What is the Indie journey like? What does it take to come up with exciting ideas, create your own company and develop a winning game? Recently Gamesauce was fascinated to learn from writer/animator Ozan Drøsdal about the process that began with a group of friends making a game and led to a company called Perfectly Paranormal developing the winning game, Helheim Hassle, at Konsoll Connect. As winners, the indie team has won the opportunity to compete at Indie Prize London which will take place at Casual Connect Europe on 29-31st of May 2018.
Gamesause: Tell us about Perfectly Paranormal. What led you to found this game studio?
Ozan Drøsdal: It all started during a boring semester in school back in 2011, where we decided to make an adventure game instead of doing homework. It was called Dudefish, it was made in Flash, the dialogue was recorded in our dorm rooms and it took us two years. We entered a competition or something with it back then and needed a company name (we weren’t a company yet at all) and we came up with Perfectly Paranormal. It’s inspired by the perfectly normal beasts from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. We didn’t form the actual company in a legal way before around 2015 when we were in the middle of working on Manual Samuel. A game everyone reading this should totally buy. It came out last year.
Guy Charusadhirakul manages business development for Google Play in Southeast Asia, helping to grow the ecosystem of game and app developers in the region as he assists them to build successful global businesses using Google Play. Guy especially enjoys working with the creative people who are building fun, unique games, helping them reach millions of players globally and succeed with their businesses. Recently Gamesauce was able to interview Guy about his work with Google Play.
Gamesauce: Tell us about the work you do at your company. How did you come to work at your current company?
Guy Charusadhirakul: I manage business development for Google Play in Southeast Asia. Basically, that means I help grow ecosystem of game and app developers in the region and help them build successful global business with Google Play.
As Chief Operating Officer at Gravity Co., LTD, Yoshinori Kitamura is in charge of management, with major focuses on business strategies, overseas development and new business development. Currently his emphasis is on expanding the Ragnarok business according to the one source multi-use method. He is also in charge of managing the group companies (the US office and the Taiwan branch), and the NeoCyon office involved in mobile business to business. Yoshinori has participated in Ragnarok‘s Japanese business since 2003 and became involved with the management of Gravity in 2008.
Finding Trends in a Fluctuating Market
Yoshinori enjoys the fact that his job shows clear results for what he does. He likes to challenge himself as he predicts trends in a market that is constantly fluctuating. As he describes, “It is rewarding when you succeed with new ideas without being caught by fixed concepts.”
His first exposure to gaming came in his school days; while playing Famicon with his friend he developed a desire to enter the game industry. However, at the time this seemed unlikely. Instead Yoshinori became involved with American football. While doing sales at a recruiting advertising company he was given the opportunity to join their company football team. Following this career he began working for Rothman’s Marubeni, a tobacco company which withdrew from the business some years later. He was then involved in starting several IT companies invested by Marubeni.
The winner of Indie Games Poland (an Indie Prize Partner Event) is a game studio based in Warsaw, Poland. As a winner, Juggler Games had the opportunity to participate in Indie Prize Kyiv 2017. Although Juggler Games is relatively new on the game scene, it was formed by industry veterans who collectively bring more than twenty-five years of experience to this company. The three founders, Mikolaj Pawlowski, Jakub Jabloński and Łukasz Janczuk, discussed the possibilities for more than a year before taking the leap to start the company. The undeniable fact that led to forming the company was that when you work for someone else you have limited opportunities to explore your own ideas for games. In order to make their own dream game they had to have their own company.
What Sort of Company?
During their year of preparation they spent a great deal of time analyzing what sort of company they would have and what their first project should be. They also looked for an investor to help them get started. In February, 2016 they founded the company and by August they had a working prototype of their first project to take to GameCom.
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.
Arkadiusz Reikowski is the soundtrack composer of the recently released cyberpunk video game Observer. Originally a performer for several Polish bands, Arkadiusz is a self-taught musician; however, over the past eight years, he has composed the soundtracks for nearly thirty games, including Kholat, Layers of Fear, and Husk.
