Liyla and the Shadows of War is a game that wasn’t made with profit in mind. It’s a free mobile game, and one that has a serious message to it about the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict.
The game was recently the winner of Reboot Develop Indie Award in category of “Visual Excellence”. It was also nominated for Best in Show & Most Innovative Game and Best Game Narrative for Indie Prize at Casual Connect Asia 2016. But talking to Rasheed Abu-Eideh, the creator of Liyla and the Shadows of War, it was not a easy road to the game’s release.
In order to test Defold on “outside” devs other than King, their team gave early access to a Swedish indie developer Johan Hogfeldt and his team of Hammarhaja AB, whose game is called Hammerwatch Coliseum. King’s CTO Thomas Hartwig says this developer helped them define the community they wanted to build around Defold. While working on the game, Johan was sharing his feedback, and his game has already been released on iOS. After the show Gamesauce reached out to Johan to check out his impressions from the engine.
Leveraging Community So People Care About Your Game: 4 ways to generate interest in your game outside of traditional news
by Kenny Johnston of Pocket Gems
Getting people excited about your mobile game is hard work. Whether it’s press, streamers or some unlucky bystander that you’ve cornered at a bus stop, people often just don’t care. This can be a sobering experience for someone who’s poured their blood, sweat and tears into a game only to see it fall on glazed eyes and deaf ears. This is also the main reason why so many developers you meet have that haunted sporadic eye twitch that’s usually reserved for DMV workers and bomb squads.
But you know what’s 100 times harder than getting someone to notice your game when it launches? Getting someone to care about your game after it launches. Even if you have a roadmap chalk full of updates, nerfs, buffs, new characters and customizable skins, pitching a game that’s already launched often feels like trying to get Miley Cyrus to go to prom with you (but with less press coverage). Without product updates, this gets even more challenging. Most PR will generally tell you to focus on momentum like revenue, downloads, and in-game metrics. However, in today’s landscape everyone outside of your competitors will still usually receive this with a symphony of yawns and eye rolls.
SpeedRunners recently sprinted across the finish line to a full release after five years in development. It’s been a long process, but after a few years using Steam Green Light, awards from SXSW and Indie DB and various play-throughs by famous YouTubers, it’s now fully released for Steam, with an Xbox One release coming later.
We talked with Gert-Jan Stolk of DoubleDutch Games about SpeedRunners. They detail how publisher tinyBuild helped with the game’s aesthetic, how SpeedRunners eventually became an eSport and why indie developers should have a back up plan because their first game probably won’t be profitable.
Online platforms make launching a game to a worldwide audience easier than ever. It’s also possible now for a developer to come from any country and make a game that makes a huge splash in every region. With this in mind, IPC Ventures has launched their Gaming Top Talent competition, designed to draw in the best young developers of online mobile games. The first batch of submissions will conclude on April 20, 2016.
Gamesauce spoke with Shelley LK, managing partner at IPC Ventures, during the post-GDC period and talked at length about the importance of industry events, challenges within the mobile industry, and how young developers will approach Gaming Top Talent, from application to the finale.
Starting your own company is a learning experience for everyone. The founders of JOY Entertainment are no exception. The indie studio first formed in 2012 with the goal of bringing high quality games and joy to players everywhere – but the road to success is often paved with hard-learned lessons.
Initially, the founders all worked at Gameloft SEA while focusing on their indie studio part time. While they all have history working on big mobile titles, co-founder and CEO Le Giang Anh says not devoting all attention on the new studio was a fatal mistake. In order to really make a quality game, Anh recommends focusing 100 percent of your efforts to your indie project.
Planet of the Apps, a relatively new game development studio based just outside Jerusalem, has only been around since 2013, but it’s already making waves. The studio bills itself as a boutique studio and Planet of the Apps Head of Marketing Jessica Sagoskin says they are different than most other studios in the space because they do everything from concept to release to marketing to analytics in house and are essentially a full-stack company.
Matthew Hall, Founder and Developer of KlickTock, describes his career as the childhood hobby that never went away. He decided on his career direction at a very early age. He was five years old when he watched a news piece on Atari with some footage of the factory floor. He turned to his parents and said, “When I grow up, I want to be an electronic engineer.”
By eight years old, he was making his own games. Recently, he took out a 30-year-old cassette of these games and was impressed to discover that almost all of them were complete. “These days,” he admits, “I have a lot more half-finished games lying around.” Hall began working as a professional game developer in 2001 and now he can’t imagine doing anything else.
