Video games play a key role in shaping the world. They provide entertainment for millions. They help the innovators, creators, and doers of the world relax amid countless late nights and stressful times. They open minds to creative notions, ideas, and problem-solving — benefiting nearly all facets of life, whether games are involved or not.
This is the philosophy of games shared by Colin Day. “Games do a lot more than entertain us,” he says. “They allow us to shift our entire mind and body from the everyday and recharge ourselves.”
Founded in 2013, DragonJam Studios is a newly established Spanish video game studio in Madrid. With a team of 10, they are currently working on their first game, Formula Wincars, an innovative MMO arcade racing game full of adventures and surprises in every circuit. Jesús Luengo, Formula Wincars’ game designer in charge of game mechanics and level design, tells us about how Formula Wincars came to be.
Formula Wincars started as a prototype developed by Jairo Calleja. Jairo had already been developing games on his own, when suddenly a small publisher asked him to make a racing game. Though the project was finally cancelled months later, Jairo was quite confident with the product, so he managed to keep it alive by cooperating with another interested company.
When he first contacted me, I was still living in Barcelona, immersed in the design of another game. Yet when he told me about designing a racing arcade game, I couldn’t help feeling very excited. I have always been a great fan of Sega arcades, such as Out Run and Sega Rally. And above all, Mario Kart is my favorite game. Having the opportunity to fully design such a game was a dream I couldn’t refuse, so I immediately moved to Madrid and started to work closely with Jairo. Sooner rather than later, the game design started to grow up, turning Formula Wincars into a more ambitious game than it had ever been before.
Building Up the Team
One of our first challenges was to build up a new team. We are a small studio, so we couldn’t afford to make any mistakes recruiting new members for the staff. Fortunately, all the people who have joined us are great and enthusiastic professionals. The first two to join us were Angel Arenas as the 3D environment artist and Eduardo Lozano as the game programmer — young talents who had a Master Degree in Games Development. I already knew them through a Game Jam in Madrid. In a very short time, Javier Pajares and Rubén G. Torralbo joined us as the concept artist and the 3D cars and characters artist.
This was the core of the team during the first months, but as the game kept growing, we quickly had to incorporate new members: Antonio Rodgríguez as backend programmer, Elena Fernández as 3D environment artist, Darío Muga as a game programmer and Javier Bargueño for the social media and PR. With all of them, our little family was complete.
Experiencing Technical Difficulties
Once we had built the team, we felt ready for everything. But the first challenge we had to deal with was the online synchronization. Jairo had a hard time developing the core of our game. It is one thing is to have an online game working, and another to have it working online properly. He had to deal with authoritative servers, online prediction, and all the stuff necessary to accomplish a satisfactory gameplay. We knew that without that, we had nothing, so Jairo put in a lot of effort to reach the gameplay feeling we are proud of nowadays.
Today, he’s still trying to improve it. Physics engines are non determinist, but as long as our game is online, we need the same things to happen in all clients. This is an issue Jairo is still polishing. He is developing our own physics engine in order to accomplish deterministic responses to guarantee a better online experience.
As the game started grew and became more complex, I realized we couldn’t limit it to eight vs. Races. Formula Wincars is a free game, so it must be engaging and addictive. We cannot hope to have thousands of players just by being funny. We had to provide a deeper experience. And that’s when I thought about League of Legends. It is one of the most successful free games, so they must have done something right. I broke it down to what it is all about: strategy, team building, and progression – things players like to have.
I have a theory that all of us as human beings need targets to drive our lives. This was what we were missing in our game. Our game was fun, but we needed something else, something deeper, without ruining the core of the fun in Formula Wincars. That’s why we added such ideas as sharing skills among members of a team, upgrading them during a race, or exploring the circuits to gather emblems. All this stuff is transparent for the newcomers; everything happens naturally, and they won’t care about it. But those looking for a deeper experience will discover that Formula Wincars hides a lot of features for them while they progress through the game after a few races.
The Kickstarter Experience
When we realized we had a very ambitious project in our hands, we decided to run a Kickstarter campaign. It seemed the right thing to do, because it could give us the extra months we needed in order to polish the game. Besides, it could introduce new players to Formula Wincars. Javier worked very hard trying to get Formula Wincars funded, and while we were close, we were unable to reach our funding goal.
Perhaps Kickstarter wasn’t the right place for us. Though we claim to bring back the classic arcades feelings, this game aims to be for all kinds of people. Besides, it is a free-to-play game. And just let me say, when we say free, we really mean free. We want our players to enjoy our game, and to pay only for aesthetic items such as skins or stickers for car customization. But it was difficult to express this through Kickstarter. However, we were able to speak with some private investors through the Kickstarter campaign that allows us to continue with our release as planned. Another benefit of the campaign was the ability to show our game to the gamers all around the world, and we hope them to give it a try once we release it.
Nowadays, we’re still working to accomplish an amazing experience. We are exploring new paths and our circuits are becoming more and more interactive, full of destroyable elements, shortcuts, secrets, alternative paths, and special events. Besides, we are including some fantasy elements which will affect the races, such as dinosaurs or skeletons. Because of this, we’re starting to say that Formula Wincars is, indeed, an adventure racing game. Up to now, it has been an adventure for us to create a game like this. But we hope the best part will start when, at last, it is released and people can download it and play. We are pretty excited looking forward to this moment.
DragonJam Studios plans to release Formula Wincars for PC, Mac, and Linux, at the end of 2014. Follow along with the team’s progress on their Facebook and Twitter.
