Monday, 18 April 2016

Working 8)

When a picture is worth more that a 1000 words.

This is a plan for the first act of my new interactive story (there are 13 acts like this one in it). It may look confusing, but when you think that it is only the first out of 13, and at this point only the connections inside that one act are shown... It will get much worse 8))

 By the way, ClickCharts in its free version is functional enough to create diagrams like this one. So it is good not just for UML stuff.

Sunday, 17 April 2016


Our app on PocketFullOfApps:

  • DropBearLabs, two independent developers with a mascot being a corgi, has recently released their interactive game called Koschei the Deathless. Available on the App Store for $0.99, Koschei the Deathless retells classic Russian fairytales, taking a player on a speed ride through a number of Russian settings and their respective characters.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Story of Koschei, part 4: Money

From the beginning, I knew that I don't want to put any money into this project. I was going to spend time and effort on it, as much as I can; but not money. This way if the project failed - at the very least, I won't be sorry about losing financially (being sorry about losing my confidence and self-respect would be enough).

Overall, I think I managed to do just that - I did't loose almost any significant money in this game. But let's talk about "almost" a bit more. What does it mean in this case? What is considered to be a money investment, and what isn't?

Man-hours - of course, I spent thousands of man-hours on this project. But because they were my personal man-hours, I can spend as much as I like. And if I decide that my man-hour costs $0, then I didn't loose any money on that. If I decided to estimate 1 man-hour for about $50, than I have quite a sad picture. With $50 per hour, to repay for 8 months of work with no life - my app has to get into editor's pick on AppStore, which is unlikely to happen. So let's say that I am not going to up-price my man-hours, for my own sake 8))

Education - having thrown away man-hours, I want to throw away something else. And that is the money I spent to get all the knowledge I needed for this project. Koschei obviously is not going to earn me enough to pay for 24 courses, each one at least $1000. This education will serve me in other projects, so I might return to this process in 10 years to see if it was really worth it.

Spent in advance - most of the software I used can be put into this category. I didn't buy any software specifically for Koschei. I had Poser and Photoshop beforehand, and used it a lot for many other projects. It would be unfair to make Koschei pay for all of that. Also for everything I used there is a free alternative - Adobe Photoshop Express and GIMP would be enough for all the work done on graphics. Daz studio could be used instead of Poser for references. Sublime Text editor in its free version is as good as in its paid version, and can be replaced with Atom these days. Also you can get Corona SDK for free.

Shared expenses - there were some expenses that couldn't be attributed to Koschei only. I bought Apple Dev account for Koschei, but if I manage to finish another project this year, it won't be only Koschei's expense. I bought a bunch of domains and put them on Amazon S3, so generally speaking, Koschei may attribute to maybe $10 of those expenses. DropBearLabs Logo costed me $300, but it is used for a number of projects and not just by me, so again - Koschei is not responsible for that.

Relatively free resources - I use the word "relatively", because all of these resources have a paid counterpart, so if I wanted to, I could go and spend some money on them. I didn't, though 8) I must give my big thanks to all of them (and this thanks can be found in the game itself).

For some references, where Poser wasn't enough, I used library. None of their images are used in my game directly, but they were very helpful in drawing animals and some props.

And my favourite site is (aka Without this site there wouldn't be a Koschei. They have a limit for a daily download, but in 8 months of development I've never exceeded it.

The sound library has enough samples under Creative Commons 0 licence. Big thanks to people doing this, you are the best!

There's a miracle that exists. Altruist musicians put their work under Creative Commons for anyone to use. I found "Pictures at an Exhibition" on that website, and used it for my game. Without it, I would have to play this suite on my own - and that would extend the development by at least a month.

There are some awesome fonts at, and again - some of them are under Creative Commons 0.

As you can see, I didn't pay for music, sounds or textures because some nice people decided that their man-hours are something that shoudn't be paid for. So I am also not counting mine 8))

Promotion - I am just acquiring these expenses now. Sadly, there is no way around it, and one have to put some money in here. I won't know exactly how much it is, until I released all the versions of my game (iPhone and Android versions are still in development). So I'll finish this block later. Hopefully I won't be completely broke at that point 8)

Friday, 1 April 2016

Story of Koschei, part 3: Text and Art

(some spoilers for the story, so If you want to play the game first - go ahead!)

Being a writer, I tried myself at different genres - chick-lit, fantasy, sci-fi, but fairy tales weren't really my thing. I kind of blame Year Walk for me turning to fairy tales. This game showed me that foreign folklore can be interesting for English speaking audience, especially if it has memorable atmosphere and characters.
So I really wanted to show my Australian friends some of Russian folklore. But which one of Russian fairytales should I base my game on?

