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.
Mobile is a significant growth sector for the gaming industry and many are expecting VR to be the next big thing for the industry. In Next-Gen: VR & AR track, Casual Connect USA will explore the what game makers are doing to make the sector take off and what investors want it to succeed.
VR’s Rapid Growth
While there’s a lot of excitement surrounding augmented reality and virtual reality, there’s also a lot of confusion as well. The potential for VR is huge while AR might be even larger over the long term, right now there are more questions than there are answers. Looking at the full breadth of the industry, Tim Merel, founder/CEO of Eyetouch Reality and Digi-Capital, will look at AR/VR revenue forecasts, sectors, business models, investment, core tech, pricing and users. The session titled “The Reality of AR/VR” will look extensively at the facts and figures of AR/VR.
With platforms like Vive, Oculus, PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR, consumer VR has definitely arrived. However, it can be a challenge for developers to make sense of these myriad platforms and decided which to target. Game developer Edward McNeill will talk about the differences between these various VR platforms, talking from the experience of someone who has already launched to VR titles in “How to Pick a VR Platform”.
Located in Mazatlan and Cancun, Mexico, EnsenaSoft started in August 2009 with a desire to create educational and family-oriented video games. Their motto since the start has been “Learning. Fun.” With Where in the World is Monolisa, they believe they may have finally found a great balance. Samuel DenHartog, Founder & CCO, tells the story.
Beginning and Stopping Development
My team and I had come from a business app development and publicity design background, so we had a lot to learn about game creation and all of its many facets. Inspired by my childhood enjoyment of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? from Broderbund, we had wanted to make a game that would make learning geography fun. We have emails going back to October 2009 related to this subject and our desire to make a tablet and touch-based game. I mention this so you understand how we got from our thoughts of the game then to how it is now.
In 2009, we developed some preschool learning games and created the characters Pamela Possum and Sammy Squirrel. They were named after my two children, who were eight and four at that time. Living in Mexico, I wanted to create some games that would help them learn English letter pronunciation in a fun way. So we wanted to create a Trap A Thief Around the World with Pamela Possum and Trap A Thief In the USA with Sammy Squirrel. A raccoon would steal the acorns from the character, who then had to track them down. We were very much focused on creating 2D graphic backgrounds for each country, and a few characters who would offer clues as to where the thieving raccoon would travel next. We started development in 2010, but other projects kept taking priority. The background creation was slow, since we wanted to create three to four screens of background for each country. Ultimately, we stopped development.
In 2011, we had a big focus to bring our games to Mac and Android. At this time, we were using cocos2d for application development and would redevelop into Java for Android, and it was working well. In 2012, we brought our games to Windows 8 using HTML5. It was during this transition that we decided there had to be better way to support so many platforms. We were also getting interested in doing 3D vector-based game development.
After looking around and talking to people at game conferences, we decided to move our development to using Unity3d. While initially a very scary step and a big investment both in money and time, it is by far the best decision we have ever made. Now, instead of developing a game once on iOS, and then having Mac, Android and Windows 8 teams spend 2-3 months redeveloping it on other platforms, we can develop it once and bring it to all of the platforms in a day or two! It also allows us to start doing things in game development that literally one year ago we would not have thought we would be able to do for many years. The downside is this created a huge imbalance as we needed more designers. We could create things quicker, and the designer’s job just got a lot more complicated. 3D games can require many more assets, and they needed to learn 3D model development at the same time.
Going in the Wrong Direction
We created new titles that probably would not have been wise in production, but seemed funny at the time.
We decided to restart the game with new titles last September in Unity3d. We initially thought of a very simple city with four 3D buildings, using some of our prior graphics to create the look of each country around the edges. The designers would still have to create four images per country, and each building would have a character you could talk to for a clue. So a couple of our designers started creating 3D characters of Pamela Possum for Find My Nuts Around the World and Sammy Squirrel for Find My Nuts in the USA, and other designers to work on background. We created new titles that probably would not have been wise in production, but seemed funny at the time.
However, there we started encountering a few problems that made us go back and completely rethink our approach.
First of all, using designers who are just learning 3D modeling development, even talented ones, is probably not a good idea. They had to throw out and restart models a few times, as we learned good approaches to designing low polygon models with bone structures created in a good way to achieve the animations we would want. After several iterations, it became clear that we were not quite ready as a team to develop our own characters.
After several iterations, it became clear that we were not quite ready as a team to develop our own characters.
