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Game DevelopmentPostmortem

Veterans Online: From The First Studio of Tunisia

August 22, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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Nuked Cockroach is an indie game studio based in a small country in North Africa: Tunisia, where the video game development industry is not a thing. They decided to start their own project and try to compete with international indie studios. The team started very small with only one programmer, one 3D artist and one concept artist, and it started expanding along with project vision, to eventually reach a total of 15 members: developers and management included. They share the story of their creation, a multiplayer shooter called Veterans Online.


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Regency Solitaire: A Game To Go Back In Time

April 2, 2016 — by Industry Contributions

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Grey Alien Games has been making premium downloadable PC and Mac games since 2005. This British game studio has brought casual game hits including Regency Solitaire, Spooky Bonus, Fairway Solitaire (2007 PC/Mac version) and Unwell Mel to life.
The theme for Regency Solitaire came to writer and researcher Helen Carmichael while she was watching Downton Abbey in 2013. She had recently moved back to Bridport, Dorset from Canada with husband Jake Birkett, and the couple were keen to revisit their favourite historical locations in the UK.

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Astral Breakers: Inspired By Disagreement of Two Gamers

December 22, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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Intropy Games is a two person game studio based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Founded in 2012 by lifelong gamers Lisa Walkosz-Migliacio and Michael Migliacio, the studio originally focused on “bringing the cute” to the iOS AppStore – finding some success with their first mobile title, the recipe-crafting, saccharine-sweet Usagi-chan Bunny Treats. Now, the dynamic duo has console gaming in its sights, blasting off for the Wii U eShop with their multiplayer action puzzle game, Astral Breakers. Lisa shares the story. 


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Astro Lords: Oort Cloud – The Release Postponed Because the Game Evolved

November 23, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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The company of ARATOG was founded in early 2012, and is based in Odesa, Ukraine. Their CEO and founder  Arseniy Nazarenko  has been in the games industry for almost 13 years. He started at Nival in the Blitzkrieg 2 project, and has also worked at NikitovaPersha Studia‘s outsoucing company, having made dozens of titles for leading industry companies for various platforms. In 2006 Arseniy also headed the Ukrainian department of Vogster Entertainment and the Crime Craft project. His last for-hire project was the browser MMOG strategy My Lands, released in 2010. And only after this one Arseniy got a possibility to start his own studio and project. Now ARATOG also includes 15 other people united by their passion for games and game development; a passion that has pushed them to use Unity to develop cross-platform games, including Web, PC ( Web, Mac OS, Linux), iOS and Android with single server on cluster technology.
Their first big project is Astro Lords: Oort Cloud, and it’s this story that Arseniy shares.
In addition to this game, the company has produced a variety of others, such as Hungry Mouth and Crazy Sapper. 

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Penguins Of The North: Impressions and Learnings for the Developer and Players

September 24, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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OWLNIGHT (all uppercase letters) or usually known as mamoniem (all lowercase letters by the way) is that entity that is focused on making weird indie games. You can call it a company, team or a mini studio: it’s just one guy making games all the time (with some support from his great wife, friends and people around) & passionate about anything that is related to games. Muhammad A. Moniem made this decision a long time ago: that he will start making games in his free time rather than doing freelance work. It was a hard decision. It was hard to replace what brings money with what takes money, but he decided to go for that risk.


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Awakening of Heroes: Making MOBA Interesting For A Wider Audience

March 24, 2015 — by Industry Contributions

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COFA Games is a game development company from Serbia, currently working on a pretty ambitious project for an indie studio, called Awakening of Heroes. This is an unusual multi-player game that combines elements of team fight, strategy, arcade, town development and pre-game unions. Although still in the Alpha phase, Awakening of Heroes has appeared on Steam Greenlight waiting for your thumbs up to help it enter this huge PC game download store.

