Joel
Joel

Update from the HQ

Posted on September 2, 2014

Apologies for the silence as of late. We’re still very much at work producing games. As mentioned in earlier posts there are several projects under way, but I haven’t mentioned perhaps the most ambitious one so far. This project, which originally was code-named “skylark” (not anymore though) is quite a large game where development has spanned over several years. Right now I feel I don’t want to say too much about this particular project, due to issues concerning trademarks and copyrights, but let’s just say it’s nowhere even close to our other projects in terms of size of game content and gameplay.

Since this project is so huge, it’s consuming most of the time we have right now, thus leaving blogging and related stuff pretty much unattended. But the absence of online material only means we’re very focused on actually producing games right now. I would really like to keep the blog updated with the latest progress, but there are times when game production is better kept internal. As mentioned, this helps keeping focus on game development. BUT, there will be more stuff coming, both here on the blog and on our social media channels. Stay updated!

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Joel
Joel

Making good games

Posted on August 23, 2014

A few years back I wrote a small essay on the subject of programming in general. One of the issues I discussed there have stuck with me ever since, constantly provoking a question I haven’t yet fully come to grips with. This is the actual occupational field of computer programming. Paul Graham [1] argues that programmers (or hackers, as he likes to call them) are not to be considered engineers or working within a science field, but rather should be treated as artists. One of the reasons for this is how much hackers and painters have in common. As an educated IT engineer myself, I find his essay very spot-on. While programming (or hacking), I often find myself doing stuff that is very much unrelated with the engineering skills I learned as a part of my education. For instance, I learned to use a lot of different tools and methodologies for managing IT related projects and was also trained on how to take advantage of all the resources within a team that is working on these project (would that be setting up a company network or developing software or anything elselike). Now, seldom did this mean doing any actual programming. At most, I got to say how something was supposed to be implemented, but never really got write much code myself (as always, there were exceptions to this as well). I remember how I and a classmate had a discussion on what we had learned so far and came to the conclusion that none of us really had improved much in doing what we’d thought we’d learn about, programming. “At least I can write technical reports!” he ironically concluded our discussion.

So what does this have to do with making good games. Quite frankly, not much. Mostly I wanted to reference Graham’s great essay, since it contains a lot of interesting thoughts on programming in general and how it really should be done. But also I wanted to raise the question of game developers’ profession. If determining the correct field for programming is hard, then what about game development? To be honest, I really don’t know. Since game development consists of so many different tasks it’s probably not a very bright idea to try to categorize game development, whether it is an art form or an engineering discipline or a craft or anything else. To me, this job combines experts from a wide range of professions that all share the same enthusiasm for the interactive entertainment we know as video games, where the real challenge lies in getting all this talent to perfectly synchronize in order to form a good game. It’s like filming a movie, recording an album, writing a novel and painting a portrait, all at the same time and for the same purpose. I’m not sure that is definable as a distinct occupational field.

While on the subject, do you know the most important factor in what makes a game really good? I’ll give you three guesses. No, no and no. It’s time.

You don’t believe me? Paul Graham thinks differently. While he is not talking about game projects in his essay, I do claim his arguments could be used to support my theory. “Over time, beautiful things tend to thrive, and ugly things tend to get discarded.” and “There is always a big time lag in prestige. It’s like light from a distant star. Painting has prestige now because of great work people did five hundred years ago.” are examples of Graham’s arguing that time will make your work seem more valuable than it might be at the time of actually doing it.

