2015 is the year Bari Silvestre from Keybol went back to his roots – Flash game development. “You can’t help but reminisce about the hay days of the browser games, that can be easily distributed and with the right polish and gameplay you can get some hefty sum via sponsorships. Times have changed though, and you have to be not just twice as good in producing quality games, but your creations should have an interesting original gameplay”, Bari recalls. That is hard to come by, so he just made little Flash games with some interesting twist on existing gameplay. They did get some positive feedback with a feature here and there, but Bari felt something is lacking. His fresh creation, Kill The Plumber, brings to life some gamers’ dreams of playing for the villains.
So I posted on FGL.com about my availability for collaboration. Iskander Aminov, a Russian in the US, sent me a personal message. I told him I’m open to his ideas, as I was low at that time. He sent me his notes via Skype, and the idea of playing as the enemies in a platformer game turned out something I wanted to challenge myself with. It was not the first time I was working with this idea: I’ve once made a reverse Angry Birds where you set up block platforms to protect the ‘pigs’ in the game.
Ideas are Nothing
Unless you implement them right, ideas are worthless. To start with, we brainstormed how the idea of playing for the enemies would be possible. Should we retain to a platformer or can it be played with clicks and dragging the enemies? That’s perfect for a mobile game too, right? But this would distract from the idea that you play for the enemies in a platformer. So we stuck with platformer controls. I also believe that good casual platformers should be easy enough for just four arrow keys as controls.
Good casual platformers should be easy enough for just 4 arrow keys as controls.Tweet Me
What about the gameplay? Izzy suggested that every level would change, and it immediately reminded me of “this-is-the-only-level” games, including my Pretentious Game,which I thought was an overused gameplay. But he insisted it would keep the gameplay fresh and the player interested. I was still not convinced, so we decided to work on our other games.
YouTube videos as inspiration
I am a sucker for game design articles and videos, especially YouTube features like Egoraptor’s video on Megaman X, so when Izzy sent me a link to Kotaku about the 4 Step Level Design by Mark Brown, I was sure to check it out. It was interesting and fun to watch, and I instantly envisioned our game working on these principles. Introducing new enemy controls and abilities, then developing a new level. For the 3rd level I added a twist, that of a timed survival mission (or else the plumber gets a new ability like fireball). The 4th level for each enemy is the final act, and will test the player’s skills and knowledge of the game. This seemed perfect. For players who wanted additional levels with their favorite playable enemy, I added unlockable bonus levels.
Prototype and marketing
Izzy has already sent me assets to work on. The first levels felt natural to design. The concept here is to let the player know they will be playing as the enemy, so would have no ability to jump and walk really slowly compared to the plumber. I gradually introduced the player to new abilities like short jump, throwing projectiles and playing as a completely different enemy with powerful but limited skills like flying or stomping.
I felt we already had something in our hands, so I developed extra features, like a boss fight where you play as the boss, as well as achievements. We found the perfect soundtrack and asked Zach Striefel for custom sound effects. We now have the best game, and it’s time to bring our creation out to the public. But first I need to do some marketing, which I am really getting the hang of.
I made a forum thread on TouchArcade about the game, showed some videos, and within that same week PocketGamer featured it in their Upcoming Games. I was very happy, it’s proof that what we have is really worth something.
To be honest, I am not surprised with how the game was received. It was featured by many game sites like Newgrounds, Kongregate, JayisGames and GameJolt. The players’ response was very positive, they like how the game is unique and polished, and has great art.
Millions of YouTube Plays
Now this is what I didn’t expect. I’ve had my games played by youtubers but I didn’t pay much attention to that. These videos are interesting to watch though. Kill the Plumber is much different, it is fun to watch. They cursed at AI the Plumber, putting up rage and funny comments. It was hilarious! No wonder youtubers with 2-6 million subscribers also made their own videos. Every day I wake up to 5-10 videos of playing Kill the Plumber, and 1-3 of these are from popular video bloggers with 100,000 subscribers, up to half a million.
One of the best things I am proud of in the game is its alternate ending which foreshadowed the sequel. The game is ripe for expansion with platformer game tropes already available, so we have decided to develop it earlier. In just a month after release we made 48 new levels with 7 new playable enemies.
The new Kill The Plumber game has participated in Indie Showcase at Casual Connect Asia 2015. Meanwhile, Bari invested more time in marketing and sent out demo builds to AppSpy, which they happily made a Hands On preview. The game is now set for multiple platforms including PC via Steam.
