“We’ve wanted to do our own gamejam for a while”, says Alexander Misilevich, the community manager for 4ILab dev team from Belarus. Gamesauce readers might remember them as creators of Time of Dragons, the online multiplayer 3D shooter where you fly a dragon and battle, now also in VR.
Exploring more of the VR space, the team decided to organize a hackathon before the New Year holidays so that they could celebrate afterwards. They set up a goal: make a game in 48 hours, it must be fun to play with friends, and you need to be able to go naughty. The devs also aimed on making it within the set timeframe with minimal use of 3rd party assets.
Imagine you’re a slime, enjoying a nice hangout in a forest with your best avian friend.
Everything’s going splendid when, without warning, you get gobbled up by a giant worm! You now find yourself in the precarious position of being digested soon. So what do you do? You jump, slide and slime your way through the giant worm’s intestines and back out of its mouth of course! The developer of Slime-san, Fabian Rastorfer, tells more.
Along the way you discover an entire ecosystem within the worm. You’ll encounter areas
resembling beaches, forests and even a makeshift town of critters who also survived being
swallowed, but have given up on ever escaping again!
The gameplay consists of 100 levels, comprised of 400 compact rooms, that require fast
reflexes and quick thinking.
Every second level you’ll be facing a new hazard or enemy type, forcing you to adapt your playstyle and remain quick on your feet. Your platforming moves include a time-slowing morph, which lets you move through otherwise solid green objects, as well as a versatile dash that speeds up the world around you! Careful, however, as the timer does not slow down, which means you need to use that move carefully if you’re aiming for trophy times. In addition to the trophies the game also has 400 collectible apples that you can spend on gameplay modifiers, costumes, shaders or artwork.
The game has 400 collectible apples that you can spend on gameplay modifiers, costumes, shaders or artwork.
If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be able to unlock a variety of additional modes, such as NewGame+ remixes of all 100 levels, Boss Rush or the uber-challenging 1 Life run. Last but not least, you can also compete for the best completion times online!
Game Feel and Tutorials
The most important thing to accomplish in this platformer has been the “game feel”. Making a jump feel just right, using dash mechanics to add oomph, to give movement a bounce and gravity a strength… It required weeks of stat tuning to get right. Unity has been used due to platform flexibility and a strong editor. That editor allows artists like myself to also do implementation work which expedites development.
The most unexpected discovery was… how much fun we’re having playing our own game! Seriously, we need to stop ourselves from playtesting sometimes! On a more serious note: Tutoring. Getting tutorials to feel just right is incredibly challenging. They can’t be too overbearing, but they also need to be clear to a wide audience. Getting those first levels right is crucial to convey a hook to keep playing.
Instead of Black and White
We’re known to have games with a silly premise, and Slime-san is definitely as silly as it gets! But we also like to think that it’s charming and we like casting smiles on people. It’s Fabraz’ newest crazy adventure after the critically acclaimed and award-nominated Planet Diver and Cannon Crasha. It has an entertaining story, with an unlikely character and addictively fast gameplay. It is a visually unique adventure using a carefully crafted, 5-color-palette world filled with fun and goofy Japanese references. The idea kind of just came to me one week after Planet Diver’s release, not really sure what the trigger was! Maybe I’m just weird!
Because the game is so fast-paced and relies on clear signaling for damaging/morphing/solid tiles we required the game to have a low color palette. But instead of going for the classics like white on black, we decided to go for white on blue! It’s a mellow but appealing color that isn’t too harsh on the eyes and it lends a lot of character to the game.
Famous Composers and Just Guidelines
Our core team is based in New York and we’re three people in an office every day. But we work with a lot of people outside of the office as well. Like Britt Brady, Markus Jost, all the composers and more.
The soundtrack for Slime-san features some of the most popular chiptune composers in the world! We’re talking about Adhesive Wombat, Inverse Phase, Mega Neko, Kubbi, Kommisar, FantomenK, Tiasu and so many more! We clearly wanted this to be the greatest game soundtrack we’ve ever made so we worked with more famous composers than ever! They were all super supportive and into the idea so it was a lot of fun working with them. We only gave them guidelines and let them have as much creative freedom as possible – needless to say they created fantastic stuff! I love them all.
When asked about something he’d like to share but have never been asked about, Fabian comments: “Let’s see… How about my personal philosophy on success? 🙂 We have this philosophy we like to share with fellow devs: You have to work really hard to get into a position where you can get lucky. It’s silly to blame the lack of success on bad luck but it’s also naive to assume your success didn’t depend on it either. You have to work hard, every day, and try your very best to achieve success. To get into the position where success could happen. And someday it might! :)”
Slime-san’s being published by Headup Games and is scheduled to release on Steam (PC, Mac, Linux) as well as Xbox One, PS4 and Nintendo hardware. Look out for Slime-san in spring 2017! While the team is currently busy with porting Planet Diver to the Wii U and getting Slime-san ready for beta testing.
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 Nikitova, Persha 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.
Eforb was founded almost two years ago and started as a small team… Today there are around 50 people on board including freelancers. Everyone recalls the time when Eforb just appeared in the world with smiles on their faces. What made them a self-sufficient startup with a clear vision of the roadmap and the products that they’re proud of? The team’s product manager Nika Paramonova shares the story of their new and cute game Let The Cat In, that turned into a social action project.
