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Bronko Blue, the kitten copter: Feedback Can Be a Lifesaver

October 27, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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bytecombo is a two-person indie game studio based in Berlin, Germany founded in 2013 by Katja Krone and Lars Quentmeier. It was formed in order to produce small, cross-platform mobile games. Their first game Bronko Blue, the kitten copter just hit the stores on July 2014. Lars looks at the journey of the game, the importance of feedback, and what they learned from it all.


Before we founded bytecombo, we were both working as full-time software developers (mostly web projects) in Berlin. This is where we got to know each other. Both of us were interested in developing casual games and came up with thousands of ideas just talking about it, so we decided to simply go for it and try our luck in developing mobile games. To do so, we both reduced our day jobs to part-time jobs and started working.

Too Many Concepts

Bronko Blue, the kitten copter is bytecombo’s second project, but our first real game. We started working on it in May 2013. Our very first idea was to create a really simple copter clone with some nice toony graphics and release it as soon as possible. But we felt that such a game would be too boring and small to earn any money, so we extended the concept with physics, interactive elements, enemies, and a small storyline. Actually, this was so much fun that it was hard to stop. It is just too tempting to include another cool feature into the concept!

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Katja Krone and Lars Quentmeier

We released a first prototype to our friends in June 2013, asking for feedback and their thoughts on our game. It was at this point that we realized most people didn’t get all aspects of our concept, so we had to reduce the functionality. Back then, we had one extra button to control the player. The basic idea was that, once in a while, lightning would strike, and the user had to press this button in order to protect themselves from the lightning while simultaneously collecting the energy to use some of the other functions (shoot energy balls and use the torch). Unfortunately (while I still like the idea), this proved to be much too complicated. So the idea of collecting energy was completely removed from the game so that the player could concentrate on flying and avoiding obstacles.

Work, Work, Work

We definitely underestimated the time necessary for us to produce Bronko Blue, the kitten copter, and so we had to learn to keep calm and continue working. At the end, we worked for more then one year, spending two days a week on it in order to finish and publish the game on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Blackberry World. But sometimes, keeping calm and pushing forward proved to be very hard.

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We had to learn to keep calm and continue working.

Especially annoying was the fact that the actual development of the game was done within three to four months, but fixing cross-platform issues, fine-tuning, testing, and optimizing the concept took a lot more time and energy than expected. It often felt as if for every fixed problem on one platform, a new problem on another platform occurred. But nevertheless, development with the feature-rich programming language HAXE and the frameworks OpenFL and HaxeFlixel at the end worked out for us, as we were able to target several platforms including iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Flash with one code base. However, it proved to be more difficult to get the game running stable on each platform than expected.

Listen to Feedback

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It’s hard or even impossible to match the taste and level of difficulty for everyone as their gaming habits are so different.

Another difficulty was getting proper feedback. It was a lot more difficult to get feedback while developing than expected, especially from friends and family. They are very nice about things, and criticism isn’t always very specific. It’s hard or even impossible to match the taste and level of difficulty for everyone as their gaming habits are so different. Of course, you can get useful feedback from other gamers and developers like bug reports, but more often, it’s only a negative or positive rating, which doesn’t help a lot.

In order to get some more opinions, we first published the game as a free flash game on Kongregate. We received some useful feedback that we used for fine-tuning our app before we released the game to the mobile app stores. Actually, we should have listened more carefully to all of the voices on Kongregate, as we unfortunately missed fixing one very crucial bug before releasing to iTunes and Google Play.

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We received some useful feedback that we used for fine-tuning our app before we released the game to the mobile app stores.

I had implemented a small system to localize our game to different languages. But unfortunately, we never really tried to set the system language of our devices to any other language than German or English. So the game simply crashed on application launch for every person who did not have an English or German language set on their device. Of course, this is a really nasty and unnecessary bug. Especially because it takes a lot of days to be able to publish a bugfix release in some of the appstores. The same error actually occurred and was reported in the flash version, but we simply could not find the reason why some people seemed to have problems running our game. We thought it must be some problem with the flash player and definitely not our stupidity 😉

A Learning Process

Yet our biggest challenge was and still is marketing. It proves difficult to get some visibility in the appstores with so many awesome contenders, especially with a small budget. Although we received some very encouraging reviews from the press at launch, we haven’t been able to reach any noteworthy visibility in the stores so far. But we still have some ideas to promote Bronko Blue, and will be implementing these ideas soon.

