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Zachary Present on Building A Great Team | Casual Connect Video

August 20, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“I think it’s really important that you are showing your vendors or the people you are working with where your quality bar and standard is because in the end, knowing your resource is about long-term relationships, it is about building relationships with these vendors,” Zachary Present explained during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014.”

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Zachary Present, the Co-Founder and Creative Director, Present Creative

Zachary Present, the co-founder and creative director of Present Creative, asserts, “The video games industry is the place where art and technology collide.”

For years before starting this company, he was a contract artist for video games, an experience which now helps him greatly in communicating with their contract artists. He definitely knows what it is like to be on the other side of that fence.

He is also very involved in martial arts, having trained and played Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, for seventeen years. He has graduated to the level of professor and now teaches classes and workshops around the Bay Area.

Interest In the Art (Martial)

Interestingly, it was this interest in arts that led to the founding of Present Creative. In a martial arts class, he met Ben Sutherland, a fellow artist who shared his interest in video games. The two became friends, and, as sole proprietors, they hired each other for every project they worked on. Eventually, it made sense to join forces, and Present Creative was the result.

Demanding Excellence

Present’s main role in the company is to ensure that all artwork leaving the studio is of a high caliber and is in line with client expectations. He gives guidance to the teams on art process and helps to locate new talent for the studio. At times, he also works hands-on with both art direction and lead art. He emphasizes, “My most important and gratifying work is connecting with artists and building a culture of creativity.”

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“My most important and gratifying work is connecting with artists and building a culture of creativity.”

Having a great in-office culture is very important to Present, and is something the studio has always prioritized over the years. He claims, “My proudest moments are when I walk into the studio, and it‘s apparent that our team is creative, productive, efficient, and happy. I am always happy to see that mixture of hard work and fun reflected back to me in the faces of our staff.”

Focus on Unity

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Present expects his company to be greatly impacted by the increasingly widespread use of Unity for mobile platforms.

Within the next two to three years, Present expects his company to be greatly impacted by the increasingly widespread use of Unity for mobile platforms. They are planning for this important trend by making sure all art directors and staff members have a solid knowledge of the technology.

There is a second trend emerging that he expects to influence the games industry as a whole. This is the increasing use of digital downloads and service based subscriptions.

Present enjoys mobile gaming, playing most of his games on his iPad. However, he also enjoys deeply immersive games on his Xbox 360. He chose this console because at the time, most of his friends owned one, and he wanted to play online with them. Currently, he is still working his way through GTAV. He also plays free-to-play games, but his highest purchase in them was $3.99 to unlock the unlimited play for Triple Town, one of his favorite games.

He is a husband and parent who loves to spend time with his family.

 

ContributionsDevelopmentDevelopmentExclusive InterviewsGame DevelopmentPostmortem

Fetch: The Product of Creative Soup

November 29, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Big Fish GamesFetch is about a young boy on a journey to rescue his kidnapped dog. Chosen as Apple 2013 Editors’ Choice award, it took a team of nine people working just over a year to create the game. Conor Murphy, an online marketing manager at Big Fish Games, sat down with Chris Campbell, Senior Producer, and Brian Thompson, Art Director, to discuss the development of Fetch.

Conor: Where did the initial creative come from? Who started the storyboards for Fetch?

Chris Campbell
Chris Campbell

Chris: One of my favorite things about our team is that when we release a game, it’s very difficult to pinpoint who came up with what idea and when. The initial conversations around the idea that would become Fetch started in February 2011, and a few weeks later, we’d settled on the idea that a hydrant would take Bear one stormy night, and the boy would go on a journey to save him. My second favorite time in the development of a game is this brainstorming process. We have a TON of ideas, and at the time, all of them are good. You have to be honest with yourself during this process because while all ideas might be good, they’re certainly not all good to use as the basis for a game.

Once we developed the premise, we asked everyone on the team to draw anything and everything they could think of that might be cool on these giant sheets of paper we had taped to a huge table in our area of the studio. One of our awesome artists, Hamzah Kasom Osman, sketched an alligator one day as part of this exercise, and I ended up designing Chapter 2 around the sketch. Throughout this process, Brian Thompson, Peter Yiap, our lead developer, and myself are constantly trying to organize as many cool ideas as possible into one wildly imaginative and coherent experience. Our preproduction is like watching nine people stand around a giant vat of super creative soup and toss whatever they have handy in. It certainly wouldn’t work for most teams, but for us, this is critical to our process.

Conor: Can you tell us about the thoroughness and time it took to create the game and quality images likened to “Pixar for casual gaming”?

