Entry #10

Post Mortem - Abobo's Big Adventure

2012-03-14 22:41:02 by PestoForce
Updated

Abobo's Big Adventure is great to have made, but was grueling to complete. I learned a lot in the process, about Flash, about game promotion, and about myself.

ZOMG COPYRIGHTS!
I'll just start out by addressing the elephant in the room: Yes, many of the sprites used in ABA were ripped directly from NES emulated games. Is this technically against the law? To be honest, I don't know. The way we sleep at night stems from the fact that we made this game for free, in our spare time.

We justify the use of these assets because of our pure love for the material. We aren't trying to damage Nintendo or rip it off for our own gain. In fact, the exact opposite is true, we are trying to pay tribute and write a love letter to our 8-bit childhood in the best language we know how.

To us, using anything less than the original material would have blunted the edge of the experience. For example, would seeing a facsimile of the "Duck Hunt Dog" get charred to a crisp be as satisfying as seeing the actual un-mistakeable original "from-the-game" dog be murdered? Would killing some unrecognizable old man instead of the actual old man from Zelda have the same impact?

Rog, Pox, and I are old-school Newgrounds hipsters. We were into the Flash scene when it was the Wild West and anything was allowed. In a sense, using the actual sprites, in addition to what I mentioned above, was our way of referencing that era of Flash creations.

Many have looked down their noses at us for making this choice, but we felt that this game could not have met our expectations and goals in any other way. Our hope is that it transcends the stigma attached to "Sprite" movies and games and provides an experience that elevates and tributes the referenced material.

Motivation: The black abyss
The original inspiration for Abobo's Big Adventure was Domo Kun's Angry Smashfest. This was the first Flash game that made me say "Wow, I didn't know this was possible in Flash!" Tom and Rog made it in much the same way we made Abobo... a reckless stream of consciousness whose scope kept growing and growing unchecked.

When Rog asked me if I wanted to re-code his old demo of Abobo's Big Adventure and finish the whole game, I was so starstruck at working with one of the Domo creators I immediately accepted without realizing what I was getting in to. That was in 2007...

I coded the first 3 or 4 levels fairly quickly, but around the Zelda stage, which is the longest level in the game, I burned out. At that point I looked ahead and realized I was only 1/2 way through the game. I couldn't conceive of doing levels as large as the Zelda level 4 more times and was spoiled with the usual Flash rapid release schedule where you work for 2 or 3 weeks and then get the rush of releasing something.

I felt like I was spending countless hours sculpting an intricate work of art that would NEVER be seen by anyone. We were also running into some technical issues which were pushing the limits of Flash and pushing game compile times into the "minutes" range (which quickly adds up). I went into a blue funk and avoided opening the Abobo .fla source file for over a year.

I never admitted it openly to myself, but thoughts of just scrapping the project flitted through my mind pretty often during this time. I felt like Abobo had a death lock on my ankle and was dragging me down the deepest darkest underwater plumber's pipe ever constructed.

I should mention that most partners would have ditched me at this point. Pox, who has an inhuman work ethic, had already completed most of the game's extra art and outrageous cut scenes. He had invested hundreds of hours into the game so, to see me brushing it off and not working on it, must have driven him crazy. I have to thank Rog and Pox for sticking with me through my depressed times.

Luckily, around this time Rog suggested we show off our Abobo progress at his Comic-Con booth. We returned to CC for 3 years in a row each time with more of the game done. Having the Comic Con deadline helped me push myself to work more on the game so we'd have new stuff to show off every time. It also spurred me to do something I've always wanted to do: Build an arcade cabinet that features a game I made. With the help of my best friend and some family members (+ Jeff on cabinet art) the cabinet turned out 1000 times better than I imagined.

This year's Comic Con will be the final one where we show off Abobo, it will be a triumphant experience to finally have the completed game there for all those nerds to enjoy.

Recovery: Get by with a little help from Adobe & friends
Around this time I discovered .swc files and figured out they were not just for as3, thanks to Mike from Newgrounds. Basically these allowed me to create entire levels and jam them into a "compiled clip" that could be imported into the main Abobo file and play normally, but didn't have to be re-compiled with the rest of the file (faster compile times). It also made concerns with managing my library and library limit concerns evaporate. With this boost, I was motivated to ASK FOR HELP.

