Little Monster’s Cheeky chase!

 

The Brief

Cbeebies were looking to bolster their online “Justin’s House” offering with a fresh new HTML5 experience, and thought it presented a great opportunity to introduce a new dimension to the established Justin’s House universe: Little Monster’s world!

They came to us with a solid idea of what they wanted: three differently themed worlds, each with 5 interactions, that focused on themes of friendship, exploration and humour, and that would be simple and easy to use for their young target audience of 2 – 5 years old.

We were to use a pre-existing game engine, provided by the BBC, so it was up to us to take that system and push the limits of what it could do to produce the best possible result.

 

Our Response

We relished the opportunity to come up with brand new areas in a previously unexplored part of the brand universe!

Based on what we collectively thought would be the most fun and work best with the brand and characters, we ended up creating the sparkling ice zone (complete with sledges, penguins and polar bears!), the spooky-slime zone (featuring disco spiders and groovy ghosts) and the delicious foody zone (with accompanying jam doughnuts, sleepy dragonfruit and plenty of cake!)

We also looked for ways, wherever possible to push the limits of the BBC’s in-house engine to produce a result that set this game apart from previous experiences powered by the same underpinnings.

 

The Challenges

Working with an external platform meant we had to be flexible with the tool chain and workflow, but it was all well documented and we got up to speed quickly.

It was important to us to create side characters, backgrounds and props that all very much felt at home with the “Justin’s House” brand. This can sometimes be a bit tricky as there are several stakeholders involved but with tight collaboration we arrived at results that everyone was happy with.

 

The Result

The whole experience is grounded in a central hub (set within Justin’s House) which allows players to complete the three zones in any order they like. Each zone is linked to one of Little Monster’s hatches that exist in the house. Tap a hatch to follow Little Monster as she disappears down it, and discover a set of hilarious interactions, including getting a penguin ready for a disco or stopping all the jam squirting out of six giant doughnuts, as you make your way through each zone.

“Little Monster’s Cheeky Chase” allows players to dive into an entirely new part of the “Justin’s House” world for the very first time. We’ve designed the experience to compliment the TV show and extend the brand universe, injecting the familiar off-the-wall sense of humour and pantomime fun into 15 colourful interactions, that can be played on any device.

Cbeebies we’re thrilled with the results overall and loved the graphical style we came up with so much that they asked us to create additional assets to be used for a separate ‘Make a Picture’ experience that they were building!

Infinity Islands

 

The Brief

Having been successful with their recent suites of four mini-games, Nickelodeon Digital UK wanted to commission an “uber-suite” of 12 mini-games designed to be promoted and released across summer 2017. Furthermore, they wanted to make this set fully cross-property, involving a whole bunch of top properties from Nickelodeon and Nicktoons, such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Loud House, Henry Danger and Game Shakers.

Nickelodeon Digital UK  wanted to see a wide variety of gameplay-types, suitable for an audience aged 7-15, and for the whole thing to be loosely based on the creative concept of a theme-park or fairground.

 

Our Response

It was an ambitious brief that demanded some big thinking, so we took the theme-park idea and blew up the size and scope, deciding to set it across an archipelago of fantastical islands. We pitched it as a sort of holiday destination that Nickelodeon characters would retreat to during their summer break, all mixing together and having fun in a kind of wacky never-never land. We thought it would be fun to see all the different characters in a surprising context, away from their regular environment, and from Treasure Island to Jurassic Park, mystical islands have always held a strong allure!

Drilling down into the actual content, we planned to build a large stable of super-fun games, spread across a huge variety of brand new gameplay styles (including lots of real physics for surprising emergent gameplay) that fit with the various island types and climates, from ice-dodgems to beach buggy racing!

We also thought it was important to make the player feel like they were part of the action as much as possible, and to foster a community outside of the actual gameplay that would encourage players to share their experiences with each other and enjoy a bit of light hearted competition.