There is another side of this as well. The amount of time spent on one game project will often be reflected in how much gamers will like that game. There are a number of games that are highly regarded as masterpieces (in one way or another, but almost always because they are, simply, good games) that all share the same characteristic. They all took a long time to develop. Just take this list as an example:

  • GTA V – 5 years in development
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – 5-6 years in development
  • Fez – 5 years in development
  • Half-Life 2 – 5 years in development
  • The Sims – 5 years in development
  • Command & Conquer – 2,5 years in development
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – 3 years in development
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 – 2 years in development
  • Super Castlevania IV – 2 years in development

I have listed quite big titles above and for a reason. Even though there is always going to be good games that somehow manage to get developed in very short timespan (Batman: The Video Game, some early EA Sport games) and bad ones that have a very long development times (Duke Nukem Forever), the best game almost always spend a long time in development. While this might seem like a dumb strategy from a sales perspective (and maybe it is), it certainly is not dumb for all of us who love these really, really good games.

So, in conclusion, time appears to affect a game to the better in two ways. First, there’s the legacy factor. The older the game, the greater the chance it’s going to be considered a classic. Second, there’s the development factor. More time for development almost certainly means a better outcome for the finished game. And I don’t see any reason why it would be different. After all, isn’t the joy of playing a really good game worth the time waiting for it?

 

References:

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/hp.html

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Joel
Joel

Going down the pipeline, next up project Colibri

Posted on August 12, 2014

I mentioned something about pipeline a few weeks ago and, sure, I haven’t yet shared much light on ours as I promised I would do. Don’t be alarmed though, the simple reason for that is not lack of products or management but simply the pace I currently use to update the blog. One post a week is only going to be so much info.

This week I would like to bring forward another project of ours. Code-named “Colibri”, this game project was at one point thought to be our first game (and still could be depending on how fast development on Stupid Survivor progresses). This is a smaller game that only includes a few number of levels, but with a more compressed game flow than Stupid Survivor. The motive in this game is quite simple – get out. Yeah, that’s all there is to it. Of course, the actual gameplay contains a diverse number of puzzles and challenges, but the overall goal is simply to get out.

Get out of what? A pyramid. Picture this: you’re an enthusiastic researcher and treasure-hunter that finds an ancient pyramid all to tempting not to explore. The pyramid appears to be empty and forsaken, which of course drives you further and further into the dark interior of the pyramid. Eventually, you notice the pyramid might not be so forsaken after all and so you realize you’re trapped inside. At this point there is only but one objective left, get out! As you approach the end of your survival journey through the hostile environment, getting as close as to seeing the light of the world outside, there is yet another surprise waiting around the corner…

Some might think they’ve heard of something similar before. Pyramid Run, a game much inspired by recent success Temple Run, embraced a somewhat similar concept. However, PR doesn’t focus on puzzle solving or survival like Colibri does. There’s also Tomb Raider. Not really the same concept when you start comparing with what I described above. How about the Indiana Jones-franchise? These games might be considered (but not always) to be more of adventurous challenges.

I could go on, trying to find game concepts similar to Colibri and pointing out the differences. But that’s not point I want to bring forward. You know what credible game designers consider to be great game design[1]? Nabbing the best bits from here and there, combining them into a well-crafted piece of perfection. In other words, much like what Apple did with iPhone. Now now, I’m not saying Colibri should be compared to such a market-changing product, I’m rather trying to picture what has been a main influence during development of Colibri. No, not the iPhone! The piecing together-strategy.

Speaking of development, the Colibri project has reached what software developers call the Alpha phase. In other words, Colibri has reached a point where it is fully playable from the beginning to the end, while still lacking some more work on the game design and fine-tuning of the gameplay. I’d lie if I didn’t say this is more close to being a finished product than what the current Stupid Survivor-builds are. However, no deadline or goal for a release date have yet been set for Colibri. As a matter of fact, not even the real name on the game has been decided (though there are some alternatives being considered for the job).

And this is where I want to leave it for now. Going further into the details of the game is a subject of future posts. Also, the main game project of the company is still Stupid Survivor. However, there might just be another early Christmas surprise if development on our projects go well. Why not immediately start preparing your Christmas wishlists by adding whatever-name-Colibri-will-have-when-released to it?

 

References:

[1] Michael, D., 2003. Indie Game Development Survival Guide. Hingham, MA: Charles River Media / Cengage Learning, p. 60.

