Make way for some sweet multiplayer addiction: Scribbled Arena in the house! – as told by Laxmi Khanolkar, CEO of Apar Games. She calls it a dream project for all of them at the company, The game is a unique cross-breed between adrenaline-pumping action and casual unwinding gameplay. If you’re a person who really digs upgrades like cooler ammunition and vehicles, you will definitely be spoilt for choices! Like to keep it simple and classic? Don’t worry, you will enjoy it too because it can be as easy-peasy lemon-squeezy as you’d want it.
In a nutshell
Scribbled Arena is a cross-platform multiplayer warfare game where you perform combat actions in real-time battles.
In Scribbled Arena, you get to beat your friends by navigating in our quirky scribbles together, snatching trophies from right under their noses and running for your life towards the exit. And if you don’t make it through… well, then slap that courage on, mate! There’s always another round to get your guns going!
From the love for playing together
At Apar Games, we have a thing for multiplayer games. If you’re here in our office when the clock strikes 6, you will know what we’re talking about. Deafening cheering and screams, people laughing at jokes nobody else knows anything about. Lads and lasses alike, everyone is so engaged in playing these multiplayer games that they won’t even realize you’re standing there and watching them!
That’s the magic of multiplayer games — and that’s why all my game developers have always dreamt of creating a real-time multiplayer game at least once in their lifetime. So we decided to turn it into reality. To my surprise, within no time we had a game concept that everybody could enjoy, not just friends but even family members can play together. In short, it’s a ‘truly cross-promotional, casual, real-time, multiplayer game” (Phew! Can’t believe I actually managed to coin that term!)
Dream concept come true
“I’ve had this concept of ‘creating a maze-based game where 2 players have to compete inside a maze in real-time & find a hidden trophy’ in my head for a long time, actually. But I didn’t even think in my wildest dreams that it would get approved by my organization so quickly and then also manage to get transformed into a full-fledged game someday!” exclaims Aditya, our young and talented game developer.
Choosing technology from the very beginning
“When Aditya presented his concept, we were all excited to explore it further and make it possible. So when he suggested the Starling/as3/AIR with SmartFoxServer, I made him do multiple tests to validate his decision. We were satisfied with the results, so finally agreed on this technology,” says Vishwajeet, our ever-diligent technical producer. To which, a beaming Aditya adds “I was so excited when not only my concept got approved but also the technology I proposed got accepted by my technical producer! Talk about a double whammy!”
A ‘truly cross-promotional, casual, real-time, multiplayer game” (Phew! Can’t believe I actually…Tweet Me
The small screen problem
No process can go all hunky-dory. So when asked about the hurdles that we had to face while creating Scribbled Arena, Aditya mentioned a rather tricky one — “The small screen size of mobile devices made it difficult for the entire maze to be seen at once. The other player was also not visible most of the time, hence the whole experience of solving the maze with another opponent was left futile. Our objective was to have a battle between 2 players, which was very difficult in a maze-like arena, and the game was becoming more of a puzzle than an action game.”
How did the development team solve it? Well, here’s what Aditya had to say, “We removed the whole maze solving idea & made our arenas more open, although we stuck to the trophy collection theme, which is available in the current build.”
We chose Starling/as3/AIR as our client-side engine. For 2D games, it is a very fast way to develop, it has an active community and is cross-platform, which makes the multiplayer experience easy and efficient. Another reason for this choice is that Aditya, (the developer) just loves Flash (personally).
We had 2 options: Adobe’s P2P RTMFP protocol, or SmartFox & Photon. We went for the latter, since we needed a server which could give us the power to write the server-side code. We also discovered that SmartFox’s documentation with as3 is very detailed, unlike that of Photon. While Adobe’s P2P RTMFP protocol was not available for commercial projects.
What’s with the Scribbled Look?
Dipson, our art director, explains, “Aditya had a clear vision of the art style he wanted, and was rather particular about it from the start. He wanted scribbled paper art to give this action-packed game a very approachable and casual touch. And voila! A stunning game that has received a lot of positive feedback regarding the art style. So, we think it definitely worked!”
