Mobile Indie Spotlight Episode #7: Skelewton’s First Law

In this episode we have the honour to host Youssef “Gurin” Aly from Youmaku Games, an indie developer from Egypt and his app Skelewton’s First Law. Skelewton’s First Law is a 2D platform survival game that takes place after Newton’s death.

In the game, Newton wakes up to find himself a skeleton in afterlife…named Skelewton! His purpose is to manipulate gravity and collect as many apples as possible, with the use of his newly discovered powers.

 

🎙Hey Youssef, can you share a few words about you and Youmaku Games?

We are an Egyptian Indie game development studio. We are self-taught like most developers in the community, as education in our country is unreliable unfortunately. Our first project is a multi-platform game, for both Windows and mobile devices, but for our next projects we are aiming exclusively for Windows and consoles. Currently we work on our game part-time. I am the lead programmer and the game designer of the studio and my childhood friend, Ashraf Abouheika is the graphic designer.

 

🎙What is the story behind Skelewton’s First Law?

The game is about Newton’s skeleton, “Skelewton” (Half skeleton, half Newton). Skelewton wakes up in a bizarre afterlife, and he meets “Newton’s Portrait”, which becomes his guide in the afterlife. Skelewton is sent on a quest by Newton’s Portrait to collect as many apples as possible.

The game’s concept formed over time and had many iterations. The game was originally going to be a dungeon crawler game with the skeleton being a monster, but after being inspired by an indie game called “VVVVVV”, we thought of adding gravity mechanics to the game. After a friend made a typo and typed “Skelewton” instead of skeleton (Since the W is next to the E on the keyboard), the concept was born: gravity, skeleton, Skelewton = Newton!

The game, was one of the finalists at Indie Prize USA 2018 and a nominee at IMGA 3rd MENA.

 

🎙What is the current status of the game?

The game is still currently in beta, with a closed testing group to follow very soon. Our testing group will be the “Egypt Game Developers” Discord server. That server just started recently, and it has around 90 members so far, so we are expecting the group to be a lot bigger by the time we release the beta there.

 

 

We are currently focused on polishing the multiplayer mode of the game along with some additions of unannounced features. Once those are done, we will add more levels to both the endless survival and the multiplayer mode.

 

🎙Which engine did you choose to build the game and why?

When we first started learning game development (and started working on the game), we used Adobe Flash. After two years of working on Flash, we weren’t happy with the performance, and we found that Unity is a much more friendlier and powerful mobile engine, so we made the shift.

 

 

One other reason why we used Adobe Flash originally, was because we were inspired by the success of a fellow friend, whose game did great, as a Flash game.

 

🎙What can you share around the game design?

Our initial approach for the game was basically a dungeon crawler, where the character had to avoid traps and complete levels. When we reached the Newton/Skelewton concept, the new approach was more like a puzzle-based level type of gameplay.

Due to lack of experience back in the early days, this kind of design was not feasible, so we went to an endless-survival approach without even studying the endless survival genre.

The new design ended up as an endless-survival mode, where each “level” has traps that the player keeps dodging while collecting apples until dying.

After studying the endless survival genre, we sort of “patched” our design pattern by making Skelewton teleport randomly between different rooms. This change significantly improved the endless-survival mode. Later on, we added other mechanics in stages, like the “Hunger counter”, which basically makes Skelewton die if he doesn’t collect apples fast enough. (The counter refills every time Skelewton collects an apple).

One of the main reasons Skelewton’s First Law design is unique, is because it was formed and patched over time due to our learning experience and being new in the field. It’s not common in general to find “endless-survival” games in the market that have “side scrolling”, “gravity mechanics” and “randomised level presets” incorporated in a single game (instead of the very common randomly procedurally generated traps) .

 

🎙Why did you chose a pixel art style approach for the game?

We are huge fans of old games in general, as I personally was a huge fan of Nintendo’s GBA games, with games like Zelda Minish Cap and Pokémon Ruby. Moreover, pixel art style was more accessible for us during the early days, when we started learning. The art style has improved drastically over the years, having almost all the game’s assets redrawn from scratch as our artist learned more about pixel art over time.

 

🎙Can you elaborate on the mechanics you use to help the user find his way within the game?

In the very early releases of the game, players tended to get lost due to the fact that the player was capable of switching the gravity in four different directions, without any constraints. To resolve this, we worked on a few solutions that dramatically helped the players find their way with the mechanics of the game.

