Lady Pandas

One of the more surprising facts about Sad Panda Studios is that its creative staff is comprised of almost entirely women.

While the Studio itself has an even split of men and women overall, the majority of Sad Panda’s artists, writers and creative staff just happen to be female. That may be a surprise to some fans, since the studio’s main products are dating sims.

Sad Panda has two versions of its hit dating game – Crush Crush and Blush Blush. Crush Crush features a cast of all girl characters, while Blush Blush features all men. In both games the characters the player interacts with are open to any gender for their romantic partner. And what’s interesting is that both games are played equally by all genders. The demographics are split 50/50, which may seem surprising for those familiar with the genre of Date Sims, as most are aimed primarily at male audiences of various sexual orientations.

This comportment of the team was not intentional, but fortunately it was sort of somewhat inevitable, as the Studio has always championed games that, while featuring adult content, nonetheless convey positive social messaging in terms of cultural differences, gender, romantic consent, and sexual orientations.  

Since the formation of the Studio, the founding members knew they didn’t want to simply create games with a sexual gimmick or edge. They wanted to create experiences that were fun and light-hearted at first, before progressing into moments of intimacy and strong emotional underpinnings.

That openness to being inclusive and positive, the dedication to quality experiences, and wanting their games to have as much “heart” as they have “heart throbbing” content, meant it was to the studio’s advantage to have as great a variety of artists and creators as possible.

So let’s shine a spotlight on all the lovely ladies who have contributed to Sad Panda games, either past or present.

Name: Artist Panda (Morgan Long)
Panda projects worked on: All of them! I started Sad Panda Studios
Role: Artist / Art Director
Follow her: https://twitter.com/CrushCrushDX and https://twitter.com/SadPandaStudio

Ok starting with meeee, haha. I am Artist Panda and I’m one of the 3 peeps who founded ‘Sad Panda Studios’. My back-story is long and tragic, so I’ll just give you the cliffnotes of the fun stuff:

I worked at Disney (doing Club Penguin art) for 7 years. Then I hopped over to Hyper Hippo and worked on Hello Kitty games. 

In my free time, after work, I was getting all the art ready for Crush Crush. That was Sad Panda’s first game, which we launched on Kongregate. Once the game came out, I quit my job at Hyper Hippo to focus on my own stuff! It was a passion of mine to draw cute anime girls, so it felt really great to see players enjoying our game. Now I get to draw anime girls every day, haha, (I wish I could tell that to the High School art teachers who disapproved of it :P)

 

Name: Trash Panda
Panda projects worked on: Blush Blush / Kitty Catsanova
Role: Artist
Follow her: Nowhere! She’s off-the-radar 😛

I’ve known Trash Panda for over a decade. We used to work together at Club Penguin, and really hit it off. She’s one of my oldest friends, and is the most talented artist I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Somehow, I was able to convince her to come work at Sad Panda with me, but I know she could easily get a job at Pixar or any big studio if she wanted to. Together we set the style for Blush Blush and Kitty Catsanova. Her art continues to inspire me and I’m so happy to have her as a fellow Panda ❤

Name: Mur Moruno
Panda projects worked on: Crush Crush / Hush Hush
Role: Artist
Follow her: https://www.deviantart.com/murmoruno and https://twitter.com/murmoruno

Mur has been a contributing artist since 2016 believe it or not! Her style was really appealing to me, so I started commissioning her for things like the Hush Hush dakimakura designs. When the idea for Phone Flings sprouted, I thought of Mur to be our designated ‘Phone Fling Artist’ and she’s done a really great job with them. She continues to work on Crush Crush and Hush Hush artwork for Sad Panda, and has an endless list of illustrations we want from her ❤ I’m super jealous that she lives in beautiful Vietnam, and I’m sad that it’s so far away. For now we continue commissioning her, but in my heart I consider her an official member of the Panda team.

Name: Azayuki
Panda projects worked on: Crush Crush
Role: Artist
Follow her: https://twitter.com/YukiLumino and https://azayuki-art.tumblr.com/

I scouted Azayuki’s art back in 2018 and had her do an art test to see if she could match the art style I set for Crush Crush. She passed the test with flying colors (lol – artist joke!) and became the biggest helper artist. She’s been really great to work with, is super fast, and takes feedback/critiques really well. She’s just a pure joy to work with and I love seeing the designs she comes up with. We collaborate on every image she makes for Crush Crush so that it stays on-brand with the art style, and has the most appealing designs we can think of. She’s a keeper, and if she didn’t live all the way in Spain I think she would be an official in-studio Panda. You’ll recognize her work in Crush Crush since she did the art for Sirina, Rosa, Shibuki, Charlotte, and so many more!

