwise need to. That’s all very well except that most players didn’t understand that, especially with placing wings.

nextwing indicators_3

So when a wing is first placed, the game now informs the player both about the functions wings perform and where they will be placed by the game on the totem. Small graphical indicators have also been added to help players subsequently quickly see where the next wing will be placed.


The other related issue is with the height warning. Way back when the game was first created, it would let players simply keep building up and up ad-infinitum. However, this meant players could for the most part mash the place head buttons (at least in frantic mode), and it didn’t really matter what heads they placed, just how quickly they could throw them down.

To get around this, a mechanic was added in which players were punished for this mode of behaviour, spawning huge waves of super-hard enemies if they built beyond the red flashing warning line near the top of their screen.

punish spawn

This rightly confused the hell out of most players, who did not make the connection between building “too high” and the game suddenly ramping up to impossible difficulty levels. This threat of “angering the spirits” and super-hard enemies did not raise the tension of the game as hoped. Rather, the seemingly arbitrary nature of the players’ demise just as they seemed to be making progress left many frustrated and feeling cheated.

So we simply placed a hard limit on how high players could build. No more than 10 heads, and then the first time they hit that limit, an interrupt would inform them of the limit. The red warning line was kept in, but now as a reminder of that limit rather than as an easily mis-interpreted signal of impending doom.

Sharpening Edges

The game’s UI was also subject to improvements. On the tutorial, enemies would flash and buttons “ping” and scale to help cement the messages in the tutorial text, and better guide players towards the buttons they needed to press or things they needed to be aware of.

ui flashing enemies

Various factors meant we were stuck with using Unity’s less than perfect legacy GUI. However, even simple changes, like using a font other than default Arial also made a big difference. Or adjusting the UI buttons and panels to have angular corners to fit better with the angular background art style.

Overall, the various systems that help the player learn now feel like they do a much better job, working together and in different ways to convey information. There are still many more improvements to be made, but with the changes made, the game doesn’t leave players so lost and confused as it once did.

Rescuing Totem Topple

I was pretty gutted with how Totem Topple was received after it launched back in November, both in terms of poor reviews and poor sales. The first reaction is always to get angry, but looking back on the comments, I quickly realised that most of the criticism was justified. When placing myself in the shoes of reviewers or players coming to the game with fresh eyes, the responses to the game were perfectly rational.

One video of the game was particularly telling: I watched as the player died, died again, died again. Then they checked the in-game help, compared what all the different totem heads did. They devised a strategy, and I’m sitting there thinking “Looks like they’ve got it now. Should be ok this time!”. Only to be taken out by chance enemy spawn that really, they couldn’t do anything to mitigate. The video ended there. Although there was no commentary, I could almost hear them thinking “I did everything the game told me to and still died every single time. **** this.”

The proper, professional response to this is to learn the lessons and bring them to the next game, but otherwise move on. Instead, here I am, still working on the game 6 months later. A mix of sunken cost fallacy and bruised pride sucking me in, leading me to try and rescue Totem Topple. This is the story of how I’ve reached this point.


For those not familiar with Totem Topple, the premise is players add different heads, wings or bird beaks to their totem pole. These represent the turrets, walls and stats boosters of more traditional tower defence games. Demon spirit enemies then float down from the top of the screen, attacking the base of the totem pole.

When the bottom head on the pole has taken enough damage, it is destroyed, and the whole tower drops down one level. When all heads are destroyed, it’s game over.

King Jam

Totem Topple, like so many games these days, was born in the fires of a game jam. Over 2 days, myself and 3 fellow indie devs poured our efforts into creating a little mobile tower defence game at a game jam curiously sponsored by King, of Candy Crush Saga fame. After the jam, all the other team members had full time jobs, so I took on the task of polishing up our creation and putting it on Google Play. That took about 2 weeks, and whilst it got a smattering of downloads, it largely went unnoticed, another drop in the ocean app store.


