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Blue Eden: Raising Wildlife Protection Awareness by Showing Beauty Instead of Problems

August 8, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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By 2005, Chun Wah Kong had been in the games industry for over a decade. He was ill, burnt out, and felt like he had fallen out of love with video games. The moneymen thought it was too risky to invest in new ideas, so Chun just watched more and more rushed sequels and clones… Games were suffering from creative bankruptcy. Chun said no and walked away.

Facebook kept him in the gaming loop. His friends kept asking, “Don’t you miss making games?” “On a holiday in Dominican Republic, my wife Patsy and I were on a leisurely stroll watching lots of sea life in the shallower waters of the beach. When we returned to our room, I noticed a message on the towels on the bathroom wall. It read “Save Our Planet”. Chun Wah Kong recalls sharing the story of his falling in love with video games again creating Blue Eden


A Fish Game to Make with Friends

I scribbled a lot of ideas into my notepad for a “fish game” during this holiday, and, like many ideas in the same notepad, not much was ever going to come to life, I believed. Until Hami, an Apple evangelist friend, showed me some games on his iPhone and said anyone could write and publish games on this platform.

I started speaking out my idea in front of some close friends to see if they wanted to make the game together in our spare time. We all have jobs, so it would be evenings and weekends only. “It’s gonna be fun,” I said, “Like the old times!” I promoted my idea through the wildlife documentary aspect of the future game, the swarming behaviours, and the camaraderie of friends who would just be having fun working on a project together. All in all, we are all fans of wildlife documentaries.

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Chun Wah Kong promoted his idea of a “fish game” to friends who were into wildlife documentaries.

Plasticine, Plush Toys and Splashing Around in the Sink – How to Communicate with Remote Teammates

The initial challenge was communication. We all live far away from each other, some in other parts of the world, and we were never serious enough to have “video conferencing at 8 PM every Sunday night GMT”. It was difficult at times to relay ideas when there was little reference material and all far away. I simply had to use every smallest thing at my disposal and do whatever it took to help the other person understand. This included building plasticine models, compiling badly drawn animations, shooting video enactments with plush toys, and splashing around in the sink to capture amateur foley. Game designers sometimes use Lego to visualize, so in my mind, this is no different.

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“I can’t 3D model, so I made the Migration level out of plasticine as a base for Sucha to work from.”

Showing the Beauty of Nature Instead of Avoiding Floating Plastic and Illegal Drift Nets

I decided I wasn’t going to have environmental issues as a part of the level design. I didn’t want it to be a game where you have to avoid floating plastic and illegal drift nets; I wanted to show the bright side of our ocean and say, “Isn’t nature great? Isn’t it worth saving from destruction?” I wanted to convey the same excitement I felt the first time I saw a school of mackerel mass together into a bait ball in a wildlife documentary on TV. This quickly became the Predator level.

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I can’t 3D animate neither, so I drew and scanned in some pencil sketches of how I envisaged each level.

The basic design of the Feeding level followed, but the eventual rules to this game went through many iterations before we settled on the match-3 styled game we have now. For a long time, it was going to be a maths game, but the rules were not easy to convey, and perhaps it was too challenging for younger children. That’s why we changed it to a much simplified matching experience. I think we made the right decision, and I know that I tend to make games too challenging for most people.

When I first saw a video of how surgeonfish mate, I imagined a game similar to Missile Command. I emailed Ben, the artist for this level, telling how I wanted the sperm and the eggs drawn in order to provide an interesting interpretation. I wanted the game to loop and go on endlessly, like Tetris. So the first level should be the result of the Breeding level. A simple find & rescue game type was proposed in a coral reef environment. In my mind, the game had to amaze from the word ‘Go’, I felt this was only achievable if the player had direct control over the fish school and interaction with the coral.

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Some original assets have been discarded, but the developers are satisfied with the level they made.

As the project was taking shape, we’ve had to say goodbye to some friends/team members because their circumstances had changed and they were no longer able to spend time on the game. Even between friends, sometimes it was not easy to tell each other to hurry up, since we were considered doing a favor for each other. Or when people were giving up their spare time for little or no monetary returns. After all, I was funding the production out of my own savings and could only afford mates’ rates. In the past, I have heard stories of friends breaking up over situations like this, but I’m glad to say that everything’s cool, and I’d be more than happy to work with any of these guys again in the future. We were in a transitional phase of development when our lead programmer Jim joined the project to implement the front end and make the gameplay. And then everything changed.

