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About
Mijo Games is a studio founded in May 2010 dedicated to promoting chillness across the land. Started in Venice, CA, we are a fledgling studio built on the passion and devotion of our team. We are currently hard at work on our first title, Duck Pond.

Check us out on Facebook or at www.mijogames.com
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Let me start that the moral of this story is one of the most oh-duh moments I have had as a designer yet. I am eager to jump to the punchline, deftly given away by my title, but let me start from the beginning.

I originally designed Duck Pond to be an evolving narrative, where as the player unlocked ducks, all previous ducks would stay on the screen. After all of the unlocks, the player would have seven fully grown ducks, capable of eating, swimming, and performing six individual tricks. For some reason, this seemed simple enough to me and would give the feeling of there being many options as far as who to feed. Also, the game was going to be essentially 2D from an art perspective, which means that we were going to use animated sprites. My vision was to have the movements of the duck be practically realistic, with a fluidity that pleased the eye.

My plans were humming along just fine until we get out first animated background. This background was multi-layered, with reeds blowing in the foreground and background, water lapping on the shore, movement on the surface of the pond. It looked great. We load it into the simulator and we start crashing. Turns out the art files are too massive, and when I say it, I mean it. RAM had not really figured into our calculations, and lets just say it should have. This background was over 500 MB of sprites. After some research, our programmer came back and told us that we had to fit each playable portion of the game: ducks, sounds, music, animations, into 22 MB of RAM. Yikes!

This was a total “no shit” moment for me. Mobile games do not look anywhere as good as other games because they have so little to work with. It really made me appreciate the elegance of some of the truly pretty looking games on the phone, and likewise, why there were not very many of them. There is no shortage of talented artists, there is a shortage of memory to hold that data in the phone.

Redesign time! Given the nature of my project, this new limitation put a lot of pressure on me to create something new but still use all of the parts that we had developed thus far. I didn’t want to tell the team to start over. In many ways though, this development was a complete blessing in disguise. As I had been testing and playing with the prototypes, it wasn’t clear to me exactly where the project was going: flicking was needlessly frustrating, activating tricks was difficult, and with all of the ducks on the screen, they had to be big to make tricks easier, which cluttered everything. Essentially, I did not love the game anymore, and that stung. My original vision of creating a zen experience, light on game-y-ness, had been lost somewhere along the way.

After some calculations, we realized that a lot had to change. We definitely had to drop our animation rate from 30 fps to somewhere around 12. No more moving background, at least not to the extent before. Additionally, we could not have more than two ducks on the screen at one time, and if we were lucky, we could have one or two tricks loaded in at any one time. We talked about swapping in and out animations and textures, but the team had had some bad past experiences with trying to do that. What could be less zen than glitchy ducks?

What I decided to do was take my game as designed and level it. What I mean is, if my first design was a tall building, where the player starts on the ground floor and works his way up to the 12th level, I took all 12 floors and put them on the ground. Instead of a linear progression, I split the game into chapters, chapters that broke up the experience into bite-sized chunks. Now the game is 12 chapters, each more-or-less accessible from the get-go. The narrative is still there, but it needs to be pieced together a bit more by the player. You watch ducks grow from chicks to full grown over a six month period, as the seasons change.

Most importantly about my redesign though was that it helped me focus again on my original vision. This smaller chapter experience allows the player to really just concentrate on feeding and watching the ducks, and not on trying to put bread in specific locations and unlock things. The first version I played of the redesign had me believing for the first time: I can really sell this. Sw33t!

Till next time...
Joe the CEO

For screens, news, and other details, check us out on Facebook or send us a mail at info@mijogames.com
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After a bit, my team created a semi-working prototype of an early version of the game. It had most of the major features of Duck Pond implemented: there was a duck, on a pond, and the player can slide their finger through a zone of the screen to throw bread out to the duck. The duck could see the bread, swim over to it, and eat it. We even had the first trick programmed in, Groom. However, none of these features were finished; far from it, actually.

This is where I come back in. My programmer had designed the game so that many of the key variables of the game were all contained in one place. They variables included the size of the bread flicking zone, the movement speed of the ducks, the scaling factors for sprites to control perspective, etc.. Basically, any variable I wanted, he could create, thereby giving me, the designer, more control to craft the experience. Sweet.

