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.
We weren’t sure about genre, setting or technology. It was just a draft story and we kept developing it, collecting ideas and references for everything, drawing early sketches, describing game mechanics and creating puzzles — basically doing what we could.
We knew exactly what kind of experience PROZE should be in the end – a unique story with massive background, characters, which you love, hate and empathize. Cozy and at the same time – scary atmosphere that will be left imprinted in players memories for decades. Our sights of what the perfect game should be and on many other things was uncommon, that’s why we settled as a team and kept progressing on the development.
The decision of making a VR game was not instant. However while putting our design document together we realized that this technology can fully project our idea, thoughts, and emotions that we have put into the screenplay. To embody those moments as it could happen in real life we decided to make a VR game at first place.
Going for technologies that we are using in the game creation is a bigger challenge for us, as we are trying to reach really stunning quality of visuals and audio with no budget.
So pretty much all the things that we are doing, we are doing ourselves, including photogrammetry, motion capture, spatial sound design, 3D modeling.
The hardest part was to combine the development with our day jobs. We have to support financially ourselves and the project. We have to spend tons of time on doing things and learning new as we set this unreachable goal of making an uncompromised game.
There were 4 of us in the very beginning, but only 2 of us left carrying the torch. All of us have motivational, financial, family, time and other problems from time to time, it makes huge impacts on the progress of PROZE development, nevertheless we work as a team and support each other during the hard times.
Today we went for full time development, rented a small office, upgraded some gear.
That’s not fine when we can’t afford buying food everyday, but we truly believe that things will change and PROZE will be a blast when it’s done.
We have spend a lot of time on crafting the cinematic story trailer, which is not completed yet today. It still lacks of visual effects and expensive 3D character models.
Perhaps it was a mistake starting from such complex footage that required all states of technology and art in itself ignoring the actual gameplay.
However we’ve learned a lot and gained big experience with
The new game engine.
Motion capture, which we were recording with 2 soldiered Kinects in the rotten basement of the 18 story building. Where we were disturbed all the time by the tenants that were looking at us as on aliens trying to steal their gigabytes of internet.
Crawling through the dungeons and caught cold standing on the windy highways and fields and lakes to record authentic ambiances and sound effects.
But wrong moves were made right. Using the experience and groundwork we started from scratch creating a playable game episode in VR. Not much time has passed and we are showcasing PROZE pre-Aplha at our first conference. So many gamers that have never played anything like that before were extremeley excited.
After 2 months and huge update we are getting 2 main prizes during our second in life conference.
We’ve been awarded the Audience Choice Award and the Best Indie Game Award. Now as winners from GameDev Lviv (an Indie Prize Partner event), we are Indie Prize London finalist at Casual Connect Europe and the game looks and feels like never before.
The mistake that we won’t regret if you can call it a mistake is that we are not following the trends.
The development of such complex project takes a lot of time and the industry changes every now and then. PROZE is not social, it is not a multiplayer. It doesn’t have loot boxes or similar things.
It may sound strange, but it is designed mostly for introverts that want to relax after a busy day, spend a few hours alone and take part in the breathtaking story, experience the situations that might be related to them, but in an extraordinary way and get the emotional connection with the characters.
Hopefully we will connect with our audience and together we will prove that there are no such thing as unreachable goals. And the higher you aim the more you gain. That probably would be the main tip for other developers trying hard to bring their worlds to life.
It might be early to judge if our approach repays.
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.
By Valentina Ferrari, Consultant, Executive Search
Based on the reports of several intelligence forecasts, the virtual reality (VR) industry is growing strong and is only likely to become stronger in the future. For instance, according to Greenlight Insights – the global leader in virtual reality and augmented reality market intelligence – by the end of 2017, global VR revenues will reach over $7 billion and, by the year 2021, revenues will skyrocket to a total of nearly $75 billion.
This is a very bold prediction and one that not everyone is buying into. According to an article by Todd Spangler on Variety, Spangler – a NY Digital Editor – is highly skeptical that VR will ever hit mainstream because he believes that for most regular non-tech and non “bleeding-edge creative” people (the vast majority of us), while virtual reality is fun and enjoyable, it simply isn’t a must-have product the average person needs or wants in their home.
The Roadblocks of VR Mainstream Success
In addition to Spangler’s belief that most people aren’t likely to make VR a part of their staple entertainment diet, he also points out that Millennial and Gen Z consumers (the demographics most likely to jump on the VR bandwagon) have short attention spans. This could be a problem, considering – at the moment – immersive VR entertainment experiences require the user to wear a VR headset, demanding their full and undivided attention.
Why might this be problematic? Spangler points out that according to Deloitte’s 2017 “Digital Democracy Survey”, 99% of Millenial and Gen Z viewers take part in an average of four additional activities (e.g. texting, social media, shopping, etc.) while watching TV.
With roadblocks such as these, Spangler doesn’t see how virtual reality could “deliver enough bang for the buck to ever become a mass consumer market.”
Several Industries are embracing VR
Although the NY Digital Editor has made some valid points, the fact remains that there are several industries rushing to embrace VR. In addition to gaming, some of these include: Retail, Advertising, News, Music, Hollywood Films, Adult Entertainment, Travel, Space Travel, and Health Care.
Even the gambling industry is seeing the “casino connection” between gaming and VR, noting the many ways that it can make use of the tech to enhance the experience of customers in the land-based gambling arena. More specifically, VR may benefit the rise of skill-based gaming and the inclusion of VR booths could entice non-casino gamers into the casino.
Moreover, it’s not just the land-based casino market that’s latching on to the idea of an immersive gambling experience. An in-depth look at VR casino games, reveals that virtual reality and gambling is a growing trend among casino operators (e.g. SlotsMillion) and software developers (e.g. NetEnt, Microgaming and Lucky VR) alike.
Huge investments are being made in Virtual Reality
It’s no secret that giant corporations like Facebook, Samsung and Google (each of which have their own VR headsets) are making massive investments in the industry to evolve their own products and customer base. In fact, earlier this year, Co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, said that Facebook plans to invest more than $3 billion over the next 10 years in VR to bring the experience to hundreds of millions of users.
With so many diverse industries taking a step in the VR world, experts in these sectors clearly feel that the possibilities virtual reality has to offer are worth the risk of exploration and investment. Such a broad interest says something positive about the future adoption of this tech.
The bottom line is due to the fact that virtual reality entertainment is still in its very early stages, it is impossible for anyone to know if it will one day garner mainstream success. Still, positive predictions about the industry, huge corporations investing billions into the VR market, and more industries embracing virtual reality, could be a sign that there’s more to VR than it being a hyped-up short-lived fad.