Pinokl Games is a Ukrainian game development studio with a team of 12 people who love games and would rather develop a game more like a service than a one-off product. Their game Mecha Titans is about tactical combats, a three-fighter team of robots. There are missions, a story, collecting, multiplayer to kill the bosses, and tournaments. “We’ve got high quality graphics, 70 robots with 4 active skills each, and over 200 types of weapons, an RPG system, characters development, skills learning and improving””, co-founders Igor Arterchuk and Oleksandr Potapenko explain, telling the creation story of Mecha Titans.
Girls and Warplanes (Russian – Храброе Звено) is the 8th project of the Minsk-based studio of Neskinsoft. It all started from a small experiment in the genre of action. Even though the company has got some experience of creating dynamic games for the midcore audience, they admit they still have room for improvement. Their previous title, Беги, Вова, Беги (Run, Vova, Run) has been praised by the players, but, despite thousands of positive reviews, in terms of monetization the product was far from even covering the development expenses. “In order not to fall into the same trap again, we decided to take a sneak peek on the solutions of more successful colleagues from the Asian market”, Sergei Neskin, the CEO and co-founder of Neskinsoft explains.
Prototype: Brave Girls On Cool Warplanes
Blugri is an indie game studio based in the heart of Europe, Brussels. Tom Janssens, who founded the studio in 2012 shares the story of its latest game Circuits. He started off developing games by coincidence: after the launch of WP8 and following an XNA course he created his first game called Boxes, just for fun. After the first success Tom decided to become a full-time game developer and started establishing the blugri team. Blugri’s mission is to create casual games with an innovative touch, with smart and high-quality graphics and sound, Tom explains. And the most important point for his team is to create games that everyone (including themselves) loves to play! The blugri team has already created the games of Sudoku, Solitaire, Boxes, Jungle Mamba and Air Hockey.
Pipe Mania With A Modern Twist And Electricity
Vladimir Gersl discussed the transition from working in a big company to turning indie during his session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014. “Use AAA games rigid processes for vision, budget & planning,” he explained. “But as indie, stay flexible and iterate a lot to find the perfect process that will suit you.”
During Laurent Lavigne’s lecture at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014, he explained, “We never stopped working on the gameplay until two weeks before the launch!”
Laurent Lavigne started his career working on Hollywood blockbusters including Mission Impossible 3, The Matrix movies, and Transformers. After 15 years in Hollywood, in June 2008, he founded Elefantopia, a startup which makes conscious games. Laurent is currently launching a new game entitled Amazing Forest, which he announced at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014.
The game Elefantopia began as a sort of Farmville meets Sim City game. At the time of Elefantopia‘s birth, he was addicted to Farmville without knowing why. In order to understand, he decided to make his own game. This new game was centered on the balance of nature and played on spiritual energies. Elefantopia‘s name sprang from Laurent’s fascination with Ganesha. He later used the name for his company. Laurent performs the initial pass on all task and then hires outside contractors to redo what didn’t work or would have taken too long for him to do himself. He admits that it’s not exactly efficient, but it is what has worked for him thus far.
Career Path and Passions
Laurent first got involved in the game industry with the development of McDROID. Prior to that, he was making McDROID alphas and prototypes in a sort of vacuum. When he needed to make money, he launched Desura, later traveling to the US to do a booth at PAX EAST in Boston, Massachusetts. This was a very gratifying experience for Laurent. Still, he doesn’t claim to be a part of the game industry, except when he participates in jams or when he experiments. He still has some games in his head that would make people happy. Yet he would prefer to do things directly with his hands to make things and to help people. Some examples he mentioned were efforts towards planting trees, de-polluting water, and providing water to those that do not have access to it.
Describing himself as mercurial, Laurent enjoys swimming, Yoga, meditating, drawing, travel, and driving fast in Beirut. Because he used to waste far too much time on iOS games, he has given up playing games entirely. He even prefers Windows Phone because it has “a superbly crafted, elegant OS which is very, very fast, and doesn’t have tons of games to distract me”. He does own an iPad 2 though.
For Laurent, the best moments in his career is when he drops his ego, which leaves space for “the elegance of silence and simplicity can set in.” His past work with big movies and seeing constant script changes taking place prepared him to be able to detach himself from his creation without feeling heartbroken. In short, change is inevitable and is part of the creative process. His process helps him to see the big picture and be able to work relatively fast.
