A quick update with some exciting news, our follow-up to Buddy & Me, an interactive children's book for iPad called Care for Our World, has launched on the App Store!
And like Buddy & Me, Care for Our World been featured by Apple... in the "New apps we love" section of the App Store home page, and on the top of both the Books and Kids categories!
If you have or know any young kids (recommended ages 3-8) that enjoyed the relaxing experience of Buddy & Me, they might enjoy taking a look! We hope this app inspires kids to appreciate and care about the natural world we all share.
So back to that image from our last update… want to know what’s in the box? Read below for more details… and send us your feedback!
Wii U “Dream Edition” for Nintendo eShop
Now that the game is running in Unity, we have the ability to give at least one final gift to our fans. Back when we announced the game on Kickstarter, we were inspired by the number of Nintendo fans and websites that quickly spread the news about Buddy & Me, even before we discussed the possibility of a Nintendo platform launch. As recognition and genuine thanks for that amazing support, we added Wii U intent as a stretch goal midway through (April 2013 Update here), and many of you joined our Kickstarter community as a result. Although we were disappointed to eventually miss that goal, we certainly didn’t forget. That’s also in part thanks to persistent Nintendo fans and journalists… even two years later we still get asked regularly about a Wii U version by curious folks reaching out (questions which we have tried to dodge as respectfully as possible, until we were sure we could pull it off).
And so, we’re very excited to announce that we’re working towards a new and upgraded version of the game, a Buddy & Me “Dream Edition” for Wii U on Nintendo eShop, coming soon!
Thank you Nintendo fans for your patience! Partnering with fellow indie studio Sky Tyrannosaur (http://www.skytyrannosaur.com/), as we speak we’re busy adding new features (in addition to the Outfits, Seasons, and Boosts available in the Samsung Smart TV version) to make this version special. We hope to have it available this spring. To recap for anyone that hasn’t read our previous update, the Wii U edition will build upon some of the cool new customization features previously only seen on Samsung Smart TVs, including unlockable Outfits, Seasons, and Boosts:
MORE OUTFITS. But we didn’t stop there. We want the Wii U Dream Edition to be the best version of the game yet. So we started by expanding player Outfit customization with some fun new designs. A couple of the designs are a subtle homage to some of my favorite game characters from past adventures. Can you guess who?
GALLERY. In addition, we’re adding an unlockable “Concept Art Gallery” for a behind-the-scenes look at how our characters and world evolved from their initial ideas. It’s the equivalent of a movie DVD’s “special features” look at production, that we thought our fans would appreciate.
The game is already running on Wii U dev kits, and looks great. We’re working on polishing those new features and fixing bugs now, in hopes of releasing the game for digital distribution on the Nintendo eShop sometime this spring. We’re planning on making the game available in North America, Europe, and Australia, with other countries pending.
And for those of our Backers that joined our Kickstarter with the genuine intent of backing a Wii U version, as a token of our thanks, after launch you can contact us to get a complimentary download code.
But What if the Dream Edition was More?
While the Wii U build will absolutely be the best & biggest version of Buddy & Me yet, it may also be the last. And if that’s the case, it begs the question of how we can make it even more special. After such a long journey there are still a few items that, budget permitting, we think could make it unforgettable for players. Features that should have been in the game from the very beginning, but we chose to cut in a trade-off for cross-platform support. I wanted to share that wish list with everyone now and get your feedback... if there’s enough interest, maybe another crowdfunding effort could give it the boost it needs.
ZIPLINES. We’ve known for a while that our core gameplay could use some more variety. As noted in our April 2014 Backer Update, we almost did it, having prototyped Ziplines and proven they were a lot of fun. Although the prototype is still functional, they will still take a little more time to finish polishing them in code, as well as adding level editor support, and of course building levels and integrating/balancing them with the rest. We estimate this will take an additional $5K in budget.
