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Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Sara Is Missing: How “Real” Is It?

November 3, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Jeremy Ooi, Game Designer of Kaigan Games

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


Best mobile game Indie Prize Singapore 2017.

Phoneception

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

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

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

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

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

Snapshot of our script.

Verisimilitude

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

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

Not everyone uses an iPhone.

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

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

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

A reddit post speculating a possible ARG element.

More Than A Concept

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

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

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Tumblestone: The Casual Competitive Anomaly

August 30, 2017 — by Orchid

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They call themselves The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, and they’re four guys based out of Seattle. “I started the company years ago, during the development of my previous game, The Bridge, says the company’s founder Ty Taylor. “I met the artist of The Bridge, Mario Castaneda, in university, and we’ve been working together since (he made the art for Tumblestone as well). For Tumblestone, I brought on two engineers, Alex and Justin, who I met while working at Microsoft”. Working on the current projects, the team doesn’t abandon their previous creations: The Bridge is getting released for Nintendo Switch, while Tumblestone is becoming a competitive game.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Beer League Hockey: When Gamedev Feels Like The Penalty Box

January 20, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Bobby Patteson, CEO&Founder of Highcastle Studios

Turns out that making an indie game is somewhat like the process of brewing a good beer. Through a series of tedious steps, water and malt are transformed into the beverage that is commonly consumed after a good old Canadian hockey match. My name is Bobby Patteson and my latest game Beer League Hockey has been fermenting for the past two and a half years. After being brought back from the dead on several occasions this pugilistic sports game has eventually found its way on iOS and Android.


Game DevelopmentPostmortem

EnigmBox: Always Think Outside the Box

November 30, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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By Benoit Freslon

I’m Benoit Freslon, I’m 31, based in France, and I’ve liked making games since my childhood. I studied in a gaming school and earned experience in a game studio in Paris before becoming a solo indie game developer in 2009.

EnigmBox on iOS is a compilation of 56 different puzzles that make you “think outside the box”. Use all the iPhone functionalities: move it, touch it, take pictures, capture videos, plug in accessories, use location service, all buttons and the mobile features.
At Casual Connect Asia this game won the Best in Show Critics Choice and the Most Innovative Game awards.


Game DevelopmentPostmortemStudio Spotlight

One Day in London: What if the Idea Works? The Story of OWL-Studio

November 25, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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How do startup companies begin? It’s different for everyone. For some people, having lots of brilliant ideas is the thing, and sooner or later one of them is brought to fruition. Some people polish their single idea for many years before finally finding the resources to bring it to life. For some, it’s happenstance. OWL-Studio’s CEO Vera Velichko shares her experience.


Game DevelopmentPostmortem

The Shattering: Making, Not Talking!

October 24, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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Bla Bla Games is a small yet proud indie team of two people: Vlad Kryvoborodov and Sergey Smirnov, who met each other while working at Wargaming.net. Now, separated by more than 2.000 kilometers, guys are on their way of shipping The Shattering globally. Vlad is happy to share their story below.

Bla bla bla, yeah we are!

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A prototype conceived in the kitchen during a lunch break.

I believe that miracles happen in kitchens. Why, you will ask? Well, my wife Nushka started one of the biggest fire festivals in the world (Kiev Fire Fest) just chatting with friends and drinking tea in her kitchen 10 years ago. Same happened to me and Sergey. We were talking and going mad with some game ideas just on a lunch break at the kitchen, and a month later we had our prototype up and running. We called it The Shattering and people enjoyed it.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Gamester: A Game About You and Friends. Yes, You!

August 23, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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Giant Fox Studios started about 5 years ago, and the team was initially working on Flash games. Since then they developed close to 200 games. At Casual Connect USA 2016 they presented Gamester – an opportunity to be in your own game: just take a pic, select the genre, environment and enemies. You can even use your own storyline and add voiceovers! CEO Jaime Fraina tells more.


Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Memory Diver: Memory Card Game Meets Slot Machine

August 16, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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We envisioned Divey and his friends starring in different games. - John AmosClick To Tweet

What do you do when you’ve already released 2 games with the same character and similar mechanics? Drop that character into an altogether different environment, of course! Experiment with him and try to broaden his brand! Refactor some existing art, add some new, and test an unrelated market! “And that’s just what we did”, says Zygobot‘s co-founder and developer John Amos as he shares the story of the newest addition to the Divey Jones series, Memory Diver.


Game DevelopmentPostmortem

The Blur Barbosa vs Aliens: A Business Model on Sports Stars

August 14, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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'We adopted a new business model based on partnerships with athletes'. - Wallace MoraisClick To Tweet

Hermit Crab is a game studio based in Porto Alegre, South of Brazil, founded in July 2014 by Wallace Morais. He expanded the studio inviting Guilherme Goncalves in 2015 and Matheus Vivian in 2016. With 9 games launched and one in beta, the studio has now focused on a new business model as they have gone more indie. Wallace sheds more light on their newly discovered direction. 


ContributionsDevelopmentGame DevelopmentIndiePostmortem

Shield of God: Story Defined by Genre

August 10, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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A New Age 3D strategy game made in China… Wait! MADE IN CHINA? Typically, anything made in China smells suspicious… In mobile it’s about some biased comments including but not limited to copying, out-of-line translation, not very user-friendly and so-much-text UI, etc. When Gunship Studio positioned themselves as the 3D game studio targeting overseas market, they chose a hard path… Yes Games is a mobile game developer founded in 2011. Gunship is one of the six studios under it. Unlike others who got famous IP support from Toei Animations (such as Dragon Ball and One Piece), Gunship has spent more than 12 months finding out what kind of game they want to make. The end result is Shield of God, whose story is told by the company’s overseas business director Amy Ho


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