According to Laurent, the next big thing is the elevation of human consciousness. The reason for this are:
- If it doesn’t happen, we’re screwed
- Gaming has already reached rock bottom, so the only way is up
- The technology is ready
LEAP Game Studios is a Peruvian development studio founded in 2012 by a group of passionate developers that decided to create fun experiences while experimenting with game mechanics and themes. Squares was its first original, which gathered a lot of attention from the press and at game festivals. It is expected to be released on PS Vita in Q1 of 2015. Michael Barclay, the company’s CEO, tells the story.
The Best Ideas Come at Night
Sometimes, the best ideas come late at night, when you are not waiting for them. It was the Global Game Jam 2012 at Lima, Peru, a meeting where people gather for about 48 hours to prototype game ideas. I had this kind of experience just 24 hours before the deadline for the Game Jam. The idea was “How fast can a human move the mouse cursor from one side of the screen to the other and precisely click on something?” The first version was just a group of black squares and a timer. You had to click a first square as fast as possible to get to the next one, followed by another one before the timer went to zero. And time was really short. The prototype ended with around five levels, each with smaller squares and less time than the previous one. It was extremely hard, but very addictive.
At the beginning, it was tied to a mouse, but Phillip Chu Joy, our lead game designer, had been playing a lot of Diamond Dash on his iPad and got the idea to use a remote desktop application like Splashtop and test squares on a touchscreen. It was much easier to break my records and felt like a blast.
From a Game Jam to a Company
Even though all of the founders of LEAP Game Studios weren’t in the same group at the game jam, we realized we could make games together. After that jam, Phillip Chu Joy, Luis Wong, Renzo Castro and I decided to start LEAP because we felt we made a good team. We started building new stuff right away, did a couple of advergames, a lot of strange prototypes, and took the challenge to make Squares our first independent game.
Sticking to the Minimalistic Squares Design
How hard is it to make a good design with just a bunch of squares? Turns out its pretty darn hard. It took us around 20 iterations to design the menus, loading screens, and animations. We changed the original time scale (a text one) to a moving gray background and switched from intricate menu designs (with too many elements to be true to the overall concept) to simpler ones made up of a few squares. We had a little fanaticism about our game elements. It used to have just gray squares. Color was taboo in the beginning. After a great debate, blue and red squares were added.
We tried to keep the core mechanics as limited as possible. The basic one is touching everything that’s blue: once for light blue, twice for dark blue. Then we added arrows. There was a debate about loss of perfection and the lesser squareness of these arrows, but they were still added and you didn’t only have to touch squares, but also needed to move some of the squares in the direction of the arrows. We had some other mechanics that didn’t make it, but felt we had to manage the maximum level of complexity with care and try to be conservative to avoid making a different game than the one intended.
We had a lot of fun designing the levels. It was challenging to have so few mechanics and make them end up as creative elements of fun. Most levels are hard enough so that you can’t beat them at your first try, but they are short enough so you will try again many times until you eventually beat them.
Approval of the Famous
We’ve managed a good level of addiction that is pleasant to see, so we aren’t offering any treatments any time soon. Squares was nominated for Best Mobile game at the SB Games Independent Festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil and was among the top 20 finalists in the Global Game Stars contest in San Francisco. It also was a finalist at the Indie Prize competition during Casual Connect Europe in 2013.
We’ve had some interesting people give it a try. Raph Koster (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) said that he liked Squares a lot and tweeted about the game to his followers while attending a game festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Raphael Colantonio (Arx Fatalis, Dishonored) was pleasantly surprised by the level of engagement in the game and said he is eager to try the iPhone version for the game.
Even Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness) said he enjoyed it since it was something different from what he had experienced before. And Notch really enjoyed the game when he played it in GDC 2014. At these festivals and playtesting sessions, we also received generous feedback that we included in updates, such as a new tutorial and a special version for smaller screens. Also, we saw that we could work more on the level design for keeping the players engaged for longer.
LEAP Game Studios is currently working on multiple projects including advergames for other companies, newsgames, and some titles of their own for different platforms. These games don’t have squares, but the team is always struggling to make peculiar stuff. However, a new update for Squares (iOS, Android) is coming in the next few months, and there will also be a version for PS Vita in Q1 of 2015, since the team entered the incubation program of PlayStation this year. The team is also establishing a satellite office in France to get to know more about the game scene in Europe.
Officially created in 2014, Whiskey Jack Games actually began when two people decided to create a game called Crudelis in October 2012. With this core team, and another person helping with graphics from time to time, Whiskey Jack Games settled down in Poland and got to work. Marcin Paterek, one half of the company, shares the story of Crudelis and their path to this point.
It All Started With a Strange Question
“How about creating a game together?” my friend asked me when we traveled together by train. I looked at him with undisguised astonishment. I had a good job, an arranged life, and I could do what I loved most every evening – playing games. I’ve never thought about throwing it all away and starting the development of a game of my own. Therefore, after confirming that my companion had no idea for a game and just wanted to ‘do something’, I politely thanked him for the offer.
