How we designed “Hope’s Valley”

Dinuka Jay
Monkey DNA
Published in
6 min readFeb 5, 2019

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Hope’s Valley is a journey through a child’s dream — from right within your mobile phone

Journey through a vivid dream

On the 21st of December 2018, it all started with a tweet:

The idea was to design a mobile experience that allowed the player to attain a state of focus and a feeling of relaxation solely by game graphics, music and gameplay.

We wanted to focus on the character. The movement of the character represents the state of the player’s current mindset. i.e. slow down when the player starts to focus more, speed up when it demands focus.

We started with a minimal block out level that featured a white block in an empty ‘endless’ space. Little did we know that this aesthetic would be maintained in the shipped version of the game a few months later! 😀

Next, we wanted to add a meditational guide AI that triggered instructions relative to the movement of the player. Player restless = cue_instruction().

💡The idea behind this was to seed a tiny storyline while the player focused on the game itself. We didn’t intend on adding a narrative to Hope’s Valley in the beginning but as time went by, we realized that we didn’t want Monkey DNA to be just another indie studio churning out generic mobile games 😅 We wanted to combine story-telling techniques that we dearly love from studios such as Naughty Dog, Santa Monica Studios and Campo Santo. We knew we couldn’t even get close to them but we decided to apply basic story-telling techniques we’ve learned by playing their amazing games.

The output looked something like this:

We usually build apps and games out in the ‘open’. By that I mean, building out in the public eye on twitter. This entire game was built while live tweeting! One of the many perks of this was the endless feedback we received at every stage of the development flow.

Here’s one of the tweets that primarily changed the entire narrative of the game:

Twitter superman @roarellan suggested that I added a ‘cross-legged genie’ sitting on top of the block. Dude... that’s awesome! We wanted this game to be kinda strange and cryptic. A cross-legged genie was the perfect random ‘thing’ to place on a mysterious cube in the middle of nowhere 🤷‍♂️ We went with it!

And holy moly, the output looked dreamy.

Are you kidding me? That looks amazing already 😁

And so… Hope was born.

Just chilling on a cube in the middle of nowhere. I’m okay, mom!

The introduction of “Hope” (No pun intended!) introduced the possibility of a deeper narrative. A narrative in which we could potentially develop a character. At this point, we were going nuts with ideas.

The game was literally built with feedback from Twitter folks throughout the development process:

We wanted every single thing in this game to be procedurally generated. Which means, we didn’t necessarily have to ‘design’ entire levels. We wanted to build specific objects that the game could randomly place across levels based on certain rules. The character is chilling in the middle of a giant void and the experience is built on the fly when the player starts the journey.

It was kinda weird to see an empty editor window cos everything was procedurally generated. Umm.. boring? 😝

The title

Next, we decided to further use twitter to help us decide a name for the game.

So I ran a poll 🙌

Twitter decided that “Hope’s Valley” sounded cooler than Hope’s Trail. So we went with it. Who am I to argue with 22 votes? Bruh.

Tiny details

We wanted Hope to chill on the cube, yes. But hey, Hope is a kid. Kids like to swing their legs when they sit anywhere. Right? I think so. I’m not a dad yet but I can confirm that what happened in the next hour definitely ended up looking like an actual kid on a cube.

The introduction of dream walls

This was a trivial moment in the development flow. We initially didn’t want to include any ‘enemy’ characters or threats to the game. After the initial playthrough, we realized that the game was BORING. I am dead serious here. I felt like a mindless zombie going through a literal void. We wanted a little bit of action to keep the player focused on the game and the narrative. Just a little bit.

And on the 10th of January 2019, dream wall mechanics were born…

This brought in a level of excitement that the game didn’t have previously. The player has 2 objectives now:

  1. Survive
  2. Play through the narrative to discover what this whole game was all about

The final output after this looked absolutely stunning and we capitalized on this throughout every chapter:

Special FX

It’s a dream. Random stuff happens in dreams. It was raining outside while I was working that night. So the next thing I added to the game was rainfall.

The buzz

The Twitter thread was starting to generate a little buzz and a couple of indie game development accounts on twitter retweeted some of the dev tweets. So we started gathering up a tiny crowd around the game. Awesome!

We decided to launch a ProductHunt pre-launch page to show off some of the alpha gameplay footage and screenshots. This also allowed us to gather subscribers so that when we launch, they get to know that it’s ready to be played! Additionally, this gave birth to weekly progress newsletters delivered right into their inboxes.

Some of the initial reactions to alpha gameplay footage:

Reactions from ProductHunt Pre-launch page subscribers 🙏
Me too, Kyle. Me too.

Things that never made the cut 😢

Like any other team, we were a little too ambitious at times. Here are some of the ‘cut’ highlights that never made it to the final build of the game… for many reasons 😅

Dream Planets

We wanted Hope to travel past huge planet-like structures. These structures were essentially just props and were not supposed to be threats to Hope and her little cube. Although they looked cool, they didn’t suit the minimalistic aesthetic we were maintaining in each chapter’s environment. They weren’t complimenting the overall outlook, we thought. So we scratched them off the built with heavy hearts. Rest in peace, dream planets.

Glass Monuments

After the demise of the dream planets, we came up with the idea of having large structures that resembled alien-like monuments. We changed the environment of every chapter to be enclosed within a long passage instead of the endless void. The endless void allowed the player to freely roam anywhere they wanted to travel to — which in turn made it unpredictable for us to determine where to place other environmental props. This gave birth to the endless passage you see in the final version of the game which essentially limits the player’s movement. The glass monuments didn’t ‘fit’ in the passage, obviously. Once again, with heavy hearts, we parted ways.

The original development thread can be found here 👋

So after 3 months of development, Hope’s Valley is finally out there in the wild for you to play with 😀

Download on iOS and Android for free.

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