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BusinessExclusive Interviews

Marc Hale: Liftoff for a Personalized Ad Experience

July 11, 2017 — by David Radd

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Marc Hale is the Head of APAC at Liftoff where he oversees partnerships with mobile app advertisers and agencies across the region.

Marc Hale is the Head of APAC at Liftoff
Marc Hale is the Head of APAC at Liftoff

“We offer CPA-optimized mobile app install and retargeting campaigns to performance marketers looking to acquire and re-engage high-value users for their mobile apps,” said Marc. “Mobile ad tech is a dynamic and rapidly changing industry, and over the last 10 years I’ve been fortunate to have worked at some key players at the forefront of those changes. With its data-driven approach to user acquisition and retargeting campaigns, Liftoff particularly interested me.”

ServicesStudios

RED Games Keeps Fingers on Pulse of Technology

August 30, 2016 — by Gamesauce Staff

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One of the first things someone might notice when looking up RED Games online or visiting their brick-and-mortar location is the code FF0000. While some may be at a loss to the meaning of this letter-number combination, those in graphic and game design will likely recognize it as hexadecimal for the color red.

RED Games CEO Brian Lovell says the unique branding is indicative of the company’s work and has been a great talking point for clients. “It suggests we do things a little different and we tend to think outside the box. It subtly connects the name RED to the work we’re doing with design and technology. New clients will ask us what it means, so it’s been a nice icebreaker. Most of the time (people) get a kick out of it once we tell them – they get to be part of the cool kids club.”

EventsIndustryNews

Keeping With the Times: Casinos Seek New Infrastructure, Investments, Business Models

May 25, 2016 — by Gamesauce Staff

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Editor’s Note: This is part 3 in a three-part series focused on changing trends in the casino gaming industry. Part 1 focuses on merging esports and casinos. Part 2 focuses on socialization inside the casino, skill-based gaming, and selling experiences as opposed to offering traditional gambling.

We live in a connected world. From social media and the internet to mobile devices and apps, people these days are with their most liked brands, tools, games and people on a near constant basis. Yet, casinos are not always as connected to their customers as they could be and older infrastructure can make it hard to adapt to the times.

At GiGse 2016, industry leaders and experts came together to discuss what casinos of the future will need to stay competitive and thrive in an increasingly technological world. Among the things discussed were new technology and infrastructure – as well as some ideas on changing the casino business model altogether.

ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndieOnlinePostmortem

Bingo Club: When Math is King

May 20, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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One word for it is “miraculous” – it’s miraculous how such a team came together in the right place at the right time. “It was as though someone had dropped a bag of scrabble letters, and amongst the resulting alphabetical catastrophe on the floor, one sentence lay there fully formed, ‘Start Company, Make Bingo’,” Oliver Jones, the director and co-founder of Moonfrog Labs recalls as he tells the story of their first game Bingo Club. The game was in made in six months by a team of four that grew to eleven.


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A Gamedev Startup – a Crazy Idea for Indian Business

This story is as much about game design as it is about India. Bingo Club and Moonfrog would not exist if Zynga did not open up a shop in India and hire the best talents they could find in all competencies. At the Zynga shop, our team saw the potentials of a fast-moving mobile company in an emerging market, and made the jump into founderhood. It was a bold move! Generally, Indian entrepreneurs like to start traditional buy/sell businesses. As a result, this startup idea of a gamedev company seemed far too risky for some of our family and friends, who asked us to slow down and think twice. We did neither.

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Our family and friends asked us to slow down and think twice before starting Moonfrog. We did neither.

We knew that our team’s combination of development skills essential for games is quite rare in this part of the world. In India, it’s tough to find design, product, and game programming professionals able to handle these big 1M+ player bases. It’s also challenging to find creative people who will push for awesome player experiences, and even more difficult to bring all these people together. In the hard times when Bingo Club was finding its feet on the marketplace and players riled about bugs, we would remind ourselves that we could be making a part of history. We could become the first Indian gaming startup to actually execute on both scalability and high quality. It was the idea that kept us polishing and pushing our standards higher.