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Luckily, Katja is able to produce some lovely graphics besides solving complex logical problems.

We have worked in the software industry for some years, with a number of projects under our belt. But in all of these projects, we were only programmers. Game development doesn’t only consist of programming, but of an awful lot of tasks that you will have to do on your own if you are an indie developer with no money to pay anyone else to do it. For us, it was a very long way from the initial idea to the published product, involving a lot of different tasks that we knew next to nothing about (and sometimes still don’t) when we founded bytecombo. Luckily, Katja is able to produce some lovely graphics besides solving complex logical problems. But our marketing skills still suck!

Love What You Do

Since game development (or any software development at all) usually takes a lot of time (and you can’t be sure if you will finally succeed financially), you should love what you are doing and be aware of the risk that you are taking as an indie developer. You should love playing games, love being creative, love implementing, and even love promoting it. What you need is patience and some solid funding. Working part time in our own company and the other half of the week for other companies proved to be rather productive for us. Sometimes a break and change of focus is very useful, and of course, it is a really good feeling to be sure that you will always have enough money at the end of the month, even if your current game might fail commercially.

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You should love playing games, love being creative, love implementing, and even love promoting it.

It has now been two months since Bronko Blue, the kitten copter has been released to the mobile appstores. Reading the first customer and press reviews was an exciting feeling. So far, the desired success is not reality, and the sales are still low. But nevertheless, we are awfully proud of our game, as we do think that it is a good and fun game and a nice start for bytecombo into the interesting and challenging world of game development. We are currently brainstorming and will soon start working on a few game prototypes to decide what will be our next project. I’m so looking forward to coding and being creative again 😉

Find out what comes from bytecombo’s brainstorming by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

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Revolution 60: Building a Connection With Players

September 18, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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Founded in 2009 by Brianna Wu and Amanda Warner, Giant Spacekat is an (unintentionally) mostly-female development team set on creating interactive, narrative-driven experiences using the Unreal engine. Amanda reflects on her start with Brianna that led to the development of Revolution 60, both their first title and the first of a trilogy of games to come.


3-D Expert Needed

It all started with a Craig’s List ad. I was fresh out of my recent 3D Animation course with a Boston University affiliate and looking for work. We had a career resource center who would pass along opportunities to the more senior students and graduates. My career adviser notified me of someone looking for a Maya expert to help with a comic book using 3D characters.

“You know more than they do,” he said as he pushed the note across the table. I sent my newly-minted demo reel and a cover letter off to the contact, and waited. Soon after, I got a reply: “When can you meet?”

Sitting at the Panera in Brookline, I nervously fiddled with my coffee. Did I get the right place? What if they ask me something I don’t know? I was sinking deep into imposter syndrome when Frank and Brianna Wu walked through the door, threw their leather computer bags onto the tables, and each pulled out their Mac Book Pros. Getting down to business, Frank started to explain his project, the project described in the advert. Then Brianna started to talk about her game idea and the character she’d just received back from the modeler. My interest piqued.

“You don’t have a problem with sexy characters, do you?” She asked, eying me. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to see if it made me uncomfortable, or if she was looking for a reflection of her own worries.

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This is Holiday – a character I grew to know very well

This is how I met Holiday – a character I would come to know very well, pour my soul into animating, cobble her dialogue together, watch her walk and jump, and emote over and over and over. But at this particular moment, she was still an empty shell, no hair, no eyes, and well, naked.

That’s where our collaboration began. Almost immediately, we got to work coming up with edits to pass back to the modeler and the honing of Holiday.

So I’ve Made a Decision

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We created the other characters using the original Holiday model.

Brianna dreams big. “Go big or go home” – it’s a driving force for Giant Spacekat. Over a few months after our first meeting, we’d collaborated twice a week at various coffee shops and fleshed out the story. We created the other characters using the original Holiday model, as building entirely new full 3D models with body, facial, and hair rigs was cost-prohibitive for our little studio. Along the way, we hired (and fired) some additional contractors and our little universe started to take a shape.

