The Making of Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre

TL;DR

  1. Our previous game, Toto Temple Deluxe, didn’t sell as expected
  2. We decided to make a new Burrito Bison to get back on our feet financially
  3. We added lots of new features to improve on the 2 previous games
  4. We had to adapt the BB formula to the F2P mobile market
  5. The mobile release has been a success so far
  6. Some numbers

If you’ve been living under a rock (or if you don’t know about us, which would be strange because we’re super famous, really) you might have missed that in November 2016 we released the 3rd game in the Burrito Bison series, Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre, for web, iOS and Android.

If you’re unfamiliar with Burrito Bison, it’s a simple and supposedly addicting game about Mexican launchadores (launching + luchadores) wrestling gummy bears. It’s a classic launching game, like any you’ve probably played in your browser a couple years ago, but on steroids.

The Burrito Bison games are probably our most famous games to date, just above Knightmare Tower. They all went pretty viral back in our Flash days (we’re talking dozens of millions of plays). You might be thinking “if it’s your most popular franchise, why did you wait 4+ years to make another one?” That’s actually a very good question!

Why wait 4 years before cashing in on that success?

Busy Beast

The direct answer to that is probably that a bunch of opportunities led us to work on other things after releasing Burrito Bison Revenge (BBR) in 2012. Here’s a quick list of what we did since.

  1. Burrito Bison Revenge on Kongregate
  2. Knightmare Tower on Kongregate
  3. Flippin Dead on Kongregate
  4. Knightmare Tower on Ouya
  5. Knightmare Tower on iOS
  6. Toto Temple at ToJam
  7. Gentlemen Dispute at Indie Speed Run
  8. Knightmare Tower on Android
  9. FROX at ToJam
  10. Knightmare Tower on Steam
  11. Toto Temple Deluxe on Ouya
  12. Toto Temple Deluxe on PS4, Xbox One, Wii U and Steam
  13. Right Click to Necromance at Indie Speed Run
  14. Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre on Kongregate
  15. Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre on mobile
  16. Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre content update (Time Travel)
  17. Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre content update (Stopwatch Mode)

As you can see, apart from Toto Temple Deluxe and a bunch of jam games, we haven’t release any new games. It’s mostly just ports of our old games.

Adventurous Beast

The other, less obvious answer to that brilliant question is that we like to create new things and experiment with new ideas. Making the same game over and over gets pretty boring (yes, like ports). We also felt that there wasn’t much we could add to the Burrito Bison experience to justify making another one.

The ugly truth

Let’s be honest for a second. The ugly truth is that… It’s that… Jeez it’s hard to say… The truth is that we did it for the money.

We can hear you judging us.

You’re probably thinking “well of course you did it for the money, you run a business and you need to eat too”, right?

Right?

Seriously though, here’s why.

Toto Temple Deluxe’s financial failure

It might be a surprise to you, but Toto Temple Deluxe didn’t sell that much. The game is good , fun and everything, but it’s local-multiplayer only, and these are extremely hard to sell. Long story short, it was a pretty serious situation that nearly kicked us out of business. We were out of money and we needed a way to get back on our feet quick.

Evaluating options

“How about a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new game?”

That would take months, requiring us to find a decent idea, build a prototype, make sure it’s fun, put some art on it to make it appealing, build the campaign, wait another month, etc. It would clearly take too much time and we’d run out of money before even reaching the end of the prototype phase.

“You guys are in Canada, right? Why not apply to the Canadian Media Funds?”

CMF is a really good option to fund a project, and we’re lucky to have it here in Canada. The thing is that applying to CMF is pretty similar to building a Kickstarter Campaign. It would take us months to build a solid pitch, without any guarantee that it would work in the end.

“Can’t you just get a loan from a bank or something?”

That would have been a solution, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. We like to think of borrowing money as a last resort.

As you can see, we were clearly running out of options, until…

The Solution

Wait a minute. Remember that thing Kongregate did back in August 2015 called Battle KongRoyale? You know, when they pitted their top games against each other to see which one would get voted “Best Game on Kongregate Ever”? No?

Well, Burrito Bison Revenge ended up winning that popularity contest.

