Mountain Sheep and the Development of Minigore
Mountain Sheep was founded in Helsinki, Finland in 2006 by Jouni Mannonen and brothers Timo and Kimmo Vihola. Its first game was a PlayStation Portable game called Super Hind, which saw players taking control of an attack helicopter in rather impressive 3D landscapes. Development took a considerable amount of time and money, and when the game finally released in 2008, the Western market for the handheld console wasn’t in terribly good condition. On top of that, Super Hind only saw release in European markets, which further narrowed its chances of success. In hindsight, it’s perhaps not surprising that Super Hind underperformed compared to expectations. Most of the staff had to be let go, leaving just the Vihola brothers as active members of the team. Just one game into its life, Mountain Sheep was in big trouble.
Knowing the next shot would likely be the last one, the Vihola brothers planned it cautiously. Initially, they thought about making an action game for the PlayStation Network service. The PlayStation 3 had started to shake off its initial slump and there wasn’t as much competition on its online shop as there was on Xbox Live. The team prototyped over a dozen ideas but couldn’t settle on one. Right around that time, Timo Vihola purchased an iPhone. As he downloaded games on the device and played around with it, he saw real potential in the platform and felt that was where Mountain Sheep should switch its focus. It wasn’t long after that that the idea for Minigore was born.
As luck would have it, a few months into the development of Minigore, another twin-stick shooter was released on the platform. MoreGames’s iDracula combined slick 2D art with straightforward gameplay and was an immediate success when it hit in early 2009. Seeing this success helped spur Mountain Sheep on. The type of game was obviously a great fit for the audience. All the team had to do was finish it. Unfortunately, that was proving to be a bigger challenge than anticipated.
Given the company’s financial situation, it was imperative that it use as much as possible from its work on Super Hind. The problem was that the iPhone technology at the time wasn’t so hot at pushing polygons. Adapting its PSP engine to mobile hardware and getting it running smoothly was a huge challenge, and one that seemed at times to be nearly insurmountable. Mountain Sheep had hooked up with publisher Chillingo to release the upcoming game, but it was starting to look like it was going to run over schedule. As late as one month before its release in the summer of 2009, there were still some issues cropping up. Somehow, the team was able to get everything working properly in time for a release in July of 2009.
The Vihola brothers had placed their final wager well. Minigore started its life as an absolute internet sensation, spawning memes about the game before anyone even knew to start calling them “memes.” It was originally launched in a time where App Store releases were unpredictable and just appeared randomly at night, leading to excited fans to stay up late hoping the game would be released.
Minigore was almost immediately a huge hit, earning praise from critics and building a devoted fanbase rather quickly. Mountain Sheep went to work on a number of updates for the game, adding new characters, additional environments, and new weapons. Voice acting for the game was provided by Arin Hanson, also known as Egoraptor. At that time, his star was just rising, but he’s now quite famous as one of the core members of the Game Grumps among other successes. Minigore continued to sell for a long while, securing the future of Mountain Sheep. A sequel was created, and when the iPad launched, an HD version was made available for it as well.
Mountain Sheep went on to numerous other projects such as the wildly popular Bike Baron. Eventually it was no longer feasible to keep updating Minigore, especially with its sequel around. When 32-bit compatibility was removed from iOS, it seemed as though the final bell had rung for Minigore. In 2019, ten years after its initial launch, this early twin-stick classic was updated and brought back to life as part of the GameClub library for players to discover once again.