‘Unicorn Apocalypse’ Puts Indie Anchorage Developer in Spotlight
Two-man team wins $25,000 in national game-making contest
ANCHORAGE – Recent television ads from electronics giant Samsung show a small team of game developers using the company’s smartphones and tablets to build a game known as “Unicorn Apocalypse.”
But there never was a “Unicorn Apocalypse game.” Not until Samsung launched a nationwide contest in late February, offering $25,000 as a grand prize to build it.
“They announced it on February 22, and it was kind of, hey, this is ‘Unicorn Apocalypse.’ Make a game,” Jarod Hoogland said. He’s one half of Anchorage-based Liquid Gameworks. Working out of an unassuming tackle shop in downtown Anchorage, Hoogland’s office doesn’t look like the sort you would expect a video game or smartphone app to come from.
But while Hoogland builds the games in Anchorage, the other half of the company—Portugal-based artist Basil Murad—creates the art. It’s a 21st-century business partnership—“I've never actually met him face to face,” Hoogland laughs—that takes place mostly through instant messages.
After learning about the contest and deciding to enter, the two men had just over a week to build a full “Unicorn Apocalypse” game out of what was previously only an idea.
“We agreed instinctively about what should happen in this game,” Hoogland said. “The unicorn should look like the unicorn in the commercials. It should have a lot of the same features, such as, being a zombie unicorn, it should have rainbow blood, [and] it should be fighting against the last remnants of humanity.”
But beyond the initial idea, Samsung didn’t provide them with much else. Hoogland said, in the brief glimpses of the game seen in the commercials, “they had shown a badge that says ‘Unicorn Apocalypse,’ and some backgrounds. So we really didn't have much to go on.”
With their deadline just a week away, Hoogland said the crunch got intense. “For the last few days there, it was 24 hours at a time, you know, working on this, with very little sleep.”
The game they made is in the genre Hoogland called an “endless runner,” where players compete for a high score by piloting their unicorn along increasingly difficult terrain.
“It's basically a one-level game,” Hoogland said. “You have to keep moving” and dodging obstacles and gunfire from the villainous Anti-Unicorn Force. “Otherwise, the game ends.”
The contest ended on Sunday, March 3, and Hoogland was told just days later that Liquid Gamework’s entry was the winner. Samsung said it would be released to the world on Friday, March 8.
The game wasn’t perfect when it launched, with users complaining of bugs and trouble making it work on older Android phones, but Hoogland and Murad worked through the weekend to get it operating smoothly, “so the game is much better, done by Sunday, waiting for the approval of Samsung by Monday.”
“Unicorn Apocalypse” wasn’t Liquid Gameworks first app. The company's previous games have been released for the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook, selling more than 10,000 copies. But it's definitely brought the small company the most attention.
“Our website had more hits, our Facebook had more hits,” Hoogland said. And while the recognition helps ensure he can pay the bills, he still thinks making games isn't all about making money.
“You have to be creative. You have to be a problem solver,” he said about game development. “You have to be able to see a problem and then work logically to fix it. But otherwise game making is really a great creative outlet.”
“Unicorn Apocalypse” may be about the end of the world, but the two men behind Liquid Gameworks are hoping it points to a promising future.