A few notes about testing. First, if you are designing an App, you should have a Mac so you can run all the SDK, simulator, Xcode package and test your App. I had to upgrade mine to even run the latest operating system. Second, it also helps greatly to have a device to test on: iPhone or iPod touch preferably. Luckily, between my team we have most of the devices that may be running Duck Pond: iPod touch, 1st gen iPhone, 3G, 3GS, 4G, iPad, so we can test the game on each of these. One of the most common reasons an App does not pass certification for the store is that it crashes on at least one of the devices. The SDK comes with a simulator, but I found the best way to test it is the same way people will play it, on their devices.

The first, and biggest, task as the designer for Duck Pond is to make the bread flicking feel rewarding. We ran into a few problems early on. In the original version, players could flick bread in any which direction in the bread flicking zone. Essentially, the game was programmed to launch a piece of bread on a certain trajectory with a certain velocity matching the players flick line and speed. So, if the player quickly made a vertical line, the bread would fly out vertically with a decent amount of speed. Similarly, if the players made the same line, but horizontal, the bread would fly off to the side.

We quickly realized that having complete freedom to throw bread wherever was unnecessary and actually made the game more frustrating. Of course, when somebody goes to a duck pond, they can throw bread in any manner they would like, but this is a game, not real life. There is no point to allowing the player to throw bread way off of the screen. There had to be some balancing.

Another important issue had to deal with replicating flicks. Since the game would depend on the player being able to place bread in certain configurations around a duck to activate tricks, the player had to feel in control. Part of getting better at games is repetition, and when the player feels that they cannot even replicate the same actions, it becomes increasingly difficult. Imagine if in Super Mario Brothers, Mario’s jump height depended on how hard you pushed the button and the button was ultra sensitive - it would be no fun.

To tackle some of these issues, we implemented a new flicking system. First, we bound the angles that bread could be thrown out, essentially creating a cone shape of where bread can be flicked out. Then we broke this cone into ten degree lanes and told the game to round the player flick to the nearest ten degree lane so that the bread would come out more predictably. Lastly, we made the length the bread gets tossed proportional to the distance the finger draws on the screen instead of proportional to the speed and distance the finger draws on the screen. These improvements actually made the player feel more in control, despite the reduction in freedom. As with the other systems, we have variables to control each of these new functions including the overall number of degrees in the flicking cone, what degree to round each lane to, etc..

For me, this has been some of the most rewarding work done yet. It feels great to push your vision forward and watch some of the rudimentary aspects of the game be playable, improvable, iterated, and hopefully, completed. There are obviously many more examples of this type of stuff. I try not to stay too connected to any particular feature or function because you never know if it will work until you play it.

Till next time...
Joe the CEO

For screens, news, and other details, check us out on Facebook or send us a mail at info@mijogames.com
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If Mad Men has taught me anything, it is that Don Draper can get any woman in the world in less than five sentences.  Also, branding is important.  Your brand is how you want to present yourself to the world.  While it is easy to think of names, logos, etc.,  I found it to be a bit more elusive than just choosing the first thing that came to mind.  There were a few hurdles to clear before I found the proper brand. Perhaps an example will illustrate.

I originally wanted to call my company Yoga Dog Studios.  I took yogadogstudios@gmail.com, signed my emails with the company name, began representing myself as such.  I wanted the logo while the game loads to be a short animation of my Boston Terrier stretching after he wakes up, first down dog, then up dog, freezing on his face.  Much to my chagrin, one of my interviewees began asking me about the website.  What website?  Turns out, there is already a Yoga Dog Studios.  I pop the name into Google, and wallah, there it is, a small production company in Colorado.  Their logo is a retriever-like dog striking down dog.
If Mad Men has taught me anything, it is that Don Draper can get any woman in the world in less than five sentences.  Also, branding is important.  Your brand is how you want to present yourself to the world.  While it is easy to think of names, logos, etc.,  I found it to be a bit more elusive than just choosing the first thing that came to mind.  There were a few hurdles to clear before I found the proper brand. Perhaps an example will illustrate.

