8th Dec 2011
This has been a long time coming. Nearly a years worth of puzzle boarding, planning, animating, development, testing and packaging. But it’s finally out! Home Sheep Home 2: A Little Epic landed today across multiple platforms: Web (Flash), iOS (iPhone and iPad HD) and PC Download and is sitting happily on homesheephome2.com waiting for you to pay it a visit
The original game was something of a viral success story. Created in around12 days, primarily to promote new Shaun the Sheep episodes, it went absolutely ballistic on launch getting nearly 1 million plays per day at its peak. In 18 months it had managed 102 million plays and even today still pulls in quarter of a million players daily, with large clear peaks at the weekends.
It’s fair to say the success of the game took us a little by surprise. We knew it was good, we knew the concept was quite original, had nice cross-gender appeal and the puzzles were challenging without being frustrating. But we had no idea that so many people out there would agree! It was quite amusing at first when the clones started to appear. Somewhat less respectable companies ripped the game off and it was unofficially ported to iOS and Android.
A Chinese company even decided to steal all of the graphics and code, re-colour the sheep pink, throw in a few new levels and released it as “Home Sheep Home 2″. Somewhere around this point it was no longer funny any more and we realised it was time to invest in making a true sequel (and as a side note: In the PC version there is a cheat mode that turns all of the sheep pink, in a not so subtle middle-finger to the original rip
[ Read more for developer insight on the build process ]
18th Jul 2011
Although I don’t normally blog about the games we create at work, I’m making an exception here. This is because it’s the first real “girls game” I’ve ever designed. And while it’s a world apart from the usual sort of games you’ll find on my site I’m really pleased with the outcome.
Me and My Donkey was created for The Donkey Sanctuary who are an international animal welfare charity. They work to protect and care for donkeys and mules worldwide. So naturally it fitted that the game should be about nurturing a donkey back to health.
You pick from one of 3 donkeys and then care for them over a period of 1 week. As each day unfolds new items become available. On Monday you can feed the donkey hay or give its coat a good brush. This unlocks carrots and a hoof oil dropper for Tuesday, and so on. Donkey progress is displayed via 3 stats bars: Hunger, Happiness and Health. Each day you get to perform a set number of tasks before it creeps to night-time and the day ends, giving a run-down of how well you did. By the end of the week if you’ve groomed and fed carefully you should have been awarded 3 rosettes (achievements) and got your donkey into tip-top shape, in time for the party on Saturday.
So yes, it’s probably about as far removed from the usual alien blasting titles I make as you can get! But it was actually a very rewarding process, forcing me to think well outside my “comfort zone” of game design, and to cater for a gaming demographic that was mostly new to me. I lost count of how many “girl games” I played while researching. Part of me was a little dismayed that male / female gamers are so segregated in this way, and part of me was stunned that young girls enjoy playing games about avoiding being caught kissing! (not that you get to kiss the donkey of course, it was just quite an eye-opening genre to witness).
There are 3 donkeys to pick from, 5 mini-games, 3 achievements, a cute certificate to print out and some lovely ui, character and animation work from resident Aardman Digital design geniuses Robin Davey and Gavin Strange. Even after all the hours of development and play testing, something about the game still manages to curl the corners of my mouth into an involuntary smile, even on the darkest of days.
Obviously the prime reason for creating the game was to educate players about the work of the Donkey Sanctuary, and to get them interested in sponsoring a real donkey. There are 3 donkeys at the sanctuary that the game characters are based on, and it’ll show you real photos of them at the end (and if you’re lucky you can see them on the live webcam too). If you do decide to sponsor you get sent an unbelievably cute gift pack containing a donkey plush (based on the one picked in-game), pencil, eraser, stickers, rosette and certificate all nestling in a box full of fake straw. Definitely the first time I’ve had a plush based on a game character too
So give the aliens a break for a few minutes, drop your ninja swords and see if Me and My Donkey can’t melt a few cold hearts
15th Jul 2010
Today Aardman Digital (where I’m Technical Lead) put live one of the biggest site builds we’ve done yet. Called the Tate Movie Project, it’s all about children getting involved in the creation of a film, which will be shown on the BBC next year. They can create assets online using a suite of tools we’ve built, or visit one of the tour buses currently going around the UK, where they get real hands on experience of the film making process. Ultimately children will have created the bulk of the visuals used in the final film.
Due to other projects I didn’t contribute a great deal of coding personally, but the Sound Tool (which you can find in the Sound Studio part of the site) is mine! This is where the children can record themselves, apply special effects, and submit their creations to the film. I built the tool several months ago, knowing that the release of Flash Player 10.1 was imminent. I wanted to use 10.1 as it allowed us to get real-time access to the Microphone, and then apply special effects without the need for a media server back-end. However we also had to create an FMS version for users running older versions of Flash Player! So the site switches between the two tools based on your player. Thankfully Adobe released Flash Player 10.1 final a few weeks before launch. It will be interesting to see the change in traffic to our FMS servers as users migrate over to 10.1.