COFA Games’ CEO Nikola Mitic shares the story of their game taking place in a dreamlike city, and featuring a sweet old lady obsessed with extreme sports such as tombola and knitting, a mellow-heart butcher with an alter-ego of a math genius, a sexy chimney sweeper with a vendetta against Santa, a hipster in an atypical bad mood, and a grandpa daredevil. And of course the craziest superpowers one can come up with.


OnlineStudio Spotlight

Spellbind Studios: Taking a Chance to Make Magic

October 23, 2014 — by Gamesauce Staff

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Video games play a key role in shaping the world. They provide entertainment for millions. They help the innovators, creators, and doers of the world relax amid countless late nights and stressful times. They open minds to creative notions, ideas, and problem-solving — benefiting nearly all facets of life, whether games are involved or not.

This is the philosophy of games shared by Colin Day. “Games do a lot more than entertain us,” he says. “They allow us to shift our entire mind and body from the everyday and recharge ourselves.”

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Shufflepuck Cantina: Enjoyable Game vs. Money Draining

October 1, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Agharta Studio was created in November 2008 after the current team members left their respective game development studios: Etranges Libellules for 2D artist Valerian Taramon and creative director and game designer Alexandre Leboucher, and Eden Games for CEO and programmer Aurelien Kerbeci. Jean Edouard Fages, formerly of Arkane Studios, joined the team in 2012 to give a hand on 3D and design for Shufflepuck Cantina, the game whose story Alexandre shares.

In 2008, right in the beginning of the AppStore, we released the first episode of the 1112 series, which sold very well along with its two sequels. In 2010, in between two episodes of 1112, we tried the publisher route (a catastrophic experience for us) with a game in the style of Advance War (Nintendo DS) called Rogue Planet. Each of our projects has been large in scope, and took a year on average to complete.

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The 1112 series of games sold very well, including the sequels.

Taking the Initiative

For me, there’s always been a dream project. I remember fondly the years spent on Shufflepuck Café back in the 80’s-90’s. The game was one of my all-time favorites along with Dungeon Master, Ultima, and Wizardry series. The year before we started the project, I stumbled into Legend of Grimrock, which was a reimagining of one of the legendary games of my youth. The game sold almost a million and generated a lot of buzz on the internet. Tired of waiting for a Shufflepuck Café remake, I decided to advocate the project within my own team.

With the Grimrock argument, lack of direct competitors, and a huge untapped market ahead, they quickly agreed to make the jump. At the time, I also tried to reach the original creators of Shufflepuck Café, but they seemingly had disappeared from the surface of the gaming world.

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“Tired of waiting for a Shufflepuck Café remake I decided to advocate the project within my own team.”

The Biased Market of PC

We had to choose a market where the game would have the biggest impact. We would have loved to make it on Mac and PC to reach the fans of the original, but at that time, everyone told us it was suicide to market a game on the PC without financial means or a publisher to back us up. This was before the start of Valve’s Steam Greenlight program. So we went for iOS, considering our strong backgrounds on the platform and the ease of producing a game on it. But in the PC community, there’s a bias against games successful on iOS (which are considered ports), and this consequently undermined the press coverage and general interest in our game.

From 2D to 3D

At first, I was aiming for a simple remake in 2D, since high-quality digital paintings have always been our strong point. The 1112 series and Rogue Planet were mostly 2D with scarce 3D elements.

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The example of 2D in 1112

With the arrival of Jean Edouard, we were able to make 3D assets on a completely different scale, so we decided to go full 3D for the project. The game development schedule was doubled, and we entered the uncomfortable position of looking less and less like a traditional indie game. Most people didn’t realize that we were only are a 3-4 person team. On a side note, we used Blender to make all of our 3D assets and we tried (without any real coverage) to speak about it in the Blender/free software communities. However, that didn’t give any noticeable results – those hangouts aren’t full of gaming enthusiasts.

Own Engine: Hard to Make, but Worth It

The main drawback of making our own 3D engine is the amount of time required to develop it and the tools to exploit it. Aurelien had already created a functional 3D engine at the time, and we used it on our previous productions.

