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Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Skelewton: Persistence Pays Off

December 7, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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Youmaku Games is a small indie game development team, with only three members who are all passionate gamers at heart, based in Egypt. The co-founders of the team, Ashraf Abou-Heikal and Gurin Jaw, two childhood friends, started the company in 2013, having a common goal of creating indie games. The team is currently working on their first game, an endless survival 2D platformer called Skelewton’s First Law, and this is their story of how the game was formed over time. The developers call it a bizarre one.

By Gurin Jaw and Ashraf Abou-Heikal from Youmaku Games


There was first a skeleton…

Our graphics designer, Ashraf, started his journey by practicing pixel art, and one of his early works was a skull.  Later on, he drew a body for it, and we decided to make it an enemy in a dungeon crawler game.

Both of the team members had no experience back then, so this game was more of a learning thing than an actual project. Our developer, Gurin, was creating the game using Adobe Flash Professional. We ended up making the skeleton our protagonist, and started our development, or rather, learning process. After working for months, part-time along with college, the game was something like this:

The iconic typo

Then the most iconic accident in our team’s history happened, Gurin was inspired by one of his favorite games, VVVVVV, and thought of adding a gravity mechanic to the game, but with a twist of letting the skeleton switch gravity between four directions, instead of up/down only (like in VVVVVV).
While Gurin was telling our third team member, Abdelrahman, also known as Beta, about how the game is going, Beta made a typo in the chat, and typed “skelwton” instead of “skeleton,” as the “w” is next to the “e” on the keyboard. That’s when it hit Beta: gravity + apples + skeleton = “Skelewton”, Newton’s skeleton, – and so, our beloved character was born.

“We made the skeleton more iconic by giving him a wig like Newton’s”.

Two years of development in the trash

After two years in development, the game was glitchy, it looked bad, the levels were shallow, and uploading a Flash game to the internet didn’t seem like a bright idea by then.

That’s when we decided to redo the game using a game engine, Unity.
And so, we re-created the physics more efficiently, we made better animations, and things were finally looking neat. We decided to make the game specifically for the mobile platform, and that’s where we didn’t really think it through.
We lacked knowledge of the mobile market, and we didn’t study game design at all.
We were trying to put a 2D side-scrolling level-based game on mobile, where you need to walk, jump and change gravity. That was a very bad idea.

The final Flash build for Skelewton.
“The swimsuit was the first costume we made!”

Our control scheme ended up like this: walking by touching the right/left side of the screen, jumping by touching the screen with two fingers at the same time, and you control the gravity with motion controls.
We started attending local gaming events in Egypt, which were very few, to collect feedback from gamers, and that changed a lot of things for the better.

We decided to go for an endless survival approach, rather than a level-based one (that was mainly due to our lack of experience in game design), as well as it was more suitable for the mobile platform. So, we decided that Skelewton should just collect as many apples as he can in each level till he dies.
Later on, Gurin’s little cousins suggested adding costumes to collect for Skelewton, which was indeed a great addition for the game.

RDJ 2016

We went to our first local event specifically for game developers. That was, Run Double Jump 2016, and despite it being the show we failed at most, it was also one that benefited us the most.
Gurin didn’t learn from others’ failures, and made one big common mistake: adding new features on the night before the event.
We wanted to get a new decent tutorial for the game ready for the show, but things took a bad turn. We didn’t sleep, the tutorial wasn’t done, and we were running out of time. By the time we reached the event, the game was literally broken, nothing was functioning correctly.

Surprisingly, despite the game being broken, people genuinely loved it, and gave us a lot of great feedback! Furthermore, we got to meet up with the country’s best developers and got to know many amazing people working in the industry.

Not ready? attend events anyway!

During Run Double Jump 2016, we found out about Indie Prize and Casual Connect as well. And decided to submit Skelewton’s First Law for Indie Prize Berlin 2017, despite being far from complete.
We got rejected as expected, but Gurin decided to apply as a volunteer, which would give us a free pass for the event, in exchange for helping out at the event for a day. Thankfully, Gurin got accepted as a volunteer and was able to attend.

At the show Gurin met countless professionals in the gaming industry, and got to know some wonderful people who were all willing to help and give feedback. On the first day, while volunteering, Gurin met some amazing game developers who were part of the volunteers team as well, and they gave a lot of valuable comments.
Special thanks to two teams, Traptics and Amused Sloth, for all their great help and support, they were truly kind and helpful!

