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ContributionsPostmortem

Post-Mortem: Paladin Studios’ Momonga Pinball Adventures (iOS)

March 29, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Paladin Studios is an independent game studio based in The Hague, The Netherlands. The company was founded in 2005. In these years, they grew to a team of 10 developers coming from different backgrounds – design, animation and coding. Paladin Studios usually worked on contract-based projects. But apart from client work, they’ve always wanted to be an independent developer and create and publish their own games. Momonga is their first big self-published game.

In 2010, with the rise of the App Store in full swing, we felt the time was right to work on our first game. We wanted to start small, so we set our minds on developing and publishing an iOS game in two weeks. We started from scratch with an idea and our brand new Apple developers account. After two weeks of concepting, arguing and developing, we submitted the game to Apple. These weeks were just one gigantic learning experience, which laid the foundation of Momonga.

So there you had it, our first game on the App Store. We made it, we can do it! Now it was time to take things more seriously.

Game selection

One game caught their specific attention – it made their eyes twinkle and some even played the prototype for 45 minutes straight

With Jimmy Pataya and earlier prototypes, we underestimated the importance of a game concept and its selection. We had several concept-candidates for development, but lacked a good selection procedure. This led to discussions and fistfights, but most of all; it left the team with the feeling that this might not have been the best choice for us. So we figured we would not just start coding away on a big project. We needed a more formal selection process to get everyone on the same page.

For this, we used the stage-gate method as a starting point. In the stage-gate process, each stage has a “kill gate” where concepts get trashed based on predefined selection criteria. Everybody on the team had one week to bring in his or her ideas. At the end of this week we had a hundred ideas. What followed was a big pitch and vote session, which resulted in 10 remaining designs that we took to the next stage. We rated the concepts on different aspects, like innovation, feasibility, monetization, strategic value and remarkability. Eventually, we were left with three game concepts.

This is what the prototype first looked like. You can still play it here: http://www.teampaladin.com/pinball/

We developed a prototype for each one and invited testers to come over and play those prototypes. They sat down and played the games. One game caught their specific attention – it made their eyes twinkle and some even played the prototype for 45 minutes straight, trying to beat their scores. That game happened to be a prototype called “Pinball Forever”. It was an unexpected winner, and the start of a journey that lead to the release of Momonga Pinball Adventures.

After analyzing the prototype, we decided to drop the infinite game design and instead go for a level-based design. With a level-based approach, we had full control over the levels and could use that to dig deep into the story. From this point on, you could say the game was called ‘level-based pinball’, with a storyline.

World building

We started with building the world’s geography

The first step in building the story was to create the world in which the story takes place. When you look at international politics, the “Grand Strategy” theory concludes that every nation has specific needs for a sense of security. These needs are determined by the geographic differences like mountains, oceans and deserts. That is why we started with building the world’s geography. Drawing a map from scratch gave us poor results – so we looked at different random map generators, ranging from Civilization to Minecraft. We ended up settling on the map that was created by the Minecraft map generator.

Our minecrafted Momonga world
Our Minecrafted Momonga world

The Grand Story

With the geography and politics in place, we could start writing the grand storyline; what was the main conflict in this world? We needed ‘one ring to rule them all’, ‘the darkside’ or a ‘Voldemort’ in our story. The epic conflict in the story, where we would base the much smaller game story on, was decided as:

The continent Aya has seen peace since the Great War. The civilized world is ruled by the Guardians, powerful animals who have sworn to protect the Element Sources. However, the Great War has left some species scattered and exiled. These Shadows live as outcasts, on the edges of civilization, waiting for their turn to come to once again overthrow the Guardians and seize the Sources. While the Guardians grow weak in their cities, the Shadow animals grow stronger in determination and strength.

This grand story sets the stage for the game, and it gave us a foundation to craft the game experience and characters.

Characters

Next up in the process were the characters. Based on our grand story, we decided to create characters by asking ourselves a couple of questions:

● What is their history?
● Where do they live?
● Who are they hanging out with?
● What events impacted their lives?
● What special abilities do they have?
● What do they look like?

Of the four characters that resulted from this process (Momo, Fry the Firefly, Panda the Panda and General Kuton), we’ll briefly introduce Momo and Fry the Firefly.

Momo

MomoMomo is our hero. Born and raised in the Momonga village, he lived a peaceful and carefree life. One day, a band of owls burned his village and took away his tribe. Momo barely survived the attack, and was saved by Panda. As the last free momonga, he sets out on an epic journey to defeat the owls and free his family.