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“Jim was like me but with the ability to turn ideas into code.”

Team Expansion: New People, New Problems

I sat opposite Jim for five years at Sony when we worked on a little known game called The Getaway, and got along really well. He is the type of guy who has the drive and desire to move a project forwards, taking the game from being a little more than a tech demo or a proof of concept to a finished product. Jim was like me but with the ability to turn ideas into code which I can tinker with, offering me the tools to tweak and refine.

No family member who I thought could help got away with not being asked. This includes the two youngest on the project who were born during the development of Blue Eden, Jim’s son Musashi and my niece Vanessa. Even though they live 5000+ miles apart, their voices can be heard together as the Skoobie Games start-up jingle.

In an attempt to expand the project, I no longer sought help from immediate friends, but reached out to friends of friends and recommendations, giving opportunities to people who may have never made a game before.

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My neighbor’s cat used to invite himself into my house to look at the fish.

The results of this were mixed. At one end of the scale, people like Minkee, Alex and Ricky did extraordinary work on the illustrations, voice-overs and 3D animations respectively; these are people who I have never met before or spoken to prior to Blue Eden. At the other end, we had people who promised to help but never followed through. It would have made a significant difference if the time and effort spent chasing those individuals were spent on the project. This has nothing to do with money, since I was more than happy at this stage to pay the rates they were asking for. Trying to set myself apart from other principals, being a dab hand at making gyozas, I offered all my potential contractors my restaurant grade gyozas as an alternative/ supplement payment. Sadly, no one took the offer which still stands today.

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“I offered all my potential contractors my restaurant grade gyozas as an alternative/ supplement payment. Sadly, no one took the offer.”

My friends know that I am a foodie, and I’ve been conscious about my food habits long before the start of the project – I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. If you care enough about nature, it’s not difficult to follow a responsible path. We need to make wise decisions about the seafood that we consume, by giving overfished species a break and the chance to recover. There’s plenty of alternatives available, we don’t need to stick to certain food even though we’ve always had a particular kind of fish for different occasions.

There is one thing which I hope we have achieved with Blue Eden: it’s that the game has planted a seed of awareness in people’s minds. If this happened, the many evenings that we spent in front of our computers when we could have spent it with our family and loved ones creating this game would certainly be worthwhile.

They’ve also launched a free version of Blue Eden called Blue Eden Lite on the App Store to allow more people to experience the game and bring interest to the wider topic of conservation and sustainability.

ContributionsIndieOnlinePostmortem

Indie Showcase: Dragon Game Studio

April 23, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Dragon Game Studio is a Bali-based game studio founded in 2012 by Jonas and Joan Johnsson, who is also husband and wife. After an amazing cliff-side wedding in Uluwatu, the plan was to move to Bali and settle down in the “Island of the Gods.” There was just something about Bali that mesmerized them and, impulsive and adventurous as they are, they decided to take the plunge!

Dragon Game Studio’s new game Balified is in the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect Asia.

Jonas is a self-made businessman and Joan has a background in Marketing Communication. Working together as a couple was a completely new challenge for both of them. They are married, a team, partners and they work together. Not a lot of couples can do this, but here they are, at the beginning of their careers in the game development industry.

There was just something about Bali that mesmerized them and, impulsive and adventurous as they are, they decided to take the plunge!

Before this big adventure, neither of them has been involved in the game development industry. Jonas has always been a typical hardcore gamer, but that’s where his experience stops. Joan started her interest in playing games when Jonas made her play Tetris against him on the Nintendo DS. Before that, she occasionally played games on the PC, but nothing much besides that. This made the adventure all the more exciting.

Setting Up a Game Studio in Indonesia

The first challenge was to find an office. It was necessary that they would get all the help that they could. They found a company with specialized services helping expats starting up their business in Indonesia. What was supposed to take only three months ended up taking one year! The hunt for the office was a tough one, but in the end, they managed to find one that seemed just perfect for the small studio they had in mind.

