We’re known for bringing our clients’ ideas to life, but one of our most unexpected success stories happened when the client was us.
Combining our inner retro gamer and the power of Unity, we created a fantasy world called Dungeon Highway, with over 140,000 hours of gameplay on iOS and Android. It earned enough acclaim to release as part of entertainment platform Steam’s highly selective Greenlight program.
Why did we create a new game?
We love a good challenge, and self-made ones prove to be some of the best. While exploring the Unity platform, still in its infancy, two of our developers realized that their device gesture experimentation could make for a simple yet awesome game. With a green light from Substantial, they got to work.
In only two weeks, they turned a between-project experiment into an addictive game. Buzz around Dungeon Highway escalated once it was uploaded to the App Store.
A simple Reddit post announcing the game steadily gained upvotes, while the app racked up over 50,000 downloads in hours. Within two days, Apple asked to feature Dungeon Highway as one of its best new games.
“You’ll die many, many times but keep coming back for the addictive thrill,” wrote Rad Gamer on the App Store. “Bathroom breaks have never been the same since.”
Dungeon Highway also earned viral status as the team noticed players posting screenshots of their high scores on Instagram with the hashtag #dungeonhighway.
The initial Reddit post made it to the front page of r/Gaming with over 1,700 upvotes. The game itself was featured in 83 countries on the Apple, Google, and Amazon app stores and promoted in Apple’s Twitter feed. To date, it has over 123,000 downloads and boasts a 4.4 rating in the App Store, and 124,000 downloads and a 4-star rating for Android.
Dungeon Highway was later released as part of entertainment distribution platform Steam’s Greenlight program, whose selective process accepts a fraction of submissions, with an even smaller number reaching the light of day.
How we did it
Dungeon Highway is a prime example of the power of experimentation and collaboration. Our developers pitched the game as a chance to deepen their experience with Unity and launch an app simultaneously for the App and Google Play Stores, a Substantial first. They were given two weeks, an ambitious timeline to create a new game.
To get it done, the team jumped into an accelerated series of two-day sprints, nightly builds, and an ongoing cycle of testing, fixes, and modifications on the fly. They even enlisted the help of Substantial colleagues: Another developer composed the soundtrack, and a designer helped with the interface.
The tight deadline made prioritization critical. As feedback came in they relentlessly tested and cut ideas that had a potential to jeopardize their deadline and focused on simple, fun gameplay. Some testing literally involved letting a coworker try a new feature and observing his reaction — if that person smiled, the feature stayed.
The devs also shrank their workload by using procedurally generated levels, with the game automatically generating endless combinations of enemies, obstacles, and power-ups.
The process and discipline paid off, with the team submitting to the App Store on schedule. Next, they turned their attention to promoting the game. They focused on Reddit, as the game’s gore, 8-bit aesthetic, deployability, and price (free), was all but certain to appeal to that demographic. They were right.
Dungeon Highway for the win
The team continued to release updates, add new features, a level-based mode, and monetize the game via advertising and in-app purchases. A sequel to Dungeon Highway, Dungeon Highway Adventures, adjusted gameplay to be even more level-based and added more role-playing features including weapons and an inventory system along with new music and artwork. This version has more than 17,000 downloads in the App Store, with a 4.5 star rating, and a 4-star rating in Android.
Dungeon Highway’s release as part of Steam’s Greenlight program also helped expand the game to include PC and console gamers in addition to mobile. It’s currently available on iOS, Android, and Steam.