Rotaeno is the world’s first rhythm game made for mobile devices that you play with its gyroscope, While the game’s been making a buzz for multiple years from its original gameplay and slick soundtrack, what’s equally as interesting is the journey its creator, Chris Choi went through to get here.
From a high school solo developer to being noticed internationally, then finally releasing his own team and releasing Rotaeno, Chris went through a huge journey of self-improvement, iterations, and growth on his track to release one of the most original rhythm games the platform has ever seen. QooApp reached out to Chris, and we had a chance to talk to him about Rotaeno, his thoughts on the game now that it’s been released, what development was like, how he juggled being a student and full-time developer, and how he took advantage of every opportunity he had to make Rotaeno the game it is today.
▍Rotaeno’s Humble Beginnings
Q. Now that it’s been more than half a year since the game’s release, how would you describe Rotaeno in your own words?
Chris: Rotaeno is the one and only drift-control mobile rhythm game, featuring a unique racing-game-like gyro-control play style. In Rotaeno, you will go on a galactic adventure with our protagonist Ilot to find her lost childhood friend Hoppe, meet many new friends along the journey, and finally discover the secrets behind the apocalypse.
Q. How did Rotaeno go from gamifying college studies for students to the motion-controlled rhythm game on mobile?
Chris: Shortly before DSE, I came up with the idea to make an online game for secondary school students to compete in and recite DSE passages (範文爭霸). Since this game is so stupid (Who would make an online game for this!?), it ended up attracting a lot of media coverage as well as downloads. And that’s how our current art director find out about my studio and in turn, the early Rotaeno, and ended up joining our team.
範文爭霸 actually comes very late. I got the idea in form 6, but I got the idea for Rotaeno even earlier back in form 4.
For Rotaeno, I was really into rhythm games back in the day (Thanks to Deemo and Love Live), and naturally, I wanted to make a rhythm game of my own. (That was in my first year of high school). I didn’t have any specific goals in mind when I decided to make a rhythm game. All I knew was that it had to be something unique and fun to play. So I tried a lot of different prototypes. None of them were made with motion controls in mind, but they all had interesting control schemes or gameplay ideas.
I don’t remember how exactly I come up with the idea of making it a motion control game, but it may have come from the fact that I was playing with google cardboard (mobile VR) for a while at the time, and it kind of inspired me to try motion control similar to the mobile VR – where moving your phone will also change the VR camera angle.
▼ Chris Choi’s first publically released title, a game that helped make studying fun.
▍On The Game’s Signature Mechanic, Rotations
Q. In a dev story you mentioned you set on the circular design for Rotaeno, but where did that idea come from, and were there other shape iterations outside of a circle?
Chris: After I came up with the idea of making a motion control mobile rhythm game, I tried a few different designs of motion control. The “Moving your phone would reveal more of the game space” idea seems to work the best, and a circular judgment circle would naturally be the best shape for this design.
Q. What struggles did you have when creating, and testing the rotation mechanic across different devices,
Chris: For iOS devices, it was all smooth sailing. But Android devices were a nightmare. Android devices have drastically different gyro sensors, while most high-end phones do works fine, many other phones have all sorts of issues with the gyro control from lag, too bouncy, non-responsive after a certain time, etc.
I ended up adding a troubleshooter to let the user test their gyrosensors and provided multiple methods of rotation detection such that hopefully at least one of them could work. When I have time in the future, I may write my own custom middleware such that I could have full control of the rotation detection and specifically create workarounds for certain devices.
Q. Why did you decide on a fixed-price model and expansions, instead of free-to-play and expansions akin to Deemo II?
Chris: Free-to-play games have to have a completely different game design such that players could keep playing the game for as long as possible while monetizing at any given chance. Since we didn’t give much thought to the business model at the beginning (big mistake), and we don’t have systems that could keep players logging in daily and entertained for a long time, we decided that having a premium model would make more sense for our game. Players would have already paid the upfront price and thus we don’t have to care as much.
With that said, I am not sure if this is the right decision, as most players nowadays won’t purchase any paid app but would gladly purchase in-app purchases. We might have lost a lot of players and profits with this decision. There’s a reason why there are almost no new paid mobile games anymore.
▍Looking Back on Development
Q. How do you feel about the current state of the game in terms of its content and profitability?
Chris: I am really proud of Rotaeno’s content offering. We have close to 100 songs right now, including music from well-known musicians such as Camelia, Yunomi, and Kanaria, as well as collaborations with WACCA and HARDCORE TANO*C. We also got two full story chapters, filled with lovable characters, an exciting adventure, and a lot of special challenges and hidden secrets.