LOCALIZATION. While our game isn’t a complicated one, it would nevertheless be wonderful for players to read our menus, tutorials, and other information in their native language. However, to do so first we would need to re-work our existing interfaces (a combination of programming and UI art time) to be able to handle multiple languages. We estimate this will take an additional $2.5K in budget.
BUNNY COMPANIONS. Early in development we realized that if we wanted a game to be relaxed enough to allow players the chance to focus on companionship and exploration, we needed to be more forgiving than the average endless runner. So when the player falls, we save them by pulling them back up with a mysterious angel bunny that appears as needed. It works, however, we didn’t do a great job of explaining it… while brainstorming how to address that, we came up with a fun idea for an additional character on the screen: an ever-present “Bunny Companion” that follows the player around from the beginning of every session. Not only would it help explain how the player survives falls, it also opens up the possibility of unlocking new bunny types, giving us some fun character variety! We estimate this feature will take an additional $2.5K to implement.
Way back during the planning phase of Buddy & Me, we realized that it would be a good idea for players to be able to take a break from endless running, and spend some time somewhere else in the game. We wanted to build on our environment theme of “treehouses” and do something special: A Treehouse-building mode where players could spend their collected Star Seeds to unlock a tree house layout, room by room, which would be populated with Angel Bunnies. It had instant appeal as both an “antfarm” experience watching the bunnies, but as a timeless childhood fantasy of building a sprawling network of imaginative treehouse rooms.
Following the release of last year’s breakout mobile hit “Fallout Shelter”, we also realized that with some extra work, our Treehouse idea could actually be expanded to be its own standalone spinoff sequel to Buddy & Me. But that’s a very big project for another time... in the meantime, it's reinvigorated the idea of including a simpler Treehouse Mode with Buddy & Me: a fixed-layout of ~20 rooms that can be unlocked with Star Seeds from the main game, and populated by adorable Angel Bunnies mulling around and singing along.
We estimate the cost of bringing this new mode to the Wii U build to be about $20K to cover code, art, animation, and sound. In addition to making the Dream Edition a huge step up over previous versions, it might even serve as a prototype to later turn the Treehouse idea into a full-featured game of its own.
Thoughts? Feedback Welcome.
What do you think? Excited about the Wii U eShop build? What’s your favorite idea for potential wish-list features (Ziplines, Companion, Localization, Treehouse Mode)? Are they worthy of another crowdfunding campaign, or has our time passed? We’d love to hear your feedback in comments below, Facebook, or email!
It’s been a long time since our last update, I hope some of you are still following along! We’re still alive, and I’ve got some exciting news I’d like to share in 2 parts. Keep reading for a summary of what we’ve been up to in the past year+, how we transitioned to Unity and updated the game for Samsung Smart TVs (see video below!)... and a little hint about something we’ve been secretly working on (more to come on that in Part 2).
But first, a quick announcement… although I’m embarrassed that it took so long to make, we do finally have a limited run of “The Art of Buddy & Me” books available. We’re in the process of having them signed by contributing artists, with our first priority of sending them to Backers that ordered them. The books are hardcover, with 43 pages full of beautiful artwork showing how we got from initial ideas to finished assets, including some concepts that we cut from the final game. Here’s a preview:
Backers that are owed a book, I’ll be contacting you soon to verify your address. Everyone else, afterwards we should have a few extra signed copies available for sale on our website if anyone’s interested.
I should also mention, we also now have T-Shirts in our new Store if anyone wants some Buddy & Me fashion! Click the link for our Store page:
While I can now proudly announce that Buddy & Me has a still-growing estimated 170,000 players across all platforms (not to mention another 100K pirated copies), it’s been a long journey with constant challenges!
Following our February 2014 Google Play release (as well as Fire TV and Kindle FreeTime support), things slowed down a bit. For a variety of reasons, supporting Android in general took a lot more time and resources than anticipated, much more than our Kickstarter budget allowed. We also lost some update momentum during that time, as our focus on supporting an ever-expanding platform list hampered our ability to work on new features, including many that we had originally hoped to have available at launch.
