The Story of Dudeski

Dudeski was released on March 13th, 2014. This post will cover the story of the game's development and release. There's charts, screenshots, design progress, reception, my favorite review ever, and a lot more. It's detailed, but there's still a lot missing here as this post covers almost a year of my life.

The Idea

The initial idea behind Dudeski was centered around a movement mechanic I came up with while laying in bed one night. It was the end of April, 2013 and I had just released Martian Middle School Dance (MMSD). Both MMSD and my previous game, A Night Forever, were more about narrative than gameplay. I was interested in creating something very game-y. I wrote down my initial motivation as "I want to make a game where people share their high scores."

The first commit to the repository that became Dudeski was April 25th, 2013, the day after MMSD was released. From the very beginning the game was completely focused around the movement.

The initial movement mechanic went as follows – when the player taps down they begin moving right. When the tap is released the player stops gaining velocity. The next time the player taps they gain velocity going the opposite direction. It was a single-button control scheme that allowed players to accurately navigate themselves both left and right without having to move their finger.

The game looked like this around this time:

The green portions are the part of the gate you have to go through. The red portions are the poles that make up the gate.

The green portions are the part of the gate you have to go through. The red portions are the poles that make up the gate.

Initial Design

There were three parts of the design that felt crucial in the beginning of the game's development.

1) The aforementioned one-button control scheme.

2) Turning slowed you. This meant that the player's goal was to turn as little as possible and use their momentum to barely skirt around poles to go through gates. The skill ceiling on this felt very very high, and just barely making it through gates felt incredible.

3) A level-based design and progression. Levels were about 30 seconds long. A new gate pattern was introduced in each level, and the designs slowly built up in complexity and difficulty. Each level had a certain time that you had to beat in order to progress to the next level. The completion times also had star ratings assigned to them (i.e. the slowest time to beat the level gave you one star and a really fast time gave you three stars). Hitting poles gave you a time penalty, as did missing gates.

UI for level time and penalty incurred by missing or hitting gates is added.

UI for level time and penalty incurred by missing or hitting gates is added.

The skiing theme was applied very quickly after the initial idea. I didn't want to make a completely abstract game, and the back-and-forth movement felt reminiscent of skiing. Growing up in Massachusetts I had skied every winter, but now living in Chicago skiing is more or less infeasible. So out of a combination of longing for the sport and it feeling like a good mechanical fit, Dudeski became a skiing game.

Part-Time Development

At the beginning of development I was working full-time as a software developer. I worked on Dudeski an hour before work every morning. This was a pretty consistent schedule initially. Here is a graph of repository activity (measured in # of commits) during the time I was working on Dudeski part-time.

Dips are due to a variety of things – summer arriving in Chicago, visiting my parents, going on vacation, having a friend visit and stay at my apartment, etc.

Gerald Kelley joined the project around mid-June. The first commit with assets of his are on June 16th with the player sprite. We also add gates and placeholder edge-marks to indicate which direction the player needs to ski around. The design remained largely unchanged.

Then at the end of July I lost my job.

A Burst Before Hibernation

Directly after becoming unemployed I had a moment of mania where I was incredibly driven to make Dudeski and go independent. Only a couple days after losing my job, Whitaker Trebella had his Pivvot launch party at Emporium. Most of Chicago's indie scene was there and I was determined to begin my life as an independent game developer with a bang. I loaded a build of Dudeski onto my phone and brought it with me to the party.

I spent the evening showing lots of people the game.

And no one liked it.

Every person tried it for a few moments, and then handed it back to me, unsure of what to make of the it. The visuals were beautiful, but lulled people into a sense of comfort not fitting for the game's difficulty, the controls frustrated and infuriated players, and the level structure obliterated any sense of flow, tempo, or motivation the player had to keep going. The foundation that the game was built on felt like it was crumbling. I went home incredibly disappointed, filled with doubt, and unsure of what to do next.

I began trying to process all the feedback, trying to figure out how to fix the game. However, all of these changes were so massive that when I finished them I felt like I didn't really know what the game was anymore. At this point the game took on the shape of an endless runner, and the controls changed to a basic left/right tap scheme that the game shipped with. Fortunately I had several vacations planned at the end of August. This gave me some time to think about what I wanted to do.