Name: oadneyung (Dao)
Panda projects worked on: Blush Blush / Hush Hush
Role: Background Artist
Follow her: https://www.artstation.com/oadneyung

Where do I begin with describing Dao… She is SO COOL and I adore everything she makes. Her specialty is doing Ghibli-style background art, but she has many other artistic talents. I have never been very good at drawing backgrounds, so I have a huge amount of respect for her. She also lives in Vietnam, but her English is really good! All of the gorgeous backgrounds used in Blush Blush were made by Dao, as well as Hush Hush. Her art inspires me so much, and I love that she is able to take an idea and develop all the details of the environment to make the setting come to life. I hope to keep working with Dao on many future projects, because she is awesome!

Name: Osiimi (Như Ngọc)
Panda projects worked on: (top secret game in the works)
Role: Artist
Follow her:  https://www.thicanimeartist.com/  and  https://twitter.com/osiimiartist

While I can’t share too many details on what project or type of art Osiimi has been working on, just know that she is really good at what she does. Her designs have a strong character style and lovely color palettes. She’s also really good at drawing confident women characters with a lot of appeal 😉 She’s been so fun to collaborate with, and I love her art style so much I want to keep finding projects she can work on! Like Mur, she also lives in Vietnam. I really want to travel there one day so I can meet all of these incredibly talented artists I work with ❤ You can check out a webcomic that she works on with MerryWeather called ‘Crawling Dreams’.

Name: Carmen
Panda projects worked on: Blush Blush
Role: Artist
Follow her:  www.instagram.com/c3rmen
and twitter.com/c3rmenDraws

Carmen is an artist whose style has a distinct flair, with a particular talent for animal characters. She did a ton of work getting the Blush Blush bois looking their best, especially Scale who is a Dragon, and Dragons are awesome. She’s worked for a wide range of companies big and small, and has more than her fair share of art walking around in the form of elaborate tattoos on happy customers. Check out her Instagram for some of her work!

Name: Waifubot
Panda projects worked on: (top secret game in the works)
Role: Artist
Follow her: https://twitter.com/waifubot_art  and https://www.artstation.com/ggit 

I adore Waifubot’s art style and everything she designs has so much appeal! She has worked on several illustrations for the same secret project that Osiimi is working on. Hopefully we can announce it later this year, but in the meantime just trust me the art is so amazing! And Waifubot played a big part in that =^_^=

Name: Burburart 
Panda projects worked on: Hush Hush
Role: Artist
Follow her: https://burburart.carrd.co

BurBur is an artist with a really cute style, and she’s not shy to draw women in the buff. I discovered her art when Sad Panda ran a Hentai Foundry art contest. She really impressed me with her attention to detail, and the amount of work she put in for her contest entry. Her art was able to flex to the Crush Crush style pretty well, so I reached out to her after the contest and asked if we could commission a few illustrations from her for Hush Hush. So she’s working on the game’s phone pics.

Name: Assistant Panda (Alanna)
Panda projects worked on: Crush Crush / Blush Blush
Role: Assistant

Alanna is one of my good friends and also happens to work at the Sad Panda office! She keeps things running, helps out with all sorts of things, and is great for bringing the team together. I task her with lots of random things every day and she’s a big help. She’ll proofread scripts that OjiPanda writes, track down new fanart people have made, bake Crush-Crush themed cookies, create Jira tickets for helping our team manage their tasks, picks up groceries for the office, and so much more. She has a little dog named Ludo who is a miniature-greyhound, and he comes into the office sometimes. You might see her online here and there, so now you know who she is 😀

Name: Steph Nguyen
Panda projects worked on: Crush Crush / Blush Blush
Role: Contributing Writer
Her other work: https://twitter.com/Stephicnesss

Steph is a contributing writer who started just a few months ago. We contract her for the odd Phone Fling script and some other things. Finding good writers is surprisingly difficult! So we really lucked out finding Steph to help take some of the writing load off OjiPanda’s plate. One of the scripts she did for us recently was for the smokin’ hot firefighter ‘Logan’ in Blush Blush.

