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Fungry Birds development – An indiedev story

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Fungry Birds in short: I started a game with a concept and it ended up in a completely different one. But I feel very accomplished to have completed something!
Here goes the long story for Fungry Birds development ...
So it all started with a strong will to develop a complete mobile game - End to End. I wanted to create a simple to play, one-handed interaction type gameplay - for the casual, hyper-casual audience.
As this was my first production game, the goal was to learn the following:
  • Coding
  • Game Design
    • Level Design
    • Difficulty scaling
    • Progression
  • Free to Play Design
    • Rewarded Ads
    • In-App Purchases
  • Marketing
The target was also NOT to learn the following (which I am not good at) and screw up the whole thing!
  • Artwork
  • Music
    • Background Music
    • Sound Effects
With this in mind, I started the 8-month journey back in November 2017.
When I started to learn Unity3d, one of the tutorials that struck me was the UFO tutorial. It was so simple and I wanted to make some game around this map by dragging an object. I mashed the "collect" with "drag" mechanic and added a "rotation" flavor in there and created the first prototype, called it as Rotatron. Here is the first prototype I shared via this tweet.
The idea was to have an ever-rotating disk that had 4 arms. The objective was to collect some colorful objects called Pebs. Each arm would be designated to collect a particular color. If you hit a wrong color, the arm loses a Peb. The game difficulty was controlled by the speed of rotation and the direction of rotation that would switch at a fixed interval, with a visual cue. The game did not have a concrete game over conditions as I was mulling over multiple ways to do this:
  • Number of Pebs you could collect in a given time with some bonuses for streaks/special Pebs
  • Have 3 lives - that get deducted when you hit a wrong Peb
  • Endless game to see how long you can survive - Survival (just a running number) would be a function of time without getting hit (wrong Peb) and the number of right colored Pebs collected. One wrong hit and game is over.
And I came up with a slightly advanced prototype.
Finally, I settled for the endless game since hyper-casual is a big thing nowadays and has a better chance to reach an audience. The objective was to collect as many Pebs as possible without hitting a wrong one. As you can imagine, the length of each arm would increase and would be really challenging to manage survival. I thought I had a decent game at hand.
Then I realized, wait - how am I going to explain this to anyone? A rotating disk and collecting Pebs? What is the progression? Do I need a story, a character? a good theme to catch the attention of folks? This was the first deviation. I don't know about you guys, but as an Indie game developer, there is always a need to do more, that, when you look back after a year - look unnecessary 🙂
I call these Indieviations.  A deviation that an Indie Game Developer takes which is completely unnecessary. That was my Indieviation #1 for Fungry Birds.
Cut to Apr 2018 I came out with my own character (haha,  wrong choice - given the fact that doing the artwork myself was not part of the plan) and renamed the game as Fluffy Foo. Since I was bad at creating character names, let alone the art - I named the character as Foo because when programmers do not know what to name their functions/subroutines, Foo comes to mind. That's it - Fluffy Foo.
Ok, wait - what would the story be? And what does Fluffy Foo look like? I wrote a story where Foo is a private detective and the aliens have looted all the jewels from earth. Foo is tasked to go to space and collect all the jewels. But the aliens hack the gravity such that Foo always rotates endlessly. Pebs would now be Jewels of different color and player had to manage the position of the character to collect the right Jewel.
Sorry Isaac Newton, game developers can hack gravity.
I played with this Fluffy Foo concept for a while. The gameplay was boring after a while. Because it was difficult to be convinced that this is believable especially in terms of story or gameplay. I could not think of any progression ways - I was against creating levels for a game as that needs more effort than endless (wrong assumption again) With time, this concept also started losing the charisma. Again, all this was in my head without taking any feedback from anyone. Then came the Indieviation #2.
Instead of collecting something, I thought let's consume or eat the Pebs or enemies. Then naturally the first choice would be to have something  "mouth-like" or "beak-like". And immediately I could think of crocodile mouths that open and close. When it's near an enemy it could GULPPPPP it. I knew crocodile was a bad idea but what the hell. I created a prototype in a day. And I somehow liked the concept, minus the crocodile mouths. This concept looked something like this. Sorry for asymmetric gif captures.
Now was the time to really brainstorm what would be a good "capturing the enemy without sounding wild".
Then it struck to me. Beaks! Birds!
Beaks would be the right choice to eat the enemies. Then my main characters would be birds. And I would need 4 of them for 4 arm locations. Then I created a drone as a centerpiece that would wander around a gravityless space (based on user's swipe input).  The Birds were inside the drone with their beaks stuck out!
Fungry Birds sketches
And I created a story about birds eating aliens for revenge. The Aliens belonged to a planet who were notorious to invade other planets for food. With all the food that they have eaten, they are known to become to the earth and ate all the birds' food. And the birds were left hungry. So they decided to eat the aliens, who are known to be crunchy and crispy. The birds buy a drone and get themselves in. Stuck their beaks out.
The Aliens come to know about the birds-in-the-drone and they hack the drone. The drone now rotates uncontrollably.
Also, a game about eating your enemies struck a chord with me. Since the main theme of the game would be eating and they are seeking revenge, I needed some good "verby-noun" type of a name with the noun being "birds". I thought about Tipsy Birds (the birds were drunk and get stuck in a drone and always rotating), Classy Birds (the birds were sophisticated types, who decide to take revenge on a spherical drone), Hungry Birds (self-explanatory - but too trivial). Finally, I decided on Fungry Birds, because the birds were frikkin Hungry for crunchy aliens. Also, App store also has an approved food service app called Fungry, so I thought the name wouldn't create approval issues due to the slangy nature.
Then the effort started to get some good artist on board, luckily I found one from Singapore. Started with sketching out some birds based on the character traits I wanted
Eventually, the birds were finalized as follows