Marketing professionals participating in Casual Connect this year will be well aware that Asia is a giant in the gaming industry and provides many opportunities for effective campaigns in a wide variety of gaming spheres. Due to a long-standing ban on consoles in China (which was lifted last year), the market for PC games in Asia is enormous and mobile gaming is experiencing significant growth yearly. But did you know that, in the meantime, blogging is becoming a phenomenon of epic proportions in the same region? It’s time to take advantage! BlogsRelease co-founder Dani Finkelstein and community director Sophie Kouropatov explain how.
Blogging for All
Consider these amazing statistics: While 77 percent of online users worldwide visit blogs, almost half of all online users in Asia have a blog.
Almost half of all online users in Asia have a blog. Nearly 60 percent are under the age of 25.Tweet Me
Nearly 60 percent of those users are under the age of 25 – a key demographic for gaming marketers. Blogging is becoming a permanent part of everyday life in countries like Japan, Korea, and India. Just like with social media, blogging platforms offer incredible opportunities for marketers and advertisers.
The Numbers Have It
Asia makes up a whopping 48 percent of the entire global games market, with over 500 million players in China alone.
Asia makes up 48 percent of the entire global games market.Tweet Me
With such large numbers setting up campaigns can be a trying endeavour. However, by identifying key blogger influencers, marketers can have instant access to thousands of relevant customers. In the United States alone, 61% of customers have made a purchase based on a blog post. One post by an influential blogger, if shared and promoted correctly, can turn into a whole campaign in itself.
For example, just 50 bloggers were approached for L’Oréal’s Miss Manga Mascara blogger outreach campaign. Within a week 200 content items were created (including blog posts, videos, and shares) and over 120, 000 unique views were logged after L’Oréal uploaded a request for product reviews on BlogsRelease, a platform where brands can connect with bloggers. Other big brands like Wendy’s and Ford are also taking advantage of the blogger market with successful campaigns.
Of course, trying to manually single out popular influencers among millions of blogs on vast platforms like Sina, Baidu, and Ameba is more than a little unrealistic. First of all, with every campaign, consider what kind of blogger would be interested. If you’re promoting a new game for PC, it would be more effective to target bloggers who focus on PC gaming. Sometimes niche bloggers can do much more for your product than even journalists, because they are willing to give you more coverage and their audience is part of the exact target market you want to access. Two ways to ensure this is to approach bloggers with products to review and invitations to events. This is why marketers are increasingly turning to tools like BlogsRelease, where brands can post news, product review requests, and event invitations to bloggers, in order to quickly find and reach out to influencers with relevant interests in their desired locations.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify ignoring the Asian blogging community. With the amount of gamers and bloggers in Asia, the intersection of these interests has resulted in a significant number of influential gaming blogs (such as Indian Video Gamer, KotakGame, and GameSaku, which was recently acquired by Tech in Asia). What are your favorite gaming blogs in Asia? Let us know in the comments!
Looking to reach out to gaming and tech bloggers? As proud media partners of Casual Connect, BlogsRelease is offering all participants the chance to share a free press release with thousands of bloggers around the world. For more details, click here.
It started as market research, turned into group therapy but, in the end, Unsung Heroes became something extraordinary. Spil Games‘ CEO Tung Nguyen-Khac shares the story of how the Unsung Heroes campaign exposed major fault lines in how developers are tackling mobile.
We were batting around ideas about what to do at our booth at Casual Connect Amsterdam when we got to talking about how many great games there are that never seem to make it in the App Store or on Google Play. There is something about how people focus on the top-rated games that stops them from noticing other games that, actually, might be more interesting to play.
'Releasing a game is like throwing a stone in a lake. It sinks to the bottom'. - Hernan LopezTweet Me
Hernan Lopez of Epic Llama said it best about the launch of his game Big Bang Dust: “Releasing a game is like throwing a stone in a lake. It sinks to the bottom.”
And so we decided to make this the focus of an event at Casual Connect which was the start of a campaign we call Unsung Heroes.
Developers Speak Out
Hernan was one of five developers involved in our Unsung Heroes event at Casual Connect. These were all people with great games who had struggled to get an audience. We asked the developers to pitch their games. At the least, this would increase their exposure. But it also helped us understand where these games were going wrong and it allowed us to highlight the problems mobile developers have in getting people to play their games.
