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5 Actionable Insights from Dengen Chronicles’ Experience on Windows Phone

June 2, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Mangatar is an Italian game company that specializes in social and mobile games development, and is currently an Intel Software Parnter. They stood out with their first game Mangatar Saga, an MMORPG set in the Manga universe. Afterwards, the team launched Dengen Chronicles, an ambitious browser game flavored with Manga inspiration. Sara Taricani, the web and content strategist for Mangatar, provides the lessons they learned from Dengen Chronicles.


Developing For Mobile

In 2011, Andrea Postiglione, Raffaele Gaito, Enrico Rossomando, Michele Criscuolo, and Alfredo Postiglione were inspired to build their own company using the experience they earned in the digital entertainment field. They officially became a company in 2012 under the name Mangatar, and our first game was launched a few months later. We experienced rapid growth, following up our first game Mangatar Saga with Dengen Chronicles around a year later. Then we made the decision to develop a mobile version of Dengen Chronicles for Windows Phone after making the trip to Finland for the exclusive AppCampus, the mobile application accelerator program financed by Nokia and Microsoft and managed by Aalto University in Espoo.

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Some of the Mangatar group relaxing on the green carpet

Since Dengen Chronicles is our very first exploration on mobile devices, you can bet we’ve been learning a lot. As with all new explorations of this kind, we equipped ourselves with a whole lot of studies and statistics. In part, we knew what to expect, and yet, in part, we absolutely didn’t know what to expect. As a matter of fact, the gaming realm is extremely unpredictable and challenging: you typically start off your adventure with tons of maps, but once you left your comfort zone to explore the new, you quickly realize that you just have to keep your mind open, your heart humble, and your brain sharp. Although it may seem quite trivial, your attitude makes the difference.

Advantages of Windows Phone

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Since Dengen Chronicles is our very first exploration on mobile devices, you can bet we’ve been learning a lot.

Remarkably enough, the ever-growing Windows Phone platform guarantees multiple advantages to app developers. Furthermore, Windows Phone Store is definitely more interesting in terms of revenue. According to the latest data, Windows Phone developers earn on average $0.23 per download, versus only $0.04 per download on Android. On iOS, the number is closer to $0.24 per download.

That said, we’ve picked the five most important lessons we’ve learned from our three-month experience on Windows Phone so far:

UI First, Then Gameplay

More often than not, users are promptly influenced by UI. The game’s UI stands as a watershed for mobile users who usually are very quick in deciding to keep playing, or just delete the app.

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The game’s UI stands as a watershed for mobile users who usually are very quick in deciding to keep playing, or just delete the app.

Considering the huge offer of brand new games available every day, the game’s visual elements play a key role. When casual gamers have to deal with too many (and sometimes too polished) game controls, they just run away. They want immediacy; that is to say, the game must be easy to understand and only require a few taps to get started. In comparison, the hardcore gamers instead seek perfection, coherence, and the possibility to manage each and every detail. If they find too much difference between the UI and the game’s characters (as it happened to us), they will feel entitled to enhance their prejudicial hatred towards the mobile.

This makes screenshots very important. When users take a peek at the game’s screenshots, they get a sense of the game. Even before testing the gameplay, users can decide whether or not it’s their kind of game. So be sure to choose the best screenshots.

Gamers’ Behavior Will Surprise You, and Make You Work Really Hard

The same game on different platforms can have different behaviors. As we synced the mobile and web versions, we’ve found some clear differences: there were fewer gaming sessions on web, but they were much longer (up to 10-15 minutes). Mobile had more gaming sessions, but for a much shorter time-frame (1-2 minutes). Since we noticed that attitude, we’ve been working hard to get the best out of the two behaviors and achieve frequent and long sessions on mobile. Through a series of focused modifications over time, we’ve managed to double the duration of mobile sessions.

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Hard at Work

Gamers’ Behavior Affects Your Revenues

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Generally speaking, mobile transactions are smaller than purchases on web.

Other differences we noticed involved in-app purchases. We specifically noticed that web users prefer bigger purchases (up to €20 on average). Mobile users instead opt for multiple small purchases (between €1 and €20). This trend was expected as, generally speaking, mobile transactions are smaller than purchases on web. We accordingly tried to better balance the game’s economy itself. Short and sweet, don’t ever underestimate the power of a top-notch user experience and do diversify your strategies.

Email Alerts Vs. Push Notifications: Epic Battle, Easy Winner.

We’ve given users the options to disable both push notifications and emails. Numbers don’t lie: mobile users are less willing to disable push notifications than web users, who just don’t want more emails in their inbox. As minimal as it is, push notification works fine to call users’ attention. You don’t even have to worry about the deadly spam folder.

When the mobile version of our game was about to come out, we had push notifications already in the cradle, so we didn’t have to change design. In fact, push notifications simply replaced email notifications. Admittedly, the mobile version has more notifications. We decided to keep as few emails as possible in order not to bother users.

Feedback is in the Air, Everywhere Gamers Look Around

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The most important feedbacks got us to create the option to delete one’s account to start a new saga with a new bloodline.

We absolutely suggest to provide gamers with an easy tool to leave feedback (we are happy UserVoice users). Much to our delight, mobile users are very active with suggestions, compliments, and bugs reports. Keep in mind that each and every feedback is a unique chance to dramatically improve the game. The most important feedback got us to create the option to delete one’s account to start a new saga with a new bloodline, while others made us work to simplify some mechanisms in the deck. Lots of feedback asked for offline matches in addition to PvP fights. Last but not least, the proactive bug reports enabled us to perform an amazing amount of bug fixes, much to the advantage of gamers.

These are just a few of the lessons we have learned so far. Other great lessons are yet to come, and we’re ready to welcome them and share them with you.

Dengen Chronicles is available in the Windows Phone Store. Currently, the team is working on the Facebook version; the iOS and Android apps will be released within 2014. Feel free to get in touch with them for more details on their Facebook and Twitter.

 

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GAF Media: Creating a Way to Convert Flash to Mobile

May 28, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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GAF Media was created to solve the problem a team of developers was having when converting Flash to a format that could be played on mobile devices. Now, the team works to provide solutions to the development community. Denis Balon, COO and co-founder, talks about their journey.


The story of GAF Media started when a team of game developers decided to expand their popular Facebook game to mobile devices. The main challenge was to convert over a thousand animations from Flash to a format that could be played on all mobile devices at any resolution. Existing tools and approaches didn’t do well with the task or involved a prohibitively large amount of work. So we decided to create the necessary tools ourselves.

Creating a Solution

Founded in 2009, the team located in the US as well as Ukraine first came to market with Pet City, a game on Facebook. The game quickly became popular and is going as strong as ever, three years later. Given the sustained popularity of the game, we decided to port the game to mobile.

There were no turnkey solutions that could convert complex animations into a size-effective format while also supporting high performance playback. The alternative and widely used approach was conversion into frame sequences, which was not an option because full control over animations and the resulting file sizes were far from optimal.

But even more important was the developers’ need for a reliable set of tools to allow them to continue developing animations using Flash CS while targeting various mobile platforms. Hence, the GAF Media team was formed to develop a set of tools that would port Flash animations to various mobile platforms (mainly iOS and Android). We defined a graphic format called Generic Animation Format (GAF) and created a tool to convert Flash animation files into GAF. Libraries were then developed to play the GAF files on any mobile device, enabling game developers to greatly cut down the time to port their Flash animations to mobile devices. The beta version of the tools was launched around the end of 2013. After over 18 months in development, we were able to launch our first product.

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The GAF Media team was formed to develop a set of tools that would port Flash animations to various mobile platforms (mainly iOS and Android).

Prove It Actually Works

Even though some suggest Flash is dead, that’s far from being the case. Animators and developers still prefer using Flash CS to create animations, as it offers a deep and unmatched set of authoring tools. What remains daunting for many developers however is the task of quickly porting these animations for mobile. To address this need, the GAF Media team decided to offer their enabling set of tools to the game developer community.

