Back in 2012, Apple had released the voice-activated assistant known as Siri unto the world, and that latest innovation in technology is what gave us at Centaurs Technologies the idea to create the world’s first, voice-controlled mobile fighting game.
With the game also taking inspiration from one of my favourite fighting games, The King of Fighters, I believed that voice-control would be more fitting of the fighting game, especially when I found it’s difficult to achieve the complicated fighting movements fluidly by touching the screen.
By 2014, I had quit my job in China to come to America and make the idea come to fruition, along with the help of three other founders, which made up our game development studio of Centaurs Technologies.
'Other aspects of mobile games are getting fancier, and so should audio implementation.' - Aaron WalzClick To Tweet
In a panel of sound designers at Casual Connect USA Aaron Walz of Walz Music & Sound led a discussion about ways to get the most from your compositions. Together, they highlighted Audio Middleware. Tricks, trade secrets and also some examples of how they have avoided the old-fashioned “loop” approach to game music. He revealed, “(One thing) that composers do and that you can do is something called layers or stems (where) you have a music track that has everything in it and then you can strip down certain elements . . . It really becomes staggering how many different things you can do rather than paying your composer to make ten minutes of custom, all individual music.”
'Music should not only be ‘cool’, it should say what words alone simply cannot'. - Arnold NesisClick To Tweet
Capricia Productions is doing something unique and a bit crazy: Producing music albums as video games. ‘The Birdcage’ is a music game album and a collaboration between artists from Guns N’ Roses, former Evanescence members, Within Temptation, Epica and others currently in production. During Casual Connect Tel Aviv, Arnold Nesis, CEO and Lead Composer of Capricia Productions, presented ‘The Birdcage’, discussed the logic behind such games, covered the challenges they faced, how they solved them and how you can (and should) make such games with them. He revealed, “We decided to compose and keep the music the same, instead we have tailored the game to it for maximum player experience.”
'I want our users to look for the new Upopa game just because it’s Upopa!'— Niv TouboulClick To Tweet
Creating a sequel can be tricky. As a game developer, you strive to have something true to the original but also fresh and new. During his talk at Casual Connect Tel Aviv, the co-founder of Upopa Games, Niv Toubol, spoke about the lessons they have learned from the creation of Hopeless 2. In his talk entitled Sequels: Dealing with Fan’s Expectations, Niv explained, “Understanding the challenges and preserving the original style and mechanics is crucial for successful sequel”. Since the conference, Niv is proud to announce that Hopeless 2 is featured on the App Store and at the moment they are ranked as #4 on the US App Store.
'No job is worth permanently injuring yourself, not even your dream job. - Casey CameronClick To Tweet
Join freelance composer and music designer Casey Cameron as he moderates a roundtable discussion at Casual Connect. Learn how to get the best audio for your game. From start to finish, the panel worked to explain why you need an audio contractor, how you find a great one, when to get audio involved, and what’s expected of both parties. They covered answers to questions about contracts, tech specs, platforms, terminology, implementation, best practices. One piece of advice Casey offered on how to find a composer or sound designer is on twitter. He pointed out that, “We all follow each other so if you find your favorite composer and that composer is not available for work, you can just move out from there, searching through all of his friends”. He further relates that that is how he got into jazz. Searching in this way can open some unexpected doors.
When the idea of this game appeared in my head, I had already done four projects in a rush mode. I enjoyed making games quickly, not only because it really saved valuable time, but also because this way the projects didn’t last long enough to bore me. The main idea for my new game was a bit blurry and existed only as an idea. The only clear thing was the concept, so I took it as a constant foundation that has been preserved from the beginning to the end of the development process.
I use tricks to escape the routine
When developing a game I try not to work in the same pattern over and over. I use tricks to escape the routine. On Dream Symphony, I tried to leave my comfort zone and tread into an area I had no experience with – music.
Despite the fact that indie games are mostly made without reliance on colorful graphics and effects, music always substantiates or even creates the atmosphere in those games.
Among flash games, there are outstanding representatives of the music games genre that are all based on the mechanics where static objects in the scene (such as obstacles or changes in the landscape) occur after the composition reaches a certain time or a certain pitch (Music in Motion and Take a Walk).
I wanted to create a musical flash game, but with rather unusual mechanics. The idea was simple: apart from the normal sound in the game, there were more sounds that were played in the interaction with surrounding objects. I.e. no objects were created depending on the music, but music was created by the objects.