Benoît Freslon created a die-and-retry skill game called Rolling Jump. He previously worked on Flash games and told us: “I just made games and put them on the web.”
'A bigger publisher is better. ' - Benoît FreslonTweet Me
It used to be that simple. But on mobile, Benoît’s monetisation strategy didn’t work and by the time he changed it to something better, his game already had reviews and it was too late to change people’s minds.
“You have to find the right publisher,” Benoît told us (we hope he had Spil Games in mind). “A bigger publisher is better. Mine was too tiny and my game ended up in the black hole”.
The Black Hole
This phrase “the black hole of the app store” is becoming common currency among developers. It neatly sums up their experience. They put a lot of passion and resource into creating a game and then it seems to be sucked away, out of their control and into oblivion.
Vadim Starygin has a medieval army strategy game, Royal Offense. He had tested it on one Android phone, yet the game received negative reviews because it didn’t work on some other versions.
“All Android versions are different,” he explained. “Some phones don’t have enough memory [to play Royal Offense, and those people downrated the game. You have to be prepared with the tech stuff.”
'You have to be prepared with the tech stuff'. - Vadim StaryginTweet Me
One of the best games we saw at Casual Connect was Socioball from developer Shailesh Prabhu. This is a puzzle game where players can create their own levels and share them through Twitter.
'Users like the game. But we struggle to get them to play, and to get people buy things in the game'.…Tweet Me
Shailesh ported the game from PC to mobile where the fact people are more likely to be permanently signed in to Twitter makes the game work better. We asked him why the mobile version hadn’t been more successful. His answer was frank. “I don’t know. Users like the game. We have great reviews. But we struggle to get people to play it and we struggle to get people to buy things in the game.”
Mobile Developer Frustration
His frustration is felt by many other game developers. For Neil Lai, the problem is understanding European and American audiences when you’re based in Asia.
“We don’t have the resources to take on the whole world,” he said. “I’m a hardcore gamer. I do it for the love of building games. But understanding what Europeans think about; what Americans like… that’s the hardest part for us.”
'Understanding what Europeans think about; what Americans like… that’s the hardest part for us'. -…Tweet Me
The idea of Unsung Heroes is to share knowledge about mobile game development. So here is what we learned at the Casual Connect event:
1. Creating a great mobile game is the easy part. Finding people to play it and pay for it can be baffling and frustrating.
2. Partnerships matter. You have to be working with the best people to help you build an audience for your game.
3. The technology matters too and your monetization strategy is crucial. But you have to get both right from the launch date so that early reviews don’t sink your game.
4. Understanding cultural and language differences around the world can help you reach a much wider audience. It’s crazy to limit yourself to your own country.
5. The way you market your game is vitally important. It’s no good throwing a stone in a lake — it will just sink. To attract attention in the app stores, you need to make an enormous splash.
Where Unsung Heroes Goes Next
It’s all very well complaining about how tough it is for games in the app store. We thought we’d take Unsung Heroes a stage further and do something about that. Our aim is to get people to play a broader range of great games.
So we’ve launched the Unsung Heroes Competition. We’re asking developers to submit mobile games which haven’t reached their potential in the app stores. We’ll promote the best of those ggames to users. The great thing is that, even before we get to a prize, everyone wins. Developers see the games receive a broader exposure and users get to play some awesome games they may not have otherwise discovered.
We’ll be making sure we take consumers’ views into account in deciding an overall winner. That developer will receive a publishing contract with Spil Games worth $50,000 (subject to terms and conditions).
The Unsung Heroes campaign is beginning to get a head of steam. It started so well at Casual Connect, we’re already planning more initiatives and events to highlight awesome games that deserve to be played.
Hernan Lopez recalls: “We know our game is great — it won awards. It did great on the web. But no one played it on mobile. Even I forgot that I’d made the game.”
We want to make that kind of experience a thing of the past. With Unsung Heroes, we want to change mobile development so great games get the chance they deserve.
For more information on the Unsung Heroes Competition visit its page.
As big gamedev events are becoming quite rare in Kyiv, Ukraine, game developers themselves are organizing informal gatherings to still share experience and discuss their ongoing and/or fresh games. As for gamejams, Ukrainian devs have already got the taste of these, and just-for-fun projects become award-winning hits — think of Party Hard, for instance, who won the Critics’ Choice award at Casual Connect Europe 2015 Indie Showcase. So the CEO of a Kyiv-based studio of Gestalt Games, Andriy Tykhonchuk, and his wife Olena decided to organize a 48-hours gamedev challenge of INDIE|48 that took place in April 2015 at the G13 project studio.