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Blender was at first used for 3D assets, but promotion within free software communities didn’t result in anything significant.

There was a lot to do, considering the amount of needs we had for Shufflepuck. We had to invest a lot of R&D time and budget in that engine, especially for the PC version, with features including deferred rendering, dynamic lights and shadows. In the end, it really proved itself, and the game is ultra-optimized with no loading time at all, which is a feat on mobile devices when compared to all Unity/Unreal engine games out there. The other positive aspect is that if we decide to keep using our in-house engine, most of the R&D is already done, which will save time in the future, especially for porting, as the engine now supports Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android frameworks.

Pros and Cons of Non-Aggressive IAPs

Another big hurdle was how to choose the pricing model. The game has a lot of content and was designed to be a premium title, but we decided to experiment with a freemium model since we never tried that in the past. Adding a monetary system was quite natural for the game, but I really wanted to avoid pressure on customers, so we handled the in-app purchases with care, only requiring one IAP to double all amount of the in-game currency, which gives the player exactly what is needed to grind through the game the same way a typical RPG would.

Only one IAP to double all amount of the in-game currency.

And then the game was out! Luckily, the team at Apple immediately noticed the great quality of the title and we had good coverage in US and Europe for a week, and minor coverage for the following months. Within the first two months, we managed to reach 1.2 million downloads. However the IAP ratio was catastrophic! Since we didn’t choose an aggressive IAP strategy, few players were compelled to make an IAP.

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The original Shufflepuck Cafe game.

The game was being played very often; we had some players who played more than 300 hours. I immediately thought that we should limit the access to the game tables with the money system, but I couldn’t stand the thought of being a money-hungry machine at the detriment of the player.

Still, players seem to love the game with 9000 reviews at 4.6 out of 5 average, and the press mostly rated the iOS version quite high.

The Big Mistake: Forgetting Ads

And then we realized that deciding to not include ads in a freemium game is absolute suicide if your game is not heavily marketed. Two months after release, we added ads in the game: Chartboost and NativeX. The latter is non-intrusive and allows players to earn in-game currency if they agree to watch some targeted ads or videos.

Immediately, the cash came in. Ads were giving roughly three times more than IAPs! But it was a bit too late; we weren’t heavily featured anymore. As of today, we’ve reached 1.6 million downloads for Shufflepuck Cantina on iOS and only 400,000 units were delivered with ads. We somehow managed to earn $150K anyway, but we would’ve earned 2-3 times more if we had just included the ads at launch time.

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The developers didn’t want to turn the game into a money-draining machine, and eventually forgot about ads, which turned out a mistake.

The Android Debacle

Still frustrated by the missed ads opportunity, we started to listen to friends who kept asking for an Android version of the game. The numbers were huge everywhere we looked: Android was said to be selling big; there was information about many people switching to it as well as about the market having 10 times more users. Android at that time looked like a brand new Eldorado waiting for us to make some good old port cash. The task took a lot longer than expected due to inherent Android technical issues including horrible fragmentation. We had to rent 20 different devices with different OS versions, and at launch, the game was working on only half of those Android machines.

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Character design for Shufflepuck Cantina.

I made contact with some Google guys to get us featured, and we finally launched the game. Since there are not many professional Android websites, press coverage is even worse than for iOS, but the worst of all was the editorial team at Google. I spent three months exchanging emails with guys who seemed interested in featuring the game. Still, the Google Play homepage almost never changed during those three months. They kept featuring low-quality pong games and had nothing about a premium quality Shufflepuck Cantina. In my opinion, Google needs to hire a lot more people and start looking at what’s going on at Apple.

Despite having excellent reviews on Google Play (4.7 out of 5), the free version of the game was only downloaded 10,000 times – 150 times fewer than the iOS version. And, worst of all, the ad revenues were 10 times lower than on iOS for the same amount. To this day, we somewhat managed to only get $1,000 – $2,000 on the Android market in a whole year.