He said the process for creating a videogame soundtrack changes depending on the project. For Observer, Arkadiusz was brought on board early in the game development process. “There wasn’t really any gameplay yet, just a storyline and some art,” he said. “We obviously had a lot of talks about how and what we wanted to achieve through sound and music. It was a comfortable situation.”
“I always start with colors and overall tone of the game,” He said. “These are the elements that are most important when I decide in what scale the soundtrack should be and what instruments I’m going to use. With Observer it was really interesting because in the end, the music turned out to be a lot darker than at the very beginning. I thought I would use much more melody and lighter themes but they didn’t quite fit the tone of the game. So we stayed with these dirty, heavy, dark themes.”
The grungy themes fit with the aesthetic of Observer, which takes place in a future version of Krakow beset with violence, war, and poverty. The half-human half-machine Detective Daniel Lazarski hacks into the minds of people both alive and dead to uncover clues in his investigation. The dark and surreal scenes in people’s minds firmly set the game in the horror genre.
Arkadiusz said that he tries to create shapes in his music, and in this particular soundtrack he focused on shapes that can barely be seen, something caught by the corner of your eye, but you can’t be sure of what it is. This is particularly fitting for a horror game. “The emotions told through music are like shapes coming into existence. But also like colors that you can feel and almost be touched by them,” he said. “Weird, I know.”
The game is reminiscent of Blade Runner, and Rutger Hauer who even does the voice of Daniel Lazarski. Arkadiusz said his favorite part of the project was meeting Rutger. “We listened to the music from Observer together. So when he told me that it is really good I knew that we were in the right direction. Also, I just love cyberpunk. So doing a score like this was a real blast and a pleasure,” he said.
Arkadiusz watches Blade Runner at least once a year, but Ghost in the Shell and Akira also inspired his compositions. “I’m deeply in love with Ghost in the Shell and the Akira soundtrack and I wanted to create similar emotions while scoring Observer,” he said. “The game itself is heavily inspired by Ghost in the Shell, but you know…who doesn’t want to be inspired by such a masterpiece.”
With the exception of the singing, all the music in Observer is electronic. This was a departure from his previous work that often featured piano and voice arranged in simpler textures than the ones found in Observer. Arkadiusz said that it was challenging switching to mostly electronic music, but he really wanted to do it.
“Just before I started to work on Observer I bought a Moog Sub 37, and it was my first hardware synth ever,” he said. “I was really happy to put it to work. The love for synths still lasts and is stronger than ever. I like losing track of time and just improvising on my Moog and Dave Smith’s Prophet 6.”
He said the approach to composing for electronic instruments was not very different from composing pieces for real instruments. “I think they all serve a similar purpose – to create emotions and underline what is happening on the screen. But when you write for real instruments you need to be more focused. When it comes to real instruments, I often use a piano. I record pieces on piano and then do mock up and then orchestrate them (although I rarely orchestrate my tracks myself),” he said.
The major difference was how much he improvised while writing electronic music. “Playing on a synth is sometimes like child’s play. Lots of experiments and generally having fun with creating the sound from scratch. When you write a melody for a cello or a piano, you know exactly what kind of melody you’d like to achieve. Experimenting on a synth is interesting because often one sound can create others, which are different but at the same time they fit your vision of the music. Or they don’t and you have to turn the knobs a little more.”
Even the pieces in the Observer soundtrack that appear to have required complex planning were the result of improvising. One of the first tracks features a choir reminiscent of early church music. A set of voices introduces a short theme that is soon taken up by other voices and weaves together in complex patterns. Arkadiusz said that it was all improvisation though.
“The recording session with the band was such a creative and unique experience that I will remember for a long time,” he said. “We sat in the studio and listened to track and thought about what we could do with vocals there. I was prepared before the session, but it turned out that we created something much more interesting by just going with the flow. Those tracks refer mainly to Adam and his mind and they appear only during the ‘dream-eater’ sequences.”
