Lily's Garden Feed

The Top 5 Games on Our Roster - and the Stories They Tell

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By Lisa Brunette

In our work with casual mobile game developers, we like to talk about three main aspects of storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. Through these three narrative elements, we've worked to push the genre forward, and that's evident in the top five games on our roster. I'll break each one down for you.

1. Matchington Mansion, Firecraft

When a developer in stealth mode reached out to me in early 2017 to help design a match-3 game, I had no idea what an impact it would have on my career. But today Matchington Mansion is still the top-performing game we've had the privilege to work on.

We pushed innovation on this title in several ways. First, we introduced conflict - something many casual mobile games at that point tended to avoid - by adding to the cast list a conniving casino developer named Rex Houston. Upping the ante is the fact that as a blood relative of the mansion's deceased owner, he arguably has more claim to its inheritance than you do.

There's also a mystery. You're given the mansion by a bestselling author whose books you helped popularize (you're a New York editor). You uncover the author's long-ago forbidden romance as you set to the task of renovating the old, crumbling mansion.

The connection comes in with the character relationships - you meet neighbors, a contractor, a gardener, the delivery boy - and rather than merely introducing new features, these characters engage you with their foibles. They're part of the story. Connection's also there as a visual tie between the match-3 gameplay and the story. The tile icons in the match-3 thematically link to the story, such as pillow tiles while Tiffany is fluffing pillows in the living room. This sounds obvious now, as so many games link them, but it was an innovation at the time.

Fun Fact: 'Matchington Mansion' was originally just a placeholder, internal name for the game, but I argued it would make the perfect game name. Don't you agree?

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2. Lily's Garden, Tactile Entertainment

In early 2018, I flew to Copenhagen to work onsite with the Tactile Entertainment team. I was a huge fan of their Bee Brilliant collapse mechanic games, so the opportunity to work on a narrative sequel was exciting.

With Lily's Garden, the important innovation was to step a bit beyond the "bad guy" antagonist trope and instead focus on a love triangle, with a romantic sit-com storyline. As far as conflict goes, we still offer many:

  • The antagonizing force of the time-limited contract Lily must fulfill in order to inherit her great aunt's home and garden
  • Lily's cousin Larry, who has his grimy mitts all over the place her great aunt wanted her to have
  • The setup of Lily's bad luck streak, which instantly makes her a relatable character

The mysteries aren't trapped in the past, but rather set in the present. Will Lily fall for scrappy neighbor Luke, or come under the sway of her ex? Will she keep Larry out of her inheritance? Will she be able to fix up the garden in time to fulfill her great-aunt's dying wish? Who was this Great-Aunt Mary, anyway?

The connection is first and foremost to the woman whose gift sets the stage for everything else, Lily's great-aunt. Her quirky, warm spirit comes through as Lily restores the home and garden to its former glory. After that, it's friends and love interests... when family doesn't get in the way. Another innovation? The diverse cast, which includes characters of color and a wider array of sexual orientation than you normally see in casual games, especially if you include the viral ads.

Fun Fact: Very little of the content in the famously viral Lily's Garden ads actually appears in the game.

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3. Choices: Stories You Play, Pixelberry Studios

Interactive novels can make a tough go of it, and we've been involved in more than one project that's never quite gained traction. But Pixelberry's Choices is an exception, here at No. 3 on our list for performance.

Veil of Secrets was a huge innovation for Choices as its first book in the mystery genre. So for both conflict and mystery, it pushed the boundaries even within a format that had already proved its success. What I tried to do with this title as remote scriptwriter was deepen the villains, giving them a bit of nuance... if not outright sympathy, then at least an awareness of what shaped them. That was a tough call for WASP-y New England characters, a world I have very little first-hand knowledge of, but luckily, my experience as a lover of the mystery genre came in handy.

All of the Choices books excel at connection, with a wide variety of dating and intimacy moments available to players. It was gratifying to write in that space, for a team that values diversity.