Getting Greenlit isn’t Fast

Shortly before starting the Android version, we tried to apply for the Steam Greenlight program for a potential PC version. After all, the PC version always was the target we had in mind to reach, for the original PC/Mac players of Shufflepuck Café. At that time, there were thousands of games waiting in the Greenlight queue, and only 3-4 were released each month.

There were thousands of games waiting in the Greenlight queue, and only 3-4 were released each month.

We didn’t have any big hopes about releasing the game on Steam anytime soon. Still, we tried hard to make a great PC version of Shufflepuck Cantina, enhancing the engine, creating a big boss, and a real ending. It took six more months to finish the PC game, which was about the time needed to be greenlit. We didn’t have time to make multiplayer, but planned to add it and more interesting mechanics to enhance gameplay once the game is sold well enough.

Struggling for Press Coverage

The game became available on Steam just one week after the two behemoth consoles from Microsoft and Sony came out, so all the press was solely focused on those. Even with a lot of contacts in the press industry, we didn’t manage to have a single review of the game neither at launch nor during the following months. Once a game is out and doesn’t have any buzz at launch, the press is not interested. The game slightly benefited from being featured in Steam’s news section for a few days, but this was only enough to sell a couple of thousand units. On the other hand, this seems to be okay in the PC crowd for indie titles. The player reviews are really good so far; 86% positive reviews out of 300.

Once a game is out and doesn’t have any buzz at launch, the press is not interested.

After a couple of months, we were harassed by “bundle” websites, and delivered 50k units that way, which was another big mistake. The revenue share from bundles is next to nothing and it’s basically destroying your “waiting for sales” user base. Of course, we were never featured on “winter/summer” Steam sales since they only feature game that are already selling well to increase their cash.

Oculus: UI and VR Restrictions

We have owned an Oculus for a year now, and we paralleled the development on it because we think it’s most certainly the media of the future. We scored a good spot at last summer’s Oculus jam with Epic Dragon, and made a very nice demo version of Shufflepuck Cantina (available through Steam) for it as well, hoping to make the full version if the game was successful enough on Steam. It was an interesting take on user interface and VR restrictions, I strongly suggest new Oculus players to try it out, and Epic Dragon as well.

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The demo of Shufflepuck Cantina for Oculus is available through Steam

Mixed Feelings

I have mixed feelings about the whole Shufflepuck Cantina launch and development. We managed to port our technologies and knowledge over all mobile devices as well as desktop machines, learned a lot about freemium vs premium, set foot inside Steam, gave a huge boost to our online community (9K followers on Twitter, 25K on Facebook), met a lot of interesting people, and generally improved our tech.

On the other hand, the creation process was a bit unfocused: we added a lot of core features into development a bit late, spent too much time on detailed metagame mechanisms few players really cared about, didn’t communicate enough before the game was finished, wasted six months on Android for nothing, and, last but not least, emptied the company’s treasury instead of making it viable.

The Agharta Studio team is now working on a full Oculus DK2 version of Shufflepuck Cantina (hoping to be one of the very first full games compatible with the DK2), and on a very cool iOS Rogue-like game. The developers say they’re going to try pushing the full Oculus version of the game and using the earnings to move to all possible events to show their games and communicate more with the press and public.

 

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Fearless Fantasy: When the Market Changes During Development

August 4, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Fearless Fantasy began in 2012, when animator/director Andrew Kerekes, encouraged by a couple of Flash RPGs that made a splash at the time, decided to create an RPG of his own. Its unique selling point would be a skill-based gesture mechanic which would replace the random number generator and create a more immersive experience. More than two years later, the originally humble Flash project got released on Steam, with plans to bring it to mobile devices soon. Daniel Borgmann was responsible for the development side, and now shares the experience of creating a game in an ever-changing market. 


The Beginning: A Tempting Offer

I joined the project when Andrew was looking for a programmer to implement his concept. At this point, I had just decided to dive into full-time game development. While I was working on a couple of projects of my own, his offer was too tempting to pass up, so I jumped at the chance.

