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HEADLINER: What if YOU controlled the news?

November 17, 2017 — by Orchid

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If something’s bothering people’s mind, it’s just a matter of time till there’s a game about it. Fake news have been trending for a while, and resulted, among other things, in HEADLINER: a short adventure game about media bias and how it affects the society, families and careers. The Seattle-based developer Unbound Creations has worked with teams up to 6 people on their previous titles, but HEADLINER has mostly been just Jakub Kasztalski.


However, as prototyping went on and Jakub observed what was happening around the world, the design shifted towards the narrative and media bias. “Here’s an article I wrote that goes into more details of how I mined Facebook and Google data to stay relevant to today’s issues”, he shares.

Jakub observed what was happening around the world, the design shifted towards the narrative and media bias.

Try Before You Decide

“I started with free/public domain 3rd party assets and simple scenes built in Blender to nail down the look/feel/setting”, the developer recalls. “I went through 2-3 iterations before arriving at the final look. Overall, that wasted a lot of time, but not being an artist myself, it helped me figure out what “felt right” and what I wanted to really communicate. I’m very “try before you decide” when it comes to visuals”.

“I settled on Vector Art as I realized it’s the one style I could actually do myself. I researched a lot of references, the biggest being the awesome Lyft commercial.”

“I researched a lot of references, the biggest being the awesome Lyft commercial.”

The street scene remained a 3rd party pixel artwork, but Jakub had upscaled it and did a lot of post-processing. He also used the baseline sprites to create new variations, such as police or rioters.

The art Jakub decided on as something he could do.

Music was also public domain/creative commons, but again the developer spent a lot of time researching: “I’d just play different tracks in the background while coding and testing, until I found ones that felt right”.

Someone Might Get Offended

When asked how not to offend anyone with a game on a touchy subject, Jakub confesses: “Honestly, I just follow my gut feeling. I’ll admit I used to be really socially awkward when I was younger (as many geeks are), but through great friends and few years of freelancing I learned where the social boundaries lie. I just apply the same skills to my work instinctively I suppose”.

“I also listen to the feedback I get. For example, many testers asked me why your spouse was always of opposite gender – why you couldn’t have same-sex marriages in the game? And I realized there really isn’t a good reason not to, so I added that”.

“Why can’t you have same-sex marriages in the game? And I realized there really isn’t a good reason not to, so I added that”.

“There are some ideas I am trying to communicate in the game so it is inevitable that someone might get offended. And honestly if they do – well, that’s just what I stand for I guess. You can’t please everyone”.

Learn From Others'(and His Own) Mistakes

Learning from others’ experiences is what Jakub fully uses in his dev practice. Being inspired by titles like Papers, Please and Westport Independent, he read through Steam and press reviews. “I really tried to find what worked and what didn’t, building on the formula instead of simply copying”, he explains. “For example, in Papers, at the end of the day you might get a white text on black screen telling you your wife died. Well, that’s not very engaging. That’s why I wanted the whole street and home section – show, don’t tell. Make the player care about the world he’s building (or destroying).

“Show, don’t tell. Make the player care about the world he’s building (or destroying)”.

“There are many pitfalls I’ve learned and still need to learn. Brevity is very important I realized, as most gamers don’t want to be reading a book while playing (purely text-games and interactive fiction aside). Secondly, players want to really feel the impact of their actions, even if it may feel like over-explaining at times (I tend to be overly subtle). Lastly, fleshing out the world may seem wasteful, but it can do a lot for immersion – all my games have been praised for creating a believable sense of space (even if you only see a fraction of all the research and backstory I wrote)”. Jakub hints there’s a ton more lessons he could come up with, “but that’s probably a whole different topic in an of itself”

Looking back, Jakub says he’s pretty happy with how things went. “All the significant improvements I would have liked to add at this point would have taken several months and considerable investment. However, for various reasons, I did not want to go down that route, instead preferring to spread the additional effort and lessons learned over future episodes and new games”. If he still had to pick one area to improve, it would be artwork: “it was a big learning experience for me and I think it shows”.

Meanwhile, a fresh wave of fake news is coming up. “I’ve got a few ideas brewing in my head right now, but two of the major changes would be a bit randomized newspaper system for more engaging replays, and more personal interactions with various characters you meet”, Jakub shares. You can also join the world domination through news planning through the game’s official Discord, and keep track of updates on Twitter

AudioExclusive Interviews

Arkadiusz Reikowski: Building a Soundtrack Through Experimentation

November 7, 2017 — by Rachel Rayner

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Arkadiusz Reikowski is the soundtrack composer of the recently released cyberpunk video game Observer. Originally a performer for several Polish bands, Arkadiusz is a self-taught musician; however, over the past eight years, he has composed the soundtracks for nearly thirty games, including Kholat, Layers of Fear, and Husk.