Brian Thompson
Brian Thompson

Brian: First of all, we are huge fans of Pixar films and their approach to storytelling, so I cannot tell you how flattered we are as a team to hear the game being described this way. I believe the Pixar comparison comes from the story and how it is told, as well as the visuals and animation. Part of what Chris and I believe makes a great product is the personal investment of each person on the team. Each and every part of Fetch came from the great creative soup we as a team have been brewing and refining for the last four years. It’s not always the prettiest and most tasty thing, but it contains some wonderful one-of-a-kind gems. I know a bit about the going-ons of studios like Pixar, and I think we share some of the same philosophies. We have learned some valuable lessons in the past by trying too hard to tell complex stories (and then dealing with the painfully bad results), so we decided very early that Fetch would have an incredibly simple story. At its heart, Fetch is a good old-fashioned adventure with a simple premise: when his beloved dog is stolen, a boy embarks on a daring adventure to save his furry friend. It seems that the stories that often resonate the most with most of us are basically very simple. I think it is this simplicity that creates the freedom to create engaging and endearing characters, funny and goofy scenarios, and in the end, a product that touches the player and pulls on their heart strings.

At its heart, Fetch is a good old-fashioned adventure with a simple premise: when his beloved dog is stolen, a boy embarks on a daring adventure to save his furry friend.

From the art side, when I first started thinking about our next project, I had a couple big overarching goals for the art direction.  First, I wanted to continue the high production value standard that we had established in the Drawn series. Second, I wanted a new challenge for the art team and a departure from what we had done in the past. And third, I wanted the game to have a nostalgic feel to it. With Drawn, we focused on a very stylized and painterly world, and with Fetch, I was interested in going for a more graphic 2D look. I have always loved the background art of older Warner Bros. cartoons like Wile E. Coyote and The RoadRunner, combined with the colorful styling of Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle. Contemporary artist Scott Wills and his amazing work on Samurai Jack was a major influence as well. Combining these goals and influences, with the big-hearted story we had really cemented the character of Fetch. Early on, we had played with different animation solutions for our characters. Our fantastic animators Mike Baran and Rebecca Coffman started modeling Milo and Bear off of some of my early sketches, and we played with different texture solutions. I wanted the characters to pop from the painted 2D backgrounds, but still feel very much a part of the world. We did a lot of tests on the look of the characters while the illustrators on the team, Hamzah Kasom Osman, Soi Che, and myself were creating final background art based on the environment concepts we had produced in early-preproduction.

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I wanted the characters to pop from the painted 2D backgrounds, but still feel very much a part of the world.

There were many challenges in figuring out just how to design the background art to serve the character actions. This is largely how backgrounds have been designed for cartoons and animated features forever. But unlike a feature film where you have a captive audience, a game world must be designed very specifically to provide necessary contextual clues for the player. These clues vary from very subtle to very obvious depending on the required message. A priority of mine on the art side is always to make the characters, their animation, and the environments feel very related and tightly integrated. We would iterate on the animations until they felt very smooth, and the animators worked very hard to create continuity of animation style across all of the characters. In Fetch, it was very important that the player really feel the emotion of the characters, so this gave us the opportunity and challenge to push the physical acting, as well as in some cases, facial expression. Rebecca and Mike really tackled the challenge and really enjoyed it. From the goofy robotic antics of the Dog Catcher to the big ol’ sweet-heartedness of Gil the Gator, and the ridiculousness of our voracious Coconut Bird, what you see is the results of truly talented animators having a ton of fun.

Conor: How many people did it take to make Fetch?

Fetch Team
The Fetch Team

Chris: The core development team within Big Fish Studios for Fetch was nine people: myself, Brian, Peter, Sean Richer, Ryan Hoaglan, Hamzah Kasom, Soi Che, Michael Baran, Rebecca Coffman and Bear (little gray dog that lives at my house). We’ve been a team since late 2008 and have three prior games under our belts, so we work incredibly well together. As Brian indicated, we’ve been making this awesome soup for so long. We’ve been at the point of finishing each other’s sentences for years now. I think that’s a big reason we were able to build a game like Fetch in only 13 months. The only things we as a team don’t handle inside our studio in Seattle is music and voice over. Our team has worked with Clean Cuts for our audio for a few years now, and because they can also finish our sentences, we just call them Team Fetch East.

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Bear is an important part to Team Fetch as well

I do think it’s important to point out though that while nine of us lived and breathed Fetch for a little over a year, there are a lot of other people that helped it become the game that we’re so proud of. Big Fish is a big company and a lot of awesome people help us bring the game to market. I wish I could thank everyone here, but if you play Fetch, I made sure they were listed in the credits – along with all of their dogs.

Conor: How many hours did it take to make Fetch?

