Today is 28 August, which marks exactly one month since SparkLine’s official launch. It is a huge, huge milestone that we managed to achieve! Props to the entire team for getting things over the line. While the launch wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t a disaster per se. However, there was a storm that we did have to weather as soon as possible. As I finally have some free time, let’s make a little SparkLine’s Postmortem where we talk about:
First of all, apologies for the lack of accompanying images. I don’t want to spend too much time making this blog post.
A colleague reminded me that launch periods are perhaps the busiest times for a game developer these days and yes, that was true in our case as well. SparkLine’s initial launch had issues that needs rectifying (some of them critical even) and by v1.1.0 it seems things have stabilized, albeit with some visual bugs remaining.
The lead-up to launch was really tiring with crunches, and what happened after that even more so. There was almost no time to rest as we have work to do as soon as possible. In 3 weeks after SparkLine’s launch, we released v1.0.1, v1.0.2, v1.1.0 which adds important features and fixed major issues with the game, such as:
A lot of things, isn’t it? On top of this, v1.1.0 added 5 new songs too. Honestly, I felt it was a miracle that we got all of these done in 3 weeks.
There are more issues fixed but some are under-the-hood or less important and now there doesn’t seem to be any super-critical bug at the moment that we have to fix immediately (if there is one, please tell me), so I am able to relax a bit right now. Why did the launch ended up like this? I’ll elaborate on it in the section below.
If I were to point fingers on the causes, it will be on the content side. We almost bit off more than what we can chew at the moment.
We launched SparkLine with 32 songs. Is this too many? I could actually argue in favor of this. The most important thing for any game – not just rhythm games, is to prove it’s a good game first and foremost. In essence, you sell the game’s concept first before you sell the songs.
As an added tidbit, work on the charts went right up to the last day. The game was already approved for release in both iOS and Android, but there were charts that we still had to fix at that time. I accepted that for now I have to do most of the charts for various reasons. So, for that alone, having less songs to start with is better.
Thankfully, a friend is willing to help for future charts so that should take a lot of work off my shoulders. I already knew him for a long time so perhaps I should have asked him much earlier.
Without a doubt, SparkLine’s story make up a significant portion of the game. It takes time, it takes money to make and if we forego the story, we should be able to launch the game at least 3 months earlier. Additionally, it causes a burden in the workload required for content updates as we add not only songs, but stories as well.
Would it be better to skip the story at least for this game? Perhaps. It may be the smarter decision, but not the decision I want to make. And besides, there’s always a first time for everything. There are things I want to tell, messages I want to convey through this game. I’m also willing to bet that if we are successful, the story will be a major part of that.
If we were to make another rhythm game, I think I would have been happy enough starting with about 20 songs. I do think the quality is there already, but we can start with lower quantity next time. The same probably goes for the story. Having a little too much content took time away from other things, which ended up with our game’s launch as it was.
With the charts not truly complete right up to the last day, this is also not a good practice. Ideally, we have content saved up… up to at least 2-3 months in advance. The songs and their artworks are already complete for up to about next February. The cutscenes and especially the charts… not so much.
As technical work is closer to completion and with someone to help out, we should be able to create a “buffer zone” for the charts. Storing up content in case of unideal scenarios (team members falling sick etc).
One big thing that’s not there yet… is definitely marketing! We are very focused on content and the technical side but unfortunately, this ends up being neglected. Our game hasn’t reached many people yet and that’s fair. To rectify this issue, we have made a Bilibili account and will dabble in TikTok as well, in addition to turning on ads in the future.
We will also reach out to content creators to help out, and perhaps retweet (sorry, repost) events on X. As I have mentioned before, with me having some free time and the game stabilizing, it’s time to crank up the marketing to 11.
As for what’s not there yet in the game itself, head towards the “Things to Add in SparkLine’s Future” section to see what’s coming up.
I have said this before but I will repeat this again. While I did have prior gamedev experience for 4 years, this is the time I lead a project. I used to be a cog in the machine, but now I have to understand A to Z to bring this game to you.
What I had before was programming and charting experience, and what I didn’t have back then… everything else! So much we learned in a short amount of time. Handling the stores, legalities, dealing with various people (some unfortunately… not pleasant), budgeting, project scoping, management, all the little things you don’t know you need… Valuable lessons indeed. This even includes not using P*yP*l to save up about 10% of your international transaction fees!