I originally wanted to call my company Yoga Dog Studios.  I took yogadogstudios@gmail.com, signed my emails with the company name, began representing myself as such.  I wanted the logo while the game loads to be a short animation of my Boston Terrier stretching after he wakes up, first down dog, then up dog, freezing on his face.  Much to my chagrin, one of my interviewees began asking me about the website.  What website?  Turns out, there is already a Yoga Dog Studios.  I pop the name into Google, and wallah, there it is, a small production company in Colorado.  Their logo is a retriever-like dog striking down dog.  Hmm.  Damn.

The moral of the story is do some research.  There are three main places I searched before deciding on Mijo Games: the USPTO website, godaddy.com, and google.  I think the best place to start is godaddy.com, or some other site where you can see which urls are registered.  Having an easy url is essential to getting your product in place more easily.  I basically wanted to have www.the name of my company.com.  To each his own, but I felt like having something like toygamecompany.com or anything .net would be lame.  So first, find out if the url you want is available.

Next, head on over to google and start typing in your proposed name.  I had had the idea to call my game company Foolish Games for a long time.  Once I googled it, though, I realized that the Jewel song was totally going to suck traffic away from it.  Its not that I couldn’t have named it that, it’s just that I would then be fighting other established name recognition.  Plus, I didn’t want people to hear the name of the company and ask me if I loved Jewel.

Last, go to www.uspto.gov.  Click on the “search trademarks” link and search TESS to see what types of marks already exist and for what kinds of products.  It will be good to see if there are other marks for similar products.  If you have questions, you should definitely consult with an attorney about them.  It would be no fun to create all of your marketing only to realize that it needs to be scrapped because someone has already done it (see above).  

Speaking of marketing, I would like to say a few words about how I arrived at Mijo Games.  First, asking people around you their opinion about names is a ridiculous process.  Everyone has an opinion and expect conflicting advice.  My advice is to stay true to the type of games you are developing.  We are making a fun, family-oriented, relaxing game; we shouldn’t be called Curb Stomp games.  I thought of the logo flashing while the game loads.  I wanted the cutest thing possible to disarm the audience and get them ready to relax.  I decided on Mijo for a few reasons.  Its obvious cute and family connotations.  Also, because this company is my baby.  That’s what naming a company is like, like naming a baby.  Everyone will put in their two cents, but once the baby is born and named, few would dare tell you that your name sucks.

Once I settled on a name and logo concept, I put my artist to work designing it.  Its nice having a team around.  I also went and secured the url I wanted and set up a mail client so that I could send mail with a mijogames.com address.  Lastly, I created a Facebook and Twitter presence.  Facebook is a great way to not only reach your fans, but also let your friends and family stay in the loop about your project.  Its easy to post screens, concept art, movies, or anything else that keeps people interested and also shows the progress of the project.   Know that all of your web presence will be reflective of your company, your message, and your brand.  Dun-dun-duhh!

 Till next time...

Joe the CEO

For screens, news, and other details, check us out on Facebook or send us a mail at info@mijogames.com









With the holy triumvirate of artist, designer, and programmer in place, I felt my company was off on the right foot.  The three of us got together and discussed where to start.  With the design doc finished, in many ways my job as a designer was put on hold while the programmer put the building blocks in place and the artist began generating assets.  I used this time to focus more on the managerial aspects of the company.  Namely, I wanted to grow the team.  My belief is that the more minds come together on a project like this, the better the overall product will be.

Rather than rattle off how I found each new member, I’d rather discuss some more general observations about the process.  First, the more you have done in terms of moving the project forward, i.e. hiring people, setting things up, etc., the easier it will be recruit others to your cause.  Every Joe Blow in the world has an App idea, but the more it looks like you are serious about executing it, the more people will take you seriously.  I found this to be especially true when reaching out to friends and family.

Another amazing resourc
With the holy triumvirate of artist, designer, and programmer in place, I felt my company was off on the right foot.  The three of us got together and discussed where to start.  With the design doc finished, in many ways my job as a designer was put on hold while the programmer put the building blocks in place and the artist began generating assets.  I used this time to focus more on the managerial aspects of the company.  Namely, I wanted to grow the team.  My belief is that the more minds come together on a project like this, the better the overall product will be.