I asked Steve and Dave if they would want to help me out by coding an Abobo level. Steve decided against it, but Dave lifted the Megaman level off my shoulders. With 1/8th of the burden off my back and .swc files opening the door of feasibility, I was back on track!

We finished the game and were about ready to release it when we had a bright idea...

Let's bundle another ORIGINAL game inside of Abobo
So we had a bright idea that, if we advertised an original game inside of Abobo, and that game continued the "story" of Abobo's son "Aboboy" (our own creation), we could capitalize on the huge amounts of traffic the game was sure to garner and help offset the ridiculous amounts of time we had invested into making the game.

One problem though, now we had to produce an ORIGINAL game, figure out how to collect $ (which we decided to collect in the form of donations), and figure out how to deliver the game to, potentially, thousands of people without Rog having to write a custom email to each donor.

In the end, we decided to use Paypal, which we figured would be most international friendly and trusted (even though they have pretty huge transaction fees). I had some experience with php, so I researched the Paypal API and built some test pages. With the help of Josh we got all the bugs worked out of the system and had a working game delivery system. This required us buying a domain name, setting up a website with a database, and jumping through some hoops with PayPal to get upgraded to a "business" account.

This was all largely an experiment. We had no idea whether our method would pay off and actually get people to donate, or just be a wasted button on the game menu.

We had hopes that it would explode and start inching us toward minimum wage for the time we invested, but in the end, it ended up performing fairly well and, while it hasn't made us 5 digits yet, it has showed us that Flash devs could probably be eeking out quite a bit more from their games if they tried our approach, or something similar.

In the interest of helping out other devs, here are some figures:

Investment:
Domain Name: $10 per year
Hosting: From free to $10/month
Paypal Business Account: Free
Paypal PHP transaction API: Free and documented well

Return (as of 2 days ago, the game has been out for 2 months):
In-Game Ad Revenues (for comparison): $1,758 ($0.79 eCPM)
Mini-game Sales: TOTAL GROSS: $8966.19 TOTAL PAYPAL TRANS FEES: $694.35 (7.7%) TOTAL NET: $8271.84 ($2.48 eCPM)

As you can see, the minigame is outperforming in-game advertisements by more than 300%

These results may not be typical since we advertised the game for 4 years before it came out, had a really amazing trailer and got a write up in Game Informer magazine (+ write ups in tons of other big name gaming sites). Also, considering what can possibly be earned on Steam and other indie console channels and mobile platforms, doing Flash games may never really pay back the time invested unless you break into the multi-player or Facebook arena. But now you all know how deep our wallets extend.

Oh yeah, divide all that 3 ways...

Wrapup
In the end, the game wasn't about money. It may seem trite, but it was something inside us that we had to do, a story we had to tell, with characters who wove themselves into our life-matter as we were growing up.

I learned so much about Flash and games in general that I think I deserve an honorary doctorate in "Abobo." By the time I was done, I was really tempted to go back and re-code the earlier levels with my newly learned skills, but Pox and Rog didn't want to wait another 4 years... There are bugs true (mostly in those early levels) but I couldn't be prouder of what we accomplished and especially the fact that we never gave up even though friends, family, and logic continuously encouraged us to do so.

Abobo's Big Adventure put me through some really tough times and was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I think we've made something that might live on as a landmark even in a world that's flooded with video games.

As you can tell, it was much more than just 3 guys making a game. A huge thanks goes to Newgrounds and especially Tom Fulp for supporting this effort. This community inspired us to push a part of our souls out through our computer mice, digital pens, and fingertips.


Comments

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MindChamberMindChamber

2012-03-14 23:02:18

excellent post, and its always insightful to learn about the blood sweat and tears that goes into something you truly love.

PestoForce responds:

Thanks for dropping in and for your posts about the game and the Game Informer article.


StarogreStarogre

2012-03-14 23:43:20

I'm really glad you guys finished it, it's true, finishing a game with no immediate feedback loop is very very difficult, both for motivation and for quality assurance. Good luck with your future projects and hope to see you again soon sometime man. Abobo was fun - i got to the zelda levels and died but I should have time this summer to play the next half of it and other games for once too.....

PS, the way that guy was laughing at the ending of your game is priceless, hope it was all worth it.

PestoForce responds:

I'm sure Closure put you 2 through a lot worse, but it's great to see your efforts paying off already and I'm hoping Closure is a huge hit for you 2.

I'll always remember your night terrors when we shared a bed in LA...