But just good design is not enough. To make a good-looking game workable and viable, a lot of planning is required. Dipson continues, “The prime task was to fix a pipeline, while the question was, 2D or 3D. Reverse planning always helps to make your work pipeline smoother, hence the technical hurdles were addressed first. The vehicle rendering was continuously tested on a device for detailing and accuracy, and even small lines and stroke details weren’t overlooked.”
Testing and the problems revealed
To achieve the accuracy, the queries that arise during the process have to be tested quickly, by making quick rendering and prototyping before they go in to art production.
Jibin, the game artist, shares how they overcame a hurdle that threw the whole team off track for a while – “After conducting all the possible tests, I confidently started making the artwork and wow, did we hit a wall! We realized that the tiles, when repeated, did not get ‘the doodle effect’ the way we envisioned it!
We went back to our drawing board and, after multiple tests and observations of the line, color, negative & positive spaces, the alpha levels and probability of tile-based software, the art style parameters were defined. And then, finally, after hours of tests and debates over “coffee” (we said “coffee” for the minor readers but you know what it actually is!), we froze on The Art Style.
Aditya feels very strongly that in order to give the best experience to the players, elimination of multiplayer lag and the quality of the graphics rendering is of utmost importance. He says that he had set his benchmark as 60FPS on their base devices. This is why they eventually decided on using “Tiled” for level editing. Then, from a single spritesheet of tiles, they used a quadbatch to generate the maps.
In the end, Vishwajeet threw light on a rather unusual but legitimate problem that occurs while testing the product. He says, “In order to load test a multiplayer game you need to have a lot of active users online, which is a bit difficult for an indie company. So we developed an in-house load testing tool. It simulates the load on the server as if real players are playing the game.”
Phew! That’s a lot of efforts put in by so many people. But all the late nights, red eye mornings and the “coffee” sessions seemed worth it to the Apar Games team when Scribbled Arena started receiving fantastic feedback and reviews starting right from its beta phase. It even got nominated for the ‘Best Multiplayer’ category at Indie Prize Singapore 2015.
The team is now working on an iOS version of the game to be launched soon. Meanwhile, you can already play Scribbled Arena on Android. The game got greenlit on Steam already, so they plan to launch the PC version of the game early next year. More upgrades and customization will be added as well.
“Amateur – a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional. First things first. Let’s start with who I am, to provide enough background for what is to follow”, says Mariusz Szypura, the creative director of the Telehorse studio, as he shares the story of Steampunker.
“What do you do?” I have always found this question a bit awkward, as I could never answer it in a way that would put all the puzzle pieces together. Rather, I would give a half-truth that best fit a given situation. Actually I’m a would-be architect, who dropped out of university having started recording albums. Yet I never became a professional musician. I have worked as a graphic designer and creative director. Not to mention dabbling in computer programming. That is why it’s so tough for me to give a straightforward answer.
It all started with music. I had recorded an album with my band called Happy Pills and someone had to design the artwork for the cover. Then I made another cover for a couple of friends, some gig posters and T-shirts. This landed me at a job at an advertising agency. Over a few years I progressed from just a designer student side-kick to the position of a creative director. My portfolio includes almost 100 album covers as well as countless graphics and advertising campaigns. Music has become an after-hours pastime. And, since I’m known as a workaholic, this pastime consumed all the time that others were spending partying, sleeping or any other ways. Eventually I’ve managed to release 15 albums with various bands, compose original scores for two movies and produce records and songs for other bands.
[bccttweet=”[Steampunker] started with music.”]
I also tried my hand at computer programming – I began developing iOS apps. And then it struck me! I could finally pull all my skills together and make a game! So I did: came up with a concept, designed it, drew it, programmed it, provided sound effects and composed the soundtrack. After a year of hard work my game was finished. I called it Steampunker.
Now, after this short background, are you really surprised that the reviewers and prize judges offer critical acclaim mainly to the artwork and music?
But developing Steampunker was not easy at first…
photoshop skills helped make art easier
I enjoy drawing but always lack time to do it. When I began working on the game, I wanted to draw it from scratch. Though I soon realized that if I did so, I’d finish the initial stage in about 3 years. I had to come up with something that would enable me to create the art, while still leaving time for programming, music and concept work. I planned to start off with very general sketches and develop more detailed ones later on.