Math is King in a Bingo Game

The “spit and polish” approach, however, can only be applied to a smooth, solid object. For Bingo Club, this meant some solid, smooth math. Believe it or not, the average number of Bingo balls called in a game dictates absolutely everything else! From session length to level curve, even the cost of power ups could be calculated from that single number. In order to find that number, we had to define a set of rules and simulate bingo games a couple of thousand times. While the company was still inchoate, I quickly realized this fact and knocked together a simple Bingo simulator in Flash, that you can play around with on my website. Simply input the number of players and hit play!

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The average number of bingo balls called in a game defines everything. A Flash app had been written for finding it out.

This simulator allows you to define a set of rules, such as player/Bingo ratio, XP per daub, and run it thousands of times. It outputs values such as how many bingo numbers are drawn before a game is over, and even what quantities of XP and coins you would earn per game. These numbers became my constants, my guiding star in the sea of shifting XP requirements and jackpot payouts. Of course later, we started being more creative with our game mechanics and made more sophisticated simulations with no designer-friendly UI.

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“These numbers became my constants, my guiding star in the sea of shifting XP requirements and jackpot payouts.”

Casual Means Usable, Not Easy

It may come as unfortunate news for developers and designers that you can’t launch a spreadsheet on the app store. Bingo Club only existed for a while as a glorious mashup of formulas and calculations, while our UI remained a blank canvas. As we started drafting screens, it dawned on us that perhaps we didn’t really know what would resonate with our target audience. Who were the players of Bingo? What semiotics and game patterns are they familiar with?

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Each screen was tested, scrutinized in detail, and compared with the closest competitors

To get rid of this problem, we started iterating. Above is a sample of what we greyboxed for the lobby screen before we came up with our final result. Each screen was tested, scrutinized in detail, and compared with our closest competitors. Along the rocky road to a clean interface, we also experimented with meta-games trying bizarre stuff like a Candy Crush Saga-inspired story and zoo animal collection. Along the way, we created hundreds of wireframe configurations.

Lesson Learned: Launch, Adjust, and Update

Despite the fact that we haven’t spent a single marketing dollar over the last few weeks, Bingo Club is naturally climbing its way into the top 100 in various countries, including the USA, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Our reviews are averaging 4.5 stars. The future looks bright! However, we can say that we launched too late! Bingo Club could have been launched three months earlier. But instead of that, we decided to push to become more feature-complete. This was a bad idea, as our app would have become far more polished had we received precious feedback and suggestions from the players sooner.

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“Our app would have become far more polished had we received precious feedback and suggestions from the players sooner.”

One could argue that Bingo Club has already completed its mission. It has gone a long way to prove that both Moonfrog and the entire Indian indie game scene is capable of competing against the best developers in the global arena. We saw the bar of quality exhibited in current bingo games, ran, and jumped right over it. You could say that Moonfrog hopped as high as you would expect a frog would on the moon. But our journey was not entirely frictionless, and certainly had no shortage of lessons along the way. Our plan for Bingo Club however, does not end here! With continued support, we intend to see how big our little game can grow. Expect us to add fresh ideas, new levels, and more. For now, its only one small step for Bingo, but one giant leap for Moonfrog.

At the time of writing Bingo Club is available worldwide on Android, but they are still waiting to see whether or not their efforts will be fruitful and rewards, more than intrinsic. Regardless of the outcome, they feel they have proven themselves as a team.

BusinessContributionsPostmortem

ex-Junebud’s Ola Holmdahl on terminating a company, clear division of responsibility and emotional responsibility

March 28, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Ola Holmdahl was the co-founder and CEO of Junebud AB, a Swedish game development company founded in 2008. Junebud grew from six people to about twenty in 2012. During this time, they released two games: the browser 3D MMOG MilMo, which was operated for two and half years, and Tuff Tanks, an artillery shooter MOG for the iPad. Both were free-to-play games.