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As a final thought to this post – we wanted to touch a little bit on what prompted us to write it in the first place. Because truthfully, highlighting the “diversity” of its staff is something that can easily make a company come across a bit gauche and even cynical.

Over the years, we’ve had a truly amazing privilege to work with all kinds of people from all over the world. We’ve tackled language barriers and cultural mishaps in our quest to find people that share our vision of quality and light-hearted silliness. As you would expect, that has included men and women of various ages, experience and profession. We’ve had voice actresses whose first paid gigs were in our games, and others with a huge resumé of past roles. We’ve had decidedly ‘masculine’ men writing scripts for adorable anime girls, and women you might describe as ‘abashed’ happily create some of the most blush-inducing graphic content we’ve come across. In fact – there are even several additional women precluded from our list precisely because they do not enjoy the spotlight.

Recently, while discussing how best to continue expanding our studio, we just sort of noticed that the majority of our creative team were women. The observation came as a bit of a surprise. As in we didn’t arrange things like this intentionally, and were sort of delightfully intrigued it had worked out this way. Many of us, having worked in the games industry for a while, know all too well the major issues it has with attracting and respectfully treating women. But here we are – a studio best known for making dating sims, which are almost universally geared toward a male audience, with a bunch of women steering the ship. 

In truth, one of the cool reasons things worked out this way is because we’ve been able to judge all of our contributors based on their work and their work alone. Going through applications and submissions, we’ve only ever needed to examine work for passion, style and craft. At this moment in time, it just worked out that our most skilled, stylish and passionate creative contributors are almost entirely women.  

So we wanted to highlight this delightful fact in a way that didn’t sound like we were just taking a diversity victory lap. We’re incredibly proud and honored by all the people we’ve worked with over the years, men and women, but also pretty proud that in an industry that sometimes struggles to invite women into the pool, our studio just so happens to have enough women for a volleyball league. 

And that’s pretty cool. 

How we deploy Crush Crush

This post was written by Programmer Panda!

Have you ever wondered how Crush Crush is built, how it gets uploaded for testing, and how it ultimately ends up on your device?  Then this blog post is for you!  Let’s follow a copy of Crush Crush from the Unity Editor all the way to Android devices all over the World.

Here’s Crush Crush for mobile within the Unity Editor:

Unity is a multi-platform game engine, and is what Sad Panda uses to make its games.  A single project can be deployed to PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, WebGL and many other platforms, with reasonably minimal code changes.  The mobile build is a bit special, because it was made from the ground up to support a portrait orientation instead of a landscape orientation (the landscape orientation is still used on Steam, WebGL and Kongregate).

The first step is to prepare all of the asset bundles associated with this build.  The asset bundles and most of the art assets are stored in a separate project, to reduce the number of art assets in the main project.  This allows us to quickly switch between iOS, Android or WebGL platforms, which all share the same codebase.  Here’s what the asset bundle project for mobile assets looks like:

Yup, it’s pretty boring.  It’s just a bunch of art assets and a few scripts to build asset bundles.  We very rarely open this project at all, since building these asset bundles is automated during the build process, but I wanted to show it for completeness.  Here’s Unity building the asset bundles:

Now it’s time to go back to the Android project.  The Android project has some editor scripts that will copy over the correct asset bundles from the mobile assets project, and place them in something called the ‘StreamingAssets’ folder.  Anything located in ‘SteamingAssets’ is included with the final build.  This means that any assets in ‘StreamingAssets’ will end in the final apk (the Android application) that is delivered to Google Play, and ultimately your phone.  We only include the assets necessary to play the early parts of the game.  Once you unlock some characters (such as Peanut) the game will download those asset bundles from our server instead of relying on the ‘StreamingAssets’.  This allows us to keep the download size of the apk a bit smaller.  Right now, the apk is around 50MiB, and we have plans to reduce this further to under 40MiB.  Not bad!

Any assets not included with the ‘StreamingAssets’ folder are uploaded to our website, and are cached by our CDN (CloudFlare) so that they can be served quickly to anyone playing the game that needs them.