I decided to create the dominant artwork in a way that may seem difficult at the first glance: I put together photo collages and turned them into something completely different in Photoshop, as a background. Then, based on these collages, I used a tablet to draw the boards. Over many years of work as a graphic designer I have mastered Photoshop as my main tool, so working on the graphics proved easier than it seemed. Whereas Vincent and the robots are made and animated in 3D, I think it is a nice combination of 2D and 3D techniques.
A Record You’re Listening To As You Play
I really wanted the music to be different to what can be heard in all other games. I thought of it as of a record you listen to while playing the game, which perfectly matches what is happening on the screen. I had plenty of sketches available for the new album of my Silver Rocket project, so I selected those fitting the ambience of Steampunker and wrote a few new tracks. The soundtrack was to reflect my personal style and in no way those trends currently in vogue in the gaming world.
Programming: in need of something visual
I chose Unity as the tool to make my game. Why? It’s probably obvious to all gamedev experts, but it was not so for me at that time.
Before that my programming experience had been limited to Basic and, subsequently, when I entered the realm of the interactive, I first worked in Macromedia Director, and then in Flash… With the advent of iPhones I developed a few apps in Objective-C.
Problems arose as soon as I decided to make a game. Not an app, but a real game. I simply could not imagine writing it line by line. This was not an option with my limited programming expertise. I definitely needed something visual. First I came across GameSalad and started to develop my prototype there. Although I was happy with the visuals, I quickly reached its limits when it comes to usefulness in my game. I also became briefly interested in Cocos2d and GameMaker, but it was Unity that hit the nail on the head. I could finally see what I was doing and the capabilities were virtually unlimited. Despite it took me too long to figure out what was going on in the code you got referred back to after a while, another invaluable discovery came with the Playmaker plugin! I am a graphic designer, a visual learner, and it is so much easier for me to work when I see what is connected and why.
The highly developed Unity forum has proved itself really useful. I was able to find solutions to all the problems that I faced during development. Another tool streamlining work in Unity is the assets store. And here comes the dilemma: should I develop the game all by myself, but for a longer time, or is it better to spend some money on ready-to-use solutions? There have been moments when I chose the latter. Mainly because of the fact that being the solo developer of the game there was no one to delegate part of the work to. On top of that, I am a passionate advocate of reaching your goals quickly and effectively, rather that savouring the path to the very end.
With a little help from friends
When I finished the game I thought I would need a bit of help to showcase it to the world at large. Jacek, my fellow Happy Pills band member since 1993, took it upon himself to deal with all marketing activities. Domaradzki brothers, famous for their Witcher posters, created beautiful artwork for Steampunker. Gabz, one of the brothers, used to be my co-worker in an advertising agency. Other Steampunker posters were designed by Piotr Ruszkowski, the co-developer of Tormentum, as well as Dawid Ryski.
When I realized I actually created a complete, functional game, I started submitting it for various competitions and showcases. Some of the events where Steampunker was showcased are Casual Connect Indie Prize, Tokyo Game Show, Digital Dragons and Poznan Game Arena. And all of a sudden the game met with favourable reception, winning critical acclaim, awards and nominations. Whereas I, travelling to all those locations and meeting game developers, sellers and players, suddenly saw all the shortcomings of my game. What was even worse, I realized how little I knew of the business side of things. I simply made a game I liked, without thinking of gamers, business models or ideas of monetization. It seemed terrible – I published a premium game, while everyone else went for free-to-play. On the other hand, I felt the same way as in the 1990s, when I released my records without any calculations, through my own independent record label. Had I treated my game development as pure business, it would have been an absolute fuck-up. Whereas now I feel it’s a perfect springboard for my next game.
Being a passionate gamer, Mariusz recalls Steampunker’s development process as an exciting game as well, “A strategic adventure, where you need to plan everything with limited resources (1 hominid). Next, you have to solve innumerable logical puzzles without losing sight of your main objective. A million decisions has to be made that will affect how the game turns out. Eventually, you reach your goal and complete the game… or rather, both games.” He admits that you soon start missing that initial excitement, and have no other choice than start making a new game!