On top of that, we wanted to give players a solid multi-session experience with loads of incentives to keep coming back and building on what they’d unlocked so far.

 

The Challenges

Designing a creative style that struck the right balance between strong but neutral enough to act as a suitable backdrop for 8 completely different Nickelodeon properties! We needed to bring all the different visual styles of the various shows together and make them work well within the same experience:

Evenly balancing the full roster of games, so that we have strong gameplay variety across the each island and across the brands.

Making sure the difficulty curves across the games feel similar, even though the actual gameplay is very different, and that players will accumulate theme park tickets at a similar rate, no matter what they’re playing.

Providing an overall experience with enough depth to keep players engaged for long play sessions and multiple return visits, but at the same time, is simple enough for effortlessly getting straight to the heart of the action.

 

The Results

“Infinity islands” is set across 4 distinct islands, each with its own microclimate, including balmy beaches, arctic mountains, swampy jungles and tropical volcanos. Scattered across the islands are tags representing each theme park ‘ride’, and the Nickelodeon characters that can currently be found there.

We took a lot of time to design and built a really broad variety of innovative and surprising gameplay styles that stand out as fresh and engaging, not only from each other, but from other games across the wider Nickelodeon sites. Among the vast roster of mini-games that make up Infinity Islands, we’ve got jet-ski racing with real buoyancy physics, gladiatorial battles in the high jungle canopy, volcano and ice-cave based rollercoasters, action puzzlers set deep underground in a Mayan temple, a larger-than-life pinball machine carved into an icy glacier, laser-canon drone shooting on a runaway mine-train, beach buggies, jetpacks, and coconut cannon!

During each game, the player earns Infinity Islands tickets as they go. These tickets can either be spent in-game on activating awesome power-ups,banked for use in another game, or on the gift shop screen to buy collectables and wristbands.

Each ‘ride’ has its own themed gift shop at the end, containing a unique set of themed collectables, which take the form of crazy hats, t-shirts and accessories. These can be equipped and worn as a badge of honour in the avatar creator, where users can upload their own face, select skin colour and hair style, and then don their collectable items to form a custom outfit. Next, players can enter the post-ride photo-booth and have their picture taken with the Nickelodeon characters from the ride they just played, holding up their high score for all to see! This photo can then be downloaded or shared to an online gallery, providing some friendly online competition between players!

Another option players have open to them in the gift shop is ‘The Claw’. For 3 tickets, players can have a go at picking up a ‘prize’ worth a whole lot more, but watch out, the claw game works and feels just like the fairground classic, so don’t expect to win a prize every time!

With such a lot of cross-game and unlockable content, it made sense to implement something to keep track of everything for the player. The whole game uses an autosave feature which means all of a player’s high-scores, tickets, wristbands and unlocked items are saved between sessions on the same device, helping facilitate multiple sessions and allowing players to build on where they left off so that they can collect the whole set!

With 4 islands, 8 properties,12 ‘rides,’ each with their own gift shop, a claw machine, 3 wristbands, over 70 unlockable hats, tops and accessories, customisable player avatars (with face uploading) and a photographic high-score gallery, “Infinity Islands” is a flagship web-game experience for Nickelodeon Digital UK and represents our most ambitious project to date!

The Loud House: Linc in Charge

 

The Brief

As top Nicktoons’ animation “The Loud House” got into the swing of its second season, Nickelodeon Digital UK wanted to commission an online set of mini-games to support the show and give fans a fun new way to interact with the property. With a directive to represent the high-energy, anarchic themes from the show, the actual direction of the games was left fairly open to ideas.

 

Our Response

We wanted to stay as true as possible to the feeling of the show, with the full intention of creating a quartet of mini-games that not only looked the part, but were brimming with the same attitude and humour of the series.

