The participants in Indie Prize at Casual Connect Asia always show amazing creativity and diversity, and this certainly true of these entries for Indie Prize Asia 2018 from Western Europe. From creative learning apps to complex puzzles to adventure games, and even some filled with horror, there is something here for every kind of gamer.
Once upon a time there was a magical game studio named KARIZMA. They were known across the land for developing games, and one day a glorious castle emerged from the studio. The castle was filled with magic and gold so it attracted every looter in the world. Eventually the castle became known as Looters.
We are SignSine – a two people game studio from Kyiv, Ukraine.
We are developing PROZE, an atmospheric survival adventure game focused on telling a compelling story “about friendship with massive Cold War conspiracy background” and providing an immersive experience in VR.
Where did everything start?
In August 2016, we went to a countryside house (dacha) nearby Kyiv with a company of old friends. After getting lost in the woods we were very inspired telling the story to each other from a different perspective. Some time after we decided to turn our memories of that evening into a game screenplay, that’s how the initial idea came together.
Carbon Studio will be bringing their game The Wizards to Casual Connect Europe 2018 to compete at Indie Prize. They won this opportunity through Respawn, an Indie Prize Partner event. They are excited to be with developers from all over the world where they can exchange experiences and be recharged with fresh ideas. Recently, Paweł Gajda, the Business Development Manager at Carbon Studio, answered Gamesauce’s questions about the studio and developing The Wizards.
Participating in the History of Virtual Reality
Carbon Studio was founded by three friends who had been working at The Farm 51 (known for the game Get Even) and go out on their own. They came to this decision after learning of the Oculus Rift Development Kit and discovering a desire to create games for this new platform from its earliest days. They wanted to take part in the history of virtual reality as it was being written. And the games they choose to develop are those they would like to play – a common motivation among game developers.
Carbon Studio has its office in Gliwice, Poland and all the team exceptPaweł work there; he works away from the office. The majority of the team members are from the Gliwice area, which is part of a larger metropolis in the culturally and industrially rich region of Upper Silesia, and others have moved their families there. Most feel lucky to work close to home.
Paweł came to Carbon Studios after working in the film industry as a set manager. A director who knew of his passion for video games and new technology invited him to join a meeting with the owners of Carbon Studio, and he came out of it with a strong desire to work as a VR game developer. Not long after he joined the studio and his first task was to write the story for their first game, Alice VR. He also designed one of the puzzles for Unreal Engine 4. Currently he is responsible for communication and managing business development.
Total Focus on VR
Carbon Studios decided to focus entirely on VR games since players with VR headsets usually stop playing traditional games. “When you try VR once, there’s no going back,” Paweł claims. They expect VR to become more and more popular, so they treat developing for VR as a long term investment. As Paweł said, “I don’t believe it will replace traditional games in the future, but I think it may become as popular as console games, with millions of units sold.”
They began working on The Wizards shortly after the Oculus Touch controllers were announced for the Oculus Rift headset. The idea of seeing and using your hands in a natural way in virtual reality was something they found deeply inspiring. At Carbon Studio they didn’t just want to reproduce activities from ordinary life; they were determined to create something that was possible only in the limitless world of VR. So they decided to fulfill a dream of becoming a powerful wizard and casting spells. Both Dr. Strange and Harry Potter were useful inspirations in their direction.
The Wizards has something no other game can claim: the ability to cast spells with hand gestures. Traditional video games make motions by pressing buttons. In contrast, in The Wizards the player learns specific hand motions to summon spells. Once they are mastered, the player uses them intuitively in a way that is unlike any other experience that simulates magic. As Paweł explains, the gestures are easy to remember and perform and the functioning of each spell is realistic; throwing the fire ball, aiming the bow and deflecting with the shield all are familiar mechanics that feel lifelike.
The development of The Wizards took a few unexpected turns along the way. The game started out as a simple wave shooter that could be completed in less than an hour. The idea of the game was to have the player stand on a platform and prevent the enemies from reaching the village behind. As they were developing the game, they realized it would be more interesting if the player could teleport between many platforms. It still felt too limiting, so they added free movement and free teleportation. The Wizards turned from a simple wave shooter to an action adventure with a lot of exploration.
