Indie Prize London 2018 featured many exciting games that we will enjoy playing. The judging is now complete and Casual Connect Europe is happy to announce the winners and nominees in each category.
The winner of Best Game Audio is Zebrainy ABCs, created by Zebrainy Limited from Ukraine. This is an alphabet learning game for young children that takes them on a journey where they learn to construct each letter and then to know animals, objects and characters that begin with that letter.
Nominees for Best Game Audio were: LUNA the Shadow Dust, developed by Lantern Studio from the United Kingdom, a point-and-click puzzle adventure set in a fantasy world; Nishan Shaman by Next Studio from China, inspired by ancient Chinese Manchu mythology; and Hyperforma by Nord Unit of Russia, an arcade puzzle in a steampunk setting.
The winner of Best Game Design was EnigmBox by Benoit Freslom from France. EnigmBox is a puzzle game that requires you to use all the functionalities of your smartphone to solve the puzzles, including things like the location service, plug-in accessories and much more.
I guess that every single games developer in the world could say that everything started when they were kids and, with gleamy eyes but steady hands, played their first game. But I’d like to finish this post before the year is over, and that’d be a bit cheesy anyway, so let’s fast forward a little bit. In some sense, everything started when I decided to found a small development company. But then I would have to talk of 10 years of hard (but rewarding) work, during which we developed more than 50 products and saw many of our clients succeed – one of them sold his product that we developed for him for 50 million USD to NASDAQ!
So, fast forward again to the moment when we decided that the time had arrived to create our own “baby,” to make a game for us and not for others. The idea had crossed our minds before, but it wasn’t until some random day, having some coffee, when I saw a beautiful demo that Oren Rubin and Alon Simon had created. Back then it was something really tiny, but I instantly saw that it had something special – it was eye-catching, quirky, and funny. So I contacted them and told them that maybe we could make a mobile game out of it. We all agreed that it was worth a try.
And here we are, one year, one nomination to the Google Indie Prize, 20 times featured by Apple and Google (even featured once in the “Today” tab), and 4 million downloads later. It was definitely worth the try, don’t you think? But let’s see how we got here – the path is as important as the destination!
Dropout Games had its origin when Ankush Madad and Sujeet Kumar were both studying Game Design at college. During their second year, both of them, along with several other students, were working on a game that was a big hit in one of the college game jams. At the same time, things weren’t going as well at the college, with staff leaving, curriculum changes and a lack of relevance to the game industry. But they persevered, juggling courses while working on the game in the evenings and on weekends. As the end of the year approached, the project was now a polished game and they believed it had potential. So they took their game, ROTO, to Casual Connect 2014 in Singapore, where it was nominated for Best Free-To-Play Game, and on the final day they met a publisher. The team learned a great deal with ROTO, from starting a game and working it through to completion, including PR, marketing and the publishing process. As Ankush says, “It was the biggest lesson we had taught ourselves that year.”
When it came time to return to college, Ankush realized it no longer seemed worth the cost. He had applied for internships, using ROTO‘s success as an example of his abilities, and was fortunate to receive one at a great company. He also began investigating other Indian game studios making noteworthy games but couldn’t find many. A few were doing great work and there were also a few indie studios, but nothing seemed particularly exciting. Then some new indies began emerging in different corners of the country; their games were small, but they were willing to experiment. This gave Ankush the idea of starting his own indie studio.
At GameRome 2017, Yonder won the Indie Prize award for their game, Circle of Sumo, giving them an invitation to participate in Indie Prize at Casual Connect Europe 2018. They tell us that events like GameRome are essential to receiving “hot feedback” on the game you are creating. As well, they are opportunities to connect with many professionals and increase your network. GamerRome 2017 hosted many international representatives of the game industry. It was especially exciting for Yonder when two of them, Dave Gomes and Simon Gerdesmann, chose Circle of Sumo as the best game of the show. Gamesauce has been fascinated to learn more about this winning team and their game from Giuseppe Mancini, their game and level designer.