“I came up with this idea after seeing a YouTube video of some Scandinavian devs doing something similar. I felt like participating in an event of this type too! But accidentally did too much and organized one. Why 48 hours? I think it’s standard time for this type of events. You cannot do much in one day, and 3 days is a lot”, Andriy explains.
Of course he did some research before organizing INDIE|48, and discovered that no one in Ukraine is really doing this exact type of hackathon events, focused entirely on games. However, there are IT competitions like, for example, the Golden Byte contest, where there is a games nomination.
While Andriy carried the burden of all organizational work, his wife Olena helped a lot during the event itself. “We were doing this for the first time. We’re actually just a small indie company of 5 people”, he shares. “The hardest part was to find sponsors. Things are tight with this in our country.”
The hardest part was to find sponsors. Things are tight with this in our country.Tweet Me
Nevertheless, Unity Technologies and the “Liberation” NGO agreed to support the event for aspiring developers for this first time. “I really want to believe that INDIE|48 will become a tradition and gain support of big companies. While we’ll go on developing the indie gamedev hangout”, Andriy adds.
Crocodile, Sleep, Sport
The task was to create a playable game within the 48-hours timeframe. No pre-made assets were allowed, except for sound — but this meant the team could not qualify for the Best Sound nomination.
Crocodile, Sleep, Sport — these were the keywords chosen by the judges, Tatem Games‘ CEO Igor Karev and Alexander Shtachenko from iLogos. The keywords needed to be incorporated in the game in whatever way the devs considered appropriate.
Day 1: Survivability Test
From the initial 19 teams who wanted to participate, 14 had actually arrived, and only 13 survived till Day 3. Most participants were from Kyiv, though some have made a long way from other Ukrainian cities specifically for the gamejam.
Andriy reminded the rules, announced the keywords — and started the countdown! The teams, who were at first sitting at their tables like good schoolchildren at their first lesson, start brainstorming and sketching stuff, gradually moving to all coziest corners of the studio. The best time to walk around and just peek over the shoulder and overhear bits of creative discussions!
This first stage seemed the most tense, since the keywords weren’t the easiest ones to implement and not all teams were happy with this choice.
The myth of game developers being “night owls” operating on buckets of coffee and energy drinks has been partly busted at INDIE|48. Surpsingly many teams chose the option of sleep over an allnighter. Nevertheless, those who felt better working at night were free to do so — a gamejam is not an army, so there were no limitations on sleep/work schedules. By nap time most of the teams already came up with some intriguing sketches — that, however, did not reveal their ideas completely.
Day 2: Implementation
Day 2 has been about pure work: initial ideas have been shaped, and needed to be brought to life. By this time the teams had already communicated with each other for a while, and chats became more frequent. The coffee machine-and-cookies area became the space of networking and sharing overall impressions. For some people the gamejam happened to be a test for balancing work and hobbies: one of the devs admitted that “7 days a week making games feels like too much”. What is more, for some participants INDIE|48 was the first time of dealing with games. In one of the teams the programmer was there for the sake of challenging himself in a gamejam, and he brought friends just to keep company — and one of the guys happened to be skilled in writing music and therefore useful.
Day 3: The Variety of crocodiles, sports and dreams
On Day 3 you could already see drafts turning into actual games: the art became distinctive, and one could try to follow gameplay if they were shameless enough to peek over the devs’ shoulders for long.
As opposed to the popular belief that in Slavic countries 90% of work is done in the last 10% of time, there was no panic or rush even in the last minutes of the 48-hours gamemaking challenge.
The crocodile happened to be the antagonist in the majority of the games, though some teams gave the reptile a chance to be the hero and not the villain.
The Empairish team presented a game called Of Crocs And Humans, where you play as an ex-sportsman with the hobby of collecting crocodiles’ eggs. Not an easy task, considering that sleepy female crocodiles attack the sportsman if he gets too noisy at night.
They said – There Is No Team Name, and just called their team this way. And named their creation Yellow Bed: crocodiles here are haunting people in their sleep, and need to be destroyed with a saw. When the sleeper, that is — the player, loses the battle, everything ends with a yellow bed. Does this need an explanation why? 😀
Finally, the poor crocodiles got some positive exposure! In Revolution Fist’s project CrocoRun a circus-show crocodile trained as a sportsman wants to escape. He gets this chance when the handler falls asleep, but then luck gets bad: the human wakes up while the crocodile tries to snatch the key. Playing as the crocodile, you need to chase the handler, and bite him 3 times to win the game.