We faced major challenges to create a worthy set of tools. The first was to prove the advantages of an automated set of tools that were versatile, but still possessed powerful performance advantages. The team’s mission was to show that the GAF solution packed a full list of features that went far beyond other solutions on the market. The tools had to combine high performance with killer features that would meet the needs of almost every developer and animator.

Privacy was also found to be a major concern by major game companies. They expressed the need to to keep their animation assets a secret until game launch. This compelled the team to develop a standalone version of GAF Converter which would run conversion of Flash animations on one’s computer without the need to upload the animations to the GAF Media SAAS service online.

Developer Community is Key

Throughout the process of commercializing our tool set, we actively sought developer feedback to help implement the right mix of features and performance. Community feedback had a direct impact far before first launch. Besides helping developers to create games faster, it was important to support animation properties that animators needed to add creativity and polish to their animations.

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It was important to support animation properties that animators needed to add creativity and polish to their animations.

From automation utilities that were created solely for internal use, we ended up developing a tool set to benefit major game companies and indie developers alike, a tool that we hope someday will become as well known as Flash itself! But this is just the beginning for us. We have already started our next major effort: the GAF Converter for UI elements in games.

The GAF Converter, including a free version for download for Mac and Windows, is available at www.gafmedia.com. To welcome GameSauce readers, GAF Media is also doing a special limited offer! Sign up at GAF Media through this link and receive 500 conversion for free!

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Slashear: Standing Up Again

May 27, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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After failing to fund their first version on Kickstarter, the three-man team behind Slashear decided to not give up. Now, two years later, they have returned with a redesigned game and are preparing for its release on iOS and Android. Tatiana Chernysheva, the community manager of Slashear, talks about the game.


Slashear

In 2011, two friends came together with an idea – to create a game. The main idea was that the player must feel like he is the hero of the cartoon. The hero lands in uncharted worlds, comes face-to-face with dangerous enemies and unravels the mystery of why the planets are destroyed. I’m sure many of you, as we do, have a dream to plunge into the world of adventure and feel like a real super hero. United together, we have created a whole universe around an original idea and storyline. Together, we plunged into Slashear and started the project on Kickstarter.

How It Began

The uniqueness of our team is that we live in different countries. Ideas, concepts, and important moments in the storyline are discussed over Skype. It so happened that Oleg Pshenichnyi, our designer, lives in Moscow. At first, he was making the game alone in Flash, then with a programmer from Siberia. When he was unable to continue, Oleg offered to make the game for iOS to Maxim Kupriyanov, the current programmer from Crimea. You don’t need a big team to make a game, all you need is the designer’s imagination and a programmer who can unify the concept and all the ideas.

We did not have sponsors and nobody invested money into the game. We are one of those guys who sold their iPhone to make their dreams come true.

Is There Life After Kickstarter?

The first concept for our game Slashear was about a little boy who fought bloodthirsty bunnies, but that was a year ago. The project failed, but it gathered a lot of positive feedback.

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The first concept for our game Slashear was about a little boy who fought bloodthirsty bunnies, but that was a year ago.

We followed the tips of successful projects, and read many supporting literature for indie developers. We created a press list, sent letters with the press release, and wrote the posts on Facebook and Twitter. We did everything we were told about promoting an indie game, and we made a lot of contacts, but only a few responded. The game did not become what we had hoped, and hardly anyone knew about Slashear. The development process had been suspended, and we did not start developing again for almost a year.

Eventually though, we thought over our mistakes, gained strength, and started stocking ideas and concepts. We decided not to give up, but rather try again from the beginning.

Back to the Drawing Board

In the winter of 2013, we started to develop the game again. It had a lot of changes, even at the beginning. We decided to make the game with Unity 3D, as it was perfectly suited for our new idea. We focused more on level design. We wanted to create something interesting and innovative with our level layouts, where each level is arranged above the other like floors in a building. We think we’ve achieved that. We also departed from the original design into a more cartoonish world. We took great inspiration from cartoons like Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors, and we worked hard to recreate that atmosphere.

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We took great inspiration from cartoons like Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors, and we worked hard to recreate that atmosphere.

Color and environment were very important to our game. To make the world more pleasing, we used a harmonious palette and emphasized the environments. However, it was important that the environment not be distracting. To solve this, we had created a lighting system much like a spotlight that follows the player so they are always the center of attention.

Experimenting in the Game

We had time to experiment, not only with the design, but with the game architecture. In each build, we added new features, improved gameplay, and fixed errors. In the beginning, the character was armed only with a gun. In one of the updates, we added lots of new weapons to give players variety and choice. Due to the flexible architecture, one method in the controller was overloaded and appended six lines of the code, which allowed us to add a bazooka, rocket launcher, and a laser gun. In addition to the selection of the various weapons, we added the ability to increase their power. Heroes collect bonuses which give them various boosts. We really like this new build, and we can implement new ideas quickly. We were able to check out the different mechanics and choose the most interesting one.

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Due to the flexible architecture, one method in the controller was overloaded and appended six lines of the code, which allowed us to add a bazooka, rocket launcher, and a laser gun.

Developing Past the Ukrainian Crisis

The team have faced many difficulties that have united and inspired us to complete the game. This spring, we have had to overcome a revolution in Ukraine. This crisis directly touched us when Crimea was annexed by Russia. This meant not only the change in time zone, but also blocked bank accounts, problems with the airplanes, and so much stress. Crimea is one of the most peaceful regions now, but many of these difficulties remain.

We realized that communication is very important for indie developers.

Our team also changed during this period; the talented musician Capti Rando from Holland joined us. He writes music for the game and has become an important part of our team. We also have the Scottish Danny Boyle, who edits all of our texts, even this story. We realized that communication is very important for indie developers. We talk to people a lot, and we love to meet and find like-minded people and hear from our fans.

Our Plan for the Future

Summer is going to be very hot, as we plan to release the game within a couple of months. To achieve our goal, we have decided to go to Bali. This is so we can work together, concentrate on the game, and remove all distractions. We’ll be using this period as a time to do daily videos and photo reports about life and work on the island. As we have spent so much time learning from other developers, we want to give some of that back to our fans and other developers. We are completely open to any questions or suggestions and would like to know what would be interesting to read about the game development process. We will also respond to all questions. After all, this is for you guys.

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We plan to release the game within a couple of months.

Unfortunately, not all of our team will come together in Bali, but we will continue to work as we always have. We think it shows that if you’re enthusiastic enough about your game, then as long as you get talking, you can create really great and cool stuff. The more you talk, meet people, and inspire, it makes the dream come true, and it helps others do the same.

To learn more about the Slashear group, follow them on Twitter and Facebook, or contact them at media@slashear.com.

 

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Jagged Alliance: Flashback – Managing a Dedicated Community With High Expectations

May 26, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Full Control is a small independent studio founded in 2004 and based in Copenhagen, Denmark. They have specialized in the genre of turnbased strategy games and have several productions in their portfolio, including their upcoming project, Jagged Alliance: Flashback, and the recently released, Space Hulk, a turnbased video game adaptation of the popular Warhammer 40k board game. Andreas Sørensen, the community manager for these two games, shares lessons from managing the Jagged Alliance: Flashback community.


First Encounter with the Jagged Alliance Community

After a hectic month of planning and discussions, the Kickstarter for Jagged Alliance: Flashback went live in April 2013. Even though we had been warned that the Jagged Alliance community was a very demanding bunch, we weren’t prepared for the massive amount of questions and demands that were coming our way.

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The Full Control Team, currently working on Jagged Alliance: Flashback.

This was our first Kickstarter and since we were in the middle of developing Space Hulk, we only had around three people dedicated to getting this project up and running, as well as supporting it when it was live on Kickstarter. We were only in pre-production of Jagged Alliance: Flashback, so we didn’t have much more to show than concept pictures and a general design of the game.

Kickstarter Challenges

First challenge with that approach was that people did not really understand the concept of pre-production, and they expected an almost finished game design document with all details already in there. The second challenge was connected to the first; if you have a very general design, people will automatically ask questions about the deeper levels of the design, which at this point was sitting in our heads. Lastly, Jagged Alliance is a hardcore strategy game with very advanced systems and a complex design, so naturally, the community wanted answers for something like “Will the weight of bullets influence the movement speed of mercenaries?”. JA1/JA2 have been modded for more than 20 years and turned into completely different games, which is also why it still has a huge following.

