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Colors Live

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Interview: Jens Andersson & Colors Live (english version)

Colors? You know that!

The developers at the small, swedish development studio Collecting Smiles have been working on a game, which was pretty successful on the Nintendo 3DS: „Colors Live”. Upon hearing that this is more than just a painting app that is converted for Nintendo Switch, I reached out to the developers. Their plans were ambitious, because „Colors Live” shall be released with a pressure sensitvie touch pen - a software bundle, it is.

Thanks to the active Discord channels of the developer, I talked to them several times over the last few weeks and did an interview with Jens Andersson, founder of the studio. Jens talks about the functions of the pen and the new additions to the game. Above that, he mentions the community features and reveals why Nintendo rejected „Colors” at first.

The „Colors Live” Kickstarter campaign starts today. You can support it here.

Hi Jens. Thanks for taking your time to show us your new project. Could you please introduce yourself and your company to our readers?

Hi! I am Jens Andersson, a game-designer and programmer. I’ve been making videogames since 1998 and started off as I was a founding member of AAA studio Starbreeze, where I worked on games like Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness. I also did some work at legendary studio LucasArts. In 2010, I wanted to build something on my own and set up my company Collecting Smiles in San Francisco. Nowadays I’m running two small studios in Stockholm: Collecting Smiles and Villa Gorilla. My last project was through Villa Gorilla where we made the game Yoku’s Island Express. It was released in 2018 and did fantastically well, including winning a BAFTA for Best Debut.

Tell us your current favourite games before we get into detail with Colors.

Ooh, that’s always hard. I try to keep a list of my favorite games ever, which includes gems like Another World, Ultima IV, Turrican II and Demon’s Souls, but that list is growing every year. The last couple of years I’ve been blown away by Subnautica, Dead Cells and Outer Wilds. But right now, I’m having tons of fun with Hearthstone: Battlegrounds, Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Horizon: Zero dawn.

The first Colors started as a homebrew app on the Nintendo DS before it was officially released for iOS/Android/PSVita und finally as Colors! 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. What was the reason for this process?

I initially worked on Colors! for homebrew DS back in 2007. At the time, I was working at the AAA game-studio Starbreeze. A good friend of mine there was a fantastic concept artist Mattias Snygg mattiassnygg.com) and he taught me a very simple technique he used for painting on a Wacom-tablet using only a single brush and the eye-dropper tool. 

At the same time, I became curious in homebrew for the DS. It was the pretty much the first time it was possible to do programming for a competent handheld device, so I curious about the new possibilities with that. Browsing the homebrew-forums, I found mentions about an unofficial feature of being able to read out pressure sensitivity from the touchscreen and was curious in how well it worked. Doing a simple painting app felt like nice experiment, and I wanted to replicate the painting process that Mattias had taught me. After releasing the first prototype, I was really surprised by the great interest in what I was doing. It was a really fun project, and it was especially motivating to work directly with the people who used it, something I was not used to from my work in the games-industry.

At this point, I started looking into if this could be a commercial product and I contacted Nintendo for the first time. The response I got was initially encouraging, but after a few back-and-forth I suddenly got a “Sorry, we won’t be able to continue talking about this and we can’t tell you why”. I’m still not sure why, but my guess is that they had had the discussion internally and decided that the homebrew connection was too complicated for them. It could also be because they had started working on something competing on their own, perhaps what turned out to be Art Academy.

Why did you choose the Nintendo 3DS overstaying solely with the smart devices?

I kept working on Colors! as a hobby project and moved to San Francisco to work at LucasArts. However, after a little bit less than 2 years I decided to leave and fully commit to the idea of being an independent developer and I set up my studio Collecting Smiles there. The 3DS was just announced with the eShop being a big feature, and I decided to make another attempt at getting past the gates of Nintendo. This time around I leveraged my contacts in the games industry to help me out. A friend introduced me to a licensed developer that had done lots of work for DS and was already working on a few 3DS titles. Generously, they invited me to sit at their office to develop a prototype for Colors! 3D. Once I had the prototype, they introduced me to the right people at Nintendo who liked what they saw. At that point we revisited the issue with the history of homebrew, but after some discussion they let me know that it wouldn’t be a problem as long as I didn’t host homebrew myself anymore.