He said the process for creating a videogame soundtrack changes depending on the project. For Observer, Arkadiusz was brought on board early in the game development process. “There wasn’t really any gameplay yet, just a storyline and some art,” he said. “We obviously had a lot of talks about how and what we wanted to achieve through sound and music. It was a comfortable situation.”

“I always start with colors and overall tone of the game,” He said. “These are the elements that are most important when I decide in what scale the soundtrack should be and what instruments I’m going to use. With Observer it was really interesting because in the end, the music turned out to be a lot darker than at the very beginning. I thought I would use much more melody and lighter themes but they didn’t quite fit the tone of the game. So we stayed with these dirty, heavy, dark themes.”

The grungy themes fit with the aesthetic of Observer, which takes place in a future version of Krakow beset with violence, war, and poverty. The half-human half-machine Detective Daniel Lazarski hacks into the minds of people both alive and dead to uncover clues in his investigation. The dark and surreal scenes in people’s minds firmly set the game in the horror genre.

Arkadiusz said that he tries to create shapes in his music, and in this particular soundtrack he focused on shapes that can barely be seen, something caught by the corner of your eye, but you can’t be sure of what it is. This is particularly fitting for a horror game. “The emotions told through music are like shapes coming into existence. But also like colors that you can feel and almost be touched by them,” he said. “Weird, I know.”

The Inspiration

The game is reminiscent of Blade Runner, and Rutger Hauer who even does the voice of Daniel Lazarski. Arkadiusz said his favorite part of the project was meeting Rutger. “We listened to the music from Observer together. So when he told me that it is really good I knew that we were in the right direction. Also, I just love cyberpunk. So doing a score like this was a real blast and a pleasure,” he said.

Arkadiusz watches Blade Runner at least once a year, but Ghost in the Shell and Akira also inspired his compositions. “I’m deeply in love with Ghost in the Shell and the Akira soundtrack and I wanted to create similar emotions while scoring Observer,” he said. “The game itself is heavily inspired by Ghost in the Shell, but you know…who doesn’t want to be inspired by such a masterpiece.”

Improvised Compositions

With the exception of the singing, all the music in Observer is electronic. This was a departure from his previous work that often featured piano and voice arranged in simpler textures than the ones found in Observer. Arkadiusz said that it was challenging switching to mostly electronic music, but he really wanted to do it.

“Just before I started to work on Observer I bought a Moog Sub 37, and it was my first hardware synth ever,” he said. “I was really happy to put it to work. The love for synths still lasts and is stronger than ever. I like losing track of time and just improvising on my Moog and Dave Smith’s Prophet 6.”

He said the approach to composing for electronic instruments was not very different from composing pieces for real instruments. “I think they all serve a similar purpose – to create emotions and underline what is happening on the screen. But when you write for real instruments you need to be more focused. When it comes to real instruments, I often use a piano. I record pieces on piano and then do mock up and then orchestrate them (although I rarely orchestrate my tracks myself),” he said.

The major difference was how much he improvised while writing electronic music. “Playing on a synth is sometimes like child’s play. Lots of experiments and generally having fun with creating the sound from scratch. When you write a melody for a cello or a piano, you know exactly what kind of melody you’d like to achieve. Experimenting on a synth is interesting because often one sound can create others, which are different but at the same time they fit your vision of the music. Or they don’t and you have to turn the knobs a little more.”

Screenshot from Observer

Even the pieces in the Observer soundtrack that appear to have required complex planning were the result of improvising. One of the first tracks features a choir reminiscent of early church music. A set of voices introduces a short theme that is soon taken up by other voices and weaves together in complex patterns. Arkadiusz said that it was all improvisation though.

“The recording session with the band was such a creative and unique experience that I will remember for a long time,” he said. “We sat in the studio and listened to track and thought about what we could do with vocals there. I was prepared before the session, but it turned out that we created something much more interesting by just going with the flow. Those tracks refer mainly to Adam and his mind and they appear only during the ‘dream-eater’ sequences.”