A Hard Choice
Starting out as an independent developer is not an easy choice to make. When Hall decided to start KlickTock, he tells us, “My wife and child moved back to the family farm while I toiled away there on the original Little Things. When the original launch of that title didn’t go as well as I had hoped, it was a pretty dark time.” The problem was not that he had made a bad game, it was that he had made it for the wrong audience. When it was eventually released on tablet, it was very successful. Fortunately, he was able to move on quickly and found a niche for his unconventional products on the App Store.
Video games have always been a source of inspiration for Hall. Zelda: Link’s Awakening was the first Nintendo game he purchased. “I was completely captivated,” he says. Luxor by Mumbo Jumbo inspired him to leave his day job and start KlickTock. Recently, he has been playing Forget-Me-Not by Brandon Williamson and Nuclear Throne by Vlambeer. He claims, “They are the two most inspirational games I’ve played and remind me just how much I have to learn about writing games.”
As an independent developer, Hall especially values being in charge of his own destiny. He believes the best thing about his work is never having to convince anyone that his idea is a great one. But the most difficult thing is convincing himself of its value. He has discovered, “Without perspective that you can rely on, the only way to properly judge your own game is to take a few months off, come back later, and play it again. This obviously makes development quite slow!”
A Change in Indie Development
Hall points out that independent developers have been around since the birth of computers, but recently game development has changed in ways that benefit them. Unity and UDK have given independent developers the opportunity to compete with the big studios. Previously, they had to write their own 3D engine to release a 3D game. Now, any major problems can be quickly solved with a search, especially with Unity, since it has such a large development community.
The rise of portals such as Steam and the App store has also benefited independent developers, allowing them to make money, sometimes in significant amounts, from their hobby. Unusual games that were once played only by hobbyists can now find an audience.
The biggest challenge developers are facing, both in the indie space and in the mobile space, according to Hall, is getting noticed. Building a great product doesn’t guarantee success. He states, “For the indies, a cult of personality has emerged. Not only does your game have to be remarkable, but your personality also is a factor.”
In the mobile space, he has seen that the issues of a crowded marketplace have existed since the early days of the App Store. He emphasizes, “It’s important not only to build an amazing product, you also have to be ready to pick yourself up and try again if things don’t go well the first time. Building a profile as a reliable and interesting developer takes time.”
He gives this advice to independents starting out: “Build titles! Take a small idea, prototype it to prove it’s worthy of completion, then complete it.” He has noticed that developers are often overly invested in their ideas; playing them can shatter preconceptions of the game in a good way.
Preparing for the Future
Hall sees huge changes coming to the electronic entertainment industry with the advent of virtual reality via Oculus Rift. The original Oculus Rift dev kit has a profound effect on anyone who has tried it. Hall believes, “With the new technology, new genres and new opportunities will emerge. I’m very excited about making VR games, even if it isn’t the wisest business move at the moment.”
And the future of KlickTock should be just as exciting. Hall has a wall covered in game ideas ranging from the esoteric to potential top grossing titles. For several months, he has been working on a new title called Age of Solitare, which he expects to release very soon. He also tells us he is currently in ‘development hell’ working on a collectable card game called Deck War and hopes to release it later this year.
Ryan Wiemeyer is a game designer that has been passionate about videogames since he held his first controller. After receiving a B.S. in Game Development from DePaul University and making several games on his own and participating in several game jams, he began work as a designer and associate producer at Wideload Games (later a subsidiary of Disney Interactive) where he worked on several games, including Guilty Party. He and others would conceive of a zombie-take on the classic game, The Oregon Trail, and call it Organ Trail. Its initial version proved to be so popularly that Weimeyer and his colleagues would decide to revisit the game and further develop with funds generated from a Kickstarter campaign. Wiemeyer would even quit his job to focus on Organ Trail full time. The Kickstarter generated over ten-thousand dollars more than initially asked for; allowing them to expand the game beyond what was originally planned and begin their own studio, The Men Who Wear Many Hats.
Formally released January 2013, Organ Trail: Director’s Cuthas been well received by fans and was successful enough to encourage those at The Men Who Wear Many Hats to make another game. Called Max Gentlemen and another Kickstarter success, this game is an arcade-styled experience centering on stacking hats and extreme manners.