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Joel
Joel

One month gone, one month of game making

Posted on July 31, 2014

It has been a month now. Slowly but surely our game making process is advancing. I must say, even though some work is very tedious sometimes, I really like this job. It’s not like my previous software development job, where I would do nothing else but coding, having meetings, talking coding issues with my colleagues and finally more coding. It’s not that I don’t like software development, it’s quite a challenging profession and an interesting social experience (the desperate efforts of trying to meet customer needs, customers that you never ever get to meet in person). However, there are times when I would just like to throw all coding into the trash can and instead release some of the more creative sides of me. Guess what, game making is allowing me to do that!

It’s quite interesting how fast the days go by in this business. The days are filled with all kinds of interesting issues. For example, the days can consist of coding, game design, reading articles and blogs from various game developers on the internet, writing my own blog posts, managing the company finances, submitting legal documents, taking a one hour lunch break to allow the mind and body to relax etc. A very diverse work description, and far more appealing than my previous jobs.

Someone might still wonder what it is actually like working in the game making industry. I don’t consider Aware Games to be the typical game making business (we’re indies, we don’t need rules!), but there’s still some parts of what we’re doing that could arouse some interest. How about a photo of me doing some level design on a early version of Stupid Survivor?

Sorry about the blur, my phone is getting quite old.

Talking about Stupid Survivor, what about this lovely fire chief? It’s like he’s taken straight from that favorite children’s cartoon series of yours. You know, those cartoon series that aren’t produced anymore but by far outshine the trashy ones of today (to be honest, I don’t know a lot about cartoon series nowadays, they might be good for all I know).

Yes, he is to be included in the game and yes, he might be the last hurdle in your struggle to get those family photo albums out before the house collapses in on itself. Don’t worry, there won’t be blood.

Like the insights (oh, the buzz) of our game making process so far? Not enough? Oh restrain yourself, have you forgotten what I said about feeding small bits in last week’s post? I’m sure you can wait another week for some more goodies. Take care.

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Joel
Joel

What’s our game like? Explaining games to a target audience according to how I see it

Posted on July 25, 2014

I usually get the impression that whenever people mention a game they’ve found to be good, they mention the wow-factor. This got me thinking, is it really that important to include something in a game that is really unique, just to get the “Wow!”-mentality into heads of your customers?

This is what I thought I was going to read about in Tom Francis blog post GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole [1], how the wow-factor is everything and real gameplay is secondary. I was sort of right, Francis uses the words “cool”, “wow” and “innovative” a total of nine times in his post. While I understand that he’s giving his readers the impression he is an asshole and this is the way they should treat him (lots of “cool”s seems to the trick), I started to wonder, do I really want to explain games to assholes? Really? Sure, they could be paying customers one day. But then you’re pretty much stuck in a never-ending loop of asshole dependency. And are most people really assholes? To be honest, I think not. People are usually pretty independent and respectful creatures. Why not treat them that way instead of pretending they’re assholes?

The point I’m trying to bring forward is not to underestimate your audience, which I also mentioned in last week’s post. Most of the times when I try to explain the games I’m making to people they actually ask me quite detailed questions about story and gameplay. I was thinking about how to explain our current game here on our website and while I was browsing some material on how others have done their presentations it hit me, maybe I want to tell our audience the exact same things that makes me thrilled about the game. After all, they probably want to be in a position where they’re not treated like idiots, or assholes if you want.

So, here it goes. Our first game is called Stupid Survivor. The name itself says a lot. You control a character that is running around inside burning buildings (which happens to be where this character lives) trying to save as much stuff as possible while on the same time trying not to get rescued by the actual heroes of the game, the firefighters. It has a very hectic game flow, in and out as fast as you can. Save that painting you got from grandma last Christmas. Don’t forget your 15-year old TV. Why not make the game a little bit more exiting by actually helping the firemen putting out the fire, it’s your home after all. But not too much help, all of a sudden they could just rescue you and then who is going to save that invaluable stamp collection?