Directly after returning from one of those vacations I still didn't feel comfortable going all-in on Dudeski. I started a 2.5 month-long contract doing iOS programming. I was still uncomfortable from losing my job. It was my first time doing solo contract work and I was so focused on doing a good job that I had zero energy for side projects. Dudeski was relegated to my subconscious for several months. Work resumed again in mid-November after the contract ended.

Full-Time Development

At this point I decided it was time to focus on Dudeski and finish it. The time off from the game gave me time to reconcile the massive design changes that had happened in August. I now had a better perspective on what I had perceived to be the loss of the core of the game. I realized that as in the beginning, the core of the game was the movement. Making the movement more accessible didn't remove this core, it just made it easier to experience.

Up until this point the internal name for the project had been Slalom. In the beginning of December we began looking for an actual name. With help from the Chicago Indies Skype chat we landed on Dudeski.

dudeski_gets_named.png

At the beginning of full-time work there was also room for experimentation. Things felt up for grabs since the project hadn't been touched in so long. Greg Wohlwend's feedback was especially instrumental at this time – he felt there needed to be more to the game. Items and jumping came from this period. Items, as they were implemented, didn't add as much variety to the gameplay as they could have, but eased the learning curve considerably and gave the game some interesting variables. Jumping added in a lot more variety, and made designing patterns a lot easier and more fun. Pinecones were then added as the economy for acquiring items.

Around the beginning of January a general timeline for the project began to establish itself – my goal was to finish the game by GDC. While initially this felt far-off, when taking Apple's submittal and approval time into account it ended up being just about two months.

At this point work progressed relatively smoothly.

Visible dips include Christmas, and New Years. I also took off most Sundays.

Visible dips include Christmas, and New Years. I also took off most Sundays.

There was one big final spike, and then the game was submitted on February 28th. From that point we spent a lot of time getting e-mails and assets ready for press, and waiting for Apple to approve the game. We did a stream with 148Apps a couple days before release, but otherwise things were quiet.

Release

Dudeski was released on March 13th, 2014. Coincidentally this is the same day I left for GDC on Train Jam. This meant that I didn't spend all day in front of the computer hitting refresh on reviews, twitter, and the app store, which was a good thing. However, it also meant the potential for things going wrong and not being able to do anything about it (game-breaking bugs, something that would require me to pull it off the store and do damage control, etc.).

Luckily, nothing went wrong. And then this happened:

We got a Best New Games feature from Apple (plus we got to be featured a couple apps down from Pivvot)! This kicked off a series of strange and exciting events including this:

And peaked with this:

Rank 126 in paid apps on the App Store.

Rank 126 in paid apps on the App Store.

Rank 65 in paid games.

Rank 65 in paid games.

All of these things far-exceeded our expectations. Not only this, but we received great reviews from sites like App Spy, 148Apps, PocketGamer, The New Yorker, MacLife, and TouchArcade.

But the best part of the release was undoubtedly the feedback from people I know. People whose games I love and respect playing the game. People telling me their kids liked the game. My 11-year-old brother texting me every day from my mom's phone with his new high score. My mom texting me the cutest review ever:

dudeski_mom_review.jpeg

This Vine:

As far as sales, here's what the graph looks like:

Thanks to Max Temkin for the bump on April 2nd.

Thanks to Max Temkin for the bump on April 2nd.

Before release I was concerned about making back the money spent on trailers, a contract, and music. Luckily we made that back and then some.

Looking Back

Here's the full repository commit activity history:

As you can see we had a recent spike in late March – we just submitted the first update for the app. I fixed bugs, and Jerry made some beautiful new assets that continue to build out the world of Dudeski.

I haven't had enough time to make any broad here's-what-I-learned statements from making the game, but needless to say there have been countless lessons. Dudeski was a success, and a definite step forward for myself as a maker of games.

Looking Forward

I'm not sure what's next. That's what I'm figuring out now. But I just want to thank everyone who has been a part of making this game happen (which if you are reading this, likely includes you). The only thing I can say for sure is that I will keep making games, and I hope you'll be there to play them.

If you'd like to keep up with what I'm working on you can join the Static Oceans Newsletter. I'll be sending out updates on whatever I'm working on from there. If you like this blog post, you'll love the newsletter. I also hope to share new game ideas, builds, and prototypes with the newsletter first. You can also catch me at @benedictfritz.

Thanks for reading, and shred on.