Then Infinity Blade came out, vanguard of a mobile Unreal Engine. It was a powerful tool, and suddenly AAA graphics were accessible for a iOS platform. A whole new world of opportunity opened for us. Now we were dreaming of much grander things than the original top-down RTS game, things like lip syncing and fully-animated faces and bodies, not just sprites. We could have deep immersive environments, and more complex gameplay.

“We can do so much more!” exclaimed Brianna as my eyes bugged out of my head. I knew nothing about how to go about it, neither of us did. But while it might have stopped me, something like that isn’t even a blip on the radar for her. “We’re doing this, and it’s going to be amazing!”

By the end of March 2012, we were finally in a place to come at this adventure full-force. Brianna had finished up her classes, I was coming back from maternity leave, and Maria Enderton, our part-time technical artist stepped up as a full-time programmer. We started creating our first MVP, and working out our new pipeline. Revolution 60 is different than most games out there. It’s not cyclical. There aren’t run cycles or procedurally-generated acting. This required special nodes, working with FBX’s and importing hours of dialogue.

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Revolution 60 is different than most games out there.

Being non-cyclical in the animations meant I was responsible for everything on screen. Nothing outside of combat was engine generated, so it meant every camera cut, every character animation, and the ambient creatures had to be made. It meant building every screen like you would an animated movie, working in moments for player input, and specific animations for every possible dialogue choice and every pass of fail, with idles in between. When all was said and done, I’d animated what amounts to 2 and a half feature length films.

While I spent the majority of my time animating, helping with the script, and splicing lines together, the other members of the team were busy making a place for those animations to go. Maria was like the Batphone: handling the coding and whatever technical artist help we needed. Frank designed most of the sets, props, and all of the spaceships. The rest fell to Brianna, and I mean a lot. Not just textures, sound mixing, music choices, sign off on scenes, UI, and script, but also all of the business development aspects: marketing, hiring a PR firm, finding funding, and building industry connections. As production went on, her days of just being able to create were fewer and fewer, but no one could do the business side better than her. We developed a in-the-trenches-together bond and quickly started referring to ourselves as team BAMF.

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We developed a in-the-trenches-together bond and quickly started referring to ourselves as team BAMF.

I Wish I Could Just Show You My Screen Right Now

Since we were all working from home on our personal workstations, Skype and Dropbox became integral tools for collaboration. Having Skype instant message open all day has its benefits. It allows you to swap screen captures, videos, and get feedback instantaneously. It allowed for our company culture of collaboration to flourish. But it was far from a perfect solution.

Sometimes, there were too many cooks in the kitchen.

Sometimes, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. There were times when technical discussions went on for what felt like forever. Discussions that, in an office situation, would have taken a fraction of the time if only you could just have someone walk over and look at your screen. After a few of these time sucks, we instituted a rule of “Will this be longer than five minutes? Yes? Pick up the phone.”

The second biggest drawback of Skype was the distraction element, the bleeps of chat that called to you like Pavlov’s dog, unable to ignore it. Because of this, we instituted our second rule: take it to direct message if it didn’t involve the whole team, and open it back up to general chat if a tie breaker opinion is needed. At one point, we even tried quiet hours to aid in concentration, but that never lasted. It was just too isolating for everyone. So we instead spoke up if we needed quiet concentration time and said “I’ll be back at 2, if you need me, just holler.”

Still, if you’re not in a position to be in an office or an incubator situation, there is something to be said for the constant connectivity. As far as collaboration tools, it helped more than it hurt.

Playtest, Playtest, Playtest

Our first PAX in 2013 was an amazing experience. As the largest gaming convention on the east coast, it made a great place for us to debut. We felt like we’d arrived, that we belonged. That we were where we were supposed to be. It also gave us the opportunity to put our game in players hands and see how they interacted with it. We had three days straight of face-to-face feedback, with most of it being positive.

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Most of our feedback was positive, and players loved our combat system.

They loved our combat system, designed by fellow indie Jenna Hoffstein. But people were also saying it was slow, and that you did a lot of watching. We had set out to make a cinematic experience, but we were missing that connection with the player.

After the show was over, we tore our game down and rebuilt it. It lead to us creating the rule that no more than between 15-30 seconds would go by without you interacting with the screen somehow. We came to place a very high value on playtesting, Brianna especially. Her main mission was to make sure that we were respectful of our player’s time, that we were constructing a game that was balanced and accessible to players of different speeds, and that we didn’t exclude anyone.