The creation of ZdarovaBanditu, with cute pixel graphics and made with GameMaker, was presented as The Bed. In this game the protagonist falls asleep in his room, and in a dream a witch asks him to help her get home, because a creepy creature gets in her way. Defeating it, you get the boxing gloves, that you’ll need to fight the final boss — a boxing crocodile.
During the presentation part of the gamejam, Andriy Tykhonchuk asked the audience to choose their favorite by applauding, the one who gets the loudest support wins. But since this small gamedev hangout turned out to be supportive towards each other, and no one was left without their dose of appreciation, it wasn’t an easy task for Andriy and judges from Tatem Games and iLogos to define who got most. Eventually, the People’s Choice award was given to the Renegades team, the authors of Joe vs Crocodiles. Here you act as Joe the baseball player who needs to get home and save his sleeping son from crocodiles, since the kid is afraid of them. The fighting happens during a baseball match — shoot crocodiles with balls or just smash with the bat.
The Renegades team welcomed one of the members right there at INDIE|48, and managed to make a game playable on iPad, and anyone from the audience could try it on the tablet.
A company of university friends who names themselves AnyKey used the keywords in BloodyBet – in some country people enjoy betting on others who dare to walk on swamps around sleeping crocodiles. In this game you only see the protagonist’s two legs, and it is them you control, each one separately. Just don’t make waves — they wake the crocodiles up, and you end as their food. If you don’t — you get a drink as a reward for an accomplished level, and move on to the next one. Surprise! The drink makes your legs shaky, and the challenge gets harder.
And these guys, the organizers say, could have won, but forgot to add sound. Anyway, the Best Gameplay and Best Idea awards went home with the Two Squares & Triangle team for CROCODIE. These devs said that their primary purpose at the gamejam was to create something fun. Their game of the “survival crocodile boating” genre, as they called it, features an abstract country’s national sport of crocodile-back riding. The animals need to eat in order not to fall asleep. They consume fish as they move along the river, and the “jockey” can knock flying birds down — and feed them to their crocodile as well. CROCODIE can be played both as single- and multiplayer: one gamer controls the “jockey”, the other one plays for the crocodile.
The Garinich Game team came all the way from the city of Cherkasy. They say there was only one person actually working on the game, while the other two were there just to make a team of three. Despite not having an artist and Unity crashing halfway the event, the guys decided to “make at least something”, which was presented as Disco Amazonka: an endless timekiller game with a catchy electronic tune, where you need to move a canoe carefully between some sleeping crocodiles.
The Best Idea winners, Rebel Dev Team, discovered their coolest artist wasn’t old enough to participate in INDIE|48 (all participants needed to be at least 18), so the art for their game Z.O.Z.H was made by another team member. And again, the crocodiles got some positive features here, These guys created a trippy world of drinkers and drug addicts, one of which is hanging upside down.
This is all a dream of a crocodile who wants to bring some sport to this crazy place. You can get help from a fat fairy who, as the authors say, obviously loves sports. Items are collected throughout the game, and in the end are used to assemble a device to escape the dream. As for the genre, the game is a platformer, but the world around you spins, adding some more physical challenge.
“A mix of all that can be played in one’s free time” was how WeAreGroot defined the genre of their game Y.A.I.G 48, which is a dream of a sleeping fat crocodile who wants to become fit. He walks around a dark gym trying to steal weight plates from barbels to bring home and work out there, and fights enemies trying to stop him.
Tap The Sheep game doesn’t have any reference to crocs, sleep or sport in the title, but the authors, a 3-programmers team of Drunk Elephant Games, proved this impression wrong! Their game is for people who need to calm down and fall asleep. Control the four legs of a crocodile heading towards his bed, and count sheep on your way. Better slowly, since the faster you walk, the more you wake up, while you shouldn’t.
As well as you shouldn’t reach the bed: you need to be already asleep by this time. The developers said that for the crocodile they used inverse kinematics, not just animation. The game has no music, but the presentation was accompanied by the developers’ singing a popular lullaby from a kids’ TV show.