Once this is done, we can actually build the apks for the Android version of the game.  Again, this is all automated on our build server, but I’ll show some pictures of how this looks running in my local copy of the Unity Editor.  From the ‘Build Settings’ menu we make sure that Android is selected as the build target, and that the correct scenes are included.  We have both landscape and portrait versions of the game, so the correct scene is very important!

Then we hit ‘Build’, and the waiting game begins.  We build multiple versions of Crush Crush when targeting Android.  One version targets 32 bit devices, and another version targets 64 bit devices.  Unity allows you to either make a single universal apk (which has the code for both 32 and 64 bit devices), or you can export each device type separately.  We choose to export them separately to keep file size lower, since including both copies of the code inflates the apk size by about 8MiB or so!  This can make a big difference when you’re downloading the game over cellular data.  We don’t want anyone to get a data overage charge because they wanted to play Crush Crush!

The build process takes about 5 minutes on my personal computer, and a little bit longer on the build server.  Once the build is complete, we have a folder with two apk files, which are ready for upload to Google.

The Google Play dashboard has several options for managing the release of a new version of the game.  There is an internal test track, a closed alpha track, an open beta track (where people can opt in to play a beta version of the game), and finally a production track (which is the version of the game that is live to everyone on Google Play).  We start with the alpha track, which has a list of test users (mostly studio employees).  Here we can upload the new apks we just created, and deploy them to our test users:

Normally, we’ll test this for several days.  We want to make sure that the transition to a new build is as seamless as possible for our players.  We have a full battery of tests we run against all of our builds before they go live, and Support Panda is in charge of signing off on those QA tests.  Once we are happy with the build, we can set it live on the production track as well.  Google does allow us to select a rollout percentage, so we could set the build live over the course of a few days, but so far we’ve opted for 100% rollout.  It hasn’t caused a problem so far!  (knocks on wood)

Then there’s nothing to do but watch the stats roll in (and sometimes to wait for Google to process the update, which can take up to 8 hours).  We use Fabric (recently acquired by Google, of course) for crash diagnostics.  Fabric allows us to see the deployment percentage of different versions of the app.  We’re pretty impressed with how quick most people update their devices!

If we did everything properly, and tested everything well, then the update process should be stress free, with minimal issues for our players (and for us).  The whole process takes about a week, and is similar(ish) for our other platforms.  We have, in the past, been able to hot fix a bug on Steam in less than half an hour, but we don’t want to make a habit of it!  Hopefully you enjoyed this look behind the scenes at Sad Panda Studios.  Thanks for playing our games!

The Crush Crush Nightmare Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, and two pandas were settling in for a nice pot pie.
“What a good year we’ve had!” exclaimed Artist Panda as she let out a sigh.
Indeed, it had been a busy year and this was their chance to finally take a break.
Launching new content and many events, looking back, all of that was no piece of cake.
“Well at least the Android launch went smoothly!” Programmer Panda said.
In that moment he checked his phone and felt a sense of dread.
He jumped on the table and let out a loud cry:
“Google took down our app! Why… WHY!??”
“No! It can’t be!” shouted Artist Panda in a mad dash.
She grabbed the phone so fast it gave her whiplash.
“For having tight-fitted clothes?” she whispered and then froze.
“But there’s nothing in the app we overexpose?”
Yet Google had spoken. The app was taken down.
“They must hate waifus” Artist Panda said with a frown 😦

Soooooo – hey! This post is written by Artist Panda. And it’s the tale of how Google took down our game, Crush Crush, on Christmas Eve. Yes, it really did happen just as we were sitting down to enjoy a nice meal with friends and family. I’ll rewind the story a bit first, so you have all the facts.

Imagine a happy Christmas scene like this… before disaster strikes!!

Crush Crush’s mobile version had been in development for a few years, and was a side-project Programmer Panda and I hacked on in our free time. It was a big undertaking for us because many things had to be built from the ground up. Mostly because I wanted the mobile version to be portrait-mode. The version on Steam, Nutaku, and Kongregate all shared the same code base and most of the UI was hooked up the same way – for landscape mode. There were lots of other things that took a lot of work; I re-exported every single piece of UI and artwork to work on the mobile sizes, and have things like full-body characters and taller pinups. So the mobile version was full of our blood, sweat, and tears and it finally soft-launched October 1st in Canada and New Zealand, and then the rest of the world October 29th. Since then, it has slowly but steadily been growing in installs and has held a high rating (above 4 stars) which is really exciting to us pandas! We didn’t know what to expect, but the response from fans and new people discovering the app was really awesome. It has inspired us to work harder on it and get more of the PC features ported over to the mobile app. We’re also working towards getting it on iOS, so there’s still lots to do but the future was looking bright.

