The game that won Best of the Show Award at Codemotion 2017 in Milan was The Way of Life Definitive Edition from CyberCoconut. This is the first game from CyberCoconut, with release expected during the first quarter of 2018. They will also compete at the upcoming Indie Prize competition at Casual Connect Europe in London.
Founding a Company with a Shared Vision
CyberCoconut was founded by Davide Caio and Nicolò Azzolini, who met at the 2014 Global Game Jam in Milan. Although they didn’t know each other at all, they quickly discovered they worked very well together. After the game jam they began working together on small projects. Then they released on Steam the prototype of The Way of Life, which they had made during Game Jam. In the first two weeks it had 100,000 downloads, and the community was very enthusiastic, asking for more. Suddenly they were motivated to start their own company and continue working on the game.
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.
“I had some brainstorming help from one of my friends in the early stages, and also hired an editor for the texts. In the last two months I also worked with Hashbang Games on marketing”, the developer comments. Friends have also been involved in the initial conception about a year ago: “The idea was actually given to me by a friend and over some beers we fleshed it out a bit more”, Jakub recall. :The direction of the game was a bit different initially, focusing on racing the clock to approve the articles in time and then getting home before a curfew started while avoiding paroling guards”.
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.
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.”
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.
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”.
“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.
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.”
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.
They call themselves The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, and they’re four guys based out of Seattle. “I started the company years ago, during the development of my previous game, The Bridge, says the company’s founder Ty Taylor. “I met the artist of The Bridge, Mario Castaneda, in university, and we’ve been working together since (he made the art for Tumblestone as well). For Tumblestone, I brought on two engineers, Alex and Justin, who I met while working at Microsoft”. Working on the current projects, the team doesn’t abandon their previous creations: The Bridge is getting released for Nintendo Switch, while Tumblestone is becoming a competitive game.
“There’s a long story of just talking about industry things in a very casual manner with no real common action points. But then it just happened: both Defold and Corona were into doing an online game jam”, says King’s Evangelist Oleg Pridiuk. This competition started at the same time as Ludum Dare, but is still ongoing till October 1st (and yes you can apply!) – and is of those rare cases when middleware companies targeting the same audience decide to join efforts for good. The programming language of Lua happened to be the unifying force for the two engines. “It’s all about exposure. We loved the idea of this gamejam because Lua is a great language that needs more exposure, and for Corona Labs, not enough people understand how awesome our instant-update simulator and live builds are for quick development iteration,” explains Julie Shmyrova, the Marketing Director for Appodeal (that acquired Corona earlier this year). The two engines representatives share some insights on how to make the most out of their respective software in the time- and resources-restricted reality of a gamejam.
Oskar Burman is CEO of Fast Travel Games, a company they founded with some friends from EA DICE during the summer of 2016. As CEO of a small company, their role includes everything from janitor to project manager and business developer. Fast Travel Games is a VR games studio, and after twenty years in the game industry, Oskar found the opportunity to do VR, something they felt compelled to try. “It’s been a childhood dream,” they say, “and the future is finally upon us!”
During Oskar’s years in the game industry, they have been Development Director at Avalanche Studios (the creators of Just Cause), COO at EA Easy, a part of EA DICE, and General Manager of Rovio (creators of Angry Birds 2). All of these positions built the experience that led to the position Oskar fills today.
These days the most enjoyable aspect of Oskar’s work is “finding the magic in VR.” At this stage all the rules are being established; this is a new medium they are exploring, trying to understand which genres will work and how the UX/UI should be structured.
Fun Times Making Games
Oskar has been fascinated by gaming from childhood and by age twelve was already making games. These early games were in Basic and were small games for family and friends. The experience was incredibly enjoyable, particularly the ability to control the computer.
A hero named Black, an ice-cold mercenary and hired gun, wakes up to discover he has lost memory. Under the guidance of his anonymous captor, ‘Red’, Black embarks on a form of treatment, facilitated by a unique technology – a headset that allows the user to relive their memories and experience them again in the present. This is how the creators describe the Get Even game, that will be out on June 23rd. As the sound in the game is tied to gameplay, and makes a great part of it, in charge of the soundtrack was Olivier Deriviere, known for music for Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry, and Remember Me. The Farm51 team of Get Even’s devs went even further to create an immersive experience, and used the Auro-3D plugin of the Audiokinetic WWise engine. This audio format delivers a full three-dimensional sound spread capable of reproducing natural acoustic space. Their director of Creative Entertainment Division of game Iwan De Kuijper explained more on the technology, while the producer for Get Even Lionel Lovisa shared more details on the game’s production, and Olivier Deriviere told more about his vision of Get Even soundtrack.
Indigo Entertainment was founded in 2007 with the dream of developing games that feature “awesome” intellectual property (IP). For several years Indigo Entertainment pursued that dream, creating games for clients with popular IP.
However, as Indigo Entertainment President and Co-Founder James Ronald Lo notes, “everyone in the game industry has hopes and dreams of building their dream game” – and, in 2016, Indigo Entertainment began its venture into independent game development.
Their first independent game, 2D mobile action platformer Agent Aliens, was born out of a studio-wide call for game ideas – “sort of like a game jam” says James. The only requirement was for the game to be fun because, as James notes, if the gameplay is done right, IP can be built around it.
Matthieu Burleraux is the Business Development Director at Pocket PlayLab. The company is helping to provide mentorship on different matters to developer Cupcake, which the company invested $1 million into.
“We are helping them understand how to work around game KPIs, including in user acquisition, using these KPIs to optimize the game as well as their marketing campaign,” said Matthieu. “For example, we are focusing a lot on the daily cohorts, the LTV45 associated to them, the CPI, retention numbers, etc. We are also starting to help them on producing visual assets for UA and provide mentorship regarding developing the game on new platforms.”
“Before making the decision to work with Cupcake, we looked at the basic KPIs (ARPU, ARPPU, retention, virality, DAU, etc.) and their evolution over time, but we also looking into UA KPIs such as the CPI they had, ROI on UA, etc.” Matthieu continued. “The goal was for you to see if the game was sustainable and if we could grow it.”