And Steel Midnight Finish chose Python to make the game of Caligo (“mist” in Latin), instead of the initially planned C++ that they eventually considered too complicated. The story is about a boy tortured by nightmares. His dad gives him a toy crocodile to scare bad things away in the realm of dreams. In addition to an uncommon programming decision, the game art isn’t traditionally cartoonish and bright, but on the contrary, gives some ambient and, as the devs explain, a surreal feel.
Cool Art + Catchy Sound = Winner
And the winner is… Diversido, a team from Kyiv with their game BillaBong, where you play as an aborigine kid trying to walk on a swamp not to wake up sleeping crocodiles. They became the absolute winners of the gamejam, also getting the awards for Best Art and Best Sound.
Diversido’s product manager and developer Valerii Minenko created a catchy tune that the main character whistles as she walks among the reptiles: after the team presented their game, you could hear guys whistling that same tune for a while. Valerii shares more about BillaBong.
“You cannot do many things with a sleeping someone. We found just one – wake them up!”
“Every game is a combination of mechanics and setting, it’s a world where the player needs to do something. My formula of a good game is that gameplay and setting should perfectly fit each other. If we create a game about crocodiles — the player must not ask himself why it is exactly crocodiles but not puppies or, for example, Gummi Bears”, Valerii explains.
Since the keywords were “crocodile”, “sleep” and “sport”, Valerii and his colleague Anya started brainstorming around the idea of sleeping crocodiles and tried to make them an essential part of the gameplay. “You cannot do many things with a sleeping someone. We found just one – wake them up!”, he comments. This became the base of the gameplay — the crocodiles sleep and somebody wakes them up.
“We focused on creating a small but complete project. We didn’t develop much of functionality, but tried to keep the quality of our work perfect. Also, we tried to add to the project not only basic gameplay, but necessary supporting functionality as well – like UI and sounds”.
“I think the biggest challenge was to plan our work in a way that if someone had a look at it, he wouldn’t feel like something is missing. I hope we managed this.”
The Diversido team were using Unity 5, since this is what they work with on a daily basis in their company of Diversido Mobile. Valerii adds that they still haven’t made many projects with the freshest version of Unity, so were also interested in playing with the new engine features.
For their team the gamejam turned out an excellent teambuilding opportunity: much better than investigating bars together, Valerii says. “I feel that we have become closer during the event. Hope this will be useful for our future work. Also I now know what our performance is when we are working with passion. It is very high!”
Now I know what our performance is when we are working with passion.Tweet Me
Diversido haven’t yet decided what to do with the BillaBong game project conceived at INDIE|48. Valerii shared that they’re currently preparing a few projects for release and would rather focus on that. Nevertheless, BillaBong has been added to their website, and they show it to all their friends.
Moondrop is a small indie game studio located in Hamar, Norway, focused on making games that are interesting, beautiful and respectful towards players. Two full-time developers, Stig-Owe Sandvik (designer/artist) and Andreas Fuglesang (CEO/programmer), determination, experimental methods and compulsive behavior are key ingredients when Moondrop makes games.
“What should have been a short project with combat mechanics and no story ended up as an atmospheric story-based puzzle game that took a bit more than 4 years to make”, the developers recall as they share the story of their game Amphora.
A Clear Idea of What We Wanted To Do
We were three guys freshly out of college, with very clear ideas of what we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to make games that were not exploitive towards the players, but would make their life more fun instead. We chose to focus on gameplay, though we also value originality and harmonic beautiful audiovisuals. With Amphora we thought we were making a small-ish game in terms of timescale on production, but after all we learned to never underestimate circumstances that are over your head.
A Game for Different Stages of Player Involvement
We don’t want to reveal too much of the storyline, since we’d like the players to figure out as much as possible on their own. Against conventional wisdom, the player is not who the primary story is about. The player guides the story, and is still the most important aspect of it, because without them time stands still. But since our main mechanic makes the player a very powerful being, and very different from the other inhabitants of the world, we found it difficult to make the player avatar an equal participant in the story, and so the focus is on the more common characters that don’t have any special powers.
The story focuses on a girl whom the player witnesses growing up. This is symbolical, as the player also “grows” while playing, understanding what the game is about and what they can and cannot do. There was also a goal to let players enjoy the game on several different layers, based on how involved they are. One can enjoy Amphora by just experiencing nice visuals and soundscape, but if they want more, they can discover a story unfolding, or the real story underneath, or uncover deeper meanings — but we don’t force or require players to dive into that, leaving the choice up to them.