Brian: The game took a core team of nine people, 13 months. An interesting thing to note is that when we set off to make Fetch, we were a team that had made three successful, first-person, point-and-click adventure games for the PC, and now were trying to create a mobile avatar-based adventure in a new engine for the first time. Needless to say, we had a fairly long pre-production phase as we sorted through a remarkable amount of challenges and made a mountain of mistakes. But we love a challenge, so we huddled up and said “Bring it!”

Conor: Can you talk about the launch and promotion of Fetch to mainstream, including the exhibit at Seattle Museum of History & Industry. Was the seed planted ahead of time? Any big outlet that really helped push it mainstream?

Working with MOHAI on the Fetch exhibit was such an incredible experience, and came as a complete surprise to us.

Chris: Working with MOHAI on the Fetch exhibit was such an incredible experience, and came as a complete surprise to us. Because game studios are such an important part of Seattle’s economy, MOHAI wanted to include some information on the local game industry when they moved their museum to South Lake Union. Ann Farrington, the Creative Director for MOHAI, came to visit us in the studio one day to ask us questions on the industry in general, and we gave her a demo of Fetch as part of that meeting. She suggested that we consider creating an exhibit on the making of Fetch because an exhibit focusing on the development of a game hadn’t been done before. Several conversations later, Brian and I were frantically trying to distill game development into a handful of steps that would help teach everyone how a game was made. This is actually a lot harder than it sounds.

It took us three months of work to get the exhibit ready, and I can honestly say it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. We got to tour the museum as it was under construction and watched as an exhibit based on our game was built piece by piece.

As far as an outlet that pushed Fetch into the mainstream – we had a lot of interest in the game as we were developing it. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article and a local television show filmed Bear playing in the park next to MOHAI. Apple also featured Fetch as their Editor’s Choice worldwide the day that it launched. It was surreal.

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Apple featured Fetch as their Editor’s Choice worldwide the day that it launched.

Conor: Any takeaways of what would be done differently? Any unexpected stories created because of the influence of the game?

Brian: I don’t think we would have done anything differently. Like I mentioned, we made many mistakes. In fact, we have fully embraced mistake-making as an integral part of our design process. But our days are spent coming up with crazy, inspired ideas, chasing them down, and giving life to them inside a game, so mistakes are bound to lurk around every corner. We just try to learn from each one and move forward.

I think the greatest thing that came from making Fetch is the effect it has had on players. Young and old, game reporters, school kids, families, GTA fans and housewives, have all loved the game. Fetch tells a story that is hopeful and sincere, and it moves and breathes in a special way that could only be achieved by a special team. I think we left something wonderful behind, and I am so proud of that.

Keep up with Team Fetch through their Facebook and Twitter.

ContributionsDevelopmentPostmortem

Bringing Illustrations to Life: The Relationship Between Illustration and Interactive Animation

November 12, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Morphopolis is a hidden object adventure game set in a fantastical insect world, by Micro Macro Games, and is a collaboration between illustrator Ceri Williams and animator/programmer Dan Walters. The player takes the role of an aphid grub that changes form through a cannibalistic control of dead insects in their quest to rescue their companion. Dan explains how they brought their vision to life.

An Illustrated World

The most powerful element of Morphopolis is the idea of entering an illustrated world. The ability to control, move, and interact with an illustration instantly transforms the player from observer to protagonist. Authorship is shared as the illustration changes, offering the viewer a much deeper and involved experience. In return, the responsibility of interaction must be accepted and the pace must be controlled. Interaction is distinctly different to observation.

When Ceri Williams and I started Morphopolis, we wanted to create a game for people who loved illustration. This worked really well, as not only were we essentially creating a game for ourselves, but we could engage with like-minded people, and offer interactivity to a traditionally static discipline. There were games we loved and admired (Machinarium, The Tiny Bang Story), and appreciated the importance of a illustrated identity. The style of the game had to be our own.

All the illustrations of our game were done by hand, with a set type of ink drafting pen on tracing paper, to ensure consistency between drawings. The hand-drawn style was partly because of our ambition to create something personal, where the hand-drawn aesthetic creates a sense of care and process. The larger factor was probably that Ceri is a traditional-type illustrator, having not created illustration digitally before. All illustration was created to the same scale, then digitally reduced when added into the game. Ink wash textures were created to add texture to the white bodies of the graphics, while much of the color is added in Photoshop.

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The hand-drawn style was partly because of our ambition to create something personal, where the hand-drawn aesthetic creates a sense of care and process.