The other tools include the Script editor, an Animation tool and an area to upload your images for the film. The tools are aimed at 5 to 13 year old children, which is a very wide spectrum in terms of technical capability. We ran a lot of user testing sessions in schools, gauging how the children worked with the tools and tweaking them accordingly – so although they may seem a bit primitive to most readers of my blog, we know they’re bang-on for the target audience.
There are also loads of hidden features across the studio: for example when the director is talking you could try clicking the lights in the background, bang the spot lights with your mouse, drag down light switches, pull down the ladder and many more. In the Script room turn the fan on, then click on the paper that falls to the floor, then bounce it off your mouse cursor into the bin. In the music studio knock musical notes out of the composers head, drag them onto the wall, and play your tune! An awful lot of love and care went into the smallest details, all of which are aimed at rewarding kids natural curiosity.
It was an extremely exciting project to be involved with, using a lot of talented people. The bulk of Flash development was handled by Tom Milner, our resident Flash guru. With animations coming in from two of the best Flash animators out there: Robin Davey and Felix Massie. Awesome thanks also go to a big roster of Bristol’s finest web development talent including Craig Francis, Rick Hurst, James Spencer and Julian Guy, all of whom are superb and strongly recommended if you’re in need of site build ninjas.
We first began work on the site almost 2 years ago, when myself and Dan Efergan (our Creative Director) spent a long time coming up with the “virtual studio” concept, how the tools would work and interact together, and how the progression of the film production would be displayed (keeping the children interested for what is a year long process). So Tom and the other developers can blame a lot of the frantic deadline chomping work they had to do on us But it was all worth it. The site is lovely to interact with. And the biggest kick of all is actually watching children use it. It truly makes it all worth while.
There’s a brilliant piece on the site over on Creative Review.
If you are in the UK (and have kids who are the right age for this) then I urge you to let them take part, or maybe visit the Tour Bus. Also keep an eye on Blue Peter and Newsround on CBBC.
19th Dec 2009
I’ve talked before about the kids virtual world called WebbliWorld that myself and the Aardman Digital team built. Well it’s been an extremely busy 4th quarter for us as we’ve been releasing hundreds of in-world updates, as well as producing a really excellent racing game called WebbliRacers:
The game has a dual purpose, and two versions exist. One to be released “into the wild” to entice new visitors to the world. And a full version that lives within WebbliWorld which has all 4 tracks and a comprehensive (and fun!) achievement system built into it. Do well and you’ll unlock special items of clothing to wear. Do very well and you can unlock items to decorate your pod (house) with. Do really well and you’ll get awarded special trophies to show-off to your peers
The game was developed by Julian Scott (of Drift Runners fame) with art and animation by the Aardman Digital team. It’s a really beautiful game, and takes the unique and wakky style of WebbliWorld and uses it to full effect as these screen shots show:
Track 1 – The cute little traffic cones blink and change colour when hit
Track 2 – Take the hidden routes for extra coins
Track 3 – Oh I do like to be beside the sea side!
Track 4 – Looks so yummy be careful not to lick your monitor!
I urge you to try it You’ll need an account on WebbliWorld, but that’s a 30 second process and is 100% free. Once you are in-world click the map icon on the menu and look for the arcade machine on the left-hand side. There you’ll find the “WebbliWhizzers” zone, which is the in-world leaderboard and place to play WebbliRacers.
The game has so many nice little touches, from the skid marks, puffs of smoke, jumps, extreme driving bonuses and excellent animation. Lots of what looks like 3D animation (spinning coins, rotating traffic cones) were in fact all hand-animated by the ever talented Robin Davey directly in Flash.
The 4th track is my personal favourite. Originally it was going to be a volcano level, with lava and tikki statues and the like. But it was rightly decided this was a little too dull for WebbliWorld, so the idea of a “chocolate mountain” was born. So the whole track winds around caramel, marshamllow, chocolate and sticky oozing syrup volcanoes. When you drive through the goo you leave a beautiful messy trail behind:
Click here to visit WebbliWorld – I look forward to seeing you on the leaderboard and if you see “WebbliMunro” in world, come over and say hi!
11th Dec 2009
Issue 197 (the super shiny golden Christmas one) of .NET magazine has a two page spread featuring yours truly, and the rest of the awesome team at Aardman Digital. They fired various questions at us about the work we do, which myself, Dan and Gav answered. There’s also a mini showcase of our projects including a few of my games, WebbliWorld and two of Chris’s games he developed for us.
Feel free to download the article (2 page PDF file, 160KB). Sorry about the image quality, it’s pretty low. But you’ll get the general idea!
I know that “print is dead” (yadda yadda) but it’s still nice to see yourself featured in something real and tangible. And I’m a sucker for magazines
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