The idea was very vague, and I could not explain what I wanted. So when I offered it to my partner programmers; four out of four said no. I created a thread in a forum, without a precise description of the concept. Before my idea gained any reputation, I got several messages from programmers who offered different kinds of partnership. There were about eight people and to each of them I described the idea. All of them were willing to work on the project., I couldn’t assess their levels, but one of them wrote GDD and showed his previous game with the mechanics of a platformer. This made for an easy choice. I chose Igor Kulakov. The last problem was me. I was tired after two years of working, so we agreed to start the game over time and I left for some relaxations.
At that time, I didn’t think that after the release of the game it would be featured on Newgrounds, Kongregate, NotDoppler, Bored, that we would win three cash prizes, including best game of Maypleyard, that I would read news about my game on leading indie news sites, including JayIsGames and that I would write this postmortem.
Before leaving, I made a couple of sketches of the main character (a huge goof pumped in a tracksuit, which jumped from cloud to cloud, and bursting bubbles with music) and a couple of backgrounds. It was cute, but not particularly interesting.
It was in a village deep in the heart of Russia where I decided to change the setting of the game. Originally, I had planned to make a quick jumper, with an active music. There I met a creature that changed my view of the future development of the plot. It was a sheep. I really wanted to see it in the game. I had only a pen and a notebook so all that I could do was make a few sketches. The body of the sheep looked like a cloud. In my head I animated the sheep slipping and awakening when you jump on it. This helped me to revive the game. However, the game still was in the same state, without any fundamental differences comparing to the flash jumper games, so I decided to add one more feature. The idea was that at the very beginning of the game the level was grey and while ascending in height, the game gradually became colored. This idea has also formed the basis for further work.
When I got home, the first thing to do for me was beating similar games. Meanwhile, my partner had created a working prototype. It was a very important step. After that, we coordinated our work through Dropbox and thanks to his prototype, we could work separately. He worked evenings and I started my work in the mornings.
You just need to turn off the internet. Switch it off. You will reach zen
We worked in a rush mode, so the development of the game was enjoyable. Rush mode is the apotheosis of self-discipline, self-control and determination. In the morning, after you get up, cook all the necessary food for the day. Work should ideally take about 10-15 hours a day plus three hours for breaks. You should consider disabling all things that can give a signal. The most important discovery that I made for myself and increased my productivity 5-6 times is that you just need to turn off the internet. Switch it off. You will reach zen. The first time I came across this, lightning hit the transformer vault in my house. That day, I finished a big to-do list for the entire week and even cleaned the room, paid the bills and went for a walk. The second time, I fully encoded and made all the graphics to the simple little match-3 game, which I later sold it for 4k.
You must be completely off-line. And if suddenly you need the internet write down what you need on a piece of paper. In the evening spend an hour online and go to bed cheerfully. Of course, working like this for a long time might not be healthy, but you should try it.
Working on the Sound
The effect created a sense of passage and epicness
We needed a specific type of music with a perfect tempo and a certain feel to it. We hired a professional musician who had to rewrite the main track a few times because it didn’t quite fit the gameplay. When objects exploded, the sounds did not fit with the overall tone of the music. In addition, the levels in the game seamlessly switched, and the track for the next level was a copy of the previous one with the addition of one more instrument. This effect, coupled with the effect of saturation rising, created a sense of passage and epicness. By the end of the level, you could see a completely colored game, with a soundtrack that also felt complete.
When all the music was ready, it had to fit the levels. Connected tracks should feel solid. As an artist of this project, I needed a simple program for sound processing. I was looking for a free, easy program with minimum functionality and intuitive function names. I only needed to be able to change the tempo, the pitch, and the volume. By changing these aspects, the music comes to the foreground, and the sound echoed in the background.
The most important part was yet to come. We had to place the sounds in a way that the track seemed to be solid. To do this, sounds had to fit into the gameplay music. The player should feel that he was involved in the creation of music. It should not distract the player from the process. So some sounds had to be neutral and others had to be more in tune with the rest of the audio. The musical instruments only appeared in intervals where there was a deliberate pause. Needless to say, because of these actions the game was really hard to balance. In the end, the balancing of the game took about 30% of the work.
Zarkua and Kulakov are currently working on a part two of their popular Dream Symphony, using new technologies of sound translation. More sounds, more graphics, and more achievements. Next to that, they are trying to implement new design elements to the game.
Sergey Batishchev is an indie game developer and has been an enterprise Java developer and tech lead for more than 12 years. Still, games and game development have always been his hobby. After the successful launch of his Gluey game series, he is dedicating himself more on indie game development. Batishchev strives to make simple, polished and fun Flash and mobile games that appeal even to most casual gamers.