Even before the game story begins, Momo already made an epic journey. He came to life as ‘Dash’, the little red ball with big eyes in Pinball Forever. When we switched to level-based pinball, we redesigned him. The world of Momonga back then was a universe centered around vegetables, with Momo starring as a radish battling evil broccoli, potatoes and pickles.

Radishes are tasty, but we felt that it might not “stick” with a casual audience. Fortunately, we were hooked on a website called cuteoverload.com. Our CEO remembered a picture of little cute animals sitting in a tree, that looked like they could roll up like a pinball. After going through several dozens of kittens, puppies and baby hedgehogs, we finally found the picture.

These cute little buggers are Japanese Dwarf Flying Squirrels. Japanese. Dwarf. Flying. Squirrels. We never looked back: we had our hero.
These cute little buggers are Japanese Dwarf Flying Squirrels. Japanese. Dwarf. Flying. Squirrels. We never looked back: we had our hero.

Fry the firefly

Fry is a firefly from a lineage of martial art masters. His father is the head of the Ha Chi Order, and one of the finest firefly warriors. Fry, however, failed to live up to the expectations of his parents: he was defeated by a bunny that he was supposed to chase away as an initiation rite. He left his hometown because of shame. After leaving his town, Fry got caught by the owl bandits. They used him as a light bulb for the owl camp. Bummer.

The final in-game model shows bright colors, big eyes and a “let’s go!” attitude.

In Momonga, you save Fry from a lightbulby life, after which he becomes your trustworthy sidekick. Fry is heavily conditioned in the firefly school of martial arts, and he goes into a frenzy whenever he hears a ringing bell. This comes in handy when you have to defeat a whole bunch of owls.

Real fireflies are red, and very ugly. The first sketches were fairly close to the real thing, and pictured a fat, lazy firefly. This didn’t really work, because nobody wants to drag around a fat firefly while playing pinball. So instead we made Fry an energetic and cute little bug.

Pinball Physics

One of the hardest things, and something we underestimated the most, were the pinball physics. Once you are dealing with pinball mechanics, it means you are dealing with very high speeds and collisions. The fact that the game needs to perform well on a mobile device only made it harder for us. We came up with the following solution.

The basics are simple. You take a ball and flippers, set up a table at an angle and let gravity do the work. It didn’t take long before we got the basic setup working and were able to shoot some balls. But the tricky part in physics is always in the details… and this is where you go one step forward and two steps backwards.

In an ideal world, the player has full control over where the ball should go, and the ball can go just about anywhere. However, we quickly found out that some places were impossible to reach. The angle of the ball was limited; it was very hard to get the ball to the sides of the level.

But the tricky part in physics is always in the details… and this is where you go one step forward and two steps backwards

The movements of the ball involve quite some variables, which can be manipulated in order to enable better control of the ball:
– Flipper rest angle
– Flipper maximum angle
– Flipper strength
– Flipper material (friction, bounciness)
– Ball material
– Ball weight
– Ball drag
– Table material
– Gravity strength
– …and many more.

Changing any of them affects the whole game, and this is where game physics starts to hover between science and art.

We created an isolated test setup to determine exactly how all these variables influence the ball trajectory. In this test, a ball gets spawned every couple of milliseconds, and the flipper is activated automatically. We then traced the ball to see where it goes. Now we could change one setting at a time, and see clearly how it affected the ball trajectory. This, combined with several prediction and correction algorithms, made the physics work well enough for the critical consumer.

The things we learned

Momonga was our first “serious” self-published game, so there were a lot of things we learned the hard way:

  1. Don’t underestimate marketing. Something you have probably heard before. Marketing takes a lot of time and needs a lot of funding. Publishers have the money and the time, you don’t.
  2. You can self-publish a game and do successful marketing for it, but your game has to be remarkable for anyone to talk or write about it.
  3. Making a pinball game is hard
  4. Creating a game takes longer than you think, especially when you are bootstrapping your way to the launch. And yes, even when you take this into account, it will *still* take longer than you think.
  5. The odds are against you when you launch a paid download on iOS.
  6. Think about your business model and target audience in the early phases. The decisions you make will impact every design choice along the way. We chose a story-driven, level-based game, so the game had to be a premium download. If you want to go freemium, make that decision from the start.
  7. The story and world you create can be a great foundation for your future games.
  8. Good level design takes a lot of time. No, really, a *lot* of time.