Steampunker is currently available for iOS and Android mobile devices. And Mariusz is quite busy at the moment. New features will be added to Steampunker soon. He is also working on a new game called Steamville ,showcased at Indie Prize USA, and hopes to finish it in Q4 2015. And on August 7th he released a new EP with Happy Pills.
Childhood Studio was started in September of 2012. Their core members used to work for the same employer, but that development house ceased its operation back in July of 2012. Sharing the same creative vision, they decided to form their own studio to carry on their passion for games. Childhood Studio’s CEO Believe Liu shares the story of Sliding Angel.
Loud Panda Games is a year-old mobile games studio from the Philippines. Critter Camp is their first game, which is currently in soft launch on iOS, and the company’s Product Manager Jon Roque shares the story.
How the company started
Loud Panda Games used to be a part of a larger short-lived tech startup that also dealt with other non-game related properties. After a bit of restructuring, the gaming team was recreated as a new company, which now focuses solely on making mobile games.
SMALL CHANGES GONE BIG
We were already midway in development of a game called Reel Monsters while with the previous company. It shared many similarities with what would eventually be Critter Camp. Reel Monsters also has monster collecting, training and questing. It drew inspiration from the Philippine cockfighting industry, which pits roosters against each other in an arena. It was a very gambling-themed game concept with training taking place using slot machines, and where players could bet on monster battles.
We initially thought it would be a simple rebranding and a bit of gameplay tweaking.
Having started over, we initially thought it would be a simple rebranding, and we’ll just tweak the gameplay a bit and continue development. But after we were done with the reconceptualization, only the battle system was left mostly intact. The slot machine training system was changed. The questing system was also changed. There was also a pivot from fewer critters with many skills and different skill paths to more critters with fewer skills.
Teamwork battles challenges
Our first major challenge was when after a month in production our Product Director Marvin Apacible was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to be out of office for several months while he underwent chemotherapy. This caused some major production issues. The team had to rely on the game design document to bring the idea to life, as there were periods of time when the Product Director was out of reach. Nonetheless, the team stepped up to the plate.
The team brainstormed whenever they encountered a design issue and decided together on how to move…Tweet Me
The team brainstormed whenever they encountered a design issue and decided together on how to move forward. It is not the optimal setup and may have caused some design inconsistencies, but it also empowered the team to take charge of important product decisions.
Another challenge is that as we get deeper and deeper into development, we realize we might have bitten off more than we can chew. We started with only two developers. We expected to hire two more within a month of operation, but had some trouble with hiring competent Unity developers. It took us more than 6 months before we added another developer to our team, and this caused a major delay from our initial estimates. On top of that, due to our game’s genre, we might be compared to mobile games such as Puzzle and Dragons, Summoner’s War and Brave Frontier. These are huge games with a significant amount of content. With our limited resources, we had to be very conscientious in deciding where to apply our efforts.
We had our soft launch at the end of December 2014 after 10 grueling months of hard work. We’re very proud of what we accomplished. The graphics are great and the amount of content that we were able to put out was remarkable, considering our manpower at that time. But soft launch release was of course just the beginning. The next few months have been a particularly tough time as we started supporting a live game. Some players encountered connectivity issues that were difficult to replicate internally. Up to now, we are still hard at work improving the game’s performance and stability. We’ve also released a PvP system and more critters during the soft launch.
It was a great privilege for us to be part of Casual Connect Asia 2015’s Indie Prize Showcase. It was our first time attending such an event. It gave us plenty of opportunities to show the game to publishers, investors and other developers. More importantly, the energy exuding from the passionate developers in the event inspired us to keep becoming better and better at our craft.
The team is currently porting Critter Camp to Android and is still in discussions with several publishers for possible partnership. Nothing certain yet though, and they’re still open for talks, the developers say. Their Product Director Marvin is in remission and back to work, Meanwhile, the game can already be played on iOS devices.
Nob Studio is an indie company from Singapore, run by Shu Wan Cheng. He has been working as an indie game dev full time since 2008. Initially Shu Wan was developing Flash games only, and gradually switched to mobile. He barely survived as a solo dev for many years, and calls Prison Life RPG his biggest success so far.
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.
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.