A director, 2 programmers, an artist and a musician – they’re all from the team of 5 students from Ajou University in Korea, who made the puzzle game of Alice in Cube that would challenge even a seasoned puzzle games player.
“The reason why I created this team was so simple: I just wanted to make games. I was seeking for friends who were passionate about games, like myself, and four months later I finally found them all”, says director and project manager Kim TaeWoo.
GameMaker, the popular tool for both beginner and experienced devs, has finally got an updated version, GameMaker Studio 2. Revealed shortly after GDC 2017, the updated engine has a new look as well as features, including layer-based level editing that makes it possible to create more complex visuals with backgrounds, tiles, instances, assets and paths. Also, now there’s level inheritance – to create multiple levels at once, as well as an advanced tiling system that automatically selects the right tile for the job. At GDC 2017 Gamesauce got a chance to see the new version of GameMaker being shown by YoYo Games’ CTO Russell Kay, and to find out more about the popular engine.
Suhail Habib is the sole game designer of 87, creating games for mobile, web, and desktop. Having worked with few resources and mostly solo, they noted that it’s a challenge to reach a level where you get success and recognition, but it’s worth it.
“My most successful game to date was a webgame I released in mid-2015, titled Drink Beer, Neglect Family. It went on to be played by several hundred thousand people, and was highly rated. When I think about what set it apart from other games I’ve created which did not go on to be successes, one thing jumps to mind above everything else: its personality,” said Suhail. “I feel that, for a game to be successful, it needs to be brimming with personality. This can manifest in either a quirky premise, striking visuals, or an interesting mechanic that is explored. This is the way small-time developers can set themselves apart from bigger studios, which are more averse to doing something that’s off the beaten path, and in turn garner some coverage as well.”
“I was inspired by a combination of elements. I was always into games and into programming, so my becoming a game developer was sort of inevitable. But here is what actually struck the spark:
Headbang Club are the creators of Double Kick Heroes. The indie game recently won two awards at Indie Games Play 7 including the Jury’s Choice Award; the event is designed to honor indie developers from France and the surrounding region. As winners, they have also been given the chance to compete again at Indie Prize which is part of Casual Connect Europe in Berlin.
“It was unexpected! Every time we win an award we are like WTF?,” said David “Blackmagic” Elahee. “There were so many good and very serious games beside ours!! Awards are an acknowledgment that we can stand our chance before the pros and the public. They gave us self confidence to dare more things. It’s a push to go further and better.”
“It feels incredible, like we have found a super weapon in a MMORPG!” added Guillaume “Gyhyom” Breton. “We can continue our daily struggle with more confidence! It means a lot because it’s both a public and professional award! That means the game can touch a really large audience!”
Missing: Game for a Cause is a game about the issue of human trafficking in India, designed by Satyajit Chakraborty of Flying Robot Studios with art and other contributions by Leena Kejriwal. Flying Robot Studios is a one man studio that scales with each project, while Leena originally conceived of Missing.
“Each and every project is led by me, AKA Flying Robot,” said Satyajit. “I choose my team members and assign tasks to them.”
“I started Missing as a public art project and campaign, thought I collaborating with various people like psychologists, sociologists, campaign creators, governments, NGOs to taking the project forward,” noted Leena.
Since releasing, Missing won the Indie Game of the Year at NASSCOM Gaming Forum Awards 2016. NASSCOM is an organization that represents and sets the tone for public policy for the Indian software industry. “NASSCOM Indie Game of The Year Award is the most coveted award for indie game developers in India,” said Satyajit. “This award is specifically meant to recognize, promote and accelerate indie studios in India. And for my small indie studio, Flying Robot Studios, it gave the much needed enthusiasm and exposure which is vital for our future as game developers.”
“This award was highly significant,” noted Leena. “It was truly a great surprise because initially when I thought of a game app for a cause, my intention was to create a game playable enough to go through schools and NGOs for raising awareness on the issue of sexual trafficking. Though me and Satyajit did have sleepless nights on how we could make the gameplay interesting enough for the players, but he did manage to put together a gameplay which was interesting enough. But to receive the Indie Game of the Year award, was truly momentous, and it helps me take the awareness of the issue to a wider gaming audience in India and abroad.”