Shortly after Toto Temple Deluxe’s release, I remember being in an “emergency” meeting with Dom (the other co-founder) and suddenly thinking: “That’s it, that’s how we can get back on our feet!”

We could use this contest to ask Kongregate if they want to fund* the development of a new Burrito Bison game! Making a new one seemed perfect for a bunch of reasons:

  • If Kongregate agrees, we’d get funding relatively quickly (allelujah)
  • Thanks to them, we know the IP is still popular
  • We don’t need to prototype much, we already know what’s fun
  • We can probably make it in under a year, so it’s low risk
  • We’ve always had a good relationship with Kongregate (they’re awesome)
  • BBR winning their Battle KongRoyale recently surely adds weight to the pitch
  • We keep receiving fan mail since 2012 asking for BB3

* By the way, Kongregate funding projects isn’t a secret. They even have an official page for their Launchpad program.

As you can guess, we got in touch with Kongregate, and after a couple weeks discussion surrounding our pitch, we finally got a funding deal for Burrito Bison 3! We were saved, but…

It felt a tiny bit wrong

Our priority was to get back on our feet (financially), and thanks to Kongregate, we succeeded. It still felt a little bit wrong for various reasons:

  • We weren’t making a new Burrito Bison because we wanted to, but because we had to in order to survive as a business.
  • It felt like a failure at first. After all, we were still tasting the bitterness of TTD’s unsuccessful launch.
  • We’ve always made the games we wanted to make, and “making money” has never been at the core of our decision process.
  • We like to make new things and explore new territories. Another Burrito Bison game isn’t exactly a “new thing”.

Yes, we know. We’re lucky enough to have a successful IP in our hands, and we’re still far from selling our soul for money. There’s nothing wrong here, but it’s just how it felt at first. It was a change in our usual process and we just had to go through it.

Making the best BB we can, no matter what

Even if making a new Burrito Bison game wasn’t our first choice, we still wanted to make it the best in the series. We still care about the quality of our games, and we would never release a game we’re not proud of.

Obviously, pitching a new Burrito Bison game meant that we needed to make it appealing. This meant new ideas! We had already made two very similar games in the past, and this one had to stand out from the other two.

In order to improve on an already good game, we used the same process we used to make the first two games. It was all about taking something we like, and finding what could be done better. We don’t want to change what’s working, but simply improve on things that have room for improvement.

Now I’m about to go through all the new features and how we made them. If you’d rather skip that part and go straight to the transition from Flash to mobile / free-to-play, just click here. Otherwise, let’s go!

Revamping old features

Right off the bat, we had ideas for new features, but also existing features that could be done better. Other ideas came later on in the process, as we were developing. It was a pretty organic development process, since the foundation was already laid out.

New gummies, obviously

You can’t make a new Burrito Bison without new gummy bears. It’s like a new Fast & Furious without new cars. It doesn’t make sense. Speaking of which, Fast & Furious would be an amazing subtitle for a new Burrito Bison game!

I’m sorry.

One of the first thing we noticed we could do better, on top of actual new gummies, was the complete removal of HUD elements from the mini games. If you’ve played the previous games in the series, you might remember these little things that would appear as soon as you grabbed a special gummy.

They were there to give you information on how to execute the mini game. In the first example above, you can see a vertical meter telling you when to click (when the little Burrito face hits the target). The second one is simply telling you hold the mouse button.

Not only were they hard to understand, but they were also distracting and taking you out of the action. Once you knew how to execute them, they would become useless and simply get in your way.

Most importantly, there was no relationship between how the mini games looked and how they worked. For instance, what are you supposed to do with a big, pink gummy? Roll with it? Smash it? Lick it?  It doesn’t convey anything by itself.

Let’s check out Puncheus Pilot’s design from Launcha Libre. What’s that you say? Puncheus Pilot is a great name? You’re right, it’s a pretty amazing pun (Pontius Pilate) from Kongregate user BSJ913. In fact, all the gummy names were suggested by Kongregate users, and they’re awesome.

As you can see, it has a big, red punching glove aimed towards the ground. What do you think it’ll do once you click? “Uh… I don’t know, maybe punch towards the ground?” And BAM, you understood what it’s about just by looking at it. No huds, no nothing.