Gluey is a very simple action puzzle game. You just click the blobs, they disappear and you earn points. Large blob clusters give you bigger score bonuses. And, of course, it is seasoned with multiple levels, modes and power-ups. The idea for Gluey originated from an unusual source. Back in my university years, the demoscene was at its peak. I was amazed by the graphical effects in the demos and I wanted to learn how to do the same. So I spent many hours with my Watcom C++ compiler trying to code fire, fluid, and smoke.
Back in 2009, game development was purely a hobby for me. But one day I thought: Wouldn’t it be cool to create the simplest game possible, based purely on a rendering technique – like fire, liquid or particles? Surprisingly, no one made a match-3 or click group to clear-game with liquid blobs at that time! All other elements came quite naturally. I decided to use simple click group to clear-mechanics, as my friends really enjoyed games like that on their Windows 6.5 phones. It was also intuitive for the blobs to follow real physics, not just gridlines as in classic match-3. Within a couple of days, the prototype was finished. Although still in its early alpha-stages, the basic gameplay mechanic was already quite clear.
Art was a weak point for my hobby games before Gluey. Psychologically it was hard for me to fork out real money to hire an artist and a musician. I first needed to prove to myself that my games could generate some revenue. In retrospect that was not very smart choice. If you are a part time indie, you really should treat your home game development just like other expensive hobbies that you enjoy!
Luckily my previous game Cyberhorde generated about $1.5K in primary and non-exclusive licenses, so I posted a job offer for art design for Gluey. Bogdan Ene responded very quickly. Within my tough budget constraints he managed to create compelling characters and nice visual style. The visual design was completely done in a matter of days; there was no need to send anything back for revisions. After that, it took me about 6 calendar weeks (working through the weekends and evenings) to complete the rest of the game, which included levels, power ups, bonuses and transition screens.
Sponsorship and Release
To this date, the viral version has generated 14 million views
Gluey attracted good attention from sponsors on FGL – 28 bids. I went with king.com for the primary sponsorship of this game. It was my first game with 5-digit primary offer and, to this day, my biggest success. The game met king.com’s expectations. It hit Kongregate and Newgrounds frontpages and spread quite well. To this date, the viral version has generated 14 million views. Unfortunately, ads were not allowed, but game did attract quite a lot of non-exclusive licensing offers.
What Went Right with Gluey
Being on a tight budget means you have limited possibilities. This […] pushed me to only focus on the important things
Being on a tight budget means you have limited possibilities. This turned out to be a positive thing: it pushed me to only focus on the important things. So the game was very light on content: only 16 levels, which calculates to about 20 minutes of gameplay (although some players replayed the game a lot). In retrospect, it was a good choice to limit the number of levels. If you don’t have time or money to add unique content, don’t just add same-looking levels. It is better to have people comment “Too short, needs more levels” on your game, than receiving comments like “Got bored on level 14”.
Another thing that went great was the way the blob mechanics felt. They were smooth, polished, and natural. If we compare them to actual droplets on a surface, we can see three core similarities:
All blobs leave a trail behind, as if they are sliding on the surface with traction.
Actual droplets cannot touch without merging. So blobs of different color repel from each other and from the edge to look natural.
Sharp boundary around blob stressed how blobs merge and break apart.
I resisted the temptation to make the gameplay time-bound, like a lot of other puzzle games. Adding a time constraint is the easiest way to add some challenge to an action puzzle. However, players liked the fact that they had to act timely so that blobs structures do not slide apart. They felt smart for inventing this technique, instead of being forced to it by a timer. They also liked the fact that after a short burst of clicks, they were able to relax for some time and figure out the next move, instead of being bugged by the ticking clock.
What Went Wrong with Gluey
It looks like the sweet spot for a casual Flash puzzle is 30-45 minutes
Despite all the good things about Gluey, it was still a bit short. It looks like the sweet spot for a casual Flash puzzle is 30-45 minutes. Many players complained the game ended too abruptly, and down-voted the game for that reason. Yes, Gluey did feature the unlockable Zen mode. But this mode did not match the players’ expectations. The idea for the Zen mode was that for each cluster of n blobs, you get n-1 blobs back. So a Zen game ended pretty quickly (gameplay lasting only 2-3 minutes) and did not feel as an endless survival challenge.
Completing levels in Gluey was based on a simple and quite artificial premise: Earn score x to complete the level. Once you got to score x, your only motivation is reaching the top of the highscore table, which is not a very strong motivation. The game did not have any stars to rate the players’ performance on some level.