As a further honor, Missing will be shown off at Indie Prize as part of Casual Connect Europe 2017 in Berlin, which will open the game up to a variety of people who may otherwise not know about it. “Me and my studio is fairly a new kid on the block,” said Satyajit. “The game Missing which I designed reflects my orientation as a game designer and I’m keen on a qualitative analysis of the design style, to find it’s merits and flaws. So, the best way to find out is to show it to a wider audience. And Indie Prize Berlin 2017 is the perfect opportunity to get all the eminent game designers, developers and players (especially European) in one place. I’m looking forward to using this platform to interact with them about the game and my future projects. This is the best thing that can happen for a budding game designer. Thank you Indie Prize for this opportunity!”
“It gives me access to the European audience to talk about the issue of sexual trafficking through the game because as we know trafficking is not just in India, it’s a global issue, and all should address it,” said Leena. “It also give me the possibility of making a localized European version of the game.”
Bringing Dark Parts of Society to Light
Missing was originally conceived as a way to draw more attention to the ongoing problem of human trafficking. It was Leena’s idea originally, with Satyajit being brought on later to develop the game and the YES Foundation assisting in the production.
“The Missing game is a part of the larger awareness campaign and Missing Public Art Project, which I’d launched a year back,” said Leena. “The art work has been a culmination of my decade long work as an artist on the issue of sexual trafficking. A year back I specifically created public art works as I wanted to move out of the galleries, and speak to a wider audience. As a photographer in my explorations of the city I explored areas and spaces, which you normally don’t go to, and my first visit to a red light lane left a lasting impact. I saw that which remained unseen. The whole comprehensive work can be seen at SaveMissingGirls.com and the game is part of a whole four-part project, and a ground level stencil campaign featuring the silhouette.”
“The YES Foundation has generously come forward and supported the initial production of the game,” Leena added. “This gives us more room space to convert the game into a PC version and to take it to the next step.”
While Missing is a game with an obvious message, Satyajit said it was key to accomplish this without preaching. “The game poses a challenge to the player, which the player has to overcome throughout the game to win it,” said Satyajit. “The plot, challenges and the narrative was based off journalistic research. That way the game provides a fair amount of tangential learning about the cause of women trafficking not only in Kolkata, but throughout India.
“The game opens a portal to a previously unexplored dark part of our society. It exposes players to an experience which he/she never experienced before. Questions his/her morality and social outlook. Also, I’ve tried to reflect the brutality of this world into this game. The game is not ‘fun and addictive’. It was never meant to be. Players can hate it or love it, but will never be unmoved by it. And that was the purpose of the game, to shock the player to empathize with the issue. That’s what I want the players to take away.”
“The main purpose of creating a game for a change like Missing was to make the player slip into the shoes of the trafficked victim,” noted Leena. “Feel her frustration and angst and vulnerability, and her absolutely hopelessness in the situation which she is, so that they would become sensitive to the issue of girls whom they see ‘selling’ sex. Because the layman never really understands her background and most often think she is standing there voluntarily. With this we hope to end demand, this is in sync with the cry of end demand throughout our campaign, because trafficking is a demand-driven market.”
Being truthful to the cause and the reality is the key. As truth is stranger than fiction, it’s also stronger than fiction and proper use of it in games will imprint itself into the player’s mind that can last forever. – Satyajit Chakraborty
“Video games are the perfect (way) to engage the audience in the deepest way possible and adventure games with strong narratives based on journalistic researches can strike a chord with the audience,” noted Satyajit. “What’s told in Missing is a human tale, with believable characters. Not taking refuge to fantasy, which can be easier for a game designer. Also game designers are particularly worried about players rage quitting if the game is not fun enough – I’d suggest them to shed this fear. Being truthful to the cause and the reality is the key. As truth is stranger than fiction, it’s also stronger than fiction and proper use of it in games will imprint itself into the player’s mind that can last forever.”
About More than Mechanics
Missing was tested on many types of players. This included hardcore gamers and those who don’t play many games at all. Satyajit said that the reactions to the game were quite varied.