Click, click, boom! I’m coming down on the stereo… Saliva? Anyone? No…?

First time you try clicking you’ll see the glove punching quickly towards the ground before retracting itself. It also has limited range, so you’ll need to time it to actually punch something. That’s it, you know everything.

Well, not everything, but that’s okay. As you keep playing, you’ll learn the finer details, like you only have 3 chances to punch something, every time you succeed you go higher, and if you get it right 3 times, the device will explode at the end, giving you a speed bonus. Overcharging you with information in a tutorial is useless and annoying, so we let you discover the rest. See how simple the tutorials are?

I have to click to punch stuff. Alright.

We applied the same process for all the mini games. It’s obviously harder for us to design new gummy bears this way, but we like to think we did okay, even if some are more obvious than others. We definitely think removing HUDs is a nice improvement that keeps you immersed in the action.

Psssst, if you’re curious about this whole “knowing what something does just by looking at it”, it’s called affordances and you can learn more about it in this short video by Extra Credits.

Carvable giant walls

You can’t make a new Burrito Bison without new gummy bears, but you also need giant walls blocking your way. What are you supposed to smash through if you don’t have any?

The giant walls stayed the same since the first Burrito Bison, so we thought there was room for improvement here too.

In previous games, you’d hit a giant wall standing in your way at the end of every zone. You’d need to gather enough speed to pass through it, otherwise you’d just smash your face in it and stop right where you were. It wasn’t really clear to new players why they would hit their face in the wall over and over again, as there was no clear feedback.

In Launcha Libre, it’s not all or nothing anymore. As you can see in the GIF above, entering the wall is easier, but it doesn’t mean you’ll exit on the other side. That’s because the cake matter slows you down as you’re carving through, making it clearer that speed is important to go through. The good news is that whatever you carve out stays like that forever. This way, you can visually track your progress between each run, making it a lot more exciting. Carving out more cake means that you’ll eventually get through the door, which is way more encouraging than stopping abruptly with no real feedback.

Oh, and it looks way cooler too!

New launchadores

When it’s time to revamp the game, it’s easy to think about features like gummy bears and walls, but what about Burrito Bison himself? He represents the actual gameplay, how you interact with the game, so changing him has a huge impact on the game’s core mechanics (it’s a one button game, after all).

Since the overall gameplay was going to be pretty similar to the previous games, we really wanted a way to differentiate this one from its predecessor. We wanted screenshots to really demonstrate that it’s a new game, and not the old Flash ones. We wanted something you never saw before, basically. That’s where the idea of new launchadores came into play.

Instead of simply changing Burrito Bison, or giving him different play styles (mechanics), how about we simply add new characters that each have their own style? This would allow us to put brand new faces onto the game, screaming that it’s a totally new one, while letting us refresh the gameplay at the same time. Genius!

Yes, we think we’re geniuses. Sometimes.

Pineapple Spank

Pineapple Spank came in first and relatively easily. We were thinking of ways to keep the same “one button” gameplay that would fit on top the existing content, and the idea of automatically picking the most valuable gummies out of the crowd sounded pretty cool.

Random generic gummy bear, I choose you!

The concept worked right away, but her hookshot ability ended up being pretty powerful compared to Burrito’s normal rocket slam ability. To to balance her out, we reduced her area of impact a little bit. For comparison, Burrito can smash more gummies around him when he slams the ground. We even added an “auto slam” ability to Burrito when he falls from high enough. This way, he can smash more gummies and avoid getting hurt on the ground without spending any rockets, which makes him as useful as Pineapple Spank.

El Pollo

El Pollo’s concept took more time to figure out, as we finally decided on its special ability around the end of the production phase. We dared to go a bit deeper by asking players to click and hold to perform its special move. El Pollo can fly through the air and sustain its altitude when you hold the button, just before doing a regular rocket slam when you release.

His ability is super useful to reach the clouds faster, as you can hover to target specific gummies to help you ascend. He’s a bit trickier to use, so you unlock it later in the game. We like to think of El Pollo as an advanced character for advanced players, adding depth to the game. Mastering El Pollo takes a while and we think it’s a good thing.

