By Bobby Patteson, CEO&Founder of Highcastle Studios
Turns out that making an indie game is somewhat like the process of brewing a good beer. Through a series of tedious steps, water and malt are transformed into the beverage that is commonly consumed after a good old Canadian hockey match. My name is Bobby Patteson and my latest game Beer League Hockey has been fermenting for the past two and a half years. After being brought back from the dead on several occasions this pugilistic sports game has eventually found its way on iOS and Android.
Cells Gamesis a small indie team of professionals that got together a few years ago. But it was just in the beginning of this year that they found time to focus on a project. The team got even more tight-knit when they started preparing for the Game Jam Kanobu 2016 contest where they eventually won the Unity Special Award there.
“We work remotely, everyone being in different parts of the world: I’m in Kyiv, our programmer Sasha is in Krasnoyarsk, another programmer Misha and artist Andriy are in Dnipro, and sound designer Anton is in St. Petersburg. So yes, it’s all remote, but this doesn’t get in our way to communicate and have good workflow”, says the studio’s CEO Eugene Lavrinenko as he shares the story of Madness Road, a mobile racing game inspired by post-apocalyptic movies about total destruction.
I’m Benoit Freslon, I’m 31, based in France, and I’ve liked making games since my childhood. I studied in a gaming school and earned experience in a game studio in Paris before becoming a solo indie game developer in 2009.
EnigmBox on iOS is a compilation of 56 different puzzles that make you “think outside the box”. Use all the iPhone functionalities: move it, touch it, take pictures, capture videos, plug in accessories, use location service, all buttons and the mobile features. At Casual Connect Asia this game won the Best in Show Critics Choice and the Most Innovative Game awards.
How do startup companies begin? It’s different for everyone. For some people, having lots of brilliant ideas is the thing, and sooner or later one of them is brought to fruition. Some people polish their single idea for many years before finally finding the resources to bring it to life. For some, it’s happenstance. OWL-Studio’s CEO Vera Velichko shares her experience.
BalanCity is a goofy mixture between the oldschool Sim City and Jenga. In this physical city builder you need to make a towering metropolis over a treacherous seesaw. You can build houses, offices, parks, transportation, landmarks and more. Eventually, disasters will hit your city, so you must have your emergency services ready to act. Citizen approval is also a thing you must take care of if you do not want your people to start rioting and burn the city down. There is a Free Build Mode as well as Challenges and Scenarios where you must build real life metropolis with their famous landmarks.
“At The House of Fables we specialize in making casual adventure games, where hidden object scenes and logic puzzles are the most important aspects of gameplay. Fascinated by the possibilities offered by VR we decided to transfer this kind of game into the immersive VR environment. We instinctively felt that beautiful hand-drawn hidden object scenes may be much more fun to play in 360˚”, says The House of Fables’ producer Marta Wierzbolowska as she sheds more light on the creation process of Wrath of Loki, The Best VR Game and Most Innovative Game of Indie Prize Tel Aviv 2016.
“We knew that VR projects were dominated by horror and thriller experiences. Therefore we decided to offer something completely different: a relaxing experience based in pleasant
locations and casual puzzles. That is how Wrath of Loki was born”.
Our previous games have been based around Slavic mythology, but in case of the new VR project we
turned to the Nordic gods and myths. We wanted it to be epic, so that the immersive VR experience
could be fully enjoyed. We chose two Nordic gods: Loki and Thor. This pair is famous for continuously fighting with each other, so it gave us a ready-made setup that everyone could step into without needing much of explanation. Therefore, while having created a new project, we were sure we had an idea familiar enough to be catchy, yet epic enough to become a truly unforgettable experience.
An idea familiar enough to be catchy, yet epic enough to become a truly unforgettable experience.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. It soon turned out that our usual way of preparing assets was not going to work for VR. We had to figure out an entirely new production pipeline. We had to convert our hand-drawn 2D locations to the 360˚ technology. It took a lot of learning and many iterations of trial and error. It’s not so easy to draw a “flat” 2D world in a way that it can be applied onto a sphere and transformed into an immersive environment that gives the player the illusion of being inside a 3D world. We needed to find a way for the parallax to work. So we created our own tool which allows us to present 2D graphics in the way we need. I can assure that in the next game (in 360) the graphics will be even better – we found a way to do really awesome stuff! And we’re excited to show it to the world ^_^.
