A look at how Marmalade's development arm made a suite of games for Hasbro
When branded play company Hasbro needed a developer to help it turn a clutch of its iconic brands into a collection of mini-games for a new app, it made sense to go to a studio with intimate knowledge of mobile technology.
Which is how it came about that Marmalade Game Studio – the development team wing of the eponymous SDK outfit – stepped forward to take on building Hasbro Arcade; an app-based gaming platform containing numerous titles based on the likes of Operation, Transformers and Monopoly Junior.
“With this title being a compendium of mini-games, and with the intent to extend the offering over the coming months, Hasbro needed a developer they knew could deliver on a sizeable and ongoing project,” explains Michael Burnham, studio head at Marmalade Game Studio. “Our work over the years on high-profile titles for the likes of Activision and Square Enix stood us in great stead for this.”
Indeed, Marmalade Game Studio’s earlier work on Hasbro’s Game of Life and Trivial Pursuit mobile titles made the team a natural fit, but something more was needed for the new project. Hasbro was keen to work with a team that was capable of more than mere digital clones of their physical products, and able instead to rework and extend its brands through mobile content.
“This was an exciting creative prospect – being able to forge new and interesting experiences within an existing world, yet remaining free to propose almost any genre of game experience,” states Mike Barwise, Marmalade’s creative director. “For example, with Operation Rush, we wanted to create a mini-game that would replicate the feelings that a player experiences when playing the board game, such as trying to keep calm under pressure, or performing steady yet dexterous hand inputs.”
Burnham adds: “Thankfully, we are working with a company who understands a developer’s need to have Transformers on their desk and a Nerf blaster at their side.”
But his point is a sound one. Marmalade found that Hasbro was remarkably generous with the access to source material it provided, giving the development team a chance to play with IP that it would be easy to assume is ring-fenced by creativity-stifling brand security.
“We’ve been fortunate to be provided with many digital asset deliveries from the Hasbro brand teams including access to CAD models of the toy moulds, giving a solid base for our artists to work from, aiding production in both speed and overall quality,” reveals Barwise.
A DELICATE OPERATION
The real challenge, of course, came in working simultaneously on the many different
mini-games that make up the recently released Hasbro Arcade, which, again, is where working with your own company’s mobile middleware is useful.
“On the engineering side, when needing to write platform dependant code, we found the SDK offers a great system for adding extensions that nicely keeps the platform code behind a common interface,” explains Barwise. “The flexible approach of the SDK also allowed the engineers to write their own custom shaders to optimise performance.”
Away from the code, having access to the simulator via PC allowed the team to quickly test a variety of aspect ratios and orientations. Similarly, being able to build and deploy to iOS from PC provided a significant time-saver when tackling multiple games as part of a single map.
“[It helped that] while the mini-game production was staggered, there was always a core team working on the central features such as the game selection spinner and underpinning engine tech,” adds Burnham.
The partnership has delivered Hasbro a popular way to share its brands. Meanwhile, Marmalade’s in-house studio continues its work on new mini-apps for the title.
Barwise concludes: “People can have some trepidation about working with existing brands, feeling that it may compromise their creative freedom, but if you take the time to study them and why they are popular, you can find areas within the project to excite and interest you. Then, over time, this initial ‘breach’ spreads, and before you know it, you have a fully engaged team working with belief in the product.”