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There were quite a few questions that were asked during the Kickstarter, as Jagged Alliance has a very strong following

We spent the first two weeks of the campaign answering thousands of questions and putting out updates to try and explain the overall ideas we had for this game in smaller and more manageable chunks. The community was doubtful of our ability to pull of this game, having mostly done iOS games in the past. They wanted a lot more info before they were willing to support our project. As it’s over a year ago now, I can’t say exactly where the tides changed, but I’m pretty sure that our high focus on making the game moddable and working together with some of the modders and designers from the old games made all the difference. The questions didn’t stop though, and it was a battle all the way to the end of the project, where it was funded seven hours before closing time. We have 13k+ comments on a project with roughly 7,500 backers. I can honestly say it was one of the most exhausting, but also exciting, months of my life, which is also why we’ve limited ourselves to a maximum of one Kickstarter per year.

However, this article is not about our Kickstarter. It is about what you have to do to manage a community with an existing fan base that have high expectations for the game you are making, but I felt it was necessary to describe how it all started and take it from there.

Remember, Don’t Feed the Trolls!

Some keywords to remember about community management is communication, expectation management, and honesty. Naturally, communicating with the community is a big part of managing it, but there is a lot more to that than you may expect. You have to understand where people are coming from when they give you feedback, have requests, or ask very demanding questions. You also have to keep you head cool and stop yourself from getting too carried away in heated conversations, as such discussions rarely end up in your favor.

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You have to understand where people are coming from when they give you feedback on the game, have requests, or ask very demanding questions.

I generally let people write what they want, as long as it is backed up with proper arguments and are adding value to the conversation. Since the release of Space Hulk and running the Kickstarter, I have only had to ban one to five people, and that is mainly because we engage in the discussions and try to keep them on a sober level. If I feel enough has been said, we simply lock the thread. I don’t believe in deleting threads, as I do not think it is good to hide things away.

I also handle the support for both of the games, and my general approach is to be polite, address their issues as fast as possible, and remember to follow up as soon as I have an answer. The same goes for visibility in the forums: I try to answer most posts, but of course, it is not always possible, as I have a lot of other tasks to cover. Thankfully, the team is good at helping out when in need.

Pick Your Words Wisely

Now on to expectation management. One thing I have learned is that you need to pick your words wisely when mentioning features, plans, and ideas you have for the future, because people will most likely see them as promises rather than just ideas. Therefore, it is wise to add a big fat disclaimer to go with the road maps you create, stating that even though you plan to add x number of features, it is not sure they will all make it in, as they may end up not fitting with the project after all. Alternatively, you can choose not to mention all details and then add it as a bonus, if you are not certain it will make it in.

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It is wise to add a big fat disclaimer to go with the road maps you create.

Another element to consider is the fact that most people know very little about game development, and therefore, it is important to take the time to discuss some of the suggestions they give you in more details. You have to argue that you are prioritizing because of e.g. budget or a higher focus on the combat experience, and try to make them understand that some of the elements they want in can cost up to $100,000 to implement.

A lot of features may seem pretty straight forward, but seen from an art, animation, or coding perspective, it can be a huge task. It’s easy to add a quest system, but if you want to add several levels of depth to it, you need to make art assets, additional coding, special animations, and create multiple story layers. This is just an example, but it’s really important to spend time on.

Be Honest

A lot of things happen in the background, and people generally have no idea how much it costs to make a game and the harsh terms game developers sometimes have to abide to.

I personally think you can go a long ways with being honest with your community, especially when it comes to delays and other elements that do not go as planned. However, there are just some situations where you are not able to give a straight answer either, because you are bound by contracts or because other stakeholders have a say in what you are allowed communicate. A lot of things happen in the background, and people generally have no idea how much it costs to make a game and the harsh terms game developers sometimes have to abide to. It is not always pretty, and I am sure people would be a lot less demanding if they actually knew what it took to make a game…at least I hope so. Thankfully, most people are very nice and great at giving you good feedback and a pat on the back 🙂 Game developers need hugs too!

Care for the Customers

There is no right way to handle a community, because they are typically comprised of very different segments that have different needs. But if you spend time engaging and listening to the community while making sure that you are doing your very best to deliver and give straight answers, then you are well on your way already. Get personal with your community and make sure to do your best to reply on posts and support cases. That is what most people are looking for. They want to feel that you care, and you should; they are your customers and they are the reason you are able to have this career 🙂

Follow Full Control’s current and future projects on their Twitter and Facebook, and look forward to Jagged Alliance: Flashback’s release. You could also find out more about the game’s development on their Youtube channel.

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DieselStormers: Building the Infinitely Prolonged Run ‘n’ Gun Co-Op Experience

May 22, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Black Forest Games is a 20-men development studio comprised of veteran developers from all over the world, mostly former members of Spellbound Entertainment. As the name indicates, they’re situated in the Black Forest ‘fairytale’ region in the South of Germany. Black Forest Games’ projects are widely multiplatform (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U), with focus on delivering classic arcade fun vibes and top notch visuals. The studio’s debut project Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams was a Kickstarted and Steam Greenlit classic platformer revitalization with a twist. Now BFG team is working hard on their new game DieselStormers, which is currently on Kickstarter, seeking backers. Black Forest Games’ development director Vladimir Ignatov shares the story of shaping their game from the publisher-inappropriate setting to the ultimate co-op run ‘n’ gun gameplay.


Medieval Age Against The Machine “Wouldn’t Sell Well”

We were Spellbound Entertainment back when we first came up with an idea for a setting that is different from traditional fantasy – an ultimate clash between medieval fantasy and diesel machinery. Imagine medieval strongholds all covered in shaky oil rigs, or knight’s armor powered by a combustion engine attached to their back. All the wonders of science and progress that simple folks could get through the discovery of magic petrol called Goop. The medieval society falls to the promise of easy life thanks to the diesel technology, while Goop’s noxious vapors change the minds and bodies of the people. Little by little, the population is mutating into crazy orcs, goblins, witches, and other hostile creatures; the society collapses and only some sane rebels unite to form a resistance. They have a plan to take the city back, the city named… Ravensdale.

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Oilhead orcs are taking over the city, but there are still some humans left. Join the resistance!

As the game concept started its life as an evil incarnation of Zelda, a metroidvania-ARPG, it was turned down by several publishers we talked to. The reason for that was probably that our concept was too big and ambitious in terms of scope and development budget. Given a new IP in the times of collapse of the middle-segment games market, we had hard times finding people willing to put their money into the project, despite the fact that the team already had a multiplatform open-world action RPG behind its belt. On top of that, our fancy medieval machinery sounded a lot like steampunk, and every publisher believed that “steampunk doesn’t sell”.

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In our third person action prototype, one was able to run around swinging his steam-powered axe like a madman. There was also an electromagnetic glove gadget at your disposal.

Knights of Run ‘n’ Gun

By the time we’ve finished Giana Sisters, we also had plenty of art and visual mockups for a next game, and the shape of our dieselpunk world was already figuratively outlined by our artists. Our team was now living and breathing its aura. It was everywhere: from the posters in the hallways to the running gags that “Goblins Can Fly (with enough added force)”.

It was Giana’s self-published success that helped us make the decision to introduce our dieselpunk universe in a tight and fun game that delivers our vision of a medieval oil rig city with crazy, over-the-top machinery.

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Our first mockup with a fresh angle at the crooked city of Ravensdale. Cleaving through hordes of rocket-goblins was part of the vision from day one.

We decided to stay true to the solid platforming roots and rich visuals that brought us praise with Giana Sisters, to improve what was criticized there, and make a game based on our own engine and a custom framework to build a platforming game. Plus all our expertise in jump ‘n’ run genre: tight controls, keen sense of level design, etc.

