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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Hi! Artist Panda here, and I’m really happy to kick off this Blog by starting with a post that shows off our spiffy office.
This is a story about how Programmer Panda and I renovated his basement to make a sweet office for Sad Panda HQ. We did this for a few reasons; First, because OjiPanda deserved better than a fold-out table (half of which was being taken up by our printer)… Before OjiPanda even had the fold-out table he would jam on game stuff just sitting on the floor :O and our second reason was that we wanted the opportunity to expand and hire more pandas!
This is the basement! It’s the coldest part of the house which is great for summer days but not so great for freezing Canadian winter days. This space was previously being used to store random stuff like bikes and boxes so we thought it would make the perfect space for our ‘panda office’ and would be a wicked upgrade from ‘floor and fold-out tables upstairs’ 😀 So Programmer Panda and Artist Panda (that’s me!) got to work renovating the space to make it look awesome!!
We started tearing out the old wood panelling by the fireplace since it was mega retro and kinda hard to work around. The exposed ceiling alerted us to some nasty DIY wiring jobs the previous homeowners had done. So it was actually a good thing we were overhauling this area because we found tons of “almost-burnt-the-house-down” jobs here.
It turned out this old basement (and house which was built in the 70s) had some asbestos in the drywall mud – yippee! So we had to take extra precaution with these renovations. That’s Programmer Panda sporting a super anti-asbestos suit.
We tore it down to the old framing and insulation and ultimately decided we would need to replace that. We wanted it to be level and do a good job keeping the warm air inside, so it was worth doing these extra steps. Fun fact – those big white things leaning against the walls are SOLAR PANELS because Programmer Panda is a COOL and knows how to set things like that up. He’s so responsible. And green. And great. So our studio runs off solar energy in the summer months 😀
This is what the new framing looked like after we did our job 🙂 All the wood probably cost around $60. We hired electricians to install pot-lights and ethernet in the walls and that cost around $2500. That was probably the second most expensive thing.
I wrote on the floor before it was covered up. It says “SAD PANDA (STUD)IOS” because I thought I was clever, and there was a stud lined up with that location on the wall >.>
Brand new insulation we stuffed in there! Looking good. All the insulation we got was around $150 since we got the really high grade stuff meant for keeping in as much heat as possible. But the sucky thing was when we had to acoustic sealant goop the vapour barrier on..man that stuff is nasty.
Here I am taking a break with Quill! The floor is really chilly >_<
Mio keeping an ever watchful eye on all the goings-on downstairs.
Programmer Panda paid one of his neighbours to help with the drywalling since it was going to take a lot of time. We could have done it, but there were game features we wanted to work on instead 😛 I think the total cost $800 including the labour.
This is the stage where the drywall got mudded so it could be painted over a smooth surface. After the mud dried and got sanded/smoothed out I could paint it 😀 😀
Here’s a different angle taken from the window/fireplace vantage point.
Then the painting commenced!! I was really excited to have the room feel bright and colourful so I chose a teal/tiffany blue colour. It worried me at first because it resembled a hospital gown colour before it dried >.<
I probably went through a full can and a half painting several coats in this room and the hallway leading upstairs. Total cost for those two cans, new brushes and paint trays was around $100.
The old fireplace that was in there worked fine but was so old that it was no longer up to code… so I pitched in to get us a new fireplace so we could avoid being popsicle pandas in the winter time >_<
That brings us to the number one most expensive part of this whole show – the fireplace and mantle. Being a silly artist panda, I said “I don’t think the old brick will go with this new look – let’s make it new and hip!” so we hired a mason and got a new fireplace installed. Also picked out a sweet hunk of cedar for the mantle – cost $120. But overall, the fireplace was around $3800 and the masonry $3000. I hope I chose a brick style everyone likes because it’s kinda permanent now!!
Here’s what the work-in-progress looked like! It’s so industrial ‘n cool underneath.
We continued to paint the ceiling, window trim and walls while the fireplace was being worked on. Notice the humungous gnarly baseboard heater down on the left? Yeah, that thing was a fire hazard waiting to happen – when we took it off the wall we discovered it had a charcoal black (BURNT) thread spool inside. It’s insane that it didn’t start a fire and burn the house down :s
Mio’s checking out the sweet new mantle. You’ll notice it has a giant crack running down the middle (and underside as well) which looks kinda cool and gives it character. Apparently fresh cut cedar needs time to acclimate to a house so the cracks didn’t happen until it had been sitting on the floor for a few weeks. Science!
Brick’s looking good at this point! Still need to install the fireplace.
Programmer Panda and I spent some evenings laying down this underlay
(cost $200) and taped it all up so we could install the floorboards next!
We put in the floor pretty quickly since it was such a small area – but it was a real pain. I dunno if it was just the brand or the fact that we bought damaged boxes, but this stuff would snap out of place so easily 😦 It was not fun. We spent way too many hours trying to adjust the boards and push them together so there were no gaps. The end result looks nice but there’s still the odd piece you have to kick with your foot to wedge it back to looking seamless. The only neat thing with this floor in particular is that I found it on sale (it had been discontinued at Home Depot) and when it arrived it had several boxes banged up and too damaged to use – so they gave me another discount. Total cost for 14 boxes of this ended up being $300.
Here is when it really started to look like a new room!! So bright and colorful ^_^ You can see the tops and bottoms of the walls are surrounded by molding. Programmer Panda installed all of these and I just touched up the nail holes with mud and paint. I think the cost for all the molding pieces was under $100 and we did new trim on the doors in this room too.
Then we backtracked a bit and removed some of the molding to make special cuts and room for shelving 🙂 This was something I definitely wanted so we could show off our love of red pandas and put up things that inspire us. Maybe one day if we ever get awards or neat merchandise we want to put on display this would be the place to do it! In this shot you can also see some of the monitors and desks we assembled! It’s so cool.
Finally! With the molding up around the tops and bottoms of the walls, we can call this office basically – DONE! Time to start filling up those shelves with cool things!
This is the view from my desk, but the cintiq hasn’t been set up quite yet in this photo. Sure is a nice view though ^^ Especially when the neighbourhood cats come to chill in the backyard.
Sometimes the cats keep me company while I work… haha ^^;
When Trash Panda (our other artist) comes in to the office to work, she brings her miniature Shnauzer Chloe with her. We turned her into a character in Kitty Catsanova and she seems to be pretty popular!
Here’s a wide shot of the whole office. The panorama makes the proportions look off, but there’s enough space for 4 people to work in there comfortably. The total cost for all the office renovations was about $10,980 CAD (not including computer equipment) and Programmer Panda’s & my time came to about 100 hours.
In the winter we had some festive treats and a tree, while I blasted Nintendo Winter Music ^^
And here’s how it looks currently (in the evening). I’ve added a few new red pandas to our display, and we have posters hung up for all the games we’re working on. It’s a pretty fun space and I hope the team finds it cozy and inspiring =^^=