The creative premise we pitched is that Loud parents have gone out for a while and left Linc in charge of the house. He assumes this means that he has all the power, but his 10 sisters see an opportunity –  When the adults get back, it will be  Linc who will be held responsible if anything is awry, so his siblings proceed to make life as tough for him as possible! They throw as much dirty laundry at him as possible, start an all-out war with food in the kitchen, get him to take-out and tidy up an endless stream of their rubbish and all the while, the pet hamster Geo has his sights set on escape….

This concept laid the foundations for introducing new and unique gameplay types that tie into “The Loud House” world and stand out against the current gameplay offerings on the Nicktoons website, giving players something fresh and different to dive into!

 

The Challenges

Creating a divergent and unique set of mini-games that sit nicely within the classic rivalry narrative and house setting of the show, with a common overarching thread to tie it altogether:

Finding a way to fit all 10 sisters into the gameplay in a way that makes sense was definitely a challenge, but of the kind we like!

Making sure we faithfully translated both the art-style and the unique, snappy animation style of the show across to the game.

 

The Results

The narrative we came up with sits really well with the brand and allowed us to build in some great character dynamics as well as some really varied gameplay across the project. Hopefully, we’ve faithfully captured some of the chaos and mess of “The Loud House”

Once again, we’ve implemented a dual power-up system that gives players both an in-game and super powerful cross-game power up that they can earn to help them get ahead. The latter is really useful as it helps players, who are finding a particular game tricky, get ahead by using a power-up that they earned in a game they’re really good at; dynamically tailoring the gameplay difficulty for different players with varying skills across game-types.

We had a ton of fun building “The Loud House: Linc in Charge” and are really pleased with how it turned out. We hope fans of the show enjoy playing it as much as we enjoyed creating it!

What can you expect

  • Competative pay with regular annual reviews
  • 9:30AM – 6PM (traffic friendly) office hours
  • Work with the biggest entertainment brands out there
  • Get involved in all parts of game design
  • See your game ideas through to the end
  • Motorised standing desks provided
  • Office snacks and (proper!) coffee provided

Junior Games Designer

We’re looking for an enthusiastic new junior member to join our expanding team and help meet demand for our playful and polished games!

The ideal candidate will be self motivated, willing to learn and come from a creative background. We are prized for our ability to come up with playful concepts and solutions and then put them seamlessly into practice with creative coding. We are looking for someone who also shares this balance and approach.

We aren’t expecting an experienced coder at this level, we are looking for someone that loves tinkering with systems to get the creative results they want, with a desire to develop both their creative and technical skills in the long run.

Day to day tasks will initially involve art-working, user-experience design, visual design and taking part in company meetings to help come up with game concepts.

What we’re looking for

A strong and varied design/illustration portfolio demonstrating good Illustrator and Photoshop skills.

Evidence of an interest in web-based coding and a desire to learn more.

Someone with a love of playing video games and an understanding of what makes a great one.

Mickey and Minnie’s Universe

 

The Brief

Disney wanted to commission an expansive online experience to support Mickey and Friends across TV shows like “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and “Mickey and the Roadsters” for their junior audience (ages 2-5), that would deliver gentle gameplay and story driven exploration.

Strong themes of dressing up and embodying a role such a “Firefighter”, “Chef” or an“Astronaut” and going on adventures across a host of different landscapes, were to be at the heart of the experience.

 

Our Response

We proposed an experience that was to be strongly character-driven with a clear focus on role-playing, that immerses the user in the Mickey Mouse universe and sets them off adventuring across a diverse range of landscapes and world themes, solving problems while playing a wide variety of character roles.

As they play the user would constantly be rewarded with positive feedback and un-lockables. The delightful gameplay would feature a wide plethora of activities and game mechanics but with simple and intuitive control schemes, easily playable by the youngest of users.

We were also determined to maintain the high quality look and feel of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse show by making use of the actual 3D assets used in the TV production, as well as utilising sophisticated animation techniques and visual effects the bring the world to life.

