"Ants are cute, tiny, and pay lots of attention to detail," says Max Bevilacqua, co-founder and creative director of 5 Ants, a Barcelona, Spain-based mobile game developer, by way of explanation of his company's name. "They also work hard, and they always work as a team. That's a good description of what we do here."
There has been lots of good hard work since Bevilacqua and his partner Luis Oses founded their company several years ago, and their team has grown substantially. What was originally a company creating virtual worlds eventually drifted into game development, and has now come up with Tiny Thief, a delightful and interactive adventure game for iOS and Android. The game concept proved so charming as to attract Rovio Entertainment - famed makers of the wildly successful
Angry Birds game franchise - to collaborate on and distribute the title.
"We wanted to do something different; something that would showcase the strengths and talents of our great team of animators," says Bevilacqua. "We knew we had a great idea with Tiny Thief, but we quickly found out it wasn't going to be a walk in the park."
Indeed, when Tiny Thief encountered some serious obstacles midway through the game's development, the team fortuitously discovered Autodesk Scaleform Mobile SDK, which Autodesk had only just announced at the time.
"We were brainstorming new ways to play our vector graphic content on an iPad or iPhone, and we knew Scaleform would be great to have," says Miguel Santirso, programmer at 5 Ants. "Not long after, Autodesk released Scaleform Mobile SDK and on the same day, we downloaded it and started using it on Tiny Thief. I think the first messages on the Autodesk forum are from us."
30 Intricate Levels, 3,000 Unique Animations
Following a young boy's journey from thief to hero through a vast medieval landscape, Tiny Thief boasts 30 unique and challenging levels, 50 memorable characters, and over 100 hidden items for intrepid gamers to discover.
"Tiny Thief is a very special game, very much like some of the old adventure games," says Oses, who now serves as executive producer at 5 Ants. "The game looks quite simple and kind of old school, with this small kid finding his way through medieval settings by solving problems and gathering up items, but it is much more interactive in its storytelling than most games. It is a genre that is not yet very well defined in terms of its boundaries. There is a great deal of new discovery for every kind of gamer, from brand-new to hardcore, and from little kids to elderly people."
"Almost from the beginning, we knew we had a great idea and a character with a lot of potential for storytelling," says Bevilacqua. "We developed a version of a preview of the game and got some interest on blogs. That is how Rovio discovered our idea and got in touch with us. Since then, it's been a highly collaborative process between the artists and companies, and it has grown into a very special game."
It has also grown into a highly complex game, employing over 3000 unique Flash animations, a burdensome number for any game offering. It was about midway through the development of Tiny Thief that the 5 Ants team realized they were going to need more technological help to get the project completed the way they wanted.
"Tiny Thief has so many levels, and they are all very extensive and complicated," says Santirso. "Every background is different, every animation is long and detailed. Every action on every object has a carefully handcrafted animation. With so much going on, it would be impossible to create this game using bitmaps instead of vector graphics. We do use a combination of bitmaps and vector graphics on the backgrounds, but the game is 90 percent vector graphics. That is what made Scaleform Mobile SDK so valuable for us. Even imagining using another tool on this project is just impossible now."
The Biggest Advantage
Adopting a new tool in the middle of a game's development would be nerve-wracking at the best of times, but 5 Ants had already invested such a large amount of time and money, not to mention emotion, into the creation of the game's characters and assets, that failure was simply not an option.
"We'd created all this elaborate content in Flash 5, but the tool we were using has a very specific limitation that prevents it from loading Flash 5 with code when you are working with iOS," says Santirso. "One of the biggest advantages for us in switching to Scaleform Mobile SDK was that we could use all of the Flash animations we'd already created. Probably the biggest advantage to Mobile SDK, however, was that it didn't force us to embed everything into the main SWF file and it was much easier to integrate with native code. The game logic was written entirely in ActionScript, and we used the exact same code for both iOS and Android. In the end, it also proved to have much better performance, while giving us the ability to deploy the game to more targets, including Windows Phone, Windows 8 Store, game consoles, and more."
Tiny Thief will initially be released solely on iOS and Android, but the 5 Ants team hopes to release the game for PC and Mac in the future, a process that will be significantly eased by their use of Mobile SDK:
"With Scaleform Mobile SDK, porting is as easy as it can get," says Santirso. "We can use the same code and assets for iOS and Android, and only need to write small amounts of code that are specific to the new platforms we want to serve. It's as easy as that."