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Exclusive InterviewsIndie

Anucha Aribarg: Making Things Pixel Perfex

February 17, 2017 — by David Radd

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Anucha Aribarg of Pixel Perfex is the lead designer for Earth Atlantis. The game was given an award for graphics at the BIC Festival 2016 and was selected to show at Tokyo Game Show 2016.

“I was surprised when it happened,” said Anucha. “I knew that my game art style was very ‘different’ but I didn’t expect to win an award for Excellence in Art. I didn’t even stay for the award announcement.”

“When I first thought about making a game that looks like an old explorer sketchbook from 14th century, I only thought that the idea was interesting and it would be so much fun to do it.” Anucha continued. “To know that people acknowledged and liked it, that was just awesome.”

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Suhail Habib: Make Games, Have Fun

February 7, 2017 — by David Radd

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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.

Suhail Habib is the sole game designer of 87

“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:

DevelopmentExclusive InterviewsIndie

Headbang Club: Making Indie Games Metal

January 31, 2017 — by David Radd

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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!”

DevelopmentExclusive InterviewsIndie

Missing Finds the Right Tone to Address Human Trafficking

January 26, 2017 — by David Radd

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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.”

Satyajit Chakraborty and Leena Kejriwal accepting their award at NASSCOM Gaming Forum Awards 2016

“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 stencil on a village wall

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.”

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Screenshot from Missing

“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.”

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“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.”

Nayantara is a survivor on whom part of the missing story is based

“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

Missing team with Nayantara and her daughter

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.

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“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.”

Level map from Missing

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.”

 

ContributionsDevelopmentIndie

Revamping the Little Vampire

January 25, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Clinton Wong, MD at PARIUNOS

I was dreaming of making games, 20 years back, and here I am today. It all started in early 2014 where my dream starts to shift into reality when the right time and the right people stumble together. Being an indie game developer is really fun. You hold the cards on every single bit of the game. You call the shots for the development, the visuals, and most of all, the gameplay. No Dracula! is one of the early games from Pariunos. The game focuses in Romania with the protagonist helping the townsfolk of a village to hunt down the infamous blood-sucker, Dracula. I can still remember the excitement of releasing No Dracula! in Google Play and the next thing is to wait. Waiting for people to download and play. It was not a hit and so the bumpy road sets in.

The game took us three months to completion encompassing the first brainstorm session to the release date. When I mentioned ‘us’, I meant a graphic artist, a freelance programmer and myself back then. It was definitely not a good start since we lacked experience on game development and marketing but giving up is not in the list. I started to gather information and comments on the game and I set my journey again but this time with a brand new team. We decided to revamp No Dracula!, thus the name, No Dracula! Revamp. The game was successfully released on 23rd December 2016 just before Christmas with a whole new gameplay, evolved visuals and with on-going updates of different mythical creatures and monsters to be defeated just by tapping.

Meet Dracula and his villains from Romania

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Konstanty Kalicki: Demonic Paper Craft

January 24, 2017 — by David Radd

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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.”

DevelopmentIndieStudio Spotlight

The Deep End Games: Building a Bootstrapped, Innovative Game

January 18, 2017 — by Casey Rock

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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.

Dynamic Duo

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.

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Šarūnas Ledas: The Real Monster Buster

January 17, 2017 — by David Radd

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Šarūnas Ledas is the CEO of Tag of Joy, developer of Monster Buster. The game recently won best Indie Game at GameOn Vilnius 2016, the largest video game conference in the Baltics which is dedicated to video games and the culture that comes with them. Monster Buster: World Invasion will also be shown off at Casual Connect Europe as part of Indie Prize.


“Our studio, Tag of Joy, has always been looking for ways to innovate games and gamified experiences technologically, visually and gameplay-wise. So, winning an award means that we are on the right path, and that people find our projects interesting. The same goes to the GameOn award – it’s an additional encouragement to keep on going and make the best game possible, while also presenting something new to the players,” said Šarūnas, adding, “Monster Buster will soon be released on iOS and Android, so we hope that showing it off at Casual Connect will help spread the word about the launch of the game.”

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Drunk or Dead: All People Open Mouth Drinking VR Alcohol

January 9, 2017 — by Orchid

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“We’ve wanted to do our own gamejam for a while”, says Alexander Misilevich, the community manager for 4ILab dev team from Belarus. Gamesauce readers might remember them as creators of Time of Dragons, the online multiplayer 3D shooter where you fly a dragon and battle, now also in VR.

Exploring more of the VR space, the team decided to organize a hackathon before the New Year holidays so that they could celebrate afterwards. They set up a goal: make a game in 48 hours, it must be fun to play with friends, and you need to be able to go naughty. The devs also aimed on making it within the set timeframe with minimal use of 3rd party assets.


Exclusive InterviewsIndie

Benoit Prunneaux: Finding the Right Words for Indie Development

January 6, 2017 — by David Radd

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unworded-pictureBenoit Prunneaux of Bento Studio is one of the main developers behind unWorded. The game was nominated for Indie Prize at RESPAWN, a conference designed to allow the free exchange of ideas between developers, where lectures happen in open environments that attendees are allowed to freely flow between as they wish with topics including Creative, Game Design, Business and Tech to Culture/Communications and Storytelling. Bento Studio will compete at Indie Prize hosted by Casual Connect Europe in Berlin.

“We are very proud of this nomination and it was a fairly big surprise. This game is really important for Bento because we have placed something special in this title that it is more personal. So this is a real reward for us,” said Benoit. “Honestly we have not made this game to win contests. We registered at random to see if our game could arouse interest in the audience and make it more visible. Since our participation we are very happy to be able to benefit from this support.”

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