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Twintale Finds Gold with TGB and Match-3

by Deborah M. Fike · 09/08/2008 (1:05 pm) · 6 comments

Caribbean Hideaway, by Twintale Entertainment, is an improved version of their first game The Pirate Tales, both made with Torque Game Builder. The game tells a story about a group of pirates on an effort to rescue the deckhand's girlfriend, Ruby. It is a match-3 casual puzzle game. The updated version adds a touch of strategy between levels where you build up your pirate village on a small island. I recently had the opportunity to discuss the hit game with one of its makers, Martin Andresen of Twintale.

What makes your game unique from other casual games?

There are quite a few match-3 games our there and from the start we wanted to add something to the game that other games were missing; an involved story that dictated the flow of the gameplay, which add different goals for each level. The original game was missing a lot in the graphics and sounds department and did not do well at all.

When we did the sequel we wanted to add something extra to the gameplay and the idea of building up a pirate village really seemed like a fun and obvious thing to add to the game. Only a few games had something similar and we felt that with this feature added and improved gameplay and graphics, the game would finally stand out in the crowd. We also made this feature as flexible for the user as possible, so they could try out different strategies without making it too complex. This turned out to be one of the big successes of the game and led to people playing it multiple times.

Where did your inspiration for the original game come from? Pirate Tales was our first game and we wanted to do something in a short period of time, not too complex or time-consuming. Our goal was to get a game done so that we could prove to ourselves we could do it and at least get our name out there. We looked at the casual games market and soon concluded that we wanted to make a match-3 game. We could focus on developing the game rather than design by taking on a well known game genre that played well. With Pirates of the Caribbean having so much success we believed that a pirate story would fit well with the casual gamers.

What was your development process like?

The company consists of my twin brother and me, and we are both experienced developers as well as project managers on much larger projects from previous jobs. We did both the original and updated games in a very ad-hoc manner with design being done during implementation, feeling that with our previous experience the projects would not run completely out of hand.

On the positive side it made us play test stuff pretty quickly to see how it worked and then being able to alter it quite quickly, although we did do some work that needed to be modified quite a few times.

What appealed to you about TGB?

As we wanted to have the game done quite quickly there was no question that we were going to use an existing 2D game engine. We looked at various solutions and did not hesitate to use TGB, as it had a lot of nice features, support for both PC and Mac, and an impressive level editor. Most importantly it was easy for us to learn the engine and the script, which made us able to implement a match-3 prototype within a few days.

How many people worked on the game team? How did you work together?

In-house development consists only of my twin brother and me and we coordinated all development between us, using the "what needs to be done now"-method.

We had to outsource a lot of other stuff for the games, none of us are artists or great musicians. One writer was hired to do the story, Dylan Romero, we had two artists for the graphics, Nauris Krauze and Blake Lowry, and a sound studio, Special Blend Music, for the sounds and music.

One of the artists and the sound studio also worked for us on the update. For the updated version we also had a consultant attached to the project, Gabe Carter at Oberon Media, who also published the game for us and gave us lots of great ideas and suggestions.

Communication was primarily done using e-mail which turned out pretty well. When requesting work to be done we were quite clear on what we wanted, so everyone on the team had no problems delivering what we wanted. Everyone did a fantastic job.

What were a few major development challenges you encountered? How did you overcome them?

Our biggest challenge for the Caribbean Hideaway was getting the game tested. In each level you accumulate gold and fame which is used to upgrade your island and attract new citizens. This in turn modifies the amount of gold you earn in a level, which gave us an evil circle of nastiness.

Every time we changed something as simple as the amount of bonus gold you get at the end of a level we had to retest the game from level 1, to see whether specific upgrades became available when we wanted them to and to avoid players getting to much or too little gold or citizens at any one time.

Looking back we should probably have taken the time to look into if we could have automized this process or have done some analyzing to help us out. However, we never realized from the beginning that we would need to retest so many times. Each retest from level 1 to 100 took about three full days. You do not know how bad playing the same match-3 game day after day is for you, until you start having dreams with lots of icons falling down in front of your eyes!

Our second biggest challenge was that although the TGB engine had a lot of nice features it still had some childhood diseases. Happily, we were able to work around some of these, and the GarageGame's forums and GarageGames themselves have some wonderful people eager to help out. In the end we managed to get the game released with almost no bug reports returned to us - which does show the TGB engine is quite stable after all.

How long did it take to create the original game? The update?

We did The Pirate Tales in three months which was also the time we had allocated for it. At the time we knew that the graphics did not look the best and it could have used more variation in sounds, but we were quite happy with the involvement of the story.

Unfortunately it did extremely poorly and when we made a publishing deal with Oberon Media for the sequel we did not propose the game to any other portals, so that Caribbean Hideaway would not seem like just an update to new people testing the game and thus not purchasing it.

