Get to know the creators behind the new mobile game ‘Pigeon POOlitics’
Whether you live in America or are just an outside observer, you know the stakes are high in the U.S. 2020 Presidential Election. Both sides have a lot to lose if they’re not elected in November. But why can’t the election be fun? Game developers Sassan Yousefi and Hossein Shahbazi are trying to do just that with their mobile game Pigeon POOlitics.
If the emphasis on poo wasn’t obvious enough, Pigeon POOlitics allows you to take on a group of pigeons and poo all over the candidate you want. But it’s more than just a silly political game. Pigeon POOlitics allows gamers to also see how other people playing the game voted. Plus, there’s educational tools in the app to help others learn about the upcoming election.
Pigeon POOlitics is on the Google Play and Apple App Stores now, for the world to enjoy. We spoke with Sassan and Hossein about the game and their journey into game development.
What drew both of you to game design initially?
Sassan: I think of making a game as making a new world. You make the world engaging and fun! You can use your creativity to design and make all of the details of this handmade world. It feels like you are acting as God!
Hoss: I have been a gamer and have played at least a few thousands of hours. I see games as a more immersive medium for storytelling. The same way a movie is a more stimulating medium than a book, a game is even more interactive and stimulating as you affect the world around you.
I enjoy creating things and have made small games here and there when I had my day job as a software engineer. Pigeon POOlitics is my largest project so far and there is a long way to go in game dev.
What did you two do before becoming game designers?
Sassan: I was working for a business consulting and construction company. I worked on indie games in foreign markets as a hobby.
Hossein: I was a software engineer and tech entrepreneur.
When did you decide to create a game together?
We got connected to each other around September 2019 by one of our friends, and we started thinking about the Pigeon POOlitics game. Sassan had the concept of pooping pigeons in mind. We were both enthusiastic about politics and making an impact there through the game became a central goal in our project. After a few months of brainstorming and back and forth, the general idea of Pigeon POOlitics came to be.
What video game inspired you the most as a designer?
Sassan: There are a lot of them, but I can say Royal Clash. When you play this game, you see how great it is designed and how great they have balanced it.
Do either of you have experience with mentors? If so, do you think other up and coming game developers should rely on them?
Sassan: Yes. I have mentors and I think it can be very helpful. Specially if you find some mentors who are working in the game industry. Mentors can help you to see the big picture and make you aware about some small details that you forgot.
Hossein: Yes, I agree.
Did you have experience designing a mobile game before Pigeon POOlitics?
Sassan: Yes. I have designed two games before, but both of them were for Iranian Game Market.
Hossein: Yes, I have a few small mobile and online games for mobile.
Why did you choose American politics to be the subject of your game?
Sassan: I was born and raised in the country without freedom of speech. Even though I was interested in politics, it could cost a lot (prison and even worse) to criticize and ridicule politicians and the government. When I immigrated to the U.S., I loved the first amendment and thought maybe we can work on some fun and political concepts, in the land of freedom!
Hossein: I’ve always been following politics. Seeing the mess the U.S. politics has become recently (Trump’s presidency) made me want to make something right. I started reading a lot more about U.S. politics and writing small articles. Making a politics themed game was another good way I could stay involved in politics and help the younger generation avoid the news bubbles and getting trapped into tribal sentiments.
Talk us through the technical and creative journey of developing Pigeon Poolitics.
From a technical standpoint, we used many standard state of the art techniques in 2D games:
– sprite animations make it possible to incorporate complex mechanics in a straightforward manner. Our characters have many different reactions when pigeons poop on them. Some run away, some attack back and chase the pigeons, some take cover.
– physics based motions give our birds and characters a good amount of fluidity when moving around and getting hit.
Thanks to the modern game engine we used [Unity], we could use those features with ease and develop for both Android and iOS with the small team we had. Hossein was the solo developer on the project.
For the creative side of designing levels, characters and bosses, we would start with a brainstorming sessions and over the course of a few days narrow our options down to the few characters and politicians we wanted on that level. Sassan would do a lot of research and come up with dialogues and actions for our characters, their outfits and so forth. He also managed distributing the work to our various graphists and voice actors and keeping things on schedule.
Why did you feel a mobile format was the best idea for your game?
Since we have a political theme, we wanted to focus on people that were interested in politics and this election rather than hard core gamers. So we decided our game had to be in the “casual” category. You know, games that people play on the subway and on the potty. Most people have smartphones, which makes it the best way to reach out to many diverse players for our game and stats.
How would you describe your game to someone who’s never heard of it?
For a typical video game you focus on the gameplay and storyline. With Pigeon POOlitics, it’s a bit trickier. Depending on the audience:
Story: Pigeon’s have decided to get involved in the 2020 presidential election, as it can affect their lives as much as people’s lives. But as they are just pigeons and cannot vote, so they decided to poop on the people and politicians in their rival party.