As they were developing The Wizards, Carbon Studio decided to test at a very early stage of development. They organized alpha and beta testing, each time using the VR community, with testers filling out a beta form. It was extremely useful and gave them many outstanding ideas, but the results turned out to be a bit misleading. The feedback on the movement scheme was overly positive. Once the game was released, players who had paid for the game criticized Carbon Studio’s choice to stick with node-based teleportation. Apparently the beta testers were happy to have been chosen to test the game and were unwilling to criticize too much. This is something the company will keep in mind for the future.
On the other hand, some of the testers gave much more than they were asked for. One not only filled out his survey, he also provided several hours of videos of him playing the game, finding bugs and giving feedback. He then pitched the game to his boss, owner of a VR arcade, and has become one of the game’s most avid fans. When someone on the internet suggests the game is similar to another, he responds that it is, but better. He has now become one of Paweł’s personal friends, and Paweł says, “It was worth organizing the testing just to meet this guy.”
After Carbon Studio released The Wizards on Steam Early Access, they had many players criticizing the movement scheme and soon there were “mixed” reviews on Steam. This was totally unexpected because of the positive reviews from closed beta testing. They responded three days after the release by announcing that they would add free locomotion, a less restrictive way of moving in VR, which the players had requested. As soon as this feature was promised, the positive reviews on Steam began. Now that the free movement update is out The Wizards is a much better game. There have been even more positive reviews and a significant increase in sales.
The Virtual Reality Revolution
Carbon Studio wants to be part of the virtual reality revolution and provide the people willing to buy expensive headsets with even more interesting games. With The Wizards they wanted to make a game that allows players to feel like they are really casting powerful spells, a game that lets them experience something that might have been a childhood dream but was impossible to fulfill before VR headsets were invented.
Carbon Studio’s monetization method is the premium model, releasing their games on Steam and the Oculus Store. The user base for VR is not yet large enough for freemium to be a workable method.
Inspirations for their games can come from anywhere. For example, Alice was influenced by Alice in Wonderland but the plot of the game is original. However, characters, themes and mechanics do have references to the book, such as shrinking and growing, or the Hatter’s riddles.
Carbon Studio’s projects are led by one of the three founders of the company, supported by the other two. Each of them has different skill sets and specialize in different areas of production.
How the Project Grows
A project usually begins with a brainstorming session with the entire team. They want to be sure they are working on a project that is relevant, interesting and completely understandable for everyone. After establishing this basis, most of the decisions will be made by the leads, but they are always open to ideas and suggestions from all team members throughout the development process. And, of course, changes are made all along the way.
As their experience in game development grows, they put increasing importance on alpha and beta testing. With The Wizards, they turned to Reddit and active users on the platform for their users. They were reaching out to future potential users and building a fan base. The choice was not quite as good as they anticipated, with the results more positive than was seen in users after early release. In the future, Carbon Studio will find more impartial testers as well as using the VR community.
When designing the visuals for their games, their basic principle is to minimize the compromises involved in designing for VR. They are fascinated by mega-scans and realistic assets, but there is a certain amount of unavoidable stylization. Although compromises are unavoidable, constantly improving optimization on UE4’s end mean the options for visuals are also constantly expanding.
The humor of The Wizard comes from the narrator played by Jason Marnocha, who leads the player through the world and its story with flair and sass. As well, the designers hid curios and Easter eggs for those who explore the levels in detail. And the developers are particularly proud of the first encounter with the dragon.
Six weeks after the early release, Carbon Studio introduced a Free Locomotion Update. The update allowed the players the choice between free movement and free teleportation which were both new ways to explore the world. There were also new map areas, item pick-ups, and new interactive world elements, each crafted to encourage and reward thorough exploration. Last November they released Arena Mode in which players can face off with endless waves of enemies, testing skills and spells they have learned in the campaign. They also added another new region and new chapter to the story called Shrike’s Desert, concluding the commitments to the Early Access and marking the full release of the game.
On March 8th, Carbon Studio had a full release of The Wizards. The full release of the game comes with epic boss fights, new story chapters, and empowered spells for the ultimate experience in wizardry. Paweł reflects, “We are grateful to everyone who trusted and supported us with invaluable feedback during Early Access. We are humbled that so many players joined us on this exciting adventure and we hope that the new content will meet our players’ expectations.”