Without A Single Word
We decided that a text-based story or tutorial wasn’t something we wanted to delve into. Both because it would be another element we’d have to create and use resources on, but also because we felt text is too often used as a crutch in games.
We didn’t want anything text-based, because text is too often used as a crutch in games.
It was also a part-experiment to see how far we could push a game to teach something without telling the player straight up what to do. Doing this gave us many headaches when designing levels, but in the end we managed to construct something that performed what we wanted. Now we just provide a few icons to teach the controls and the rest is up to the player to figure out. We want the player to play, not read text or see long tutorial videos.
Not All Users See The Story, But Most Do Enjoy
So the Amphora story is told completely through the visuals and gameplay without a single word. It’s risky, since a couple of playtesters did not pick up on any of the overarching story. Later we made some things more obvious because of this. Still, a small fraction of players anyway didn’t get a coherent story out of the game, and one did not see any story at all. These players still said they were impressed with the game and enjoyed themselves, so we decided not to do major changes to how the story was told.
Making the tutorial was quite difficult, since part of players would never try to experiment. If they just tried to press anything they’d notice the interactivity, but instead they sat there staring at the screen. It took some very careful observation of the players’ reactions to get this right without them ending up completely confused, but we feel we managed to get this aspect mostly right. We will use these learnings in other games, as they seem to make the tutorial phase more enjoyable for the majority of players.
Mechanics, Design and Playtesting
The main mechanics is about lifting and drawing cords that can be attached to almost everything in the scenes. One issue was that this mechanic made the player very powerful, and therefore we struggled quite a lot to design puzzles that wouldn’t be trivial. Had we known how difficult this would become, we’d probably have taken steps earlier to either change the goal of the game, or even make the mechanics different. The game was planned to be longer, but the difficulty of designing as well as aiming for the highest quality restricted it.
We decided quite early in development that we would structure the game in singular limited scenes. This was part-technological – to avoid optimizations to make the engine run huge levels, but also a choice to be able to more rapidly iterate, rearrange and scrap scenes. We found that naming each scene something topical made discussion and editing easier, even if the names were never exposed to the players.
We did early playtesting standing behind people’s backs, which might have made them perform worse than if they were playing the game at home, since they might feel like they are being judged. It’s been time-consuming for us as well, but for me it turned out easier to read what was going through their mind as they were actually playing, than watching recordings afterwards.
Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went there? Don’t worry you’re not turning demented, it’s a common psychological phenomenon involving how our ancestors needed to think differently when they entered different environments. We’ve encountered a similar thing a lot with playtesters of Amphora. We wanted each scene to be unique, both visually and thematically, but it resulted in players suddenly forgetting the mechanics they had already used several times. For this reason the game became a bit easier and more straightforward than we planned – any small detail that could confuse players would confuse them.
A Team Member: Not Just Work Capacity, But Also Knowledge
Our biggest setback was when one of the teammates had to leave us. With him we lost a lot of knowledge that took much of our time to regain (by learning it ourselves). He was also our CEO at the time (as well as graphics programmer), so two important roles had to be filled. This pushed the team to being one artist/designer and one CEO/programmer, meaning almost double workload for both. Losing a team member means not only losing their capacity to work, but their knowledge as well.
We took up the burden of finishing the game, since we didn’t find anyone to replace our former team member. Our programmer did learn what that guy knew, but the time it took made us postpone the release for almost a year. This was great for the company as a whole, but the time lost made us reach the boundaries of budget.
Pragmatic Approach To Pretty Art
One of the more constant aspects of our game has been the art style. It was one of the reasons why we picked this project. And since silhouettes require less details and still look good, it would be possible to accomplish the project with just one part-time artist. That made the effects and colors ever more important as to not make the game look cheap, so we invested some extra time on image effects and particles etc. We got a lot of amazing feedback on our art, people seemed impressed, and so we were really happy with how that choice turned out.
We are also proud of our smoke effect, which was both a blessing and a curse. It made effects easy to create, has a great unified style, but also came at a great cost of rendering lots of pixels with many dynamic textures. And its limitations made it difficult to work with and ended up taking a lot of time.
Good Audio On A Budget Turns Award-Winning
Not having a huge budget for audio, we commissioned a friend, Paal B. Solhaug, to do the music and let him retain most of the rights for it. We may have had him set to work a bit too early as we only had a few concept images and a not-so-clear description of the game. Even though he felt he didn’t have enough to work with, we were happy with the tunes he made, and they helped us set the vibe of the game.