Most players prefer Pineapple Spank for her ease of use and efficiency, but we can sometimes find true hardcore players preferring El Pollo over the other two. We really wanted to have different characters (both visually and mechanically), so we hoped that everyone would have their own favorite, no matter the reason!

New opponents and launch system

If you’ve played the first games in the series, you probably remember those timing mini-games that you’d have to play to launch yourself out of the ring.

Just like with the gummy bears, we felt like there was no relationship between the mini-games (spinning HUDs) and the opponents themselves. So, we decided to remove the HUDs altogether.

This forced us to transfer the timing mini-games into the opponents themselves. The most obvious way of creating that relationship was to use their idle animations.

In their face!

As you can see above, you need to hit them at the right moment in their animation to get a “crit” bonus, otherwise you just hit them normally. That “right moment” isn’t explicitly revealed to you, so you need to analyse their animation and guess when that peak is. We mostly avoided creating a tutorial for this to lighten the load of everything you’re trying to learn at first. We didn’t want you to read a bunch of paragraphs just to try the game out. Seriously, who likes that?

Also, as you probably noticed, we changed the way you actually launch yourself. Instead of simply clicking the screen to let Burrito fly away, you actually need to pull the elastic cables back and let them go to launch the launchadores (à la Angry Birds, or Crush the Castle if you know your stuff).

Burrito has always launched himself by using the cables, so it just feels more natural to do the actual move with your finger. It also lets you aim at where you want to go, which let us create different opponent animations (like the Beaster Bunny who jumps in the air), adding more depth to the system.

The final addition we made to the launch system are the health bars at the top. In the previous games, you’d need to perfectly hit the opponents a certain number of times to defeat them. It was pretty hard to track your progress, so adding health bars made it super easy. It also helped push that wrestling / fighting theme further, along with the fact that you can K.O. your opponents like in a real fighting game 😉

Opponents also randomly cycle between themselves as you defeat them, keeping things fresh as you unlock more opponents. In the previous games, you’d be stuck with the last opponent you’ve unlocked forever, which kind of feels dumb now that we think of it.

Overall, we think the new launch system feels a lot more natural and entertaining than the old HUD dependent one. What do you think?

Mexican culture

Launcha Libre is the first game in the series that does not take place in Candyland. That’s right, it’s all happening in Mexico, Burrito Bison’s hometown! We wanted to refresh things up and let Candyland rest a bit.

The main benefit from making the game take place in Mexico (and surrounding areas) was the cultural aesthetics. It’s super bright and colorful, just how we like our Burrito Bison games. It was also refreshing to surround Burrito in its element, instead of having him being the only Mexican element.

Not only can you feel the Mexican aesthetics in the backgrounds, but in the UI art, music (by Hyperduck) and sound design (by Signal Space) as well. You can listen to the amazing soundtrack by Hyperduck Soundworks here!

Deciding to use elements from Mexican culture meant that we had to do it in a respectful way, obviously. We just assumed we knew nothing about Mexican culture, which isn’t far from the truth, so we made a bunch of research for every elements we wanted to include in the game. We even double checked with friends that are actually native from Mexico, just to get their opinion on the whole thing. We love the Mexican culture (and food), but we’d never want to offend anyone with our games, obviously!

We like to think we did a good job respecting the culture, but please let us know if you think we missing something.

Real Recipes

If you’re a Burrito Bison fan (or Pulp Fiction fan), you’ll probably recognize this.

It’s Burrito’s wallet, the one the gummy bears stole back in Burrito Bison Revenge. Your goal was to get it back so you could pay for your groceries!

We’ve never been known for the complexity of our games’ ending (have you ever played Gobtron?) Even if we still wanted something simple to drive Burrito’s / your motivation, we wanted to drop the wallet thing and go for something else.

Introducing… the real recipes!

Burrito starts off in La Tienda, making his groceries, like in every Burrito Bison game, so we had the idea of replacing his wallet with a recipe book. It would get stolen by an evil gummy chef, and you’d then have to get it back. Real simple and fast to do, as we were on a pretty tight schedule at the time.

As we joked about the recipes, we thought it’d be funny to make them actual real recipes you can make at home. I remembered my mom having a pretty good salsa recipe she used to make when I was a kid. Naturally, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to share it with the rest of the world!