Are you starting to see a picture here? Good, that means you’re probably in the target audience of our game. I believe most people can use their imagination to picture some kind of game here. And that’s the ‘trick’ I like to use when reaching out to an audience. A lot of good books use the same trick. Get the audience sucked in to the wonderful world of imagination, a world of no boundaries. And them leave them there, only feed them small bits at a time, constantly evolving that wonderful imagination world they all have built up. That’s one of the things C.S. Lewis taught me through his autobiography Surprised by Joy (I highly recommend reading it, even if you’re not a fan of Lewis).

You think I could have mentioned more about actual gameplay and mechanics? Sure, I will, but not now. You see, the trick, start big and then feed only small portions. Isn’t this way of explaining games way more fascinating? And not once did I have to use the words “cool”, “wow” and “innovative” to do that. Whatever unique parts the game might have in it, I’m sure the gamers can find them themselves. And then tell others about it. That’s treating your audience the way they’re worth being treated. Don’t you agree?

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.pentadact.com/2012-03-17-gdc-talk-how-to-explain-your-game-to-an-asshole/

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Joel
Joel

The importance of pipeline and a look at mobile games

Posted on July 16, 2014

I recently heard about a game studio that rouse to fame with a successful game and then went out of business almost as fast as they had become famous. What is this company you may ask? Ever heard about Zynga? There you have it.

Now to be honest, Zynga haven’t gone out of business, yet. But according to 24/7 Wall St. [1] there is a great chance the future of Zynga is going to be just that. It’s in many ways sad to see the once so promising company behind Farmville now is plummeting straight to the bottom. According to 24/7 Wall St. writer Jon C. Ogg this can be contributed to that Zynga “suffers from a lack of visibility on the company’s product pipeline” [2]. As a result this has caused increasing worries of potential investors.

Don’t get me wrong, this is after all speculations and Zynga still have quite a huge customer base. But they’re also making loses of $61 million in the first quarter of 2014 [1]. Not a very sustainable financial development if you ask me.

So what does this have to do with anything? First of all, my buzzword of the day: pipeline. Second of all, mobile games.

Wait, what? Please explain. I will. To start with, a transparent product pipeline is not very common among today’s big companies. That applies to game studios as well. This is no way a reason to be unnecessarily cautious on your part as a game consumer (or wherever you stand in this matter). Quite contrary, it can be really pleasant to turn on your computer at the start of the day only to to find your favorite game developer announcing the near release of a new game title of theirs. But there comes a time when customers don’t want to wait for the announcement of another title from that same company and rather find themselves heading out into the wildness of the gaming market of today. Not necessarily meaning the company just lost another customer or two, but they definitely didn’t put a lot of effort in to keeping them either.

What that in turn leads to is even more potential customers not returning to test out any future games the company may have in store. For big companies this is probably not that big of an issue, since their customer bases are so great that enough gamers will try out any games they put on the market anyway. And with that, attract people back to the companies’ games.

However, smaller companies might suffer great losses due to a lack of vision of their pipeline. At the very least, any investor surely wants to know what the future of the company might look like before pushing any money into their business. Is this what has happened to Zynga? Might be. In the end I think what is important to remember is not to underestimate the power of the customers. Letting them, and anyone else for that matter, have a little glimpse at the pipeline is probably going to do more good than anything else. With that said, let’s move on the second point, mobile games.

Do you remember when the mobile game library consisted of those that the mobile phone manufacturers included in their phones? It’s no more than 14 years ago when Nokia released perhaps their greatest success Nokia 3310 that included a total of four games. One of these was Snake II, a game that most people over the age of 20 have played at least once in their life. Now consider the developers of that game have had the possibility of selling their game directly on an online app store. It’s easy to think they missed out on some pretty big money. Or maybe they didn’t. After all, would their game ever have been heard of if it wasn’t for the Nokia 3310. Quite frankly, it’s not easy to know.