Feeling Inspired

The goal was to create originality. To do this, I wanted to close my eyes to the game world and look else-where. I approached Ceri with the project because he was not a games person – he lived entirely in the world of design, architecture, and illustration. He has high creative output and because of this, he thinks a lot about his own work, perhaps living in his own world more than anyone else’s. There is a unique character to his work that I wanted to introduce to gamers.

While we started off looking at a large pool of inspiration and reference material, this was eventually discarded in favor of Ceri’s natural style. There was a huge expense in creating a new style in terms of work velocity. In the end, this resulted in a more personal product. Narrative and animation were also bigger inspirations than games and game-play itself. Animated films such as Princess Mononoke played the greatest inspiration, and it was the concept of bringing a part of that type of world and narrative to interactive media that drove the project.

So Much to Do, So Little Time

As with many projects, the significance of the amount of content required was grossly under-estimated, and I would never recommend such a content-centered game ever be attempted by such a small team. Combined with a basis of narrative, the initial project goals and timescale were unrealistic. After our initial commitment of eight man-weeks, we had thrown a lot out and had little that represented a game, but did have the basis of a tool-set and design that was very accurate and the work ahead seemed mostly a content-creation exercise.

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The significance of the amount of content required was grossly under-estimated, and I would never recommend such a content-centered game ever be attempted by such a small team.

The programming requirements were also surprisingly high. The game has been built for full HD graphics, which, when considering that the scenes are layered and composed of many parts, becomes a very demanding problem. There is also a huge variety and customization of behavior which has had a high programming cost.

As for design, deadlines and promotion had the greatest effect on progression. We exhibited at Rezzed this summer, and the deadline of presenting our game was a huge motivator. Since then, we have continually made sure we had others depending on us in order to make sure there was always a little bit of pressure.

Building the Right Tools

There is a technical nature to interactive media that requires an awareness of real-time graphics and the limitations of computers in this regard. Images must be of certain sizes and shapes, scenes must be composited in a certain way, and animations must be built with play-back in mind. We were able to develop tools that allowed us to work the way we wanted to, and automated many of the technical tasks involved. Building our own art pipeline was critical in defining Morphopolis‘ personal style and visual nature.

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The animation tool is a well-featured utility that allows us to quickly assemble and animate our in game objects.

We developed two custom tools – an animation authoring tool, and a scene authoring tool. The animation tool is a well-featured utility that allows us to quickly assemble and animate our in game objects. This tool has proven to be fantastic; we got the feature set right, and it has been very fast to use. The scene tool rationalizes merging the many different types of object and behaviors into a single scene. This is a big tool, but breaks tasks down into layers, meaning you only have to think about a single aspect of a scene at a time when authoring the content, making it easier to get to grips with the tool.

In terms of design, we broke the game down into four main player interactions, allowing us to focus on these events. This hugely simplified the work required to design the game, transferring the onus of variation to the game content.

What Next?

The final result is shaping into a product we are really proud of. The direction of the game has hugely changed, and the nature of narrative in the game has shifted from our original direction. We have had to remain agile as the game has grown, and been reactive to feedback and play testing. This process will continue up to and probably long after release.

For more information on Micro Macro Games, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. Morphopolis is now available here for Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8, Blackberry and Kindle Fire.

ContributionsPostmortem

Cyberpunks vs. Syndicates: Exploring Another Life

September 6, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Mososh was created in 2010 by Christian Primozich when his previous company, Challenge Games, was acquired by Zynga. He is passionate about working in a creative environment that encourages everyone to try their best, and has a love of games and comics. He talks about Cyberpunks vs. Syndicates, his third MMO.
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Christian Primozich working in his office

Where Did CvS Come From?

Cyberpunks vs Syndicates (or CvS for short) is the third web-based MMO I’ve done after hitting the indie scene as Mososh. CvS has been in development for about two years, as I’ve been running and enhancing my previous title, Chronicles of Herenvale, in addition to doing the development on the new game. Mososh is largely me plugging away – days, nights, weekends – doing design, writing and development, as well as customer support, server administration, accounting and all those other things associated with running a business – gah!

The inspiration behind CvS can be found in old-school titles like Syndicate Wars, tabletop games like Shadowrun, books like Snow Crash, and movies like The Matrix. There’s something alluring about that dystopian image of the future where the hacker dons the role of hero to fight against corporate corruption. I myself am a hacker. I want to be a hero. CvS lets me explore themes that are personally relevant and inject my own perspective into them. That is the fun part.

What Makes A Mososh Game?

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A few early sketches of CvS

Finding the right artist is a key to the quality of my games. I suppose it’s a reflection of what appeals to me when I choose what game to play. I won’t work with anyone whose art I’m not looking forward to getting in my inbox. At my last company, one of the developers used to say getting art from our lead artist was like Christmas. That’s how the player (or me) should feel when they see new stuff, whether that’s exploring new areas, finding new gear, or fighting new enemies. It’s important I find an artist that really has the same eye for detail that I have, as well as a distinctive style that’s going to set the game’s visuals apart from (and hopefully above) games of a similar play style.