If you are an indie developer, Carbon Studio reminds you that it pays to iterate fast and fail early. Don’t be afraid of criticism; feedback is incredibly valuable throughout the development process. Share an early demo on a platform with many users. If the feedback is negative, you will save months of working on potentially unpopular features; if it is positive, you have the beginnings of your fan base. Similarly, it is useful to create a Steam page and social media profiles to spread the word about the game, allowing people to observe it and add it to their wishlist.
You should never release a game without gathering feedback during production. And never tell someone who gives you negative feedback that they are wrong. If you are selling a product it won’t help to antagonize anyone.
A dead face can kill an otherwise expressive character. - Floyd BishopClick To Tweet
As an Art Lead at Microsoft, Floyd Bishop chronicled how to create expressive characters and their setup in Unity at Casual Connect USA 2018. He advised, “Use every part of the buffalo.” To learn more about how you can make this work for you, be sure to watch the video of the full session.
As modern games become more immersive, quality sound in all dimensions and forms is becoming paramount. During Casual Connect USA 2018’s audio track, composers, sound designers, audio engineers, and more will teach attendees how to make their game audio the best it can be.
Moore’s Law is still in full-swing since Gordon Moore first made his now-famous observation in 1965. Technology continues to change at a nearly breakneck pace – not only getting smaller and faster, but also more advanced and intricate. From artificial intelligence to high fidelity, it can be difficult to stay on top of everything. In Casual Connect Kyiv’s Tech track, attendees can expect to receive numerous insights to help them keep on top of the latest technology so they can make their games the best they can be.
Alexis Kennedy has a storied career in gaming, literally. He has done guest-writing gigs for such prominent studios as BioWare, Telltale, and Paradox – and as the creator of Failbetter Games, he grew a two-person startup into a studio with 16 employees and over $1.3 million a year in revenue. As part of the Industry Insights track, Alexis will open the conference at Casual Connect Kyiv with a keynote lecture on game narratives and how to better marry stories with game systems. Many other experts will join Alexis in sharing their expertise with attendees over the conference’s three days of lectures and workshops.
In 2014, eLearning Studios was invited to be a partner in a European partnership project called Stay Active which was a project looking at reducing stress in older workers in the workplace. As part of this project we worked collaboratively with Dr. Gail Steptoe-Warren, Occupational Psychologist and Principal Lecturer at Coventry University’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and Nigel Wilson Principal Lecturer at Coventry University to research and explore ideas for the development of a new game designed to reduce stress for those over 45. This initial project was later to evolve and develop into Soar: Tree of Life.
You can't properly advise on virtual reality if you've never tried a VR headset. - Daniel TozerClick To Tweet
Virtual reality has brought about a plethora of opportunities for hardware manufacturers, advertisers, content providers and many other types of business in the games industry. With these opportunities come legal risks too which is where firms like Harbottle & Lewis can provide specialist advice. Daniel Tozer, a Partner at Harbottle & Lewis, spoke at Casual Connect Europe 2017 on the key questions facing developer’s real-world responsibilities in relation to VR.
Oskar Burman is CEO of Fast Travel Games, a company they founded with some friends from EA DICE during the summer of 2016. As CEO of a small company, their role includes everything from janitor to project manager and business developer. Fast Travel Games is a VR games studio, and after twenty years in the game industry, Oskar found the opportunity to do VR, something they felt compelled to try. “It’s been a childhood dream,” they say, “and the future is finally upon us!”
During Oskar’s years in the game industry, they have been Development Director at Avalanche Studios (the creators of Just Cause), COO at EA Easy, a part of EA DICE, and General Manager of Rovio (creators of Angry Birds 2). All of these positions built the experience that led to the position Oskar fills today.
These days the most enjoyable aspect of Oskar’s work is “finding the magic in VR.” At this stage all the rules are being established; this is a new medium they are exploring, trying to understand which genres will work and how the UX/UI should be structured.
Fun Times Making Games
Oskar has been fascinated by gaming from childhood and by age twelve was already making games. These early games were in Basic and were small games for family and friends. The experience was incredibly enjoyable, particularly the ability to control the computer.