I could write an entire novel on this learning experience, but in short, we took a little break from development, recovering for a bit while comparing how the iOS and Android markets responded (Android is a very different audience!!). We put a few things on temporary hold, like the in-progress Girl character and Ziplines (which we had already announced as almost done: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1644707178/buddy-and-me/posts/804433 ). It was a tough time… we knew our sales would benefit from additional features & depth that players expect from similar mobile games, but there was only so much we could do on a limited budget.
In retrospect, I think an important lesson learned is that for a small team such as ours, cross-platform support should be approached with caution until a game’s feature set is stable and competitive for its first marketplace. I'm proud that we stood true to our Backer promises to deliver, but it came at an unanticipated cost. As easy as modern game tools make cross-platform support sound, with each new platform, another layer of paperwork, updates, customer support, and platform-specific requirements are added to the team’s workload. It’s an ongoing challenge.
But I digress… after a quiet second half of 2014, in the New Year, things picked up again!
Also in early 2015, we started work on an interesting opportunity to work with Samsung on their new Smart TVs, which come with an app store already installed. To best support the Smart TV environment, it required us to switch engines to Unity 3D. To do so, we partnered with Unity experts and fellow family-friendly game developer, Studio Pepwuper. It was hard work, but the end result was amazing: it’s the best-looking and biggest version of the game yet, allowing us to add a layer of customization features for players: unlockable Outfits, Seasons (each with a unique landmark), and Boosts (for players to chase high scores).
You can see more about the new features in the following video:
This version of the game is available on a limited selection of 2014 and 2015 model Samsung Smart TVs. It also happens to be Free to Play (FTP), which is a first for Sunbreak, an ongoing experiment. It's part of a larger, deep conversation about the ever-evolving business and culture of mobile games, as well as how that applies to indies and to family-friendly audiences.
So what’s next?
With all the effort put into transitioning into Unity, we’re anxious to take advantage of Unity’s cross-platform support. While we don't quite have the budget to retroactively update all our old platforms' builds, we do still want to do something very special. In next week’s update, I’ll share about what we’re working on now, plus some hints about other future project ideas.
I hate to tease, but, I wonder what’s in the box Buddy got for the holidays? Hint: Wii haven’t forgotten our promises.
I hope everyone's enjoying the first few days of spring. At Sunbreak, we've been quietly working on Buddy & Me... fixing Android crashes, optimizing all the builds, working on some new features, and more!
Lots of things to talk about:
New Girl Character
Amazon Fire TV Support
PAX East Indie Minibooth
Google Launch & Optimizations
A New Dreamer: Meet The Girl
A long time ago, in our original Stretch Goals we let you know that we wanted to have a Girl character in the game. The world of Buddy & Me isn't just about one boy's dream... it's about a shared world where any child can join the dream. It's about the kid inside all of us. The first step in representing that diversity, is to introduce our newest dreamer, The Girl. Say hello!
She's not quite finished yet (still wrapping up animations and voiceover), but we're almost there and have her running around in-game (video below). For those of you that will be attending PAX East in Boston, swing by our booth and you'll get to preview her in-game!
We chose her design (hair, colors) primarily for 2 functionality reasons: Looking different enough from the boy to be instantly recognizable in all situations, and having colors that stand out in the environment. Bright blue colors were the opposite of the boy's reds, and the blonde ponytail is easy to see in both the bedroom scene and running around outdoors.
There's also a secret reason I like these colors... it's a dedication to one of my favorite video game characters of all time, Samus Aran. :) Check out this video preview of the girl in-game:
Amazon Fire TV Support
Last Wednesday we were proud to be announced as part of the launch lineup of games for Amazon's new Android-based TV entertainment console, the "Fire TV" for HDTVs. It's so exciting to be a small part of a product launch, and the Fire TV is powerful enough to run our best textures and FX at a silky-smooth framerate.