I’ve chosen to work on web-based MMO’s for the last six and a half years, because I like to combine aspects of adventure games with asynchronous PvP and co-op features like guilds. Players will often gravitate towards one aspect, but expanding beyond a single dimension gets more people involved. Multiple aspects also give them somewhere to go if they get bored with one part of your game (as opposed to loading up someone else’s game).

What’s With The Web?

One of the challenges of being an indie developer is distribution, which is why I love the idea of web apps because they are accessible. Developing on the web ensures you can reach the widest possible audience and take advantage of open publishing platforms like Kongregate and Facebook. Without platforms like Kongregate, I couldn’t do what I love to do.

All of these languages are largely just tools. You can build crap with the right tool and something amazing with the wrong tool.

I wrote my first game on a TRS-80 back in the 80’s, but I really dove deep into development during the explosion of the Internet in the 90’s. I’ve written Java, C, Perl, Visual Basic, C# and most recently PHP. I’ve written stand-alone apps, libraries, and web apps. I’ve listened to debates rage about which language is the right language, but I don’t think that’s the point. All of these languages are largely just tools. You can build crap with the right tool and something amazing with the wrong tool. You learn that quality is largely not dependent on the tool when it comes to software.

So what are my tools? L-inux + A-pache + M-ysql + P-hp = LAMP. One of the best things about LAMP development is how free it is – no really, it costs zero dollars. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have its downsides, the biggest being the complexity (or perhaps perceived complexity), as most developers don’t have a lot of experience with web technologies. Running a web server, a database server and gluing everything together can be a bit daunting at first. The good news is services like AWS and Rackspace have made running servers in the cloud relatively inexpensive, easy to set up, and very test friendly in that you can launch and tear down servers quickly. There are also tools like MAMP that really help when getting your development environment set up. Personally, I use HTML and Javascript as my front-end. However, that can limit some elements of the game. Animation is challenging at best and real-time synchronous play can be difficult. You have to adapt the gameplay with these limitations in mind.

Why Did It Take So Long?

I started on the idea of doing CvS in 2011. I had been running my fantasy RPG, Chronicles of Herenvale, for about six months and figured it was time to think about my next title. Running a live game and working on a new one can be a real challenge, though. There are always bugs to be fixed, improvements to be made and new features and content to be added. I put together some rough ideas and set out to find someone to breath life into them.

Early Examples
Early concept designs of female characters in CvS

I found an amazing artist, Don Ellis Aguillo, through craigslist in the summer of 2011. Craigslist has worked really well for me in finding talented contractors in CA. I live in Austin, TX, and we just don’t have the density of art talent the West Coast does. He put together some concepts based on my descriptions, and we were off to the races! But it turned out to be a marathon, not a sprint. My original asset list doubled, then tripled as I didn’t have time to really develop the game – and I didn’t want to lose all of our momentum.

Focusing is crucial to building anything, but can be so hard in this tech-driven, interrupting world!

Early 2012 didn’t actually show much progress on my new game, as I was spending a lot of time in Herenvale. Through the summer and fall, I buckled down and concentrated on constructing CvS based on top of the framework I had built for Herenvale. I then started adding features and modifying other features until I was buried (again!) – so much for a late 2012 release.

Finally in the Spring of 2013, I set aside a lot of time to focus almost exclusively on CvS. I was still adding quests, items and other things to Herenvale in addition to answering support emails, monitoring the servers, etc. Days of essentially uninterrupted time were necessary to finish work on the new game. That meant putting things I usually took care of every day on hold for days at a time or just checking email in the morning, or any other means I could find to focus. Focusing is crucial to building anything, but can be so hard in this tech-driven, interrupting world!

By June, I was ready to run a beta of CvS for some of my hardcore Herenvale fans – it’s great to have players who are willing to help. By end of July, I was ready to launch! That last push is so hard, but so rewarding when you reach the finish line.

Final Character Art

Shall We Play A Game?

CvS can be played here. The game is also on Kongregate and Facebook. I love connecting with other game developers, and I’m happy to share my experience, especially if it’s helpful. It’s almost time to figure out what I’ll be working on next if I can fit something in between running two live games.

You can reach Christian on Twitter!

ContributionsPostmortem

XnO: Join X in his Mission to Rescue O! (iOS and Android)

September 2, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

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Digital Eclairs is an independent game development studio founded in 2012 with the main office in the heart of the Silicon Valley. They released their first game titled XnO in May 2013 on the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon App Store. Aditi Shah, founder of Digital Eclairs, shares their story.

