Inspired Talks: Mills of ustwo™ on the Upcoming Whale Trail

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We had a chance to sit down and talk again with our friends from ustwo™ about their upcoming iPhone app that generated a lot of buzz over the Interwebs recently – Whale Trail. The app is out – download it from the appstore today!

Your studio ustwo is a Ui/Ux studio: Why did you decide to make an iOS endless runner game: whale trail?

ustwo™ has grown from a two man studio to a 100+ powerhouse in the space of 8 years. Our focus has always been on slow manageable growth with a desire to house and nurture creativity and to re-invest heavily in our own product releases on the App Store.
We’ve spent the last three years experimenting with a real mix of releases, from the highly successful MouthOff, to Nursery Rhymes with Storytime, the Dot series, Granimator and the niche and zany Inkstrumental, to the groundbreaking publishing platform PAPERCUT. Each release has generated a nice amount of publicity and I think we’ve earned some much appreciated industry respect along the way, due in essence to the niche nature surrounding what we’ve produced and the leanness of download figures.
Whale Trail represents a real desire to move into a market with a huge captive audience, as game downloads make up 45% of all apps downloaded. We felt that if we built the right product this time, we at least had a chance of getting into the hands of many more users.

What gave you the idea for whale trail? and why a whale?

Whale Trail resulted from a two-month experimental prototyping phase. The idea was to explore as many different directions as possible and to see what ultimately turned us on. We knew that we could polish anything we came up with, but what we wanted was to make sure that this time, we had an engine that could drive us all the way to the top.
In the end the idea of a simple loop the loop mechanic was something we decided to move forward with. Simplicity of gaming mechanic is crucial and it doesn’t get more simple that moving the character up and down by pressing and releasing your finger on the touch screen. By simply holding your finger on the screen, the loop the loop movement can be achieved. It just felt right, and so we continued to develop the idea of a character travelling through a never-ending world of psychedelia and wonder. We wanted to create a game that would be all about the joys of flying, nothing more and nothing less.
We chose a whale as the idea of a huge blubbery mammal gracefully flying through the air seemed so wrong in the real world, yet so wonderfully right in the virtual world. We named him Willow in homage to our favourite film of the same name and the general fighting spirit the lead character emits whilst in battle.

The art is very striking, do you think it needs to be very colourful and playful to sell?

We wanted to reach the biggest audience possible, and this meant that we had to create characters and art that would appeal to all taste and sensibilities. It had to be just right, not too commercial, and not too cool. It had to be coolmercial™! We had made games before (we call them graphical toys) that pitted a simple dot as the lead character, which although was very slick, couldn’t really be loved by anyone other than its mother. However in Whale Trail we’ve designed it so that the player is immersed into a psychedelic candy covered fun park with nothing but joy and laughter. We included end of level goodies over baddies, and all characters were designed to make you smile.
For big sales we need the game world to unite to ignite the passion, but we need that love to influence children, parents, grandmas, grandpas and pets. We need everyone! All good games need an awesome nemesis and we wanted a character that strikes fear into the heart and makes the player want to protect the protagonist. It can’t all be fun; it needs fun contrasted with pure bottled evil and destruction.
So therefore Whale Trail does have a dark side, in the form of Baron von Barry and his evil cloud henchmen ‘the Evil Thunder Bros’. Baron Von Barry is an evil sea monster that rules the oceans, his only friends are the Thunder bros and even they would stab him in the back if they had any hands.

So in brief, what’s the point of the game?

To fly Willow the Whale gracefully through the air, eating blubbles (blubbery colourful bubbles) that give you flying fuel, and avoiding the electrifying clouds that want to rob you of your flying time. Last as long as you can as you enjoy the seven incredibly joyful kingdoms. It makes utter sense!

How long did it take to make? and how many people were involved?

It took about two months of prototyping time, which is where we explored multiple ideas and routes, before finally landing on the ’loop the loop’ functionality. From there we had a team of six full time for around five months, two designers, two developers, one project manager and our QA master. On top of this we applied a liberal dose of CHIEF WONKA into the mix. We intend to continue developing long after with planned and lovingly nurtured updates to our hopefully massive user base.

Why do you you think whale trail won’t sink on the app store like so many games seem to these days?

Simply because I have seen the reaction from those lucky enough to play with it, it just makes them smile. I think that we’re lucky enough to be releasing at a time when people are looking for something new on the store, something that has been crafted to create joy and a good feeling inside.

These days there are so many games released on App Store – what have you done to increase the chances of success post launch?

We’ve gone one better and sourced a team of 300 play testers for Whale Trail early and throughout the development process. We not only got invaluable feedback from them which informed some key decisions in the creation of game, but they also have become our social army, talking about the game on twitter and Facebook, and really helping to build interest. With interest comes investigation, and it wasn’t long before game journalists became switched on to what we were doing. We’ve had many game sites writing about the release and all this fuels the fire. I only hope the big splash we make on release doesn’t put that fire out!

Do you have any predictions for the amount of sales it will generate?

I really feel this is my last shot because if we can’t make it with this product I will have to give up! In all seriousness it has cost the studio £150,000 in man-hours. Hence we need 300,000 sales before we even break even. I really feel this game has potential to sell over a million and I’m dreaming of that no.1 by Christmas!

PS: The game is out – grab your copy now!

Catalin is the founder of Mostash - a social marketing boutique - and he's always happy to share his passion for graphic design & social media.