As I type this, it is September 23rd. This marks the third day of waiting for our app to be approved in the App Store. To anyone who has ever submitted an app, you know the feeling of dread, apprehension, anxiety, nervousness, anger, depression, and, oddly, relief, at finally being done with a project that has taken over the past 8 months of your life while someone you’ve never met judges, weighs, and determines the outcome of it with no communication with you.
So, instead of staring at my computer screen continually pressing the “refresh” button waiting for an email from Apple, I decided to start writing this instead.
If you’ve ever asked what goes into making an app, let me answer: everything. Every part of you, your time, and your energy goes into something like this, and it can eat up everything. On the day we submitted, I sent out the following email to the team which pretty much sums it up:
Thank you to three major surgeries, a wedding, a break-up, a new dog, four trips to Utah, endless amounts of Starbucks, Mexican Coca-Cola, buckets of candy, pizza, burgers, sushi, Chinese, animated GIF’s, a bachelor party, pow days, a computer that crashed so hard we almost lost everything, hour long scrum calls everyday, and sound design that made us weep.
To tall glasses of whiskey, to a boy in a cat suit and his girl kitty, and to all the people that gave up everything to make this game happen. We can’t thank you enough.
Life doesn’t exactly stop while you work on a project like this, and suffice it to say, this project was not easy.
And so, this is the story of the past 8 months, of two companies and dozens of people coming together to produce a game. This is the story of The Adventures of Timmy: Run, Kitty, Run.
It all started back in August of 2010 when I was taking a week long break in Peek-a-boo, Indiana at my wife’s family’s lake house. I wanted to take a nice break before I officially started my first day at Crossborders. I also needed an idea: I had been brought on to start up the company’s new division, CB Labs, and produce a new game for the iPhone. Never mind that I’d never made a game before.
I’ve always been a gamer. I think I was 5 once it all started when, like so many other stories, I got my first Nintendo. I fell in love with the original Mario and decided, with the conviction that only a five year has, that one day I WOULD make a video game.
Alone for most of the week enjoying nature and isolation I started pondering. What kind of story would I want to write? What kind of tale would I like to tell? What kind of game would I like to play?
Unlike Thoreau, however, nothing came to me. Two days later, and with nothing to show for it, I noticed the neighbors across the way had just pulled up to their house with a whole bunch of kids and dogs. So much for my peaceful day, I thought.
But then the dumbest thing happened: this brown lab ran down the grassy hill to the water like a bolt of lighting and then, zoom, darted after an innocent cat prowling the area. All I could think was “run kitty, run!,” rooting for this lonely cat to get a way. I grabbed my sketchbook and drew a cat clinging onto a tree high enough that this lab couldn’t reach it.
There it was. My first idea. What if I called the game Run Kitty Run? It would be like Doodle Jump on the iPhone, (well with a cat obviously) but I’d add in all the things I thought should have been in the game but weren’t. I actually love that game, but it’s so frustrating. So I drew a bunch of things I had in my head down on my tiny sketch pad and started mocking up all the rules and ideas for the game. It wasn’t very good, but I kept working and thinking.
Hours later I was still working, this time in one of the only coffee shops in southern Indiana, sipping my third coffee when it hit me. What if the cat wasn’t a cat but a person? And what if this person wasn’t even the main character, but rather the idea behind the plot? Two hours later and two more cups of coffee gone I had my first real concept. It was a young boy named Timmy around eight years old, and a young girl named Kitty around seven years old. The whole story practically wrote itself at that moment.
When “Timothy The Cat” (think Winnie the Pooh’s “Tigger’s” little stepbrother) has expired 8 of his 9 lives heroically scouring all limbs of life searching for his long lost love “Ms. Prissy the Princess Piglet” he is left with no choice but to reach for the stars as he risks 1 more chance to be with her majesty.
Follow “Timothy” as he journeys through the darkest of dark wildernesses battling vermin and winged endothermic animals into 3 galactic worlds, 1 tree at a time.
Well, it was a start. I had the idea, but I truly didn’t have a finished concept. I had two characters. It was a start.
After my week of relaxation, I came back home more inspired than ever. I spent the next 3-4 weeks just doing research. I knew I had something fresh to share, but the idea wasn’t ready. It had been awhile since I had seen what was new in gaming, and so began the “market research.”
The next couple of weeks were spent downloading and playing hundreds of iPhone & iPad games, and even some XBOX LIVE games. I just couldn’t get into anything.
Finally, I stumbled upon two games. The first was Braid. This was an excellent game: the artwork was gorgeous and the game play was so brilliantly crafted.
Then I found Limbo. It was 10pm on a Tuesday night when I downloaded this game. I remember it vividly. So tired from work, but this black and white video game just looked so interesting. This might sound completely ridiculous to some, but I turned off all the lights and turned the volume up to 60. I’m not ashamed to say it – by 4am I was still playing and completely invested. I was blown away and totally inspired.
So the next day I came into the office, where my excitement (and, let’s be honest, lack of sleep) would not allow me to shut up about this game. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I knew if I was going to create something, this game would be the benchmark. An hour later I was at the art store buying a Lightbox, pencils, markers, and even hit the bookstore to pick up an old animation book called Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair. For me, the process had started.
In mid-september I scheduled a meeting with Brian Edelman, CEO & Founder of Crossborders, and Nick Godfrey, COO, and pitched them the idea. The funny thing about this whole conversation is that the game I’ve created today is nothing like the game I had so eagerly sold them. I guess things have to start somewhere.
A boy named Timmy is searching to rescue his girl friend Kitty from a bully that kidnapped her while they were playing on the playground. Think of this game as a story-driven Doodle Jump meets Bird Strike meets Dark Nebula meets Mario. No controls. Just use the accelerometer on the phone to jump as high as you can go up a tree.
Somehow, I convinced them. And that’s how this all began.
COMING UP NEXT: TWO SURGERIES AND A WEDDING