There was one fairytale that I remember from my childhood, and that always annoyed me - "Tsarevitch Ivan and the Grey Wolf". In this story Ivan asks for help from the Grey Wolf, but then never actually listens to him. But the wolf keeps helping Ivan. I couldn't get the moral of this story! Find a good mentor, but never listen to him - and he'll take it anyway? See, it still gets me all pumped up 8))
When you have such a strong feeling about something, you should use it - and it became the canvas of my story.
(Ivan Bilibin's illustration to Tsarevitch Ivan and the Grey Wolf)

After I took something from the fairytale I hated, I needed something that I really liked. There's another fairytale that I don't really like, but it's beginning always fascinated me. The story is "Marya Morevna", and it is a pretty generic story about a girl called Marya Morevna, that is kidnapped by a villain, and saved by the hero. But in this story the problems began when Ivan went down to his basement, and found out that his wife, Marya Morevna, keeps chained Koschei the Deathless there. It is very unusual for Russian fairytales - to have a girl capturing the main villain of most of the stories! The fairytale never explains how Marya managed to do that, but it is so fascinating! So yes, I had to put it into my story somehow.

Thinking about the main character, I knew I wasn't going to use Ivan Tsarevich. He seems boring to me. Also most of the stories he is in, are the stories about saving a girl. And I don't like it. Lucky for me, Russian folklore has another popular character. Her name is Alena. In most of the tales she has to save her little brother. Sometimes he drinks from a puddle, and turns into a goat, or gets snatched by Baba Yaga. So Alena was my character of choice.

Most of hardships Alena meets on her way are typical for Russian fairytales. But there was another problem...

Talking about the Year Walk again - that game is absolutely awesome. And I knew from the beginning that there's no way for me to create an art that will be on the same level. My art could never be so capturing, that just the strange turn of events and characters compels a player to continue. The line between "strange" and "annoying" is very thin, so I had to work to make sure that my story doesn't fall on the wrong side of it.

(Koshchey the Deathless by Ivan Bilibin)

I found an editor - a native spiker and a teacher, that I was going to test my story on. And yes, It needed testing.

For instance, Alenushka in Russian is a form of the name Alena. But there was no way I'll be explaining that to the reader every time I switch between Alena and Alenushka.

To be fair, with some of the questions my tutor had - I had them also. Even though I grew up in this culture, listening to these stories, I had no idea why the Grey Wolf helps the hero. So I had to invent a story about his debt to Marya. Also, it is a good hook for a prequel 8))

At the same time, I knew that some questions should be left hanging. Why is Koschei's death in the egg? Why are there 3 buckets of water, and 12 chains? I had no idea, but I liked it 8)

I ended up making a serious research, trying to find out which Russian cultural heroes are familiar to English-speaking audience, and which parts of hero's journey are easier to understand by foreign readers.

After some progress with the text, I moved to the art. And that needed another research.

I believe that if you can draw, you can do anything. Any strange creature, a structure or a world that you can imagine - you can move it to paper. If I could draw, I would just let my imagination go wild. But - I can't draw. So any incredible scene I would imagine - could never get into the game. First, I had to find a way for my expectations to meet my resources.

Not long before I started working on Koschei, I stumbled across paper art of Marina Adamova - and I kept returning to it in my head from time to time. Slowly, it progressed into the visual idea for my story. But this concept, making the work on art easier, made the idea of creating "the Russian feel" in the game are even more difficult. So I continued with my search.

After some time, I noticed that when English wikipedia discusses Russian folklore characters - quite often it uses pictures of two Russian artists, Viktor Vasnetsov and Ivan Bilibin. And Ivan Bilibin has a special place in my heart - I had a book of fairytales illustrated by him when I was a child, and I loved every single picture in it. So it the end, I tried to draw most of the inspiration from his pictures, modelling my settings and some of my characters after his pictures, using his approach to silhouettes and textures.

For instance, here is Bilibin's stage design for "Snow maiden" opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and a screenshot from my game:

Here are two of Bilibin's Baba Yagas, and another screenshot from my game:

An here is tsar Berendey's palace stage design for the same opera, but done by Viktor Vasnetsov:

Another thing was a costume design for some secondary characters. I easily came up with Marya's armour using references from websites on Russian armour history - but Vasilisa, Uncles and Alena were still a mystery.

I can't call it anything other than pure luck - I suddenly found an article about the last ball of tsarist Russia. I showed pictures to a couple of my friends, trying to find out which one instantly makes you think "that's Russian" - and used those as my references. I ended up with these designs:

Alena, the main character, got her final design last. I tried several adaptations of Bilibin's images like these:

But Alena is right in front of you most of the time, and all those dresses were way too detailed and distracting even me. With them being a center of the screen, I couldn't focus on anything else happening in the same scene. So Alena ended up being the most generically drawn character of all.

I also used some other artist's work. For example, Alena's house was actually inspired by Viktor Hartmann's picture "Baba Yaga's hut on fowl's legs". and actual Baba Yaga's hut was inspired by a different picture.

So that describes my struggles with images and texts. There was one thing that I didn't have to struggle with - the music. I knew that I am going to use Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. Just because I love them 8)

p.s. "Koschei the Deathless" in AppStore: