Delivered at Casual Connect USA 2018, David Rogers, Lead Designer of inXile Entertainment spoke about the problems inXile discovered while building the core mechanic of The Mage’s Tale, that is, throwing fireballs in VR. While they initially thought this would be relatively straightforward, it turned out to be much more complicated. David would like to help others avoid the long iterative process they had to go through before getting it right.
Fifteen years ago John Criswick and Joshua Ostrowalker founded the game company Magmic. They both had experience in a mobile startup and they had worked on what became one of the most installed mobile operating platforms at Sun Microsystems. Then they realized there was a tremendous opportunity in the consumer market.
They believed that early adopters would be dominant in this initial phase of the mobile app market and that the content most easily monetized by early adopters would be entertainment. So they chose to take advantage of this opportunity by founding Magmic as a mobile game developer and publisher.
Carbon Studio will be bringing their game The Wizards to Casual Connect Europe 2018 to compete at Indie Prize. They won this opportunity through Respawn, an Indie Prize Partner event. They are excited to be with developers from all over the world where they can exchange experiences and be recharged with fresh ideas. Recently, Paweł Gajda, the Business Development Manager at Carbon Studio, answered Gamesauce’s questions about the studio and developing The Wizards.
Participating in the History of Virtual Reality
Carbon Studio was founded by three friends who had been working at The Farm 51 (known for the game Get Even) and go out on their own. They came to this decision after learning of the Oculus Rift Development Kit and discovering a desire to create games for this new platform from its earliest days. They wanted to take part in the history of virtual reality as it was being written. And the games they choose to develop are those they would like to play – a common motivation among game developers.
Carbon Studio has its office in Gliwice, Poland and all the team exceptPaweł work there; he works away from the office. The majority of the team members are from the Gliwice area, which is part of a larger metropolis in the culturally and industrially rich region of Upper Silesia, and others have moved their families there. Most feel lucky to work close to home.
Paweł came to Carbon Studios after working in the film industry as a set manager. A director who knew of his passion for video games and new technology invited him to join a meeting with the owners of Carbon Studio, and he came out of it with a strong desire to work as a VR game developer. Not long after he joined the studio and his first task was to write the story for their first game, Alice VR. He also designed one of the puzzles for Unreal Engine 4. Currently he is responsible for communication and managing business development.
Total Focus on VR
Carbon Studios decided to focus entirely on VR games since players with VR headsets usually stop playing traditional games. “When you try VR once, there’s no going back,” Paweł claims. They expect VR to become more and more popular, so they treat developing for VR as a long term investment. As Paweł said, “I don’t believe it will replace traditional games in the future, but I think it may become as popular as console games, with millions of units sold.”
They began working on The Wizards shortly after the Oculus Touch controllers were announced for the Oculus Rift headset. The idea of seeing and using your hands in a natural way in virtual reality was something they found deeply inspiring. At Carbon Studio they didn’t just want to reproduce activities from ordinary life; they were determined to create something that was possible only in the limitless world of VR. So they decided to fulfill a dream of becoming a powerful wizard and casting spells. Both Dr. Strange and Harry Potter were useful inspirations in their direction.
The Wizards has something no other game can claim: the ability to cast spells with hand gestures. Traditional video games make motions by pressing buttons. In contrast, in The Wizards the player learns specific hand motions to summon spells. Once they are mastered, the player uses them intuitively in a way that is unlike any other experience that simulates magic. As Paweł explains, the gestures are easy to remember and perform and the functioning of each spell is realistic; throwing the fire ball, aiming the bow and deflecting with the shield all are familiar mechanics that feel lifelike.
The development of The Wizards took a few unexpected turns along the way. The game started out as a simple wave shooter that could be completed in less than an hour. The idea of the game was to have the player stand on a platform and prevent the enemies from reaching the village behind. As they were developing the game, they realized it would be more interesting if the player could teleport between many platforms. It still felt too limiting, so they added free movement and free teleportation. The Wizards turned from a simple wave shooter to an action adventure with a lot of exploration.
As they were developing The Wizards, Carbon Studio decided to test at a very early stage of development. They organized alpha and beta testing, each time using the VR community, with testers filling out a beta form. It was extremely useful and gave them many outstanding ideas, but the results turned out to be a bit misleading. The feedback on the movement scheme was overly positive. Once the game was released, players who had paid for the game criticized Carbon Studio’s choice to stick with node-based teleportation. Apparently the beta testers were happy to have been chosen to test the game and were unwilling to criticize too much. This is something the company will keep in mind for the future.
On the other hand, some of the testers gave much more than they were asked for. One not only filled out his survey, he also provided several hours of videos of him playing the game, finding bugs and giving feedback. He then pitched the game to his boss, owner of a VR arcade, and has become one of the game’s most avid fans. When someone on the internet suggests the game is similar to another, he responds that it is, but better. He has now become one of Paweł’s personal friends, and Paweł says, “It was worth organizing the testing just to meet this guy.”
After Carbon Studio released The Wizards on Steam Early Access, they had many players criticizing the movement scheme and soon there were “mixed” reviews on Steam. This was totally unexpected because of the positive reviews from closed beta testing. They responded three days after the release by announcing that they would add free locomotion, a less restrictive way of moving in VR, which the players had requested. As soon as this feature was promised, the positive reviews on Steam began. Now that the free movement update is out The Wizards is a much better game. There have been even more positive reviews and a significant increase in sales.
The Virtual Reality Revolution
Carbon Studio wants to be part of the virtual reality revolution and provide the people willing to buy expensive headsets with even more interesting games. With The Wizards they wanted to make a game that allows players to feel like they are really casting powerful spells, a game that lets them experience something that might have been a childhood dream but was impossible to fulfill before VR headsets were invented.
Carbon Studio’s monetization method is the premium model, releasing their games on Steam and the Oculus Store. The user base for VR is not yet large enough for freemium to be a workable method.
Inspirations for their games can come from anywhere. For example, Alice was influenced by Alice in Wonderland but the plot of the game is original. However, characters, themes and mechanics do have references to the book, such as shrinking and growing, or the Hatter’s riddles.
Carbon Studio’s projects are led by one of the three founders of the company, supported by the other two. Each of them has different skill sets and specialize in different areas of production.
How the Project Grows
A project usually begins with a brainstorming session with the entire team. They want to be sure they are working on a project that is relevant, interesting and completely understandable for everyone. After establishing this basis, most of the decisions will be made by the leads, but they are always open to ideas and suggestions from all team members throughout the development process. And, of course, changes are made all along the way.
As their experience in game development grows, they put increasing importance on alpha and beta testing. With The Wizards, they turned to Reddit and active users on the platform for their users. They were reaching out to future potential users and building a fan base. The choice was not quite as good as they anticipated, with the results more positive than was seen in users after early release. In the future, Carbon Studio will find more impartial testers as well as using the VR community.
When designing the visuals for their games, their basic principle is to minimize the compromises involved in designing for VR. They are fascinated by mega-scans and realistic assets, but there is a certain amount of unavoidable stylization. Although compromises are unavoidable, constantly improving optimization on UE4’s end mean the options for visuals are also constantly expanding.
The humor of The Wizard comes from the narrator, who leads the player through the world and its story with flair and sass. As well, the designers hid curios and Easter eggs for those who explore the levels in detail. And the developers are particularly proud of the first encounter with the dragon.
Six weeks after the early release, Carbon Studio introduced a Free Locomotion Update. The update allowed the players the choice between free movement and free teleportation which were both new ways to explore the world. There were also new map areas, item pick-ups, and new interactive world elements, each crafted to encourage and reward thorough exploration. Last November they released Arena Mode in which players can face off with endless waves of enemies, testing skills and spells they have learned in the campaign. They also added another new region and new chapter to the story called Shrike’s Desert, concluding the commitments to the Early Access and marking the full release of the game.
On March 8th, Carbon Studio had a full release of The Wizards. The full release of the game comes with epic boss fights, new story chapters, and empowered spells for the ultimate experience in wizardry. Paweł reflects, “We are grateful to everyone who trusted and supported us with invaluable feedback during Early Access. We are humbled that so many players joined us on this exciting adventure and we hope that the new content will meet our players’ expectations.”
If you are an indie developer, Carbon Studio reminds you that it pays to iterate fast and fail early. Don’t be afraid of criticism; feedback is incredibly valuable throughout the development process. Share an early demo on a platform with many users. If the feedback is negative, you will save months of working on potentially unpopular features; if it is positive, you have the beginnings of your fan base. Similarly, it is useful to create a Steam page and social media profiles to spread the word about the game, allowing people to observe it and add it to their wishlist.
You should never release a game without gathering feedback during production. And never tell someone who gives you negative feedback that they are wrong. If you are selling a product it won’t help to antagonize anyone.
Argentine game studio Escabeche and their game Manzana Misteriosa won the Indie Prize at the Awesome Game Awards in Cordoba, Argentina. They were invited to participate in Indie Prize at Casual Connect USA 2018 held at Disneyland.