We’re so proud :”)

Now… with those art changes that I mentioned earlier, a few other things had to be fixed up in order to abide by Google’s ‘Play Store’ guidelines. In other words, we had to censor a bit of the art and writing to make sure it was squeaky clean for mobile. This pained me to do so, but I respect that it’s their platform and they might not be as chill as Steam is with anime cleavage. I’m a bit desensitized to it all because I watch so much anime, and cleavage + adult humor just seems to be the norm in every show. Even so, I did my best to scrub through all the art and make it suitable for all audiences. It took a great effort and amount of time to do this, so you can imagine my surprise when we checked the email from Google and saw a screenshot of Quill circled for having “too tight-fitting clothes” : ( Here is the email we got and the image they attached:

An itty bitty cleavage line can be seen :”(

My heart sank so far down after reading that, I was mortified. Everyone at the dinner table was sorry about the news, but I couldn’t really hear what they were saying to me. I was miles away thinking about all the work we put into the app, all the amazing people who downloaded it and gave it a good rating, and all the disappointment they were going to get when they found out the app was taken off the Play Store. Oh – just to clarify, when an app gets taken down, if you already have it installed then it stays in your phone. It just means you can’t update it and if you delete it then it won’t be in the store anymore for you to recover.

So I was bummed. Not only was it a kick in the pants to have our app taken down, but there was no warning or anything to have given us a chance to fix it, and it was Christmas Eve 😛 I messaged OjiPanda and he was flabbergasted. We all were.

After sipping back a wine glass or four, I took to Twitter. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea, but I wanted to put the news out there in case the app being removed caused some weird glitches in people’s games. I don’t know how it works… Anyway, people were really fast to send words of support and some even shared photos of the app still showing up in the Play store. It was very heart-warming to see so many messages from fans on Twitter ❤ I would have had a pretty depressing night if it weren’t for their kind words.

Everyone is so nice :”)

Programmer Panda was quick to take down the screenshots from the Play Store page that had girls in ‘tight fitting clothing’ and resubmit it for another review. And within a few hours, we were all surprised yet again when the game was suddenly restored without notification.

All in all, the game was down for a total of around 4 hours. And we’re not 100% sure what went on behind the scenes at the Play Store – the game had gone through multiple rounds of reviews and approvals by this point, so we can only guess as to why at this particular time Quill’s wardrobe was problematic. Perhaps there was a poor soul working Christmas Eve that just needed to express themselves via banhammer. Or maybe their ancestors had been attacked by cat girl waifus. Again, we can only speculate. Either way, it was a bummer after having worked so hard to conform to Google’s guidelines, and we sincerely hope it doesn’t happen again.

Anyway I guess the lesson I learned is that my standard for ‘squeaky clean’ might not be the same as what mobile platforms are expecting, so there might be some art updates in the future. I really hope we don’t get negative reviews for that, because some players don’t understand that it’s out of our control… I want to see the app stick around and grow, adding more cool features and things people are looking forward to. If a few skirts need to be lengthened, then I guess that’s what I’ll have to do.

If you want to help support the app, consider downloading it and giving it a 5 star rating 🙂 It means a lot to us that so many people have downloaded it! We have tons of cool things in the works, and as long as the app doesn’t get taken down (again, lol) we will do our best to keep making it awesome. Thanks so much ❤

~Artist Panda

How we build Crush Crush

This post was written by Programmer Panda!

We thought it would be cool to give an overview of the technology that Sad Panda employs to create its games, and the process we follow to get new content to our players every two weeks in Crush Crush.