Colors! 3D ended up being both a critical and commercial success and it’s still the #10 top rated game on the 3DS according to Metacritic, which is really amazing.

With Colors Live you're going for a release on Nintendo Switch. Why did you choose Nintendos hybrid console?

When the Nintendo Switch was released, I got a lot of requests to bring Colors!/Colors! 3D over to it. The Switch is a fantastic device, and since we had such great success with Colors! 3D on 3DS, many people felt like a no-brainer to bring Colors over to it. However, I didn’t really want to do it unless I could make a better version than Colors! 3D. Without a stylus, I would have to rely on finger-painting which is not something I think is very fun.

Then, a little bit more than a year ago, an inventor friend of mine in Hong Kong contacted me, asking if I could integrate a new stylus he was developing into the iOS/Android version of Colors!. and when I saw what he was working on, I thought it was an ingenious idea and realized that this would be perfect for the Switch as well.

Colors! is available on smartphones and tablets as well, but the big Colors community was always on Nintendo devices. Part of the reason for this is that the Nintendo devices has physical buttons. For a really streamlined painting workflow, having real buttons is great. Currently, there isn’t really anything on the Switch for digital painting, so I think it’s the perfect space for us to be.

Did you plan to use the SonarPen from the beginning?

Exactly! Together with GreenBulb we are now developing the Colors SonarPen which will be the foundation on which we build Colors Live. It will be possible to use Colors Live with your finger, but it is together with the Colors SonarPen that it will really shine. The painting experience in Colors Live will be improved over previous version, so it’s on par with other painting tools out there that artists use every day. However, Colors Live will still be true to its heritage in that it will be simple and fun experience for everyone that plays it.

What are the advantages of the SonarPen in comparison to normal touchpens, like the one included in „Dr Kawashima's Brain Training for Nintendo Switch“ or the Nintendo 3DS stylus?

The touchpens you refer to are very basic. They give a bit better precision than painting with your finger. However, the SonarPen is a proper stylus with the big difference that it provides pressure sensitivity. Everyone who tried to paint digitally knows that pressure sensitivity is crucial for making the painting experience as close to painting on a paper as possible. You want to be able to press harder to make a broader stroke or paint lighter to make the colors blend more rather than just cover each other. When using the Colors SonarPen this will be possible.

Will other input options be supported?

Other than with the Colors SonarPen, you can still paint with you finger or using other basic touchpens. It would probably be possible to use the gyros in the joy-con for painting, but this is currently not something we are planning.

Bundles of software and hardware were not always successful. Games like Guitar Hero made it, but the uDraw Game Tablet led THQ into bankruptcy. How do you minimize this risk?

That’s a great question. Yes, several years ago, selling games with accessories was really popular, and then it mostly just died out. We are of course different in terms of scale compared to those massive projects, but it’s really the possibility going through Kickstarter that is the key for us. Kickstarter is a fantastic place to show your projects, get people excited, and get funding to produce a first batch of your product. By doing this we remove the biggest element of risk since we’ll have a clear sense of the demand before we start production.

Will Colors Live be digital only or will it also be released physically alongside the pen?

We would love to do a physical release. Right now, we are focusing on the Kickstarter to make it possible for us to start producing the Colors SonarPen and releasing Colors Live on the Nintendo Switch eShop. But if the Kickstarter campaign does well it is possible that we could make a bundled physical release.

Colors always had an active community, and this will presumably be the same on Nintendo Switch. How will colorslive.com be implemented?