Our ambition was to create reckless session-based run ‘n’ gun action, featuring level recombination and tons of loot to unlock. To reach the goal of truly delivering on cooperation and introduce some tactical positioning in the side-scrolling scenario, we focused on strong interaction with the environment and other players where co-op should be supported and encouraged by the gameplay dynamics we create. This meant no forced interactions, and no hosing of single players. We targeted the digital download crowd – people who grew up playing Metal Slug and who, like us, enjoy co-op shooters like Borderlands and arcade games like Castle Crashers.

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An early target render screenshot. Note the characters are still using proportions tailored for the 3rd person camera.

We wanted to expand the existing small, yet growing BFG-fandom (people who will like our new game generally already like Giana–gameplay and vice versa). Last but not least, the purpose was to provide a modding toolset or a level editor, something we were not able to do in the past due to binding with the linked tools that we used in development.

TeamwORK or Die

We approach co-op from four overlapping angles:

Connection – Make player positioning relevant and dynamic – e.g. a lightning arc between players that kills enemies. Move as you would in single player with the arc following you like a pet, and you’ll get some incidental kills. Coordinate with your buddies, and you’ll tactically zap a lot more enemies. Use slams and explosions to displace enemies – for example, into hazards created by your teammates below.

Autonomy Design co-op actions that one could just join and benefit from, while respecting single player freedom. Players’ shots can transmute into slow-moving super-projectiles under certain conditions. Catching those with a player character “pops” them, triggering a powerful attack. You don’t need them to defeat your enemies, but they offer a power boost and are easier to spawn and trigger with more players.

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Tactical positioning in action and that ork just got himself electrocuted. Zzzzap!

Surroundings – Make the levels and enemies reward co-operation. For example, a powerful turret that can be aimed by slamming one trigger and shoots by slamming another. A single player can operate the turret well enough, but two coordinating players can do so much more efficiently. Or an enemy with a heavy shield: alone, you’d have to avoid his charge and shoot him in the back, use a piercing weapon, or brute force your way through the shield’s HP. With two or more players, you can simply sandwich the ork to always hit him in the back.

Efficiency – Allow co-op to be more efficient than single player, provide the option of team squads specializing on specific roles, be it tank, healer or sniper. Each weapon is particularly powerful in certain situations, but more difficult to use in others. A spread shot may be great for clearing the skies, but it gets hampered by walls, ceilings, and platforms, while a rebounding shot thrives on narrow spaces, but can’t really do its thing in the wide open sky. Complementary armament in a team lets you pick your terrain and your targets according to your loadout and squeeze the maximum power out of your attacks. Missions don’t scale with the number of players, but you’ll always get to pick from a range of missions with different difficulty, objectives, and rewards. More players on your team make it possible for you to tackle tougher content, just like better gear and higher skill do.

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In-game prototype screenshot. Narrow quarters are perfect for rebounding shots. Redefined silhouettes for player characters and enemies for better readability in the sidescrolling environment.

Infinite Replayability

How do we deal with replayability? We offer something new for each play!

A procedural approach to content allows meaningful level combinations with infinite replayability. Templates and content slots are used to layer relevant content chunks within some new additions, generating incredible diversity and supporting an ever-growing cast of enemies and hazards. Enemies are modular as well.  Even the bosses are modular – with different body parts, limbs, and attachment slots for weapons, platforms, and hazards that will be procedurally assembled depending on the mission.

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Never the same level thanks to the procedural content generation.

Customization Matters – the game will have to offer tons of loot: weapon parts (frames, engine blocks, and barrels), armor parts (helmets, gauntlets, cuirasses, and greaves), upgrades for the arc between the players, ammunition and crafting materials, plus a range of consumables like overdrive boosters, repair kits, and others like these. Your loot is stored in a stash and can be upgraded, recombined, or salvaged for parts. You will have your own “garage” to play with the knight’s armor, weapons building blocks, and research lab to unlock new upgrades.

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The game offers plenty of loot for crafting your own weapons and customizing your armor.

Kickstarter: 2nd Attempt, Indie Style

That’s all been theory, and we still had to try it out in practice. Our first Kickstarter (as Project Ravensdale) failed, mostly due to the pledge goal being too high. The target figure was what we estimated we would require in additional funding to make the game a reality from start to finish. Asking for less and getting the money would’ve put us in a position where we cannot actually deliver the product. So we went on with the project in a different manner: little by little, in between work-for-hire, on the weekends, the indie way.

Our production goal was to test out the above-mentioned concepts as early as possible, and prototype everything that is new and therefore risky. By now, we have several prototypes covering a range of mechanics from the modular level assembly system to the basic navigation prototype that was mature enough to be released to the public as a teaser-level.

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This demo level is playable in local co-op up to four players and was released to the public to support our Kickstarter campaign.

Now the game is getting closer to the playable state, and we just need a final push to get it out on Early Access. And we are back on Kickstarter under the new name DieselStormers with more bang than ever!

DieselStormers is currently on Kickstarter and in development.  It is aiming at an Early Access launch this summer on Windows PC, with Mac, Linux, and console versions currently being considered. Previous Black Forest Games‘ creations, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams and Rise of the Owlverlord, are available on Steam and GOG.com.

 

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Bingo Club: When Math is King

May 20, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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One word for it is “miraculous” – it’s miraculous how such a team came together in the right place at the right time. “It was as though someone had dropped a bag of scrabble letters, and amongst the resulting alphabetical catastrophe on the floor, one sentence lay there fully formed, ‘Start Company, Make Bingo’,” Oliver Jones, the director and co-founder of Moonfrog Labs recalls as he tells the story of their first game Bingo Club. The game was in made in six months by a team of four that grew to eleven.


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A Gamedev Startup – a Crazy Idea for Indian Business

This story is as much about game design as it is about India. Bingo Club and Moonfrog would not exist if Zynga did not open up a shop in India and hire the best talents they could find in all competencies. At the Zynga shop, our team saw the potentials of a fast-moving mobile company in an emerging market, and made the jump into founderhood. It was a bold move! Generally, Indian entrepreneurs like to start traditional buy/sell businesses. As a result, this startup idea of a gamedev company seemed far too risky for some of our family and friends, who asked us to slow down and think twice. We did neither.

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Our family and friends asked us to slow down and think twice before starting Moonfrog. We did neither.

We knew that our team’s combination of development skills essential for games is quite rare in this part of the world. In India, it’s tough to find design, product, and game programming professionals able to handle these big 1M+ player bases. It’s also challenging to find creative people who will push for awesome player experiences, and even more difficult to bring all these people together. In the hard times when Bingo Club was finding its feet on the marketplace and players riled about bugs, we would remind ourselves that we could be making a part of history. We could become the first Indian gaming startup to actually execute on both scalability and high quality. It was the idea that kept us polishing and pushing our standards higher.

Math is King in a Bingo Game

The “spit and polish” approach, however, can only be applied to a smooth, solid object. For Bingo Club, this meant some solid, smooth math. Believe it or not, the average number of Bingo balls called in a game dictates absolutely everything else! From session length to level curve, even the cost of power ups could be calculated from that single number. In order to find that number, we had to define a set of rules and simulate bingo games a couple of thousand times. While the company was still inchoate, I quickly realized this fact and knocked together a simple Bingo simulator in Flash, that you can play around with on my website. Simply input the number of players and hit play!

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The average number of bingo balls called in a game defines everything. A Flash app had been written for finding it out.

This simulator allows you to define a set of rules, such as player/Bingo ratio, XP per daub, and run it thousands of times. It outputs values such as how many bingo numbers are drawn before a game is over, and even what quantities of XP and coins you would earn per game. These numbers became my constants, my guiding star in the sea of shifting XP requirements and jackpot payouts. Of course later, we started being more creative with our game mechanics and made more sophisticated simulations with no designer-friendly UI.

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“These numbers became my constants, my guiding star in the sea of shifting XP requirements and jackpot payouts.”

Casual Means Usable, Not Easy

It may come as unfortunate news for developers and designers that you can’t launch a spreadsheet on the app store. Bingo Club only existed for a while as a glorious mashup of formulas and calculations, while our UI remained a blank canvas. As we started drafting screens, it dawned on us that perhaps we didn’t really know what would resonate with our target audience. Who were the players of Bingo? What semiotics and game patterns are they familiar with?

