We hope you’ve had a wonderful summer vacation, we’re getting back into the swing of things at the office and we’re ready for this month’s blog! Let’s talk to Douglas Gustavsson, who works with bringing Star Stable Online to mobile (yes, including Android!) and Marcus Olsson, who helps bring the fantastical universe of Star Stable to life in books! We hope you enjoy the read!
The Quest For Star Stable Online Mobile
By Douglas Gustavsson – Producer for Star Stable Online Mobile
Hi Star Stable followers, this is Douglas, Producer for Star Stable Online Mobile. I’ve had the privilege to lead the work on bringing this awesome game to mobile devices, and I’d like to share some of that journey with you.
First, there was iOS
We decided to start with one mobile platform (iOS) to limit the scope, and we figured that we could use the solutions for most problems on other platforms as well. So the first part of the journey was all about getting the game to just launch on an iPhone. Star Stable Online (SSO) does not use a standard game engine like Unity or Unreal; we have our own since the game was created before any of those others were available. This means that we have done a lot of the work for moving the game to mobile by hand. We also decided early on that this would be a genuinely cross-platform gaming experience where desktop and mobile players would be able to play together, which adds another layer of complexity.
SSO was created for desktop first, meaning that you use a mouse and keyboard to do a lot of the interaction in the game, and it was also designed for a big screen with plenty of space. We had to translate the controls into something that works with touch and thumb control (if you have not seen the thumbs promotional video, do it asap 😆). The user interface had to be adapted for a smaller screen, and things like special moves for the different horse breeds and other key press actions had to be converted into icons. Almost all the windows in the game had to be rescaled in a way that made them work on different Apple devices.
There have also been more technical challenges to solve, like how you use your phone in comparison to a desktop. On mobile, you get interrupted all the time; there are Snap messages to answer or new Insta posts to like meaning that the app will switch between running in the foreground and background all the time, and that can’t interfere with the game. Performance is also a challenge. Star Stable Online is a big game so we had to work with profiling and different optimizations to ensure the best possible experience for each device.
During this work, we used game test platforms, Star Stable employees and their friends and family, our fantastic ambassadors, and finally, closed beta in Australia and New Zealand to gather feedback and make sure that we had a game experience that worked on mobile and was fun to play. When we felt that the game was good enough (yes, I totally agree that there are things that can be improved even more), we started to prepare for a launch.
There is a little more to it than just pressing the publish button in the App Store. First, we needed to make sure that the rest of the organization was ready to support the game on yet another platform. This means that the whole chain from content production to release management needed to be tweaked in one way or another. Since the game is cross-platform, every player needs to have the same content at all times, so setting up a process for getting the Apple app review process in sync with our Wednesday updates was not trivial. Speaking of Apple review, making sure that the app conformed with all the App Store guidelines also took a fair bit of time. Another thing that felt important to us was to make sure that we were compliant with GDPRkids and COPPA Safe Harbor since we value the security of our players’ personal data.
With all these things in place, we started an exciting rollout of the game in a few markets at a time until we finally did the full launch on February 17th 🚀.
We are continuously tweaking and improving the game on iOS. Right now we are testing out new ways to make controlling your horse a better experience.
Next stop – Android
One might think that after having built the game for iOS, it would be easy peasy just to release it on Android. To some extent, it’s true; some things will be easier because we can reuse solutions we have done for iOS, and we don’t need to verify that the game is fun on a mobile device. We know all that already from all the great iOS feedback.
However, it’s not a 1:1 job to be done. The technology stack for Android is different, and some of the technologies we use, since we have our own game engine, meaning that we have to go into some uncharted technical territory to get the game to build and run on Android devices.
Another challenge is the vast landscape of various Android vendors and devices. Every vendor has their flavor of the Android operating system and sometimes limitations and how apps can use hardware etc. There are also more devices that will be on the low end or below of being able to run the game at all. This makes Quality Assurance and selecting what to support a lot more complex.
So far, the work with bringing SSO to Android has been very intense, frustrating, and at the same time, fun and exciting. For instance, we spent several days trying to solve a blocking problem only to discover that deep down in the code, a value had to be changed from 1 to 0 🙈. Despite this, we have still made great progress, and I can now actually play the game on my Android test device. However, as for iOS, there is still a lot of work to be done before the game has the quality we would like it to have, and we are ready to support this in the whole organization. So, for now, there is no fixed deadline for a launch.