As an entrepreneur, you constantly motivate yourself and others. You get up and tell the world you can do something no one else can. You convince people with skills, money, and ambition to work with you and take risks. Terminating your company is a powerful experience. Years of hard work, the hardest you’ve worked in your life, are reduced to ashes. Every single action you take during the process will have significant consequences.

Since the bankruptcy, I have been asked a lot of questions. Worried managers of other game companies ask: what went wrong? I tell them that business development efforts failed, and that it was my fault, which is true. But there’s more to it. This article describes what happened before, during, and after the bankruptcy of Junebud.

Battening the Hatches

In the winter of 2011, it became increasingly obvious that Junebud was headed for a rough patch. Contract work on Tuff Tanks, a new iPad artillery shooter, was paying the bills, but that contract expired in early 2012. While talks were under way, a replacement project was not in place. The publisher eventually decided against an immediate follow-up project, and wanted to release the game and assess its performance before deciding on new projects. By February 2012, it was obvious that we had to find a new partner for our next project in order to avoid financial disaster.

This posed a significant challenge for the management team and the board of directors. Wrapping up a game is always resource intensive. Meanwhile, signing a new contract takes an average of six months. The studio already operated MilMo, a browser 3D MMORPG that required a live team for maintenance and new features. MilMo was not generating any real profit, but paid for its live team and helped put the studio on the map.

A small prototype team was assembled, to find new applications for existing technology and to create new game prototypes. As 2012 progressed, several concept teams were assembled ad hoc, in order to produce new pitches and presentation materials.

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Clear Division of Responsibility

I had not fully appreciated before just how mentally taxing it was to prepare for both success and failure and performing at my max

The management layer of Junebud began looking at plans for handling probable scenarios as efficiently as possible. Analysis established that a division of labor was the way forward. The CEO (me) was to look only at success scenarios and work toward them. Simultaneously, the most economically adept director of the board was assigned the role of “devil’s advocate.” He was tasked with looking exclusively at worst-case scenarios and preparing for them. This was a successful decision, as it reduced a lot of stress. I had not fully appreciated before just how mentally taxing it was to prepare for both success and failure and performing at my max.

Focus is key, and focus requires limited scope.

Our next step was to identify important stakeholders and to have a plan for managing them at all times. For us, they were: employees, customers (publisher, players), shareholders, the bank, the stock exchange where our shares were traded, our landlord, and business partners. While in the process of trying to save the business, the biggest need for all our stakeholders was information. As a CEO, I was responsible for most of our information distribution. Having a clear plan and well-defined priorities was a great help in e-mailing, holding meetings, and issuing press releases.

Finally, the board of directors established a time frame, success criteria and termination conditions for the company. That is, what needed to happen by when for it to be reasonable to continue operations.

Keeping Everyone Informed

My focus, according to our fall-back plan, switched to damage control and a graceful shut-down of operations

Moving into spring of 2012, our efforts generated several promising business leads. This met with our success criteria and prompted a lot of work across the company. Meanwhile, our devil’s advocate held meetings with a bankruptcy estate manger, in order to have a turn-key solution ready if the situation deteriorated.

Ola Holmdahl

Out of roughly a dozen pitches, we ended up with three fruitful tracks. Due to different circumstances, one of them failed and two were unable to progress to signing within the time frame our board had defined. In the summer of 2012, this met with our termination conditions. The probability of saving the company was now so low that we considered it irresponsible to our stakeholders to continue operations.

My focus, according to our fall-back plan, switched to damage control and a graceful shut-down of operations. My short-term goal was to manage the formal requirements of liquidation: turn in the correct paperwork, issue press releases, and inform staff and partners. Medium and long term, my goal was to extract maximum value for the stakeholders.

For our investors, that meant liquidating all assets before the company ran up too much debt. For our employees, it meant writing recommendations as well as informing other game developers about the skilled people about to enter the market. For our partners, it meant making sure they had updated versions of all deliverables and the documentation they needed to use them. For the estate manager, it meant providing access to clear financial and legal records.