GameSauce was able to recently talk to Wiemeyer about his interests in game development, his approach to gaming, using Kickstarter, and long term goals for himself and The Men Who Wear Many Hats.
Gamesauce: Growing up, what were some of the videogames that you loved playing? Why do you think you were more interested in videogames than other forms of media?
Ryan Wiemeyer: I started gaming on the Atari and never looked back. Any time I could wrestle the TV away from my family to play a game was cherished; it didn’t even matter how bad the game was. I’ve always regarded the agency of video games to be a more enjoyable experience compared to passive media like TV, books, and movies.
I have been impacted by so many games that I feel it’s not really fair to try and mention only a few as favorites.
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue videogame development as a career? On this note, did you begin to learn to program before or after you realized you could make videogame development a profession?
I’ve always been interested the making of games, but I don’t think I realized it could be more than a hobby until college. I’ve been drawing Sonic levels, designing my own broken RPGs in RPG Maker, and dreaming up all sorts of terrible crap since I was little.
I took programming in High School, and even though I always twisted the assignment into a game project, I guess I didn’t have enough understanding of the industry to realize I was taking steps to make games for a living. I guess I thought I would be some generic programmer or maybe an artist…I’ve always dabbled in art. Hell, I have a useless animation minor.
More and more people are going to college to become game designers. Looking back, what are some things you feel you did to help prepare for a career in game development? On this note, what advice do you have for people currently in college and wanting to get into the gaming industry?
I could go on for 10 weeks about this… and I do. That’s why I got hired to teach at DePaul.
I could go on for 10 weeks about this… and I do. That’s why I got hired to teach at DePaul.
First off, there aren’t any jobs waiting for you when you graduate. So either you need to be the best of the best or stop thinking games are for you. I’m tired of seeing people who like to play games thinking that those skills translate to making games. The only crossover is the knowledge base and vocabulary. But the skills are worlds apart. Being a hardcore gamer is almost the opposite of having a good work ethic (because you are probably putting off being productive to consume).
I get students who are going to graduate in a few months, and they still can’t make a game because they are “idea guys” or “producers,” aka they usually have no talent. I think game design is something that only comes from MAKING games yourself. You NEVER know what will play or feel good until you iterate on it a dozen times. The idea that you can just tell someone what to make is…well, it’s the main problem with students right now.
You’ve participated in many game jams. How do you think game jams helped you develop your approach to making games?
I recommend every developer participate in Game Jams. They are such great tests of your ability. You usually fail, but you learn a lot and it’s a safe space to fail in. You learn a lot about scope and how to get enjoyment out of simplicity. These are priceless lessons that you can only learn from experience.
You started working at Wideload Games in 2009. What was your experience at Wideload like? Were there any professional skills that you developed while at Wideload?
Being immersed in a professional environment with so many talented people was life-changing.
Working at Wideload turned me from a shitty game dev student into a professional. Being immersed in a professional environment with so many talented people was life-changing. I recommend everyone get at least a few years of this kind of environment before striking out on their own. All the skills and disciplines you can’t learn in college I learned there.
You began Organ Trail while at Wideload. Why did you begin working on one game while working at another company? Is it a decision that you’d make again? On this note, what was the inspiration for Organ Trail?
I started a side thing because I was used to the 10-week turn around on games we had at DePaul. Working on the same game for 2-3 years was a little creatively stifling. We formed The Men Who Wear Many Hats very unofficially as a group that just wanted to flex our game development muscles. We wanted to make small free games. Organ Trail was just a funny idea we had, while brainstorming. We’re quite taken aback by how it’s taken off.
As Organ Trail started gaining popularity and we realized we needed to put more time into it, it started getting hard to make games and go home and keep making games. Luckily, the success of the Kickstarter let me know I was safe to quit my job. But also, Disney’s policy was that I would probably be fired if the right people found out I was making my own games anyway. That was a policy I fruitlessly tried to change on my way out.
And in regards to doing it again…I’m making side games from my own studio so I don’t think I can be stopped. I have to make games.
And in regards to doing it again…I’m making side games from my own studio so I don’t think I can be stopped. I have to make games.
Organ Trail proved to be so popular that you and the others who worked on it decided to further develop the game and do a Kickstarter to fund it. What was your initial reaction to realizing that you had created a game that was so beloved by fans? Additionally, what difficulties did you encounter while doing the Kickstarter?