It started out with salsa, then we added guacamole, tortilla soup and huevos rancheros (credits to Kong staff Danilo’s mom for this one). Before adding them to the game, we cooked up all of them and adjusted them to make sure they were tasty and as easy to make as possible. It was nice cooking up at home, thinking “this is for work, hehe”.

For a simple “end game” reward, we thought it was pretty sweet that you could actually cook them. Unfortunately, not everyone thought so. We received a lot of comments complaining about the recipes just being plain recipes, and not adding anything else to the game itself.

We totally understand why you’d expect more from it, but we didn’t plan much further than this at first. We thought the game would “end” once you’d get all your recipes back, just like it would when you’d get your wallet back in BBR. We didn’t really think about the replayability of it, especially as a mobile free-to-play title.

On the other hand, a lot of players have vocally expressed their love for the recipes. Seeing someone cooking up one of the recipes puts a smile on our faces every time!

From Flash to mobile F2P

If you’ve known us for a couple years, you know we used to make Flash games. They’ve always been “free to play”, but not in the same way as modern free-to-play (F2P) titles. We used to get our money from the sites that were hosting our games, leaving them completely free to players. Making the jump from “free to play” to F2P isn’t exactly seamless.

Our good ol’ Flash games

Even if Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre is our first, real F2P title, we were confident going in, mostly because Kongregate are experts on the matter *. Really, it’s amazing how much they know their stuff.

*Just so you know, we designed the whole game by ourselves, and Kongregate never forced us to do anything we didn’t want to. They only offered tips and shared their thoughts on what we already did.

Right off the bat, we knew we had to retain the classic Burrito Bison experience. We wanted to keep the core intact, so no mobile gimmicks like “lives” or anything asking you to stop playing and come back later. Burrito Bison as always been about that “one more run” feeling, so we really wanted to let players play as much as they wanted to. Video ads with bonuses felt like the best option for the type of gameplay.

Video Ads

By using video ads as the main revenue source, we knew we’d keep generating revenues only as long as players were actually playing the game. This meant that we had to take the original 2 hour experience and stretch it as much as we could without dropping the quality of the game. Obviously, there was absolutely no way for us to retain that condensed 2h experience on the F2P market, it just doesn’t make sense.

Since watching video ads would give you bonuses to accelerate your progress, we started out by balancing the game for players who would decide not to watch any video ads. We wanted the game to still be enjoyable without ads, but still “slow” enough to make you want to watch the ads. Yeah, making F2P games is borderline evil, we know. Please stay our friends!

Piñata!

Before we even knew we’d be making BB3, we had this idea of wrapping video ads in an “opportunity system” to make them feel more special. Not having the opportunity to watch video ads whenever you want would technically make it more enticing to watch one when you could.

We wanted the thing offering you video ads to be in the gameplay loop and not just a UI thing slapped on. That’s how the idea for the Piñata came up.

It needed to be a gummy bear, so it could spawn in the world for you to smash. At first it was supposed to be some kind of gummy salesman offering some goodies in exchange for a video, but we quickly figured out that simply clicking “yes” in a dialogue box was less entertaining than smashing things. After all, that’s what you do in Burrito Bison, so it’s only natural to ask you to smash something to get your goodies.

Hey you, hit me!

This is where the piñata comes in! A piñata is supposed to be beaten up by default, plus it’s Mexican. How perfect! It was also a good opportunity to introduce a new character on its own.

The piñata’s personality came straight for the fact that it would let you beat it up if you’d watch an ad. We wanted you to want to beat it up, so it had to enjoy it. Imagine if it’d be scared of you beating it up? You would probably feel bad doing it.

That’s how we came up with a crazy looking piñata that keeps asking you to punch it. It enjoys it so much that if you take too long to take its offer to watch an ad, the piñata will try to click the “Yes” button with a stick.

We did our best to make it as satisfying as possible. Notice all the sounds, effects and confettis in the video above. It might not be the most satisfying thing ever, but we still think it’s doing a good job. Also, seeing things like this (below) makes us think we succeeded at creating a new memorable character for the game!