“I’ve designed Missing targeted at a casual audience, not expert players. What I found is experienced players play games with a specific perception of the reality which can actually be a hindrance in experiencing the game,” noted Satyajit. “I’ll give you a specific example, in the chapter 1 of the game Missing, the player character is captive and the first choice the player has to make is to accept/reject food from her captors. Experienced players immediately accept the food, taking it as some kind of health point or loot. Whereas inexperienced casual players relates this to a real life choice and will mostly reject the offer. This gave me a unique insight to the audience mentality, especially in India and a way to connect with them.”
“As this game is narrative based, it can only be tested after it hits beta. To test out the complete story arc. I really can’t test early alphas or little mechanics with this type of games. Those testing we (did) internally. External testing was done by simply inviting players for game sessions and watching them play behind their shoulder, taking notes,” noted Satyajit. “Playtesting is very critical to all my projects. I depend upon it a lot to make design changes, especially where there are gameplay elements. A game’s success depends on it in a big way.”
Satyajit noted that some games require almost daily testing, others are done weekly. Satyajit prefers to use new players every time, using online forums to recruit them. “I usually open up a beta testing group in Google groups or Facebook groups depending upon the particular player migration,” said Satyajit. “I track the user feedback through analytics platform like Google Analytics and more descriptive feedback through Google forms that the user can fill after playing the game. I generally have more than one beta groups for testing a game.”
Collective Effort for a Cause
Flying Robot Studios is a virtual studio, located in Satyajit’s home office. Extra people are brought on for jobs based on qualifications, not whether they are physically close to Satyajit.
“Flying Robot Studios is a one man army apart from the support staff. I expand upon project requirements and almost always recruit project based staff based on their talents, not locations,” said Satyajit. “I take care on choosing the right people, specifically those who will not compromise with their work quality to attend a deadline or closing a freelance gig. Who will rather miss a deadline and quarrel with the client than delivering a mediocre product. Game development is not a factory job, sometimes the creative magic doesn’t happens in a team member. I completely understand that and support them until they are satisfied with their work. So far, this work culture has worked for me.”
“Every game project is designed by me and I always choose a flexible and modular development framework and keep it flexible almost to the end of the project,” Satyajit continued. “After the initial design is done, I prototype it using assets made by me or from stock assets. Then the game gets into playtesting and design iterations until I arrive at a point where the design is working and the polishing can begin. At this stage I get to recruit asset artists and animators depending upon workload and deadline. Also, I recruit writers to polish the narrative and later music composers for the soundtrack and sound effects. Entire coding and bug fixing is done by me alone.”
For Missing, Leena delivered the original concept for the game. From there, it was all about working with Flying Robot Studios in delivering the product. “The main aim in the whole process is to put out the silhouette in front of various audiences, be it gamers, the city public, the international community, the online community, and all this is covered by the stencil project, the game and the installation,” detailed Leena. “The image is like a constant reminder, and a remembrance of the millions of girls who disappear from the face of the earth into the dark hole of sexual trafficking.”
Promotion for the Missing game was a collaboration between like-minded people. Leena says that those who demand the end of human trafficking have been important in helping to make Missing happen.
“Since the project started many people from across the world have come in to be a part of the campaign either via social media, or the crowdfunding, the global stencil project – in a similar fashion, when we first began discussing the app, there was much brainstorming about what the app could do before we zeroed in on a game for a cause,” said Leena. “And this led to the collaboration and Satyajit, as he is a game designer. The Missing team worked with him to expose him on the dark issues of trafficking. I took him to meet survivors in rural Bengal that the Missing project has helped save and rehabilitate, we took him into red light districts of the city to experience the atmosphere and mood of these spaces. An in depth discussion with a survivor also led him to understand the intimate details of the business interaction between client and victim. I also gave him the script of a film tackling the issue, which really helped him the scripting of the game itself.”
“Though Missing is based in Kolkata our campaign has been truly global and hence mainly virtual,” Leena added. “We give equal attention to our online campaign on anti-trafficking as much to the grass roots level work. Most of our interactions to further project happens online via the DIY kit, the game, the social media campaign truly makes it virtual.”
The Missing team is seeking crowd funding through Indiegogo for the extended and PC version of the game. They aim to convert it to 13 vernacular Indian languages and localize the game for around six international languages. “We would like the gamers support to help us do that and help save more girls and futures in India,” explained Leena.
