Monday, June 17, 2024

Mexico-made video game ‘I’m not Jelly’ wins international competition

Mexico is once again making news in the international video game business.

In 2015, Guadalajara’s 1 Simple Game (1SG) studio surprised fans when its funny little game, Mucho Taco, was chosen by Apple’s App Store out of many worldwide competitors. Then in 2020, the team’s Lullaby of Life game entered the Apple Arcade.

Now in 2021, the Mexican video game company has done it again with another innovative game called I’m Not Jelly.

To get the full story, I spoke to Ovidio Escobedo, cofounder of 1SG.

“The story of I’m Not Jelly began in August of 2020 when we decided to begin to work on games for computers,” Escobedo said. “Previously, we were only producing games for smartphones. So I’m Not Jelly was our first attempt at doing this. People will be able to play this new game on a desktop computer using an ordinary keyboard and mouse.”

Guadalajara's 1 Simple Game studio
The 1 Simple Game staff, taken pre-COVID: “We make video games. Instead of exporting natural products, we enrich Mexico by exporting creativity,” said Escobedo.

In January of 2021, Ovidio Escobedo and his partner Francisco Lara created a team dedicated to this new project. They soon came up with a prototype that they decided to make public.

“People could download I’m Not Jelly free of charge so we could get feedback and opinions: did they like it? What could be changed?” Escobedo said. “We then contacted various YouTubers, streamers and influencers who specialize in playing video games and introducing them to members of their community.”

From there, said Escobedo, things snowballed.

“Suddenly lots of people were playing I’m Not Jelly even though it was just in its infancy. But we had planned to keep developing the game throughout 2022 and then launch the final version in the first trimester of 2023,” he said.

“At this juncture, along came an invitation to participate in something called Global Top Round,” he said. “It’s a program organized by video game investors, inviting studios all over the world to present their very best projects. So we submitted I’m Not Jelly as a prototype.”

This year, 375 studios participated in the Global Top Round — including first-time applications from studios in China and Russia — and in the end, 22 were chosen as finalists. From there, the 10 best would be picked, each of them a winner, with no ranking among them.

Guadalajara's 1 Simple Game studio
Left to right: 1SG directors Francisco Lara and Ovidio Escobedo with producer Karina Lomelí.

“The judging,” Escobedo continued, “took place in Singapore, October 15–17. Because of COVID-19, we weren’t able to attend in person, but we were there virtually. This meant that the awards would be presented at 4 a.m. Guadalajara time.

“This, of course, was pretty heavy, but we stayed up for it, and at 5 a.m., they announced the winners. Well, we were really sleepy by that time, and suddenly all of us found ourselves saying, ‘Did I hear right? Am I dreaming?’ You see, all the finalists were real pros, the best in the business, and just to get into that group of 22 was more than what we had been hoping for.

“The truth is, we had been quite happy just to be participating in this thing, and it hadn’t really occurred to us that we might actually win! So we were really floored when they started announcing the 10 winning games, which were from Brazil, Ireland, the U.S., Canada, Sweden, the U.K. and Spain, with a double win for Russia … and then we heard them say ‘Mexico!’ I’m Not Jelly was a winner!”

The game centers around gelatin-like people living on a far-off world. These little creatures come in different colors and fruit flavors, and their conflict is with other inhabitants of that universe who would like to eat them.

“No! No!” is their reaction. “Don’t eat me — I’m not jelly!”

“So begins the narrative,” Escobedo said, “always a bit tongue-in-cheek, something to make you smile. And there is a lot of action in this game, lots of energy. And the colors are strong and striking.”

Guadalajara's 1 Simple Game studio
A teenager tests out the Mucho Taco video game, concluding, “It’s cute and it’s addictive.”

“The art style and the gameplay are quick and snappy,” added 1SG technical artist Ricky Ibarra. “It’s vibrant, it’s chaotic and it’s pretty … and the streamers who have played it so far have all liked it a lot.”

I asked Escobedo how the team’s earlier video games are doing.

Muy bién!” he said. “Lullaby of Life has been out there for a full year, and we are delighted with the results. Lots of people have downloaded it, and earlier this year the game won the Developers’ Choice Award at the IndieCade Festival. Getting picked by your peers is really an honor!”

“By the way,” he continued, “I should mention that it was exactly Lullaby that inspired us to work on new kinds of games, games that offer bigger, more robust experiences that other sorts of players would appreciate. So you could say that I’m Not Jelly is the child of Lullaby of Life. As for Mucho Taco, it’s just as popular as ever. Its downloads are way over 4,000 per week — always — and after all these years! On top of that, we’re not doing any marketing whatsoever! Who knows how people hear about it.”

The 1 Simple Game studio came into being when Escobedo met Francisco Lara of One Simple Idea, a design studio offering visual strategies for consumer brands and known for its creativity.

“The studio was interested in producing video games,” Escobedo said, “but they didn’t know how to do it. Since I had some years of experience working with other studios, Francisco Lara and I decided to put together a small team and start making video games poco a poco, learning by doing.”

Mucho Taco game
The studio’s Mucho Taco is a “clicker” game: the more you click, the more rewards you get. It won Apple’s Best of App Store award in 2015.

Apparently, the award-winning studio has learned a lot.

The writer has lived near Guadalajara, Jalisco, since 1985. His most recent book is Outdoors in Western Mexico, Volume Three. More of his writing can be found on his blog.

Guadalajara's 1 Simple Game studio
Technical artist Ricardo Ibarra plays I’m Not Jelly while checking memory management and CPU performance.
I'm Not Jelly video game
A scene from I’m Not Jelly in which the Nojellians discover that eating fruit gives them stronger bodies.
Guadalajara's 1 Simple Game studio
The Nojellian characters of I’m Not Jelly first sprang into virtual life in 2018 as Heal Billies, fighters against infection in a never-used game storyline.
I'm Not Jelly video game
While 1 Simple Game’s previous videogames have been all smartphone games, this is their first made for computers.


I'm Not Jelly video game
I’m Not Jelly is still a prototype of the final game, but 1SG released it in beta, and it’s been played by people worldwide.
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