Fhacktions is a location-based mobile MOBA game developed by Posibillian Tech, a Paraguayan startup founded in 2015. Set in a near future where the world is ruled by factions of hackers, players must battle each other to maintain control of strategically placed servers that provide them with currency and power. The core of the game is its location based mechanic, with servers placed in real world places, like your local coffee shop or the laundromat next door. Conceived before Ingress and Pokemon Go were launched, Fhacktions had an uphill road to follow in order to finance, code and promote a game with mechanics no one yet understood.
The game received several awards, like winning the “Best Audio” category in Indie Prize USA, and being finalist in Indie Prize in Asia and Europe in the “Best Multiplayer Game” category. Google selected Fhacktions as one of the 15 best games in the Google Indie Games Festival LATAM in 2018.
Carbon Studio will be bringing their game The Wizards to Casual Connect Europe 2018 to compete at Indie Prize. They won this opportunity through Respawn, an Indie Prize Partner event. They are excited to be with developers from all over the world where they can exchange experiences and be recharged with fresh ideas. Recently, Paweł Gajda, the Business Development Manager at Carbon Studio, answered Gamesauce’s questions about the studio and developing The Wizards.
Participating in the History of Virtual Reality
Carbon Studio was founded by three friends who had been working at The Farm 51 (known for the game Get Even) and go out on their own. They came to this decision after learning of the Oculus Rift Development Kit and discovering a desire to create games for this new platform from its earliest days. They wanted to take part in the history of virtual reality as it was being written. And the games they choose to develop are those they would like to play – a common motivation among game developers.
Carbon Studio has its office in Gliwice, Poland and all the team exceptPaweł work there; he works away from the office. The majority of the team members are from the Gliwice area, which is part of a larger metropolis in the culturally and industrially rich region of Upper Silesia, and others have moved their families there. Most feel lucky to work close to home.
Paweł came to Carbon Studios after working in the film industry as a set manager. A director who knew of his passion for video games and new technology invited him to join a meeting with the owners of Carbon Studio, and he came out of it with a strong desire to work as a VR game developer. Not long after he joined the studio and his first task was to write the story for their first game, Alice VR. He also designed one of the puzzles for Unreal Engine 4. Currently he is responsible for communication and managing business development.
Total Focus on VR
Carbon Studios decided to focus entirely on VR games since players with VR headsets usually stop playing traditional games. “When you try VR once, there’s no going back,” Paweł claims. They expect VR to become more and more popular, so they treat developing for VR as a long term investment. As Paweł said, “I don’t believe it will replace traditional games in the future, but I think it may become as popular as console games, with millions of units sold.”
They began working on The Wizards shortly after the Oculus Touch controllers were announced for the Oculus Rift headset. The idea of seeing and using your hands in a natural way in virtual reality was something they found deeply inspiring. At Carbon Studio they didn’t just want to reproduce activities from ordinary life; they were determined to create something that was possible only in the limitless world of VR. So they decided to fulfill a dream of becoming a powerful wizard and casting spells. Both Dr. Strange and Harry Potter were useful inspirations in their direction.
The Wizards has something no other game can claim: the ability to cast spells with hand gestures. Traditional video games make motions by pressing buttons. In contrast, in The Wizards the player learns specific hand motions to summon spells. Once they are mastered, the player uses them intuitively in a way that is unlike any other experience that simulates magic. As Paweł explains, the gestures are easy to remember and perform and the functioning of each spell is realistic; throwing the fire ball, aiming the bow and deflecting with the shield all are familiar mechanics that feel lifelike.
The development of The Wizards took a few unexpected turns along the way. The game started out as a simple wave shooter that could be completed in less than an hour. The idea of the game was to have the player stand on a platform and prevent the enemies from reaching the village behind. As they were developing the game, they realized it would be more interesting if the player could teleport between many platforms. It still felt too limiting, so they added free movement and free teleportation. The Wizards turned from a simple wave shooter to an action adventure with a lot of exploration.
