Digital Storytelling Platform

Pixelberry Studios

Pixelberry and Atomic propelled an idea into a user-generated narrative game studio in record time.

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Gaming Out the Future

Pixelberry Studios is a digital game development company based in Mountain View, California. Their 4.5-star-rated choose-your-own adventure game “Choices: Stories You Play” has more than 80 million downloads across iOS and Android devices.

Pixelberry is owned by Nexon, a global video game publisher headquartered in Japan.

Having found success with Choices, Pixelberry’s leaders decided to level up their player experience. They wanted to give their audience tools to author virtual stories of their own—no code required. 

With Atomic’s help, Pixelberry's new app evolved into an immersive platform for their players who use it to write stories and design artistic game assets.

“We asked the Atomic team, ‘We want to go big—can you go on this journey with us?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll get on that ship with you!’ They didn’t flinch.”

David Robinson, Director of Production, StoryLoom

Coordinating Stakeholders

In addition to team members Grand Rapids and Atomic Object, this project brought together lots of different groups. Having this many cooks in the kitchen required a lot of coordination and a complex project schedule that balanced several timelines and sets of constraints.
Recycling data from the GR Public Services Department
Dozens of vendors with rewards of various sizes, types, and durations — recruited and coordinated by Local First
The myGRcitypoints information website, created by The Image Shoppe

StoryLoom’s Inside Story

Pixelberry Studios released a request for proposals seeking a partner to create a proof of concept for the web-based platform. Their engineering manager recommended the company send the RFP to Atomic Object. Managing Partner Brittany Hunter wrote the winning response in the summer of 2020.

The Atomic team received a budget, an approaching deadline and what Pixelberry’s Director of Production for the product called an ambitious vision.

“Our parent company gave us one year and asked us if we could go big,” said David Robinson.

“We asked the Atomic team, ‘We want to go big—can you go on this journey with us?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll get on that ship with you!’ They didn’t flinch.”

Technical Specs

Atomic designed the system architecture and wrote software and firmware for:

Custom Protocol
Reduces required bandwidth and handle collisions, allowing reliable transfer of a high volume of information through RF and cellular communications back to the data collection service.
Gateway Devices
Each is a Technologic TS 7800 single-board computer with a custom RF receiver. They run a combination of C and Ruby on an embedded Linux system.
Web App
A JRuby on Rails application using an Oracle database that deploys to IBM Websphere.

Phase 2: Developing a Full-feature Workshop Experience

With the Learning Map developed into a digital product, Root wanted to further help users dive into their organization’s strategy, financials, or processes with a second release. Among other features, they sought to create a kind of a virtual whiteboard, where everyone’s voice could be heard in a fun, engaging, and meaningful way.

Atomic’s Software Design Practice Lead in Ann Arbor, Bryan Elkus, led design work on the project. He saw the user experience of going through the Learning Map activities as a type of collaborative online challenge.

Under the guidance of Atomic's Software Consultant & Designer Bryan Elkus, the project emphasized collaborative user experiences, akin to an online group challenge, focusing on:

  • Consultants facilitating onboarding, ice-breakers, and exercises.
  • Client company employees engaging in organizational change.

Atomic Object Software Consultant & Developer Matt Soto his development work focused on delivering Root’s vision of polish, complex features, and emphasizing a business model around the digital product.

Root's VP, Nate Butki says Atomic’s consultative approach helped the project team uncover and address underlying needs rather than merely executing requests.

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it,” he said. “If they had listened to us and spit out exactly what we asked for, they would have only gotten 80 percent of it. Atomic’s team asked the questions and pushed us further.”

Technical Specs

Atomic designed the system architecture and wrote software and firmware for:

Custom Protocol
Reduces required bandwidth and handle collisions, allowing reliable transfer of a high volume of information through RF and cellular communications back to the data collection service.
Gateway Devices
Each is a Technologic TS 7800 single-board computer with a custom RF receiver. They run a combination of C and Ruby on an embedded Linux system.
Web App
A JRuby on Rails application using an Oracle database that deploys to IBM Websphere.

Six weeks into developing the proof of concept, the Atomic team impressed the Pixelberry client enough to take over design work on the project as well.

Soon, Atomic's developers, designers, and delivery leads were diving into advanced logic and helping bring Pixelberry's vision into reality.

Phase 2: Developing a Full-feature Workshop Experience

With the Learning Map developed into a digital product, Root wanted to further help users dive into their organization’s strategy, financials, or processes with a second release. Among other features, they sought to create a kind of a virtual whiteboard, where everyone’s voice could be heard in a fun, engaging, and meaningful way.

Atomic’s Software Design Practice Lead in Ann Arbor, Bryan Elkus, led design work on the project. He saw the user experience of going through the Learning Map activities as a type of collaborative online challenge.
Under the guidance of Atomic's Software Consultant & Designer Bryan Elkus, the project emphasized collaborative user experiences, akin to an online group challenge, focusing on:

  • Consultants facilitating onboarding, ice-breakers, and exercises.
  • Client company employees engaging in organizational change.

Atomic Object Software Consultant & Developer Matt Soto his development work focused on delivering Root’s vision of polish, complex features, and emphasizing a business model around the digital product. Root's VP, Nate Butki says Atomic’s consultative approach helped the project team uncover and address underlying needs rather than merely executing requests.

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it,” he said. “If they had listened to us and spit out exactly what we asked for, they would have only gotten 80 percent of it. Atomic’s team asked the questions and pushed us further.”