Momonga in numbers

So how did we do? Here are the results, six weeks after launch on iOS:
– Our invested budget was around $250k
– Momonga has been downloaded 39,577 times, with a total revenue of $33,530.67.
– Momonga has been played by 69,075 unique users. 39,577 came from the App Store, so we have 29,498 illegal folks (43%).
– We got 199 user reviews with an average rating of 4.35

Despite excellent critical reception and positive reviews, Momonga did not break even by a long shot. There are several reasons for this, all of which we are going to address in our updates:
– The game is short and sweet, but still rather short
– There are no viral features, no way to spread the word
– There is no way to try the game for free
– It is a great game, but perhaps not perfectly suitable for the mobile market
– It is too difficult for some people, and too easy for others

Currently, Paladin Studios is working on a v1.1 patch for Momonga, which will contain extra content, Facebook leaderboards, and several other tweaks. To see what they’re currently doing, you can check out their developers blog, Facebook page, or Twitter.

BusinessContributionsPostmortem

ex-Junebud’s Ola Holmdahl on terminating a company, clear division of responsibility and emotional responsibility

March 28, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Ola Holmdahl was the co-founder and CEO of Junebud AB, a Swedish game development company founded in 2008. Junebud grew from six people to about twenty in 2012. During this time, they released two games: the browser 3D MMOG MilMo, which was operated for two and half years, and Tuff Tanks, an artillery shooter MOG for the iPad. Both were free-to-play games.

As an entrepreneur, you constantly motivate yourself and others. You get up and tell the world you can do something no one else can. You convince people with skills, money, and ambition to work with you and take risks. Terminating your company is a powerful experience. Years of hard work, the hardest you’ve worked in your life, are reduced to ashes. Every single action you take during the process will have significant consequences.

Since the bankruptcy, I have been asked a lot of questions. Worried managers of other game companies ask: what went wrong? I tell them that business development efforts failed, and that it was my fault, which is true. But there’s more to it. This article describes what happened before, during, and after the bankruptcy of Junebud.

Battening the Hatches

In the winter of 2011, it became increasingly obvious that Junebud was headed for a rough patch. Contract work on Tuff Tanks, a new iPad artillery shooter, was paying the bills, but that contract expired in early 2012. While talks were under way, a replacement project was not in place. The publisher eventually decided against an immediate follow-up project, and wanted to release the game and assess its performance before deciding on new projects. By February 2012, it was obvious that we had to find a new partner for our next project in order to avoid financial disaster.

This posed a significant challenge for the management team and the board of directors. Wrapping up a game is always resource intensive. Meanwhile, signing a new contract takes an average of six months. The studio already operated MilMo, a browser 3D MMORPG that required a live team for maintenance and new features. MilMo was not generating any real profit, but paid for its live team and helped put the studio on the map.

A small prototype team was assembled, to find new applications for existing technology and to create new game prototypes. As 2012 progressed, several concept teams were assembled ad hoc, in order to produce new pitches and presentation materials.

Junebud

Clear Division of Responsibility

I had not fully appreciated before just how mentally taxing it was to prepare for both success and failure and performing at my max

The management layer of Junebud began looking at plans for handling probable scenarios as efficiently as possible. Analysis established that a division of labor was the way forward. The CEO (me) was to look only at success scenarios and work toward them. Simultaneously, the most economically adept director of the board was assigned the role of “devil’s advocate.” He was tasked with looking exclusively at worst-case scenarios and preparing for them. This was a successful decision, as it reduced a lot of stress. I had not fully appreciated before just how mentally taxing it was to prepare for both success and failure and performing at my max.

Focus is key, and focus requires limited scope.

Our next step was to identify important stakeholders and to have a plan for managing them at all times. For us, they were: employees, customers (publisher, players), shareholders, the bank, the stock exchange where our shares were traded, our landlord, and business partners. While in the process of trying to save the business, the biggest need for all our stakeholders was information. As a CEO, I was responsible for most of our information distribution. Having a clear plan and well-defined priorities was a great help in e-mailing, holding meetings, and issuing press releases.

Finally, the board of directors established a time frame, success criteria and termination conditions for the company. That is, what needed to happen by when for it to be reasonable to continue operations.

Keeping Everyone Informed

My focus, according to our fall-back plan, switched to damage control and a graceful shut-down of operations

Moving into spring of 2012, our efforts generated several promising business leads. This met with our success criteria and prompted a lot of work across the company. Meanwhile, our devil’s advocate held meetings with a bankruptcy estate manger, in order to have a turn-key solution ready if the situation deteriorated.