Silhouette As a Sublime Distillation
Flying Robot Studios has used a variety of monetization schemes for it’s various games, with PC games being premium and mobile games being free with ads and/or in-app purchases. Missing, however, has been different because of the way it was made and its intended audience.
“Missing Game for a Cause has been crowd funded, and we have kept the game free so that it reaches the widest possible audiences,” said Leena. “It’s available on Apple App Store and Google Play. We are looking at further crowd funding to translate the game into 13 vernacular Indian languages, and probable future localizations of the game, starting with a game for the European market.”
Satyajit indicates that Shadowrun and This War of Mine helped inspire early concepts for the design of Missing. Various photo shoots of Kolkata helped inform the final design along with providing some in-game textures.
“The silhouette is a sublime distillation of all my thoughts, it’s the product of intense havoc going through my mind over the last decade, where I was creating these multi-layered complicated graphic installations on sexual exploitation which I became really embroiled, and led me to discard it all and pursue it in a much more simple language which would transverse boundaries and languages,” noted Leena. “I felt this was an issue which is a truly global issue which humanity should embrace and from that emerged the silhouette of the girl, which once set against the sky seems like a black hole has been cut into it, into which millions of girls continue to disappear from the face of the Earth.”
Only the Bravest Indies Will Survive
Missing and other games by Flying Robot Studios have been made with Unity3D. While there’s an active ecosystem and various solutions are available to find online, difficulties still come up.
“Sometimes development crunch happens and projects get’s stuck,” noted Satyajit. “In this particular game, that situation appeared when I had to do a crowd in the game, with all agents tappable and interactive. It was processor intensive and was running very slowly in older mobile devices. The solution came from properly using Unity’s Navmesh and occlusion culling, thus minimizing the pathfinding calculations.”
Satyajit indicates they are focusing most on adventure RPGs, including Missing. Satyajit says that they enjoy telling stories, and they want to continue working on this craft, working on many future unique experiences.
“I’d like to create an adventure RPG about a penniless wandering musician roaming throughout India,” said Satyajit. “In this game, players will be exploring various parts of India, experiencing unique cultures, people, their struggles, music, stories, their ways of looking at life, economies, livelihood, love and violence. And rather than using guns as the player’s tool to make a difference in this world, maybe he will use music. I believe it’s a much more stronger and versatile tool. India has very unique stories of life and it’s struggle which are worth experiencing through games.”
“Ultimately, I want to create games that are unique experiences, woven with strong narratives which explore a wider gamut of player emotions,” added Satyajit.
When asked for insights for other indies, Satyajit had some poignant statements, particularly for other smaller developers in India. “I believe the word ‘indie’ is losing all it’s meaning nowadays. Especially in India, indie devs are ending up doing trivial titles which are spinoffs. Doing market research and making games around the audience trend, especially search engine trends, have made ‘indies’ slaves of the audience,” asserted Satyajit. “Losing the meaning of the word ‘indie’ altogether. Down the line, I’m sure many of them will wonder why they have got into video games at all. I know right now they are thinking of making money first, be sustainable and then roll out original works. To me, that’s a vicious cycle an ‘indie’ should NEVER get into or at least strive to break free as quick as possible. In this oversaturated market that can be hard as hell. But, they didn’t expect a smooth ride when they got into indie dev. This is an extreme off-road rally. I believe only the bravest will survive here.”
Konstanty Kalicki is the producer and co-founder for Thing Trunk studio. The studio’s Return 2 Games: Book of Demons (part of the R2G Series) won the Best Game Art award at Indie Prize in Tel Aviv and Best Game at FreeGalaktus. The FreeGalaktus contest is run by the Galaktus PR Agency, giving indie developers a chance to win PR coverage and earn slots in indie gamedev events around the world, with sponsors provide additional prizes such as Unity Pro plan for a year or access to the Brand24 social media monitoring tool. As winner of Best Game from FreeGalaktus, Thing Trunk has won a spot at Indie Prize during Casual Connect Europe.