At this point, Andrew had mostly made a name for himself through animation projects, but also contributed and created a few smaller Flash games, the biggest one being an elaborate hidden objects game called Memohuntress. I remembered this game for its unusual atmosphere, and the prospects of creating an RPG with his unique style were exciting.

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The prospects of creating an RPG with the unique style Andrew showed in his most popular game were exciting.

The plan originally was to finish the entire game in about three months, but it soon became clear that this wasn’t a realistic projection. We both still believed in the concept though and, because we were working well together, decided to change our arrangement to a 50/50 profit share. At this point, I wasn’t feeling too much pressure yet, as I had some savings left and was confident that our hard work would pay off in the end one way or another.

Collaborating Across the Globe

A distinctive feature of our collaboration was that the majority of work was done exactly 12 hours apart; by Andrew in Hawaii and me in Berlin. Everything considered, we dealt with the time difference pretty well. It probably helped that both of us occasionally confuse the moon for the sun. We kept working this way for many months, while the game went through various stages and we both also dealt with some significant personal changes.

It probably helped that both of us occasionally confuse the moon for the sun.

Realizing how much work it would be to implement the original vision, we started to aggressively cut down features to focus on the essentials. One of the first things that had to go was the world map. After a few iterations, we ended up with a simple level-select screen so typical for casual and mobile games. This was a natural fit for our game, given that its core is the unique battle system and ease of play.

With this renewed focus, things really started to fall into place. We changed the battles to have multiple waves of enemies, which created a nice amount of challenge without becoming frustrating. We tweaked the upgrade system to allow unlimited re-specs, and even changed the shop to allow buying and selling items without experiencing a loss. In many ways, we were turning the game from a pure RPG into a skill-based game “with an RPG element”.

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A simple level-select screen so typical for casual and mobile games made a natural fit for our game with the core of the unique battle system and ease of play.

The Ever-Changing Flash Market: The Good and Bad

As the months went on, we both started to reach our limits. Both of us dealt with some personal issues, and the pressure already started piling up. We now had to rely on our families to keep us going, but we knew that this couldn’t go on any longer.

For me, the hardest thing to deal with was my marriage falling apart. I tried to avoid resolving it until the end of the project, but eventually it just affected me too much. After the separation, I went through a short slump but had a lot of time to reflect. So, when I had pulled myself back together, I knew it was time to bring things to the logical ending.

After one last major push to add a layer of polish and quality, we were finally ready to present Fearless Fantasy to potential sponsors. By this time, we had put so much of our personalities into the game that we didn’t really expect it to be profitable. Nevertheless, we were hoping to get an offer good enough to keep us going for a while, while we worked on sequels or new projects.

The Flash market just wasn’t where it used to be when we started the project.

We contacted a few sponsors and received some phenomenal feedback, while the exact offers turned out disappointing. We had to realize that the Flash market just wasn’t where it used to be when we started the project, and our prospects looked grim. We were ready to cut our losses and put our hopes into a quick sequel or mobile release, but then we met tinyBuild.

tinyBuild’s Vote of Confidence

Alex Nichiporchik from tinyBuild played our game and liked it enough to offer us a publishing deal. He brought up the idea to get the game on Steam, like they did with their own Flash game No Time To Explain before. We had considered this before, but going through Greenlight looked too daunting given the situation we were in. tinyBuild’s vote of confidence and the possibility to bypass Greenlight convinced us to give it a try, and it’s not like we had anything to lose at this point. Of course, this also meant a few additional months of hard work.

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Getting ready for Steam: the biggest task was to properly support high-resolution full-screen displays.

The biggest task was to properly support high-resolution full-screen displays. What helped us was the fact that we had already chosen a rather large resolution for the Flash game, and used bitmap graphics exclusively, so we could set the stage quality to low and get reasonable rendering speeds from Flash. But we were already pushing Flash to the limits, and increasing the pixel counts to potentially very large numbers still posed a real problem. Our solution was to sacrifice disk space (which now was much less crucial) for the sake of performance by pre-rendering complex characters into a number of static frames.