As they were developing The Wizards, Carbon Studio decided to test at a very early stage of development. They organized alpha and beta testing, each time using the VR community, with testers filling out a beta form. It was extremely useful and gave them many outstanding ideas, but the results turned out to be a bit misleading. The feedback on the movement scheme was overly positive. Once the game was released, players who had paid for the game criticized Carbon Studio’s choice to stick with node-based teleportation. Apparently the beta testers were happy to have been chosen to test the game and were unwilling to criticize too much. This is something the company will keep in mind for the future.
On the other hand, some of the testers gave much more than they were asked for. One not only filled out his survey, he also provided several hours of videos of him playing the game, finding bugs and giving feedback. He then pitched the game to his boss, owner of a VR arcade, and has become one of the game’s most avid fans. When someone on the internet suggests the game is similar to another, he responds that it is, but better. He has now become one of Paweł’s personal friends, and Paweł says, “It was worth organizing the testing just to meet this guy.”
After Carbon Studio released The Wizards on Steam Early Access, they had many players criticizing the movement scheme and soon there were “mixed” reviews on Steam. This was totally unexpected because of the positive reviews from closed beta testing. They responded three days after the release by announcing that they would add free locomotion, a less restrictive way of moving in VR, which the players had requested. As soon as this feature was promised, the positive reviews on Steam began. Now that the free movement update is out The Wizards is a much better game. There have been even more positive reviews and a significant increase in sales.
The Virtual Reality Revolution
Carbon Studio wants to be part of the virtual reality revolution and provide the people willing to buy expensive headsets with even more interesting games. With The Wizards they wanted to make a game that allows players to feel like they are really casting powerful spells, a game that lets them experience something that might have been a childhood dream but was impossible to fulfill before VR headsets were invented.
Carbon Studio’s monetization method is the premium model, releasing their games on Steam and the Oculus Store. The user base for VR is not yet large enough for freemium to be a workable method.
Inspirations for their games can come from anywhere. For example, Alice was influenced by Alice in Wonderland but the plot of the game is original. However, characters, themes and mechanics do have references to the book, such as shrinking and growing, or the Hatter’s riddles.
Carbon Studio’s projects are led by one of the three founders of the company, supported by the other two. Each of them has different skill sets and specialize in different areas of production.
How the Project Grows
A project usually begins with a brainstorming session with the entire team. They want to be sure they are working on a project that is relevant, interesting and completely understandable for everyone. After establishing this basis, most of the decisions will be made by the leads, but they are always open to ideas and suggestions from all team members throughout the development process. And, of course, changes are made all along the way.
As their experience in game development grows, they put increasing importance on alpha and beta testing. With The Wizards, they turned to Reddit and active users on the platform for their users. They were reaching out to future potential users and building a fan base. The choice was not quite as good as they anticipated, with the results more positive than was seen in users after early release. In the future, Carbon Studio will find more impartial testers as well as using the VR community.
When designing the visuals for their games, their basic principle is to minimize the compromises involved in designing for VR. They are fascinated by mega-scans and realistic assets, but there is a certain amount of unavoidable stylization. Although compromises are unavoidable, constantly improving optimization on UE4’s end mean the options for visuals are also constantly expanding.
The humor of The Wizard comes from the narrator played by Jason Marnocha, who leads the player through the world and its story with flair and sass. As well, the designers hid curios and Easter eggs for those who explore the levels in detail. And the developers are particularly proud of the first encounter with the dragon.
Six weeks after the early release, Carbon Studio introduced a Free Locomotion Update. The update allowed the players the choice between free movement and free teleportation which were both new ways to explore the world. There were also new map areas, item pick-ups, and new interactive world elements, each crafted to encourage and reward thorough exploration. Last November they released Arena Mode in which players can face off with endless waves of enemies, testing skills and spells they have learned in the campaign. They also added another new region and new chapter to the story called Shrike’s Desert, concluding the commitments to the Early Access and marking the full release of the game.