 

The Challenges

Translating 3D assets faithfully to the browser as bespoke HTML5 content meant using 3D software to pose and render out all the artwork we needed, as well as custom modelling some bespoke bits!

Designing a game that not only allowed Mickey and Minnie to go on seven distinct adventures, but wear any one of seven different outfits whilst doing so makes for a huge amount of possible combinations and a vast amount of creative assets. These would need to be carefully managed to keep the gameplay coming without huge loading times.

Keeping the games engaging and varied whilst making sure the gameplay was never too challenging or difficult to control for the very young (3-6yr old) audience took some careful balancing and testing with the target audience.

 

The Results

We’re really pleased with how the story elements blend with the gameplay to form a cohesive and immersive adventure though each zone, and how the player can customise this by playing in whatever role they like, wether thats playing through the farm adventure as an astronaut or through the pirate story as a rockstar!

The gameplay itself is gentle and simple, with easy single-tap based control for most interactions, that suit the target 2-5 year old age range and keep the game easy to get into, especially on mobile, touch-based devices.

The game gives the player subtle guidance by selecting (by default) the outfit which matches their zone selection, but if the player chooses to go with an outfit that doesn’t suit the task at hand, they can still play through the whole zone. At the end they are treated to a silly surprise moment when Mickey and Minnie realise that they can’t rocket boost up a mountain dressed as farmers or rock-out on stage without microphones, followed by a comedy entrance by a (correctly dressed!) Donald to show them how it’s done.

With seven separate narratives across seven completely distinct  ‘zones’, involving a host of characters and Mickey and Minnie playing any one of seven different roles, Mickey and Minnie’s Universe marks the largest game we have built to date. This scale and variety is helping keep kids engaged for longer with the Disney reporting some of the highest average session lengths of any game currently on their site.

Game Shakers: Invasion of the Radioactive Penguins!

 

The Brief

Following on from the success of “Spongebob Squarepants: Bedtime in Bikini Bottom”, Nick wanted “Game Shakers” to be the next property to be given the mini-game treatment, including the established mechanisms of having a cross-game power-up system and “break-out” games that could be marketed and played as stand-alone experiences.

Creatively this was en entirely open brief so we could come at this as if it were a clean sheet of paper, which is always fun!

 

Our Response

We enjoyed having the opportunity to come up with something from scratch but we needed to make sure we used a creative narrative that fitted with the Game Shaker’s brand values and could tie together 4 very different games based around 4 of the show’s core characters. So obviously we opted for “radioactive penguins are hell bent on destroying the city”!

Regardless of the plot, we wanted to make sure this follow-up set of mini-games kept up the level of quality and gameplay variety that we’d previously established. This includes maintaining high performance (targeting 60fps) even on older devices such as the original iPad mini, whilst increasing game complexity,

 

The Challenges

One of the issues we had building this game was due to a lack of assets from the show being made available. This would mean generating a lot of artwork ourselves as well as working with a very limited selection of character images and then making this work within the brand and with the types gameplay we wanted to implement.

All four of these games were fully physics-engine based, which allows for a lot of interesting emergent gameplay. The downside is the number of calculations that are needed every frame and the load this puts on older devices. We would have to be clever in our game design and sharp in our optimisation to get this running smoothly on the weaker devices.

 

The Results

In keeping with the Game Shaker’s irreverent and idiosyncratic brand, we built our game around the premise of 4 game-building friends, working as a team to fight an invading force of radioactive alien penguins from destroying New York! Only they could save the day as the penguins were invisible to most and could only be fought in virtual reality!

This creative concept allowed us to be quite playful with the gameplay and build 4 completely different games. From the gravity-manipulating ‘eggy-dread ‘to stopping time on a jet-pack powered blast through the subway of ‘light-speed jumper’ there was something for everyone, and yet again, something new, which we believe is a key reason for continued success.

