How it all started in Copenhagen
“I was interested in game design from a young age, although I didn’t really understand what game design was at the time,” says Max Wrighton of his passion for game development. “I was mostly interested in combining my joy of playing and my joy of thinking/building things creatively.”
Things got serious when Wrighton began studying at Abertay University, where he majored in game design and production management. In 2014 he also took part in the training program of the European Cross Media Academy (EUCROMA) in Copenhagen.
Wrighton started making games with three other guys he met there, eventually founding Half Past Yellow in 2017. The founding team also includes Art Director Casper Petersen, Creative Director Gianfranco Dbeis and Technical Director Remy Stuurwold.
“We were just 4 co-founders working in the studio until about mid-2021,” recalls Wrighton. “Once we received the publishing funding, we were able to hire some full-time team members and generally grow the team.”
Half Past Yellow has grown into a semi-remote team of eight people, with members scattered around the world. The team is now focused on developing short to mid-length games across multiple genres.
As Wrighton explains, they “want to bring a sense of quality/stamp to every genre we tackle, and we hope that members of our community who enjoy our games will be willing to join us on this journey.”
Build a relaxing gameplay loop with trade quests in the foreground
Released in July 2022, Time on Frog Island is set on a mysterious island inhabited by… frogs, you guessed it! The player takes on the role of a shipwrecked captain on this land and must interact with these two-legged amphibians to repair the boat.
At its core, Time on Frog Island is an exploration-puzzle game described by the team as a “point-and-click adventure for people with ADHD.” “There are a lot of little things to do on the island and a lot of distractions along the way,” says Wrighton.
However, the overall experience still feels relaxing. The player explores Frog Island by solving various puzzles and trading frogs. The latter is one of the key elements of the game, so it’s not surprising that the team took some ideas from certain fetch quests from other titles.
“Trade chains like the Biggoron sword quest in The Legends of Zelda: Ocarina of Timeor the quest “A Small Favor” in RuneScape inspired us to take that extra step and create a game with multiple criss-crossing chains,” says Wrighton.
He also cites a relaxing exploration game A short hike and the hit of 2019 Untitled goose game than other great sources of inspiration.
“We really want players to learn the state of the land while experimenting with different items and solutions,” explains Wrighton. “Part of the fun for us is the memory aspect, how the island fits together, which frogs need which items, interesting locations, or special looking items that might be useful.
How to create a story without dialogues?
“We’re not narrative designers, so the stories in our games tend to be light in terms of size and scope,” says Wrighton. And Time on Frog Island isn’t a narrative game either.
Still, the team had to make the player believe in this world and encourage them to explore the island’s mysteries and understand its froggy inhabitants. So it was quite a challenge.
Half Past Yellow eventually developed the pictogram dialogue system. Neither the captain nor the frogs speak in the usual sense. Instead, they communicate via speech bubbles with different images that are intended to show what exactly the character needs at the moment.
“It was still difficult to tie everything together for the different puzzles,” notes Wrighton. “We had to make sure the pictograms were understandable and that the player had the right amount of information to start searching.”
Avoid crunch and seek additional funding
Like many other indie games these days, Time on Frog Island is made with Unity. The studio also used Fmod and Reaper for the sound and Blender, Krita, Photoshop and 3DCoat for the graphics.
It took Half Past Yellow just over two years to complete the game. “When we started the studio, we had ups and downs in terms of salaries, funding, client projects, etc.,” recalls Wrighton.
However, Half Past Yellow has always tried to maintain the team’s work-life balance. Although Wrighton has never experienced severe burnout, he has heard some “horror stories” about it.
“As founders, we actively avoid crunching deadlines (and we succeed most of the time) and always choose to re-scope projects when we see something unattainable,” says Wrighton. “This has made it easy for us to build an acceptable corporate culture as we have grown.”
Although the production process went smoothly for the most part, the studio ran out of funding in its first year. Because of this, they created a vertical part of the game to introduce it to the publishers and ended up signing with Merge Games.
The company helped the team complete Time on Frog Island with financing, marketing and quality assurance. In addition, Mege Games also opened up new possibilities for Half Past Yellow thanks to its relationship with platform owners such as Steam, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony.
“I think there are many directions a game studio can take to be successful, and publishers play a critical role in game production,” says Wrighton. “Negotiating a good contract and planning ahead is key.”
Upon launch, Time on Frog Island received positive reviews from Steam player and has been covered by major gaming outlets like PC gamer. Without disclosing numbers, Wrighton says the game “exceeded sales expectations” in its first month.
The good reception allowed Half Past Yellow to work on some quality of life improvements and bug fixes in peace. “Maybe we’ll return to the ‘Tim On’ universe at a later date,” Wrighton suggests as the team now moves on to their next original single-player project.