Game play: You control a flock of pigeons and have to poop on people and politicians in the rival political party. They don’t stand by as you poop on them, they fight back, run away, take shelter and curse at you!
Politics: You know how annoying and stressful politics are? In Pigeon POOlitics you can poop on the annoying politicians. It makes you feel relieved!
Walk us through the gameplay of Pigeon POOlitics.
Pigeon POOlitics is an arcade style game. You play multiple levels that increasingly become harder. Each level is set in an iconic U.S. city and introduces some stereotypical people from that city. The bosses in each level are famous politicians and have unique mechanics. You control a flock of pigeons.
At the start of the level you choose your party by pooping on either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. You continue by pooping on people that are in the opposing party. They change their party when you poop enough on them. At the end of the level you fight a famous politician of your opposing party.
How did you develop the real time polling feature for your app?
Players can choose to share their location with us. If they do, then we count the amount they poop on each party and include that in our national data. Everyone can see the live map in game.
Why was it important to you both to get involved in the 2020 election?
We have never seen such a heated presidential election. We think one of the important reasons that make this election more important is Donald Trump’s character. He doesn’t respect or believe in some of the traditions like releasing his tax returns or conceding to the ultimate winner of the election.
For the first time, the media and politicians are discussing scenarios in which the president wouldn’t leave the White House even after losing the election, would cheat the election and break the system one way or another. Scenarios in which he could undermine democracy. In these dark scenarios, which again haven’t happened or discussed seriously recently, could result in the fall of the United States.
The divide between the people and politicians in the political parties is also at a record high. Never before were the U.S. politicians sticking to their party lines so strongly. People the same, have fallen into their respective “news bubbles” and believe in parallel realities. Some don’t seem to have the knowledge of technology necessary to draw their own conclusions.
On top of all that we have a pandemic on our hands which further complicates the logistics of holding the election.
With everything going on, the mess that the election has become from the people, political parties, USPS, Donald Trump, etc. how can anyone who lives in the U.S. not get involved in the 2020 election?
Did you hit any snags in development? How did you get through them?
Hossein: Way too often! As a developer you need to stay on top of what absolutely needs to be done, what is nice to have and what is a waste of time. You need to know the tradeoffs and make hard decisions on what to implement and when. It is all about managing resources.
How hard was it to get your game on mobile app stores?
They have a review process which is necessary for ensuring the quality of apps in the store. Since the process is manual, it was very slow for our tight timeline. Apparently the pandemic also made the review times worse.
Sometimes it would take ten days to review our new update, just to reject it because there were minor issues with the images or description of the app. We would fix the issue in five minutes, resubmit and wait for a couple more days to see what happens.
Sometimes the reviewers wouldn’t tell us what exactly needed attention. So there would be some back and forth to figure out what needed to be done. Which again slowed down our development process.
How have people reacted to the game so far?
Our fans (mostly politically involved individuals who are open to discussion) have had a blast with the game! The bosses (specially Biden and Trump) have been a hit! They have goofy dialogs that reference the news about them.
Could we see a future edition of Pigeon Poolitics for other countries?
For sure. We think this can be a fun and creative way to make people more interested in politics anywhere in the world. They should have freedom of speech though.
What advice do you have for future app developers?
It is important to publish your game as early as possible and iterate and complete it as you get feedback from your users. If you wait to have all the features to launch, you will be in trouble.
What’s next on the docket for you both?
We aren’t yet finished with Pigeon POOlitics. We may keep adding content to the current game. We are also thinking about more games and probably new versions of the Pigeon POOlitics for other countries.
What would be your dream game to work on?
Hossein: I want to work on an open world AAA game with a storyline. Kind of like GTA, but with futuristic environments and multiplayer.
What’s your favorite video game of all time and why?
Sassan: I love Super Sonic. It is not only because of the game, but also because it reminds me of my childhood. The time that I used to play SEGA genesis with my brothers. I think the experience of playing a game is more important most of the time than what kind of game you are playing!
Hossein: GTA, it was the first open world game I played. One summer I spent hours daily exploring and doing different things. The game made me familiar with many concepts that were foreign to me at the time.
Back to my previous answers, the game was like an interactive movie for me. The memories from the game were so real to me that I had a “deja vu” feeling when I first visited Los Angeles.
What do you hope players take away from Pigeon POOlitics?
We think Pigeon POOlitics can make people laugh, and at the same time educate them about the politics. We have news subtitles in the game which update daily.
We hope players learn that they should not treat any candidate as a holy person, that it is ok to joke about politics and criticize politicians, that you can and should express what you think freely and that both parties have good and bad features.
What’s your five year plan?
We are thinking of making our office bigger and focus more on funny casual games.