RicePirateRicePirate

2012-03-14 23:57:58

I can't imagine how accomplishing anything that you felt you needed to do could ever be conceived as "trite". You guys are warriors. Thank you all for bleeding into the chalice of awesome free entertainment, nostalgia, and respect for a golden age of gaming.

PestoForce responds:

The "trite" statement was just because I was waxing poetic for a moment :-D

Thanks for pitching in to get some promotion for the game going before our launch.


KyleRobertsKyleRoberts

2012-03-14 23:58:51

Inspiring. Reminds me that if you ever want to create something meaningful and memorable, you need to commit, keep going and ASK FOR HELP if the burn-out comes!! :)

PestoForce responds:

Yeah, the asking for help part was a good decision.


PrettyMuchBrycePrettyMuchBryce

2012-03-15 00:27:01

Abobo was great. You guys did an amazing job. Hope to see more soon from all of you.

PestoForce responds:

It might take us a while to recover before we ever want to do something "grand" again.


I-smelI-smel

2012-03-15 00:38:43

READ THE WHOLE THING! Thanks again for telling me what .swc components are. I used em in my final game, so I guess you are my Mike in this situation.
But Abobo sounds like more work than both my biggest games put together. 3+ years oh shit! It's funny you wrote the post-mortem as a fairly feel-good story, cos I'd be bitter as fuck.

I'd love to hear a more personal story than read the technical stuff, but I guess you can only write so much.
Anyway you did it man! Abobo's Big Adventure is the game it was meant to be, and you'll have it in your back pocket fr the rest of your life; it'll never get older n it'll never die. Congrats on the GameInformer feature n all that other shit!
What now?

PestoForce responds:

My pleasure. Abobo wouldn't have happened without helpful outsiders pitching in, and I hope "No Time To Explain" gets you some good recognition and becomes a springboard to bigger and better things in the future.

For the bitter story wait for Pox's write-up. He's much more cynical about the game and the world in general :-)


FrozenFireFrozenFire

2012-03-15 01:04:23

Fun read, and I'm glad you put some financial stats on there too. Even though you really didn't do it for the money it's really helpful to see how effective ads were in comparison to direct minigame sales.

I usually don't make games for the sake of making money but just to make something impressive and worthwhile. Still money is something we all need so I'll take what I can get.

PestoForce responds:

I went back and forth on including the numbers in this. I don't want to discourage Flash people by highlighting the small effort to payout ratio, but I really wanted to be open and upfront about what we did and what we got from our "marketing" efforts.


Tollo79Tollo79

2012-03-15 06:01:50

You are okay, the game is filled under a parody in court and this would be classed as fair use seeing as you make no profit of there idea and it was just a bit of fun and also a labour of love hell some company's would support this just for the sheer effort you guys put in to this but anyway if you did make a profit....(we didn't see anything) spend the money and say you made nothing MUHUHHAAHAAHH. sorry :)

PestoForce responds:

We did get an email from someone at Nintendo, unofficially encouraging us and telling us they couldn't support it openly, but were big fans.


MattsterMattster

2012-03-15 08:41:18

Great read, I enjoy reading into what goes on "behind the scenes" for a project such as this. It is clear that you guys were truly passionate for the project, and it really showed.

Interesting about the .swc files. I never thought to use them like that, I only ever thought of them as resources for random APIs :P

PestoForce responds:

Yeah, .swc files saved Abobo. Film at 11:00!


LuisLuis

2012-03-15 10:22:37

That was a good balanced write-up. I think games in general are in an interesting time right now, Totally ignoring the jaded 'indie-ego' aspect of it.
Its inspiring to be in a time when you can make games that YOU want to make. There's a certain honesty and magic in a game you can feel the developers/artists WANTED to make. Its something you cant buy or learn in a tutorial or whatever. Its just something within, probably somewhere near the scrotum area.

Anyway I think some of that was lost briefly when the whole sponsorship shit blew up and everyone(ok maybe not everyone but for the sake of using broad strokes) started just making games that people are used to seeing or piggybacking on genres that are currently financially viable.

PestoForce responds:

Thanks for the note.

I agree it's a great time to be around "indie" game devs. Flash is beginning to garner some respect and many of the devs are blurring the lines between platforms which is exciting.

It will be interesting to see where Adobe's new focus on cross platform development instead of web delivery will take us all.