Jira and Google Sheets

It all starts out with organization. Sad Panda uses Jira for task tracking, and pairs Jira with the Google Suite of tools (such as docs and sheets) to collaborate on game ideas, balance, content and events. Once a game idea is solidified, the content for it is added into something we call a ‘Universe’ sheet for that game. It can take anywhere from 2 – 5 months from the initial character or feature idea to make it into the game. Each Sad Panda game has its own Universe doc, and that sheet contains all of the data associated with the balance and dialogue of the game. For example, here’s a screenshot of some of the type of data you find in the Crush Crush Universe sheet:

Meanwhile, Artist Panda is busy working with her artists generating all the art assets necessary for the game. Each new Crush Crush character has more than 80 unique art assets on average. This includes in-game content such as their poses or outfits, but also includes custom backgrounds and banners for our different platforms. Most of the art is completed in the Adobe suite, such as Photoshop and Animate (Flash). Artist Panda also works with voice actresses to bring the written dialogue to life, and edits the audio in Audacity to make it game-ready.

One of Artist Panda’s folders for just 1 character’s art assets

Once all this content is ready, it is up to Programmer Panda to get it all into the game. The game is built in the Unity Engine, and all of the audio, texture and text assets needs to be brought into Unity correctly. All of the assets are individually assigned to asset bundles that group common assets together. For example, the bikini outfit images for Cassie are in an asset bundle called cassie/cassie_bikini. These asset bundles are loaded on demand by the game only when necessary, and are unloaded when they are not needed any more. The in-game Universe data is automatically synced with the Google sheet by using Google API calls from within Unity itself.

A scene from the mobile project in Unity

Once all the content is in Unity and new code is written, we can start the QA process. QA Panda will get early copies of the build via a Steam alpha branch. Assets are re-scaled slightly and retargeted for the web platforms. Early Nutaku copies are also available behind the scenes, and QA/Programmer Panda work back and forth to ensure everything is working as expected. OjiPanda is often enlisted to play the game to verify whether any balance tweaks are necessary. Then the build is made available to our beta testers, usually a few days in advance of the actual release. This can catch some last minute bugs, and we’re very thankful that we have a great group of people playing our game in the Steam beta channel.

If you want to learn more about how you can help playtest the beta on Steam, please check out our forum post here.

Plush Plush

Exciting news! We now have plushies of Mio and Quill from Crush Crush! You can buy them here: store.sadpandastudios.com

(Please don’t hug your screen.)

To celebrate this awesome and cuddly news, I’ve decided to chat about the process of how these plushies came to be. I’m going to talk about taking an idea to concept to prototype to final shiny products!

Starting with the idea. It’s always been a dream of mine to have the things I draw get turned into physical/tangible items. Fortunately this dream was already fulfilled a few times when I worked at Club Penguin, and many of my designs/characters were made into toys and plushies. Then when I launched the Kickstarter for Hush Hush, we got the Mio figures made. Plushies are on a different level though because you can HUG them unlike the super fragile Mio figure XD

Quill Plush Design

After having worked with Symbiote to make the Mio figures, I reached out again to see if they would help manufacture some plushies. They’re a big company in China. First I tried reaching out to a bunch of companies in Canada and the US but I didn’t have much luck. Pretty much everyone outsources to China, and if not, then they expect you to order a minimum of some crazy high number (like 10,000 plushies umm where are they gonna be stored?). Hence, Symbiote was the place I went with. I’ve seen the quality of their plushies online – they make a bunch of Rick and Morty plushies, and indie game studios’ IP like Cat Quest.

After reaching out to Symbiote, I got the initial quotes back:

Around $11 per plush, and the minimum order they would do is 500 plushies of each design …YIKES. So that meant a lot of up-front cash hoping it would pay off eventually. There were lots of unknown price factors too, like customs fees for shipping all those from China, shipping each plush to the buyers when we inevitably started selling them to customers, and taxes on any money we made from selling them. Now that this is all in the past, I have the actual numbers and I can share those (rounding the numbers) :

500 Mio plush + 500 Quill plush = 1000 units

x $11 per unit (so $11,000) + $1,000 prototype fees + $5,000 shipping and customs fees to get them here… and that’s just to make them. It’s a whole other bag of big numbers for shipping the plushies to customers, giving Shopify its share (for hosting our store page), costs of mailing each plush to its customer, and then the government taking its tax share from any profits we earn. Some people might think we’re charging a bit much on our Shopify store for these plushies, but we almost break even on the costs at the end of the day.

OK so back to the fun part – designing the plush and watching the prototype go from start to finish!