And then what?
Does the journey stop with the launch of Android? Of course, it doesn’t. First of all, we still want to continuously improve the gaming experience to make sure that you have a fun and engaging game regardless of which platform you play it on. We have also very recently made the game available on the Epic Game Store, and then there are still more exciting platforms to explore in the future to make sure that we can let you play on the device of your choice and that you can do it together with your friends.
We strongly believe that Star Stable Online has many more years ahead together with our existing as well as new players.
Let’s Talk About Books!
By Marcus Olsson – Head of Books
The easiest way to understand what the Books team at Star Stable does, is that we get to make things up for a living together with other people. Ok, we need to do a bunch of other stuff too, but most days we get to work with amazing people who turn ideas into stories with characters we know and care about (and sometimes they turn up as NPCs or in-game horse, yay!). We love stories, and seeing them come to life is such a fun and rewarding process to be part of.
Even if my job is to manage the creation and business of books here, I just want to go on record and say that games are awesome – and players even more so (yes, I’m talking about you, StarFam). Ever since I got my hands on a C-64 waaaay back in the distant 1980s, games have been part of my life. But having spent a lot of time writing and reading (and making things up playing a fair share of tabletop RPGs) everything came together when I ended up working in book publishing over ten years ago. To me, the cool thing about books is how you, as a reader, become part of the telling. Stephen King called books “a uniquely portable magic”. I believe he was talking about that thing where bit by bit, you experience the story through the power of your own imagination and enter a different world. No Sun Circle powers required. I’m beyond grateful that I can combine my passion for books and reading with my love for games.
Creating the Soul Riders series has been an amazing ride. From a creative point of view, we quickly realized that books and games are quite different things. That journey is probably the subject matter for another blog post, but let’s just say that to adapt a story from a game which has been around for more than ten years (and another seven if you count Starshine Legacy) with hundreds of hours of gameplay, you need to boil things down. At the same time, you also have to go deeper into the story and characters, and explore things that make sense for your story arc. We knew we needed to be respectful of the game you love (and know so much about!) AND try to make the books as good as possible. Sounds complicated? It is. And also a bit scary. But more than anything it’s a lot of fun, and we hope you come along for the ride.
A few years ago when we decided that we didn’t just want to make games, it was because we believe that a game offers one kind of experience, and we wanted to add more ways for you to step into the Star Stable universe. Our first book, Jorvik Calling by Helena Dahlgren, was published in Sweden in collaboration with the lovely people at Bonnier Carlsen in May 2018. Fast forward a few years and we are now working with some of the best publishers in the world, having released nine books in ten languages (with more on the way). To know that our books are available in thousands of bookstores, libraries and online reading platforms in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, is kind of mindblowing.
None of it would be possible without our storytellers, of course. We are truly blessed to be working with such talented writers, illustrators and comics creators as Helena Dahlgren, Marie Beschorner, Elli Puukangas and Katie Cook. But making books and comics is truly a team effort, and we have a group of editors, book publishers, game writers, designers, agents and marketing wizards who are passionate about storytelling and add their magic to the Star Stable universe.
In the Soul Riders book series, that magic is everywhere. There are magical horses and creatures, magical powers and magical places. But there is also the everyday magic of friendship, and the special bond any rider has with their horse. So for our next project, we wanted to explore that even more. Moorland Stables is a brand new book series about four friends who would do anything for their horses and love spending time together in the stable and on riding trails. For this series, we teamed up with equestrian author Catherine Hapka, who has written over a hundred books (such as The Saddle Club series) and has three horses in her backyard. The beautiful covers are made by Vivienne To, who has done some marvelous illustrations for books by Suzanne Collins, StacyPlays and the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.
The first Moorland Stables book, The New Horse, will be out in Swedish in September 2022, and other languages are planned for 2023. I won’t add any spoilers here, but let me just say that there will be fewer lightning bolts, but just as much mystery and adventure. It is Jorvik, after all. And if there is one thing I love about our favorite island, it is that once you’re in the saddle together with your friends, anything is possible.
Those were some great topics, don’t you agree? Hope you’ve had a great summer! We can’t wait to share more of what’s to come this year! Stay tuned for the next edition of the blog!