Fun Fact: In the premium scene in Chapter 1, your bestie Kate explains that she and Tanner met when he took cover from the rain in her bakery one night. They spent all night flirting... and eating cupcakes. Serious girl fantasy, right? Or maybe that's just me.

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4. Bingo Bash, GSN

Early in the evolution of casual games, we used to encounter a lot of resistance from designers who feared that more story in a game would mean too many words. Our next top-performer proves that narrative needs scant wordage to steal the show.

In late 2017, we were tasked with the seemingly impossible: Write a love story in 27 characters or less per chapter. The tiny tale would appear in a new room within the Bingo Bash app, just in time for Valentine's Day. 'Dear Diary' was, I think, the first of its kind, another innovation in the casual mobile game space. While for a long time narratives were paired only with match-3 decorating games, Bingo Bash: Dear Diary showed story could be hybridized with other types of gameplay. These days, we're seeing narrative meshed with solitaire and other genres as well.

The 'Dear Diary' bingo room had conflict in the form of the obstacles the would-be couple encounters, mystery in the question of whether they'd ever work things out, and connection when they end up together - and married, before you can say, "Bingo!" 

Fun Fact: I turned this '27 characters or less' restriction into a classroom assignment when I taught narrative design at a local university. Dexter Woltman, now Brunette Games writer/designer but then my student, wrote a micro romance story... about a rock. You can see why we hired him.

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5. Sweet Escapes, Redemption Games

Speaking of Dexter's quirky sense of humor, the game in the No. 5 spot on our roster really takes the cake in that regard, and all credit to him for the achievement. Sweet Escapes definitely pushes innovation in the area of casual mobile game comedy. Between the Redemption Games team's hilarious animations and Dexter's laugh-out-loud dialogue, the title has gained a huge fan following. It's even spawned fan fiction.

Sweet Escapes has connection in spades. The game also traffics in interesting conflict, with an inspector who seems to be thwarting our heroes' attempts to win the highly prized Sweetstakes trophy... or is he (mystery)? It's been a year and some months since the game's initial release, and the mystery has only deepened. It now involves a crusty ol' pirate named Snackbeard.

Fun Facts: Yes, Scoops really has held all of those jobs. And no, he doesn't wear the same scarf every day.

What's Ahead?

With all of this past innovation behind us, what do we see in the future? It's a question we don't take lightly here at Brunette Games.

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One of the best HOPAs ever created, by Artogon and Big Fish.

Personally, I have yet to see the dark, edgy content in casual mobile games that was a regular feature of the hundreds of hidden-object puzzle adventure games I worked on at Big Fish back in 2011-2016. Those games had me on the edge of my seat, and the jump scares at least in one case actually made me jump - in the middle of a cubicle pod at work. While those games were at times dark enough to require a warning label even though they were still casual fare, most of what passes for story on mobile today falls squarely in the cheery camp. When there are mysteries, they tend to be a bit 'Scooby Doo' in tone. A notable exception are two titles we consult on for G5 Entertainment - Homicide Squad and the just-released Crime Mysteries. But the rest have all been light and bright.

Does it matter that we're playing on the phone now instead of PC download? I don't think so. While designers often come to us because they want to compete with the top-performing games above, we think the real competition lies elsewhere - on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO... We'd like to work with you to tell stories no one can put down, or scroll past. Ready?

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Brunette Games GDC Talk on 'Conflict, Mystery, and Connection' Now Available on YouTube

 


Brunette Games GDC Talk on 'Conflict, Mystery, and Connection' Now Available on YouTube

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By Lisa Brunette

As you might remember, I was scheduled to speak at GDC 2020, but then the conference was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I had committed to a local version of the talk here in St. Louis just prior to GDC. This was designed as a way to share knowledge with our developer community, as well as serve as a "live" practice for GDC. At the time that GDC was cancelled, the lockdowns were still limited to the West Coast. So here in the Midwest, the show went on as planned...