As for profitability, we are able to break even now, and we are working hard to make the game even better so that we could become more profitable and could sustain ourselves by making games for a long time.
▼ Rotaeno’s Song list a couple of months ago, and the game now has 95 songs!
Q. You mentioned in other sources that you worked on Rotaeno practically full-time. How did this affect your daily schedule while going to school and interning, and what would a regular day have looked like?
Chris: I usually tried my best to cram all classes on the same day and I would attend that full day, while I would work on Rotaeno the other days. For this semester, I only attended school on Monday, while I work on Rotaeno from Tuesday to Saturday.
I usually start working at around 11:00, planning what to do for the day, and then I would keep on working till around 21:00. Then I return home, occasionally also hitting the arcades to play a few rounds of Chunithm, and then just relaxing or working on my own personal projects or assignments till 1-2 in the morning.
Q. What’s it like keeping up with a regular update schedule for the foreseeable future, even while you want to work on new projects?
Chris: When I get back home, I would also work on a few personal projects and learn new stuff (mainly drawing and modeling for now) such that I could satisfy my urge of trying something new and prepare for the time when we could finally start a new company project. In addition, we are always trying new things with Rotaeno’s updates, so it would still be exciting to us as we keep on working on it.
Q. Are there any artists or say, Vtubers you’d love to feature in Rotaeno if given the chance?
Chris: Porter Robinson, his music means a lot to me and motivated me through a lot of my darker times. As for tubers, definitely our beloved shark girl Gura. Hopefully, we would be able to actually achieve them one day.
Q. In an early dev talk you mentioned your design process involves accepting a song, submitting, reviewing, then completing it. Nowadays you probably accept song submissions first, but early on how did you manage to get licenses for songs when Rotaeno was still fairly new?
Chris: We mainly contacted indie musicians that we like at the beginning. They are easy to get into contact with and we’re usually able to get favorable terms such as discounted licensing fees, delayed / split payments, and even an exclusive song at a discounted rate. We owe a lot to them for helping Rotaeno get started.
Q. It’s a pretty big risk to take to work on a game full-time for years, either as a high school student or while in university. When did you start believing in Rotaeno as a project to work on it full time, and how does it feel now for you and your team?
Chris: It’s only when the game’s trailer blew up in mainland China, and we got many offers from game publishers that we start to think it’s possible to work on it full time. Our whole team has believed in the project since the beginning, so it’s like a dream come true being able to finally work on this project we like full-time.
▼ Early footage of Rotaeno when it was still recruiting artists and composers.
Q. A lot of times when a rhythm game gets released it’s usually accompanied by people playing it in a wacky way while still getting a decent score. What’s the most memorable method of play you’ve seen from a fan?
Chris: Placing a computer chair upside down and taping a tablet on top of its spinning base. We have a gimmick level that features some 360-degree spins at the end of the levels, and that player literally just grabs one of the chair legs and spins it continuously at a very high speed. It got us all laughing a lot seeing how players are able to come up with something like that.
Q. How did it feel when you were approached by creators like HyuN and Kei early on in the project’s creation?
Chris: I feel incredibly lucky, and grateful to have them on the team. I honestly couldn’t believe that they would join us, as I was so inexperienced in the game dev field at the time. Having these two veterans is a key piece of making Rotaeno what it is today
Q. How did it feel going to the Taipei Game Show showing Rotaeno as its creator?
Chris: It’s a super great feeling finally seeing our fans enjoying the game. We did a fan meetup as well, and I also get to meet with a lot of other fellow game devs.
While I know that people love Rotaeno, from online reactions to reviews, actually getting to see them enjoying the game and sharing their passion with you is still an experience that you could only get from these events. I am super grateful that so many players enjoy Rotaeno, and we will try our best to make it even better.
▼ Rotaeno was one of the many indie games that attended the Taipei Game Show!
Q. If you could have one arcade rhythm game installed in your home, what would it be?
Chris: Definitely CHUNITHM. My personal favorite arcade rhythm game, and it’s also the key inspiration behind a lot of Rotaeno’s designs.
Q. What’s one piece of advice you’ve learned while developing Rotaeno and games that you’d like to share with prospective game developers and designers in Hong Kong?
Chris: Learn about the business side of game design. For the longest time, I avoided learning about the business side of things, thinking that “I am here for the art of game itself, not for the money” and “A good game would naturally sell well”.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore (unless you are a true genius, but I am just a mere mortal), so you would need to put more effort into learning about the business of game dev.
Rotaeno is available now on the App Store and Play Store for USD$2.99, or your regional equivalent.