Meet the Developer: Pelican Party — Creators of Narrow.One
We had a conversation with the developers behind web hits such as Nugget Royale and Ducklings.io, about working with Poki and celebrating 1 year of Narrow.One!
Having met in the Nederlands Film Academy, Jesper and Jurgen joined forces to establish Pelican Party as one of the frontrunners in innovative and successful web games. With beginnings making VR games together, this dynamic Dutch duo went on to create games like Nugget Royale and most recently, Narrow.One. From creating an entirely new engine for more efficient web game development to using trash cans to get the right sound effect, Jesper and Jurgen continue to show their love for making web games. In conjunction with Narrow.One’s 1st anniversary on Poki, we sat down with the guys to talk about the origins of Pelican Party, their development process, and working with Poki!
When did you start playing games and why decide to make a career out of making them?
Jesper: My first video game memory is of Freddi Fish because my parents bought a computer for the house when I was younger. From there, I began to make paper point-and-click adventures. I would tell people where they are or what’s around them and make them decide on what to do. I didn’t start programming until group 8 (around age 12). The first thing I made was a hangman game but it wasn’t great because the teacher just gave us the code which we copied down. Between this and the Nederlands Film Academy, I played a lot of Minecraft and created some Minecraft maps which were kind of like a game within a game.
Jurgen: Freddi Fish is also a big memory for me. I was lucky enough that my parents got us a Super Nintendo so I was hooked on Donkey Kong Country. I always liked games but I was more into drawing than development. I made my first game in school for a project and realised that I liked it.
Jesper: Once in the Film Academy, we started looking at VR and making VR games because the school was lucky enough to have an HTC Vive. Jurgen and I worked on 2 different VR games together, Floaty Flatmates and The Cubicle. After this and the Film Academy, we created a company and started working on Nugget Royale. This was going to be our first web game but my second as I had previously made and released Splix.io which became pretty popular.
As a 2 person dev team who seem to excel at making whatever you think is cool, what is your process like for creating games?
Jurgen: Jesper needs a lot of patience because almost every day I call him with a few very stupid ideas and he simply sits there and says “oh yeah, yeah that sounds good”. We did realise that we weren’t making tons of money so we needed to make something that would pay the bills, and that game turned out to be Narrow.One.
Jesper: I am not a huge fan of shooters but eventually Jurgen convinced me. We are very passionate about our games and making sure players enjoy them so we take a lot of time balancing gameplay and monetisation. Some of our previous games were more experimental because we did whatever we want.
Jurgen: I like how we did Nugget Royale. That started because we wanted to make a balance game and were talking about having a disk with a lot of players on it. The game evolved so that you had to fight and push people off the disk. In the beginning, we had a design with sculptures and other things but suddenly we got the idea of making it about chickens. We try to do all the sounds, scripting, modelling and art ourselves. We wanted to record the chicken sound with the squishable chicken dog toy but that toy is so hard to find in shops.
Jesper: You see it everywhere and then when we need it the most, it’s gone.
Jurgen: We went to at least 12 shops to find one, it was crazy. We tried to record it in different places but ended up sitting in a car squeezing and hitting the chicken with a fork, mainly because the office air conditioning was too loud. We were laughing so much. For Narrow.One, we had to record some sounds for people getting hit by the arrows so I put my face in a trash can to make it sound like I’m in armour. It’s so ridiculous but it’s so cool to think that so many people heard this noise. I needed to redo the sound actually because there was some background noise. I felt quite stupid picking up the trash and putting my head in again. Another time, we needed a boat motor sound for Floaty Flatmates so Jesper put his face in some water and started blowing bubbles. You can find the video I took of it in the game. There is a QR code somewhere that when you scan it, you are shown the video.
How did working with Poki come about and what’s been your reaction to the partnership?
Jurgen: Splix was doing very well so Jesper got lots of emails but didn’t trust them and 99% is spam anyway. When Poki reached out, I asked Jesper “why don’t you reply?” and we had a long talk about it. It ended up being a good idea because we visited here [Poki office] and it seemed quite promising. We looked at some statistics together on what the game could do and why we should work with you guys.
Jesper: I’m glad we partnered because our games get a lot of traffic now from Poki which we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Some of the services that Poki offers are also things we want to do ourselves, like the marketing (creating trailers etc) and hosting servers for your game. We still benefit from them for now which is nice but I think other developers probably benefit more from them than us. In the end, it was a really good decision to partner up.
Jurgen: If you work with loads of different sites, they all ask something from you because they want you to build in these SDKs and want links all over the place etc. The nice thing is when we only work with Poki, it saves so much time because we don’t have to. We get a lot of tips on how to get more out of each other in a good way and things like making sure there’s a pleasant experience for the players.