Then in October 2012, two months later after that question, I was sure – yes, I WANTED to make a game. The idea for it came up in the course of an evening stroll through the beautiful Wroclaw, Poland. The amazing play of lights brightening the building of the university brought me to another world – the world of nineteenth-century reality, torn by social inequalities between the poor group of workers and the rich manufacturer owners. A world in which there are no electronics, and everything is based on a primitive steam engines and electrical engineering. In that moment, I thought about Arcanum and books by Jules Verne. Before I got home, I knew that steampunk RPG was something I always dreamt of.
More, More, More!
Over the next few days, the basic storyline was established and the main character formed into Henry Shackelton, a young scientist trying to outsmart death. His background was one of the very first things we knew before game development event started. The inspiration for creating him was the book The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, by which I was truly amazed with in my childhood. While it is hard to pin down what exactly inspired us about this book, it has a big influence on the plot of our game. All those primitive machines fit perfectly in the steampunk atmosphere we were trying to create. We wanted to try to build upon original story of young scientist, who surprisingly finds himself in a very difficult situation because of the invention he made.
However, this is where Crudelis comes in, as the book obviously isn’t interactive and its outcome can’t be changed. In Crudelis, the player could be described as “co-author” of the plot. Even we aren’t sure what way will they go or what decisions will be made. On this basis, the whole world was created, including the basic plot and the most important heroes in the game. The rest of the game’s plot is still under development – we know the start point and the multiple endings, but the ‘middle’ part is still under development.
From the beginning, its mechanics assumed that reaching the credits will take just 60 minutes. The title Crudelis (the Latin word for “cruelty”) suggested itself – this way, I managed to combine the criminal nature of the scenario with the merciless passage of time. But the more time I spent on a design, the more I confirmed myself the belief that the game surpasses the capabilities of one person. Pages on which I wrote down any new ideas soon formed a thick stack which I couldn’t put into the game manually. Thus, I came to a stage where it proved necessary to create a harmonious team.
Beware of the Colleagues
At this point, I made my biggest mistake from which I want to protect all aspiring artists. The most obvious place to look for co-workers was a rich list of friends. Who makes the best team, if not good friends? At least I thought so. Soon our ‘studio’ had a population of three people, which, in theory, should be enough to deal with the weight of the project. However, little time passed before the life verified dreams. None of us knew how to develop a game. Everyone considered it as an additional job to which we sat down after finishing our paid work. As a result, we weren’t one step closer to putting the ideas from the pages to our computers. At this stage, there were delays due to a prolonged decision-making process. Every idea, instead of being implemented and tested as a proof-of-concept, was waiting for the approval of the other members of the team. Our skills gaps quickly came to light – at each task, we had to start from learning the basics, so progress almost froze in one place. This state of affairs lasted for nearly a year, time considered as “lost”. I do not wish anyone a state where you feel that you’ve wasted a year of your own life.
At the end of 2013, we came to the conclusion that working in this way did not make any sense. Although our skills noticeably improved, Crudelis still arose at a snail’s pace. In this situation, we decided on radical steps – we said goodbye to one of the team members, while I resigned from my permanent job and invested all my savings in production. From now on, we knew there was no turning back. Fortunately, it was a good decision. The time needed to approve the idea noticeably shortened, and we could change the shape of the game virtually on the fly. In this way, we got rid of at least half of the previous ideas that abundantly accumulated during unofficial discussions, and focused on what was most important to us. At this point, the fate of Crudelis had been sealed – a 2D role playing game, where the non-linear scenario needs to be revealed for the player in 60 minutes. The fact that we got rid of unnecessary ballast (both in terms of game mechanics, as well as ‘life typical’ issues) significantly accelerated the work. Every day, we created new location fragments which were then enriched with details and set aside for later. After a few weeks, we went back to them to evaluate them with fresh eyes. About a quarter of them were good enough, the second quarter had to be improved while maintaining the general layout of the buildings, and about half proved to be just weak and landed in the trash.
I Sentence You to Crunch
In this mode, the next nine months passed until September 2014, when we were finally ready to show our project to the public. The last four weeks before the announcement I consider as a nightmare, because, for the first time in my life, I found myself in the middle of a crunch time and felt obliged to work 14-18 hours without a single day off. In addition, there were a lot of legal and financial problems, which unexpectedly fell on us just before the debut on Steam Greenlight. Always double check for any unlicensed third party materials in your game! The brightest point of the period turned out to be a contact with Reddit. Thanks to them, we were able to reach over 800 people in the three days, spending only a few dollars. It’s a lot more than we have accumulated through the traditional websites.