Ola Holmdahl

Out of roughly a dozen pitches, we ended up with three fruitful tracks. Due to different circumstances, one of them failed and two were unable to progress to signing within the time frame our board had defined. In the summer of 2012, this met with our termination conditions. The probability of saving the company was now so low that we considered it irresponsible to our stakeholders to continue operations.

My focus, according to our fall-back plan, switched to damage control and a graceful shut-down of operations. My short-term goal was to manage the formal requirements of liquidation: turn in the correct paperwork, issue press releases, and inform staff and partners. Medium and long term, my goal was to extract maximum value for the stakeholders.

For our investors, that meant liquidating all assets before the company ran up too much debt. For our employees, it meant writing recommendations as well as informing other game developers about the skilled people about to enter the market. For our partners, it meant making sure they had updated versions of all deliverables and the documentation they needed to use them. For the estate manager, it meant providing access to clear financial and legal records.

The Emotional X Factor

Consider the following list of responsibilities:

– Financial
– Legal
– Moral
– Emotional

The first two are clearly defined, and a matter of compliance. Moral responsibility is quite easy to grasp, as they reflect the mores of society. The emotional responsibility is individual, and thus subjective. Game development is technical, but as people we operate on an emotional level. As an entrepreneur, you motivate others, and to do that you must yourself stay motivated.

For me, it’s rewarding to know that over a dozen people got their start in the industry with Junebud, and have since brought their experiences to other great development companies.

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Gamundo’s Club Galactik

March 20, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Gamundo is a cross-platform game development studio formed by veterans of multiple ‘traditional’ game studios from around the globe. The company is committed to creating high-quality next-generation, accessible and commercially successful games. Gamundo’s talented core team members have produced three titles together; including the highly recognized browser based social MMO Club Galactik. In this postmortem, Ilja Goossens from Gamundo shares with us the story of how the idea for Club Galactik came to be.

The initial idea behind Virtual Fairground, my first true gaming venture, was to build online games for kids aged 8 to 12 based on existing IP. In 2007, my business partner and I were involved with a ‘traditional’ game developer and an online community company. However, we noticed a shift from console- and client PC gaming towards browser-based gaming (remember: this was before the whole Facebook/social gaming hype and before the iPhone was released).

At the time, there were some online communities for kids and some virtual worlds (the most successful turned out to be Club Penguin, acquired by Disney for $750 million). In order to become a top 3 developer of these online worlds, we had to come up with a strategy that would give us a head start. We had several options; (a) having a huge marketing budget, (b) using an important publisher or (c) using existing intellectual property. We decided to go for the latter, since this would allow us to get a user base relatively quick and to monetize aggressively.

Identifying the property

We knew that the conversion from offline to online was huge in this target demographic

With kids entertainment you have two different target audiences: the kids (who play the game) and the parents (who pay for the game). When kids start playing our game, they will love it and want more. This is when they have to start paying for a subscription or virtual currency. Parents tend to pay more quickly when they know the brand themselves, or at least heard of it before. Go figure: would you buy a product of an existing brand, like Apple, or from a no-name tech company?

We set some criteria that the IP had to meet to be useful for our plans. A must-have was television exposure, because from our own experience we knew that the conversion from offline to online was huge in this target demographic. For example, a friend of mine is a games publisher in the ages 8 through 14 target demographic (he used to publish Runescape, amongst others) and he had a barter deal with multiple TV stations. They aired the commercials for the show and they got a share of the revenue instead. He used this as the main driver for the audience and they saw huge spikes of registrations during the TV campaigns.

The IP also had to have traction momentum in the main European countries and optionally the United States. The property needed to appeal to both boys and girls in the age group 8-12 and was preferably created by an established brand like Disney, Nickelodeon, etc.

Based on these criteria, we identified a handful of properties. We did so by attending a lot of shows and (licensing) fairs, like MIP in Cannes (a TV licensing fair), the New York Toy Fair, etc. We narrowed the selection down to the properties that had potential and we added 3 properties that were a bit off, because they were based on a book, toy line and a magazine.

Building a relationship

To make it a really good deal, we will pay for the development ourselves!

Now we had to get in touch with the IP owners and make sure we could secure the rights for the online game, meaning we had to start networking like crazy. We were a small startup, pre-funding, with just a good idea. Again, we started visiting fairs and shows and trying to get in touch with the right people. These were the owners of licenses such as the Smurfs, Donald Duck, Charly and the Chocolate Factory and Winx Club. These were IPs that everyone knew and had an established value. Our pitch: we can contribute to the success of your IP, we will drive traffic to the offline components of the product and we will create an additional revenue stream. And to make it a really good deal, we will pay for the development ourselves!