The team of Escabeche first heard about Indie Prize when they applied to the Awesome Game Awards hosted by ADVA. They relate, “We didn’t expect much, but since we were showcasing the game at EVA Cordoba, we thought we could try, and then it was all surprise and joy when we won!” And they are so excited at the opportunity to show their game at Casual Connect. “If our work happens to inspire other developers, especially from Latin America, that would be just awesome.”
Succeeding With Mobile Games for KidsMobile gaming for kids is one of the fastest growing sectors of the gaming industry, now worth $2.2 billion. Not surprisingly, many of us may want to participate in this market. But when you start, you quickly discover there are tremendous challenges, including specific regulations for children’s apps, promotion and monetization.
At Casual Connect USA 2018, Natalie Portier presented a session designed to help you by the name of Overcoming Pitfalls of Launching Kids Apps. Natalie is Chief Operating Officer at the ad mediation company Appodeal. They joined this rapidly growing company at its beginning, and is using their ten years of experience in business operations and tech development in fueling their passion for innovation and quality game development.
In this session, Natalie brought together insights from successful publishers of apps for children, legal experts and marketing agencies to help developers avoid pitfalls and succeed with the mobile games they offer for children. To learn more about the opportunities and pitfalls in mobile gaming for kids, be sure to watch this video of Natalie’s session at Casual Connect.
For more about Natalie’s insights and career, see this exclusive article from Casual Connect Europe 2017 in Berlin.
The game that won Best of the Show Award at Codemotion 2017 in Milan was The Way of Life Definitive Edition from CyberCoconut. This is the first game from CyberCoconut, with release expected during the first quarter of 2018. They will also compete at the upcoming Indie Prize competition at Casual Connect Europe in London.
Founding a Company with a Shared Vision
CyberCoconut was founded by Davide Caio and Nicolò Azzolini, who met at the 2014 Global Game Jam in Milan. Although they didn’t know each other at all, they quickly discovered they worked very well together. After the game jam they began working together on small projects. Then they released on Steam the prototype of The Way of Life, which they had made during Game Jam. In the first two weeks it had 100,000 downloads, and the community was very enthusiastic, asking for more. Suddenly they were motivated to start their own company and continue working on the game.
Every developer knows how critical user acquisition is to the success of a game. But the mobile app landscape evolves at lightning speed and new challenges constantly arise. So how do you keep up? Fortunately, new solutions are also coming to deal with the latest problems.
Martin Price, Vice President of Product at Vungle, is one of the best people you could ask about user acquisition challenges. Martin runs Vungle’s product team and, as well, is responsible for roadmap planning, research and development, user experience and product design. With over fifteen years experience leading product teams, Martin also has had executive roles at Yahoo!, Vdopia and OpenX and strategy roles at Vodafone and Nokia.
At Casual Connect USA 2018, Martin presented the session Tricks of the User Acquisition Trade: How Advertiser Tools are Changing and What You Need to Know to Drive More Revenue. They discussed what today’s user acquisition challenges are and how creative optimization plus data give the opportunity to transform the way audiences are grown. And they described the ways creative optimization and self-serve advertising tools help to empower a new kind of mobile advertiser. Be sure to watch the video of this presentation to learn more.
ALL CAPS is a startup game studio based in Aalborg, Denmark. They focus on creating exciting, entertaining games that keep players coming back to play again. Their first game, Block Amok was released in early 2015 and has been nominated for a number of awards. Now their new project, Disco Flip, has won the Audience Award at Game Scope, an Indie Prize Partner event and Denmark’s largest games festival. As winners, the ALL CAPS team was invited to Casual Connect Kyiv and Indie Prize Kyiv. Recently Gamesauce enjoyed asking Brian Nielsen, CEO of ALL CAPS, about their indie studio, their experience at Game Scope and, of course, Disco Flip.
Gamesauce: Tell us about ALL CAPS. What was your reason for founding this game studio? What would you say makes it different from other studios?
Brian: Well, to be honest, we hadn’t thought about founding a game studio. We were just four guys who loved making games and who had been working on a prototype for our first game, Block Amok, while we were attending Aalborg University. We didn’t have a plan for exactly what we wanted to do except we wanted to make Block Amok as awesome as possible as we felt a great game would have an easier time attracting attention from both players and the press.
While speaking about negotiating with publishers at Casual Connect USA, Caspar Gray of The Arsenal Agency advised, “Think carefully about what you want before you start the process. Identify your pressure points and think about what their pressure points are.” In his talk, Caspar gave details about how to zero in on a good idea, get people excited about it, negotiate smartly and sign a fair contract. To learn more, see the full lecture below.