A lucky BB player received a real piñata for his birthday!

The piñata system had a couple useful perks. Its content was flexible, so we could add more goodies, remove some, change them, etc. We also made its content scalable, so it would follow your general upgrade level.

Each time you purchase an upgrade, you get a purple star for your piñata. Once you have enough, the piñata levels up and its content gets better, following your overall progression.

Release

Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre was first released in September 2016 as a web version on Kongregate.com. We used the feedback from the web version to improve on the game before releasing it on mobile in November 2016.

Web VS Mobile

Even if the game was born on Flash, the web version wasn’t as well received as the mobile version.

Let’s be honest, the game was designed for mobile first. It wasn’t as condensed as the original games, plus it had video ads in it. We learned that the web community doesn’t respond very well to those things, especially if it’s a sequel to a game they loved.

The weird thing is that even if the comments were bad, the numbers were good. A lot of players were playing the game a lot and watching all the ads they could. We decided to keep the game mostly as it was and wait for the mobile launch. Turns out it was the right decision!

Numbers

To this day, 10 months after its release, the web version is rated at 3.9/5 with over 1.8M gameplays. The mobile version is rated at 4.8/5 on Android and 5/5 on iOS, with 6.22M and 2.18M downloads respectively. That’s a total of 8.40M downloads to date.

As you can see, the mobile version did a lot better than the web version. Both markets are not of the same scale, obviously, but you can still see how ratings differ from one platform to the other.

In terms of revenues, here’s how it’s split between web and mobile, IAP and ads.

Compared to Toto Temple Deluxe, BB:LL has been a complete financial success. It has allowed us to get back on our feet financially, but also plan ahead for future projects. It might not have been our number one choice when it comes to which games we felt like making, but we’re super pleased of how well it turned out to be.

To wrap it up (like a burrito)

We still can’t understand how high the ratings are on mobile. I mean 5/5, what’s wrong with you people? We received a lot of fanart and amazing emails about how much the game means to some people. In other words, it’s been amazing to see the reception so far, and we hope the game will live as long as the previous ones in the series (people are still playing Burrito Bison Revenge, you guys are crazy).

Have you played the game? Did you like it? Would you change some things? Did you learn something by reading this awfully long post? Please let us know in the comments below, we LOVE reading comments while wearing our lucha suits.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Jean-François Pruneau says:

    Wow super interesting read!
    I gotta get BB3 on my phone!
    Will there ever be local-coop? Turned-based versus? Guests from other indie games like Towerfall? All of the above?

    (Take turns smashing gummy bears while trying to shoot down your friends’ ghost with bow and arrow all at the same time, i mean, hmm.)

    I really wished that the OUYA would “work”. I know you put a lot of time on your games on the console. I like to think that players (game buyers) did find that the “Try before you buy” formula was worth something, and that “adventure” wasn’t in vain for everyone that dove into it.

    Past aside, I look forward for your new ideas. May the future be full of sweet success for you, and spicy entertainment for us!

  • Aaron says:

    Long-time fan of your flash games – some of the best out there. I was super excited when I discovered that we’re both in MTL! However, I couldn’t make it through BB3 on Kong. The monetization was way outta whack relative to what gamers there expect. It felt heavy-handed and the progression slowness felt disrespectful of my time. That being said, were it available on steam I would gladly buy it to support you guys (if it was not crippled by ads). Glad it’s doing well for you guys on mobile though. Keep on making great games. Thanks.

  • Rocky says:

    This was an incredible read. I know that feeling of sprinting to get your company back into the black, and not wanting to compromise on quality.
    What blew me away was the ratio of revenue generated between video ads and IAP. It’s so freakin’ significant, that it makes me re-think my projects.

    Thank you for the write up.

  • Kanjuisun says:

    BB:LL fan here! I’ve been playing since the first BB and…wow…this was surely one insightful blogpost!

    thank you for that, actually; it makes me appreciate you guys and your work even more, and shows me the amazing ideas that you were able to give birth to, and the clever (and even “genius”, as you say ) reasoning behind them
    you guys are just amazing…

    love your work; you don’t even know how glad I am to know that the game I love was financially successful for you…please, keep existing!

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