The Emotional X Factor

Consider the following list of responsibilities:

– Financial
– Legal
– Moral
– Emotional

The first two are clearly defined, and a matter of compliance. Moral responsibility is quite easy to grasp, as they reflect the mores of society. The emotional responsibility is individual, and thus subjective. Game development is technical, but as people we operate on an emotional level. As an entrepreneur, you motivate others, and to do that you must yourself stay motivated.

For me, it’s rewarding to know that over a dozen people got their start in the industry with Junebud, and have since brought their experiences to other great development companies.

ContributionsPostmortem

The Global Game Jam and beyond: FYI (2011)

February 20, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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The “Global Game Jam and beyond” series sheds light on the few brave Global Game Jam (GGJ) teams that have decided to take their GGJ projects to the next level and continue development after those challenging 48 hours. We ask each team to tell about their experiences, share learned lessons and offer advice on their attempt to turn their Global Game Jam project into a full-fledged commercial product.

The Global Game Jam version of FYI was developed by the Dutch game studio Digital Dreams and two friends of the studio. The concept of the game is based on infographics. Every action by the player results in changing bars and pie graphs, which make up the game world. After the Game Jam, FYI won the Independent Propeller Award for Best Design. The game has grown a lot since the team decided to continue development. Digital Dreams plans on releasing FYI to the public and is currently talking to publishers.

We were able to go just a little bit further with our game than the average Game Jam game

What triggered your initial consideration that your game was worth continuing with?
It felt right. From a gameplay point of view, the concept just felt right. Besides that, we had been able to reuse a lot of the code from previous projects at the Game Jam, so the prototype was already fairly complete as far as Game Jam standards go. We were lucky that our main programmer had recently worked on a similar game in terms of camera, physics and collision. Because of this we were able to go just a little bit further with our game than the average Game Jam game.

What do you believe was the main element of your game that allowed it to be commercially viable?
Even though it’s probably cliché and a common answer, we believe the uniqueness of the gameplay and the aesthetics makes FYI commercially viable. The gameplay is unfortunately really hard to explain in pictures and words, it’s something you should play for yourself in order to understand the concept completely. As far as aesthetics go, we use infographics as a visual style, which makes it stand out as well. This was also the main inspiration for the concept.

A screenshot of an early prototype of the game, showing the use of infographics in the game’s level design
A screenshot of an early prototype of the game, showing the use of infographics in the game’s level design
The biggest realization of the team members from the company was that we could produce so much in so little time

How did you manage the aftermath in your team?
Four out of six persons from the Game Jam team were already part of Digital Dreams. The biggest realization of the team members from the company was that we could produce so much in so little time. That’s why Digital Dreams decided to switch to developing smaller projects after the GGJ. That was a valuable lesson.

Another valuable lesson was about handling the IP. We talked to the other 2 GGJ team members and discussed our intent to possibly continue working on the GGJ prototype. In hindsight, this wasn’t enough. We should have done more than just talking. It’s never a bad thing to have things like this in black and white to avoid problems later on, especially before any money comes into play.

It made sense for us to continue as a company, because we really wanted full dedication and commitment. Basically we wanted to invest a lot of time, which is hard to achieve when working together part-time with people that have lots of other stuff to do. We also knew from the start we were taking a huge risk as Digital Dreams by investing our resources into this rough prototype, because we didn’t have the slightest idea if it would pay off some day. We really started to believe in its commercial viability after we won the Indie Propeller Award for Best Design.

What were the most important experiences/learned lessons and/or challenges that you had while further developing your game?
We knew the project would take around a year, making it the largest project to date for Digital Dreams. We did not have the money to do that. Selling the game to a publisher was the follow-up challenge. But it is great to get experience in this important aspect of the game industry, and learn how to pitch to other parties. It took quite a while before we convinced a party to actually invest in us though. This is one of the hardest things to achieve as a new start-up.