I’ve heard a number of theories about why jam games do not make good candidates for full-production games. I personally subscribe to the idea that the best jam games really drill down to one central, super-polished mechanic, but as a result lack depth. Fun for 5 minutes, but without the larger game loops that keep the player engaged on an hour-by-hour basis, or make them spend their lunch break devising strategies for when they get home to the game.

Custom Game

This, plus a nagging feeling that the audience for console games would reject anything that looked too much like a “crappy mobile port” lead me to spend a lot of time creating a complicated “custom game” system. Players could tinker with all the variables behind the scenes, add new heads and enemies, re-order when different waves spawned, and so on.

I was encouraged when a couple of months into development, Nintendo announced Mario Maker. Suddenly, level editors were all the rage and the custom game feature felt like a part of a wider movement around giving players more control to modify and create content in-game.

screenshot 13-02-15 05

In retrospect, I was putting too much time into a feature that very few people were ever likely to actually use. It also allowed me to fool myself when it came to balancing the game, allowing me to say “Oh, well balancing the game is hard, so I’ll throw it open to players and they’ll appreciate being part of the development process, with a developer who is humble enough to admit (by implication) that they don’t know all the answers.”

When really, the game would eventually release without the Custom Game feature, owing to the difficulty of making the user experience feel really smooth. And due to the difficulty to keep it maintained every time something else in the game changed.

As for the balance (or lack thereof), that would turn out to be the biggest issue people had when the game did eventually launch.

Down to Earth

Six months after its inception, the game was “finished”, and I was busy trying to drag the it through Wii U lotcheck process. One of the reasons for bringing the game to Wii U was to go through the process at least once, with what I thought was a relatively small, simple game. Use the lessons learned in helping bring the bigger, more ambitious Flight of Light to the Wii U, whilst also hopefully earning enough money from it to pay some of the artists and musicians that game would need to get it completed.

And I have learned a huge amount about that process, to the point that I’m confident in taking on projects like porting Gear Gauntlet to Wii U, or in simply offering up my experiences and advice to other developers going through the process for the first time.

big indie pitch brighton 2015

However, I didn’t make things easy for myself, insisting on adding odd features like Miiverse integration, leaderboards and analytics packages. Whilst I was wading through all that, I took the game to Pocket Gamer Big Indie Pitch, at which the judges eviscerated the game for its various flaws.

I went away and decided the game needed some big changes. I removed the Custom mode and added in a “Classic” mode to replace it. The theory being that it was closer to more traditional tower defence games, and would be a good way for people to learn the game before going on to the original game, now rebranded “Frantic” mode.


When the game did come out, Classic mode had had far less time put into its balancing. Whereas most of the reviewers who actually played Frantic mode preferred it, universally, they all struggled with Classic mode. I’d pushed Classic mode to the fore of the game, placing it first on the menu, plus the name itself suggested it was a more logical place to start the game. Consequently a majority of reviewers took Frantic mode, which had far more time put into its balance, as more of a bonus mode, rather than the real core of the game.


The game also came out at a bad time. Right in the middle of the Christmas/holiday season, a day before two big 1st party Nintendo titles landed on the system, in a period full of the latest AAA games arriving on other platforms.


In terms of marketing, I stood on my virtual soapbox shouting at social media, but got nothing back. I wrote a bunch of blog posts about what I felt were interesting aspects of the game – It’s Navite American Inspirations, it’s day/night cycle, the differences between frantic and classic modes. Few beyond my immediate circle of friends read those posts, and certainly none of the reviewers picked up on the subtle things I’d included in the game, that to me represented the love and attention I’d put into it. Like how the music changed when the enemies started getting harder, then changed back when they got easier again. In fact, one reviewer claimed the game only had one single repetitive song on a loop. Which annoyed me intensely until I realised they probably never got past the first few waves, and so never heard the change.

Just Ship It

The other reason I gave up on making all those blog posts was that in the time between the game getting approved, and actually being available to buy, I’d run out of stuff to talk about. I thought I was being smart, storing up things to talk about with regards to the game. Keeping my power dry until the last couple of weeks before release. Only to find being approved does not mean the game is on the store next week (or anything close to that).