On the technical side I even had to learn server-side scripting and Unity Shaders which I couldn’t do back then. Perhaps I was pushed to the brink enough that it felt like sink or swim to me. Sometimes, you have to go through the hardest times to fully unlock your own potential.
I feel I come out a better person with better skills from developing SparkLine. And I’m sure that’s the case for the rest of the team as well.
Going forward, we have new songs… new characters… new stories… new artworks, but that’s obvious enough already.
Okay, seriously, we have plans to further enhance your experience in SparkLine:
This is an often-requested feature and we do see how this becomes an issue especially in Android where the sync usually starts pretty off.
Usually, there is an “Offset Wizard” where you have to tap 4 times but there are 2 reasons why I don’t like it.
With these in mind, and by my own personal preferences, let’s try an auto-adjuster.
Ultimately, we probably cannot find the exact right offset for you but we’ll bring you as close as we can to the goal. Also, I feel this method helps to bring you into the gameplay sooner while giving you the right offset at the same time so theoretically, it sounds good to kill two birds with one stone.
After I decided what songs will be locked behind the story and at times, stars, I realized there were only 5 songs available from the start.
I want your options to be as unrestricted as possible for a “starter pack” but there is a limit to the amount of songs we can give out at the start (more on that below). Ideally, we have at least 10 starter songs with 4 LV12s and 3 LV13s available from the beginning. All of them original songs, too, if possible.
Kingdom of Balloons which was added in v1.1.0 is a starter song, so we went 1/4 on the LV12s. Our next song update (v1.2.0) brings a starter LV13 and is an original song as well. The chart is a bit harder than Oriental Groove, which most of you seem to love, in both song and chart (many thanks!).
This is something that will take time to fully realize, but we should be able to do it within a year.
A very important, but arguably our most difficult task is this. People will see a large download size and baulk at the demands. Although we reduced the download sizes in v1.1.0 despite adding new songs, we can still do better.
Many gacha games will give you the tutorial within a 150MB APK, and after that you will download the rest of the game which can be at least 3GB or higher these days. The important thing here is that if you don’t think the game is for you, you don’t have to commit to download the whole game.
This results in more downloads (due to less commitment required to try the game) which should eventually snowball into good things for us. Also, this is why we have to limit the number of starter songs as mentioned above. If there are 10 starter songs + 4 from Reunion Map Set, I do have concerns that we may end up above 150 MB but let’s see.
Due to the scope of this feature, we can start working on this once every other technical requirement in SparkLine is complete. Will it be complete by this year? I certainly hope so. The way we arrange our files are in preparation for this. So let’s hope those preparations end up being on point.
Our second Mini Album is already prepared and we are just waiting for the right time to post it! As you can see above it contains the remaining 6 original songs in SparkLine’s v1.0.0. If you include the first mini album, we have 10 original songs in v1.0.0!
We originally wanted to publish it within 2 weeks of SparkLine’s launch. With all the issues we faced back then, it was better that we postpone its release and focus on fixing the game up first. As that is (mostly?) done by now, and us utilizing new media in Bilibili and Tiktok, I think we can give this to you next month!
These are really great songs, and I am blessed to be working with them.
That’s SparkLine’s Postmortem wrapped up! I hope it provides valuable insights for you. With all said and done, I feel excited for what the future holds. Our short and medium term focus are definitely on SparkLine.
However, I have always maintained that we should not be solely making rhythm games. As the technical requirements in SparkLine grow more and more complete, we’ll have time to make other games too! It is very tempting to start making other games to apply everything we learnt from making SparkLine, but we can still learn even more as time passes.
In addition, I would like to reward the beta testers for being there with us since the beginning so I would like to give them… something that truly showcases what we can really do. It will be distributed in October, which I believe is potentially a pivotal month for us!
Also, I may make a blog post on the costs of making rhythm games. While I cannot give prices for every songs and illustrations at risk of breaking NDA (not even estimates) – I can, however, tell you what you need. Starting from the Mac and iPad (albeit one-time purchases) for iOS builds, Unity Plus license, plugins, etc…
That is as much as I can say for now so stay tuned!
To close off this post, here’s a new character we will prepare for September’s v1.2.0 update. She speaks with an accent (like Hapi does) and I really enjoyed writing her dialogues. I believe she is a really fascinating and entertaining character and I hope you feel the same!