A second important experience was the difficult but necessary choice of engine. We considered quite a few engines to support the game. Unfortunately we can’t say much more about this without giving away too much at this point.
A second important experience was the difficult but necessary choice of engine. We considered quite a few engines to support the game. Unfortunately we can’t say much more about this without giving away too much at this point.

In your case, what did you learn from getting the game out to the public?
Well, the game isn’t public yet. But when we showed co-developers, other friends and publishers one of the prototypes we made, we saw how hungry they were for more. You just know you have something worth spending your time and effort on when people want more. This sure gave us confidence to continue development on FYI.

If you think you want to continue work on a GGJ prototype, it’s a smart move […] to know all the team members

What kind of tips would you give to other GGJ participants who might decide to continue developing their project?
Make properly signed agreements with your teammates shortly after or even during the GGJ. It’s not 100% necessary from a legal point of view, but it might help avoid some issues once you decide to continue with the project.
Also, it helps to know all the team members, this will make it easier to discuss this option, and you’ll know with what kind of people you’re getting on board with. It kind of goes against the GGJ spirit – getting to know new people – but if you think you want to continue work on a GGJ prototype, it’s a smart move.
Last but not least: Have fun! Creating something cool with friends in such a short time is one of the most fun experiences we can think of. So don’t worry too much, just give it your best and enjoy the ride!

You can find more information on FYI on Digital Dreams’ website. Currently, Digital Dreams is working on a big project, which will be announced in the coming months. Stay updated through Twitter: @DigitalDreamZzz

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Dynamic Pixel’s Goal Defense (iOS & Android)

February 7, 2013 — by Bart Eijk

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Dynamic Pixels is a leading mobile games developer based in Russia and CIS. Established in 2004, the company has grown into an experienced studio with almost 40 titles for java, Android, iOS and Bada. Dynamic Pixels games are distributed by content-providers, operators and vendors across South-East Asia, Middle East, Far East, South Africa and Western Europe, reaching in excess of 5 million players across the world.

We are all fans of the tower defense genre. So when the question of what kind of game we would like to develop came up, we knew it would be a tower defense game. But knowing the genre was not enough. What we needed was at least the slightest idea of a style or some kind of plot for the game. We spent days and wasted tons of pizza trying to figure it out, but in vain. At that point, our programmer saved the project. We still don’t know how, but he did it. When everything seemed to be lost he came in and said: “Let’s develop a tower defense game based on sports!” And you know, it clicked: the turrets and creeps would be transformed into sportsmen, the battlefield into a sports ground; a humorous touch would level the usual view on sports as a protracted process.

Video Coverage

Crzyfish’s Jin Ho Hur on the Korean Mobile Market, Starting a Successful Business and Adapting to the Market

February 5, 2013 — by Catherine Quinton

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The Two Essential Keys to Starting Your Business

Jin Ho HurThe absolutely most critical aspect of starting a business is building a good team with a clear understanding of the goal of your business. This is also the most difficult thing about both starting and succeeding with the business. Having a common understanding of the goal is the key to succeeding.

The second important aspect of starting a business according to Hur is focus. “You  should recognize that a number of different opportunities exist,” says Hur, “not only the main business that you started with.” He maintains that there is a temptation to become involved in too many different opportunities, and this is one of the main reasons businesses fail. Focus on the key things you decided to do.  Hur emphasizes that team building and focus are the two most important things to remember as you start a business.

What Does the Market Need?

“You should recognize that a number of different opportunities exist, not only the main business that you started with.”

Next, Jin believes you need to address what the market needs rather than emphasizing what you can provide. Many startup businesses make the mistake of focusing on what they can do, when the important thing is to offer what the market needs

Determining what the market needs is not a task with a simple solution. Hur looks at a number of different things to help in this assessment. First, he observes what people are doing on the street, in the metro, wherever he is going. He also compiles ideas and market reports. There is no single thing you can do to find out what the market needs, but you should always be working to understand what that is and what you can do to provide it.