We had already chosen a rather large resolution for the Flash game, and used bitmap graphics exclusively, so we could set the stage quality to low and get reasonable rendering speeds from Flash.

The remainder was more straight-forward, and tinyBuild was able to help us out with their experience. We used MDM Zinc to package the game for Windows (incidentally AIR was not an option because it does not allow low stage quality with the desktop profile for some reason) and used a Steam extension they provided to implement achievements and cloud storage. Of course, we also improved the quality of the audio and graphics, and bought a few more music tracks since we could now afford the disk space.

We used MDM Zinc to package the game for Windows, and a Steam extension to implement achievements and cloud storage.

A Bad Surprise on Release Day

Finally, we were ready for the big release. After everything we went through to get to this point, I couldn’t even tell whether I felt more relief or anxiety. It was probably the strangest feeling I’ve ever experienced. Then, on the day of the release, Gamasutra posted a feature about how Steam is being flooded with games, and what this would mean for small game developers. Reading this on the actual day of our release was a bit surreal and, as it turned out, we released simultaneously with a large number of games, some of them highly anticipated.

We released simultaneously with a large number of games, some of them highly anticipated.

For this reason, it’s difficult to tell how we felt about the release. We didn’t get an impressive burst of sales we were cautiously hoping for from a Steam release. On the other hand, feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and this keeps us optimistic that the game can be a success, if we manage to get people to talk about it.

One thing we learned from the release is that the Flash rendering just isn’t good enough. Despite the hoops we went through to keep performance as high as possible, some people ran into issues, and our performance workarounds also led to relatively high memory usage, which could lead to stability issues. We had already planned to move to Starling and DragonBones eventually for the mobile version, so we decided to prioritize this. It would provide a huge number of advantages, from better performance and graphics to increased stability and the ability to use AIR.

As soon as the Daniel and Andrew are done with this, they’ll try again to get the word out, and then work on the mobile version. Additionally, they’re planning to add a survival mode for long-term value, and considering the possibility to release it as a free demo version for web and mobile. Fearless Fantasy recently won the Best Art Award at Indie Prize at Casual Connect USA 2014.

 

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The Breakout: Planning a Great Escape (Game)

April 22, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Pixel Trip Studios is an indie development studio focused on delivering exciting, story-driven games with great character. Founded in October 2013 by Adam Jeffcoat and Vincent Kamp, their first game, The Breakout, is currently in development. Adam shares what inspired him to create the game and the journey since then.


A Fascination for Escape

Where was the idea for The Breakout born? I get asked that a lot and I remember it well… It all started when I was eight years old, full of that childlike imagination. I was at my friend’s house playing Great Escape on his Spectrum ZX. This simple little isometric game where you have to sneak around a POW camp finding tools and concocting an escape plan absolutely fascinated me. Maybe it was because you were breaking the rules under the guards noses, or because you were a prisoner and the potential sense of elation if you managed to break free seemed like the best reward ever.

I’m not sure if I ever actually completed the game but, either way, I was hooked and that concept has stayed in my head ever since. “One day, I will escape from that camp,” I silently promised myself.

“One day, I will escape from that camp,” I silently promised myself.

About four years later, I was watching another influential movie, The Great Escape, which seemed to be on TV every Christmas, and I loved it. The classic storytelling, the ways that supercool Steve McQueen taunted the guards with his audacious attempts to escape, and the ingenuity and planning of the British troops. Surprisingly, when I watched the film more recently for research, I had actually forgotten, or shut out, the part where they shoot them all at the end. I think, as a child, I liked to think of them just digging another tunnel and eventually getting out with a nice, happy ending.