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Each screen was tested, scrutinized in detail, and compared with the closest competitors

To get rid of this problem, we started iterating. Above is a sample of what we greyboxed for the lobby screen before we came up with our final result. Each screen was tested, scrutinized in detail, and compared with our closest competitors. Along the rocky road to a clean interface, we also experimented with meta-games trying bizarre stuff like a Candy Crush Saga-inspired story and zoo animal collection. Along the way, we created hundreds of wireframe configurations.

Lesson Learned: Launch, Adjust, and Update

Despite the fact that we haven’t spent a single marketing dollar over the last few weeks, Bingo Club is naturally climbing its way into the top 100 in various countries, including the USA, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Our reviews are averaging 4.5 stars. The future looks bright! However, we can say that we launched too late! Bingo Club could have been launched three months earlier. But instead of that, we decided to push to become more feature-complete. This was a bad idea, as our app would have become far more polished had we received precious feedback and suggestions from the players sooner.

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“Our app would have become far more polished had we received precious feedback and suggestions from the players sooner.”

One could argue that Bingo Club has already completed its mission. It has gone a long way to prove that both Moonfrog and the entire Indian indie game scene is capable of competing against the best developers in the global arena. We saw the bar of quality exhibited in current bingo games, ran, and jumped right over it. You could say that Moonfrog hopped as high as you would expect a frog would on the moon. But our journey was not entirely frictionless, and certainly had no shortage of lessons along the way. Our plan for Bingo Club however, does not end here! With continued support, we intend to see how big our little game can grow. Expect us to add fresh ideas, new levels, and more. For now, its only one small step for Bingo, but one giant leap for Moonfrog.

At the time of writing Bingo Club is available worldwide on Android, but they are still waiting to see whether or not their efforts will be fruitful and rewards, more than intrinsic. Regardless of the outcome, they feel they have proven themselves as a team.

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Vlad the Angry Viking Voyager: Building a Hero That Lasts

May 13, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Releasing over 30 titles in the app stores such as Vlad The Viking: Barbarian Run, Turbo Train (an Indie Prize nominee), and Tesla Boy, Dream Bot Studios is an independent game studio founded by Markus Skupeika. They believe they must design games to enlighten and free people from the hidden agendas of the powers that be, using stories and experiences that empowers gamers to live a life with purpose. The studio’s latest hit, Vlad the Angry Viking Voyager, was developed from all the data collected from the company’s other titles to produce what they consider “toilet time gameplay”. Markus talks about the game’s development.


Time to Build Anew

After launching multiple titles in the App Store and getting some great player data, we felt we could make some better decisions on our next game. Along with this, it was time to create a new game engine, which Dream Bot Studios could use to build a collection of branded games around. These branded games would focus on one core character, a character players could feel connected to and hopefully invest in. This is when we began thinking about Vlad, our cute little chubby viking.

During the process of choosing our viking theme. I would role play around the office as a viking or pirate. Yes, a goofy-like grown man thinking he was a viking, yelling around the office. Oh the joys of game development! It’s like acting for a movie script. I get into character, then draw some silly designs to see if it fits the way I’m acting. Character development is crucial because if you can get those players to connect to the main character, this can turn into more in-app purchases, higher retention, and revenue for the studio. Plus, who doesn’t like being a viking, especially a cute chubby one who bounces around his viking town?

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Who doesn’t like being a viking, especially a cute chubby one who bounces around his viking town?

Toilet Time Gameplay

When we first developed mobile games, we totally forgot people were playing these games mostly with just one finger. We were creating far too advanced gameplay or controls when in reality, people are playing mobile games while commuting, waiting, or what we like to call “toilet time gameplay”. Players usually use only one hand and finger to play mobile games.

In order to make a dent in the App Store, we wanted a casual type game to attract a larger audience. Since we are dealing with $0.99 in-app purchases, at least 20,000 downloads would be required in order to get the studio’s money back on the game. The way we did this is with a casual, easy-to-pick-up game.

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In order to make a dent in the App Store, we wanted a casual type game to attract a larger audience.

After the many mistakes we learned from publishing our games, we had to come up with a system to make a great game. During each iteration of developing games at Dream Bot Studios, we always ask these questions for each game mechanic:

+ How can we have players want to continue playing? (retention)
+ How can we have players become our apostles? (downloads)
+ How can we have players want to spend more? (revenue)

Keeping Players Playing

The first thing in our game development process is getting controls to feel right. Making things feel right increases game retention. In Vlad The Angry Viking Voyager, we decided on drawing a simple platform to bounce our hero throughout the level. It was an endless level, so we could cut level design and simply increase the difficulty as players advanced through the game.

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Making things feel right increases game retention.

This was initially difficult at first simply because our character was at first created with as a normal human body, but bouncing a full body around the screen using physics was a horrific experience. So we made him into a cute ball-like character, animating his arms and facial animations.

We really wanted our players to connect to our hero, so we focused on creating really big eyes for our character. When players connect with the hero, the retention is always increased. A great tip for those who are building such characters is to look at Disney and DreamWorks’ characters. All the characters show personality through their eyes. So we did just that and gave Vlad an eye-bulging makeover.

Bouncing Just Right

After getting our character model into a little cute round cannonball shape. We now had a bigger problem getting the bouncing mechanic right. We decided to create bounce strength variables from the start to allow us to change the velocity and height of our hero. This allowed our team to balance our bounce mechanics more easily and also was strategically planned for in-app purchases for players who wanted to bounce Vlad into space. By having our hero use the bounce velocity variables to increase the height of his jumps, we could easily build upgrades later, which players could purchase with in-game currency. This proved to be beneficial and helped the studio receive more in-app purchases.

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This allowed our team to balance our bounce mechanics more easily and also was strategically planned for in-app purchases for players who wanted to bounce Vlad into space.

The longest part of development was the bouncing mechanics. This took quite some time to get right. Players could change the angle of the platforms and would create weird results. So after a month of testing internally and with friends and family, we finally got it right. Once we were feeling comfortable with the main mechanics, we began thinking about how we could make playing Vlad more fun. Keeping the idea in the back of our mind of toilet-time gameplay, we started coming up with new silly ideas.

Adding More Fun

We started thinking of cool power up bonuses with which players could upgrade their character. As we came up with ideas for the power-ups, this also sparked some imagination for our enemies in the game.

We started slicing up the new mechanics in mini salami-sliced iterations, like peeling the layers of the onion. We took one mechanic at a time to check if it would work. If it did, then we would check if we could use this mechanic to increase retention and build more revenue from the game. Each mechanic added followed the same process: does it make the game fun and how can we increase retention or create revenue from this mechanic?

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Each mechanic added followed the same process: does it make the game fun and how can we increase retention or create revenue from this mechanic?

We onion-layered in cool dragons, UFOs, coins, and power-ups. Each object in the game has its own cool way to make the game more enjoyable. Finally, after putting these new objects into the game, we had to test the game’s difficulty. Initially, it was too easy, and in my opinion, still is. But we will be updating the game to increase the challenge on our next iteration.

After each iteration, we would always ask the same questions as before, so our next step was how to get more downloads for this game without spending a huge bundle on marketing until we knew our numbers.

Transform Gamers Into Apostles

We came up with some really cool ideas to find ways to have players share the game with their friends and the world. We are indie developers, so we have to be creative. We created a super-cool viral mechanic leveraging Facebook’s huge user base. We didn’t hide it on a menu, but instead placed it right inside the main menu when players start the game. We ask them if they wanted to play with their friends.

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We ask them if they wanted to play with their friends.

If they choose yes…

They will see their top three friends score during the game. Then they will also have a chance to invite friends or brag to their friends on Facebook.

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They will see their top three friends score during the game.

The opportunity to share happens on each end-of-level screen. This means free marketing and more downloads without having to pay for those expensive $2 to $7 installs. We let our users be our apostles and spread the word! This is something every game developer should consider when creating their game.

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We let our users be our apostles and spread the word!

