This devlog #6 is about our time at Stugan, a Swedish game accelerator program that invites 20+ developers from all over the world to a cabin in the Swedish woods, where they focus on their games for 7 weeks. Our project is SHI•RO, a game for iPhones and iPads that brings the art of Japanese lacquerware to life in a player’s hand. The game’s website is play-shiro.com, and if you like, you can also read previous devlogs on the first weeks of developing SHI•RO at Stugan, on UI and sound, on our workflow + design/story making and on how we exhibited and researched in Japan.
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In the first three weeks of Stugan, our goal was very clear: To submit SHI•RO’s first part to the App Store as soon as possible and to work on the stories for the second and third part. Apart from fixing some last bugs, we prepared and designed preview images and videos for the Apple App Store, worked on the implementation of seven languages, reprogrammed the game’s website play-shiro.com to be mobile friendly, tested different logos and wrote an informative presskit. We also made final tests on all the different iPads and iPhones that we could find among our fellow developers. These final 5% of the project felt the hardest – we really wanted everything to be perfect. The day we wanted to submit the game to the App Store, a thunderstorm killed the internet. It felt strange to be confronted with something that was out of our control like the weather, while we had tried to control everything in our game so much. We could not really do much but hang out with our friends and hope for the best. Luckily, the internet was back on the evening and we finally hit the submit button! A huge thanks to all the Stuganeers, who calmed us down and helped us to get everything ready by playtesting SHI•RO, proofreading our texts and giving design feedback.
Special thanks for final playtests and feedback on our texts: Wren, Emily, Chris, Dan, Anders, Jörn, Alex, Philip, Tim, Sara, Adam, Wick, Mark. And to Lennert from the brothers grimm, who was with us during the whole process.
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To get the word out, we made a Twitter account for SHI•RO and posted (and will post) updates about its development on a regular basis. The other Stuganeers and Stugan’s organizers were very generous with their knowledge about PR and gave us advice, e. g. to write Twitter threads with helpful insights for other game developers. We published a little thread about our use of the gyroscope.
Alysia Judge helped us to write an interesting opener for our press mails. We contacted a few design blogs about 8 weeks prior to our planned release on the 9th of September and were happy to find articles about SHI•RO on the German design blog Designbote and the design website Mocoloco. With our publisher the brothers grimm, we have prepared a long list of press that we will contact in the upcoming 4 weeks. We are interested in discussing SHI•RO not only with people who love games, but also with players from the fields of history and design.
Stugan 2018’s video host is Jen Herranz, who made the spotlight video about SHI•RO and us that you can see in the beginning of this devlog. It’s worth checking out the different videos about all the developers on Stugan’s Youtube channel.
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From week 4 on, we worked on our prototypes for MIDORI and AKA, the green and the red part of SHI•RO. We had always planned to develop and release our game as three parts within one app. KURO, MIDORI and AKA each have a different story that matches a different puzzle mechanic. During development, we decided to focus on KURO, the first part, first – and we did not look at MIDORI and AKA for over a year. Oh, the code was a mess! Instead of the ‘OMG so annoying to have to rewrite all of this’ we tried to focus on the ‘Wow, we have really improved at coding since then’. Lesson learned, we added extra many comments and wrote some extra clean code this time (and are looking forward to evaluate this sentence in one year from now).
We finished working on MIDORI’s story and drew 6 of the 8 illustrations of the game. Writing and drawing required a lot of research about the Ōnin War, during which most of Kyoto was destroyed between 1467 and 1477. Interesting to us was that people in Kyoto who refer to the ‘Great War’ nowadays oftentimes mean the Ōnin War and not World War II, because the Ōnin War changed the face of the city forever while it was spared during World War II. Our story focuses on the travels of Yoshida Kanetomo. The priest reformed Shintoism and is buried in one of our favorite shrines in Kyoto: The Yoshida jinja. In MIDORI, players will accompany him and ask the gods of Japan to return to Kyoto, where their presence shall give the people new hope.
In AKA, players help a small fox, who has difficulties to focus, to bring a message from priest Yoshida up Mount Inari in Kyoto. When living in Kyoto, we had already taken many pictures and done sketches while visiting Mount Inari and the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Revisiting these pictures was great! For AKA, we worked on the first illustration and the level design. The main challenge was that we had used mathematical symbols such as plus and minus in previous versions of AKA, but did not require nor implement any visible math in KURO and MIDORI. Playtests showed clearly that not all players like visible math. Following the advice of Martin from Playdead, who was a mentor at Stugan, we did some paper prototyping and found a new solution, which we will reveal soon.
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Our first official presentation took place on the 8th of August in Falun. Each team held a short presentation about their progress during Stugan and it was great to see everyone’s work on a big screen! Later, the location was open to visitors, who were very interested. Many kids were around and it was fun to explain SHI•RO’s tutorials to them with hands and feet, as they did not speak enough English yet.
On Saturday the 11th, we had our final showcase at the Epicenter building in Stockholm. During the playtest, we received good feedback on MIDORI and AKA. It was a nice afternoon, as you can see on the photos that Jen Herranz took.
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Leaving Stugan on Friday the 10th was sad, but we had another two wonderful days in Stockholm. Looking back now that we are working on SHI•RO’s launch in our new apartment in Berlin, boxes still unpacked, these past weeks have been so intense, and intensely wonderful. We learned a lot about game development and are so excited to share SHI•RO with the public very soon! Being part of the network of Stuganeers and having met such talented collegues (now good friends) makes us confident about the future. We are forever grateful to Jana, Tommy and Oskar, who organized Stugan. We’re sure that we’ll meet y’all again!
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We’ll keep you posted on Twitter and on our blog regarding the next steps we take in releasing SHI•RO. This is a super exciting time and we’re happy if you are a part of it!