Like “SpongeBob SquarePants: Bedtime in Bikini Bottom” before it, this game also uses two types of power-up. One that is earned and used in-game and another even more powerful power-up that works across all 4 games, irrespective of where you earned it. The first type helps Nick present the games one at a time as stand alone-offerings, while the second helps bind the games together, allowing players even more spectacular in-game effects (and better scores!) if they play them all at once.

We also added cool Web-GL powered special effects (for devices that could handle them without slowing down gameplay) to provide an extra layer of visual polish where possible: see the time-warp ripple as you stop time in “Lightspeed Jumper”, and watch the screen warp in the heatwave given off as the penguins expire in “Hoverball”.

Overall we’re proud to provide another great set of mini-games for Nick’s audience and to give Game Shakers fans a chance to get closer to their favourite characters on their computer or their mobile device, right in the browser.

SpongeBob SquarePants: Bedtime in Bikini Bottom

 

The Brief

Nickelodeon has a history of making great online games that were fairly large, immersive and focused on one gameplay-type. This time they wanted to try a new approach to bring something fresh to the roster with a mini-game format. This meant commissioning four smaller games instead of one larger one, which provides the user with more variety and a style of play that’s faster to get into.

It made a lot of sense to first try this new approach with one of their most loved properties: SpongeBob Squarepants. Creatively we had a lot of room to come back to them with something completely new, so long as it followed the mini-game format.

 

Our Response

We wanted game ideas that felt fresh and slightly bizarre (in keeping with the feel of the SpongeBob Squarepants brand!) and the gameplay felt different to anything that had gone before it amongst the Nick stable (of which, when you’re talking Spongebob, there’s quite a few!)

We proposed going with an overall theme of  “Bedtime in Bikini Bottom”. Each mini-game would take place in a character’s dream whilst they sleep. Keeping this as our creative theme across the games allowed us to design gameplay around each character’s unique fears, insecurities and desires. Using dreams as a setting allows us to dive into the SpongeBob SquarePants unique and surreal humour.

Of upmost importance was to design gameplay that was addictively challenging for the 7-12 year old target audience. This means making them easy enough to get into but tough enough to keep players coming back for more in order to master it and improve their score!

 

The Challenges

Coming up with an overall narrative theme that hadn’t been done before (there are a huge amount of SpongeBob games already out there!) And that would give us the creative freedom to do something really cool with the game design.

We wanted to really push the boat out with these mini games by encompassing gameplay that was new and different in the context of the existing games on the Nick website. This inevitably meant building games that were quite tricky to make and optimise on slower mobile devices! “Glide to Glory” for example, makes use of a full physics engine and infinitely scrolling programmable levels, which meant doing a lot of clever memory management and engine optimisations to get a constantly high frame rate on older devices (such as the original iPad mini).

 

The Results

The suite of 4 mini games sits against a theme of allowing the player to step inside the dreams and nightmares of the sleeping inhabitants of Bikini Bottom. This allowed us to go crazy with the game ideas and marry each idea to a dream or nightmare that specific character is having, allowing us to really bring the personality the brand to the fore.

Fan’s of the show will know that Gary (SpongeBob’s pet snail) hates bath time, so we built a game around Gary having a nightmare that SpongeBob is chasing after him with a soapy sponge endlessly trying to give him a bath! Similarly the character traits of a mean-spirited Squidward, an optimistic SpongeBob or maniacal Plankton are firmly on show.

We made sure all 4 games had completely different gameplay from physics stacker to happy-slapper, endless-slitherer to side-scrolling physics glider. We then added two types of power-up. One that is earned and used in-game and another even more powerful power-up that works cross-game, meaning it can be earned in one game, then spent in another if desired. The first type helps Nick present the games one at a time as stand alone-offerings, while the second type really helps glue the games together as a set, allowing the player more spectacular outcomes (and better scores!) if they play them as a whole.