This completes our brief story. Exhausted by a frenetic pace of work before the official announcement of the game and the attempt to hit on the traditional media, we can finally go on a short vacation. We still have a lot of work to do and difficult decisions to make before Crudelis will see the light of day in 2015, but we are not afraid to sacrifice. If even one person admits that he was waiting for a game like this – we are sure it was worth it!
As a developer, you want the world to think that you are a thriving company with half a dozen employees destined for greatness in the indie game scene. But Bobby Patteson, the owner and CEO of the Toronto-based company Highcastle Studios, decided to tell the truthful story of making a game that is not on Steam’s top 100 sellers list. Bobby is a former male fashion model, an inventor, an artist, a computer game developer, and in between all that, you can find him doing all the jobs that nobody else wants to do (for the minimum wage, he adds). Highcastle Studios is literally one guy making games with a little help from Jonathan, an intern from last summer, and music commissioned by Matthew Joseph Payne. Bobby defines his goal as “to make weird games that explore new ways to play and interact”. Point Perfect is his first experiment.
Test Your Skills While a Friend is in a Starcraft or LoL Match
The idea of Point Perfect comes out of my love for real-time strategy games and the eSports culture that surrounds it. I noticed that there can be a lot of downtime between games of Starcraft or League of Legends. I thought – wouldn’t it be great if there was a casual game to test your skills while waiting for your friend to get out of their 40-minutes game? And so the concept for Point Perfect was born: the casual game for the hardcore gamer.
At the time, I had a passion for designing games, but absolutely no idea of how to program. So naturally I gravitated towards Gamemaker Studio to build my game. Because of the technical limitations of the engine, I decided to go for retro aesthetics. What is more, I always felt that Point Perfect should have been thought up sooner, and belonged in the 80’s with Tetris and Pong.
Making Fun of Losing the Game
There were many changes and updates of the game during its development. The original idea was to have the player only avoid obstacles with the mouse pointer. It dawned on me, however, that the game would be too similar to free titles that people could play online. There just wasn’t enough depth in mouse-avoidance alone. So I decided to allow the player to fight back by drawing boxes around enemies and blast them to bits with a laser from your mother-ship.
This was the turning point and the most exciting part of doing the game’s design, but it also created some new issues and concerns. After initial playtests, it was evident that people were having extreme difficulty with the two competing tasks of both avoiding obstacles and aggressively selecting enemies to destroy. However, I also noticed that players were keen to figure it out, and there was a strong “just one more try” element to the game.
After a while, the player would adapt and be able to understand the gameplay, but the initial learning curve was very steep. That’s why I decided to add probably the most controversial element to the design: “making fun” of the player for losing! After all, the players who might get offended by this are not the people who would be playing my game in the first place. So the decision came to embrace the difficulty of Point Perfect and try to get the player to laugh about it.
Graphics Define Audience Range
I am very happy with my final product, but there are some things I may have done differently a second time around. The most notable is the importance of the game’s graphics to appeal to all audiences.
It’s very easy for a game to be discriminated because of the graphic design. There’s so much depth and content in Point Perfect, and it breaks my heart when I hear things like “is this a Flash game?” or “this should be free”. Believe it or not, it’s also very easy for the media to have the same opinion based on a first glance. The retro look fits my personal taste and vision for Point Perfect, and while there are many gamers who love it, there are also many demographics that I have found despise this art style, unfortunately. Maybe a better fusion of old and new would have made a difference in making my game more appealing to different audiences.
Point Perfect was picked up by a publisher, Plug In Digital, and distributed over all the major online stores such as Desura, Humble Store, and Steam on July 17, 2014. It has quickly gained the reputation of one of the hardest PC games out there and has been somewhat of a cult hit with YouTube celebrities because of its unique design and crazy sense of humor.
Overall, the game has been received quite well by the game media and reviewers. And while the sales are not blowing the roof off, I am told to be above average for an indie release. I am currently developing a new game labeled as totally top secret, for now. I’ve decided to venture into the realm of 3D and put more artistic abilities to use this time around.
Point Perfect is now available only for Windows PCs, and Bobby might make it MAC and Linux compatible in the future.
The year before last, Jeremiah Alexander had two new game ideas. The first was a card collecting game, conceived in response to an emerging trend – let’s call it Project A. The second was based on an impulse to make a minesweeper game – let’s call it Project B. “Project A was approached in classical fashion: production of an extensive and detailed game design document (40 pages to be precise), sent on to a potential publisher”, Jeremiah recalls. “Project B had no formal design, more of a hacked together prototype that then became a game”.