Once we established a relationship with the IP owner, we could start negotiating the deal terms. Back in 2007 and early 2008, online game were not that hot yet. But we wanted to be able to build our own product, not just build what the IP owner wanted. This is why we did not continue the Disney deal (we were quite far in the process already).

Building a relationship with the IP owner is the most important there is

There is a funny story related to the Disney deal though. We knew the online director from Disney; he was located in Burbank, CA. We told him we were ‘in the neighborhood’, but we were not even in the US. After making an appointment for a casual chat and a cup of coffee, we booked a plane ticket from Amsterdam to Los Angeles and flew in just to meet with him. Building a relationship with the IP owner is the most important there is. If they have the idea that you know what you are talking about and can deliver quality, that will be so much more valuable than a bag of money. A brand like Disney cannot afford a mistake, a bad product or complaining customers. They fully need to believe that you can deliver what you promise.

In the end, a company like Disney has many, many rules and regulations for the IP, so in the end it felt more like we would be doing work-for-hire that we had to pay for ourselves, instead of building our own product.

We had some great ideas for potentially successful properties. After negotiating with the owners of IPs like The Smurfs, Charly and the Chocolate Factory and Donald Duck we settled with Alphanim. Our job was to create an online game based on Galactik Football. The show was a hugely popular cartoon series on Jetix, aired in almost entire Europe. At that point in time, two seasons had been aired and season three was in development. Besides, the show was about football and the World Cup of Football was coming up. Our timing couldn’t have been better.

Club Galactik

Negotiating the deal

To close the deal regarding Galactik Football, we had to negotiate the terms. Of course, this is a very complex and lengthy process that needs professional guidance. We decided to hire an attorney that was specialized in intellectual property, so he could support us to get the best deal and warn us for the pitfalls. There are two main points to discuss: financials and content. The financial part is about (upfront) minimum guarantees, revenue share, and marketing- and development budget. This is a necessity, but can be pretty straightforward. The discussion about the content is a whole different aspect, here you have to convince the IP owner that you will do justice to their product, create length, create an additional value and can deliver a game with the same quality and look and feel as the original product.

During these negotiations, we established a very good relationship with the IP owner. Regular visits to each other’s offices and meetings with the marketing, creative and development teams were an important part of the process.

The concept for Club Galactik

Club Galactik 2

The initial concept was to create an online game with lots of real-world extensions and a presence in the TV series. We would create a training school for talents and call it Club Galactik. To create the feeling that all players were also part of the TV show, we had written a story line in the script that contained the school. Now every player of the game immediately became part of the TV series. Together with the creators of the cartoon, we designed a logo, characters and a space ship that were used both in the series as well in the online game.

Alphanim would produce a trading card game, convince the broadcasting stations to implement the game into their websites, organize real life events and create connected merchandize. This way we would be responsible for the online product, and Alphanim would take care of the physical products and the marketing and distribution. Unfortunately for all parties, it didn’t become the success we all hoped for…

We depended heavily on the conversion from offline (TV) to online. Unfortunately, Disney acquired Jetix just before we released the game and decided to cancel the show because this was a third party production. (They rebranded the channel to DisneyXD and only programmed their own productions.) The IP was not strong enough to kickstart the distribution of the game, but we still had to pay a yearly licensing fee, so we decided to cancel the game even before the full version went live.

To see what projects Gamundo’s currently working on and what other games they’ve done in the past, have a look at their website.

ContributionsPostmortem

Post-mortem: Playlogic’s Fairytale Fights (PS3 & Xbox 260)

March 18, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Released in November 2009 for the Xbox360 and PS3, Fairytale Fights is an action hack-and-slash platform game supporting up to four players. The game combines cute looking fairytale characters with over-the-top slapstick violence. The game was developed by Playlogic Gamefactory, the in-house development studio of Playlogic. The studio previously had worked on titles like Xyanide (Xbox), Cyclone Circus (PS2) and Xyanide Resurrection (PSP, PS2). The studio also worked as first party developer for SCE London Studio on titles like Eye Pet, Mesmerize, Aqua Vita (Aquatopia in North America), Tori-Emaki and Pom Pom Party. In this post-mortem, Martin Janse tells the story of Playlogic’s game Fairytale Fights.