On March 8th, Carbon Studio had a full release of The Wizards. The full release of the game comes with epic boss fights, new story chapters, and empowered spells for the ultimate experience in wizardry. Paweł reflects, “We are grateful to everyone who trusted and supported us with invaluable feedback during Early Access. We are humbled that so many players joined us on this exciting adventure and we hope that the new content will meet our players’ expectations.”
If you are an indie developer, Carbon Studio reminds you that it pays to iterate fast and fail early. Don’t be afraid of criticism; feedback is incredibly valuable throughout the development process. Share an early demo on a platform with many users. If the feedback is negative, you will save months of working on potentially unpopular features; if it is positive, you have the beginnings of your fan base. Similarly, it is useful to create a Steam page and social media profiles to spread the word about the game, allowing people to observe it and add it to their wishlist.
You should never release a game without gathering feedback during production. And never tell someone who gives you negative feedback that they are wrong. If you are selling a product it won’t help to antagonize anyone.
The team of Escabeche first heard about Indie Prize when they applied to the Awesome Game Awards hosted by ADVA. They relate, “We didn’t expect much, but since we were showcasing the game at EVA Cordoba, we thought we could try, and then it was all surprise and joy when we won!” And they are so excited at the opportunity to show their game at Casual Connect. “If our work happens to inspire other developers, especially from Latin America, that would be just awesome.”
The game that won Best of the Show Award at Codemotion 2017 in Milan was The Way of Life Definitive Edition from CyberCoconut. This is the first game from CyberCoconut, with release expected during the first quarter of 2018. They will also compete at the upcoming Indie Prize competition at Casual Connect Europe in London.
Founding a Company with a Shared Vision
CyberCoconut was founded by Davide Caio and Nicolò Azzolini, who met at the 2014 Global Game Jam in Milan. Although they didn’t know each other at all, they quickly discovered they worked very well together. After the game jam they began working together on small projects. Then they released on Steam the prototype of The Way of Life, which they had made during Game Jam. In the first two weeks it had 100,000 downloads, and the community was very enthusiastic, asking for more. Suddenly they were motivated to start their own company and continue working on the game.
In 2015 a young Syrian artist who had just arrived in Austria bumped by accident into a game designer that had somehow specialized in political games. He joined the designer and his team first as an apprentice, but soon after they decided to embark on an adventure: to make an autobiographical adventure game about escaping from the Syrian Civil War.
The project in a nutshell:
Path Out is an autobiographical narrative adventure, that allows the players to follow the journey of Abdullah Karam, a young Syrian artist that escaped the civil war in 2014. In the game, Abdullah is giving insight to his real-life adventure via video comments that appear throughout the game. While looking like an adorable retro RPG the game attempts to draw the players into the harrowing experiences that Abdullah had to endure during his journey. It also wants to function as an empathic connection between the player and the all too real protagonist. The first chapter of the journey was made available for free on Steam, itch.io and Gamejolt in November 2017.
ALL CAPS is a startup game studio based in Aalborg, Denmark. They focus on creating exciting, entertaining games that keep players coming back to play again. Their first game, Block Amok was released in early 2015 and has been nominated for a number of awards. Now their new project, Disco Flip, has won the Audience Award at Game Scope, an Indie Prize Partner event and Denmark’s largest games festival. As winners, the ALL CAPS team was invited to Casual Connect Kyiv and Indie Prize Kyiv. Recently Gamesauce enjoyed asking Brian Nielsen, CEO of ALL CAPS, about their indie studio, their experience at Game Scope and, of course, Disco Flip.
Gamesauce: Tell us about ALL CAPS. What was your reason for founding this game studio? What would you say makes it different from other studios?
Brian: Well, to be honest, we hadn’t thought about founding a game studio. We were just four guys who loved making games and who had been working on a prototype for our first game, Block Amok, while we were attending Aalborg University. We didn’t have a plan for exactly what we wanted to do except we wanted to make Block Amok as awesome as possible as we felt a great game would have an easier time attracting attention from both players and the press.