Gurin also got to spend some great time with Egypt’s RDJ 2016 winner, Abdallah AlSayed from BNOO Games.
Three days at the event were far from enough to try out every single game showcased at Indie Prize, but it was the most amazing experience ever.

“During the event, with the feedback collected, we were able to take the game into a much better direction”.

After that we attended a local event, Geek Fictions 2017, where we were invited to showcase our game along with other developers we know from across the country.
At this event, we saw how great the changes in gameplay improved the game. All feedback we received was positive and people were telling us we are in the right direction.

Logo evolution.

When the RDJ 2017 date was announced, we knew this will be a decisive factor for the future of the game. We worked every day the entire summer with no breaks at all until the day of the event, as if our lives depended on it, because they really did.

“Gurin didn’t shave their hair ever since RDJ 2016!”

The day had come, and it was the best experience in our entire lives, we were genuinely surprised by how much people enjoyed the game and wanted to play again; this was when we felt the true joy of making a game that makes people happy.
What made that day even better was that all our friends and family were able to make it to the event.

We met some amazing game developers again, as well as hard-working, passionate people eager to learn game development.
The day was coming to an end, it was time to announce the winners, and we really didn’t see it coming, because it was a dream coming true: Skelewton making it to Indie Prize.

“Now, we are aiming to finish the game during Q1 2018 and are preparing for Indie Prize USA 2018. We hope to find a publisher for our game. While we don’t know whether the game will be a success or a failure, we agree that spending 4 years on a first game has to be the greatest learning experience ever”.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Sara Is Missing: How “Real” Is It?

November 3, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Jeremy Ooi, Game Designer of Kaigan Games

Kaigan Games is a 6 person game company based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Founded by two brothers, Sharizar and Shahazmi along with Jeremy Ooi, the team started working on their first game together before the company was even formed. Wanting to break the mould from making casual games, they decided to take on a more serious approach and make narrative-heavy games designed specifically for the mobile medium. A pitch was drafted and a demo was made. Jeremy shares the story of Sara Is Missing, the Best Mobile Game of Indie Prize Asia 2017.


Best mobile game Indie Prize Singapore 2017.

Phoneception

While “phone simulator” games are starting to become a genre of its own as of the time of writing, we didn’t have much to start with during the early months of development. We had no point of reference and pretty much had to come up with everything from scratch.
The vision was big at first. We want to fully simulate a phone, with chats, galleries, call features along with popular apps like Tinder, Uber, a web browser and a music player. We were strapped for resources at that time and couldn’t bear the risk of making these features and failing. So we went just for the core features and shelved the rest. A chat app for players to make narrative decisions and learn about the characters, and a phone assistant (like Siri or Google Assistant) to guide the players along the way. We added filler features like a gallery, emails and music player to give the characters more personality. Just enough to make a game out of it and prove the concept.

Only messages and IRIS were interactive, the rest of the apps are just for aesthetics.

The story was particularly challenging, as none of us is a trained writer. We knew we wanted to make a horror game so that YouTubers would pick it up, but we didn’t know what would be the best way to do it. We used an obscure Japanese urban legend called the Red Room as a base for the story and built the rest from there, where the titular character Sara gets caught up in a technology-based supernatural event. A non-linear story of exploring a phone excited us, but having no writing experiences, we settled on a linear one instead. We decided to focus more on creating game mechanics while we sought the help of a writing team to flesh out the narrative and film the in-game videos. Whatever we couldn’t film or write, we asked for permission from other creators to use their work and incorporate it in the game, like the creepy videos and some of the filler texts.

We wanted the game to create a sense of eeriness and evoke a voyeuristic experience for the player.

Gating the game’s content through gameplay was something we spent the most time on. We wanted to make the gameplay as close to using a phone as possible, trying not to introduce unfamiliar mechanics to the game. The most logical solution was to block the player through password puzzles, but that proved to get quite repetitive. We used the supernatural aspect to justify the phone being limited in data and explored different mechanics on how to unlock them over time. We even experimented with a keyword-style puzzle where players enter notable keywords to “restore the phone” but that proved to be confusing and it also breaks our own rule. While not the best solution, we settled a tap and hold feature which allows players to progress and find clues by tapping and holding on interesting text or images.

Snapshot of our script.