Adapt to the Changes

The ability to adapt to the market is crucial. Crzyfish is a good example. When Hur started the company three years ago, there was no iPhone; the feature phone dominated the market and the carriers were in control. This market was not growing, and he didn’t see any opportunity there. But two years ago, the iPhone was introduced; the new Android dominated the market, and he realized there was a new opportunity coming. Within the last year, there has been a shift to mobile gaming.This is the kind of market change that Crzyfish adapted to in order to take advantage of the new opportunities.

It is critical to adapt in real time. “The fundamental thing is the business model is changing,” says Hur. More than 90 percent of the market is now the freemium-based business model, which means the market will grow to several times its present size. Hur tells us, “Many people, including myself, believe that the mobile game market will grow to a couple of billion dollar market in a few years.”

Market to Local Users

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Their awareness of local requirements is one of the things which makes Crzyfish an excellent partner for developers interested in moving into the Korean market.

When promoting a game, it is essential to gather feedback and be prepared to adapt to the local market based on that feedback. Hur uses five to ten different types of promotion programs for the game, then monitors KPI on a daily basis, changing the promotion plan as a result of this information. There is no single formula for how to do this; it is subjective, but the key is being flexible and adaptable, using KPI and customer voices for guidance.

Always be aware that games are games, and as such they are dependent on the culture and behavior of local users. Hur says, “It is very important to understand how the local users would like to have the game and also how to address that kind of requirement.” He reminds us to address the preferences of the local area whether that is Japan, China, or any other area. Their awareness of local requirements is one of the things which makes Crzyfish an excellent partner for developers interested in moving into the Korean market.

Crzyfish’s gaming platform Vivagame performs a number of different types of the cross promotion and viral loops for promoting the game.

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Ostrich Banditos’ Westerado

January 30, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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About five months ago Ostrich Banditos, a small independent Dutch games studio, came into existence. Ostrich Banditos counts five guys, all students, who decided to collaborate in an effort to create lively, memorable games. This is the story of developing Westerado, a western action adventure detective RPG for Adult Swim, or simpler: spaghetti western simulator.

Ostrich Banditos
The five Banditos, from left to right: Jeroen Wimmers (programmer), John Gottschalk (business dude and game designer), Jordi Boin (game artist), Wytze Kamp (producer and game designer) and Yhorik Aarsen (programmer and interaction/game designer).

Before the summer three of us, John Gottschalk, Jordi Boin and Jeroen Wimmers collaborated on a school project. The goal: to create a rogue-like game, heavily inspired by Western movies. For a couple of months we worked on the game and delivered an immersive yet barebones game where the player could walk around and shoot bandits.

In the following weeks the full team came together to discuss the setup of Ostrich Banditos. After some talking Octrich Banditos was born! Now we were scouting for assignments. The most interesting one was suggested to us by the guys at Vlambeer: Adult Swim was looking for developers to pitch their game ideas. We collected a few ideas we already had, from which Westerado stood out. The game ready to show and we could make a quick and easy start on expanding the game.

In order to see what Adult Swim was looking for in a game we took a look at their previous titles. Each of their games has some sort of weird twist, something odd that would make the game stand out. Westerado, in its current form, lacked focus and structure. This led us to re-defining the experience: we’d have to give our western game more focus and integrate Adult Swim’s twist.

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Ticklebot’s Super Sub Hero (Flash)

January 23, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Ticklebot is a tiny independent game studio, located in Serbia. The idea for Ticklebot formed soon after the meeting of its only two members, Stefan and Milica, and came to life in the spring of 2012. The name “Ticklebot” is derived from the founder’s true nature, as Stefan is a real human resembling robot and Milica is sort of a tickling maniac. This article is on their soon-to-be-published game Super Sub Hero.

Super Sub Hero is a puzzle platformer with an unusual kind of mechanics, a wintery atmosphere and a laid-back feel to it. What we started with, six month before its release, was a funny little ballet dancer hopping around and doing silly jumps. We wanted to make a game that would make players smile and relax while using their brains as well.

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