Home Sheep Home 2 is out! Developer insights into the cross-platform build process

This has been a long time coming. Nearly a years worth of puzzle boarding, planning, animating, development, testing and packaging. But it’s finally out! Home Sheep Home 2: A Little Epic landed today across multiple platforms: Web (Flash), iOS (iPhone and iPad HD) and PC Download and is sitting happily on homesheephome2.com waiting for you to pay it a visit 🙂

The original game was something of a viral success story. Created in around12 days, primarily to promote new Shaun the Sheep episodes, it went absolutely ballistic on launch getting nearly 1 million plays per day at its peak. In 18 months it had managed 102 million plays and even today still pulls in quarter of a million players daily, with large clear peaks at the weekends.

It’s fair to say the success of the game took us a little by surprise. We knew it was good, we knew the concept was quite original, had nice cross-gender appeal and the puzzles were challenging without being frustrating. But we had no idea that so many people out there would agree! It was quite amusing at first when the clones started to appear. Somewhat less respectable companies ripped the game off and it was unofficially ported to iOS and Android.

A Chinese company even decided to steal all of the graphics and code, re-colour the sheep pink, throw in a few new levels and released it as “Home Sheep Home 2”. Somewhere around this point it was no longer funny any more and we realised it was time to  invest in making a true sequel (and as a side note: In the PC version there is a cheat mode that turns all of the sheep pink, in a not so subtle middle-finger to the original rip 🙂

[ Read more for developer insight on the build process ]

If you’ve never played Home Sheep Home before the aim is to get the 3 sheep from one side of the level to the other. The sheep are Timmy: The lamb of the flock. He’s tiny and can crawl into small spaces. Shaun: The hero of the TV series, he has the highest leap and is the most agile. And Shirley: She’s the biggest of the three, can’t  jump quite as high and is slower to move, but can push around most objects you encounter and acts as a great counter-balance! By swapping between them in real-time you leap, shove and explode your way through each level – interacting with objects they encounter such as switches, lifts, TNT, anti-gravity, portals, crates, water and loads more.

In the Flash version released today there is the whole Lost in London episode, all 15 levels from it. It’s completely free to play and isn’t crippled in any way. The other 2 episodes (Underground and Space) will follow in early 2012. We put the Web version onto FlashGameLicense for sponsorship, and the winning bid was from the Australian based games portal NotDoppler. If you’re in the market for selling your Flash games I cannot recommend these guys enough! They are friendly, professional, responsive and one of the best sponsors I’ve ever had to deal with (and I’ve dealt with a lot!).

Why pay if it’s online for free?

But why would you want to buy it as a PC Download if you can play it for free online? It’s a fair question but we think the reasons are pretty compelling: First of all you get to experience it in full screen filling HD. All of the original artwork and animations were created at a resolution of 2048 x 1536. The PC version runs in full-screen mode scaled to fit your monitor, using the highest quality assets it can. This makes a dramatic difference to how the game feels – there’s just something really special about having it fill the whole of a nice sharp 24″ LCD display!

However we were careful to treat it like most triple-A games do, so it has a comprehensive Options screen that lets you pick alternative resolutions, window or full-screen mode and a quality setting. The game itself is written in AS3/Flash and we use AIR3 with a captive run-time for the Desktop version. This means we were able to use full GPU acceleration (when present) and it made the most incredible difference to our game! Some levels feature massive full-screen scrolling backdrops at thousands of pixels dimensions, and it runs butter smooth. I still remember the day in the office when I managed to get this part of it working, Chris (the lead developer of the game) was physically jumping with joy at the results! It felt so free-ing to not be restricted to a little 640×480 window on the web.


We tested it from lowly 1GHz netbooks with on-board GPUs right up to top-class gaming rigs, and it scaled as expected. We even fired-up an old Pentium 4 with a processor fan that sounded like a 747 taking off and it actually ran on that (though it dropped back to 640×480). Basically AIR3 delivered on all fronts. Adobe really got that right! It was literally only the fact they released the captive-runtime support (meaning the end-user doesn’t need AIR installed) that made us use it. Traditionally Flash games turned into EXEs use some nasty hacked Projecter created EXE or a 3rd party tool like SWF Kit. But they really don’t work well any more, the Flash Projector EXEs are too easy to break and you don’t get the benefit of AIR, which allowed us to read/write to the local file system, poll hardware, set native EXE icons, create chrome-less “splash screen” windows (which we do!) and most importantly of all, benefit from GPU access.

Now this isn’t to be confused with Stage3D. We don’t use Stage3D in the game at all. But AIR3 can actually use the GPU for rendering of the native display list, giving a significant speed boost to most games. With it running properly under AIR on the desktop all that was left was to buy a copy of InstallShield Express and turn our game into a proper Windows installer.

Voila: the PC Download version was born, and we went to town with extras for it! This is the biggest reason why it’s worth the money: the huge amount of content!  Bonus Levels, 120+ collectable items, 50+ achievements, game changing cheat modes (which are fantastic fun!) and even a fully unlockable developers commentary, so each level has a different insight written by a members of the production team. There’s a lot of love in this game and I honestly think you’ll be able to feel that when playing it.

Flash to iOS Workflow

Also available today is the iOS version – both iPhone and iPad HD. Published by Chillingo and created in partnership with a local Bristol company Mobile Pie we worked very closely with them to ensure it was accurate to the original game. No, we don’t use Flash/AIR on iOS, there was just no point: it’s not fast enough for proper games. But Chris spent a long time created data export scripts, so that all of the physics data for every level was exported into a format their developers could use. All of the Flash timeline animated assets were run through a custom tool to export them to sprite sheets, as none of the SWF to Sprite Sheet tools out there worked as needed. Most of them didn’t like Flex built SWFs and when they did, they just couldn’t handle our complex MovieClip layering / filtering. So a large part of development was ensuring that the content exported to iOS smoothly, but it was more than worth it for the end result!

The iOS release is out today across most of the world and features the Underground and London episodes, plus the Bonus levels found in the PC version.

I plan on following-up this post with a tutorial on packaging a Flash game up for PC Desktop with AIR3. Because it truly does provide for a seamless playing experience now, indistinguishable from any other game you’d download from the likes of Steam or buy in a games store (people still do that, right? 🙂 Chris has also been promising to write some Box2D tutorials for this site, and as he’s one of the best physics Flash games designers out there, this should be exciting stuff if he gets around to it 😉

But in summary I’d just like to say that this was easily one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on yet. Chris did an incredible job coding, Robin as always drew more stunning art than you’d think possible from the fingers of one person, and Jemma and the rest of the team kept everything moving along and in order. It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of learning, but we love the end result. Hopefully you will do too.

So for now please have fun playing Home Sheep Home 2: Lost in London online, or head over to the official web site to buy the PC Download or iOS builds, and we’d love to know what you think!

Posted on December 8th 2011 at 10:26 am by .
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