‘Bedtime in Bikini Bottom’ has consistently been one of Nickelodeons top performing games since launch, proving to be popular with kids over a sustained period. We think this is down to the marriage of a strong brand with innovative and addictive gameplay, wether thats stacking burgers into an infinite tower with real physics, or slapping back an endless army of super-happy SpongeBobs trying to hug you, with expert timing!

Dance & Share

 

Aims

Nickelodeon wanted something fun and easy to get into that would allow players to dance alongside their favourite Nick characters and share experiences with each other, very much along the lines of the ubiquitous ‘Elf-Yourself’ Flash game. Our aims were therefore:

To build something that had a silly/humorous feel that will encourage players to laugh and share with their friends.

To promote personal ownership of the experience by allowing players to use their own face, choose their own options and choreograph their own dance.

Be simple and quick to do. Needs to feel quick and streamlined without feeling like it lacks depth and options, should you want to explore them.

 

Challenges

The key challenge inherent in Nickelodeon ‘Elf-Yourself’ style proposal was that iOS powered phones won’t allow video that is real-time composited with animated elements (like Flash would) and also forces video to run full-screen. We proposed moving away from video as a result and instead animating everything ourselves, compositing the players face into the animation. This was green lit but in itself presented some challenges!

How would we create dances that not only looked great but could be programmed to apply to any character, be controlled live by the player, smoothly flow into one another and be recorded at minimal file size so the dance could easily be recreated on a friends device?

Another challenge was to make all of this both extendable, so that Nick could add as many brands and as many dances as they liked, and re-skinnable so that seasonal visual styles such as valentines day or Christmas could be applied to keep it feeling fresh and relevant.

 

Results

Dance and Share proved to be a huge hit with kids on the Nickelodeon site, allowing them to upload their face, pick their favourite live-action characters from top Nick shows such as ‘Gameshakers’, ‘Bella and the Bulldogs’, ’Every Witch Way’ and ‘School of Rock’ then hit record build their own live action dance in realtime. They can then share this with their friends – and the world!

Dances were animated using skeletal animation tools that rendered out via HTML5 canvas, this meant we could have lots of difference dances for very little file size, smooth 60fps motion and the dance moves could react to player inputs and seamlessly blend together. It also meant we could record players inputs to a database and then recreate the dance on a friends computer.

Dance and share was originally launched in November 2015 but was so popular Nickelodeon came back to us to update it in March 2016 with a valentines themed skin, new characters and a full set of new dance moves for players to try! We also added the gallery feature. This would allow a Nick-curated selection of user-generated dances to populate an in-page gallery that would sit below the game on the nick website and show a section of the latest dances, helping create buzz and a feeling of community around the game.

Miles from Tomorrow: Blastastic Rescue

 

Aims

The main aim for this HTML5 teaser experience was for players to get a low-barrier, high quality taste of Miles and the sort of gameplay they can expect form the fully fledged ‘Disney Play’ app available in the Apple and Android stores.

We wanted to make sure the short-but-sweet gameplay felt polished and quick to dive into whilst gently moving player in the direction of the full-fat native app experience that Disney had on offer.

 

Challenges

As with any brand new to us, it was important to get the feel of the show coming across in the gameplay and presentation of the experience. We were also working with very limited assets so we needed to work within this constraint.

The ‘Clean the Stellosphere’ level involved bitmap-based masking which is only  possible with webGL. This runs slowly on older devices such as the iPad mini so we opted to reduce the bitmap sampling resolution used in the masking process, restoring performance back to a place where we were happy with it.

 

Results

The end result presents the user with a linear carousel of levels which unlock as the player progresses. There are two different types of play which each have 2 different stages, making for 4 steps to get through, including scrubbing the Stellosphere spaceship clean and some drag and drop shape matching fun.

The game gently leads the user through the steps before presenting them with a link to the ‘Disney Play’ app which auto-detects their device and takes them to the appropriate app store.

In the end ‘Miles From Tomorrow performed’ well and we got some great feedback from Disney to that affect.