That exhausting process and a feeling like I’d already spent way too long on the game contributed to an attitude in the weeks leading up to the release of “just ship it”, and “so what if it was the wrong time of year”. I was determined to get the game out and into the world, and not be one of the long line of indies who never actually finish a game.


Another marketing fail was the video / trailer for the game. It just did not show what it was like to actually play the game, or even whether the player was trying to knock the tower down or build it up or quite what they were supposed to be seeing and doing.

Finally, I’d decided that getting youtubers and streamers to play the game was all the rage, and would make the big difference. So I planned to spend the couple of weeks preceding launch just handing out as many codes to as many people as I could persuade to give the game a try. However, Nintendo only gave me the codes 3 weeks before launch day, giving me just enough time to contact those specialist Nintendo review sites who I knew could make a real difference to the game’s reception.

Once their less than stellar reviews started trickling in, I immediately paused all my marketing plans, and determined that I must find and correct what was wrong with the game before continuing.

Christmas Patch

Another lesson learned the hard way was that patching is its own entire thing, and not simply a case of changing a few variables in Unity and pushing a fresh build to the game via Nintendo. In the heat of the game’s launch and the days after, I made a series of rushed changes to quickly re-balance the game and sent them off to be approved. The resulting patch did not arrive until end of January, long after the game’s fleeting moment in the spotlight of Nintendo fan interest had long since flickered out.


In fairness, a couple of reviewers did the game a decent service and took a second look, or waited till after the patch before giving their verdicts. But for it to have any impact on the game’s overall reception and sales, that ship had long since sailed.

Onward Totems

That brings me to today. The second patch is now out on Wii U, and the changelog is as long as my arm. New features, new enemies, improved tutorial and UI, and everything rebalanced from the ground up. The game is releasing in new territories (Australia and New Zealand). Taking advantage ofUnity3d’s cross-platform building, the game now runs on PC, and hoping now to pass Steam Greenlight. You can see some of the changes made in the new trailer below:

(You can vote on greenlight here:

Will it rescue Totem Topple? Financially, the chances of even modest success are vanishingly small at this point. However, the game as it is now, at least I can be proud of it, and give those who do take a chance with it a fun time.


Closing the Loop

In many ways, Nintendo have been playing catch up with the rest of the industry in the last few months, with their new account system and first mobile app Miitomo launching recently. Nothing exemplifies this more so than the website, which finally allows people to buy digital download games without having to log onto their console. For most consumers it’s a cool, if minor added convenience. However, for developers it represents a major fix to a once horribly convoluted purchasing process.

Essentially, developers and publishers can now link directly to a place where people can actually buy their games, no matter what device they are on. This opens up an array of new options for marketing eShop games. Whereas before, by the time the potential customer gets home and/or has time spare to log onto their console, they might have forgotten the game they saw advertised. Now, mobile and web-based ads become far more viable, as clicking through leads straight to the store page and the chance of an actual conversion.

price question

Currently, I suspect that most eShop sales, particularly of indie titles, come from a small pool of highly active Nintendo fans. Consider a well received indie game can struggle to rack up 10k sales, whereas Nintendo 1st party titles can shift tens or hundreds of times that. Clearly there is an audience out there and willing to spend in the right circumstances.

Smaller developers in particular can now promote their games directly from their own websites, from their youtube channels, twitch streams, email lists, social media channels, and so on. Even when demoing at games conventions, developers/publishers can still direct people to the nintendo website and in theory make a sale on the spot.


Of course, it’s not perfect, as potential customers can still be lost in the in-between steps from landing on the store page, logging in, entering payment details, and so forth. However, it’s still infinitely better than what was there before.

With any luck, indie developers in particular will embrace this and factor it into their less conventional marketing plans. Certainly for our games, when we do have a cool and unusual idea for promoting our games, we’ll have a much more flexible, versatile way to convert an interested person into a sale and (hopefully) satisfied customer.