A few months before ship, in an effort to balance our action events and our combat, we brought Carolyn VanEseltine on board. A former Harmonix alumn turned indie herself, she gathered a testing pool, with the direction that it should as closely represent our market as possible: 50 percent self-described core gamers, 50 percent casual, 50 percent male, and 50 percent female. Through those sessions, the game started to mature and tighten, and became a game we were all proud to have been a part of.

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The game started to mature and tighten, and became a game we were all proud to have been a part of.

It’s Out in the Wild

It’s now been two months since the release of Revolution 60. Sales are doing well, and the game has been met with critical acclaim. One thing we, or rather I, experienced (something I don’t think is particularly unique before release) is the terror of your work going out into the market for public consumption. I’ve heard many people speak of their books, art work, or games with a mixed state of reverence and fear. You feel that once it’s out in the world, it’s no longer yours. Your baby is out there to be what it will, to grow, change, and evolve in the public eye. That is where we are. Watching it grow and change, and be consumed.

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Now we watch it grow and change, and be consumed.

Even if Revolution 60 never sees AAA levels of success, it doesn’t matter. That would be fan-bloody-tastic, don’t get me wrong. But without a doubt, the best part of it all has been the thrill from reading the personal emails from parents with pictures of their daughters playing obsessively. From notes that say “Thank you for making this.” From knowing that it didn’t just go into the ether to disappear. We treasure that. Brianna said it best: “I was able to make the game I’ve always wanted to make. How many get to say the same?

Revolution 60 is available for iOS. Stay up to date with what’s going on with the future of Revolution 60 through its Facebook and Twitter!

 

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Yatzy Ultimate: A Classic Game With a Trendy Look and Za Za Zu Flavor

July 7, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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What started as a small team of six grew to be what Game.IO is today: a serious game development studio with 40 people with a passion and drive to create great games. The team has worked on multiple projects and hopes their new games will surpass the success of their first game: Yatzy UltimateMarija Keleshoska, a marketing specialist for Game.IO, reminisces about building Yatzy Ulitmate.


A Memory From Childhood Leads to Our New Game

It was a usual Monday morning, and we started sharing some interesting moments from our childhood days. Everyone had his own unique story to share, but they all had one thing in common: Yahtzee. We soon realized that we all used to play this game when we were young and no one has played it since. Later on, when we were drafting our product portfolio, it’s funny how Yahtzee was on the top of everyone’s mind. We agreed that’s the game we wanted to start with. Originally, we wanted to call the game Yatzy, but unfortunately, that name was already taken on App Store, so we instead called it Yatzy Ultimate.

To begin, we started was with research and deciding the definition of the game. It gets pretty exciting when you get to know a game better – the history of the game, its mechanics, etc. It’s played in different countries and has its own characteristics. For our version, we decided to keep the basic rules and leave space to add new unique features in the next releases to make the game more attractive. Our main goal was to create a game WE would like to play.

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Our main goal was to create a game WE would like to play.

The first version of Yatzy Ultimate included “Quick game”, “Nearby Players” and “Multiplayer”. It was the perfect fit for players of all types: those who would like to play a quick game while taking a break, or play with friends “Pass’n’Play” in Multiplayer mode. The “Nearby Players” exploited the Bluetooth feature of the device for playing with friends or family. Yatzy mainly is a game you would like to play with friends and family, but at the same time, it’s a fun way to pass time when you’re traveling or waiting in line in a coffee shop.

After the launch on the App Store in January 2011, the game started landing on our players’ devices and the first impressions really exceeded our expectations. We had some goals set in terms of number of downloads and revenue, and it was a great feeling to see how the numbers go up. The reviews we got were just more proof that we made the right choice and launched a quality product on the market.

As the game gained more success, our team starting expanding, along with our desire to make the game better. And then Yatzy Ulimate received its first award in 2012: the BestAppEver award in the dice category.

Keep Pace with Industry Trends

When something is good, it means you’re on the right path. But to make something great, it’s not enough just to follow the path. Those turns on the left and right may lead to even greater paths. As the industry was growing and new technologies were introduced, we knew it was time to take a new turn in our journey. We defined two key goals and put all efforts towards their achievement: cross-platform and online gameplay.