At the same time we tried to make a user interface that would work naturally in a situation where you can only use your head and gaze to control the gameplay. Our main goal was to create an interface simple enough so that it will not destroy the feeling of immersion. And there was still the issue of moving between locations. We decided magical portals that transfer you between the worlds would be the most natural choice for Asgaard. It also helped to keep the VR biggest danger – motion sickness – at bay. It was our main goal when designing the interface and movement in game: to make it available for everyone and we can proudly say that we succeeded. There is no nausea effect in our VR game!
There is no nausea effect in our VR game!
Still we were battling other problems. The puzzles and challenges we were used to producing were not easily transferable into VR. Difficulty levels that are appropriate for mobile or PC games are not applicable for a headset and gaze-based interface. We had to find the golden mean between a puzzle, that is “too easy” and “too annoying” to solve. Classic minigames, such as connecting dots, etc. can be tiring and burdensome in VR, despite being a very simple and well-known mechanic. Even hidden object scenes had to be designed in a different way, to ensure all 360˚ of the backgrounds are used.
We have also implemented our own version of the inventory and hint button, but not all players found them intuitive to use. It took a lot of testing and adjustment to make it work. So our best advice for fellow VR developers is: try, try and try again, and do not be afraid of failing over several attempts. Eventually you will find the solution. Just don’t give up!
Classic minigames, such as connecting dots, can be tiring and burdensome in VR.
What are we Proud of?
We have gained a lot of experience over this project. We are happy to admit that we have created a unique and effective pipeline for using a hand-drawn 2D location in a 3D environment.
We wanted the player to feel that they were inside Asgaard, so we put a lot of effort into creating locations that would be epic and legendary. Music has been added that would help enhance the atmosphere in such places. We work with a great composer – Arkadiusz Reiko Reikowski. He’s a very talented man. We are so lucky he has the time and is willing to work with us! So we didn’t choose music – it’s music composed specifically for this game (like in all our projects). Thanks to all of this we succeeded in creating the unforgettable experience of being in a different world.
We have found that there is still a lot of space for improvements. We would like to create more complex and lively animations and interactions with NPCs. As well as to design more complicated puzzles and more demanding hidden object scenes. We want to further improve the hint and inventory mechanics. We also believe that the introduction of menu or UI to the players should be entwined into the first location (not through a tutorial). A menu that is a natural element of a location (for example: a cockpit in a spaceship) is much better for the immersion. It can be fun to learn and can be perceived as a part of the game, not as a boring interface. As you can see, we have a long list of improvements.
“This project was our first attempt and now we know we could have done better. And that is what we are going to do next time: we will do it better”, Marta promises.
Wrath of Loki is available on the website, and the team’s updates can be tracked on Facebook.
“21 Steps to Soul is not just the first game I have developed, it is closely connected to the story of my life”, says Russian indie developer Grigory Everstov as he shares his story of a gamer and then developer. The number 21 in the game title is a reference to 21 grams that people presumably lose when they pass away. Grigory likes to think that is how much he put into creating his game.
LunaFive is an indie studio from the USA, consisting of (surprise!) five members, who came out of the New York University Game Center’s MFA & Incubator program with the goal of making memorable and satisfying indie games. Their debut game, Cognition, is a “tapformer,” a platformer where you move by tapping. Guide Click and Cogsworth, two perpetually rotating cogs, through a series of surreal and increasingly dangerous maze-like environments. With a simple movement system and endearing, whimsical characters, Cognition is designed to be played by anyone, anywhere; the team is happy to shed some light on their development process and the decisions that took the game where it is now from a drastically different beginning.
Imagine you’re a slime, enjoying a nice hangout in a forest with your best avian friend.
Everything’s going splendid when, without warning, you get gobbled up by a giant worm! You now find yourself in the precarious position of being digested soon. So what do you do? You jump, slide and slime your way through the giant worm’s intestines and back out of its mouth of course! The developer of Slime-san, Fabian Rastorfer, tells more.
Along the way you discover an entire ecosystem within the worm. You’ll encounter areas
resembling beaches, forests and even a makeshift town of critters who also survived being
swallowed, but have given up on ever escaping again!
The gameplay consists of 100 levels, comprised of 400 compact rooms, that require fast
reflexes and quick thinking.