Soft Price Control

Nintendo recently launched a new customer loyalty scheme in Japan, My Nintendo, alongside the release of their first mobile game/app, Miitomo. In the scheme, players are rewarded with “platinum” coins for various activities centred around encouraging engagement with Miitomo and other Nintendo services. These coins can then be redeemed to get discounts on certain games or other digital trinkets like background themes for the 3DS console.

However, like all good mobile games, Miitomo has a second premium currency. At time of writing, spending these “gold” coins gives much bigger discounts to a wider selection of games. Unlike other mobile games, Gold coins are earned purely by buying other games on Nintendo eShop for 3DS and Wii U. The higher the cost of the game bought, the more coins are gained.

Interestingly, there is a minimum price bracket of 500 yen (~$4.50), below which the player receives no gold coins at all. If as expected, most Nintendo fans and regular eShop customers sign up to My Nintendo, then any games below the minimum price will become less attractive, due to them not coming with any gold coin rewards.

In effect, it introduces a soft floor on prices. Developers/publishers could still opt to price their games lower than the floor, but understand that there would be a disincentive to do so.

Nintendo have said in the past that they see price deflation as a problem. The eShop has a wide range of titles, but many are low price, short, quick experiences. That makes more sense for the portable 3DS. For the Wii U though, there’s more of an expectation that games are longer, more substantial games that players can sit down and play in longer sessions relaxing at home in front of the TV. By introducing a disincentive for developers to price low, it should mean that smaller games get squeezed out of the market.

Arguably more worrying for Nintendo has been the recent trend of regular, deep discounting of eShop games by 3rd party developers/publishers. Putting a game on Sale not only makes it more attractive from a pure price vs value perspective. But is also one of the few ways to increase visibility post-launch, with possible eShop store page placement and listings in Nintendo fan press.

Presumably, if games give gold coins based on the discounted price, it’ll give developers/publishers pause for thought when considering a sale. Whereas at the moment, there really is no reason not to regularly put the game on sale.

Just how intentional these changes are is hard to gauge with Nintendo. And how much Nintendo fans will place getting gold coins above paying less for a title, we’ll have to wait and see. Still, it’s a different way of tackling the problem of price deflation as seen on mobile, or the culture of deep discounting, as seen on Steam.

From my perspective, might even consider raising the price of Totem Topple on the eShop. At least once the new update for it comes out with all the new features etc. It’ll certainly have the content to justify doing so, and may also be that by pricing the game at a relatively modest $2.99 to begin with has given the impression of the game being a bit lower quality than maybe it really is. It’s a decision for another day, and My Nintendo is not even out yet here in the west, but it’ll certainly be something to factor in for the future.

Gear Gauntlet Coming to Wii U

We’ve teamed up with UK based studio Drop Dead Interactive to bring their game, Gear Gauntlet, to the Wii U. It’s a fun but rage inducing 2D action arcade game that we think will be right at home on the Nintendo console.


We’ve been hard at work porting it to Wii U for the last few months, adapting it to work with the Wii U’s unique GamePad controller, integrating Nintendo leaderboard API’s and adding a few extras like Miiverse functionality, Wii U Pro and Classic Controller support. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be ensuring Gear Gauntlet passes all the requisite Nintendo checks, as well as promoting it, with the game eventually being published under the Crystalline Green Ltd. banner on the eShop.

However, that’s not to take away from the imagination and skills of Drop Dead Interactive, which have truly brought this title to life. We’re just proud to be helping it reach a greater audience.

Quick Reaction

Totem Topple has now been unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and the initial feedback on the game is starting to trickle in.

To date, when I’ve watched people play the game, I’ve been able to approach them afterwards and quiz them on what they found the game to be like. Those observations have usually been made at gaming events, where there is a very different context to playing the game at home.

It’s been fascinating watching the youtube gameplay videos that have gone up so far. Most have been from reviewers or people I’ve provided with early demo codes prior to release, so they’ve all been around the 5 minute mark long for each mode.