Caribbean Hideaway took a bit longer than we had anticipated. This was mostly due to adding extra content during development and the extensive testing that was required. Getting the update done and released took 7 months, but we were really pleased with the final outcome and having spent the extra time on it.

What was the process like for getting funding?

We were lucky to have enough cash saved up to get us through The Pirate Tales and most of Caribbean Hideaway. We took a small bank loan to get us fully through the rest of Caribbean Hideaway. With the success of the game, we do have enough funds to see us safely through our next projects.

How did you accomplish QA and beta testing?

Our testing for The Pirate Tales was really lacking. This especially surfaced when we worked on Caribbean Hideaway and noticed bugs that should have been found before releasing The Pirate Tales.

As Oberon published the update for us we were able to use their beta tester network, which allowed us to have the game played by a lot of players to provide feedback to gameplay and hardware issues. This was invaluable for us as it gave us feedback on where to improve on the game.

Through user testing, we discovered that the tutorial and assignment of pirates needed some rework. At first, players had to assign pirates to new buildings manually, but some players forgot this while others realized they had to do it. So instead we automated this, allowing players to change it manually afterwards if they wanted to. Without the game being tested by hundreds of players we wouldn't have considered this a problem.

Obviously we also did the mommy-test; if your mother can figure out the tutorial then everyone can! At least if your mother is not used to playing games that is.

For QA we tested the game on various hardware and OS configurations to see how the game performed. As mentioned previously, we also did extensive play testing to check that gold, buildings, and gameplay fit together nicely. Oberon did final QA before releasing the game to check whether it was up to par with their normal quality of releases.

What did you learn in creating the game?

Our biggest concern was whether or not this was something we could keep doing as a living. We are not coming from the games business beforehand, so this was a concern. The success of Caribbean Hideaway has certainly confirmed to us that we can do well in the business.

Another thing we learned was that by now getting revenue, we can now better plan for how many games to release and how much effort to put into each game in order to help us stay afloat and keep making games.

Finally, developing the game and working with Oberon on the update has helped us better understand what works in the industry and what does not. This is experience we can use for our next projects.

Did you expect the game to hit the top of the charts? What do you attribute that success to?

We certainly hoped that the game did well, but how well it did was more than we had realistically hoped for. Most of all we hoped that players would really enjoy the game. From reading comments on various forums and portals it seemed that we had really nailed it with the game. When you read an awesome review by a gamer, you cannot help but feel a little proud and say to yourself: "I made that game."

What was most awesome was that it seems that what really makes the game great is how well everything fits together. I do not believe it is one or two things in the game that made it succeed, but rather the whole relationship between elements: the story, building up your village, and the match-3 gameplay itself with various goals that matched the story and evolved as your village evolved.

What can we expect to see next, either in development of your game or from your studio?

I cannot reveal too much at the moment, but we are working on two casual games at the moment. One is a smaller game that should be released in three months time and a much larger project with no release date set yet. But we are aiming high with the large title and have high hopes that it will do well! We have got some of the same fantastic guys working for us on these projects, so we're hoping everything goes smoothly!


Thanks Martin for that fantastic interview! If you're new to making games, interested in Torque Game Builder games, or just want to see what a best-selling Torque game looks and plays like, be sure to download and check out TwinTale's fantastic game Caribbean Hideaway, then start plotting your own course to success!

For more stories like this, check out GarageGames' Developer Interview series.

09/08/2008 (7:06 pm)

This game series truly does an awesome job of utilizing TGB's strong points.
09/08/2008 (7:12 pm)
Thanks. BTW the series is for all our engines :)
09/08/2008 (7:19 pm)
It was great working with the Andresen Bros of TwinTale. They are a true class act and really have their stuff together. It's great to be part of such a great game lead by these great developers.
09/08/2008 (11:26 pm)
I really enjoyed this game - A cut above the rest ;-)

So what is your opinion about making casual games and making a living out of it? Can it be done using small 2 or 3 man/woman teams? Or do I need to keep my day job?
09/09/2008 (6:38 am)
Thanks for the nice comments. :)

Andy: Well, it certainly depends on a lot of things, skill being a large part of it, but as stated in the interview we had a good deal of cash to back us up, so even if Caribbean Hideaway hadn't been a success we would still have survived. Also, even though Caribbean Hideaway was a great success it still haven't covered all of our living expenses (which I blame on the low dollar rate and living expenses in Denmark being overly expensive :P). So, unless you already have a large wallet to back you up, I wouldn't recommend quitting your day job just yet.
02/19/2009 (3:16 pm)
Very nice Match 3. Out of the crowd.

Wondering why requires 128 of RAM instead of 512 of TGB 1.7.3...