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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.

Asia 2017AudioVideo Coverage

Jeremy Goh: Making Voice-Overs Work in Perfect Harmony | Casual Connect Video

October 28, 2017 — by David Radd

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Music and sound effects are commonplace in a mobile game, but often the use of voice work is overlooked. Usual reasons include a lack of budget or experience working with voice talents. See the session video below if you want to learn about how the use of voice can bring your characters and stories to life, and if you’re taking the first steps into casting, creating a script and working with voice talents. At Casual Connect Asia, Jeremy Goh, Co-Founder of IMBA Interactive, discussed voice work, noting that “good voice work can give your game relatability and personality, as well as a source of rich feedback for your players.”

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Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Nonstop Show: How To Be Noticed In Local Market

October 18, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Vania Marita, Co-Founder of Wisageni Studio

The three of Wisageni Studio team members decided on starting their own company after meeting at Gamelan, a local game developer community in Yogyakarta, Indonesia back in 2014. Each of them has previously worked for companies that make games for PC, Flash, or do outsourcing. “So when we started Wisageni Studio, we used our background experiences and created some Flash games and worked with some sponsors”, recalls Wisageni Studio’s co-founder Vania Marita.  As the Flash games market declines, in November 2016 they finally tried to redirect development to the mobile platform with the release of their first mobile game, Nonstop Show.


BusinessContributionsDevelopment

Hard Rock Puzzle Match: Bringing Rock‘n’Roll to Today’s Youth

September 18, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Yonatan Erez, CEO of Ilyon

Rock‘n’roll is here to stay, as the old song says – but in the mobile era, getting people into brick-and-mortar businesses can be a challenge. Like brands of all kinds, Hard Rock is seeking to connect with mobile users. The only question is how – and Hard Rock found its answer in the game developed in collaboration with our team here at Ilyon Dynamics: Hard Rock Puzzle Match.

ContributionsDevelopment

Soar: Lessons in Building a Game for Mobile & VR

September 13, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Karyn Murray, COO, eLearning Studios

In 2014, eLearning Studios was invited to be a partner in a European partnership project called Stay Active which was a project looking at reducing stress in older workers in the workplace. As part of this project we worked collaboratively with Dr. Gail Steptoe-Warren, Occupational Psychologist and Principal Lecturer at Coventry University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and Nigel Wilson Principal Lecturer at Coventry University to research and explore ideas for the development of a new game designed to reduce stress for those over 45. This initial project was later to evolve and develop into Soar: Tree of Life.

Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Fhacktions: Sailing through uncharted waters

September 11, 2017 — by Industry Contributions

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By Juan de Urraza, CEO of Posibillian Tech

Posibillian Tech is the game development studio behind Fhacktions, a location-based MOBA mobile game set in a future world ruled by factions of hackers. The studio is based in Asunción, Paraguay, with 12 full time employees. It was founded in 2015 by two software engineers and lifetime gamers, Juan de Urraza and Gabriel Villalba, who previously developed some small games while studying at university, but never as professionals.

The beginning of all

Exclusive InterviewsPR & Marketing

David Mohr: Summoning Mobile Success

July 20, 2017 — by David Radd

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David Mohr is the General Manager at GAMEVIL COM2US Europe

David Mohr is the General Manager at GAMEVIL COM2US Europe. They manage the European operations for Korean parent companies GAMEVIL and COM2US and are responsible for localization, community management, customer support and business development in the region.

“We also provide a lot of marketing and PR support for GAMEVIL and COM2US titles, Summoners War being a very high priority,” David said. “I was very fortunate to meet Kyu Lee, the president of GAMEVIL USA, at Gamescom a few years back, and everything started from there.”

“I really enjoy working for a Korean company and being in close contact with our U. S. and Korean operations on a daily basis,” David added. “It’s great to be connected with so many people all across the world.”

EventsIndustry

yellowHEAD to provide key UA insights at Casual Connect USA

July 14, 2017 — by Casey Rock

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yellowHEAD will be on hand at Casual Connect USA this August in Seattle to provide developers and publishers with valuable insights on UA, ASO, SEO, and more. The company has a long and storied relationship with the conference, including recently at February’s European show where yellowHEAD Head of ASO Sagi Dekel discussed effective ASO strategies. At Casual Connect USA, Head of Social Ori Meiry will join a panel of experts on user acquisition and retention – where he will discuss yellowHEAD’s unique approaches to these topics and how they’ve helped others meet their marketing goals and grow their business.

The company also often hosts a booth at Casual Connect conferences – and Casual Connect USA will be no different. yellowHEAD Head of Growth Merav Katz Gershuni notes that it provides a dedicated space to meet game developers and publishers and discuss ways to help them succeed in their advertising and UA goals. “We’re also looking forward to meeting our clients and friends, catching up on their new games, and raising a glass or two to our fruitful cooperation,” Merav says of Casual Connect USA.

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