While looking for a studio, they were also busy finding the right people to build their Dragon Dream Team. Funny enough, the first employee they hired was someone they bought a dog from! He was a freshly graduated student and was looking for a job. By that time, there was not much to do, but they offered him the opportunity to study Corona SDK (in which BaliFied is built) while helping them set up the company.

Then there was the sudden application from their Art Director Gilbert. They were intrigued by his resume, so they went to Surabaya to interview him. Immediately, they realized that Gilbert was the right guy to have on board. After adding him to the team, they also met up with him during Casual Connect Singapore 2012. They felt they learned a lot from CC, and attending made them realize that they had a VERY long way to go before they could reach their goals…

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Everyone is talented and has the great team spirit and attitude that they strive for.

After Gilbert, the other Dragons came in one after another. Everyone is just as talented, and has the great team spirit and attitude that they strive for. Dragon Game Studio nowadays consists of three programmers: Rocky, Jim and Christopher, one Art Director: Gilbert, one Studio Manager / Game Designer: Yon and an intern: Chris.

The first two games

The Harlem Shake vs Gangnam Style Dance Game was released on the App Store on 26th of March 2013 and was made in seven working days. It was a side project to give the team a breather from working intensively on BaliFied. Jonas wanted to do something with the two dance crazes that ruled YouTube. It has a simple gameplay: you choose the role that you want to play, either Harlem Shake or Gangnam and you tap on the right icon as soon as they appear in the white circles at the bottom of the screen.

None of them had released a game on the App Store before, so all this, from the creative journey to the launch of these titles, was perfect to learn about the whole release process by trial and error.

The second game Don’t Steal My Banana was released on 27th of March 2013 after being rejected by Apple twice. But the third time’s the charm! This game was made in five weeks and was another side project for the team. None of them had released a game on the App Store before, so all this, from the creative journey to the launch of these titles, was perfect to learn about the whole release process by trial and error.

Both games were received pretty well. Harlem vs Gangnam got to the #1 position in many European countries and the Indonesian store, and reached the top 10 in the US store free music games category. Don’t Steal My Banana reached the top 50 in the free games category in the Indonesian store and got them a lot of new fans.

The Masterpiece

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A lot of adaptation processes was needed — communication, work standard and learning a new engine were just a few of the hurdles they had to get through.

The masterpiece and the dream that Dragon Game Studio was built upon is called BaliFied – Word Game of the Gods. It’s a project that they hope will blow casual word game lovers away. They are both huge fans of word games such as WWF and Ruzzle, so when Jonas stumbled upon an old board game from 1950s called Bali on the internet, they knew that this was it! They realized that this was something they had to turn into a new and improved word game, with all the multiplayer functions today’s market offers.

The beginning wasn’t easy. A lot of adaptation processes was needed– communication, work standard and learning a new engine were just a few of the hurdles they had to get through. They were a group of people that never had worked together before. Luckily, most of the team members have a background in the game industry, but there still was a lot of stuff that they didn’t have a clue about. The GUI was changed many times before the team was completely happy, and a lot of time was spent on trial and error. After more than three months of developing, they began to wonder: can this game even be finished? But they got through it by dropping the project for a while, and then came back stronger than ever! This is something they recommend every developer to do if they get stuck: take a break from the project for a while, maybe make a few simple projects, and then go back to the main project.

This is something they recommend every developer to do if they get stuck: take a break from the project for a while, maybe make a few simple projects, and then go back to the main project.

When the focus was back on BaliFied, the team was feeling great about it. Fortunately for them, Corona had just released the new Corona Cloud feature at exactly when they needed it the most. Once again, the Balinese gods were on their side! After that, they did some super intensive beta-testing, and finally, Balified was finished and ready to be published. And here they are, ready to launch BaliFied in the summer of 2013.

Developing a game from scratch with little experience from the decision makers, but with all the knowledge from the team was a very hard process. They lived and learned and were not afraid to start over again when an idea was not completely supported by the whole team. It’s a give and take process and at the end, they are very proud of all that they have achieved so far. They are ready to take this new word game to another level! The level of the Gods.

Look forward to the release of BaliFied this summer.

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