Instead of a making a game for children, we wanted to create a game that would appeal to an adult audience by using over the top slapstick violence and comical gore

The game started as concept for the PlayStation 2 Buzz controller party game. Gradually, the concept started to evolve into something bigger that could only be developed on the Xbox360 and PlayStation3 platforms. In Fairytale Fights, you play the part of a used-to-be-famous fairytale character on a personal mission to regain his/her lost fame by going on quests throughout the kingdom. A quest could be rescuing princesses (and princes), fighting wicked fairytale characters or finding magical treasures. The fairytale world consists of cute characters and vivid animations as seen in many 3D animation movies, but instead of a making a game for children, we wanted to create a game that would appeal to an adult audience by using over-the-top slapstick violence and comical gore that also can be seen in cartoons like Happy Tree Friends or Itsy and Scratchy from The Simpsons.

Since the game was targeted for Next Gen-consoles, we felt the game should include some unique features. One of the programmers had been working on a real-time fluid system and we wanted to incorporate this technology in the game, not just for creating all kinds of liquid effects, but also for the blood that would cover the whole scenery and drip from objects. Another idea we had was that the player should be able to slice enemies and objects dynamically so in theory, the player could slice everything he wanted in any direction he would choose.

In early 2006, a team was assembled. They started working on the high-level game design and creating a short animated movie showing some of the core gameplay mechanism and general visual style of the game. After a couple of months, the team of animators, visual designers, modelers and a game designer produced a stunning short animation that convinced everyone that this had the potential to become a fresh and fun game.

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Pastagames’ Rayman Jungle Run (iOS & Android)

March 7, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Pastagames is a French game studio, founded in 2001 by Fabien Delpiano. Located in Paris, they have been releasing mostly mobile games like Burn it All – Journey to the Sun and Maestro! Jump in Music. Since Pastagames is a French studio, many of their stories start with people enjoying a meal. Rayman Jungle Run is no exception to this rule.

Rayman Jungle Run‘s story started when one day, Jordan Mechner was in Paris and he asked me if I was available for dinner with friends. Fortunately enough I was and it happened that one of his friends was Michel Ancel – Rayman’s dad. Michel happened to know two of our games (Maestro! Jump in Music and Pix’n Love Rush). He really enjoyed the games and was looking for a studio to make a demo of Rayman on iOS. The objective was simple: 60 fps rock-solid on recent devices, no virtual pad. Everything else was open for discussion, and Pastagames’ expertise in mobile gaming was more than welcome.

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Pixowl’s The Sandbox (iOS & Android)

March 5, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, Pixowl, Inc. is a multi-platform mobile game development company. Pixowl’s experienced international team strives to meet and exceed the desires of gamers worldwide by combining cutting-edge design with unique IPs, while making cost-effective production a priority. With the success of its two first iOS games, Doodle Grub & Safari Party, Pixowl is poised for a bright future in multi-platform games development.

Hello, my name is Sebastien Borget and I am co-founder and COO at Pixowl. I have managed the production and marketing of The Sandbox, a pixel art world-creating simulation game for iPhone and iPad (and as of recently, Android). The game was released in May 2012 and turned into a success with 2 million players up to now. Apple also nominated it for the iTunes Best Of Games 2012.

In the beginning, there was…

Their complementary talent could sparkle great things, once headed in the right direction

The project all started by hiring a developer Onimatrix (“Oni”), whose real name is Pablo Iglesias. We offered him to work on porting his personal project The Sandbox on Kongregate to mobile and tablet devices. By that time, his project already garnered some traction just on word of mouth, with 800.000 plays and a few thousands of worlds shared. It was targeted at a very niche category of players, with a pretty basic interface, no tutorial, instructions, levels or flow that you would typically enjoy on mobile games. It was, so to say, a pure physics sandbox: dropping elements over a black screen and checking their interactions – that’s it!

team

In the following weeks, we started assembling a team of seniors from the console game industry (more than 6 years of experience each) around Oni: Guillermo Averbuj as game designer, Sebastian Koziner as lead artist and project manager and Gerardo Heidel as a second developer. The team was working in perfect symbiosis and each developer knew each other from previous work experiences, thus facilitating the friendly relationship between them. Their complementary talent could sparkle great things, once headed in the right direction. But we still had to find it…

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Sergey Batishchev’s Gluey (Flash & iOS)

February 21, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Sergey Batishchev is an indie game developer and has been an enterprise Java developer and tech lead for more than 12 years. Still, games and game development have always been his hobby. After the successful launch of his Gluey game series, he is dedicating himself more on indie game development. Batishchev strives to make simple, polished and fun Flash and mobile games that appeal even to most casual gamers.