Another cool mechanic we did was our Kingdom of Coins. We want gamers to brag about the game or their achievements. So what better way to do this then giving a player his or her own castle to fill up using coins? After players collect coins, they turn them into diamonds. After every level, we send players to this Kingdom of Coins to collect diamonds and build their Kingdom, so they can share with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

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After every level, we send players to this Kingdom of Coins to collect diamonds and build their Kingdom.

Psychologically, players now are:
+ Collecting: (Gather as many coins as they can – increasing Retention)
+ Competing: (Showing Off – Whose Castle is Bigger?) with friends on Facebook and Twitter

Also, players are free at any time to purchase more coins, which increases their collection and size of castle! It was a new piece of the game I really wanted to add, to have a player invested into achieving more in the game and having some visual feedback to prove it to themselves and their fellow gamers.

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It was a new piece of the game I really wanted to add, to have a player invested into achieving more in the game and having some visual feedback to prove it to themselves and their fellow gamers.

What Is Game Without A Boss Battle?

Another layer we decided to push into the game was a cool boss battle. It was hard to think of a way to battle a boss while bouncing. We had one idea of a viking carry a long stack of bricks and the player had to bust through the wall of bricks to advance, but this proved to not be that fun.

As I was playing, I got to the part of the game where you can start bouncing over water. I thought about a fish jumping out of the water like I’ve seen in other games. So I took this idea and ran with it, making the fish really huge. This turned out to be our boss battle, as well as another way to allow the player to break from the usual gameplay while collecting more coins to upgrade their hero.

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So I took this idea and ran with it, making the fish really huge.

Now we had to answer the question of how to have players spend more in the game.

Creating Revenue

When creating the upgrades and in-app purchases, we didn’t want to break the action, so we strategically placed our store as a part of the gameplay. Upon starting the game, players were immediately introduced to the upgrade area and then onto playing the game. It was not just to buy stuff, but really to upgrade your character with the coins you collect from the game.

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Upon starting the game, players were immediately introduced to the upgrade area and then onto playing the game.

Our players come to the upgrade menu each time the game starts and the player begins a new level. It works very well, as it is not intrusive and players view this store as more of a upgrade area, rather than just a store. We took weeks to design the menu and make sure it was easy to navigate. I believe it was a good investment, considering the more players visit the store, the more likeliness to increase retention and revenue.

Quick Development

The team at Dream Bot Studios learned a ton from this game. We used analytics to see what users were doing and this proved to be valuable to help us see our exact numbers. Eugene, our lead programmer on the project, did a fantastic job of taking the ideas in the game development doc and collaborating with the team to make sure the game ran smoothly. It was a large project for us; we learned so much and we will continue to iterate new versions and test them to see what works best for our players.

We learned so much and we will continue to iterate new versions and test them to see what works best for our players.

I would have to say it’s important to develop games quickly, especially being a self-funded studio. The team at Dream Bot Studios now takes game development in really small pieces, trying to create polish in each piece of development. And we really stick to our three important questions when creating new mechanics and recommend other game developers to ask the same questions.

Listening to Players

After launching Vlad the Angry Viking Voyager on the Apple App Store, we got great reviews from players. We published a free version and paid version. Both did well, but we had some hiccups with our free version, as it was crashing for some gamers.

I really wanted to help our gamers, so I spent time in communicating directly with them and found they were initially upset of a free game crashing on their device. But after discussions with them, they were super happy to just know they were being listened to. We fixed the bugs and released an updated version within seven days.

Vlad the Angry Viking Voyager is only one instance of the collection of games we plan to release with Vlad as the hero.

Vlad the Angry Viking Voyager is only one instance of the collection of games we plan to release with Vlad as the hero. This game will lead to other games to help us keep our development cost down and produce higher profits by using winning mechanics that worked and adding more cool features to the world of Vlad. Again, it comes down to making small iterations.

Dream Bot Studios is happy with our release, although we are still working on making a large dent in the App Store and looking to win more rewards for our unique titles. Until that time, we will continue to iterate and make some really cool PC, mobile, and console games in 2014.

Markus Skupeika is always looking to connect with other folks in the industry. While spending most time developing games and running the studio, he feels there is always time to connect on the web. Feel free to tweet him, Facebook him, and like Dream Bot Studios on Facebook and follow them Twitter.

 

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentOnline

Mojikan – Designing the Kash Karnival

May 9, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Royal Wins is an Australian games studio focused on bringing real money skill and chance social and casino games to various platforms. They work to provide adults with a variety of real money games and control in the way they play. Luke Jeffery, the community manager at Royal Wins, talks about the company and their product, Mojikan.


A Royal Change

Royal Wins, founded in 2013, is a Sydney based start-up which focuses on a hybrid social skill and chance-based experience for the web, desktop, and mobile devices. We have a dynamic team of experienced executives, game designers, developers, and artists who have honed their skills with stints at some of the world’s biggest game developers including Aristocrat, IGT, KMM, Konami, and NextGen Gaming.

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We have a dynamic team of experienced executives, game designers, developers, and artists who have honed their skills with stints at some of the world’s biggest game developers

Back in late 2013, the team decided to shut down their immersive online social game world known as MojiKan.com (which had been in beta-test for the past year). We had some incredible feedback and suggestions from our amazing user base and VIP members. As a result, we have taken this feedback into consideration and re-engineered the site.

A New Direction

With this new information, our game designers decided to focus the new Mojikan.com site solely on a totally new style of hybrid experience (skill+chance based games), where elements of each would be found in the other. Imagine a slot game where you could use your gaming skills to improve your chances of winning, or skill-based games that also featured a random number-generated bonus feature. We wanted to provide that type of experience.

With a clean slate, our games designer’s imaginations ran wild

Now that the base gameplay and genre was worked out, we had the luxury to be creative in deciding upon an overall theme. With a clean slate, our games designer’s imaginations ran wild, with the Mojikan theme evolving from a fantasy themed world, to a “Casino Royale-like” CIA spy thriller, to a Wild West saloon adventure. However, after many attempts, the theme and game-play just wasn’t the way we envisioned. These themes were too restricting and specific in the types of games that could be made. The Mojikan needed to have a broader, more open-ended theme. It was during this time that our team had a sudden spark of inspiration from the past Mojikan world and pulled a brilliant idea out of a hat! The Mojikan Kash Karnival was born, a carnival that could be fantasy, Wild West, and whatever we desired all at the same time because of its setting. This carnival housed all of the different types of games and soon it became apparent that we wanted to develop the idea further. This led to the final idea of the Kash Karnival™. This new “Karnival” theme worked on so many different levels. It meant that:

  1. We had a setting that could resonate with multiple target audiences, as carnivals are for people from all walks in life.
  2. We could be as magical and as crazy as we liked with the world and the characters which inhabit it, along with the stories we could tell.
  3. This gave us many opportunities to create countless types of games with multiple aesthetics, featuring wild characters and various stories.
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This new “Karnival” theme worked on so many different levels

This carnival idea lit a magic fire within our bellies, allowing our 3D and 2D artists to create an eclectic world of colorful environments and characters, as well as allowed our designers to go crazy with different types of games that span multiple genres. We can mix and match whatever we liked and it will just work!

Designing a Karnival

With a theme chosen, it was time to develop the new Mojikan world even further. We were put to the test to answer the question of who inhabits this world and, more importantly, what is this world? The first part of the question was easy to answer: a carnival needs a ringmaster. We decided that this ringmaster would be given the grand name of Mojikan.

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Our designers worked hard with Jason to create a robust back story and look for our protagonist.

The character of Mojikan had four main inspirations: Willy Wonka, Guy Fawkes, and, of course, the original Ring Master from the original Mojikan game. Our designers worked hard with Jason Williamson, our art director to create a robust back story and look for our protagonist. We wanted Mojikan to be a three-dimensional character with depth. This gave our 2D and 3D artists a chance to really develop the aesthetics of the game.