Except for one important change. I invited my Brunette Games team members to join me at the podium. I think the show turned out better than it would have been if I'd flown solo! Thanks to the St. Louis Game Development Co-op, which both sponsored the presentation and arranged for a video capture and livestream, I was able to submit the talk to the GDC Vault. And now GDC has also made it available on YouTube. Here it is, called "Conflict, Mystery, and Connection in Casual, Free-to-Play Puzzle Games." Games discussed: Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, Sweet Escapes, RollerCoaster Tycoon Story, and Wild Things: Animal Adventures (not Vineyard Valley, so I'm not sure why GDC used it for the video default image.)

It's a pleasure to be a part of GDC even remotely, and we hope to see you all next year!


We Grew Three Sizes This Year! A Brunette Games 2019 Recap

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The Brunette Games crew, from L to R: Anthony Valterra, Lisa Brunette, and Dexter Woltman.

At this time last year, I'd taken my first steps toward going beyond the solo act by engaging with a few project-based contractors, but I soon discovered that wasn't enough. There was opportunity to build Brunette Games into the dream team I'd always envisioned: A collaborative cabal of casual game scribes delivering the best narrative in the business.

Brunette Games has now tripled in size, with three full-time staff members:

  • Anthony Valterra, an industry vet who steered flagship brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill for Wizards of the Coast. His publishing company also released the only roleplaying game guide governing the romantic lives of D&D characters, The Book of Erotic Fantasy. His thirty-year career in brand and grant management makes him ideal in his role as business director, and we've been grateful to get his seasoned perspective and writing chops on unannounced projects for Jam City, Daily Magic Productions, G5 Entertainment, Tuyoo, and Super Gaming. He's also contributed to our work on a new game app set to release in 2020, Tiles & Tales for Helsinki-based Kuuhubb, and Jam City's 2019 game Vineyard Valley. Some of you already know he's my husband in real life, too, making Brunette Games truly a family business.
  • Dexter Woltman, who, though new to the industry, is cut from the same cloth as the rest of us. As one of my original contractors, he's now put in a year with Brunette Games, and sometimes we think he gets us better than we get ourselves. Dexter is lead writer/designer on the top-performing Redemption Games title Sweet Escapes, and in his spare time, he's also written his first interactive novel for an unannounced new mobile app and designed and written for a new franchise title to release in 2020. A superb team player, he's also contributed to our work on numerous games for clients Kuuhubb, Jam City, G5 Entertainment, Tuyoo, Super Gaming, Storm8, Belka Games, and Cherrypick Games, just to name a few!
  • Lisa Brunette, intrepid owner and leader of Brunette Games. My focus this past year has been on taking the skills I honed on industry-dominating titles Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, and Choices, plus the five years I spent at the narrative helm at Big Fish, and transferring them to my team so that we have a group expertise not dependent on any one of us. Our collaborative process ensures clients an above-average narrative product, and I'm confident we'll see many more hit games in the coming year as a result.

In addition to the core three, we've got two others on the Bru Crew, both voice-over actors. Cammie Middleton records voiceover work for TV, film, and games out of her L.A. studio, while also playing lead roles in both film and stage productions, including appearances in the Golden Key award-winning "Rochester 1996," to rave reviews. Andy Mack is a longtime video-game voice actor whose work has been showcased at E3, Gamescon, GameInformer, and elsewhere and includes 2019's The Amazing Fantastics and Postal 4. They've both recorded for an unannounced Jam City title to release in 2020.

It's been a whirlwind year of success, but not without its struggle. As a small business owner, I can tell you that running a business from scratch is one of the hardest things I've ever done... from providing employee benefits such as health care to grappling with decisions like liability insurance to handling the complexity of a remote client network spanning the globe. Whether it's working over the July 4th holiday on a rush job (which we did) or getting up for 6 am calls with clients in an opposite time zone (which we do regularly), you have to be willing to go the extra mile. I'm proud to say everyone on this team is, and we have the game credits to prove it. That makes the struggle so worth it!

In 2019, Brunette Games worked with a total of 12 different clients to release three new games and produce new content for three existing games. We've also been working on 10 other games still in development. 

