How Marmalade built its first mobile game using its new Lua-based RAD tool Marmalade Quick

Made with Marmalade: Signal to the Stars

[This feature was published in the May 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

Signal to the Stars
Developer: Marmalade Game Studio
Platform: Android, BlackBerry, iOS
Why Marmalade mattered: Developed using the RAD toolkit Marmalade Quick, Signal to the Stars was produced and released cross-platform in record time

Producing a new set of development tools carries its own challenges, whether it’s a simple plug-in to fulfil a specific identified need on a project, or a full-featured system.

Marmalade Game Studio – recently rebranded from Ideaworks Game Studio – found itself straddling the line between tools provider and games developer for the production of Signal to the Stars, released in March across four stores simultaneously: Apple App Store, Google Play, Amazon Appstore and BlackBerry World.

Signal to the Stars was produced using the Lua-based RAD tool Marmalade Quick, which is now available free with all Marmalade licence types – the aim being to use the creation of the game to drive development of features within Marmalade Quick, and vice-versa.


Mike Barwise, creative director on the project, is positive about the overall impact of the process: “It certainly adds an extra element of challenge to a project when using an environment that’s still under development, but having the ability to inform the functionality of Marmalade Quick was extremely helpful in creating Signal to the Stars.”

The puzzle-based gameplay, the idea for which came from a staff game jam at the studio, was iterated upon by a small team of artists, programmers and designers over a matter of weeks, with the cross-platform elements being progressively worked in as they were made available by the SDK team.

Delivering the game was initially planned in phases. However, when the opportunity to launch cross-platform simultaneously was suggested, Barwise’s team was enthused: “It’s certainly a more pressured experience, aiming for a cross-platform launch, and it’s a fairly unusual thing to do in mobile gaming. Most studios will test on one platform, release on that and take advantage of the increased userbase to iron out any final bugs before moving on to other devices.

“Our approach meant we were testing on three different operating systems simultaneously, but the tools helped us debug effectively across all of our target devices. Writing the game in Lua was a plus to the design team too, as they were able to iterate upon content alongside the engineers, getting us to the ideal gameplay quickly.”

This simultaneous cross-platform approach is something console developers are lots more familiar with, says Barwise: “One of the strengths of mobile development has historically been the ability to build a hit game over time, without having to focus on one immoveable launch deadline, but there are definite advantages to a more traditional console model of release.

“Launching multiplatform gave us something unique to draw attention to the game, including some national media coverage, and the single release date was a strong rally point for marketing activity. It’s also great to know everyone can play our game, regardless of the device they’re using.”


In particular, launching on BlackBerry gave the game an opportunity to shine on the less-congested BlackBerry World store. This made Signal to the Stars a highlight of the week, encouraging BlackBerry to feature the game on the front page of the store.

According to Massimo Caporale, Marmalade’s head of content: “It’s impossible to overestimate the value in being a featured title on an app store. Signal to the Stars was able to stand out in a way that it may have struggled to on the more heavily subscribed stores like Google Play or the Apple App Store. We’ve found working with BlackBerry to be extremely effective in terms of getting our games in front of consumers.”

With Signal to the Stars now out in the wild, Barwise considers his team to be ready for more Lua-based projects: “It didn’t take long to get the team up to speed on Marmalade Quick, and I’m confident that the next project will be even smoother, or maybe just more ambitious! We’ve been really encouraged by the download figures on BlackBerry so far.”

Developers looking to target BlackBerry devices as part of a cross-platform strategy would be well placed to investigate Marmalade’s upcoming BlackBerry offer.

Indies who sign up and submit an app made with Marmalade to BlackBerry World will qualify for a year’s free Marmalade SDK Indie licence, and could also qualify for a free device to test on.

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