Then came my first brush with a point-and-click adventure, The Secret of Monkey Island on the Amiga. This was probably the first time I had experienced true addiction as a child, other than Sherbert Dib Dabs, of course. I was hooked and believed I really WAS Guybrush Threepwood, determined to become a pirate and win the heart of Elaine. Even though I got horribly stuck many times, I pushed on. With my younger sister as my wingman, we would rush home from school and sit there impatiently waiting for the next disc to load. I simply HAD to finish that game. If I hadn’t, it would have felt like a part of myself was stuck in Monkey Island, forever.

Starting Out and Thinking Back

Around 10 years later, with a degree in classical animation under my belt, I founded StudioNX and produced commercial animation for clients like Nickelodeon and CBBC. Business was good, but then along came the recession around 2008, so animation budgets were among the first to go. This also coincided with the rise of mobile gaming, and I felt it was an amazing opportunity to get your work direct to the audience on the Appstore without a middle man making the decisions for you. I decided to move StudioNX into the app and games market and, together with Imaginism Studios, we Kickstarted and directed the fully animated, 2D interactive comic book Niko and the Sword of Light for tablets. It was a critical success and is now being made into a pilot for a kids’ TV show. With the business heading in a new direction, I sat at my desk one evening and pondered the question: what if I were to revisit that POW camp, the one I never escaped from as a kid?

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StudioNX and Imaginism Studios directed the fully animated, 2D interactive comic book Niko and the Sword of Light for tablets.

After flushing the idea out with several friends who were avid games, what I knew for sure is I wanted to treat the game itself as a vehicle for telling a story, so the first thing I needed to do was write it. I wanted to pay homage to classic escape movies such as The Shawshank Redemption and, of course, The Great Escape, but also to get that sense of adventure and classic villains like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I also realized that the premise of this game could be quite limited in that the whole story took place in a POW camp, so I introduced some supernatural elements to spice it up, whereby the evil Colonel is found to have a fascination with devil worship and the occult.

The Beginning of Pixel Trip Studios

Through my time working on Niko and the Sword of Light I met Vincent Kamp, a successful business owner who had also written and created an animated comic book for kids called RobotSlayer. At the time, he approached us about animating on his project, but as we were currently busy making our own, we agreed to get together at a later date to talk ideas. As soon as I met with Vince, we clicked and I ended up pitching him the concept for my game over lunch. Vince loved it and shared a similar passion for the era and basically agreed to fund the development and act as creative producer for the game, utilizing his business knowledge and contacts. We set up Pixel Trip Studios in October 2013, put together a schedule, and decided to run a Kickstarter for the game for which we would need a trailer, a demo, and enough artwork and assets to run a crowd-funding campaign. Only thing we needed was a name as “The Great Escape” had already been done. One day, Vince emailed me, saying, “What about The Breakout?” It was perfect!

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The Breakout was the perfect name for this game.

I had also been developing pixel art characters for the isometric game, as the style had been going through a resurgence of late. I got a great response from my early Facebook fan page, as a lot of people connected with the nostalgia of the pixel look which reminded them of their own childhood games.

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I had also been developing pixel art characters for the isometric game, as the style had been going through a resurgence of late.

Building the Team

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With a solid plan in place, we now needed someone to code this into a playable game.

With style and story in place, Vince then connected me with James Allsopp, whom he had met at a games conference. James had started his career at Sega and was now working as a game designer at a company called Playgen. I showed him my concept, story, and design for the game, and he essentially told me what would work, what wouldn’t and whether our plans were realistic and within budget. With a solid plan in place, we now needed someone to make this into a game. Having worked with numerous flaky coders in the past, I knew I would need a a candidate who was young, hungry, and passionate for indie games.

Enter Alex Hedberg. He contacted me after I posted in a Unity forum, as he immediately loved the game idea and our playful logo for the studio. I set him to work on a playable test of the POW camp, trying to recreate the pixel style, isometric view of the original Great Escape game. Alex put together a great little demo; you could walk around, interact with things, and the guards would even shoot you if you went out of bounds. Only problem was, it wasn’t fun. Time had moved on. My eight-year-old imagination could no longer fill in the gaps, and after years of being bombarded with AAA graphics and gameplay, we realized this approach was not going to cut it.