Project B is now called Grave Matters. It was selected for the Indie Prize showcase and publicly unveiled at Casual Connect USA in July 2014. Project A is still currently just an expensively bound design document, gathering dust in the corner of a publisher’s office on the other side of the world. Jeremiah shares the story about two different approaches to making a game.
A Minesweeper Game to Rest From Project A
This story begins in my office, an open plan space I share with two other games companies (Fluid Pixel and Whispering Gibbon). We have a very different attitude to most things, nevertheless, we try hard to help each other out. We have no formal partnership agreements to this end, but just share the belief that it’s better if we all succeed. Your lawyer and business consultant might tell you this is foolish, companies must operate in independence, with NDAs and policies to conserve secrecy and intellectual property integrity. Whilst I am occasionally forced to deal with these legal formalities, I do prefer handshakes and IOUs.
One (probably rainy) day, I walked into the office and said, ‘I want to make a minesweeper game’. This sort of random idea outburst is common and most often ignored, as it was in this case, too. However, I had a bit of hiatus in paid projects, and was bored of writing documentation for Project A. So, I cracked open Unity and just started making the game, designing it as I went along.
In a rather short time, I had a basic version of the game. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but a couple of rewrites later, it became much better! These rewrites included a complete grid structure change (from squares to hexagons), and some different ways of representing danger. Generally, the gameplay design was just a process of experimentation, this project wasn’t about doing things by the book, it was about just letting off some steam.
Not long afterwards, I stopped working on Project B and went back to working on the design document for Project A, the card-collecting game. I was convinced that if I picked an emerging market trend, designed an amazing game within it, and produced the most beautiful game design document ever to illustrate it, then we’d be onto a winner. We did this, then we sent it to the best suited games publisher and waited…
Digging Grave Matters Out of the Dropbox
… and waited. I soon returned to Project B, which was quite fun at this point but looked appalling! So, I borrowed some of Gareth‘s (Fluid Pixel’s art lead) time to help me out with the graphics. I had already enlisted his help on some steampunk designs for Project A, so it made sense to stick with the theme. At the time, I was also working on an educational project around 19th Century English history, which included some interesting research into grave diggers and resurrectionists such as Burke & Hare. This became the inspiration for the game and Project B became “Harey Burke”, later to be renamed Grave Matters.
So the Grave Matters game already had a name, some graphics, and was fun. But then the clients started calling again, bills needed to be paid, and the game was put on the shelf where it sat for a while. Not long after this, Project A was rejected both by the publisher we had sent it to and also by a small prototyping fund we had applied for. At this point, both projects seemed to have fallen into the abyss. Time passed. Client work was done. Bills were paid. Life went on.
Late in 2013, over coffee, Stuart, the CEO of Fluid Pixel asked me, “What ever happened to Grave Matters?” I responded: “It’s sitting in my Dropbox, along with the tea-making app and football game and other half-finished endeavors.” He suggested Gareth and Chai, who had some downtime, to pick that game up for a while. We were aiming on what could be called proper development, but our approach to this project lacked anything close to finesse.
Thanks to working on a lot of client projects, I’m well-versed with project management, source control, quality assurance, and so forth, yet Grave Matters employed none of this. New design ideas were often scribbled on the backs of envelopes containing letters from creditors (I will pay, I promise).
The complete source code was hurled back and forward across the room on memory sticks to whoever was working on it at the moment, and we generally made it up as we went along – it wasn’t lean or agile project management, it was blasé. Closer to the end of development, we started using a board on Trello, but for nothing more than a list to remember what still needed to be done when we’d not been working on the project for a while.
After about six months of development intervals interspersed between client work, we had Grave Matters, and now it was time to get it out there.
Here’s where I’d love to say: we self-published the game and it became a huge success, shooting to top of the App Store and making millions. In reality, as I’m writing this, we don’t yet know how this story ends. Grave Matters was released as a Halloween launch in October 2014. The game is still in it’s early days, and we’ll see how it goes in a few weeks.
Project A would probably have been a better game: it’s definitely better designed, more innovative, and has a better business model. Yet, we never had the resources or connections to get it off the ground. Grave Matters, on the other hand, has been released independently and, if early impressions are anything to go by, it could do really well (at least with fans of Minesweeper).
If Grave Matters is a success, it will challenge much of what I thought I knew about the right way of developing a game: comprehensive GDDs, robust planning, well-formulated business models, strict project management, etc. This might make me a little sad, but I’d have a successful game instead, so I’m sure I’d get over it 🙂
Grave Matters for iPhones and iPads is already available in the App Store, and an Android version will be released further down the line.