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Resurrecting and then killing your darling again: Post-mortem of a twice cancelled game

The life and death of Leaf Rider

Resurrecting and then killing your darling again: Post-mortem of a twice cancelled game

At Two Tails we spent three years working on and off on our mobile game Leaf Rider, but in January this year we finally decided to cancel it.

In the first part of our post-mortem I discussed some of the mistakes we made and problems we had during development that eventually led to us initially stopping work on the original game.

However, things didn’t end there for Leaf Rider.

After cancelling and taking a break, we flirted with a few new game concepts but we kept getting this niggling urge to go back to Leaf Rider.

At the time advice was rife. People told us to “just finish a game”. “Get one under your belt” they’d say. This created a strong desire in us to simplify the game and push as hard as we could to get something out of the door.

The first Temple Run had just hit off and it was a mobile game we were having a lot of fun with. Seeing how successful a seemingly “simple” endless runner could be gave us some ideas that we could modify our existing Leaf Rider code to accommodate this style of gameplay.

It felt like an easy solution for us and, so, Leaf Rider v2 was born.

A rapidly changing market

The problem was, we took far too long making this Leaf Rider v2. As such, a gluttony of high quality endless runners riding on Temple Run's coattails entered the market.

Each one was increasingly more impressive, making Leaf Rider more outdated by the day. Indeed, Temple Run 2 set the bar extremely high.

Thus, we spent a lot of time trying to ensure Leaf Rider was different - that it still had a unique hook to set it from the crowd. We spent many months designing and prototyping gameplay ideas, eventually settling on a tag-team style dual character gameplay where you tag between two characters mid-play. It was different, but was it enough?

Leaf Rider in 2013

That wasn't our only problem. During development of the game we also had to contend with new iOS devices, some which required a lot of effort for us to support.

The Retina screen is a great example of this, requiring us to re-create our artwork in higher resolutions. Luckily all our artwork was created in Vector formats, so although it took up a lot of time, it could have been a lot worse.

Not only did the entire gameplay change but so too did we pivot on our business model.

Our objective was no longer to make any substantial money from this game - it became more about gaining a small fan base.

By late 2012 we saw how incredibly difficult it was to launch a paid mobile game so we decided to redesign the game around free-to-play.

Our objective was no longer to make any substantial money from this game - it became more about gaining a small fan base that we could hope to launch our next game to. Making the game free made a lot of sense to us.

However, out of all the mistakes we made this is the one I still regret the most. Why? Because as a consumer, I just don’t like the free-to-play model and choosing this path made it incredibly hard to design.

In the end both our business model and how we implemented free-to-play actually changed a few times as a result.

The final straight

We were exhausted. Finishing any game is hard, but it’s especially hard when you’ve been working on it for three years and when, late on in the process, you decide to build it around a business model you don't actually like.

In January 2014, our third team member Alex joined the studio. As a result, our immediate plan was to put all hands on deck to finish Leaf Rider.

As we pitched the game to Alex we started to take a step back from being knee deep in effective crunch and we began to realise how much work we still had to do.

The game concept wasn’t very unique anymore - with all our changes to the original design we’d lost a lot that was exciting about it. Did we really want to release a free-to-play game that we didn’t actually like, nor one we thought would survive unless we could support it after launch?

After some long discussions we had to decide where the company was headed and, in the end, we recognised that Leaf Rider was a project of our past and didn’t truly represent what Two Tails had become. We learned some hard and costly lessons along the way but the experience gained from making those mistakes will prove to be invaluable in our future projects.

So what’s next for us? For the first time I can reveal that we’re actually creating a first-person mystery thriller game for PC, consoles and possibly tablets, due sometime in 2015.

Pocket Gamer get all the juicy exclusives, doesn't it?

We’re still keeping a lot of the details under wraps for the moment but hopefully you’ll hear some more details about our project in a few months time.

Mitch is the Founder of Two Tails, a Games Studio based near Oxford, UK. You can follow him on Twitter or visit the Two Tails website for more info.

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