Rather than rattle off how I found each new member, I’d rather discuss some more general observations about the process.  First, the more you have done in terms of moving the project forward, i.e. hiring people, setting things up, etc., the easier it will be recruit others to your cause.  Every Joe Blow in the world has an App idea, but the more it looks like you are serious about executing it, the more people will take you seriously.  I found this to be especially true when reaching out to friends and family.

Another amazing resource (especially in LA) are local art schools.  A woman from an art school in Santa Monica contacted me off of my Craigslist post to see if I would be interested in hiring interns from her school.  Hell YES!  Interns are my mutha-freakin’ JAM!  Not only do you not have to pay them, but fresh, young talent can elevate your project; having a few artist cooks in the kitchen can definitely raise your art to the next level.  Deciding on interns was a lot like deciding on the artist the first time, but now, I had my art director to help me sort through the portfolios.  In many ways, my art director was going to have to directly oversee the interns, so having him be part of the selection process was crucial.  As of now, we have two interns, and may add a third.  Our interns have already proved invaluable.  Plus, it gives you, the CEO, the added benefit of being able to brag about leading a team of ___.  Trust me, the bigger the number, the more legit you sound : ).

A quick note about corporate culture.  My ethos on this project has been that because resources are limited, what I am offering my workers in an opportunity to put their mark on the project.  I am of the mind that there are two types of independent contractors.  Hired guns, which will execute whatever you want, and the more proactive types, who will not wait for you to tell them each move.  I needed the latter on this project.  For those personality types, they want to feel heard and valued.  As the CEO, I see my role as being more of a facilitator and funnel for the ideas of my team, rather than an iron-fisted, my-way-or-the-highway type.  With that said, the final decision is ultimately mine, but I understood quite quickly that there are a ton of areas of game development where I must rely on my team to make sound choices without my input.  I believe this combination of freedom and responsibility helps people stay motivated.  I ask the team not to create something they think I will love, but to create something that they will love.

Till next time...
Joe the CEO

For screens, news, and other details, check us out on Facebook or send us a mail at info@mijogames.com









Once I had a programmer in place, it was time to find an artist.  One part of my company philosophy is that I want each major decision, including hiring key team members, to be by consensus, or at least, have each person weigh in.  When I began interviewing artists, I set up a tiered process to ensure that I found the best possible candidate.  Basically, I had two interviews instead of one - genius!  I set it up so that I met with the candidate first, then I had them submit a mock-up of a few screens or characters, and then I called the ones I liked back for a second interview with the programmer.  Of course, do not forget to have them sign an NDA.

Let me start off by saying that I had much more fun interviewing artists than programmers.    Along with resumes and cover letters, artist candidates have portfolios for you to review as well.  This was the first part of the process where you really get to see what kind of creative energy others will bring to your project.  As I said in an earlier post, I got more responses for the artist than for the programmer, so I had about 30 portfolios to go through.  One thing you
Once I had a programmer in place, it was time to find an artist.  One part of my company philosophy is that I want each major decision, including hiring key team members, to be by consensus, or at least, have each person weigh in.  When I began interviewing artists, I set up a tiered process to ensure that I found the best possible candidate.  Basically, I had two interviews instead of one - genius!  I set it up so that I met with the candidate first, then I had them submit a mock-up of a few screens or characters, and then I called the ones I liked back for a second interview with the programmer.  Of course, do not forget to have them sign an NDA.

Let me start off by saying that I had much more fun interviewing artists than programmers.    Along with resumes and cover letters, artist candidates have portfolios for you to review as well.  This was the first part of the process where you really get to see what kind of creative energy others will bring to your project.  As I said in an earlier post, I got more responses for the artist than for the programmer, so I had about 30 portfolios to go through.  One thing you will find from the deluge of portfolios is that it would be a miracle to see art that is actually the type of art you would want for your project.  Since I was creating a cutesy, serene experience, it didn’t do me much good to see how well someone can model a laser gun, paint a a twisted Pinocchio, or even draw the human form.  That was the point of the mock-up.

