Crashing Season – A Story of Puppies, Sweat and Tears

Crashing Season is an arena runner game released globally for Android devices and iPhone / iPad on May 26th 2016. It is the first title released by Koukoi Games, a startup game studio from Oulu, Finland.

Before we can elaborate more on Crashing Season, I will start with a little info about the company and how it came to be.

Koukoi was started in early 2015 by current CEO Antti Kananen, as a mobile game startup. Unlike many game company startups, which might start as an enterprise between friends, Koukoi was started through a hiring process of talented artists and coders.

The early Koukoi team wanted to make a high quality game that would succeed on the mobile platform. From the first game concept ideas they came up with, two were developed into functional prototypes. A survival game and a strategic arena fighting game. These prototypes were abandoned in favor of a third one, that begun as a simple non-stop runner game starring various animals escaping from hunters.

As a preface to the following sections, Koukoi did not have a dedicated game designer until late 2015. Most of the early concept work and game development & design was done as a group effort, with the artists for instance working on their own & submitting their work to be reviewed by the rest of the team. Of course there were specific art directions and guidelines that were agreed upon but the process was fairly democratic, with everyone having a say. The early team consisted of three coders and four graphic artists, with a CEO running the business side, seeking funding, running marketing etc. When Game Designer Petrik came along near the Soft Launch, the design got a more solid direction.

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Petrik presenting the game at Game Spring Oulu, Summer 2016.

Art style

The game was to have 3D graphics which would naturally put a strain on the performance of many mobile devices the game was intended to run on. This lead to the decision of choosing a stylized low poly art style for the entire game. The low poly style was closer to real life at first but after more iterations, a cartoony style was chosen instead.

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A very early Bear character concept

Also, as an art choice none of the animals originally had eyes. This too was changed as without eyes the animals had little features to express emotions with. After getting eyes, the animals also became cuter as well as more expressive. The cuteness was almost an unwanted side-effect, since the game was supposed to have a rough edge to it. Nevertheless, the eyes stuck. One character that didn’t need eyes even in later iterations was the first enemy hunter that was created, since they looked more threatening that way.

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Hunter concept art, originally the only type of enemy planned for the game

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After the graphics were finalized, we also happened received an award for Best Art from the White Nights conference in Helsinki 2015

Crash Crash Evolution

Gameplay and game mechanics-wise Crashing Season began as a much simpler project. The original goal of the game was non-stop running in fairly small arenas, just trying to survive as long as possible and getting higher and higher in the leader boards. There was only 1 hunter type that chased the player. The gameplay was basically dodging obstacles and bullets. Crashing into walls killed in one hit. All of this made the game fairly difficult, and the deadly wall crash stuck around for surprisingly long until it was removed to lower the difficulty curve.

As the three coders learned new things, the game started to evolve as well. The scope of the game grew as more playable characters were added and a more specific goal oriented model was included in the game. The game was still quite difficult as the controls were worked on for a long time. The control model currently consists of tapping either side of the screen to turn the ever-moving character right or left, with an ability button and a “helper” button on each side and a pause button in the middle. For instance a joystick type control system was tested but it was found to be even more confusing. The turning of the animals was fine-tuned many times, but we still get some complaints about how confusing the fact that the control directions are absolute and not related to which way the animals are facing can be. We also get kudos on how easy the controls are to learn – go figure, right?

After several months of development, the game was soft launched a week before Christmas in 2015.  This was of course a major waypoint in the history of Koukoi Games, being the first game released by the team. We had our first party at the office (which was also a new environment for the team, a lot of the early development was done by the team in their own homes and by telecommuting).

The Soft Launch was a major “We Did It!” moment for all of the crew, much like most game launches probably are. We also knew that there’s a lot of work to be done to reach our goals regarding the game. The difficulty of the game was still maybe a bit high, for instance the movement of the characters was changed once again to make it easier.

The soft launch period lasted until May 26th, when the real deal, the Global Launch happened. By then, the game had all the areas and features that we had planned for the full version. Honestly, we were all quite happy with how the game had turned out. We even had decent reviews for the game. Since then, things have been slightly calmer, with the occasional frantic scramble to meet scheduled game update deadlines. That’s practically a mathematical constant in game development. At this point, the fact remained – there is always room for improvement, which lead to the question of ‘how can we make our game perform even better and grow its fanbase?’

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The game development was really brightened by moments like these, when two of our graphics artists would bring the dog they were dogsitting to the office. Her name is Moosa, by the way.

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Other highlights included winning the Rookie of the Year award in the Finnish Game Awards. The Happy Awardees are Antti, CEO and Oskari, Art Director.

Current Day Crashing

Jump cut to September — we’ve just launched a major update that we hope could further improve the game, make it more enjoyable and grow its fanbase. The update adds some characters and Quality of Life features, as well as a long awaited backstory for the events in the game as well as the playable characters. We’ve also published Crashing Season as a heavily localized version in China through a local publisher. We made a publishing deal with a Japanese company regarding Crashing Season to release a special version there as well.

Meanwhile, a part of our team is focusing on a HUGE UPCOMING PROJECT that will definitely turn a new leaf for Koukoi Games and the whole Finnish Game Industry – just wait for it! Overall, it’s been a long ride but right now there’s no stepping off either. The story of Crashing Season and Koukoi continues…

Interested? You can get Crashing Season for iPad/iPhone here, and for Android devices here.

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