It’s pretty cool. Running a Kickstarter is a huge undertaking. I try to warn others that it’s at least two months of full time work from one person. So it throws a huge wrench in any schedules you might have had. The hardest part was doing all of the fulfillment ourselves. Each package was a unique combination of swag, and we hand addressed all of it. And offloading a cart full of packages at the post office was not an enjoyable six hours, either.
Since 2010, you’ve been on the board of Indie City Games. Why do you feel these types of organizations are important for game developers? Given that you live and work in Chicago, what are your thoughts about how the city can do more to encourage game development?
I’ve noticed that there is a big gap between this “student boom” of developer’s and the “old blood.” It’s really hard to get these older guys to come out and share any wisdom or help build any community. So with the fall of the Chicago IGDA chapter in the wake of EA Chicago and other major studio’s shutting down, we decided we needed something.
Since the formation of Indie City, I have been putting a lot of focus on the community. Chicago is always teetering on the edge of being a great city for developers, and I want to help push it forward. That’s why I started my co-working space and that’s why I teach. I have a lot of other plans that are starting to come to fruition… keep any eye out.
You and The Men Who Wear Many Hats are currently working the game Max Gentlemen. What was the inspiration for this game? On this note, how did the visual style come about?
Wiemeyer: We had the idea for Max Gentlemen from a spam email with a similar title. We fleshed out this bigger world with lots of “Max Gentlemen”-themed activities. But, lacking a solid 2D artist/animator at the time, we put it on a shelf. Along came the Six Pack Game Jam; a jam about spending a month on a game and putting it on an arcade cabinet.
We took one of the “activities” from that larger game and fleshed it out. We chose the hat-stacking idea because it really matched the name of the company, and we felt it was a good fit for us. The art style came about because I was eager to get my friend Sarah Denis into the game scene. So we gave her a change with the Game Jam and things worked out. Now the full fledged game is like a showcase of her art.
We learned a lot from the Organ Trail Kickstarter. I used those lessons and kind of turned them on its head and did a lot of things people said you couldn’t do.
Our Max Gentlemen Kickstarer was almost a parody of itself. We set a ridiculously low goal and barely showed the game. It was really more about the spectacle and merch. We offered a lot of goofy rewards and made up fake charts and goals for the campaign. It was mostly a marketing push for us; to get Max Gentlemen into the greater known space. But we are actually making and giving out these ridiculous rewards… like the body pillow cover. And people get really excited about them.
The ultimate lesson is that your video is the #1 most important part of a campaign. I think the video may even be better than the game, haha.
Given your experience of working for both a large and small studios, what are your thoughts on the future of the videogame industry? Do you see large studios surviving in their current form?
The middle-sized studios seem to really be on the ropes. I think the current small team space is going to slowly grow and take their place. I find a lot of people would rather buy a $20 indie game. The problem with a lot of the old middle-sized studios is that they made games for the $60 space and their game didn’t need to be that, the market just wasn’t used to the idea of paying different amounts for different kinds of games.
I honestly don’t know what’s’ next. The indie space is getting more and more popular, and while that used to be a great thing… there’s part of me that’s still worried that we are going to get lost in the flood of new games.
Beyond Max Gentlemen, what are some long term goals you have yourself and The Men Who Wear Many Hats?
I just want to make games.
Keep up with Ryan and The Men Who Wear Many Hats by following them on Twitter.
Founded in 2011, White Whale Games is an indie studio located in Austin, TX and currently comprised of George Royer and Jo Lammert. White Whale would go on to release its first game, God of Blades, in 2012. To learn more about White Whale, GameSauce recently talked to its Studio Director, Jo Lammert, about the studio’s history, creating God of Blades, and the studio’s future goals.
Finding the White Whale – The Studio’s Founding
In 2011, George Royer, Jo Lammert, and Jason Rosenstock started talking about videogames and concepts related to this medium. Eventually, the group became so passionate about the ideas that kept coming up in their discussions that they decided to found White Whale Games. As Lammert recollected, “The studio started in summer of 2011 when the three of us just started talking about games and game concepts. One thing led to another, then suddenly we were starting a video game studio.”
While Rosenstock was the only one with standard videogame industry experience, stemming from his time as an artist for BioWare, all three of them contributed to the creation of White Whale. Lammert not only had a Masters of Information Sciences from University of Texas, Austin, but she also brought a vast array of experience in the entertainment industry; including stints at Cartoon Network and the Bold and the Beautiful. Royer brought to the organization a strong sense of narrative and a love for literary classics – one of his favorite books being Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. It’s from this classic that the studio would take its name from. Lammert explains, “It refers to the elusive, precious, and highly coveted white whale of the book.”