I spent many hours with my Watcom C++ compiler trying to code fire, fluid, and smoke

Gluey is a very simple action puzzle game. You just click the blobs, they disappear and you earn points. Large blob clusters give you bigger score bonuses. And, of course, it is seasoned with multiple levels, modes and power-ups. The idea for Gluey originated from an unusual source. Back in my university years, the demoscene was at its peak. I was amazed by the graphical effects in the demos and I wanted to learn how to do the same. So I spent many hours with my Watcom C++ compiler trying to code fire, fluid, and smoke.

Back in 2009, game development was purely a hobby for me. But one day I thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to create the simplest game possible, based purely on a rendering technique – like fire, liquid or particles? Surprisingly, no one made a match-3 or click group to clear-game with liquid blobs at that time! All other elements came quite naturally. I decided to use simple click group to clear-mechanics, as my friends really enjoyed games like that on their Windows 6.5 phones. It was also intuitive for the blobs to follow real physics, not just gridlines as in classic match-3. Within a couple of days, the prototype was finished. Although still in its early alpha-stages, the basic gameplay mechanic was already quite clear.

Gluey
Still in its early alpha-stages, the basic gameplay mechanic was already quite clear.

Art was a weak point for my hobby games before Gluey. Psychologically it was hard for me to fork out real money to hire an artist and a musician. I first needed to prove to myself that my games could generate some revenue. In retrospect that was not very smart choice. If you are a part time indie, you really should treat your home game development just like other expensive hobbies that you enjoy!

Luckily my previous game Cyberhorde generated about $1.5K in primary and non-exclusive licenses, so I posted a job offer for art design for Gluey. Bogdan Ene responded very quickly. Within my tough budget constraints he managed to create compelling characters and nice visual style. The visual design was completely done in a matter of days; there was no need to send anything back for revisions. After that, it took me about 6 calendar weeks (working through the weekends and evenings) to complete the rest of the game, which included levels, power ups, bonuses and transition screens.

Sponsorship and Release

To this date, the viral version has generated 14 million views

Gluey attracted good attention from sponsors on FGL – 28 bids. I went with king.com for the primary sponsorship of this game. It was my first game with 5-digit primary offer and, to this day, my biggest success. The game met king.com’s expectations. It hit Kongregate and Newgrounds frontpages and spread quite well. To this date, the viral version has generated 14 million views. Unfortunately, ads were not allowed, but game did attract quite a lot of non-exclusive licensing offers.

ContributionsPostmortem

The Global Game Jam and beyond: FYI (2011)

February 20, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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The “Global Game Jam and beyond” series sheds light on the few brave Global Game Jam (GGJ) teams that have decided to take their GGJ projects to the next level and continue development after those challenging 48 hours. We ask each team to tell about their experiences, share learned lessons and offer advice on their attempt to turn their Global Game Jam project into a full-fledged commercial product.

The Global Game Jam version of FYI was developed by the Dutch game studio Digital Dreams and two friends of the studio. The concept of the game is based on infographics. Every action by the player results in changing bars and pie graphs, which make up the game world. After the Game Jam, FYI won the Independent Propeller Award for Best Design. The game has grown a lot since the team decided to continue development. Digital Dreams plans on releasing FYI to the public and is currently talking to publishers.

We were able to go just a little bit further with our game than the average Game Jam game

What triggered your initial consideration that your game was worth continuing with?
It felt right. From a gameplay point of view, the concept just felt right. Besides that, we had been able to reuse a lot of the code from previous projects at the Game Jam, so the prototype was already fairly complete as far as Game Jam standards go. We were lucky that our main programmer had recently worked on a similar game in terms of camera, physics and collision. Because of this we were able to go just a little bit further with our game than the average Game Jam game.

What do you believe was the main element of your game that allowed it to be commercially viable?
Even though it’s probably cliché and a common answer, we believe the uniqueness of the gameplay and the aesthetics makes FYI commercially viable. The gameplay is unfortunately really hard to explain in pictures and words, it’s something you should play for yourself in order to understand the concept completely. As far as aesthetics go, we use infographics as a visual style, which makes it stand out as well. This was also the main inspiration for the concept.

A screenshot of an early prototype of the game, showing the use of infographics in the game’s level design
A screenshot of an early prototype of the game, showing the use of infographics in the game’s level design
The biggest realization of the team members from the company was that we could produce so much in so little time

How did you manage the aftermath in your team?
Four out of six persons from the Game Jam team were already part of Digital Dreams. The biggest realization of the team members from the company was that we could produce so much in so little time. That’s why Digital Dreams decided to switch to developing smaller projects after the GGJ. That was a valuable lesson.