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It was time to make the game more social (and keep pace with the latest industry trends).

We already had a stable user base on iOS and Windows Phone, but it was time to make the game more social (and keep pace with the latest industry trends). We needed to allow them to get to know each other and challenge each other to see who has better skills. This was a great challenge for the whole team and included changes in the code and a lot of testing to make sure we got it just right.

For more variety, Game.IO chips were introduced in the game as virtual currency, which can be used to place bets in Bet mode and take high or low stakes in Online mode. This needed thorough analysis for our “numbers wizards” to set the economy of the game. With the introduction of Game.IO accounts and additional login methods like Facebook and Windows Live (for Windows Phone users), we set the grounds for cross-platform gameplay, allowing players to play their favorite game anytime, on any device.

The game went through serious re-engineering, development and testing to add all these bonus features. The team invested a lot of time and worked very hard to make it happen. Testing was crucial as it was a completely new structure of the game and there was no place for bugs.

After much work it was ready! But once it was ready to be introduced on the market, a new challenge was ahead of us: to market it properly and educate the audience.

Players are Not Just Numbers, Each One is Special

We went through a bumpy road in the post-launch period. The online play had certain problems with connection, which most of the time was out of our control. Mainly, when the player would lose connection on his device, the game would pick that information with delay and the player wasn’t aware the he went offline. This was our first challenge, and our priority for our next release. A customer support team is crucial at times like this, and we were lucky to already have that in place.

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In the first release of the new and redesigned Yatzy Ultimate, we had to remove one feature due to certain problems that occurred with that function – playing with nearby friends via Bluetooth.

In the first release of the new and redesigned Yatzy Ultimate, we had to remove one feature due to certain problems that occurred with that function – playing with nearby friends via Bluetooth. Our plan was to get it back in the next release as, based on the analysis of the gameplay statistics, the percentage of the players who used this feature was not significant, and the temporal removal of it wouldn’t affect the game.

We were wrong. It turned out that this small percentage of players consisted of our most loyal players and we failed them. We learned this lesson the hard way: your players are not numbers, each one is special. Sometimes, you can have the best analysis of your target market, but it doesn’t mean you know them. Bringing back this feature was our biggest priority, and our development team worked hard to make it happen as soon as possible.

Finally, after the second release, the shaky and stormy period was behind us. Yatzy Ultimate reached its peak of glory, confirming we were on the right path. We were ready to start the new chapter.

Your Game Needs Some Za Za Zu

One of the most influential parts in mobile game development are the customer reviews. Those few sentences written by the players provide a plethora of ideas for new features and improvements of the existing gameplay. We just love our players’ creativity and their words (good and bad) are often the trigger for our most productive brainstorming sessions.

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“Pretty good. Needs some za za zu”.

At one of our meetings, as we were reading the reviews, one really caught our attention. One player wrote us: “Pretty good. Needs some za za zu”. That’s right, let’s put some “za za zu” in Yatzy Ultimate.

A new challenge was in front of us. We needed to add more challenge, risk, and greater winnings in the gameplay. To do this, we introduced a leveling system and higher stakes in the online gameplay, and later on, a “Play with Buddies” feature. At the same time, we completed our strategy for cross-platform gameplay with the introduction of Yatzy Ultimate on Facebook. Our classic game now got the completely new trendy look and, according to the feedback from our players, Yatzy Ultimate has the “za za zu” flavor in it.

Today, Game.IO has proven itself as a serious player on the market. We’re no longer the newbies and with our experience and lessons learned, we’ve matured. New games and new challenges are ahead of us, and we have the passion and drive to make it happen.

Interested in what Game.IO has in store for their players? Find out by following them on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Studio Spotlight

5th Planet Games: Building with Passion

November 27, 2013 — by Clelia Rivera

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When a person has a passion for gaming and the motivation to do something with that passion, great things happen. Such is the case with 5th Planet Games. The “studio” was, at first, not even a studio. It was just four guys who played games together. Slowly, they warmed to the idea of making their own games – games they would enjoy playing themselves. This idea drives them forward each day. In the beginning, 5PG took a chance by launching a hardcore game on Facebook at a time when it was believed these games would not “work” there. In May 2010, they proved everyone wrong when their first title, Dawn of the Dragons, became a Facebook hit. 5PG believes they create social games that are fun and engaging for all kinds of gamers, from hardcore or casual.

