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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.

EventsNews

India, Iran and Malaysia Will Be Represented at Indie Prize Kyiv

October 17, 2017 — by Catherine Quinton

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Indie Prize and Casual Connect are going to be in Kyiv for the first time in 4 years! It is going to be a great event. This article will highlight the independent developers from India, Iran and Malaysia that are coming to compete at the event.

The Indie Prize participant from India is a game that brings a new twist to musical games on mobile platforms to encourage experimentation with creating music.

Game Title: Melody Streaks
Developer: Beeble Games
Platform: iOS
Website: www.melodystreaks.com

Peggy Mallet, the character in the game Melody Streaks, creates music with every move she makes. Each of her turns plays a musical note. The player can tap in harmony with her turns on the track and experience the joy of making musical melodies as Peggy somersaults through the tracks.

Melody Streaks combines one tap game mechanic with musical sheets, allowing anyone to become a musician.

Asia 2017Video Coverage

Elena Vinokurova: Acquiring Users for Success | Casual Connect Video

July 24, 2017 — by Catherine Quinton

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After completing game development, marketing is the most difficult task faced by new game companies. MyTona achieved great success from their first self-published title and at Casual Connect Asia 2017 they shared their post-launch advertising experience and some “hacking” tips to acquire high quality users while maneuvering through the challenges of post-launch marketing.

DOWNLOAD SLIDES

ContributionsEventsIndieNews

Southeast Asia Part 1: Philippines and Malaysia at Indie Prize Singapore 2017

April 24, 2017 — by Yuliya Moshkaryova

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Five games from Philippines and twelve games from Malaysia were invited to the international Indie Prize showcase during Casual Connect Asia 2017 in Singapore.

Game Title: The Letter
Developer: Yangyang Mobile
Platform: Desktop Win, Desktop Mac
Website: http://www.yangyangmobile.com/
Country: Philippines

The Letter is a non-chronological, horror visual novel game with seven playable characters. It also features full English voice acting, several branching paths with more than 10 endings, highly animated character sprites and backgrounds, and quick-time events.

ContributionsEventsNews

Michelangelos of Interactivity: GameFounders Spring 2017

January 21, 2017 — by Khail Santia of Moocho Brain and The Bamboard Game Project

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I wake up after a night of binge coding to a dawn awash in the song of the muezzin. I am on the 27th floor of a glass tower in the midst of a modernist mountain range that is Bangsar South. Below me is all of Kuala Lumpur incredible in the fading night.

Three weeks ago, I received a message asking if I was interested in applying to GameFounders. I said, “Of course.” To my mind, GameFounders is the modern equivalent of the Sculpture Garden of the Medicis. Sculpture not involving marble, chisel and hammer, but interactivity, pixels and code. GameFounders calls digital talent from all over the world to come to Kuala Lumpur to build the future; accelerating the process by providing investment, a first-rate workspace and a three-month mentorship by masters of the various disciplines that comprise game development.

Over the Holidays, I faced a series of interviews. The first was with Christina Begerska, GameFounders Program Manager, sharp as an adamantium blade and kept fresh – no doubt – by the tears of failed applicants. Next was Reinaldo Normand, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, investor and author. And finally, Kadri Ugand herself, Co-Founder and CEO of GameFounders.

I was sleepwalking throughout the long wait for The Decision. Then I was told, matter-of-factly, that we were in. It took a lot of staring into space before it finally sunk in – our studio, Moocho Brain Interactive, would be in GameFounders Spring 2017!

This cycle is made of nine teams selected from a growing pool of more than a thousand applicants. Three teams are from South America, two are from Europe and four from Asia. Meet the teams of GameFounders Spring 2017:

Postmortem

From Indie to Corporate: The Making of Jump Smash 15

September 22, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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Chia Jinlence
Chia Jinlence

Chia Jinlence is lead programmer for Jump Smash 15, released by Mediasoft Entertainment in April. In this postmortem, he details his work on Jump Smash, as well as his transition from indie developer to a programmer at Mediasoft, one of the largest developers in Malaysia.

For the last three years that I’ve been at Mediasoft Entertainment I’ve quickly seen it grow from a studio of five to almost 70. Our first game, “Ninja One Shot,” was ranked one of the Top 100 mobile puzzle games in four countries. Encouraged by our success, we pumped out a slew of about 40 casual games in the next two years. Not all the games ended up doing as well as our first did, and in retrospect it all was a learning platform that led to the development of Jump Smash.

Asia 2015Video Coverage

Bazil Akmal Bidin: Enjoying Every Single Minute | Casual Connect Video

September 11, 2015 — by Catherine Quinton

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'I enjoy every single moment regardless of whether it is bitter or sweet.' – Bazil Akmal BidinClick To Tweet

For game producer Bazil Akmal Bidin, Casual Connect 2012 is where it all started for Terato Tech when they signed a co-development agreement with DeNA Asia Pacific. From there, Terato Tech has been able to launch into quite the journey. Bazil recently spoke to a Casual Connect Asia audience about Terato Tech’s challenges and victories with Darkness Fallen, a battle card game for mobile. Read on for background on Bazil and his outlook on the games industry.

Asia 2015Video Coverage

Yiwei P’ng: Enjoying the Indie Game Journey with Kurechii | Casual Connect Video

May 21, 2015 — by Casey Rock

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'The worlds that we have created in our minds are alive when the game is completed.' - Yiwei P'ngClick To Tweet

At the recent event in Singapore, Casual Connect Asia 2015, Yiwei P’ng reflected on the whirlwind of events that led to how Tiny Guardians came to be. There were things that went right and some things that went wrong. “It’s actually quite scary when you prototype something to be fun, and it turns out not to be fun.”

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