What I want to get across with this is the still so utterly important role of mobile games for today’s game making businesses. Rather than putting all effort on making a good game developers have to realize the importance of pushing their games to the mobile market. However, a friend of mine quite recently said he couldn’t believe the low quality of mobile games: “There’s not a single game on the market that I want to play”. He has a good point. Many mobile games are published in an often embarrassingly poor shape, just to keep customers occupied and make another easy quid on their pure enthusiasm for the platform. A shame, I have to say.

So, what do I propose? Make good games and make them available for your mobile users. It’s that simple really. It does require an extra effort, but in the end aren’t good games really what all of us in the gaming world want? Just think about it, would you like to end up as another Zynga, moving slowly into to mobile games and when you eventually do releasing something that lacks most of what is required of a good game [3]?

I hope I could share some lights on these rather important subjects for anyone interested enough to read through all of this. And I will provide greater views on our own pipeline here at Aware Games in the near future, though we have been doing anything but that so far. And yes, we will make things mobile. I promise.

 

Sources:

[1] http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/07/08/10-brands-that-will-disappear-in-2015/3/

[2] http://247wallst.com/investing/2014/06/05/analyst-zynga-ceo-body-language-and-mood-brings-caution/

[3] http://www.wired.com/2012/09/farmville-2/

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Joel
Joel

A week later

Posted on July 9, 2014

It has now been a week and a day since Aware Games officially began operations. I feel there is a need to provide an update on the current status since there is very little information on what is happening within the company.

As I mentioned in my first post we are currently working on our first game “Stupid Survivor” and are so far progressing according to plan. The early prototypes have been developed and now more emphasis is being put on the actual game design, meaning more details about levels, game flow, characters and other game elements are being worked out. Since game design is something that is pretty much an ongoing task throughout the whole production process, it is by no means close to being finalized at this stage. Quite contrary, the current design plans are what you could describe as Proof of concept.

So what does that mean in terms of actual progress? I feel it can be quite a daunting task to try to explain exactly how much is done and how much is left. Unless you are a game developer yourself, you’re probably not very familiar with the different tasks that makes up game development. Since we’re what is known as indie game developers, meaning even less regulated working methodologies, it could be hard to understand our current situation even if you’re a developer yourself. So maybe I’ll just use my standard answer when answering these types of question: “We’re moving forward” 🙂

Speaking of indie game development, did you know that more than 50% of the game developers that visited last year’s GDC (2013) are identifying themselves as indie developers[1]? Yes, I know, they could be lying. So could the other half. Anyway, I think it’s quite an astonishing number. Considering that the indie game developers are a relatively new movement it’s fascinating that so many already have gone on to join what is most likely to become the main driving force of future game development[2][3]. Would you have believed that ten years ago? I know I wouldn’t.

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.gdconf.com/news/gdc_state_of_the_industry_rese.html

[2] http://www.gamespot.com/articles/microsoft-indies-crucial-to-future-of-gaming/1100-6416682/

[3] http://gamasutra.com/blogs/SarahWoodrow/20140102/206583/7_truths_about_indie_game_development.php

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Joel
Joel

And they’re off…

Posted on July 1, 2014

At this day very day Aware Games officially began operations. While this Tuesday may seem like just another day, it also represents the end of a multiyear long preparation phase which lay the foundation of the now legally operating company.

At this moment, development has started on our first game, currently going under the name of “Stupid Survivor”. This high-paced, non-violent action game with a touch of humor is in many ways our big test project. What can we do? What can we expect of ourselves? What will the end result be? Will anyone care to buy our games? Only time will tell what will become of this. I hope you, dear reader, are not fooled by any false advertising or likewise, after all we’re only a few guys trying to create something out of nothing. You, dear reader, can help us make a difference.

So, with these words I would like to take the opportunity to officially announce the launch of our company to the world. Dear all, Aware Games is up and running.

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