Taking the Plunge

Aditi
Aditi Shah

I am Aditi Shah, and I am thrilled to share with you our journey of XnO creation. In my previous life, I had worked on software like simulation for chip design and portfolio risk analytics. Very cool and nerdy, but wait …. some of my friends were in the game industry building games. Can you imagine playing games for work, day in and day out, everyday?!

We would talk for hours about gaming and where game industry was headed. The storytelling aspect of games always fascinated me. So back in Fall 2011, I decided to take the plunge and start building my own game. One of our close friends George Flores offered to help. He was on his sabbatical at the time to work on his Taekwondo (don’t mess with him, he is a black belt now). And thus began our journey.

The Start of Digital Eclairs

Ice Breakers
For the purposes of mock ups, we built a basic carnival-style game with obstacles. We called it “Ice Breakers”.

I am a software engineer, but I knew nothing about game architecture and/or engines, so I started watching Youtube tutorials (here’s a shoutout to TornadoTwins and BurgzergArcade). George, in that same period, started polishing his illustration and modelling skills. Just for the purposes of mock ups, we built a basic carnival-style game with obstacles. We called it “Ice Breakers”.

During the whiteboxing stage, we used basic components: boxes, cylindrical blocks as targets and a cylinder attached to a sphere shooting a ball to demonstrate and tweak the gameplay. We shared our creation with friends and family, and they all loved the gameplay, but (there’s always that ‘but’) unanimously hinted that graphics need some serious work. Fortunately, we already knew that. We had enough reasons to take the project forward and that brings us to the time when we formed Digital Eclairs to do things more formally.

Choosing Game Ambassadors

Having already formalized the gameplay aspect – a physics-based 3D action game – the question now was: What sort of game do we want to build? What message do we want to convey? After long brainstorming sessions with everyone involved, a few traits on everybody’s mind were nonviolent, fun, challenging, and no cowclicker games. And most of all, we wanted our game to carry a strong community message. Obviously, we were missing an ambassador to carry that message. So we chose penguins as our game ambassadors because they are not just cute and cuddly, but also have strong personality.

In our course of researching about penguins, we realized how little people knew about the dangers and threats these lovely creatures face: oil spills in oceans, overfishing, and iceberg breaking among many others. Out of the 18 known species of penguin, nearly 13 are either endangered or threatened– that’s more than 70 percent. So we decided to use our game as a platform to raise awareness about penguins, their habitat, and threats and danger they face. That will be our message to the world.

X and O
Digital Eclairs adopted two Magellanic Penguins and named them X and O.

To set an example, we at Digital Eclairs adopted two Magellanic Penguins and named them X and O from XOXO Hugs and Kisses. They are five years old and live in Cabo Virgenes, Argentina. We chose to adopt these Magellanic Penguins, and not the famous Emperor Penguins that everyone relates to, because these penguins are majorly affected by oil pollution off the coast of Argentina, and we wanted to highlight our concerns for them. We decided to name our lead characters X and O and our game XnO.

Farewells and Welcomes

And, by August, 2012 here we were:

August 2012

Everyone felt our game was the best and so did we. We thought what if we did not have excellent art work, at least we still have excellent gameplay. This time, we showed it to people in the games industry. The jury was in and our reaction…OOPS! Things started heating up, but unfortunately, George’s sabbatical came to end. He had to take a full time position. Now what? I was left as a one-woman team and didn’t wish to abandon this ship. I just loved it too much.

Fortunately, a friend Emmy Toyonaga, offered to help. She had just quit her job and was taking a break for a while. Then came Creath Carter and Gia Luc. Emmy did character concepts, Gia did environment concepts, and Creath did modelling. Voila! In a matter of days, we had a full team. No wait…we didn’t have the ‘music guy’ yet. Craigslist came to help here. We found Tom Scollard from Canada.

XnOIt was already December 2012 when all the art assets got finalized. We had most of the core gameplay already done, but this time, we decided to focus primarily on building the character’s personalities and enhancing gameplay with a goal of making XnO as fully polished and just as good in quality as a major publication house release. This is when we brought Ishmael Hoover on board to help us with immediate art asset needs. He also helped us improve our user interface and create marketing/promotional art assets.

As time passed, we developed the story and how these penguins lived in the whimsical land of Vazooka. To emphasize the importance of characters and yet maintain their familiarity with the player, we introduced penguins from all walks of life: lawyers, sheriffs, sportsmen, and warriors, each with a distinguished personality. To build climax, we introduced a lady penguin which has to be rescued, and around whom the story revolves.

