Seven Summits Studio is an award-winning independent game development company based out of Hyderabad, India. The studio was founded in 2013 by a group of passionate individuals who strive to create impactful experiences through video games.
Petite is an ambient experience that narrates a woman’s story while focusing on key incidents that happen in her life. Every level is a new situation, and each memory you unlock is a unique one, depending on the emotions you choose.
It is being designed by Asar Dhandala, who worked on Petite together with the writer of the story, Vishesh Chopra, and the programmer, P.V. Sanjeev Kumar. The development cycle of the game is being mentored by Shailesh Prabhu and Nawaz Dhandala. Asar shares the story of their freshly released creation.
The Beginning at the end
After our debut title Pac-Port turned out to be not so successful, some of the members decided to work on more stable projects.
Soon afterwards, during a phase of depression, I started learning programming. That was when I decided to participate in a game jam and make a game about emotions. This particular time frame collided with the Microsoft Dev Camp, which is a hackathon where you’re required to develop an app/game in 12 hours. The prototype of Petite won the Best Game award there, which encouraged me to take things further.
This was an important decision: participating in a lot of game jams even when you’re on your own. It helps you churn out ideas fast, get feedback from people and lets you figure out whether your concept works or not.
After the success at Dev Camp I started playtesting the game with people back home, and made rigorous changes in design and art while sticking to the core vision of having a game about emotions. I then submitted the alpha build of the game to the UX Challenge of Imagine Cup where the game won an honorable mention (Top 10) worldwide.
The game had a basic story narrated through a few sentences before each level. But a basic shooter wasn’t enough to keep the players interested in the game, and the story wasn’t much to speak of either.
Shailesh Prabhu then decided to test out the game, following which we bounced a couple of ideas around and that’s when Shailesh suggested adding memories to the game.
The addition of memories meant a lot more work. As I was handling the programming, art and design of the game all by myself, I asked Vishesh to join the team as a writer. He then revamped the entire storyline, designed a basic sequence of events and added a lot more content to Petite.
I met Vishesh and Sanjeev back in 2013 during NASSCOM’s Game Developer Conference in India. We’d never actually thought about working together on a game then, but they turned out to be willing to contribute and things fell in place. Networking with other people from the industry is always beneficial.
Visiting conferences/indie meetups always pays off. You never know who you’ll end up working with/collaborating, especially if you’re an indie developer.
Petite had a very basic and bare bones narrative to accompany the gameplay at first. Though it was simple and went well with the game’s minimalism, Shailesh suggested adding memories to the gameplay to increase player interest and depth.
Doing so meant designing two levels of narrative for the game. One was the main story that the player followed before starting a level. It also set the stage, so to speak, for the events that followed. The other was the in-game narration of memories revolving around that particular event. This added a lot more content to the game as well as replay value.
Every emotion unlocks a different memory. Hence, every use of emotion potentially sets off the story into branches. We were excited at the prospect of adding branches to the whole story. But that would’ve meant full-time commitment, which we couldn’t afford because of our jobs. So we decided to stick to an overall arc of story.
As for the story itself, it was a challenge to write it in two different paces of narration, making it simple enough for the players to understand and relate to as much as possible. Most of the story is, of course, relatable to males as well as females. But the female-specific sections were the most difficult ones to write about, without sounding too unrealistic or pretentious.
With a very basic beta build up and running for two Windows devices, we participated in the indie game showcase at Casual Connect Singapore 2014.
The response was mixed, and mostly unexpected. The people who did like the game played at least seven or eight levels, and some even finished all of the 14 levels available at the time. But the ones who weren’t really into it just played to enjoy the basic shooter aspect of Petite and didn’t go more than four or five levels before stopping. This confirmed our suspicion that ours would be a very niche game which might not appeal to people who are not used to playing games with a focus on textual narrative.
Catering to one audience well is better than trying to cater to all of them and fail. We did try to make it as open as possible at first, trying to appeal to both audiences by introducing moderate levels of difficulty in the gameplay itself. But the feedback for this was mostly negative, since the players who were immersed in the atmosphere did not appreciate their attention being diverted from struggling to unlock memories.
This is something we planned to rectify and make the experience all the more immersive by toning down the difficulty of the game as well as some other features.
The event was followed by Indie Prize Awards where the best games from the showcase were honored in respective categories. Petite bagged in the Best Game Story award here.
What went right: Participating in events like Casual Connect. It was a great learning experience and we got tons of suggestions and critiques from experienced people working in the industry.
What went wrong: Moving away from our core audience, i.e. readers, and focusing more on hardcore gamers. Catering to one audience well is better than trying to cater to all of them and failing after all.
Imagine Cup and release
Petite battled it out at Microsoft’s 2014 Imagine Cup, becoming a finalist. The game has been released on Windows Phone 8 and is scheduled to release Windows 8, Android, iOS and BlackBerry 10.
Weeks after launch of Petite, the developers are waiting for reliable numbers and feedback from players. “We’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s with Petite, so now we’re working on our next game Picto“, Asar shares. It’s a narrative-based game that focuses on a small kid growing up in the environment of domestic violence.