How to Make a Casual Mobile Game Pt 1: Uprising - General Approach

A new cycle describing in details how our mobile game Uprising was developed.

With this article, we are launching a new cycle, which will describe in details how various aspects of our mobile game Rise Of Colonies: Uprising were planned, designed, and developed. We’ll make an attempt to shift away from a traditional postmortem-like article format, because it is not enough to uncover the whole game development magic within a single article, even for a small-sized casual game. So, in the first article, we will talk about initial steps and how it all began.


Remark: For those of you who haven’t already seen the game, Rise of Colonies: Uprising is a mobile action game, created in castle defense genre (the one, where enemies keep attacking the wall and players have to defend it). It is an infinite levels game, where each consequent level becomes more difficult with additional artificial difficulty spikes.


The Beginning of The Game Development Process

So you want to make a game but don’t know where or how to get started? In our case (and this is true for almost every game I’ve designed), it doesn’t start with defining a genre. I mean, we don’t gather a team and say hey, let’s make a tower defense game or match-3 one. Instead, we design a universe, events, a conflict and, then, actions, that are necessary to resolve the conflict. And I like to do it by paying a lot of attention to small story details.


Our game dev studio already had a universe World of Colonies, which was created for our main turn-based title and it depicted quite global events after a technogenic crisis. It speculated on the various aspects of relationship morality, augmented persons and their fall to misery. However, as expected, we took a turn towards mobile devices and decided to create something in-between.


So, we decided to take a look at our universe not from the part of the Colonies’ creator, which commands huge armies in the main ROC title but went down to a particular person, which finds himself trapped in the middle of raging chaos. That’s how Jack was born. We added some open lines to his stage appearance, stating that he escaped from a place, which he doesn’t want to speak about. This part is left out intentionally, not because we couldn’t come up with something, but because, this one is an important piece of the universe, which we plan to revisit in another game title.


How to Make a Casual Mobile Game Rise of Colonies


Now, what would a normal person do, when he finds out that the world is destroyed? Well, obviously, he’ll call for help and wait for it. There was nowhere to run, everything the main character Jack knew had seized to exist.


So, Jack defends himself. But how? We gave him the barricade and the gun. In order for him to have enough motivation, we also gave him hope… his battle comrade talking on the radio and rushing for help.


After all the homework is done, we have the following:


  1. The playable character behind the stationary barricade.
  2. Infinite levels.
  3. Several gun types.
  4. The game will be released using the freemium model of monetization.
  5. The game will be created using Unity 3D (because the free team is the most familiar with this technology).
  6. The game will be released on mobile phones.

So, it seems that we will have something close to the castle defense genre, so the gameplay is pretty much settled.


Choosing between 2D and 3D Game Development

After defining the concept of the future game, the next step is to make up your mind about art. With the setting defined (a night cyberpunk city), there’s actually only one decision remains to make: 2D or 3D.


We decided to go 3D way, because it has a lot of benefits for our case: requires less 2D artists, provides better lightworks, makes the development process more convenient – it is generally easier to work with 3D for such game with high-quality graphics actually provides better performance on modern devices, because you can have more triangles than fill-rate, to put it simply and fill-rate is the critical parameter for 2D games, which quickly gets consumed by multiple levels of overdrawing 2D layers. The only drawback of using 3D, I currently see, is that it requires considerably more skilled art team in order to produce good-looking visuals.


How to Make a Casual Mobile Game ROC Uprising

Game Monetization Strategy

As we know the game uses monetization, we also need to plan some resources, that will help with advancing the game but not to make it impossible to play without watching ads or donating a cent. We will not touch monetization topics broadly here since they are very specific to a game/genre/region and are more trial and error for every game, rather than a ready-made recipe, but instead, just list resources that made it into the game:


  1. The experience this resource is earned on the levels and is only used to purchase the upgrades.
  2. Tokens coins, a more premium resource, which is dropped in small quantities by fighting the enemies. Used to buy higher level upgrades and to refill some items for levels. More on that will be covered, when we reach gameplay mechanics and balance topic.
  3. Batteries the most premium resource, which is only awarded upon successful level completion and is used for advanced upgrades and for restoring barrier energy. The resource has to be purchased (either for a high amount of in-game tokens or if a player wants to advance real quick for the real money).
  4. The courage basically, a lives recoverable resource, which is often found in many games of different genres. It is used to limit a player’s grinding on the levels.

Overall, monetization in this game is designed in order not to be annoying and the values are adjusted, so the players don’t face the paywall, where advance is not possible without in-app purchases.


In general, this game is built with an approach to respect hardcore players and experience and tries not to disrupt it in any way. For example, you won’t see uncontrolled ads here. There are ads, which can give you 2x rewards, but you have to press the button in order to see them.

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Defining the Necessary Development Team

Gameplay, balance, art and other aspects will be covered in the following articles, but what remains to discuss here is the game development team. If you look into the credits, you’ll see much more people than it is really necessary for such a title. Well, the credits don’t list the input value of a specific employee, so the team for the game and their roles are listed below:


  1. Game designer. He is responsible for the story design, game setting, gameplay mechanics, upgrades, balance, etc. However, this person had also several other important roles. In our case, he created soundtracks and the whole music for the game and even was engaged in system architecture and the process of direct development (this has saved us like the 2-3x amount of time for that part of the game). Such tasks as publisher relations and project management were also almost fully covered by this person.
  2. Gameplay developer. This person was responsible for maintaining our gameplay scene and code all the logic, related to game mechanics, HUD, and related parts.
  3. Menu developer. This person managed the menu scene of the game and was responsible for developing all screen transition logic, monetization, and game economics (upgrades, counters, levels, stages, profile works, etc).
  4. Lead 2D artist. This person was more of a creative director, but actually, created most of the 2D visual content and defined the game’s look.
  5. Associate 2D artist. There’s always work that is typical, but time-consuming. ROC Uprising has more than 100 icons, which had to be created, so this member of the team was involved in this project on a part-time basis, but still had a lot to do.
  6. 3D Modeller/Animator. Since our game was developed in 3D, obviously, it required 3D assets and animations, so all 3D content was mostly created by him throughout the entire project duration.


How to Make a Casual Mobile Game Icons

Documentation Assets

Well, the team is assembled, and at this stage, is absolutely necessary to mention the importance of good documentation and assets. The key here is not a quantity, but a quality. What we used for this game is listed below:


  1. Game design document a piece of paper with general mechanics description and additional notes on challenging elements. It was like 9 pages initially and we kept adding all the gameplay bugs, mechanics review there, so by the end of the project it grew up to 17 pages, which is still quite a small amount.
  2. Spreadsheet table. All the structured data (upgrades, game parameters, properties, dialogues, sounds, analytics events were kept in this sheet. This was a considerable part of the game design document, but much more manageable. By the end of the project, it had 15 tabs with lots of info.
  3. Menu layout. The most underestimated part of every game is a menu and all the screens and UI work that comes with it. In total, we have spent more than 40% of the total development time on the menus. So, in order to keep everyone on the same page, we kept detailed menu layout doc, which listed all 30 screens and not just boxes and arrows, but also all the next-to-final texts, values and icons. The trick here is that this asset should be a document on itself, not requiring members to read or write an additional description in order to understand it. This helped to greatly reduce the number of iterations between game designer, artists and, then, between artists and developers.

I guess, for today, this is it. Till next time! The summary and conclusion will be at the end of the cycle. Next article will be about gameplay mechanics, balance and similar minor stuff that makes games fun to play.

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