The immediate take home has been that Classic mode is just a touch too hard in the initial phase. People are taking a few minutes to work the game out, but then typically start down a path of maximising rate of fire. People also seem to be using the help section to find the best combinations, which is encouraging.

There’s definitely a need to kill lots of enemies at the start, to build up a good stock of supplies, so players can explore different strategies a bit later. This isn’t necessarily a problem per-se, even if it’s a little prescriptive.

In practice though, it’s obviously a bit too high an initial hurdle to get over. I’ve watched people basically get it, and think to myself “Ok, here we go, they should be alright from here”. Only to be taken out by an unlucky low spawn that goes under their fire.

There’s a number of ways we’ll now look at to solve this:

Extra Tutorial Steps – Including information about wings and increasing rate of fire, so that in the process of jumping through the hoops, the player is pretty much given the answer, at least for defeating the first wave of enemies.

Changing the order of the Heads – During the tutorial, people tend to pick the top left head. And are then prompted to put a beak on said head. Unfortunately, that head is the Owl head, which gives a rate of fire penalty, and is probably the worst head to use.

Slowing Down the Enemies – Slowing down the first wave of enemies will make them easier to hit, and so allow people to at least get a little further into the game, even if their initial strategies aren’t optimal. It’ll also help reinforce the message of shoot enemies, collect supplies, build more stuff.

Furthermore, in Frantic mode, the bird beaks aren’t nearly as useful as in Classic because the enemies are simply moving that bit faster. In some cases, people have even commented that the game is broken, because the arrows look like they’re just passing through the enemies. In fact, the enemy hitbox is just it’s round core, and not the outer spikes, but try telling that to players. To them, it looks like a hit, but there’s no effect. So probably what we’ll do as well is just increase the hitbox size on the easier enemies.

Fortunately, the enemies are set up that changing the earlier spawning enemies won’t affect those spawning later on down the line, so the initial game can be made easier without reducing the challenge of the latter stages. It’ll mean the difficulty curve has a bigger step-jump in the middle section of the game, but that’s likely worth trading off for people to get more into the early game.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to patch at least some of the changes in relatively quickly, since we’re already working to fix one or two other minor issues (especially on the leaderboards). The first patch submission for the game is fairly imminent, so probably won’t include extra tutorial steps, as they would also require translating into French and Spanish. But the rest of the changes will take between 2 weeks and a month to process, and so hopefully be in the game by Christmas!




Totem Topple Release Date

Totem Topple to Launch on Wii U and PC on 19th November 2015

Totem Topple finally has a release date! It will come out on 19th of November on Wii U in North America and Europe, and worldwide on PC via For those interested in getting a review copy, email contact |at| Presskit also available

It’ll be interesting to see how the game fares, considering this time of year is traditionally not a good time for small independent titles to get noticed. Usually the airwaves (or twittersphere or whatever passes for mass media these days) are filled with adverts for the latest blockbuster hits hoping to worm their way into people’s Christmas stockings or, for those in the US, their Black Friday shopping baskets!


(now with extra Christmas!)

In many ways, the Wii U has arguably one of the stronger line-ups in terms of platform exclusives this year, with Xenoblade Chronicles, Mario Tennis and Animal Crossing all launching the day after, or in the weeks after Totem Topple. However, in terms of big cross-platform AAA offerings, the Wii U will be bereft of such titles as the latest Tomb Raider (technically a timed Xbox One exclusive), Star Wars: Battlefront, and Fallout 4.

How much difference that makes will remain to be seen. Perhaps Totem Topple will benefit from being in the new releases section of the Wii U eShop store over what is both a busy time of year, and an extended period when new releases trail off as everyone goes on holiday. Will Wii U owners be spending that time off from work mashing their way through epic open world of Xenoblade Chronicles and not much else? Or will those who are looking for something new (or simply aren’t fans of those existing franchises) take a punt with our little game?

Or do those Wii U owners also own PC’s, PS4’s and Xboxes, which will get booted up to Raid some Tombs or Battle some Fronts or 4 some Fallouts….