2015 is the year Bari Silvestre from Keybol went back to his roots – Flash game development. “You can’t help but reminisce about the hay days of the browser games, that can be easily distributed and with the right polish and gameplay you can get some hefty sum via sponsorships. Times have changed though, and you have to be not just twice as good in producing quality games, but your creations should have an interesting original gameplay”, Bari recalls. That is hard to come by, so he just made little Flash games with some interesting twist on existing gameplay. They did get some positive feedback with a feature here and there, but Bari felt something is lacking. His fresh creation, Kill The Plumber, brings to life some gamers’ dreams of playing for the villains.
Moondrop is a small indie game studio located in Hamar, Norway, focused on making games that are interesting, beautiful and respectful towards players. Two full-time developers, Stig-Owe Sandvik (designer/artist) and Andreas Fuglesang (CEO/programmer), determination, experimental methods and compulsive behavior are key ingredients when Moondrop makes games.
“What should have been a short project with combat mechanics and no story ended up as an atmospheric story-based puzzle game that took a bit more than 4 years to make”, the developers recall as they share the story of their game Amphora.
The explosion of indie gaming in the past decade has not only allowed for smaller companies to enter the gaming market, it has allowed for people from various background and unique games to have a place. One such person and game is Erin Robinson and her game, Gravity Ghost. To learn more about Gravity Ghost, Gamesauce has talked to Erin Robinson about her background and developing games.
From Researcher to Game Developer – Leaving the Academy for Games
FrameLineNetwork is a mobile app development studio founded in 2012 in Budapest, Hungary. The team calls the company their professional „cave-dev-laboratory”, where they are designing games available in more than 150 countries globally on most major platforms from PC to mobile. Their most famous game series is The Terminal Game featuring The Terminal 2 that FrameLineNetwork had the biggest success with as for now. The company’s CEO Attila Kilian shares the story of this airport management game.
As a developer, you want the world to think that you are a thriving company with half a dozen employees destined for greatness in the indie game scene. But Bobby Patteson, the owner and CEO of the Toronto-based company Highcastle Studios, decided to tell the truthful story of making a game that is not on Steam’s top 100 sellers list. Bobby is a former male fashion model, an inventor, an artist, a computer game developer, and in between all that, you can find him doing all the jobs that nobody else wants to do (for the minimum wage, he adds). Highcastle Studios is literally one guy making games with a little help from Jonathan, an intern from last summer, and music commissioned by Matthew Joseph Payne. Bobby defines his goal as “to make weird games that explore new ways to play and interact”. Point Perfect is his first experiment.
Test Your Skills While a Friend is in a Starcraft or LoL Match
The idea of Point Perfect comes out of my love for real-time strategy games and the eSports culture that surrounds it. I noticed that there can be a lot of downtime between games of Starcraft or League of Legends. I thought – wouldn’t it be great if there was a casual game to test your skills while waiting for your friend to get out of their 40-minutes game? And so the concept for Point Perfect was born: the casual game for the hardcore gamer.
At the time, I had a passion for designing games, but absolutely no idea of how to program. So naturally I gravitated towards Gamemaker Studio to build my game. Because of the technical limitations of the engine, I decided to go for retro aesthetics. What is more, I always felt that Point Perfect should have been thought up sooner, and belonged in the 80’s with Tetris and Pong.
Making Fun of Losing the Game
There were many changes and updates of the game during its development. The original idea was to have the player only avoid obstacles with the mouse pointer. It dawned on me, however, that the game would be too similar to free titles that people could play online. There just wasn’t enough depth in mouse-avoidance alone. So I decided to allow the player to fight back by drawing boxes around enemies and blast them to bits with a laser from your mother-ship.
This was the turning point and the most exciting part of doing the game’s design, but it also created some new issues and concerns. After initial playtests, it was evident that people were having extreme difficulty with the two competing tasks of both avoiding obstacles and aggressively selecting enemies to destroy. However, I also noticed that players were keen to figure it out, and there was a strong “just one more try” element to the game.
After a while, the player would adapt and be able to understand the gameplay, but the initial learning curve was very steep. That’s why I decided to add probably the most controversial element to the design: “making fun” of the player for losing! After all, the players who might get offended by this are not the people who would be playing my game in the first place. So the decision came to embrace the difficulty of Point Perfect and try to get the player to laugh about it.
Graphics Define Audience Range
I am very happy with my final product, but there are some things I may have done differently a second time around. The most notable is the importance of the game’s graphics to appeal to all audiences.
It’s very easy for a game to be discriminated because of the graphic design.
It’s very easy for a game to be discriminated because of the graphic design. There’s so much depth and content in Point Perfect, and it breaks my heart when I hear things like “is this a Flash game?” or “this should be free”. Believe it or not, it’s also very easy for the media to have the same opinion based on a first glance. The retro look fits my personal taste and vision for Point Perfect, and while there are many gamers who love it, there are also many demographics that I have found despise this art style, unfortunately. Maybe a better fusion of old and new would have made a difference in making my game more appealing to different audiences.
Point Perfect was picked up by a publisher, Plug In Digital, and distributed over all the major online stores such as Desura, Humble Store, and Steam on July 17, 2014. It has quickly gained the reputation of one of the hardest PC games out there and has been somewhat of a cult hit with YouTube celebrities because of its unique design and crazy sense of humor.
Overall, the game has been received quite well by the game media and reviewers. And while the sales are not blowing the roof off, I am told to be above average for an indie release. I am currently developing a new game labeled as totally top secret, for now. I’ve decided to venture into the realm of 3D and put more artistic abilities to use this time around.
Point Perfect is now available only for Windows PCs, and Bobby might make it MAC and Linux compatible in the future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.