The Kash Karnival is the central hub and can be found on Moji Island. The central hub is an area where players gather and interact with each other. It acts as the main “station” before they enter various themed areas. Within the hub, there are two special areas for players to explore – the Skill District and the Adventure Casino. Each area is tailored towards two player bases: players who love skill games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush, and players who love to play social casino games like slots, blackjack, or roulette. Myles Blasonato, our lead game designer took the time to think extensively about what our players would want. From past experiences and feedback from the previous Mojikan, we concluded that we want to give players the best of both worlds; to combine elements of skill and Chance together into one seamless experience. This is how the Skill District and Adventure Casino was born.

The decision to make two separate areas was not taken lightly by our design team, as it would affect the overall user experience.

The decision to make two separate areas was not taken lightly by our design team, as it would affect the overall user experience. The team needed to consider how a player would enter the game world and how they would filter through all of the different genres so they could easily navigate and find exactly what experience they wanted to have. The team thought it would be easier and less confusing to separate the two player bases and create two areas specifically tailored to each one. This allows both players to co-exist in the same space and even jump over to the other side and experience something they might never have before. It gives choice to the player to decide their own entertainment, whether it be skill games, chance games, or even both!

The Skill District is for gamers who love skill based experiences. This area is special because it allows social gamers to be rightly rewarded in a unique way for their amazing efforts by introducing small amounts of “casino-like” elements to the games. Players can choose different difficulty options and place various bets on how well they perform to give themselves a better chance at winning bigger prizes! The harder the difficulty, the bigger the prize!

The Adventure Casino is a unique area for social and online casino players. It contains all of what they love, such as slots and other popular casino games, but with more entertainment value. These games aren’t ordinary, standard casino games. The Adventure Casino games are designed to drive narrative and tell character-focused stories that engross the player into the world of Mojikan and its inhabitants.

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Players can choose where to play.

For our upcoming Facebook release, we will launch with four games in total: two skill-based games and  two chance-based games. I know what you are thinking, “Only 4?” But as we say here at Royal Wins HQ, quality over quantity.

“Don’t half-ass anything” is Myles’ philosophy. “Our team wants to build the best games; we want to dedicate our time to managing and perfecting a smaller number of games to ensure a solid gameplay experience and not churn out a bunch of crap that nobody wants to play for the sake of quantity, which is mostly what’s out there. We feel the trade-off is totally worth it and hope that our fans appreciate our efforts in making the best experience possible. However, that being said, we already have a bunch of exciting ideas in our road-map for new experiences just waiting to be created.”

If you like what is happening at Royal Wins or want to follow their progress on Mojikan’s Kash Karnival then feel free to “Like” their Facebook page or “Follow” them on Twitter.

 

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The Eyes Have It: Eye Tracking as a Game Changer for Developers and Consumer Brands

May 8, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Based in Sweden, Tobii Technology is a global leader in eye tracking. The company develops innovative eye-tracking products and solutions for analysis and research purposes, assistive technology uses, and consumer applications (including computers, gaming, and vehicles). Oscar Werner, Tobii’s president of OEM Solutions, talks about how to use eye-tracking in games.


Many may take eyesight for granted – how often do you think about all that you look at in a day or realize how much your eyes convey or communicate to others? Tobii founders John Elvesjo, Marten Skogo, and Henrik Eskilsson realized the untapped potential of the sense, and harnessing the power of the human eyes quickly became the trio’s goal, mission, and passion. Now, nearly 12 years later, Tobii is known as a world leader in eye tracking, and has continued to discover more and new opportunities for integrating eye-tracking capabilities, specifically in the OEM space.

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How Eye Tracking Works

We realized early on that gaming would be one of the first consumer-facing markets for eye tracking. Given that the industry thrives on solutions that make the gaming experience more immersive, it seemed ideal to integrate the intuitive and natural capabilities of eye tracking. We quickly understood as we embarked on the path to consumer products that it would be best to work with developing and manufacturing partners. As such, we’ve taken two routes to get eye trackers into the hands of consumers – developers and consumer brands.

Bringing Games to Life

We believe that combining our technology with the creativity and ingenuity of developers will result in the best applications and programs for consumers.

We believe that combining our technology with the creativity and ingenuity of developers will result in the best applications and programs for consumers. In order to make this happen, we’ve made it a goal to provide a dev kit that offers the most comprehensive eye-tracking capabilities and support. Our most recent dev kit, the Tobii EyeX Engine, was the result, containing everything developers may need to build gaze-enabled games and applications.

Take a moment to think about your favorite games – and how you play the games. Now think about being able to control some of the most popular functions with your eyes or even being able to create completely new functions with your eyes. These possibilities are becoming a reality.

Here are some of the ways eye tracking can be integrated into games:

  • Natural Interaction – Characters’ behavior is influenced by eye contact just as in real life. A shy person might look away. Or someone might become upset if you stare at him too long.
  • Revealing Intentions – In FIFA, you could select the player to whom you want to pass the ball with your gaze so you can continue to operate the selected player with your controls. However, your gaze may also reveal your intentions to your competitors – just as in real life.
  • Aiming at Gaze Point – Aim your flashlight or weapon where you look. Then use the regular controls to shoot.
  • Moving as in Real Life – You move around in a more natural way. Lean forward to look around corners, or pull back to hide. Your gaze reveals your intent, and the opponent may ambush you or change its path.

More ways to use eye tracking can be found in this video:

Developing Relationships

The possibility to have an even more immersive experience exists. To help make the possibilities known, Tobii has recently initiated a call for indie game developers to be part of the feature title package that launches with the first mass-market consumer gaming peripheral that is being developed with SteelSeries. This put the power in the hands of a wide variety of developers, from developers of Role-Playing Games to Sports games and everyone in between that wants to bring their games to life. Through this initiative, developers are provided with dedicated resources, hardware, software, support, and promotion for the selected titles.

We are so excited to be a part of such a catalyst in the gaming evolution, and to see developers coming up with creative ways to use eye tracking. For example, stillalive studios is developing an action-adventure game called Son of Nor. They are using Tobii’s eye tracking capabilities to give the player terraforming and telekineses powers. Here is an example of what they envision for their game:

We met with so many other great individuals and groups who have tremendous potential to create unique and groundbreaking games while attending GDC 2014. We look forward to working with more and more developers – to enable and support them and help turn concepts into realities.

Tobii Tech
With such great ideas and games being created, the only thing left is to get it to the hands of the players.

Eyes on, Game on

With such great ideas and games being created, the only thing left is to get it to the hands of the players. That requires working with manufacturers and brand owners in the computer and gaming area to bring new consumer devices with eye tracking to the consumer market.

From what we’ve experienced in demos and beta testing –there will be a tremendously positive response in the consumer market. However, bringing anything new to market undoubtedly faces challenges, especially when it comes to moving from the early tech enthusiasts to the masses.

One of the biggest challenges is convincing the mass consumer audience that this technology is truly as remarkable as promised. People are often happy as is but need to realize and understand that it’s worth changing the way you are used to doing things for something that is more natural, intuitive, and efficient. This is especially true when the concept of eye tracking is something that can only be fully understood when people try it themselves in person.

Earlier this year, Tobii announced its partnership with SteelSeries, a leading manufacturer of top-quality gaming gear, to launch the world’s first mass-market consumer eye-tracking device for gamers later this year.

We see this as a huge leap in the gaming industry. As with any new, big opportunity, this partnership and path to creating the first consumer peripheral will come with unknowns, but we are extremely excited about tackling this uncharted territory and providing gamers with a completely new way to experience their games.

The Future

But what’s next in the short term for eye tracking? Two words: consumer devices. As Tobii continues to work with developers and manufacturers, it is very likely that in the not so distant future, eye tracking will be available on phones, tablets, apps, wearables, etc. And we can’t wait for everyone to have the chance to experience the incredible power of eye tracking.

Today, Tobii has started to ship their EyeX Controller to developers who had pre-ordered the kit. To learn more or to get involved in the initiative, developers can simply complete the online form at www.tobii.com/gaming. For more info on Tobii, check out their website, or their videos on YouTube.