There’s also the looming “Nintendo Direct”, (Nintendo’s semi-regular live broadcast announcement show), which will no doubt whip the Nintendo faithful into a furious frenzy of fangirl/boyism. In many ways, it might benefit Totem Topple if the Wii U fan base are energized, but with key franchises like Star Fox still a few months away.


Equally, there’s still the odd bug or two we’ve spotted since the game was approved by Nintendo. In particular, one issue with the leaderboards we’ve already prepared a patch for, but are still waiting for Nintendo (who in fairness are very busy this time of year) to approve. In that sense, if the game doesn’t get reviewed immediately on launch, it may be the patch gets applied by the time reviewers get round to it, and it’s all for the better.

Whatever happens, its exciting to release our first game for Nintendo systems, and hopefully make some people smile.

Forward Progess

A brief update from here at Crystalline Green HQ:

Exciting times for Totem Topple. We’ve now submitted the game into Nintendo’s Wii U approvals process (aka lotcheck). It takes a few weeks for them to go through everything and probably they’ll spot one or two things that need fixing at our end, so our current thinking is that the game will be released around the end of October or maybe early November. We’ll keep you posted on when we have an exact date!

Meanwhile, we’ve switched back to working on Flight of Light. We’re currently rebuilding the game from the ground up in the latest version of Unity (5.2). After having fixed a few performance issues, the game is now looking better and better graphics wise. I personally feel that as more games come to Wii U using Unity 5’s improved graphics package, Nintendo fans will be pleasantly surprised at what the console is capable of.

FLight of Light WIP 02-10-2015

We’ve still got a way to go to make Flight of Light really shine, but we feel the game is now firmly back on track. Looking ahead, we’re hoping to get a beta of the game finished by the end of December 2015, for release early next year. It means we’ve got our work cut out for us in the meantime, but we’re looking forward to making the game the best it can be and letting fans finally enjoy an (albeit limited) version of the game.

Translation Topple

If you’d like to help with translating Totem Topple, you can do so here:

Totem Topple is the first game where we’ve gone beyond English and translated the game into different languages. It’s always great for people to be able to enjoy games in their native language. All too often, there’s a touch of cultural arrogance from English speaking developers in assuming that the rest of the world will just deal with the fact the game is in one language only, so it’s nice to break that for once.

Voice and text can add a huge amount to the playing experience, but for those games that don’t have a narrative focus (or maybe even some that do!) it’s often a good idea to design out unnecessary text and voice acting to save cost and effort when translating.

For Totem Topple, voice acting is way outside our budget anyway, and we’ve very much aimed to reduce the amount of text we use. However, in compiling a list of all the words and phrases in the game, we were actually surprised by just how much there was!


A lot of the text does not in fact come from the game itself, but rather from things related to the game. Store descriptions and legal notices in the Wii U e-manual in particular have caught us out. It’s easy to add in a few lines of cool sounding description to entice players to buy and download, but that all needs translating if the game isn’t going to look odd and out of place with its English descriptions in amongst everything else in another language. Not to mention putting people off who maybe don’t immediately get the game from the screenshots or box art and then can’t work out what the game is actually about.

The good news is that it’s been technically easy to put the translations in so far. Whilst not perfect, it’s been relatively untroubbling to put in the code that lets us detect different languages and swap out text appropriately. We’ll probably come up against some problems when it comes to German, with its famously long words, and we’ve yet to try out a system for languages written from right to left, such as Arabic and Hebrew. The hope is though, that we can adapt the game as we go along / as we add more languages in the future.

As for sourcing all those different languages, it’s been bitty to say the least. Excited by the prospect of getting fans to help translate the game, and on hearing other devs have good experiences, we’ve posted out the call on twitter and facebook to help. However, there is a lot of text, and some of it is especially dense (the store descriptions) or boring (the e-manual notices about COPPA compliance and privacy policies). Since we’ve been asking people to help us for free, it’s only understandable that they can only give so much time and effort before it loses the fun and starts to feel rather like work. Equally, when we’ve asked friends and family, we’ve tried to use them more for proof-reading and double checking translations from elsewhere (though for one friend, corrections and edits turned out to be rather more work than either of us was expecting!)

missing_some_accentsMissing some accents?