“Atomic didn’t want to just figure out what we wanted and give it to us—but rather figured out the need and helped us with it.”

Nate Butki, Root VP

Taste-testing the Product in the Field

Delivering A Great Product and An Empowered Team

By getting to share their decades’ experience with agile practices, Atomic’s team got to watch the counterparts at Root develop new skills over the course of the second engagement.

Soto says he loved watching Root’s inherently collaborative culture adopt the agible practices they were learning.

“After a few months, they loved how easy and smooth it was to make last-minute changes, to pivot in another direction, and use feedback to spend their time where it was most impactful,” he said.

Root’s Jared Page says the agile approach to product design, development, and management he saw during the engagement had a profound impact.

“One of my favorite things about this project is that everyone got better—better at our jobs and better with communication; it just feels cool,” he said. “Sometimes you work for a year and don’t know if you’ve improved but everyone could look back on this project and say they’ve improved. This project changed the way I will work forever.”

Divide and Conquer for Team Management Success

As the year progressed, the team grew, gaining more trust and investment from Pixelberry. The proof of concept evolved into its own software brand: StoryLoom. Atomic organized the expansive work into three thrusts across Atomic’s Grand Rapids and Chicago-based teams:

  • One team inherited the original concept: Creator Studio, where users write and design original stories users can play.
  • Another team took on Character Canvas—a part of the app that let users design the characters that would star in their stories.
  • The last team tackled Player Experience—building out the marketplace for content creators and the interactive community where users could discuss the stories created.

These teams complemented Pixelberry's internal developers, who developed the game experience itself. With so much work happening in parallel, project management took on great importance.

Delivery Lead Tammy Pearson helped keep Atomic’s and Pixelberry’s stakeholders aligned, informed, and on task.

“We’re very careful about respecting their time and the communication channels we use,” she said. 

“Our choices around communication with the client have proven to Pixelberry that we’re good stewards of their budget and that we understand what we’re here to do.”

Robinson from Pixelberry said this investment in communication paid off.

“Within 6 months, we started recording the meetings Tammy would lead and share them across all divisions,” he said. “That was the benchmark for internal competency and customer service.”

Speedy Development through Micro-Frontends

To balance building different parts of the app at once, Atomic architected the app with parallel work streams in mind.

“We divided what could have been one big app into composable sub-apps that each team could tackle,” said Software Consultant & Developer John Ruble. 

“That led us to some cutting edge micro-frontend technology, that looks like a single app made of different modules or sub-apps.”

The micro-frontends allowed for three different teams with their own codebases. This enabled different teams in different cities to work on the same product at once without any toe-stepping. By dividing and conquering the features, the three teams made up of more than 20 makers moved through the work at a faster clip to meet the client’s deadline.

When Pixelberry takes ownership of the entire product development, they will inherit the same architecture, which will allow the company to scale more easily.

In addition to helping them scale, Robinson said the development structure helped build a better culture of development internally at Pixelberry.

“Atomic did as much to teach them how to manage the project as I did, because they could see an example of how a producer worked, how they communicate, and what’s an expectation of performance,” he said.

“No one ever goes to development meetings unless you’re forced to, but when there’s a queue to get in and people are mad they didn’t get invited, that’s how development should be.”

Creative Constraints with a Design Library

The designers on the project needed to ensure that all the development and team management work resulted in a single, seamless experience for StoryLoom users.

In response, four of Atomic’s designers created a Design System for the product. The system unified design components like buttons or modals—elements that would be re-used throughout all the micro-frontends—into a library.

“As designers, we limit ourselves as much as possible to those pieces and then choose to build something else only if it's totally required,” said designer Kyle Harris. “We want everything to feel cohesive and as immersive of an experience as possible.”

“It was delivered on time, on budget, to expectation, live—not three or four milestones late with people leaving and the platform half-baked and full of bugs.”
David Robinson, Director of Production, StoryLoom

Coordinating Stakeholders

In addition to team members Grand Rapids and Atomic Object, this project brought together lots of different groups. Having this many cooks in the kitchen required a lot of coordination and a complex project schedule that balanced several timelines and sets of constraints.
Recycling data from the GR Public Services Department
Dozens of vendors with rewards of various sizes, types, and durations — recruited and coordinated by Local First
The myGRcitypoints information website, created by The Image Shoppe

A Partnership with a Storybook Ending

The team’s careful project management, client communication, cutting-edge architecture, and cohesive design strategy helped the team ship the product on time and on budget.

Reflecting back on the multi-year, high-profile project, Robinson said Atomic helped his company arrive at a special moment in time.

“We'd never done anything this big. Ever,” he said. “We’re live across all the major pillars Atomic said they would deliver on. It was delivered on time, on budget, to expectation, live. Not three or four milestones late with people leaving and the platform half-baked and full of bugs.”

StoryLoom began open-beta in December 2022. A global launch is scheduled for the spring of 2023.

“We’ve been given a rare opportunity," said Robinson, "to find success by chasing opportunities Starship Enterprise-style: going where people aren’t—pushing boundaries.”

The Atomic Team

Here are some of our current Atoms who worked on this project. Click their photo to read their bios!

Project domain(s)

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web

mobile

mobile

desktop

desktop

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Services provided

System Architecture
User Testing
Visual Design
Software Product Design
Software Development
Interaction Design
Information Architecture
Exploratory Testing
Deployment

Tools used

(Confidential)