Moving on to enemies to "eat" - my requirement was to make them look like alien, mostly spherical and crunchiness would be basically depicted by sound and some particle effects. This is how the journey looked like in designing the enemies
Fungry Birds enemies
So this was around June 2018, everything was coming good and I was determined to complete and launch the Fungry Birds by Aug 2018. Decided that the final gameplay and features would be as follows:
  • An endless game with the drone always rotating with increasing angular velocity
  • The player objective is to eat as many enemies as possible without dying
  • Enemies and birds are color coded. For e.g, Red Bird can eat only red enemies
  • Any wrong enemy eaten will destroy the bird - only one life
    • The player can revive the bird by watching a video ad
  • The player gets coins for eating enemies, coins per kill are upgrade-able for coins.
    • The player can double the coins earned in the game session by watching a video ad
  • Buffet Mode: A brief amount of time that will allow any enemy to be eaten by any bird
    • The time that buffet mode is active is upgrade-able for coins
  • Drones, Worlds as unlockable via coins
    • Coins can be purchased via real money (IAP)
  • IAP - Beakguard, to protect the birds against the wrong enemy
Sample screengrab of Fungry Birds in the space world.

With this, I decided to focus now on getting sound effects for Fungry Birds. One of the main USP of the game was to create a good crunchy eating experience. Along with a particle effect, I needed good sound effect as well, I got a sound artist from online gig website to give around 15 sound effects of eating. And I used them randomly while eating the enemies. Also, the background music was generously allowed to be used by Shri Kulkarni. So thanks to him!
So when I did some playtesting, I got the following feedback
  • Allow controlling the rotation of the drone
    • Since this would mean the interaction would be two handed (one to change position and another to control rotation) I decided it's not worth it and also the premise of drone rotation being hacked would be dented. Also, I have a notion that games with two-handed gameplay are rarely in the hypercasual/casual genre
  • Allow the player to switch the rotation of the drone (clockwise to anticlockwise and vice-versa)
    • I implemented and tried it, but did not see much advantage for the player. Also, it created a distraction for the player.
  • The Enemies are spawned too near the drone and the player gets very little time to react
    • I fixed this by spawning enemies far away from the drone
  • Create a level based gameplay design
    • This is in progress and will continue if this does reasonably well.
All in all, making Fungry Birds was a rewarding experience where I got a complete experience in developing a game. Once you complete the game you realize that there are SO MANY wheels turning behind the scenes to make it work!
 

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gamedev indiedev #devlog frungrybirds

Shalini Lobo

Independent Video game developer. Primarily mobile platforms like iOS and Android.

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