We’ve also tried using resources like Polyglot, which whilst useful, will only get you so far before specialist or theme specific words start to crop up. How many games are there where “Demon spirit enemies are trying to knock your totem pole down”? (I don’t know, but betting Totem Topple is amongst the best of them!)

We’ve also used semi-professional translators from sites like, though it’s always difficult to know just what the quality of the translation is like. Many of those on the site are not individuals but collectives who farm work out, so no guarantee you’ll even get the same person translating next time. It’s cheap, but their work reflects on us, so we have to be very careful.

One area where we’ve tried to go the extra mile is with regional variations. Unlike English, which doesn’t really have dialects and is generally fairly uniform in its grammar and spelling, other languages can vary greatly depending on where or by whom they are spoken. In particular, Spanish of Latin America can be markedly different from that used in Spain itself, so our initial release will in fact have Mexican Spanish for North and Latin America, and European Spanish for European version.


What we haven’t done is fully localise the game for specific target markets. Mostly because we feel there isn’t much that we could change beyond superficial stuff like red colour used to mean good things, rather than bad things in China. (We’ve actually tried to avoid using red/green anyway because it’s an issue for many colour blind people).

With any luck though, we can reach the most people possible and through translating the game, bring smiles to the faces of those who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the game.



On Apple TV (and why we’re sticking with Wii U)

Apple TV has been sat quietly at the back of Apple’s product line, ticking over for a number of years without the company making any sort of big, showy push for adoption typical of their other devices.

No longer it seems, with a large segment of Apple’s latest live show dedicated to the newly revamped set-top-box. They also demoed the remote control it will use, which includes amongst other things, gyroscope functions that make it very similar to Wiimote controllers used by the Wii and Wii U.

appleTV remote

For us, and especially for our game Flight of Light, that might sound almost too good to be true. The game is designed to use Wiimotes in a way that appears almost certain to work well with Apple TV. Moreover, the game is targeted at a more casual audience than the typical hardcore man-shooter fare sometimes associated with traditional games consoles.

All of which you’d think is great, and you’d be right. But not so fast! For now, we’re sticking with the Wii U, with a view to put the game on Apple TV at a later date. There’s a few reasons why:

Firstly, the Wii U is already here and we’re set up for development on it, whereas actually getting a game onto the Apple TV is still a way off for us. The game isn’t ready to launch yet anyway, so better to stick with finishing it on one platform before chasing others.

As I’ve said before, Wii U is also a much smaller, more manageable market for us. Whilst it is unlikely to ever bring in mega-bucks like the mobile app stores, it also means the damage is limited should we make any missteps when launching.

The Wii U’s smaller market, combined with its history, also means almost every game on the Wii U is guaranteed a certain level of coverage by specialist Nintendo and gaming press, and a good title has a real opportunity to shine and get noticed in a world where 2 or 3 games come out per week, rather than the hundreds per day as on mobile.

screenshot 2 08-08-14

At time of writing, we don’t know what the situation will be with the Apple TV store. Whether it’ll be a free-for-all like mobile iOS or whether Apple will take the opportunity to curate the store and hand-pick those games they want for it. Either way, visibility is king, whether it’s appealing to the consumer directly, or to Apple as gatekeeper. A Wii U launch gives our game that extra chance to do be seen. It’s a strategy others have made work – Start with console, then head to mobile later.

Apple TV is an opportunity for sure, but not simply because it’s a new device and virgin appstore territory. Rather, because we have the right product for the right platform at a time when we can take advantage of that. There’s still a lot of work to do on Flight of Light, and the game has taken a bit of a back seat to Totem Topple in the past few months. However, Apple TV is still an exciting development, even if not a “drop everything” moment.