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They proved everyone wrong with their first title, Dawn of the Dragons.

Life at 5PG

Since Dawn of Dragons, the company grew from 4 to 55 people, but they still all share a passion for games. In fact, it is such an important trait that they look for it in all new hires. “Does somebody really love gaming and really love their work?” asks Robert Winkler, co-founder and CEO. “Do they believe in what we’re trying to do and are they willing to go the extra mile to get the job done? These are intangible traits, but very important to the kind of culture we are trying to build.” He jokes that having “insane skills in whatever role you’re applying for” is helpful, too.

Shared passion makes it easy for the team to work collaboratively. All ideas are considered and encouraged, regardless of who it came from. Even when there are disagreements, they are quickly taken care of. “Everything we do always comes back to the premise of ‘Is this the right thing to do for our player base and community?'” says Winkler. “It’s usually pretty cut and dry when you look at things that way, so that helps resolve most disagreements or difficult decisions.”

Creating Outside the Norm

At the time of Dawn of Dragons, hardcore games were not successful on Facebook, so why did 5PG take the risk? Simple – these were the games they wanted to play. 5PG games reflect that shared passion through the gameplay, storylines, and artwork. The amount of work involved can be a problem, but they enjoy it regardless. “We are creating these whole worlds that players are asked to invest themselves in, so we have to make them seem as real and fantastic as possible,” says Winkler. “It’s not like a casual game, where you can design a whole game around one or two simple mechanics – there’s a lot of layers to our games, and they take time to flesh out, but in the end, we feel it’s worth it.”

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“We are creating these whole worlds that players are asked to invest themselves in, so we have to make them seem as real and fantastic as possible.”

5PG added another challenging genre to their portfolio: Digital Collectible Card Games. According to a report by the Casual Games Association this is one of the highest monetizing social games categories. They update these types of games by creating new cards with new mechanics. “With each new release, we risk that a new mechanic has a different effect on the game than originally intended, or that it severely alters the way the game is played,” says Winkler. While this can be a challenge, Winkler says it also creates unexpected opportunities for players, causing them to think up new strategies. He spoke more on this topic during a session at Casual Connect.

A Lasting Community

The community surrounding and supporting their games is key to 5PG’s success. “One of our guiding principles is building games that enable players to benefit from cooperation. Helping fellow players rather than rewarding payback and the demise of fellow players,” says Winkler. To do this, they incorporate certain ideas into their games promoting this type of gameplay, such as guilds and alliances. The team shows a lot of respect to the team members who interact with their community the most, and puts a lot of emphasis on supporting their large community. “Community interaction is so important to our games not only because it makes them more social, but because it depends on a player’s engagement and keeps them engaged for longer,” says Winkler. “We even fly in a group of players every month or so to hold player councils, where we can pick their brains directly on what new features they’d like us to implement, how they want to see the games evolve, and other ways to improve the games.”

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To create the feeling of collaboration, they incorporate certain ideas into their games, such as guilds and alliances.

With such a focus on the community, one sees why the fans stick around, but Winkler points out that there is another reason: “Our Games-as-a-Service approach, we are constantly rolling out new features and content so the gameplay never gets stale or boring.” Even Dawn of the Dragons, launched over three years ago, receives regular new updates. 5PG also takes player feedback into consideration when looking into new content. “We take in feedback – both constructive and not so constructive – and iterate on our designs and content based on this feedback,” says Winkler. “We find that our players understand the games at least as well as we do and more often than not, their suggestions are right on the mark.”

Find out what 5th Planet Games is up to now through Facebook and Twitter.

 

ContributionsPostmortem

Indie Showcase: Valthirian Arc II

May 24, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Founded in 2009 by a group of college students, Agate Studio has dedicated itself to creating games that make life more fun to live. With over 80 people as of August 2012, they are working hard to live that goal. They have quite a few games under their belt, including Valthirian Arc, a free simulation game where the player manages and oversees a magical academy as its principal. Wimindra Lee, Creative Director at Agate Studio, shares the process of creating this game’s sequel, Valthirian Arc II.

We are going on a Quest!
We are going on a Quest!