 

 

Some examples on how we achieved that are by:

  • Adding arrows pointing at the nearest apple
  • Adding warning signs for traps that are off-screen
  • Creating a dynamic camera that puts the player, apples, traps and stage all in consideration, and then adjusting to the target and zooming

🎙 We see that you let users unlock costumes for the character. What is the reasoning for that?

 

 

The reason why we ended up adding costumes for Skelewton was because some players asked for it, and people ended up loving it. The game’s afterlife theme is very bizarre so users can find and use a great variety of themes ranging from environmental, Pharaohs to sci-fi costumes. The overall concept of the game allowed us to add very bizarre and diverse costume designs to the game seamlessly.

🎙What will be the next steps after you release the game?

We will heavily focus on marketing the game, by reaching out to streamers we have connections with, as well as other popular public figures. At the same time, we will focus on heavily testing the game and balancing the game’s difficulty, items/upgrades pricing and others.

🎙 What is the concept behind the funny voice overs?

As we progressed through the early phase of the game, the game’s theme shifted to a very colourful and bizarre vibe, so we found that the funny voice acting was something that fitted the concept of the game, which is also something that our artist, who happens to be the voice actor, loves to do.

🎙 What is your monetization strategy?

 

 

We are planning to make the game F2P. Skelewton earns “Apple currency” through collecting apples, which he can use to buy costume pieces, as well as upgrade his power-ups. Players will be able to choose to watch ads and earn more of the “Apple currency”. We are still not settled on how we will implement ads, as we are currently focused on finishing the development process. We are also considering in having a premium version of the game that removes the ads.

 

🎙 We see that you have multiplayer support? How important is this and why did you introduce it to the game?

I personally believe that the multiplayer mode of the game is the most fun part of the game. We came up with this mode when there was an online competition for multiplayer games and sadly, we didn’t make it in time with a proper demo for the competition, but we ended up continuing to work on the multiplayer mode, which turned out to be a great addition to the game in general.

We held three official tournaments for the game in a couple of local Egyptian gaming events and the players really enjoyed it. LAN multiplayer games on mobiles aren’t very common either, so it’s quite special for us to have such a feature within our game. The game also supports cross play between Android, iOS and Windows.

 

🎙 What other game elements do you use that are worth mentioning?

 

 

The game supports three different modes on mobile:

  • motion controls (which especially kids found really fun)
  • on screen buttons
  • swipe mechanics

The reason we ended up with multiple modes was also due to our lack of experience back in the early days. We initially implemented only the motion controls because it seemed for us, the most fun mechanic to play with. But as time passed we found that more serious players wanted something that is more convenient to play with, so we added the swipe mechanics, which happen to be the most optimal control scheme for the game. Later on, we found that some users wanted more straightforward easy controls, so we introduced the on-screen-buttons control scheme.

 

🎙 What other gamification techniques do you use within the game?

The game has quite an intense gameplay in the survival mode, as Skelewton starves to death if you haven’t collected apples quickly enough. Players have to focus on dodging traps while not standing still for too long without collecting apples. Therefore, players have to focus throughout the whole game round and become quite competitive, trying to score higher than their friends in the leaderboards.

In future releases, there will be features added, like daily rewards that we are still working on for players who play the game frequently, which they can also use to complete their costume collections.

 

🎙 How do you introduce new game elements in the game?

 

 

The game is quite straightforward, so we explain the gameplay mechanics in a tutorial and Newton’s portrait introduces the player to any new elements the player can unlock within the game.

 

 

The tutorial is interactive and the player is guided step by step through all the gameplay basic mechanics.The unlock-able items are the costume chests, followed by upgrades for power-ups. Two more unannounced items that are still under development will be added in the near future.

 

🎙 How did you choose the sound in the game?

We are currently using royalty free music and SFX for our game, but we are considering composing our own music in the future. The SFX we used is “The Essential Retro Video Game Sound Effects Collection” by Juhani Junkala. The music was composed by Ozzed, with exception to the main menu music, which is my own composition.

 

🎙 What are the next steps?

The next steps will be wrapping up the game, while marketing it, and discussing possible opportunities with publishers. The primary target for the game is Android and iOS, but we are considering also releasing it for Windows and Mac OS. The downside for releasing for web would be that the game will support only the endless-survival mode, as the multiplayer feature is not supported on web.

Game developers are often told not to work for too long on their first game.
Me and my team learned everything we know today, traveled the world, earned amazing scholarships, met incredible people and got great part-time jobs, all thanks to our first game and the work and time spent on it for as long as five years. There isn’t one rule that will work out for everyone in this enormous, diverse world.