Verisimilitude

We wanted the game to create a sense of eeriness and evoke a voyeuristic experience for the player. For the most parts, we did it. But the flaws of the game became very apparent once the novelty wears off. Since this game was a proof of concept, we took many of these lessons to our next game (more on that later).

The realism aspect was a double-edged sword. Some people were really immersed in the experience, drawn deep into the game with little effort, while others got genuinely freaked out by the game. At the beginning we asked the player to reset their “phone”, as a meta scare, making players second guess if their phone was really corrupted. This turned off plenty of people and telling them “it’s part of the game” inspired very little confidence.
The UI was also a tricky thing to balance. We recreated a phone UI as accurately as possible without much thought, but it turns out to be disruptive to the experience. Our notification bar served no function and was was there for purely aesthetic reasons. And when the player’s real messages came in and sometimes overlapped with the NPC’s messages, they were confused if that was part of the game. We also based the navigation on an iPhone UI, where the back button is on the top left. People who played the game on Android kept pressing their home buttons, with the hopes of going to the game’s home screen, but instead made them exit their app.

Not everyone uses an iPhone.

When building a narrative game, there are some expectations you have to meet, and one of the most important ones is multiple endings, which we didn’t really have. We only spent 2 weeks on the story and  ended up with a pretty short game, with an average completion time of 15 to 20 minutes. However that should not pardon us from at least trying to create more endings. Speaking of which, the biggest criticism from players was that our ending was pretty weak and abrupt, further robbing them of their satisfaction when they complete the game.

When you make a game that feels real, some players will explore how “real” it is.

One of the biggest surprises for us was that we didn’t expect players to dive in so deep into game game’s lore (there was no lore). When you make a game that feels real, some players will explore how “real” it is. Most of our dates and times don’t match up to the character’s actions, which left the hardcore game theorists dissatisfied. Some players tried to connect the creepy videos with the game’s story, but they we’re really just placeholders made out of random videos from the internet. Others think there is some ARG (alternate reality gaming) elements to the story. Some players realized that one of the in-game coordinates is of a real location, but it is more of a hint to where we, the developers, are from, and nothing to do with the story. We even had players calling our fictional phone numbers in the game, where one of them turns out to be real.

A reddit post speculating a possible ARG element.

More Than A Concept

Sara Is Missing could have easily crashed and burned, and we accepted the risk. Thankfully it paid off. While Sara Is Missing is a free game and we made no money of it, but the value of the project is still there. It brought us plenty of opportunities and support for our next title and grew our team to 6 people. The novelty of a “found phone” games is starting to wear off as many other games are trying to have their own go at the medium. The challenge for us today is to elevate that concept and transform it into a proper genre, with a deeper story, tighter mechanics and making things fresh again.

Sara Is Missing was a valuable lesson in more ways than one. SIMULACRA is the true vision of the game with all the cut features incorporated and all the lessons implemented. We believe we have pushed the boundary of what this game genre can be, and are excited to see how our fans will enjoy it.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Nonstop Show: How To Be Noticed In Local Market

October 18, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Vania Marita, Co-Founder of Wisageni Studio

The three of Wisageni Studio team members decided on starting their own company after meeting at Gamelan, a local game developer community in Yogyakarta, Indonesia back in 2014. Each of them has previously worked for companies that make games for PC, Flash, or do outsourcing. “So when we started Wisageni Studio, we used our background experiences and created some Flash games and worked with some sponsors”, recalls Wisageni Studio’s co-founder Vania Marita.  As the Flash games market declines, in November 2016 they finally tried to redirect development to the mobile platform with the release of their first mobile game, Nonstop Show.


Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Fhacktions: Sailing through uncharted waters

September 11, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Juan de Urraza, CEO of Posibillian Tech

Posibillian Tech is the game development studio behind Fhacktions, a location-based MOBA mobile game set in a future world ruled by factions of hackers. The studio is based in Asunción, Paraguay, with 12 full time employees. It was founded in 2015 by two software engineers and lifetime gamers, Juan de Urraza and Gabriel Villalba, who previously developed some small games while studying at university, but never as professionals.

The beginning of all

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Detached VR: Going Against Common Rules

August 16, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Jakub Kwinta, PR and Communication Specialist, Anshar Studios

This Polish studio knows how to exploit the potential of VR without forgetting other platforms. A group of 40 passionate individuals with experience in programming, design, and graphics, Anshar Studios, specializes not only in gameplay, but also in third-party projects, creating games and applications for other entities. Though Detached is their first VR game, it is a courageous project where the devs were not afraid of going against the norms, creating an extreme space survival game for the most demanding players.


Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Imperia Online team joins the VR game-creating trend

July 14, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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Imperia Online Ltd. is one of the biggest game production companies in Southeastern Europe with 20 released games. The studio has over 40 million users worldwide and a team of 185 professionals. The company originally focused primarily on browser-based games with main title being Imperia Online – a MMORTS, but later started developing mobile games as well. Their R&D department has recently decided they should tackle a new project in an area they’ve never explored before – VR games.


IndiePostmortem

Venturing Forth with Arclight Worlds

June 18, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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Since 2007, Sacramento’s active game developer community has fostered growth of game development throughout the region. In 2014, the Sacramento Indie Arcade, a community driven event, was created to help promote local game developers and show the world what is being developed in California’s capital city. Arclight Worlds recently won at this event with their game Venture Forth. As winners, Arclight Worlds has the opportunity to go and compete at Indie Prize Seattle at Casual Connect USA. The following article is a postmortem highlighting Jeremiah Ingham’s vision and search for talent.

By Jeremiah Ingham, Founder and CEO of Arclight Worlds

Deep & Dark

It all started down under, deep underground in Australia. In 2012, I had the amazing opportunity to tour one of the largest cave systems in the world: Jenolan Caves. As we traveled through these colorfully lit caverns, an idea sparked within me, growing, and ultimately evolving into what we now know as Venture Forth. That feeling of mystery and wonder, mixed with eerie suspense, never knowing what you will find down these dark tunnels was profound. I just had to try to capture this in a game. That night, still in the mountains of Australia, I started writing the first lines of code that would become the caves of Venture Forth. At the time, I was still in college, just starting to learn to program, but already addicted to using my new programming talents to create games. After returning to the US, I got one of my college friends excited about the project, and he took on the artistic direction for the game.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

The Long Reach: Never Trust A Purple-Green Cute Sheep

June 5, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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Painted Black Games is a young Ukrainian mini-studio. There are five of them,  and they’re making their first game – a philosophic sci-fi thriller-adventure, The Long Reach. The team has changed many times since 2015 when it all started. It didn’t mess up the process – on the contrary, everyone who has contributed to the game, brought their unique view and made it better.

As the developers were writing the story, the lights at their office went out. “We’re in pitch darkness and –  I’m not sure, but I think something is scratching at our door”, says Roman Tomilin, the producer and programmer, as he shares the game development story.

ContributionsIndiePostmortem

Rangi: the Making of Funsoft’s VR Debut Title

April 27, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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Rangi is a game developed by Funsoft. This studio recently won Digital Games Conference in Dubai (DGC). The DGC is an Indie Prize nomination partner. As winner, Funsoft has the opportunity to compete at Indie Prize Seattle at Casual Connect USA 2017. The following is a postmortem of Rangi and the journey in to VR behind it.

By Hatim Bensaid, CEO and Founder of Funsoft

Funsoft is based in Casablanca, one of the largest cities in Africa bordering Morocco’s Atlantic Ocean coast. The team is composed of several ex-Ubisoft employees who have contributed to titles such as Rayman Legends, Rayman Origins, Prince of Persia, Raving Rabbids, and CSI Hidden Crime.

It all started when Funsoft’s current creative director prototyped a VR demo during his spare time with a couple of colleagues. They presented the idea to the studio. The reaction was good, and so the adventure began. Initially intended to be a small game, the enthusiasm around it gradually grew with time, this urged to expand the ambitions and the team on the project, which led to a memorable journey.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Overkill VR: Mobile Game Goes VR

March 21, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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Overkill VR is a result of cooperation between two teams: Game Troopers & Starloop Studios.
Game Troopers is the official publisher of Overkill VR, managing promotion, marketing and distribution. Game Troopers is also an experienced publisher in mobile gaming, with a strong background in the Windows phone & Windows PC markets. While Starloop Studios is a multi-platform studio formed by developers and artists. Starloop has had many successful projects on different platforms, including PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, mobile, VR, and more. This experience gives Starloop a unique perspective on game development in different environments and, as the devs state, increases their potential for success.

Starloop’s biggest title to date is Make it Rain – The Love of Money, a mobile clicker with more than 20-million downloads across its three platforms, Android, iOS and Windows phone. These are the teams that created Overkill VR. Here’s how it happened.

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