What truly helped the three of them come together was not just their complimentary skill sets, but that they shared a distinct vision for what a gaming studio could be. According to Lammert, the team wanted “to design and develop games that thoughtfully present the player with elegant, meaningful, and realized worlds.” She expanded on this point by explaining that “every project we do is deeply thoughtful about world-building, and is something really important to us. Essentially, we wanted to evoke rich stories through a game.”
Keeping it Weird in Austin – Indie Game Development in Austin, TX
Home to the world-renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) and a growing technology industry, Austin is known for a unique media culture that attracts businesses and entrepreneurs from across the world. As such, the city’s landscape has been important to White Whale’s founding and growth. Specifically, the studio has benefited from a gaming industry – both corporate and indie – that has allowed the city to become “rich with talent and good people.”
Austin is also home to Juegos Rancheros, an indie collective co-operated by Lammert with the goal of building the area’s game development community. Lammert feels that this organization played an important role in White Whale’s growth, stating that Juegos Rancheros provided “a supportive, kindhearted space, a place where you can throw out an early build of a game to other indie game friends and get very constructive feedback.” Given the wide array of people and support systems in the area, Lammert believes that “White Whale would look very different if we weren’t in Austin.”
O.R.C.A. – Psychic Frog and White Whale’s Experiment Projects
White Whale’s founders wanted to have a means to experiment with games that may not have meshed with their company’s brand. “Examples of this,” according to Lammert, “would be quick game jams, bizarre non-commercially viable games, etc.” To do this, they created O.R.C.A. They settled on an acronym so that when asked what the letters meant, they “could be coy and mysterious,” says Lammert.
The only game that has been released under the O.R.C.A. label is Psychic Frog. Created during a four-day contest, the goal of which “was to create a fun game with innovative gameplay,” Psychic Frog is a Flash-based game in which the player helps a psychic frog breakout of a secret location. However, while they are happy with the Psychic Frog and do plan on continuing to make experimental games, Lammert did express that they will “probably stop calling them O.R.C.A. projects and just make them White Whale.”
God of Blades – White Whale’s Breakout Game
Released in 2012 (and most recently updated in 2013), God of Bladeswas White Whale’s first videogame. The studio wanted to pay tribute to the pulp fantasy stories that have impacted mass entertainment since Conan the Barbarian was first published in 1932, however, they wanted it to be more than just a violent game centered on a muscular hero. As the game’s homepage states, “God of Blades asks players to think about memory, culture, and loss in terms of stories, books, and the communities that love them.” The game even goes as far to reward players with unique swords if they visit actual libraries.
Early in the game’s development, they found that look for the God of Blades’ protagonist, the Nameless King, wasn’t what they wanted. The team would turn to their collective interests in David Bowie and other Glam Rock musicians, and redesigned the Nameless King so that he was more of a mix of Ziggy Stardust, Elric, and a Ringwraith. In addition to the commitment of getting the visuals of this game to their liking, White Whale also wanted this game to have an expansive story. Though much of this game’s narrative background couldn’t be layered into the game play, Lammert told GameSauce that Royer “literally created a bible about that universe and all the mythology. It may not be written out in the game, but you can see these tales through the environments.”
Like many of the startups in the Austin area, the production of the game began with little financial backing. As Lammert said, “we were pretty broke in early development, and bootstrapped the entire project.” As such, the game’s initial development was a difficult and stressful period. Similar to many other entrepreneurs, Lammert believes that those financial limitations “helped us make a really beautiful project.”
And Lammert is not alone in her opinion of the game’s quality. God of Blades received widespread positive news coverage, and won awards from Pocket Gamer, Touch Arcade, and was the Pocket Tactics’ Action Game of the Year. Given the popularity of the game and that its narrative framed around a fictitious fantasy book series, White Whale was approached to by an e-publisher and decided to release a series of books based on the God of Blades universe – the first one being written by Greg Moller and titled God of Blades: Hand of the Sable King. Beyond this, Lammert told GameSauce that it’s a “wrap for God of Blades franchise stuff!”
With God of Blades behind them, White Whale’s current goal is to continue to build things that make people happy,” according to Lammert. While she is unable to currently discuss what these plans are, she did make it clear that studio is planning on expanding outside of the realm of videogames.