We will keep the gallery as it is today, but we’ll integrating it more closely with the game - and we will build additional features on top of it. Colors Live players will be able to upload paintings to colorslive.com, interact and participate in events just as Colors! users do today from their Nintendo 3DS, iPhone/iPad, Android and PlayStation Vita.

How will the players be motivated to draw new pictures. Will there be contests or challenges?

Colors! has always been all about creativity and painting beautiful art, and in its core it still is. So yes, there will be contests and challenges and they will be built into the game. Even though Colors! 3D was released 8 years ago, we still have an active community. We are currently running weekly challenge #367 and hope to keep going with stuff like this for as long as there are people around. We are all about our community and listen a lot to what they have to say. We also have a Discord server for where we have a very engaged community that helps us with input for new features and events around Colors!.

There is also another thing that I’m really excited about. I have a long history of developing games and I’ve always wanted to bring more game-like elements into Colors!. I’ve done a number of prototypes for this over the year, but until now I haven’t really found anything that I felt held up.

So, with Colors Live we’ll release a brand-new game-mode called Colors Quest. In Colors Live, you make your way across a map by completing a challenge per day, by painting something using a theme and various rules. Making a game out of something purely creative is really difficult, as everyone’s skill-level is so different and because it’s hard to figure out when to reward the player for doing well. Our solution is to crowd-source this problem and leverage our players to help decide how you are doing. This way we can make Colors Quest a single-player mode that works for every skill-level that can reward you for improving over time.

The key to any kind of learning is doing something regularly, so my hope that this mode will be a great inspiration to get into the habit of painting.

Will social media like YouTube or Twitter be integrated?

New for Colors Live is that you’ll be able to export a video of your painting process directly from the game. The Switch currently has support for you to share your photos and videos on Twitter and Facebook, but hopefully Nintendo will be able to add more channels in the future.

Will Nintendo Switch Online be necessary for some functions?


It's amazing how many creations have been brought forth in the last years, and it's still counting. Which improvements for the creation process will you introduce?

I agree, every day we look at new creations in the gallery and are stunned with what people can create with the tools we have built. It’s incredibly rewarding and motivating. As you can glean from the name “Colors Live”, we are looking at Colors as something that we’ll be working on for a long time. The initial versions of Colors Live will have some core improvements to the painting engine and the number of brushes that are available.

Once we are launched, we plan to push out new features in a regular pace, both social ones like events and challenges, as well as new painting tools. The success of the Kickstarter will help set the pace for this as we have some exciting ideas for stretch-goals.

Will Colors Live use the TV mode?

I don’t think we’ll ever do a mode where you can paint while having your Switch docked. However, it’s possible that you’ll be able to use the social features in TV mode, but it won’t be available for launch.

Have you tried the HD Rumble, like for a feedback while drawing?

I have not. It’s an interesting idea though. I’ll add it to my todo. :)

Nintendo Switch stands for playing together. Will Colors Live have some options for this?

Depends. That’s another part of what Live stands for. A big part of Colors is the interaction with other people through the online gallery. In Colors! 3D, we also had a local collaborative mode where you could paint together with a friend, each using their own console. I loved that feature, but I don’t think it was used too much – perhaps because it’s such a small screen. I might reimplement it in a Colors Live update, but what I’d really like to do is online collaborative painting – allowing you to paint with friends anywhere. We’ll see how the Kickstarter goes… :)

If Kickstarter will have a successful ending, what kind of work do you have to do afterwards?

I think we are in a very good shape for a Kickstarter. We are getting close to finishing the initial version of the game, and all hardware issues are worked out and is ready to start production.

Once the Kickstarter is completed, we’ll send of the order to the factories and start going through the submission process with Nintendo. Also, as part of the Kickstarter, we will let backers access our Colors Live prototype running on PC, so we’ll start receiving feedback on the game. I’m really looking forward to hearing what people think!

We wish you success with your project and thank you for taking your time to answer our questions!

Our pleasure. It’s great to finally be able to talk about it!

Translation: Daniel Witt

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