Every second level you’ll be facing a new hazard or enemy type, forcing you to adapt your playstyle and remain quick on your feet. Your platforming moves include a time-slowing morph, which lets you move through otherwise solid green objects, as well as a versatile dash that speeds up the world around you! Careful, however, as the timer does not slow down, which means you need to use that move carefully if you’re aiming for trophy times. In addition to the trophies the game also has 400 collectible apples that you can spend on gameplay modifiers, costumes, shaders or artwork.
The game has 400 collectible apples that you can spend on gameplay modifiers, costumes, shaders or artwork.
If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be able to unlock a variety of additional modes, such as NewGame+ remixes of all 100 levels, Boss Rush or the uber-challenging 1 Life run. Last but not least, you can also compete for the best completion times online!
Game Feel and Tutorials
The most important thing to accomplish in this platformer has been the “game feel”. Making a jump feel just right, using dash mechanics to add oomph, to give movement a bounce and gravity a strength… It required weeks of stat tuning to get right. Unity has been used due to platform flexibility and a strong editor. That editor allows artists like myself to also do implementation work which expedites development.
The most unexpected discovery was… how much fun we’re having playing our own game! Seriously, we need to stop ourselves from playtesting sometimes! On a more serious note: Tutoring. Getting tutorials to feel just right is incredibly challenging. They can’t be too overbearing, but they also need to be clear to a wide audience. Getting those first levels right is crucial to convey a hook to keep playing.
Instead of Black and White
We’re known to have games with a silly premise, and Slime-san is definitely as silly as it gets! But we also like to think that it’s charming and we like casting smiles on people. It’s Fabraz’ newest crazy adventure after the critically acclaimed and award-nominated Planet Diver and Cannon Crasha. It has an entertaining story, with an unlikely character and addictively fast gameplay. It is a visually unique adventure using a carefully crafted, 5-color-palette world filled with fun and goofy Japanese references. The idea kind of just came to me one week after Planet Diver’s release, not really sure what the trigger was! Maybe I’m just weird!
Because the game is so fast-paced and relies on clear signaling for damaging/morphing/solid tiles we required the game to have a low color palette. But instead of going for the classics like white on black, we decided to go for white on blue! It’s a mellow but appealing color that isn’t too harsh on the eyes and it lends a lot of character to the game.
Famous Composers and Just Guidelines
Our core team is based in New York and we’re three people in an office every day. But we work with a lot of people outside of the office as well. Like Britt Brady, Markus Jost, all the composers and more.
The soundtrack for Slime-san features some of the most popular chiptune composers in the world! We’re talking about Adhesive Wombat, Inverse Phase, Mega Neko, Kubbi, Kommisar, FantomenK, Tiasu and so many more! We clearly wanted this to be the greatest game soundtrack we’ve ever made so we worked with more famous composers than ever! They were all super supportive and into the idea so it was a lot of fun working with them. We only gave them guidelines and let them have as much creative freedom as possible – needless to say they created fantastic stuff! I love them all.
When asked about something he’d like to share but have never been asked about, Fabian comments: “Let’s see… How about my personal philosophy on success? 🙂 We have this philosophy we like to share with fellow devs: You have to work really hard to get into a position where you can get lucky. It’s silly to blame the lack of success on bad luck but it’s also naive to assume your success didn’t depend on it either. You have to work hard, every day, and try your very best to achieve success. To get into the position where success could happen. And someday it might! :)”
Slime-san’s being published by Headup Games and is scheduled to release on Steam (PC, Mac, Linux) as well as Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo hardware. Look out for Slime-san in spring 2017! While the team is currently busy with porting Planet Diver to the Wii U and getting Slime-san ready for beta testing.
Bla Bla Games is a small yet proud indie team of two people: Vlad Kryvoborodov and Sergey Smirnov, who met each other while working at Wargaming.net. Now, separated by more than 2.000 kilometers, guys are on their way of shipping The Shattering globally. Vlad is happy to share their story below.
Bla bla bla, yeah we are!
I believe that miracles happen in kitchens. Why, you will ask? Well, my wife Nushka started one of the biggest fire festivals in the world (Kiev Fire Fest) just chatting with friends and drinking tea in her kitchen 10 years ago. Same happened to me and Sergey. We were talking and going mad with some game ideas just on a lunch break at the kitchen, and a month later we had our prototype up and running. We called it The Shattering and people enjoyed it.