Set It Free

Finally, in April 2013, we had everything done and submitted the game to Apple. We set the release date to May 11, 2013.

We had excellent success on Facebook (35K+ Likes as of this writing) and naively presumed that this was enough to carry us forward and translate into tons of download and in-app purchases. Boy, were we wrong. This being our first project, we did not know what beast marketing was. We had done nothing: no promo codes to reviewers, no presence on blogs, our press release went out late, the gameplay video came in last minute, and that’s just a few of the things we did wrong. But we worked at it day and night after the game release. We now have good reviews and daily active downloads on Apple Stores from all around the world. We are not done yet though. We are still actively working on the game to add in-app purchases and shooting for a free-to- play gaming experience. We are positive that with your love and support we will be able to reach a broader audience.

We hope you enjoy playing XnO as much as we enjoyed making this lovely game. XnO is available on the Apple Store, Google Play and Amazon App Store.

To find out more what Digital Eclairs is up to, follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

DevelopmentExclusive Interviews

Tyler Fermelis on His Love of Art, Freelancing, and Gazillion Entertainment’s Marvel Heroes

July 16, 2013 — by Nicholas Yanes

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The son of an art teacher, Tyler Fermelis is motivated by a lifelong love for art. His passion for art led him to attend the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA. where he received formal training in 3D modeling. While in school, Fermelis did UV setup and modeled, rigged, and textured characters for Phoenix Online Studios. After graduating in 2006, Fermelis became a texture artist and modeler for Giant Killer Robots where he worked on movies like Spider-Man 3 and Fantastic Four 2. In addition to periodically doing freelance work, Fermelis has been with Gazillion Entertainment since 2007, where he is currently the Lead Character Artist on the MMO/ARPG, Marvel Heroes.

Tyler Fermelis
Tyler Fermelis

GS: You have been interested in the arts since you were a child. In addition to being the son of an art teacher, what are some of the ways your family encouraged you to develop this interest?

Tyler Fermelis: My family really encouraged me to explore my artistic side. Our house was always full of murals painted on the walls, and I was even allowed to draw anything I wanted on the walls of my own room. Art was just a really integral part of our daily life.
 
 
It’s one thing to love art, it’s another thing to want to pursue a career being an artist. Why did you pursue this as a career?

In a way, art as a career was not even a choice for me – it was something that I felt I HAD to go do. After looking at alternatives, I just couldn’t see myself being happy doing anything else. It may be a competitive and difficult career, but I am a firm believer in finding what drives you and chasing it with everything you’ve got.

Hulk Avengers
“I would strongly suggest developing a strong foundation of traditional skills first, such as sculpting and figure drawing, before studying the 3D side.”

What are some of the ways the Academy of Art University prepared you for a career in 3D animation?  In retrospect, what advice do you have for others thinking about going into this field?

The Academy offered an amazing traditional art background before getting students into the 3D side of things. For me, that was the biggest element that set the school apart from others. For anyone looking to get into 3D character art, I would strongly suggest developing a strong foundation of traditional skills first, such as sculpting and figure drawing, before studying the 3D side.

During and after college you did a lot of freelance work. Given that there are so many digital artists out there, how did you get this work? Also, how do you feel these jobs helped you grow as an artist?

For me, getting freelance work has consistently depended on two things: contacts and online presence. Networking and being able to reach out to contacts at companies often results in follow-up work or recommendations to other companies. LinkedIn is a powerful source for both recruiters and those seeking work, and having a strong website to show off your work is absolutely vital! Freelance work has been extremely important in expanding my skill set because it has exposed me to new types of projects and challenges that I might not have come across in my full-time job.

Each has its merits – freelance work teaches self-sufficiency and working at a large company teaches how to collaborate creatively.

The longest job you have had is with Gazillion Entertainment, which you have been working with since 2007. How has working there compared with your freelance work?

Both opportunities have taught me valuable lessons. In freelance work, you grow because you are oftentimes presented with a challenge that you’ve never dealt with before, so you are forced to learn on your own. At Gazillion, I’ve learned more from being surrounded by other talented artists, where we are able to bounce ideas off of one another and grow as a group. Each has its merits – freelance work teaches self-sufficiency and working at a large company teaches how to collaborate creatively.

After graduating you did some texture work for Spider-Man 3, Happy Feet, and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. What are some of the differences working on a movie as opposed to a game?

Some people may not agree, but I actually found movie work to be a little easier and more forgiving than games work. In films, models are only viewed from the shot angle, so you only need to put detail into what is close to the camera in each specific shot. Some shots do require incredible amounts of detail, but with shots that are not close-ups you can get away with less detail. In games, models are consistently viewed from all angles, so you have to put equal amounts of detail everywhere. Also, after you build something in a film, compositors and lighting artists then work to improve your model, so the end result is a lot more forgiving. In games, what you make is what you get, so you have to put in all the work yourself.