Another valuable lesson was about handling the IP. We talked to the other 2 GGJ team members and discussed our intent to possibly continue working on the GGJ prototype. In hindsight, this wasn’t enough. We should have done more than just talking. It’s never a bad thing to have things like this in black and white to avoid problems later on, especially before any money comes into play.

It made sense for us to continue as a company, because we really wanted full dedication and commitment. Basically we wanted to invest a lot of time, which is hard to achieve when working together part-time with people that have lots of other stuff to do. We also knew from the start we were taking a huge risk as Digital Dreams by investing our resources into this rough prototype, because we didn’t have the slightest idea if it would pay off some day. We really started to believe in its commercial viability after we won the Indie Propeller Award for Best Design.

What were the most important experiences/learned lessons and/or challenges that you had while further developing your game?
We knew the project would take around a year, making it the largest project to date for Digital Dreams. We did not have the money to do that. Selling the game to a publisher was the follow-up challenge. But it is great to get experience in this important aspect of the game industry, and learn how to pitch to other parties. It took quite a while before we convinced a party to actually invest in us though. This is one of the hardest things to achieve as a new start-up.

A second important experience was the difficult but necessary choice of engine. We considered quite a few engines to support the game. Unfortunately we can’t say much more about this without giving away too much at this point.
A second important experience was the difficult but necessary choice of engine. We considered quite a few engines to support the game. Unfortunately we can’t say much more about this without giving away too much at this point.

In your case, what did you learn from getting the game out to the public?
Well, the game isn’t public yet. But when we showed co-developers, other friends and publishers one of the prototypes we made, we saw how hungry they were for more. You just know you have something worth spending your time and effort on when people want more. This sure gave us confidence to continue development on FYI.

If you think you want to continue work on a GGJ prototype, it’s a smart move […] to know all the team members

What kind of tips would you give to other GGJ participants who might decide to continue developing their project?
Make properly signed agreements with your teammates shortly after or even during the GGJ. It’s not 100% necessary from a legal point of view, but it might help avoid some issues once you decide to continue with the project.
Also, it helps to know all the team members, this will make it easier to discuss this option, and you’ll know with what kind of people you’re getting on board with. It kind of goes against the GGJ spirit – getting to know new people – but if you think you want to continue work on a GGJ prototype, it’s a smart move.
Last but not least: Have fun! Creating something cool with friends in such a short time is one of the most fun experiences we can think of. So don’t worry too much, just give it your best and enjoy the ride!

You can find more information on FYI on Digital Dreams’ website. Currently, Digital Dreams is working on a big project, which will be announced in the coming months. Stay updated through Twitter: @DigitalDreamZzz

Live Coverage

Casual Connect Announces Indie Show and Tell Winners

February 14, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Today, the winners of this year’s Indie Show and Tell competition were announced at Casual Connect Europe. The Casual Connect Indie Show and Tell showcases indie games and their postmortems from indie developers all over Europe. The winning developers were awarded 1,000 installs for their games by Jussi Laakkonen, founder and CEO of Applifier. The Silent Age developed by House on Fire, Nihilumbra developed by Beautifun Games, Huebrix developed by Yellow Monkey Studios, Freeze developed by Frozen Gun Games, and Haunt the House developed by The Super Flash Bros are the five Indie Prize winning games. All participating games can be found on Casual Connect Europe’s website.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Dynamic Pixel’s Goal Defense (iOS & Android)

February 7, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Dynamic Pixels is a leading mobile games developer based in Russia and CIS. Established in 2004, the company has grown into an experienced studio with almost 40 titles for java, Android, iOS and Bada. Dynamic Pixels games are distributed by content-providers, operators and vendors across South-East Asia, Middle East, Far East, South Africa and Western Europe, reaching in excess of 5 million players across the world.

We are all fans of the tower defense genre. So when the question of what kind of game we would like to develop came up, we knew it would be a tower defense game. But knowing the genre was not enough. What we needed was at least the slightest idea of a style or some kind of plot for the game. We spent days and wasted tons of pizza trying to figure it out, but in vain. At that point, our programmer saved the project. We still don’t know how, but he did it. When everything seemed to be lost he came in and said: “Let’s develop a tower defense game based on sports!” And you know, it clicked: the turrets and creeps would be transformed into sportsmen, the battlefield into a sports ground; a humorous touch would level the usual view on sports as a protracted process.

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