Finding a New Look

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An Early Prototype of The Breakout

In late November, I flew out to Burbank, California for CTNx, a big convention for animators and illustrators. We were there to promote Niko and the Sword of Light, but I hadn’t realized what an inspiring trip it would turn out to be. I was surrounded by amazing artistic talent, all having designed great characters for their own projects with bags of personality. I realized at that moment that the key to all of the original Lucas Arts games I enjoyed so much as a kid was the fact that they approached them more as an animated cartoon. In games like Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle, it was for that reason the characters became icons in people’s minds.

Within a week, I had completely redesigned the characters in The Breakout in a much more modern and graphic style and ditched the isometric viewpoint of the game for more of a filmic perspective with painted backgrounds. I posted all the new artwork to my 400+ Facebook following and ran a poll.

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Within a week, I had completely redesigned the characters in The Breakout in a much more modern and graphic style and ditched the isometric viewpoint of the game for more of a filmic perspective with painted backgrounds.

To my surprise, the graphic look won hands down. As much as the pixels triggered feelings of nostalgia, it seemed that people were growing a little tired of it and all seemed in favor of a modern style they hadn’t seen before. So I immediately got to work and animated three tests of the main characters, each winding up the guards in their own special way. I also storyboarded out the teaser trailer, trying to capture all of the elements of this game that would excite people. I wanted to make it intense, to tease people with the potential and excitement of the escape, but leave them wanting to find out more.

Preparing For Kickstarter

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I immediately got to work and animated three tests of the main characters, each winding up the guards in their own special way.

In the lead up to our proposed Kickstarter launch, we tried to build up our social network as much as possible using Facebook and Twitter. We visited some UK game shows, including Geek in Margate, and spoke to other indies and asked for their advice and ideas as much as possible. It struck me straight away that this community of game developers were all open and willing to help. It really felt like a group of people that realized the value of helping each other out in order to survive in this highly competitive industry.

So with everything we had learned up to this point, we all sat down and flushed out the content of the Kickstarter page. The trailer would lure them in, then we would pitch all the features that would set it apart and make it fun, within a minute. We would then show some clips of gameplay, as from research, gamers want to see what it actually looks like if they are to part with their cash. To wrap up, we briefly talked about the rewards and some of the exclusive features, like becoming an in-mate or guard within the camp. We also started work on a playable demo, but quickly realized what a huge amount of work it is. When you make a demo level for a point-and-click game, you are essentially making the base for the whole game. You have to animate and design all the assets to enable the character to walk around and interact with the environment. Once that’s done and it works, the rest of the game is essentially additional level design and repetition.

We also knew from running a previous Kickstarter that in order to get enough press coverage, we would need some help with PR, so we hired a company called Novy PR over in the States, as well as a local team called PR Hound. They both helped us nail down the written pitch on the campaign page and prepared a press release to go out the morning of the launch. On April 2, six months after the conception of The Breakout, we felt like we were firing off a rocket by pressing a big green “Launch Kickstarter” button. I held my breath and pressed it, we blitzed the press and coincided it with a Facebook launch for all of our existing fans.

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Come check out The Breakout

A Great Ride

Two weeks later, it’s been quite an intense experience, but good fun and so nice to see the great comments and feedback from people, which motivates you to keep busy. The campaign has naturally slowed a little, but the backers are still coming in. It’s been great to build a base of fans from whom we can ask questions and run polls about the game. We also put the game on Steam’s Greenlight program and linked it to the Kickstarter page, which proved so popular we got Greenlit in just two weeks!

So if you like adventure games for adults, with real life and death consequences, where your stealth, preparation, and adequate supplies are vital to your chances of escape, or if you’re a fan of nailbiting tension, a bunch of evil villains, a classic A-team style partnership, and an atmospheric score, then come check out The Breakout!

The Breakout’s Kickstarter is currently running and can be viewed here. You can also keep updated with the team’s progress with the game on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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