Because Buddy & Me was already available on Android & Kindle through the Amazon Appstore, it was relatively easy to get the game running on it. For the most part, we just had to make sure the game was fun to play using a controller (which it is!). The really cool news? If you've already bought/downloaded the game through the Amazon Appstore, you already own the Fire TV version! It's waiting for you to download from your Amazon account. Bonus!
PAX East Indie MINIBOOTH
If you're in the Boston area attending PAX East this week (April 11-13), then stop by and say hi! We're very excited to join the Indie MINIBOOTH exhibit (a group of kiosks within the larger MEGABOOTH space). There will be so many talented developers, fellow Kickstarter alumni, and fun indie games to play there, we feel so lucky to be a small part of it!
Swing by our kiosk to check out a non-yet-released version of the game with the Girl running in it. And, bonus, we're going to try and see if we can't get it set up on a new Fire TV!
It's taking longer than anticipated, but we've made some great progress with the Zipline gameplay addition, which was another feature we'd mentioned long ago in our stretch goals. Even in rough form, it's already showing lots of promise. We've got a little more polish left on it before we can show it in-game or video, and we've got some levels we need to build for it, but otherwise it's coming along nicely. A screenshot of the work-in-progress prototype here:
Like most of our other game mechanics, the focus of the zipline is to first make players feel good, and let the challenge (for the most part) be optional for more skilled players. The player automatically attaches after jumping onto the rope, and can "jump" above the zipline with additional taps, to collect optional pickups, reach higher platforms, or transfer to other ziplines... if you wait too long to jump off, you'll get knocked off the end when the zipline handles reach the end of the track and stop.
Google Launch & Optimizations
Similar to our iOS launch, on Google Play we started hearing reports of crashes on devices that seemed to work fine when we tested on them. After investigating, we made some big improvements in the month following launch, including an optimization pass on all the game's artwork. The end result:
30% smaller download size
Not bad! (note: Since updating the Google Play build, we've also updated the game for Amazon and iOS.)
After this update, Google Play even featured us in the "Games to Watch" section. Although we don't have as many players on Google Play as iOS yet, we've already noticed an extremely positive difference between the builds. For the Google launch, as an experiment we included a friendly "ratings prompt" that comes up after playing the game for a while.
As other Game & App developers know, in the age of online shopping, an App's customer ratings have a tremendous effect on other customer's understanding of both the App's quality and popularity. If either of those look particularly weak or strong, it will influence their decision to try the game or not. So, the more players that participate in reviews, the more likely others will give it a chance... but if you're like me, I don't always remember or feel compelled to leave a review myself. What game development lesson did we learn from our experiment? Customers were 15x more likely to leave reviews on Google compared to Apple... because we asked politely.
Finally, the last change we made to Google... we added Dolby audio support. The result is a much richer audio and soundtrack experience, on supported devices. Try it out, we think it makes a huge difference!
iOS & Amazon Update
We were able to update Amazon and iOS with the latest improvements from Google (except for Dolby support is not available yet on iOS). If you grab the latest update, you'll get:
And hopefully soon we'll have the Girl and Ziplines available too!
Some other great news, Apple added Buddy & Me to the "Huggable Heroes" and "Fun Runners" featured game categories! Go Buddy Go!
Supporting Android's massive diversity of devices and OS versions took a LOT more work than anticipated for our tiny little team... and that means quite a bit of time, momentum, and budget taken away from things like new features, new consoles, or even a new game. :) So the next few months will be very challenging for us, to slowly get back on track. March was a good month for us... hopefully the Indie MINIBOOTH later this week, the Fire TV launch, and the Girl & Zipline updates will keep the excitement going through April and beyond... and in the meantime, we'll just keep working hard and adjusting our plans for whatever comes next!
If you haven't yet, give us a shout online, and let your friends give Buddy & Me a try!