The sequel: Gluey 2!
As Gluey 1 was a success, I decided to go indie full time and started working on Gluey 2. The sequel was a much longer project (9 months compared to 6 weeks). I wanted to add lots of power-ups and polish every detail. Besides, I wanted to address the common complaint about “reach score x” as meaningless goal. The main mode of Gluey 2 was to survive the flow of blobs, a bit like a Tetris.
I was happy with the art of Gluey 1, but I felt I had to make the sequel totally fresh and new. So the game visuals were also redesigned from scratch! RetroStyleGames did a great job at keeping the game’s atmosphere, but making it look even more smooth and polished.
The banjo music track for Gluey 1 was very fun and recognizable, but probably a bit too sharp and repeatable for a casual game that you play often. People tend to either love it or hate it. Francesco D’Andrea created a much more subtle music track for Gluey 2.
Overdoing and Overthinking
The many changes disappointed the fans
Gluey 2 did okay when it was released. The primary license price tag was roughly the same as for Gluey 1 and the game attracted a lot of non-exclusive license requests. But the game did suffer a lot from overdoing and overthinking! In fact, the many changes disappointed the fans. Many claimed that the new gameplay was mindless arcade; they missed their clean and simple “Get score X” puzzles. Many people even wanted the stock banjo sound track back from Gluey 1, which quite a few players originally disliked and characterized as too sharp and distracting.
The new gameplay turned out to be creative, but very counterintuitive! When the blob flow comes, your first instinct is to click as fast as you can. But that’s exactly what you should not do in Gluey 2. Instead you have to carefully create huge clusters of blobs to save on the number of clicks you make. Numerous people left the game frustrated for this reason.
However, both Gluey 1 and Gluey 2 were successes for me. The total revenue from the games is approximately $68K.
Lesson 1: Target the player’s intuition
Going against intuitive behavior is dangerous, and it can go unnoticed until the actual release
Players feel smart if they can use their intuition and real life experience to predict behavior of the game. This is especially pleasing if the behavior itself is not trivial. For example, people immediately realized what the Shuffle Powerup is and does. Everywhere on the forum and in the comments it was called the Rubic cube powerup. Another example of this is sinking blobs. Both from real life and from arcade games players know that drowning is fatal. So it is relatively intuitive that you should keep blobs out of deep water. Only problem here is that players have no way to relate blob density to real world objects. They have no way to predict if the blobs would drown or float!
My partners used a similar metaphor for the iOS port, where they made the liquid look like green acid. Even though acid is dangerous and maybe out of place in a casual puzzle game, it worked really well. Everyone clearly knows from movies and comics that sinking in green acid is the worst thing that can ever happen.
Going against intuitive behavior is dangerous, and it can go unnoticed until the actual release. Pipes in real life feed water all the time (or at least when a valve is open). It turned out it is really hard to grasp that removing a blob on the screen actually releases more blobs from the pipe.
Lesson 2: A sequel does not need to be a revolution
Every little thing I changed in a sequel disappointed at least one player! People liked the original game for a reason. They wanted more of the same type of entertainment in Gluey 2, even though they didn’t want it to look and feel exactly the same.
From now on, my sequels will have…
● the same art style, just more variation and improved quality;
● the same music style, but evolved;
● the same pace;
● an evolved gameplay, not a replacement.
If I ever want to break those rules, I will be making spin-offs of the original. For example, arcade games in this Gluey universe can be Gluey Jumpers or Gluey Shooters, not Gluey 3.
Lesson 3: The Flash game licensing model is still viable
Casual single player games for portals can still pay the bills for an indie game developer. A quality casual game with solid gameplay, professional art will get sponsored and licensed. If I limit the development cycle to less than 4 months, the licensing fees in the first 6 months are likely to cover my costs and finance risky mobile projects.
Non-exclusive sales worked great for my type of games. They can occur years after initial release. Now I am even more reluctant to accept fully exclusive deals for my future games.
Recently, Gluey was ported to iOS. In the mean time, Sergey is working on Gluey 3. To see what else he has been up to, check out his website or Twitter (@sergebat).
Great games can come from the most unexpected corners of the globe, sometimes years in the making before finding their rhythm. Brazil’s D’Accord Music Software started ten years ago. “We were doing music education software,” recalls chief executive Americo Amorim. The company made mostly PC-based downloadable products, which were very successful in schools.
By 2007, he says, “We got bored with only doing educational stuff.” So, the company created a division called MusiGames. It started with ten people, hired more along the way, and has reached thirty people so far. Amorim reports, with a touch of pride, that almost all of his company’s current development efforts are in games.