For me, it was not just about the artwork though.  I found there was a much larger spread in the artist field between candidates.  Some candidates were very strong artists, but didn’t have much technical know-how, some were the opposite.  Some had a ton of experience and some had none.  Some were reliable and others, I found out the hard way, were not.   The nature of my project demands reliability.  I knew that I was not paying most people enough money to really hold them accountable to me day-in and day-out, meaning I basically could not force people to beholden to me when the sum I was paying them would not cover their bills.  In many ways, reliability is the ultimate indicator of a candidate’s interest - if they want it, you will know, and if you aren’t sure if they want it, they most likely do not.  Often this reliability takes the form of professionalism: if they say they will do something, they do it.  I was shocked how many artists said one thing to me and then did not follow through.  I hadn’t even hired them yet!  But, I get ahead of myself.  From the applicants, I chose my favorite five and set up the first interview.  

I had similar criteria for hiring the artist and the programmer, local to LA and passionate about my idea and games.  Each of the artists enthusiastically told me how great they thought my idea was, but when the rubber hit the road, only a few really meant it (or were even interested).  During the first interview, every artist I spoke with said they would submit a mock-up.  I gave all of them a week to do so.  Keep in mind, I told them to spend as much time on it as they wanted since it would be for free - the better the mock-up, the higher chance of getting the job.  Of the five I interviewed, two never got back to me at all, two did as requested, and one guy emailed a day or two late to see if he could still submit something.  One great thing about the mock-ups, especially for those who aren’t particularly gifted artistically, is that you get to see a bunch of perspectives about how the project could look.  I received cartoony ducks, realistic ducks, painted ducks, drawn ducks, 3D modeled ducks.  This proved invaluable to me and really helped me hone in on the visual style of the game.

After the three mock-ups were submitted, it seemed worth my while to interview all three one more time with the programmer.  I really wanted the team to be strong together so making sure that there were not any clear, glaring personality conflicts was important to me.  We eventually settled on a candidate who had the right blend of professionalism, talent, experience, and belief in the project.  As I've been learning, it takes much more than just art to be a good lead artist on a project this small.

Now, if I could go back and give past me a bit of advice, it would be to understand that most likely the artist you are hiring first is going to be an artistic director as well as the lead artist.  What this means is that he/she will likely have to instruct and lead others.  It is a tall tall order to ask one person to do all of the art for a project, even a relatively simple one.  So again, the personality of the artist and their willingness to work alongside others will prove crucial to the success of your project.  And again, reliability is key - for all those who haven’t had unreliable bosses, it blows.  Big time.

Till next time...
Joe the CEO

For screens, news, and other details, check us out on Facebook or send us a mail at info@mijogames.com







Mijo Games
9:21 PM on 10.19.2010


Hello Destructoid.  We interrupt your regularly scheduled article series to bring a special announcement.  It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that we have officially missed the deadline to submit for IGF 2010.  I read articles that said that we could submit revisions after the October 18th deadline, but our game is in such a state at the moment, that it didn't make sense.   However, this has not discouraged us or our mission in the least.  In fact, the game has never looked better!

Setting this deadline and watching it pass provides a valuable lesson.  Things will not go as planned - bet on it : )  In some ways, we could see the finish line, but there were many obstacles, such as life, jobs, etc., that made it tough to get there in time.  All is not lost though.  IGF 2011, watch out!

We will now return to our regularly scheduled article series, tomorrow.

Till next time...
Joe the CEO

For screens, news, and other details, check us out on Facebook or send us a mail at info@mijo
Hello Destructoid.  We interrupt your regularly scheduled article series to bring a special announcement.  It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that we have officially missed the deadline to submit for IGF 2010.  I read articles that said that we could submit revisions after the October 18th deadline, but our game is in such a state at the moment, that it didn't make sense.   However, this has not discouraged us or our mission in the least.  In fact, the game has never looked better!

Setting this deadline and watching it pass provides a valuable lesson.  Things will not go as planned - bet on it : )  In some ways, we could see the finish line, but there were many obstacles, such as life, jobs, etc., that made it tough to get there in time.  All is not lost though.  IGF 2011, watch out!

We will now return to our regularly scheduled article series, tomorrow.

Till next time...
Joe the CEO

For screens, news, and other details, check us out on Facebook or send us a mail at info@mijogames.com