Based in Texas, Triple.B.Titles is a studio run by family. After working on their first game after five years of development and succeeding with their Kickstarter campaign, they were able to release Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages. Now they are working on their second game Popup Dungeon. E. C. Dryere talks about the lessons learned from Ring Runner and Popup Dungeon’s development in this article.
You’ve got to learn a lot before creating your first game, but the real education doesn’t begin until you release. Here’s a short list of things we learned about the industry through the successes and failures of our first game, Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages, and how we’ll be applying what we learned to improving our next project, Popup Dungeon.
Don’t Hide Your Depth
Take a million gallons of water and pour it into a pool that’s half a foot deep and you get a lake about 517 feet across, front to back and side to side. Pour the same amount of water into a pool that’s a little over 25 miles deep, and you get a one foot by one foot puddle of water, which few will ever plumb. In either case, the volume is the same.
Ring Runner may not have been an unfathomable column of water, but let’s just say it was a really deep pool – great for folks who lug around their own SCUBA gear, but not as appealing to those who are looking to dip a toe and wade when weather permits. This was due to our greatest design error of not making Ring Runner’s depth more immediately evident to players. We wanted to give players a lot of bang for their buck without overwhelming them. To this end, archetypes, customization options, game modes, and hundreds of abilities were completely hidden from the player, being slowly revealed as they played through the 20-30 hour long campaign.
That is why we decided to go with a rogue-like game for our next project. One of the greatest strengths of a rogue-like game is that it places the possibility for depth right in front of players from the start. They get to see a large portion of the game’s features and assets in a single play-through, arranged procedurally. They are invited to consider what it would be like to play again as a different character or spec, and the procedural generation allows things to become familiar without getting too predictable or stale. Popup Dungeon will implement these principles.
Be Kind to the Media
Reviewers, Youtubers, journalists, and Streamers are busy people, and the rate at which games are being thrown at them continues to increase. It’s downright selfish to ask for more than a handful of hours of their time to make a fair appraisal of your game, considering the amount of time it takes to create a respectable video or article in response.
To get an impression of Ring Runner’s full depth takes no less than 20 hours, an amount of time that is far more than most folks’ schedules will permit, regardless of diligence and generosity. We definitely wanted to make it easier in our next game. Our goal is to give players a clear idea of Popup Dungeon’s depth and direction within their first game – roughly 40 minutes to an hour.
An Established Audience
One of the greatest aspects of being an indie dev is the freedom to take wild risks and commit to niche projects. But there’s a reason bigger studios can’t rationalize these passion projects to their investors. It’s not because folks with money have a cabalistic desire to see Madden and Call of Duty on every gamer’s screen. Simply stated, the more esoteric and unfamiliar you make your game, the less of an established audience it will have. A smaller audience means more heavy lifting for what might be the weakest arm of the indie studio: marketing and advertising.
In other terms, creating the world’s most delicious sea urchin flavored bubble gum may not be as lucrative as a mediocre mint. Our goal with Popup Dungeon is to make less of a gourmet game and more of a darn tasty hot dog.
Creating a control scheme that favors experts rather than inviting beginners was another swing of the axe that cut down our prospective player base for Ring Runner. Our intent was to create something of a sport. If you lace up skates for the first time and wobble into the rink, hockey may be the last thing on your mind. Repeatedly icing your keister isn’t a very rewarding experience. Yet the gradual process of improving your skills until your skating circles around other players can be quite satisfying. People push through initial barriers because there is a perceived value to the skills they’re gaining.
But most players reported that the hardest part of Ring Runner was simply wrapping their brains around the control scheme and physics. Like driving a manual transmission car, things become natural once you figure out the clutch. The primary hurdles are placed right at the start. This is particularly problematic for an indie title, because the skills acquired have very little intrinsic value – not many people will list their Ring Runner skills in their résumé. The incentive to push beyond initial barriers is fairly low.
Popup Dungeon’s difficulty won’t come from being able to click on a target or manipulate the camera; it’ll come from increasingly complex strategic decisions. This allows us to place the biggest hurdles towards the end of the experience rather than the beginning.
Immediacy and Familiarity
Immediacy may be one of the greatest determining factors of financial success, but there are many ways to achieve it. I define immediacy as the amount of time it takes for a potential player to become excited about your game – not understand, become good at, or complete, but simply become excited about.
You could create an awesome game, but if its qualities aren’t immediately obvious, few will ever know. It’s not easy to unseat the opinions people form upon the first impression. Going back to the water metaphor, how impressive might the 25-mile deep puddle seem at first glance? Remember that your audience has very limited information about your game. They don’t know the fun secrets you’ve hidden throughout the campaign or the hard work you put into making abilities sync over a network. It would take quite a clever trailer to cover every quality of a game.
So what are some of the easiest ways to improve immediacy? Familiarity, presentation, and grand promises work well. If you can convince players that your game is like an old favorite of theirs with some new quality, you’re sure to spark interest. Naturally, pretty graphics can directly tickle our brainstems. And if you can convince folks that you’re selling deeds to the moon, you’ll find quite a few buyers, queuing with quills in hand.
Familiarity may be the broadest and most important of methods to establish immediacy. It runs the gamut from nostalgia and sequels to crossovers and favorite developers/studios. The goal is to grab your audience by their collars and say, “Look! There’s stuff you like in here!” Then, hopefully, they’ll give you the chance to make good on your promises.
The goal of immediacy is not to deceive or make a quick buck of a shameless clone. It’s simply to build a diving board, to coax players into your pool regardless of its dimensions, so that they can explore its merits with interest and appetite.
Popup Dungeon will allow folks to play as any character they can imagine and invite them to create their favorites. In this way, players may come to see how Sherlock Holmes fares against a slobbering goblin, but stay for the game’s other qualities.