Here's a list of our 2019 new releases:

  • Lily's Garden, for Tactile Entertainment - narrative design, concept origination and character consulting, intro storyboard
  • Sweet Escapes, for Redemption Games - intro storyboard, narrative design, scriptwriting
  • Vineyard Valley, for Jam City - general consulting

We delivered new content for the following games:

  • Survivors: The Quest, for G5 Entertainment - narrative design, scriptwriting
  • Homicide Squad: Hidden Crimes, also for G5 Entertainment - narrative design, scriptwriting, editing
  • Sweet Escapes - narrative design, scriptwriting

And finally, we're working with the following clients on unannounced projects in various stages of development:

  • Graphite Lab
  • Daily Magic Productions
  • Storm8
  • Belka Games
  • Jam City
  • Tuyoo
  • Super Gaming
  • G5 Entertainment
  • Kuuhubb
  • Cherrypick Games

Looking ahead, we're excited about the opportunities for us in 2020 both close to home and far away. Our projects gel best when we can kick off the teamwork in person, which we were able to do this year right here in St. Louis with Graphite Lab, in Helsinki with Kuuhubb, and in L.A. with Jam City. Not every client has the budget for an onsite, but we look forward to seeing you at the Game Developers Conference in March and perhaps at other venues later on.

We wish you a prosperous 2020 filled with creativity, imagination, and great game stories!


Narrative, from the Beginning

By Anthony Valterra

The question of whether to design a game and then fit a narrative into it, or to have a narrative and design the game to fit is probably as old as chess. There are numerous examples of success in both categories. And there are plenty of successful games with little or no narrative. I guess a narrative with no game would be a story, but  that is another blog post entirely.

But in the current genre of casual iOS games, the value of narrative is beginning to be understood. The huge success of Matchington Mansion and Lily’s Garden, in particular, has caught the attention of many a developer.

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But there is a secret to both of these games: The narrative design was brought in early. No, it wasn’t the case that the narrative designers were brought in first. But in both cases, they were brought in early enough that art assets and game play could be adjusted to the narrative. Those cute little pillows in the Match-3 of Matchington Mansion? They were suggested by the narrative design. Lily’s tragic story in the first narrative cut scene? Created by the narrative designer.

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A lot of terrific synergies can occur if narrative is brought in as early as possible. Narrative can be incorporated into tutorials and game mechanics. Game art assets can reflect or support the narrative. Tying the narrative closely to the game makes the user experience seamless and encourages engagement. This has been shown again and again in A:B testing and in focus groups.

The worst situation in game development is taking a nearly complete game out to A:B testing and hearing from representative consumers that the story is not engaging, or that they find the story boring, or even worse: offensive or problematic. Then narrative expert or consultants are called in to salvage a game. But in these cases it is almost always true that the budget has been spent and there is no money to revise, alter or add assets, change code or alter UI. In the very worst cases some narrative or text is part of the graphic art and cannot be altered, either. Now the narrative designers must try to revise and improve the story by only changing the text. This is an extremely difficult proposition.

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If you bring in expert narrative early, you might avoid becoming the next Internet meme!

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The Brunette Games Writers' Room


Kuuhubb, Brunette Games Announce Development of New Game “Tiles & Tales”

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TORONTO, May 14, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Kuuhubb Inc. (the “Company” or “Kuuhubb”) (KUU.V) has announced the development of its new game “Tiles & Tales.” The game will blend casual match-3 play with digital storytelling, resulting in a unique combination of two highly successful genres. The project will mark the debut of Kuuhubb’s Helsinki studio and has a soft launch date anticipated for Q3 of this year.

The development team, located at Kuuhubb’s headquarters in Helsinki, Finland, consists of industry veterans originating from Rovio Entertainment, RedLynx, Armada Interactive and Koukoi Games, all of whom have extensive experience in developing casual free-to-play games. “Tiles & Tales” is partially funded with a non-dilutive, Finnish government loan of approximately €1M. 