Jesper: I think the best part of Poki compared to competitors is that the developer portal is really good looking. It looks very professional, there are no weird quirks and it doesn’t look like it’s broken. I also believe the SDK is by far the best out there. I had to put so much time into building in an SDK for other platforms then something would be broken and they would tell me “Hey, this is broken. Could you please fix it” only for it to be their SDK that was broken. Poki doesn’t have that, it’s all super slick and there aren’t that many things that need to be done to add in the SDK.
Boasting well over 50 million gameplays total on Poki with your current catalogue of games, what do you think is the key to your success on the playground?
Jurgen: I think the big thing is our motivation for why we make a project; we genuinely enjoy it and don’t go for cash grab games. We’ve been approached in the past by different parties to make hypercasual games which aren’t fun and are only made to make money which isn’t what we want to do. I think that ours are games we would play ourselves. Enjoying making the game makes the game better, I enjoy everything we do and I think that shows.
Jesper: It’s also because we put a lot of time into our games. We don’t release something if it’s not finished and put in extra effort to make sure that it’s really how we want it to be rather than say “eh it’s good enough”.
Jurgen: We don’t make meme games or ones that are based on something that only really works for a short amount of time. We don’t base it on a series or anything, the game is its own thing.
A good technical foundation is key to reaching success on web. You’ve used different game engines for your games, why is that?
Jesper: For Narrow.One, and all our web games, we use Three.js, which is a lot like Unity except for the editor parts. They have an editor, but it’s a lot more bare-bones. It’s nice for the web because it’s so small so everything downloads really fast. For us, it’s really easy to develop in because you don’t have to export every time to check if something is broken. After all, the thing you’re developing in is already the web.
I am working on a separate engine which is a different project but it’s a big undertaking. I’m aiming for a bit of a mix between Three.js and Unity, something that has the usability of Unity but the performance of Three.js when running in a browser. I want to bring back the Unity editor because right now, we have the game itself, which runs when using Three.js, but if you want to design a level or the player character, then Jurgen does that in Blender. The problem is that Blender is not really made for level development, it’s made mainly for models and animations so making the entire level in Blender and then exporting it to the game is not the best, most efficient way to do it. We want to bring that editor back so that you can still change the level in the editor and then play it right in the browser. So similar to Unity but in the browser. It’s gonna take some time.
The power of web is how it enables players to quickly play any game without requiring an install. To keep this magic alive, it’s absolutely necessary to have a short and smooth loading experience through optimised file sizes and low engine overhead.
To see more about the importance of tech for web games, click here to see a talk done by Kasper at the JS GameDev Summit 2022
You have built up quite the community around your games. For Narrow.One, how important do you think having a strong community is to the success of the game?
Jurgen: It’s really important but also really cool. Whenever we add new things into the game, we don’t tell people anymore and instead wait for players to notice. It’s fun to see when we build a new level and people actively try to break it or find cool places to jump upon. We used to send photos of us in weird places but never tell anyone how to get there but they always figured it out. My favourite community thing we did was one where we added a hat into Nugget Royale that we wanted to make very difficult to get for only the elite players to show off but it only took like nine days for people to get it. You needed to win something like 2,000 times which was crazy. Someone calculated how long they had to play and how long their mom lets them play on the computer. They said that they can only play two hours a week so it will take them four years to get the hat and asked us to please lower it.
Jesper: But at the same time, many players got that same hat.
Jurgen: What I also really like is that in the early days of a game, we were the best at it and we would compete with each other but it’s gotten to a point where we always lose. We get annoyed that the rounds are too difficult and everything. It becomes difficult to test one tiny thing because the players are much better than us.
What’s coming up in the pipeline for Pelican Party and how can we follow you?
Jesper: I think that’s a really difficult question because if you look at past games, they’ve all been super different.
Jurgen: We switch it up but we are currently working on an adventure game.
Jesper: After that, I don’t know. We might make an app for productivity or something. Probably not actually but you get the idea.
Jurgen: A racing game maybe. I like that we switch though. In the beginning, we didn’t want to make a shooting game but now our shooting game is the most popular one. It’s actually really enjoyable because there are many different design things I didn’t think about before we started making a shooting game.
Jesper: Right. But still, I think our shooting game is so different from what you would expect from a standard studio. We don’t try to do something that’s already been done, we try to keep things different. So in this case, we tried to do that. We didn’t see that many archery games where you shoot and don’t instantly kill the other person if you click on the right spot. It keeps things interesting because you have to aim upwards and take time into account. We still try to change things up.
We don’t try to do something that’s already been done, we try to keep things different.