In it, the choir sings in what almost sounds like a real language. “The language was made specifically for this occasion,” he said. “We thought that it would be really interesting, especially for Western audiences. The themes are based on Slavic mythology and chants. They created this unique, dream-like but also dark and ritualistic atmosphere. The only guidance was my background track with drones and such. Then we just sat in the studio and started to improvise. At one time I hade to play an additional rhythm, but in general the voices came into existence really naturally and without notes.”
In parts of the soundtrack, Arkadiusz created a background layer of what sound like real instruments, such as strings, and slides the pitches and distorts the sound to match it with another layer of electronic sounds. It creates a trippy, unbalanced feeling, and it is easy to imagine it being used during a mind-hack sequence.
“It was the result of playing around in post-production,” he said. “There are times when you record something and even put something else in by accident. Just before removing the part of it you realize – hey! That sounded nice, let’s just leave this as it is. I like those kinds of nice surprises.”
Improvising on electronics allowed Arkadiusz to compose complex pieces containing layers of juxtaposing textures, rhythms, and sounds, but he had already set the groundwork for it in some of his previous work. “As far as I remember I created something like this in Kholat,” he said.
Every project brings new skills and experiences that he can use on his next project, even if he doesn’t realize it. “You know, it’s just like in Skyrim,” he said. “You keep using this hammer and suddenly pop! And your skill is better.”
Music and sound effects are commonplace in a mobile game, but often the use of voice work is overlooked. Usual reasons include a lack of budget or experience working with voice talents. See the session video below if you want to learn about how the use of voice can bring your characters and stories to life, and if you’re taking the first steps into casting, creating a script and working with voice talents. At Casual Connect Asia, Jeremy Goh, Co-Founder of IMBA Interactive, discussed voice work, noting that “good voice work can give your game relatability and personality, as well as a source of rich feedback for your players.”
Paweł Jędrysiak is the Co-founder/Game Designer at Digital Melody. The indie developer created Masky, which was honored with the IGJAM 2016 mobile game category award.
“Participation in game jams let’s you test your skills under pressure of time. It’s also a lot of fun,” said Paweł. “Winning IGJAM 2016 in mobile game category was a truly great award! People appreciate our work while we had tons of fun – for what more could you ask for?”
“Game Jam is an extreme test of our skills as game developers,” Paweł continued. “Working as a team can be compared to a factory. To keep it productive every one needs to focus on their job that’s why we need to understand each other clearly. This kind of experience improves our everyday work. Especially process management and we improve our work as a team.”
The Expanding Polish Development Scene
Digital Melody is supported by Indie Games Polska, a game developer organization in Poland. The organization works to help developers, particularly indies, with support as needed.
Artem Savotin, a Ukrainian developer, is the owner of Vidloonnya Reborn. He says that he got into the IT business more than 12 years ago.
“Games and game business always were a hot theme for me. I’ve created my own game projects at school and in the university along with my artist friend. I was a developer,” said Artem. “After graduating from the university I was working on enterprise development and outsourcing, where I went from a developer to a leader of a German IT company in Ukraine.”
Artem says that #DevGAMM 2016 in Moscow where he really started to understand game development. “I’ve decided there that I want to work on premium games, not F2P, since the creation of a fully functional commercial product was closer and clearer to me,” he detailed. “After the Moscow #DevGAMM in May 2016, we’ve started to experiment, and the first idea was based on evolution theme. The first prototype wasn’t very successful, alas. We’ve experimented with the control methods, and that appeared to be a typical beginner’s mistake, though the idea appeared to be very interesting from first sight.”
Early on the development team was Artem and Vasyl. At the time, Vasyl was still working with Unity, but he was experimenting with Unreal Engine during evenings and weekends and pushed that it was much better.
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.”