Mio reference sheet

The above image is what I sent to Symbiote for them to base the prototype on. I drew a turn-around to show the plush at different important angles, and included as many references to similar plush/materials that I could think of. Things like the bell I knew I wanted to be a real metallic bell, like one you would find on a cat collar. Her pigtails look flat in 2D so I thought it would be helpful to share a 3D example of plush pigtails that are ‘filled out’ and not flat. Always good to make things crystal clear when working with an outsourced party, especially one who speaks a different language.

Quill reference sheet

This is how Quill’s looked. I included lots of little details that I wanted, even though she was simplified greatly from her Crush Crush design. I just had no idea what the plush manufacturer could do, so I asked for everything I wanted at the start, because you can always make changes and scale back the details if you need to. Some of the details I wanted also impacted the price by a couple dollars, so I sacrificed where I needed to but held onto things I felt were ‘core’ to her design, like the cat bell on her choker.

Mio progress

The plush on the far left is what they sent me photos of, as the first prototype. They never shipped me the prototype, which is too bad because it would have been cool to have. I gave initial feedback via email for things like “hey, her hair doesn’t match my design” and “where’s the bell on her neck?” and “her eyes are too dark”… So they spent a week or two working on those fixes. Then they came back with the second prototype, which is the middle one in the photo. The bell was there now, but her hair still didn’t quite match. I think they were just trying to save costs, so they avoided doing the two-tone hair like my design had. I drew overtop their photo and proposed a hair change that you can see on the far right in that image. This was my solution for getting it close to my mockup.

Quill progress

For Quill, their initial prototype was much closer than Mio’s so she didn’t need as many revisions. The only thing really off was her eye color and the missing bell. The really crazy thing that still bugs me to this day though – is that I kept asking for a photo of her bottom, to see how she looked underneath – and they never gave me one. I looked at the top right photo and thought “hmm that could be a white bum, like she has underwear on, but I better ask to be sure” and they never answered that ^^; so I just gave up and assumed “oh yeah, it must have some”. WRONG. I was so wrong, and when they arrived and I saw no underwear on all the Quills I just had a moment of “huh….look at that. Well, it fits in with her character I guess.” haha. So the morale of this lesson is never to assume anything; make sure people confirm things for you. Check their work. Look under their skirts, lol.

my Quill hang tag design

A fun bonus that came with these plushies is the ‘hang tag’ attached to them (easy to snip off) which just shows the branding, and character. As a kid, I would always snip these off my pokemon plushies and keep them. I just loved looking at the art, and hang tags are usually a shiny cardboard material, so they’re neat to look at. I made one for Quill and one for Mio, both double-sided so the Crush Crush logo and our studio name would be present.

their photo

Symbiote sent me this photo as a proof-check for the hang-tags. Not the greatest photo for checking colors, but meh… it looked good enough. The little hole at the center/top is where the plastic ring goes through and helps it attach to the plush.

sewn tag

Now this little black label is actually the sewn-tag you can find attached to the plush butts. Most plushies have these, and can be cut off with scissors if you really don’t want them there. It’s super important to have them though! I learned about these while going through this process, and made this one for our plushies. Many countries require sellers to state the country of origin and materials their products are made of. If you don’t have those things on your product, you risk getting it turned around at the border. So this little butt-tag is pretty special.

yes that’s a stego-cat pusheen hoodie

Many months later, and many emails back and forth with the customs/broker company in Canada, I finally got my palettes of plushies! Oh joy! Where to put them…. lol. Well, it was just exciting they showed up. Bonus, because they’re plushies the chances of them arriving damaged was slim to none 😀 I was pretty stoked.

Mio army – rise up!

Symbiote sent some photos of the plushies right before they shipped. The photo above shows Mio in one of her last stages (before getting her hoodie added on).

What was the timeline like from start to finish? I’ll break it down with bullet points:

  • early January – kicked off the conversation with the manufacturer and sent them my designs
  • late February – the first prototype photos came in
  • mid March – revisions to the prototypes were made
  • late May – final approvals / plushies were shipped from China
  • late June – plushies arrived

So the whole process took around 6 months from start to finish!

there they are!

Would I do it again? Heck yeah! As much work as it was making the designs, checking and approving all the steps, and everything else I still think it was really fun. We haven’t sold many yet, so it’s hard to say if we’ll get a profit or a loss on this one. Only time can reveal that… so that means I can’t start on any new plushies until these ones prove themselves. However it would make me ridiculously happy if I could see more Crush Crush characters get turned into plush, as well as our Blush Blush boys.