As for sounds and ambience, a guy found us by pure chance when his teacher asked the students if they could make sounds for our project. One of them, Kristian Brastein, had the vision for the game that we were after, and ended up being a great addition to the project after he finished school.
Their efforts were praised not just within our team: Amphora won the Best Game Audio award at Indie Prize at Casual Connect Amsterdam 2015.
Remaking An Engine With A Working Prototype
When our team was graduating from school, our main skills were Flash and C++ development. We wanted more out of the game than what Flash could offer, so naturally went ahead and began writing our own engine in C++. Using some third-party libraries we managed to get an early version of the game up and running, though that’s when we noticed the downsides of our choices. After a year of feeling this effect we ended with the worst possible outcome: having to rewrite the engine and discard the pieces that didn’t work with our vision. It was a difficult decision that we agonized over for some time, but in the end it turned out the right thing and recognizing this was crucial for the continuation of the project.
Rewriting the engine while already having a working prototype meant that we knew exactly what was required of the engine when starting anew. This made the engine more robust in a way that supported the game better and enabled us to continue development much more smoothly from that point onwards. It made us realize the importance of what a more complete prototype could do for the success of making good tech choices, and how to know exactly the requirements of an editor for the game.
We decided on making an in-game editor, which may or may not have been a good idea. It was great that we could easily switch between the working game and tweaking every setting of a scene, but the editor suffered from not being a priority and had issues that never got resolved.
A game is in essence a sophisticated way to display data that is interactive.
A game is in essence a sophisticated way to display data that is interactive, but we made the engine data-driven way too late to understand the importance of this. An important discovery was when we made the decision to buy/use RUBE. This was by far the greatest tool that closed the gap between the tech and how the designer wanted to create the entities. It enabled the artistic feel of the movement of the characters and eased the development of content.
We have chosen to not use our own engine any time soon. We will continue making stylish games that focus on new types of gameplay, but will heavily reduce development time by using third-party tools and make our process more streamlined.
The team is currently busy making their next game Degrees of Separation. It will have some of the same design aesthetics as Amphora, but less experiential, as the concept this time is based on a working prototype. Amphora is available on Steam, Humble Store and Glyph and will soon be available on Mac.
One of the holy grails of personalization is the ability to implement real-time, data-driven player marketing. In other words, social gaming publishers that can deliver highly-relevant messages to individual players at the exact moment of greatest relevance will thrill those players, engender more loyalty, and gain an important edge in this competitive space.
Seven Summits Studio is an award-winning independent game development company based out of Hyderabad, India. The studio was founded in 2013 by a group of passionate individuals who strive to create impactful experiences through video games.
Petite is an ambient experience that narrates a woman’s story while focusing on key incidents that happen in her life. Every level is a new situation, and each memory you unlock is a unique one, depending on the emotions you choose.
COFA Games is a game development company from Serbia, currently working on a pretty ambitious project for an indie studio, called Awakening of Heroes. This is an unusual multi-player game that combines elements of team fight, strategy, arcade, town development and pre-game unions. Although still in the Alpha phase, Awakening of Heroes has appeared on Steam Greenlight waiting for your thumbs up to help it enter this huge PC game download store.
COFA Games’ CEO Nikola Mitic shares the story of their game taking place in a dreamlike city, and featuring a sweet old lady obsessed with extreme sports such as tombola and knitting, a mellow-heart butcher with an alter-ego of a math genius, a sexy chimney sweeper with a vendetta against Santa, a hipster in an atypical bad mood, and a grandpa daredevil. And of course the craziest superpowers one can come up with.
Over the coming months, I’ll be posting a blog series exploring untapped opportunities to increase engagement in mobile games, along with a few predictions on the future of the mobile gaming industry. We’ve been buzzing about this concept since the Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) in San Francisco, where Immersion was given the opportunity to host the panel “Left Brain + Right Brain = Engagement.” This session featured industry leaders from both the creative and analytic side of mobile gaming spectrum, and I was delighted to philosophize with industry experts Jeff Drobick of Tapjoy, Jeffrey Cooper of Samsung, and David Zemke of DeNA. Our wide ranging discussion uncovered a rich tapestry of ideas that illuminate some of the core mechanics in both designing and analyzing mobile games, which in turn provided insights for game developers on how to improve engagement in their games. This series will touch on some of the key takeaways from the panel and our work since, and will offer game developers some actionable ideas to implement in creating the more creative and engaging games.