In it, the choir sings in what almost sounds like a real language. “The language was made specifically for this occasion,” he said. “We thought that it would be really interesting, especially for Western audiences. The themes are based on Slavic mythology and chants. They created this unique, dream-like but also dark and ritualistic atmosphere. The only guidance was my background track with drones and such. Then we just sat in the studio and started to improvise. At one time I hade to play an additional rhythm, but in general the voices came into existence really naturally and without notes.”

In parts of the soundtrack, Arkadiusz created a background layer of what sound like real instruments, such as strings, and slides the pitches and distorts the sound to match it with another layer of electronic sounds. It creates a trippy, unbalanced feeling, and it is easy to imagine it being used during a mind-hack sequence.

“It was the result of playing around in post-production,” he said. “There are times when you record something and even put something else in by accident. Just before removing the part of it you realize – hey! That sounded nice, let’s just leave this as it is. I like those kinds of nice surprises.”

Improvising on electronics allowed Arkadiusz to compose complex pieces containing layers of juxtaposing textures, rhythms, and sounds, but he had already set the groundwork for it in some of his previous work. “As far as I remember I created something like this in Kholat,” he said.

Every project brings new skills and experiences that he can use on his next project, even if he doesn’t realize it. “You know, it’s just like in Skyrim,” he said. “You keep using this hammer and suddenly pop! And your skill is better.”

For more of Arkadiusz’s work, visit his website at www.arkadiuszreikowski.com.

 

 

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Jeremy Goh: Making Voice-Overs Work in Perfect Harmony | Casual Connect Video

October 28, 2017 — by David Radd

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Music and sound effects are commonplace in a mobile game, but often the use of voice work is overlooked. Usual reasons include a lack of budget or experience working with voice talents. See the session video below if you want to learn about how the use of voice can bring your characters and stories to life, and if you’re taking the first steps into casting, creating a script and working with voice talents. At Casual Connect Asia, Jeremy Goh, Co-Founder of IMBA Interactive, discussed voice work, noting that “good voice work can give your game relatability and personality, as well as a source of rich feedback for your players.”

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Paweł Jędrysiak: Joining the Indie Masquerade

October 27, 2017 — by David Radd

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Paweł Jędrysiak is the Co-founder/Game Designer at Digital Melody. The indie developer created Masky, which was honored with the IGJAM 2016 mobile game category award.

“Participation in game jams let’s you test your skills under pressure of time. It’s also a lot of fun,” said Paweł. “Winning IGJAM 2016 in mobile game category was a truly great award! People appreciate our work while we had tons of fun – for what more could you ask for?”

“Game Jam is an extreme test of our skills as game developers,” Paweł continued. “Working as a team can be compared to a factory. To keep it productive every one needs to focus on their job that’s why we need to understand each other clearly. This kind of experience improves our everyday work. Especially process management and we improve our work as a team.”

The Expanding Polish Development Scene

Digital Melody is supported by Indie Games Polska, a game developer organization in Poland. The organization works to help developers, particularly indies, with support as needed.

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Artem Savotin: Find a New Homeland in Sayri Adventure

October 26, 2017 — by David Radd

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Artem Savotin, a Ukrainian developer, is the owner of Vidloonnya Reborn. He says that he got into the IT business more than 12 years ago.

“Games and game business always were a hot theme for me. I’ve created my own game projects at school and in the university along with my artist friend. I was a developer,” said Artem. “After graduating from the university I was working on enterprise development and outsourcing, where I went from a developer to a leader of a German IT company in Ukraine.”

Artem Savotin is the owner of Vidloonnya Reborn

Artem says that #DevGAMM 2016 in Moscow where he really started to understand game development. “I’ve decided there that I want to work on premium games, not F2P, since the creation of a fully functional commercial product was closer and clearer to me,” he detailed. “After the Moscow #DevGAMM in May 2016, we’ve started to experiment, and the first idea was based on evolution theme. The first prototype wasn’t very successful, alas. We’ve experimented with the control methods, and that appeared to be a typical beginner’s mistake, though the idea appeared to be very interesting from first sight.”

Early on the development team was Artem and Vasyl. At the time, Vasyl was still working with Unity, but he was experimenting with Unreal Engine during evenings and weekends and pushed that it was much better.

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Lost in the Sky: The Power of Story

October 21, 2017 — by Rachel Rayner

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At Ludum Dare 39, Game Factory named the game Lost in the Sky winner of its Discovery Contest. Winning this prize also earned them a chance to compete at Indie Prize Kyiv from October 24-26, 2018.

