Case Study: Non Flying Soldiers
21st May, 2012
Miguel Diaz, head of Blue Shadow Games, a small studio based in Granada (Spain) and co-founded in 2010 by Antonio Martinez, sat down with us to talk about his latest AppStore hit, Non Flying Soldiers, and the advantages of having a big publisher like chillingo backing development.
Hello Miguel, first of all, congratulations on your game Non Flying Soldiers! We have tested it and it’s amazingly good looking and incredibly fun to play. We hope it gets all the attention on the AppStore it deserves. For our readers who did not yet have the chance to take your game for a spin, can you shortly introduce us to Non Flying Soldiers and tell us what it is all about?
Non Flying Soldiers is a puzzle game with strategy touches where you have to lead a squadron of birds to the end of the level without suffering casualties. In every level, these soldiers are faced with a training ground filled with various obstacles and traps, and you have to help them get to the other side by using a number of contraptions that have to be placed strategically in order to obtain honor medals. Once you have prepared the ground for the soldiers, you release them and watch the action unfold. But as the game progresses, you also have to perform some actions yourself while the squadron is in the field to help them avoid some types of obstacles.
Your game shines not only in the gameplay department, but also in its presentation. A myriad of pre-rendered cutscenes accompanies the game, the amount of detail in the levels is fascinating, the character animations are super fluid and the user interface is one of the slickest and sharpest I have seen on my iPhone yet. All in all, it looks more like a quality console or pc game than a mobile title. From start to finish, how long did it take to develop the game, and what challenges did you have to face while developing for iOS?
Although we had the idea for Non Flying Soldiers at the beginning of last summer and we started to make some initial designs back then, the actual development took us around six months. We are only two permanent members in the team, and although we added a few outside talents during the production of Non Flying Soldiers, we still remain a very small studio. Finding ShiVa was crucial to us. I had always been looking for engines that allowed us to create video games in a comfortable way, and none of the middlewares we used before allowed us to develop a full project including levels, animations, menus, and so forth. Since Shiva 3D Engine is a very complete framework, it is really easy to work with it and you get good results very quickly. One other advantage of working with Shiva is that you can export straight for iOS with the UAT. The easy link between the ShiVa editor, XCode and iOS has helped us a lot during the final stages of development, for example while adding Chillingo’s Crystal SDK.
We have felt very comfortable during the development of Non Flying Soldiers due to our previous experience working with Shiva. But, above all, the best thing about programming with Shiva is the fact that there are virtually no differences between the editor rendering and the final look on the iPhone, no bad surprises. It is truly “what you see is what you get”.
I would like to highlight how the addition of light masks and projectors in version 1.9.1. has helped us a lot with the item rotation effect in our game. After upgrading from 1.9.0 to 1.9.1, we decided to use a projector which reduced the computing time over the previous version tremendously. We also decided to use masks for the projector to be painted only on those surfaces we wanted.
I also would like to thank the Stonetrip community; all the people who are constantly contributing, creating plugins and helping other developers, as well as the forum moderators, who always do their best to provide solutions. They all have also helped us a lot.
You are one of the first indie ShiVa developers that decided to publish their game though one of the giants of the industry: chillingo. Why and when did you decide to go to them with your game, and what benefits did that decision bring during development?
When our previous games were released to the AppStore, we soon realized that it is difficult to position yourself in the iOS market and compete with the large number of great applications on the AppStore, a number that increases every day. We thought it would be very beneficial to work with a publisher, not only during the promotion stage, but also during development. In fact, thanks to the collaboration with our producer, Martin Oakden, we have added lots of features and ideas that have hugely increased the quality of the game.
Before Non Flying Soldiers, we had already been thinking about contacting Chillingo. We have been following their career for a long time and had heard very good references about them. In fact, after working with them during the development of Non Flying Soldiers, we can confirm they are an excellent team.
We contacted them during the first stage of development, when we had only a very small and basic playable demo. I actually think that was a good decision because they have taken part in the whole developing process since then. We were able to include very interesting ideas they have suggested, which would have been more difficult to integrate in a later stage. All in all, it was a great collaboration, we have received constant feedback during the development, and we have never felt under pressure. We definitively are very happy with our experience with Chillingo, we would work with them again and we will try to. They are very open to new ideas and they will surely listen to any developer who wants to show them a project.
Last week, your game hit the app store for the very low price of 99 cents. Considering Apple’s AppStore cut and chillingo’s share, your profit per app download must be considerably smaller compared to self-publishing. Does the chillingo marketing machine generate enough buzz to increase the app sales to the point where lower per-app profits are evened out by higher sales figures?
We don’t have the figures yet, but Non Flying Soldiers has moved much quicker than our previous games and it had a greater impact in the media. Chillingo is a very important brand and helps your app to become more famous and reach a greater audience. This is because they have a long history publishing high quality games and users know their games have a certain standard, a standard they helped us achieve during development. Their production and marketing teams are very professional, offering resources that a small company like us cannot have: They are travelling constantly, holding meetings and presentations where they show their latest products to the media, and so forth.
Looking back, what proved to be the better way for you, given all your prior games on the AppStore: Going to a publisher or doing it all by yourself?
With the experience we have had with Chillingo so far, I definitively think the best option is going to a publisher. It allows you to be more focused on the development stage and helps your game achieve a bigger impact.
Although Blue Shadow Games was founded in 2010, Antonio and Miguel had previously started developing applications with Shiva. They decided to establish themselves as a company because they both love video games and saw the opportunity to take it to the professional level. Both co-founders have previously worked in animation companies and developed some smaller video games with Shiva. Thanks to their latest success in the AppStore, they can now concentrate on working on their own games full time.
Developer Photographs © 2012 Oscar Jimenez