Player Feedback and Game Improvement

When we first decided to develop a sequel to our game, Valthirian Arc, the first thing we did is collect all of the player’s feedback, responses, comments, and critiques of the first game. It has been a while since Valthirian Arc was released (2010), so we piled up a nice amount of comments. Some of the suggestions were valuable, and some suggestions were even considered for the first game during its development, but was omitted due to time constraints.

While we see the enthusiasm in the player’s suggestions, we know we couldn’t implement all of them because of many practical reasons. However, we decided to expand the game by implemented a feature where each character class had a male/female version, unlike the gender-exclusive class in the first game. Contrary to a suggestion we read, we decided to not remove the ability to rename a student. We felt it was already optional, and it might came in handy for some players, and there’s a certain charm in having a principal that changes a student’s name on a whim.

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We expanded the academy management to be a full simulation, complete with students walking around between classes and how they improve beyond the player’s control.

One thing we all agreed on was to expand the Academy aspect of Valthirian Arc. We expanded the academy management to be a full simulation, complete with students walking around between classes and how they improve beyond the player’s control. We didn’t change much things in the Battle, but Quests will now have more variety in enemies, maps, music, and objectives. We thought it was a pretty natural improvement of the first game.

We also decided to improve the story aspect of the game. Early on, it was decided that the game didn’t need to be as story-heavy as most RPGs. So we fleshed out the world instead, and the story is told through quest descriptions and NPC’s dialogue and personalities. We created a lot of NPCs so that the player will feel that he/she is leading a team of expert to manage the academy.

Academy Room Card Tools for Development
Academy Room Card Tools for Development

All the features we decided to put in was a result of discussion. We were able to implement most of the features in the concept, even though it wasn’t detailed enough at that time, and details were added during development. Such discussions took much energy and time, but the results were mostly positive and good for the team because all the team would agree with the result.  Due to a less experienced designer (compared to other team members), many designs were challenged by other team members, and the result was very positive.

Details, Details…

When going over art style, we decided to keep the pixel style of the previous game. With the expansion on the academy gameplay, there’s a lot more work to do here in the art department. In addition to that, we have more classes, monsters, NPCs, maps, and UI that makes all this a huge job, but it was also a good opportunity to show the richness of our art.

As for our sound department, our crew is learning to use XM audio format for the BGM. This resulted in a significantly reduced filesize for our music, allowing us to include a lot of variations in the BGM. The sound quality, however, took a hit. If we compare the music in the trailer, for example, we can hear the obvious difference in quality. We decided to go with this choice after concluding that the filesize needs to be our top priority so more people can enjoy the game.

VA2 Team in a meeting
VA2 Team in a meeting

Since we expanded the story, we added more voice acting to this game. In addition to academy characters and NPCs, we have voices for the monsters, too. All the voices were provided by crews of Agate Studio. The recording was a fun and interesting experience, with all the performers being enthusiastic in this job. The challenge lies in directing; none of us are professional voice actors. There’s always a difficulty in interpreting the script and using the expected tone or accent. The not-quite-English accent is certainly a unique and fresh aspect of the overall experience.

IP Development

Our biggest challenge in development is a production challenge. We decided to make an engine from scratch to accommodate the requirements of the game and included the process of engine development in our production timeline. It had unforeseen consequences for us: engine development is somewhat a research. The uncertainty of things resulted in our timeline being changed too much—sometimes it shrunk, sometimes it expanded. The project had a major delay in production. Then, of course the engine was not 100 percent proven, adding into more delays. We’d probably have a more predictable timeline using a proven engine.

Bad Design and Code on Previous VA....but aptly describes how we were feeling during these issues
This was bad design and code on the previous VA, as well as an apt description of how we felt during these issues

The delay in development had a domino effect in other departments. When the programming department was unable to give a viewable gameplay or visual, our art department had a hard time reviewing their work. This resulted in our sound department getting their work delayed too because most of the audio complimented the visual aspects of the game. A delay on the battle feature made our artist unable to see how the animation works and our sound engineer could not adjust the sound effects.

It was a long journey, but it was worth every tick of our time. We learned a lot during development, both from mistakes and successes, and we already have ideas to expand the world of Valthiria even more! We hope you have as much fun playing the game when it is released as we had making it.

Look out for Valthirian Arc II later this year. It was also a part of Casual Connect Asia’s Indie Prize Showcase 2013 in Singapore.

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