Less than a month ago, our mobile gaming company decided to pivot unexpectedly into social commerce and abandon our feature product — something we’ve been working incredibly hard on for the past seven months. That project was Camp Bears, a magical virtual world set in the woods, designed for kids K-6 grade. The kids we invited in as beta testers loved our game, and so did our young, iPad-savvy nieces and nephews. I was excited to go to work everyday knowing that I’d be illustrating a new room or designing the user flow for baking a cake, or improving the interface while thinking like a kid. Needless to say, I was heart broken when our CEO decided to move on for something more cash-focused — but that’s the startup life. (For the record, Instagram made $0 dollars, yet it was still a good product.)
I spent the last few weeks updating this portfolio because I thought it’d help me bring closure to Camp Bears and move on; but no matter how many screenshots I take and freeze, I can’t capture the essence of what our product was and could’ve been if we had just given it a little more time. In fact, the version we currently have in the app store (1.4) doesn’t even include significant upgrades we’ve already designed and nearly finished engineering for (up to 1.7). That’s what hurts the most. Our intricately illustrated bakery, forest, pizzeria, cooking interaction games, wardrobe additions will never be enjoyed — ever.
Camp Bears was a beautiful product, inside and out. From a visual perspective, it was gorgeous. All of our scenes were hand illustrated on Illustrator, down to each leaf and flower petal. We didn’t just keep solids one color, we added gradients and textures and even considered details, like universal lighting. From a design standpoint, it was observant and thoughtful. Most games that have a moving avatar has one that looks out of place (in relation to its setting) because it “walked funny” or “looked flat.” Well that’s because it’s time intensive to create too many sprites, so most avatars just move around the screen (from the same angle/perspective) or walk in two directions (one reflected). We wanted our bears to look natural, so we modeled our bear in 3D with Blender and wrote export scripts to export it in as many perspectives as we wanted. We settled with eight. We always kept our young audience in mind, so actionable objects glow, close buttons for modals (profile, store catalog) are extra big, the heads up display doesn’t block sight lines for walking from scene to scene, and many things are color-coded.
From a technological standpoint, it was ingenius and innovative. Our game supports real-time interactions among players across the world, even over 3G. If someone in China took a step right, everyone else in the virtual world could see that avatar move. If someone changed its bear’s shirt color, everyone else would notice. Bears from who knows where could talk to each other with our pre-defined set of chats and emoticons. If fact, they did so while looking cute and unique (instead of being just a screen name in a chat room). We divided avatar sprites into principle components, so that each avatar’s personal look could be composed of a linear combination of said components, ordered by their depth or z-index. So a bear could be this shade of brown, wear that hat, this shirt, these pants (in any colors we assigned programmatically), with really efficient rendering and the proper layering. We even created a synchronization tool to sync assets like rooms, sprites, objects on the client side, so that we can update on the fly, without submitting another release to Apple and waiting a few days for it to be re-approved.
Oh, and did I mention that our game is actually multiple games in one? There’s a memory card game, a logic puzzle/checkers game, even a snowboarding game. We really try to utilize the iPad’s touch capabilities and accelerometer and use the right tunes and sound bytes to make the games interactive enough to keep kids entertained for hours.
Even though I’m sad we couldn’t spend more time on Camp Bears, I’m still proud of what our small team of three engineers and two designers has achieved these past seven months. *Bear hug!*