The important part of this story began last April, a month after releasing our game, Flat Kingdom, on Steam. After 27 months of hard work, the launch did not yield the results we had expected. It was the first title for our publisher, Games Starter, who had been incubating and funding us over the last 13 months, and without whom this project would have been shelved. Although we launched strong, sales ended up falling off after only a few days, which made us seriously start analyzing what the reasons for this could have been. After the effort it took to pull off, we were left with a strong feeling of tension and guilt, needed solutions, and to act quickly before the game completely lost all novelty. We saw that we had failed to give full importance to launching the game in the best possible condition. This is the story of how we reacted with a meticulous and realistic plan to enhance Flat Kingdom, and subsequently how the quality of any product developed / published by Fat Panda / Games Starter has ended up becoming our number one priority.
After ten more months of development than we expected, and due to our rush to launch the game as soon as possible, we found details that weren’t properly thought about during the testing phase, especially because the game was tested during the last stages of development. That ended up delaying the communication plan and we all became more and more impatient (studio, publisher and investors). The game needed an overhaul with elements that people cried out about after the first few days of the launch, so we looked at this experience as similar to Early Access. Although the game was already released, we would need to relaunch after improving everything we were seeing. To summarize, people complained about the following:
Unfair difficulty spikes in early areas of the game.
Some jumps required precision accuracy.
The tutorial failed to present the mechanics of the game in a sufficiently clear way.
The personality of the villain overshadowed the protagonist, which was unattractive to the player.
We needed to have everything ready, and we had very little reaction time since we had just launched the game! So we had to be very strategic with which parts of the game we improved. The first things were some easy to solve technical details, the last point, changes in the protagonist, would be the real challenge. What platformer game has changed it’s protagonist after being released? We feared blowback from gamers who had already played it, and those who would think it was strange that you would change your main character. What if they rejected it?
We gave ourselves the timeframe of one month (a date that coincided with the Steam Summer Sale) to have the update ready. We could not adapt the game to have a character selection mode, so the decision to change the character was taken, with all the risks that it entailed.
But what were the reasons to keep the original main character design all that time, presenting him as definitive, when we knew we had discordant voices? What were the origins of Flat and his strange appearance that produced such a big and shocking contrast with the rest of the world of the game?
Flat: Creation and evolution of the character.
Above you will see the very first design of Flat, drawn during a conversation on a bar napkin in 2013. We always thought of a character designed to be simple.
In practice, it should work more as a conduit or avatar for the player to enter the world of Flat Kingdom and its history. In that sense, his personality would not be as complex as that of a character in comics or movies, but would be simplified in the style of Kirby, Link, or Mario. With characters like these, it does take personality, although it never carries the weight of the game. Their motivations are always basic and what’s important is the world around them.
Flat should not have too many weapons or attachments that would be only cosmetic elements. These would add nothing to the gameplay, deceiving and confusing the player, where the important thing was its shape / form. Some details could be added to give variety and style, but items like weapons ( swords, guns, shields, magic wands, etc.) or accessories that are too flashy (boots, hats, sunglasses, etc ) were completely discarded. Something important in the design is that the ability to change shape is an intrinsic quality that Flat already has. It’s not your outfit or accessories that give that power, otherwise anyone could replicate it. That’s why the ornaments and clothes are relegated secondary elements to decorate his body as a character.
Flat’s geometric shape should be the main priority in its design (leaving his personality and history as the background) and the most important thing is that the player understands what the figure represents by its geometric shape. Although it is possible to play with more anthropomorphic and biologically recognizable designs, stylization of geometric figures should always be the priority.
A circle must be seen as a circle, a triangle as a triangle, and a square as a square. This is due directly to the principle of function over form and should be a priority when making a decision to choose which design we wanted to develop.
Flat is bold and adventurous, not afraid of challenges, and always willing to take risks for his cause. Despite the adversities that are presented, he always forges ahead. This is constantly demonstrated in the animations of his head, where he often seems surprised or scared, he perseveres and then decides that the situation is fight or die.
Because he has grown up all his life in the castle with the royal family, his devotion and loyalty to them is very high. He follows all orders the king gives, and is very respectful to the citizens and soldiers of the kingdom. His friendship with the princess is very strong, as they have been companions throughout his entire life. Therefore, upon learning she’s in danger and has been kidnapped, he rushes off to her rescue.
Flat has something like the mind of a child. He does not judge and does not perceive evil in the world. Has a peaceful and friendly soul, except when his loved ones are in danger.
Flat’s origin is actually unknown, but there is evidence that he could be the purest and most powerful creature in all of Flat Kingdom because of his ability to change shape. His very existence challenges the nature of the world in which they live, so the significance of Flat is very high. However, due to his humble nature, Flat does not seem to realize that he is special and lives among the other citizens without them feeling the need to revere or fear him.
Due to his innocence, Flat trusts too much in people and blindly follows the orders given to him. Even when he feels cheated, he goes to help the princess without thinking twice.
This quality can be counterproductive. Again, due to his enthusiasm to save the princess, he embarks on an adventure without understanding many things. The player’s role is to find and examine the nuances of morality within the stories of the game after reading about them, and to reach understanding passively over the course of the adventure. Flat feels no empathy for the enemies because he has a very clear mission and nothing will stop him until he achieves it.
Flat has a one-track mind. The whole problem of jewels and chaos between dimensions, really doesn’t matter to him. He does not know or understand why Hex is stealing jewelry, why they are important, and why the animals of the kingdom attack him. He only knows that the princess was kidnapped and he must save her.
Taking these qualities into account, it is clear that Flat, rather than being a bold and heroic knight, is really more like a pet / companion, faithful and cute. The game constantly defines him not as an adventurer or warrior, but as a guardian. Therefore, the design should be kept simple, flat, and functional above all else.