 

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Hilomi: How To Turn a Contest Entry Into a Full-Fledged Mobile Game

May 6, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Founded in December 2000, Yamago has now been developing games for over a decade. The team is based in Paris, France, and has all the skills required to develop quality games! Historically, Yamago focuses on 2D games for the web, based on TV and film intellectual properties, and has worked with clients like Cartoon Network, Disney and Lego. The company created game adaptations for global IPs such as Star Wars – The Clone War, Batman, Naruto, Adventure Time, and Gumball. Though in the last few years, Yamago has been making the transition to mobile games to keep up with the ever-changing games industry, and relying more and more on their own IPs to generate revenue. Their first in-house mobile game Hilomi started as a project for the Imagine Cup contest. Pierrick Lete and Sandrine Olivier, Yamago’s CTO and director of production, share the story.


A Student’s Contest as the Impact to Make a Game

Hilomi started out as an entry for the 2011 Imagine Cup. This annual competition is for students from all over the world to create projects that address the idea of a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems.

Xavier Cliquennois and Norbert Tran Phat, both interns at Yamago at that time, wanted to participate in the Imagine Cup in the Mobile Game Design category. They came up with the game’s idea (a 2D platformer where the player can reshape the environment) based on the Imagine Cup’s theme. Mathieu Anthoine, our creative director, helped them refine the concept by finding the right genre (puzzle game), adequately balancing simplicity and depth, and deciding on the character design (Hilomi, the female protagonist, and the animals).

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Finding the right genre, balancing simplicity and depth, deciding on character design

Eventually, Hilomi turned out to be a rather long adventure. From March to July 2011 the team managed to proceed to the second round of Imagine Cup, win the Jeuxvideo.fr Reader’s Choice award and the Silver Medal for Mobile Game Design at the Imagine Cup France Finals, and then enter the worldwide Imagine Cup finals and win the Silver Medal for Mobile Game Design.

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Yamago won Imagine Cup’s silver medal for Mobile Game Design

Moving Away From the Contest Theme Towards an Original Game Vibe

Following this encouraging reception and feedback for Hilomi at the Imagine Cup, we decided to make it into a full-sized game that could be featured in Yamago’s portfolio.

First of all, we refined the controls to make the gameplay more understandable and easy for players. Hilomi is a puzzle game where users reshape the environment within “touch gameplay” to help Hilomi make her way through the levels. We found out that players manipulate the game in various ways. The controls had then to be adapted to all of those, and that on a large panel of screen sizes: it was huge work!

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We found out that players manipulate the game in various ways

The need for cheap and quick updates was the reason behind simplified game design. To increase the lifetime of a puzzle game, we had to be able to produce a large number of levels and design them as efficiently as possible.

The original story hasn’t been perfect for the game as well. It was based on the Imagine Cup’s theme, but did not speak to the players. We had to integrate a touch of ecological theme in the storyline to fit the competition rules, but this resulted in a story too complicated and hard to narrate in a puzzle game.

We also altered character design and artistic direction to make the game more appealing and HD-friendly. Since Yamago is recognized for high-quality graphics, a game published by the company should stick to these standards.

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“Yamago is recognized for high-quality graphics, so a game published by the company should stick to these standards.”

iOS and Android tablets and smartphones were our main target. Imagine Cup is a competition sponsored by Microsoft, so the first version of the game has been made for Windows Phone using the Microsoft native SDK. We wanted to have a larger exposure for Hilomi, so decided to target the two main mobile OS’: iOS and Android.

The freemium model with monetization based on level packs was chosen on an early stage of development. Although this business model wouldn’t ensure that the game makes profit any more than a paid model does, it would make the project and our studio more visible. Creating commissioned games is Yamago’s main activity, and a high-quality, highly rated, and highly downloaded mobile game in the portfolio is a strong argument to convince clients that they can trust us to make great mobile games for them.

Sponsorship: a Solution If the Company Has Less Money than the Game Needs

Thanks to these starting points, we were able to estimate the budget required for Hilomi’s production. But since our revenue comes mostly from work-for-hire projects, investing in our own production is difficult… And the estimated budget for Hilomi was out of proportion with our financial assets at the time.

Hilomi became possible thanks to Adobe’s sponsoring. Being at a technological crossroads with AIR, Adobe chose to get involved with the game industry (Stage3D, SCOUT, Starling, etc.) after Thibault Imbert’s recommendation. They were looking for a game that would put Starling, their API hardware acceleration for 2D games, to test on mobile. Hilomi was picked because it matched the objectives, and partly thanks to Yamago’s being an active contributor to the Flash community from the studio’s very beginning. We’ve invested a lot of time in beta-testing Adobe (and formerly Macromedia) products.

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Adobe chose Hilomi to test the Starling tool on mobile

Following Adobe’s sponsoring, Yamago secured a second aid from CNC’s fund for the creation of intellectual property. This combined help allowed us to conciliate our work-for-hire projects and Hilomi. We were able to assign team members to work on Hilomi for long periods, which contributed to making the project a reality. 14 different people worked on the game (fortunately not full-time and not at the same time).

Technology as a Convenient Constraint

Before the start of production, we were not quite sure about which technology to use. And again, Adobe helped us choose. They sponsored Yamago to test their technologies on an ambitious game that fitted the game industry standards and to suggest relevant features to improve these technologies. The solutions provided showed encouraging performances from the beginning, but we had to help fix a number of bugs, push for the improvement of certain features, and cope with optimization issues (due to memory allocation).

Free-to-Play Mechanics: Better Integrate in the Beginning

Knowing that a freemium game that gathers a large audience is not necessarily profitable, we wanted to integrate free-to-play mechanics to the gameplay loop. The main example is that we wanted to authorize players to increase the number of possible moves to solve a puzzle-level.

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The retry-related fun factor in the game didn’t work as expected

Despite numerous iterations, this mechanic never felt right. It worked against the gameplay and was making it more complicated. The “fun-factor” in a puzzle game was highly related to the “retry” option, because when the player retried, he got hooked. So every distracting mechanic that gave the player the opportunity to avoid it cluttered the message and thereby jeopardized the core loop.

This experience taught us that that free-to-play mechanics need to be integrated into the game from the start. Adding them later is a long and costly process, and the results are not guaranteed.

Art and Story Makeover

Already at the Imagine Cup contest, where Hilomi was stuck to the topic of ecology, the jury did not find them particularly relevant. Later, we chose to adopt a more lighthearted tone, while preserving the theme of the natural world and its animals.

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The mobile Hilomi: a lighthearted vibe, nature and animals

The animals are both the challenge and the “cute factor” of the game. In design terms, they are collectables. We didn’t want Hilomi to just pick them up like if they were “stars” or “coins” (a staple of puzzle games), since she is not a hunter. 🙂 We wanted the collection to be more related to the game’s storyline and universe. Having Hilomi photograph them in order to collect was the ideal solution, as it also allowed us to create the photo album. The photo album adds a collection mechanics that increases the replay value of the game.

The photo album adds a collection mechanics that increases the replay value of the game.

In the Imagine Cup version of Hilomi, all the art had been created in a matter of days, leaving very little time to think of a coherent artistic direction and character design. So we rethought all art in the game in the beginning of production. There were villains in the first storyline; they were “polluting” Hilomi’s world. The world, thus, looked sad. Hilomi then had to look angry against them. But thanks to the lighthearted tone of the game, we were able to create a more cheerful character. Originally, Hilomi also had red tentacles for hair; and we discarded this design (only because it was not readable on small/mobile screens).

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Hilomi is always cheerful in the re-designed game

We kept the idea of odd mixes for the animals: a porcupine with logs for spikes, a mix of a ferret and a fennec fox, etc. As for the environment, we made square shapes a part of the artistic direction, with sharp angles and square structures often featured in the background. Hilomi has a tile-based gameplay, we wanted to create consistency with the graphic design.

We continuously receive positive feedbacks about the graphic design of Hilomi. And since we wanted to have a cute and cheerful character in a fantastic and colorful world – Mission Accomplished 😉

Hilomi is currently available on the App Store and Google Play, and we’re proud that in its first week after launch the game was featured by Apple in 128 different countries (including UK, France, Germany, Russia and China). We have passed the 200K download marks 15 days after the launch. It is also really great to see that the game is highly rated by players and critics (4/5 by 148apps and 7/10 by PocketGamer).

 

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