“We are delighted to unveil our new Helsinki studio and showcase our in-house development capabilities,” commented Kuuhubb CEO, Jouni Keränen. “Story-based games are currently one of the truly big trends in female mobile gaming and are a perfect complement to Kuuhubb’s existing portfolio.”

Kuuhubb has also brought onto the project Brunette Games, a leading narrative design studio with special expertise in the visual novel genre. Brunette Games has designed and written four previous books for three other apps, including “Choices,” “Crime Stories,” and a standalone game, “Sender Unknown.” The team is also credited with the narratives for numerous chart-topping match-3 games, including “Matchington Mansion” and “Lily's Garden.” Studio owner Lisa Brunette, who brings to the project 25 years’ experience as a published novelist and journalist in addition to a decade-plus in game writing, will write one of the “Tiles & Tales” books. Three other books are currently in development.

“The team is aiming for another ground-breaking product and we’re certain that the combination of stories and match-3, the first game of its kind, will resonate with our audience,” stated Kuuhubb GM, Apps and Games, Kristoffer Rosberg.

Mobile puzzle games, a category which includes match-3, claimed 60 percent of the $8.1B market for casual games in the West last year. Industry analysts have concluded that story-based games and gameplay innovation, as well as smaller and more focused development teams, are two of the best ways to break into the top segments of the market, and “Tiles & Tales” is making use of both. Between the incorporation of visual novels with game-changing match-3 play techniques and the dedicated and agile team of experienced industry experts, “Tiles & Tales” is poised to impress players.

About Kuuhubb

Kuuhubb is a publicly listed mobile game development and publishing company, targeting the female audience with bespoke mobile gaming experiences. Our strategy is to become a top player in the underserved female mobile game space by identifying new lifestyle trends, partnering with select developers and consumer brands, and creating innovative mobile game apps for our user community to enjoy. Headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, Kuuhubb has a global presence with a strong focus on developing U.S. brand collaborations and Asian partnerships.

Cautionary Note Concerning Forward-Looking Information 

This press release contains forward-looking information. All statements, other than statements of historical fact, that address activities, events or developments that the Company believes, expects or anticipates will or may occur in the future (including, without limitation, statements relating to the potential success of the Tiles & Tales game, future revenue and products and the development and growth of the Company’s business) are forward-looking information. This forward-looking information reflects the current expectations or beliefs of the Company based on information currently available to the Company. Forward-looking information is subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that may cause the actual results of the Company to differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking information, and even if such actual results are realized or substantially realized, there can be no assurance that they will have the expected consequences to, or effects on the Company. Factors that could cause actual results or events to differ materially from current expectations include, among other things, the possibility that results from the Tiles & Tales game will not be consistent with the Company’s expectations, risks related to the growth strategy of the Company, the possibility that results from the Company’s growth and development plans will not be consistent with the Company's expectations, the early stage of the Company's development, competition from companies in a number of industries, the ability of the Company to manage expansion and integrate acquisitions into its business, future business development of the Company and the other risks disclosed under the heading "Risk Factors" in the Company's annual information form dated November 8, 2018 filed on SEDAR at www.sedar.com. Forward-looking information speaks only as of the date on which it is provided and, except as may be required by applicable securities laws, the Company disclaims any intent or obligation to update any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or results or otherwise. Although the Company believes that the assumptions inherent in the forward-looking information are reasonable, forward-looking information is not a guarantee of future performance and accordingly undue reliance should not be put on such information due to the inherent uncertainty therein.

For further information, please contact:

Kuuhubb Inc.

Jouni Keränen, CEO

jouni@kuuhubb.com

Bill Mitoulas, Investor Relations

bill@kuuhubb.com

Office: +1 (416) 479-9547

For local St. Louis, Missouri, press inquiries:

Brunette Games LLC

Lisa Brunette, Owner and Head Writer/Designer

Email Link

Anthony Valterra, Director of Business Development

Email Link

Office: (206) 713-9710

The photo accompanying this announcement is also available to download at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/f6ef9989-2e3c-464f-aa30-b3b2930bba25