Game Factory is affiliated with nearly every international gaming event, such as Global Game Jam or Ludum Dare, a game jam in which developers spend the weekend creating a game based on a theme. At each of these events, Game Factory holds Discovery Contests.

George Maidansky, one of the leaders of the Lost in the Sky Team, thanked their friends at Game Factory for the opportunity and said, “We think we will find new friends, first players and truly useful feedback on Indie Prize.”

AudioExclusive Interviews

Chase Bethea: Bits and Bytes of Music

October 1, 2017 — by David Radd

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Chase Bethea is a composer who has been writing music for games since 2011. The first game he ended up working on Electron Flux, a top down mobile puzzle game where players create pathways to direct energy particles.

“When I made music in the years before, I was always told ‘it sounds like it should be in a video game’,” said Chase. “I figured out how to pitch for video game projects and I realized that my sound fits that medium very well. Since I was a child, I have always been a passionate gamer. So, it made sense that I follow the path of game audio.”

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Pajama Llama Games: Finding Treasure in Flotsam

September 28, 2017 — by David Radd

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Stan Loiseaux of Pajama Llama Games is one of the creator of the game Flotsam. The indie game recently won the Grand Prix at White Nights Prague. The White Nights Conference is an international cross-platform business conference for game industry professionals, featuring plenty of networking parties and attended by thousands. As winner, Pajama Llama Games has the opportunity to compete at Indie Prize London at Casual Connect Europe.

“It was amazing and totally unexpected!” said Stan. “We’re still early in development so didn’t even think of winning any prizes anywhere yet. It certainly gives us a lot of encouragement to continue developing, knowing that people like it.”

While it’s a huge moment winning the Grand Prix and receiving a place at Indie Prize, Stan is still very reluctant to give out advice. He says this is his first game and he’s not sure he knows the real keys to success yet.

“If I had to give any advice it would be to start showing your game as soon as possible to other people,” said Stan. “Either to other developers or at conferences like White Nights. We have a small gamedev community in Belgium and we help each other all the time.”

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Distortions: A Journey of Self-Discovery Through Music

September 14, 2017 — by Catherine Quinton

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Distortions, the creation of the game studio Among Giants, is an unusual game that combines music with a journey of self-discovery in the making. CEO Thiago Girello describes the experience as “a piece of our lives during the past eight years.” Among Giants is the winner of the Best Brazilian Game at BIG Festival 2017, an Indie Prize Partner event, with their game Distortions. They competed at Indie Prize and Casual Connect USA in Seattle.

A Process of Experimentation

Distortions began with a group of close friends learning to express themselves through the media of games. They shared a love for games and experimentation but each of them brought a different background, including movies, literature, design, and photography. Their variety of backgrounds had the advantage of allowing new and fresh insights into their game project. As a result, the making of Distortions was a process of experimentation and talking about subjects rarely seen in games. And throughout the eight years they never gave up on the project because making the game was always a fun time with friends, although Thiago does admit that they often say he gets too excited and should choose less ambitious projects.

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Kevin Beimers: Mona Lisa Stealing a Smile

September 13, 2017 — by David Radd

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Kevin Beimers fulfills a lot of roles for Italic Pig: writer, editor, producer, director, animator, artist, designer, developer, coder, and storyteller. He has helped create Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark with Italic Pig. He noted that what he learned from this was: “the weirder the idea, the less likely it is to be stolen”, which led to the development of Mona Lisa, a game where the titular character is a Renaissance robot art thief.

“I’ve always found Da Vinci fascinating – I think everybody does at least a little bit. I mean, here’s a guy so far ahead of his time, with buckets of ideas, talented in every facet of art and science from inventing to sculpting to painting to engineering to botany to anatomy… and that’s just from the codices that he let everybody have a peek at,” said Kevin. “The thing is, for every time he dropped a bomb on human invention – ‘Here you go, folks: I call it a helicopter. That’ll blow your mind.’ – how many of his ideas never saw another human face? I would imagine that for every codex he felt comfortable putting on display, there’s another 10 back in his basement he never told anybody about, and more than a few that he probably had to set fire to.”

“Then you’ve got the mystery of Mona Lisa: Who was she? Oh sure, historians think they’ve got her pinned down as either the wife of a Florentine cloth merchant, his secret same-sex lover, or Da Vinci himself. In other words, nobody’s got a clue,” he continued. “I asked the question: what could be the culmination of Leo’s work? All of his sketches of engineering works, all of his sketches of the human body, what if Mona Lisa the Painting was not his greatest creation, but Mona Lisa the Girl?

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