“For Tel Aviv edition we got accepted with the help of the Fundacja Indie Games Polska foundation. Those awesome people work really hard towards promoting and helping Polish indie devs. We really had no expectations, the competition was fierce,” said Konstanty. “We just wanted to show our game. That’s why we were surprised and delighted when we won Best Game Art. We certainly feel more confident about the game now. We can take part in Indie Prize Awards Berlin thanks to Galaktus, a PR agency that organized contest for best indie games. Book of Demons won and as a result we got nominated for this edition of Indie Prize. Really excited to see how we will fare this time.”
The Deep End Games made a splash on the gaming scene in mid-2015 when they announced Perception, their first-person narrative horror adventure game that puts players in the shoes of a blind woman who uses her hearing and wits to solve mysteries and escape a deadly presence inside an abandoned mansion. The game and studio has been featured in publications such as IGN, Kotaku and PC Gamer.
Here is a quick look at how the studio and game came to be – and some key takeaways other developers might be able to benefit from.
The Deep End Games is the husband-wife team of Bill and Amanda Gardner – who run the studio out of their home. Bill has a history in game development – working at Irrational Games in many positions and on multiple projects – while Amanda has extensive history in writing and English.
“It is basically a huge opportunity to spread the word,” said Jan. “Since I am the only one developer of this game, it is very hard to contact a wider audience and get in touch with the press.”
Mashinky is based on players creating their own transportation empire based around trains over multiple time periods. Jan has always loved railway transportation and the way steam engines worked, even owning a model railroad as a child. Besides that, Jan says the primary inspiration for the game was very simple.
Séverin Larose of SoulGame Studio has created multiple titles, including Rogue Soul II. SoulGame recently received the bronze medal at Ludum Dare gamejam, which Séverin was extremely proud of since it was the studio’s first time participating in the event.
“The concept we came up with was new to me, I had never worked on a pure puzzle game before so it was nice to check that we could do puzzles as well,” said Séverin. “It also meant that the experience I had accumulated working with Flash was allowing me to ‘impress’ people with high quality polish in just 72 hours of work, since many comments were actually skeptical about the possibility of achieving such a result in such a short time frame… that was really satisfying and motivating.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Séverin, having to work as a part-time music teacher during the creation of SoulGame’s first release: The Soul Driver. There were other games before that, but Séverin was willing to scrap partially complete projects in order to put something out at the level of quality they wanted.
“I think most of us aim at perfection when we create things even if we never reach it, but I think some devs are just more reasonable than I am when it comes to budget and deadline. I did spend a lot of time, hard work and money just to make our games better, when they could have been released. Sometimes I spend a whole day on an invisible detail… I basically only stop when I’m so out of cash that I can’t continue!” detailed Séverin. “It’s just that I really value players’ enthusiasm, a lot. It’s extremely rewarding for me, even more than money. It’s really quite logical after all, we just want to make games that people love, and yeah sure, if I get rich in the process, awesome! But that will be a consequence, not a goal.”
Séverin has also participated in Indie Prize, after talking to Khail Santia from Moocho Brain who talked about how great the experience was for them. “Indie Prize to me was an unique occasion to meet in person a lot of people from the industry. It was kinda epic, to be honest!” said Séverin. “I got so used to working on a remote basis, dealing with email and invisible people, so meeting them after all those years was a kind of ‘real world’ confirmation that everything we lived was actually true. I especially loved meeting and share experiences with my fellow game developers from literally all around the world, some I’m still in touch with.”
A game has to launch when it is already fun to play, it's already enjoyable. - Tomer BarkanClick To Tweet
Tomer Barkan is the CEO of Suncrash Studios, but didn’t take a straight path to work in the gaming industry; instead working in a more traditional computer career before deciding to found an indie studio. At Casual Connect Tel Aviv 2016 he shared his experience of dealing with Steam Early Access and pointed out the main thing that would make this approach successful: people want to buy a game, something to play, and not just support an idea.
“If you launch too early, you will get very negative reviews and that will stay with you forever.” One strategy Tomer suggested is to always look at similar games and observe what worked or didn’t work for them. “A game has to launch when it is already fun to play, it’s already enjoyable. People are buying to play the game and to enjoy it, not to support some idea that maybe one day the game will be fun. This is not crowdfunding and they will judge you according to how fun the game is on release day so make sure it is already fun.” To learn more, tune in to the full session below.