iOS, Android, Desktop, Unity
Strategy, Brand, Design, Development
Combining our inner retro gamer and the power of Unity, Substantial created a fantasy world with over 140-thousand hours of gameplay on iOS and Android.
Substantial has built its reputation on bringing our clients’ ideas to life. But it just so happens that one of our most unexpected success stories occurred when the client was us. In just three weeks a between-project experiment ended up creating an addictive game. It earned enough regard to release as part of Steam’s highly selective Greenlight program. Currently available for iOS, Android, and Steam.
Setting a New High Score
While exploring the Unity platform, still in its infancy, Mike and Josh, two Substantial developers, realized that their device gesture experimentation could make for a simple yet awesome game. With a green light from Substantial, they set to work released Dungeon Highway just three weeks later.
Buzz around the game escalated quickly once released to the Apple App store. A simple Reddit post announcing the game steadily garnered “up-votes,” while the app racked up over 50,000 downloads in a matter of hours. Less than two days later Apple asked to feature Dungeon Highway as one of its best new games. The game also earned viral status as the team noticed players posting screenshots of their high scores on Instagram with the hashtag #dungeonhighway.
The initial Reddit post made it to the front page of r/Gaming with over 1,700 up-votes. The game itself was featured in 83 countries on the Apple, Google, and Amazon app stores and promoted in Apple’s Twitter feed. To date, it has over 500,000 downloads and boasts a 4.5 rating in the App Store.
Dungeon Highway was later released as part of Steam’s Greenlight program, whose highly selective process only accepts a fraction of submissions, with an even smaller fraction reaching the light of day.
Creativity at 60 Frames Per Second
Dungeon Highway was a prime example of the power of experimentation and collaboration. The developers pitched the game as an opportunity to deepen their experience with Unity and launch an app simultaneously for the Apple App and Google Play stores, a Substantial first. They were given two weeks, which was a realistic yet ambitious constraint.
To get it done the team jumped into an accelerated series of two-day sprints, nightly builds, and an ongoing cycle of testing, fixes, and modifications on the fly. They even enlisted the help of a fellow Substantial developer, Barton, to compose the soundtrack and a Substantial designer to lend a hand with the interface.
The short timeline made prioritization critical. As feedback came in they relentlessly tested and cut ideas that had a potential to jeopardize their deadline and focused on simple, fun gameplay. Some testing literally involved letting a coworker try a new feature and observing his reaction: if he smiled, the feature got to stay. The devs also shrank their workload by using procedurally generated levels, with the game automatically generating endless combinations of enemies, obstacles, and power-ups.
Their process and discipline paid off, with the team submitting to the App Store right on schedule, turning their attention to promoting the game. They focused on Reddit, as the game’s gore, 8-bit aesthetic, deployability, and price (free!), was all but certain to appeal to that demographic. They were right.
The team continued to release a steady stream of updates as they were able to do so, adding new features, a level-based mode, and monetizing the game via advertising and in-app purchases. A sequel to Dungeon Highway, Dungeon Highway Adventures, adjusted gameplay to be even more level-based and added more role playing features like new weapons and an inventory system in addition to new music and artwork. Dungeon Highway’s release as part of Steam’s Greenlight program also helped expand the game to include PC and console gamers in addition to mobile.