Iron Man 2
“In games, what you make is what you get, so you have to put in all the work yourself.”

Artists often strive to develop their own unique style. How do you balance your desire to have an original visual style when film and gaming studios require you to work within a standardized vision?

Ideally, I like to look for work that is similar to the style that I am trying to develop. For example, I wanted to create a hand-painted look, so I worked on an MMO that featured all hand-painted textures. Later, I took an interest in anatomy and body shapes, so I worked on the Marvel Heroes project. This allows you to keep interest in your job while also developing what you want to develop on your own. Sometimes, it’s impossible to align your own artistic visions with your company’s, and in that case you need to create models outside of work that bring you closer to your own style.

In regards to Marvel Heroes, the Marvel Universe is filled with characters of widely varying shapes and sizes. What steps were taken to remain true to the uniqueness of each character while still striving to remain efficient and meet your company’s deadline?

Being true to Marvel’s style has been a big part of this project. Our original idea was to use Marvel’s official height values and model each character accordingly. However, Marvel Heroes uses a top-down camera view, from which height variance doesn’t translate very well. We quickly noticed it was hard to tell the difference between characters of different heights, and this led us to create a more uniform and efficient system based on using several basic body size archetypes for all characters.

Marvel Heroes
“It’s definitely a more complicated and multi-tiered process to approve a licensed character than it is for an original IP character.”

In addition to building 3D models of Marvel’s characters, you’ve probably learned a lot about the legal issues surrounding licensed characters. How has working on Marvel Heroes expanded your understanding of how videogames are made?

Working on Marvel Heroes has taught me how complex it is to work on a project with a well-known existing intellectual property. The rights to various Marvel characters are owned by different people, and therefore require different means of acquisition. In the character approval process, beyond getting the artistic look approved, there are also various legal requirements for each character involving logos and specific color values, etc. It’s definitely a more complicated and multi-tiered process to approve a licensed character than it is for an original IP character.

Since you first started contributing to videogames, the industry has witnessed a shift from console games to free-to-play games. How do you think this shift has impacted the way you approach game design?

This shift has impacted game design hugely because it has changed the way games monetize. Many projects out there focus solely on making a game ‘addictive’ rather than ‘entertaining’ so that their free-to-play model succeeds, but to me this strategy strays from the original goal of a game as an entertainment medium. I hope there are more people out there who agree with my approach to game design, which is creating something that is, first and foremost, fun and stimulating.

Marvel Women
“In terms of my work, these trends will influence the types of projects I choose and pursue, and how I develop my style accordingly.”

In addition to free-to-play games becoming popular, mobile games are also becoming a larger share of the market. In addition to your thoughts on this, how do you think this trend will influence your work?

We are seeing less jobs for non-mobile game development, and a slew of small mobile games companies springing up. Investors will always follow the product that generates the most money, so they jump on the latest profitable trend and try to mimic it. The truth is that there will always be another gaming theme, such as mobile games, that will transform the industry, and then we’ll see a new theme that investors will be backing. For a truly successful project, the real question is: what is that next big theme in games, and how can you be the first to make it happen? In terms of my work, these trends will influence the types of projects I choose and pursue, and how I develop my style accordingly.

Popular indie or mobile games can be successful and cheap to make, but many of them require a large amount of luck and good timing.

Popular games seem to either be fairly cheap or rather expensive to make. How do you think the divide between production costs will impact game development?

Popular indie or mobile games can be successful and cheap to make, but many of them require a large amount of luck and good timing. Rovio, for example, created hundreds of games before striking gold with Angry Birds. Production costs are a large problem because although consumers’ graphics expectations grow every year, their cost expectations drop, especially with free-to-play games on the rise. This divide has led to many companies shutting down or shrinking.

With the hardware and software for games consistently changing, how do you stay on top of the latest tech?

Keeping up with new hardware and software is a constant learning experience in this field. I commonly read online software tutorials and watch videos that share the latest tips and tricks. I’ve found that it’s best to keep up with evolving software on a regular basis, as the changes made can sometimes dramatically speed up your workflow.

Venom
“It’s best to keep up with evolving software on a regular basis, as the changes made can sometimes dramatically speed up your workflow.”

Finally, are there any projects – personal or professional – that you are working on that people can look out for?

Definitely! You can check out my website or follow me on twitter (@BC3D) to learn more.  I can’t share any details right now, as my current projects are confidential, but I promise to give updates on all my latest work as soon as I am able to!

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