Second, this left the others designers focused on pure 2D image development for at least the following year. When you think about four images per country with 30 countries in our Paid version of the Around the World game, and then four images per state with 50 states in our Paid version of the In the USA game, that meant a total of 320 images need to be created. All the while, the designers doing this work were not creating any 3D models and advancing their 3D modeling capabilities. It also left us with extremely redundant game play with just four buildings. We could create some different textures, but it got repetitive and boring.
We also felt our intro scene with the raccoon, which never even got started, would have been repetitive and decided a shorter scene with game starting in different countries would be better. We also wanted to create a bigger scene for each country and state, so the player would get to run around a bit more. Lastly, as we thought about it more, we thought of the possibility that the new titles would not be seen as appropriate in the marketplace, so we decide to make a big change.
The World of 3D Game Development
In Spanish, the word “mono” is the word for “monkey,” and it sort of fell into place with us creating the new titles..
As we came to accept that we would not be able to create characters, we looked around to see what we could purchase from the Unity Asset Store. We found some great animated cartoon characters with low polygon count to play our protagonist, created by Dexsoft Game in the Unity Asset Store. We found nine very cute characters created by PlayPlusPlusto give out clues. Lastly, and very important to our new title, we found a single character with ten different textures that we decided would be perfect for a gang of villains in the Monkey Girls characters by 3DRT. In Spanish, the word “mono” is the word for “monkey,” and it sort of fell into place with us creating the new titles: Where in the World is Monolisa? and Where in the USA is Monolisa?, where you attempt to track down one of the Monolisa Mafia Girls who have stolen important cultural or historical items.
Then we decided to make 3D models for all of the important buildings and monuments rather than 2D images at the sides of the city. Now that we had the characters done, the EnsenaSoft designers could focus on creating 2-3 models for each country and eventually each state. The character design time wasn’t a total waste; the two designers who had worked on character design turned out to be ready and really great at creating lightweight 3D models that did not need to move, perfect for our purposes. We were able to find a few models to purchase, but have made quite a few and will be making all of the rest ourselves.
On to the Game!
In the final version of the game, you see a city which may have monuments from very different parts of the country when you arrive in each country, and always the flag for that country waving on the left. You can run around and Pamela will tell you about the history of a particular building or monument if you get close to it. We felt this is a great way for people to really get to see them, and it adds additional information for the curious to learn more, although not integral to the game-play itself. We also play a short piece of that particular country’s hymn or popular music on arrival, so you feel like you are there.
That cartoon character pack we used for clue-giving characters only had an “idle” animation for each character, but this turned out to be just fine for our needs, as we have them at different corners. We only have four characters in any given country showing from nine random spots. Each destination has around 20 clues, so each time a particular country is the next destination, you may get very different clues, and each time you arrive in a country, it will have different characters.
We found that just running around in the now larger city was kind of tedious, so we added the extra task of collecting gems. The gems are randomly scattered all around the city, and you pick them up as you find characters. We originally had 50 scattered and made you find all 50 to pay for your next flight. This was too difficult and made the level “not fun”. We played around and reduced the required gems to 25, and it felt just right. The gem collection and finding the actual characters presents sort of a hidden object challenge to the game and is part of what we hope makes it fun.
Once you have tracked the criminal across enough countries, you arrive in the destination country with a message that the criminal is in the country. We did make it a lot tougher. The criminal is at 1 of 20 different locations that are not directly on the road, but are sometimes out of sight. Since there is only one thing to find, we felt making this one a little tougher was actually more fun.
3D model creation still takes time, and that is why the final Paid version of Where in the World is Monolisa? will not come out until first quarter and with Where in the USA is Monolisa? being released after that. The great thing is that by the time EnsenaSoft designers are done with all of this 3D model creation of buildings and monuments, my team will have a lot more experience, and I think we will be ready to tackle character creation for one of our games in 2014! The more they create and learn about 3D modeling, the faster they become with the tools.
We decided to release the game first on Windows 8, and then on the iPad, as we are seeing a lot of growth on the Windows 8 platform and wanted to see what would happen if we gave it a head start. We haven’t decided what platforms we will bring it to beyond that, as we are still learning how to optimize our 3D world and characters so they run well across the mobile devices. We could have easily made it Universal on iOS from a technical standpoint, but in the end, we felt that it really showed better on a tablet or PC device, and that is where people probably would have played it most anyways. We do hope to bring it to some consoles as well once we get the Paid versions completed.
We have really enjoyed creating this game and have a lot of work ahead of us in creating the Paid version and the In the USA version. We hope a new generation of young people can enjoy learning about the world around them in a fun 3D environment. In the end, we created something very different from our original design thoughts and very different from the games that inspired our original thoughts. I think the final result is better because of it all, and it shows that it is important to have the best tools for the job and also realize that sometimes you need to be flexible and just start over again (and again).
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