My one wish from Santa Claus is for Apple to loosen up their blockades in the way of developing for iOS. They basically force you to buy a high-end Mac to develop for them, and then put HUGE barriers to getting approved and provisioning your devices. With Android, it took 5 minutes to export a useable app to my phone and then 15 minutes to launch it on the Android Market. I don't know if Apple's artificial barriers are on purpose or if they're just THAT lame.

Anyway, you're right, the future is bright for Flash devs, though I imagine it's a lot harder to get recognized these days with the flood of competition.


RYNOLRYNOL

2012-03-15 11:59:07

I just read that whole thing and I have to say that it was a great post. I loved playing Abobo's Big Adventure and I hope that you know that you and everyone involved with the project really did create something special.

PestoForce responds:

Thanks buddy :-D


KajenxKajenx

2012-03-16 19:52:21

You didn't exactly make it for free if you earned $10,000 from it. Yes, yes, it's a tribute, it took you 100 years to make it, you love the characters and would never do anything to harm them...blah...blah...blah. In the end it's best not to make excuses and just realize you're walking gray area.

I think you did enough with the game to call it a parody, though, so you really don't need any justification in the first place. Nintendo is nicer than Disney, too, if the millions of unprosecuted Mario clones on the internet are any indication.

PestoForce responds:

Did you pay anything to play it? This is known as "free."

The minigame is arguable as "free" but Abobo's Big Adventure definitely is.

I think we're pretty aware of where we're walking :-D


KajenxKajenx

2012-03-16 19:53:54

Oh, and how many plays did it get? Ad rev made it sound like about 2.5 million?

PestoForce responds:

Still being played every day. You can check our site to see the latest play stat.


mia419mia419

2012-03-17 18:31:23

I've never donated to anything on the internet and I am a frequent visitor to the pirate bay but I'm donating as much as I can spare on the 23rd (next payday) so you guys can get going to moar Abobo. My ADD kicked in like 1/4 through your post but I think it said something about the possibility of another Abobo game and something about paypal. lot's of <3 , Mia

PestoForce responds:

Thanks for playing and any donation helps keep us alive :-)


KajenxKajenx

2012-03-17 22:08:04

Bah, TV producers don't make shows for free. It's the same thing. :3

(Updated ) PestoForce responds:

TV producers receive payment upfront from networks that have a fairly safe "risk" built into their audience numbers, that's a bit different than releasing something as risky as a Flash game without any guarantee of return.

You have a point that there's probably nothing truly "free" even the truest indie effort has some sort of return built into it. But looking at the degree of risk and return "guaranteed" on something like Abobo's Big Adventure has to sway any logical thinker pretty heavily toward the side of "Done-out-of-love" and "trying-to-pick-up-what-we-can-to -offset-giant-investment-of-time-
and-effort."

Hell, if you value our time at minimum wage we severely LOST money on this project so it's actually more than free.

We're arguing the semantics of the word "free" but I think your assessment is a bit harsh.


coruptedGamescoruptedGames

2012-03-31 23:01:32

Awesome stuff, but the question still in my mind was why didnt you just try get the game sponsored? I mean like newgrounds branding and links back to newgrounds where put in the game so why didn't you get any money from them? if you put the game up for sponsorship im sure it could of hit 20k+ Or was this just an issue of sponsors not wanting to sponsor it due to the potential copyright threats?


HyptosisHyptosis

2012-04-07 16:57:27

Man, great info, great read, great inspiration. You guys rock and you 'did it' You finished the beast. Stay cool and thanks for the feedback on the process.


GrognorGrognor

2012-04-28 17:15:53

This is amazing. I love Abobo's Big Adventure and now I love you.

This is my favorite part: "Many have looked down their noses at us for making this choice, but we felt that this game could not have met our expectations and goals in any other way. Our hope is that it transcends the stigma attached to "Sprite" movies and games and provides an experience that elevates and tributes the referenced material."


NoLanLabsNoLanLabs

2012-05-16 17:05:34

This was awesome to read. Abobo is an amazing game - one of the only games I've ever played all the way through and I really enjoyed all of it. Thanks for putting in all the work, it was definitely worth it.


yellowbouncyballyellowbouncyball

2013-01-10 12:24:29

Great read- I appreciate you taking the time to write that all up. Nice to know I'm not the only one that falls into a "slump" from time to time- and also very inspirational and motivating that you were able to find ways to re-animate your excitement pull through and finish the game. Great work- Great game and Great article!