Legacy of games
“In Brazil, we had a lot of experience with SEGA consoles,” says Amorim. “But our team’s background is PC development and mobile development studios, like traditional J2ME development.”
Before making a game together, they started with research, attending developer conferences, and meeting publishers. “We weren’t sure what platform we were going to work on,” says Amorim. “Of course, the team wanted to do Wii games, Xbox games, PlayStation games. But it didn’t really make sense for a start-up company at that time to do those kind of things,” he says.
They found the smartphone market to be open in 2008, and there were even fewer music games on the market.
Proof of concept
D’Accord’s first game was Drums Challenge for the iPhone. When they released it in June of 2009, it managed to sell 500 copies in the first three weeks. “With the public we drove to the game,” explains Amorim. “And what really happened was that Apple started promoting it. So when Apple started promoting it, the sales skyrocketed.”
“What our experience says, what really matters, is Apple promoting your iPhone game.”
The initial price was $2.99, and is $0.99 today. “What our experience says, what really matters, is Apple promoting your iPhone game,” Amorim reveals. “If they promote,” he laughs, “you’re successful.”
“And, of course, they don’t promote crappy stuff.” Amorim says that Apple doesn’t have room to promote everything that is great.
“On our side, we’re focusing more and more on the quality.” Last year, the company produced five games to create a portfolio. “For this year, specifically, we’re focused more on quality. So we’re doing only two games, and we’ve been developing them for six months.”
“Right now, we are focusing on smartphones: iPhone, iPad, Android, Symbian, and Facebook.” says Amorim. When asked about budget, he replies: “It’s usually $50,000 to do a nice music game.”
For MusiGames, both iPhone and Android development are done with the same budget. “That’s where we are improving,” Amorim points out. “It’s not a very high budget, but it’s a complicated budget for a small developer.”
Some games, Amorim’s team promotes on their own. On others, they’ve tested distributors like Chillingo and I-play. “Some of those guys have more access to Apple, and that makes it easier for us. But, of course, they get a share of the game. So it’s really a decision that depends on the game we are talking about.”
The company decided to aim for a global audience, because the game market in Brazil is still growing. Amorim reports that the marketing is “starting to happen right now. Two years ago, it didn’t make sense to do smartphone games in Brazil.”
Today, they’re developing a title for Google-owned social-network Orkut. “Orkut is the Facebook of Brazil,” Amorim explains, adding, “Our first experience in Brazil will be this Orkut game. I really have high hopes for it.”
While social games have been a strong trend in recent years, Amorim says: “We are really trying to focus on music games — because our expertise is in this. This social game is really musical,” he adds, about their upcoming product.
It could mark the first cross between the music genre, and a game for the social network platform.
When asked what a music game on a social platform would look like, Amorim smiles. “You’ll see in a couple months.” And that raises the question of whether it’s even possible. “Yeah, it is. The challenge is to get the friend’s interactions. You have to interact with the music, and you have to interact with friends.”
Amorim considers the question of whether music is universal on a global scale. “It really depends on the songs that you have in the game. So as we try to do games that you can play with any song: that makes them universal. So if you have ten-thousand songs in your library, you can play with them: that’s great.”
Something they’re investing in more and more is letting the user play with their own songs. It saves the hassles of licensing, and the company had developed chord-recognition tech from their education software days. “We have a very good technology and we started applying this to games,” says Amorim.
This year, the company managed to get some VC funding. It allowed them to grow their development capabilities, and as Amorim adds: “We grew our marketing team, which we didn’t have before the VC guys came in.”
“We want to be known as the music games studio, and the Brazilian leader.”
Amorim says the strategy for MusiGames is to position themselves as “the big independent music game studio.” Beyond that, they want to have a strong position in Brazil. Amorim reveals: “We’re seeing the market grow a lot there.”
Which is why they’re investing in that growth. “We want to be known as the music games studio, and the Brazilian leader.”
And when it comes to what other developers can do to achieve success, Amorim has a few pieces of advice: follow game-business news, follow the market, and try something different with your game.
MusiGames’ best successes weren’t radically different, he says, but all “had something really unique.” And having a specialization is a great way to keep from losing good ideas along the way.
“What’s our guideline? If it’s a music game, we’re interested,” Amorim says. “And if it’s a platform we already know how to develop for, we can even study the idea. If the idea’s really good, we may do it. But, on the other side, we try to keep the focus.”
MusiGames is currently working on a music game for the Orkut social-network.