Rank #1: GDD 021 : Business – Monitizing Your Game
Brian and Ike dive deep into different ways to monitize your games, and how to tie your monitization strategy with your brand.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #021
Dec 18 2014
Rank #2: GDD 003 : Forming an Indie Video Game Studio
Forming an Indie Game Studio is a BIG decision and often times a scary one. This podcast episode focuses on key points to consider when forming an Indie Video Game Studio and how to gather the best team possible in order to achieve your company’s vision. We share what we look for and how our experiences have worked out for us.
Get ready to listen to the basics of Forming an Indie Video Game Studio, how to find your company focus and who should join you on this journey!
Forming an Indie Video Game Studio
First things first, start small. To rent a store front or having a brick and mortar office would be a mistake for an Indie Developer. Much of the work can be done virtually at the kitchen table. Always try to keep overhead costs as low as possible.
Decide what kind of company you’d like to be? Think of a couple games to make together with your team, making sure you still have life after your first game. Perhaps, take a look at the content, find similarities and gather a body of games everybody likes to shape the kind of company you want to be and then create your company’s mission statement.
After making the decision of what direction you’d like your company to go, always have some target to move towards in order to keep on track. Next you have to decide are these games we can do? Here’s some things to ask yourself:
- How many people do I need?
- Can it be 3, 5, 10 people or a 100 person team?
- If I want open worlds, a live and online game – need to multiply staff by 100
- If I want a multi-player game – need to think about single player and double the development cost
Fenix Fire and One Room School House
Fenix Fire gives an analogy of the Master Card Logo with the two circles that overlap to describe what works with this Indie Video Game Studio. Brian brings NES game experiences and art styles from Zelda, Metra, and Mario and his partner and wife brings Art focus and Art style. Together they overlap with Art Style.
One Room School House is a company of one with a mission statement to make nutritious games similar to documentaries in film being entertainment you can learn from like the movie Braveheart.
Both agree key points to success:
- Pair up passion with skills – overlap perfectly
- Focus – finding the right recipe
- Direction matches talent – keep realistic
Core Skill Sets Needed for Video Games
There are three basic skill sets needed to make a video game and it is dangerous to move forward without these three basics being covered.
If you don’t have all these skills yourself, you will need to hire and/or bring into your company. When looking for someone to add to your team you want to evaluate their character to find the right fit. A few things to consider:
- Played on team (sports, military, has brothers or sisters)
- Cooperates, interacts, respects others
- Understands and knows role
Once you have a quality team you can move forward and get everyone on board with obtainable goals for Month 1, Month 2, Month 3 and so on. With milestones in place it’s easier to identify problems earlier and evaluate your timeline.
Making your Indie Video Game Studio Legal
As soon as you know when you’re going to launch the game and know the platforms you’re going to launch it on, it’s recommended (most states) to incorporate ASAP. It would be a good idea to hire a lawyer ($700-$2000) so you have someone who knows what they’re doing and has the best interest for the company to make a tight operating agreement.
It’s important to keep overhead costs as low as possible because the more money you save means the more money you can spend on the game. Some costs to consider are your hardware or computers and your software or the programs you use.
- Unity – free version to get started with
- Open Office – free, similar to Microsoft Word
- Drop Box – swap files, quick networking
- Skype – work virtually, no one cares about office space
Your first game is so huge. You want to make it as good as you can since it is the first impression of your company. Remember it’s really important to live within the means of the company. a little discomfort can be a great motivator and it takes moments of being uncomfortable to grow and get better.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #003
Oct 09 2013
Rank #3: GDD 017 : Audio and Soundtrack for Games – An Overview
We received an inquiry from a fan and it inspired us to discuss how to use music and sounds in video games. Brian and Ike tackle this topic with great detail using some of their personal experiences. So, enjoy!
Today’s Developer Diary
Ike’s watching movies and Brian talks about his experience at E3. This was much different than PAX which was all consumers, so you’re audience and players and you can see that they really are interested in what you’re doing. But the main difference at E3 is it’s more of everyone sizing each other up, more of a competition. It’s basically media and industry professionals at E3. The fact that the game is made by just a two person team is getting some attention.
The One Room Schoolhouse had been busy and getting pretty close to launching another education game this year and doing some contract work as well. He does contract work during the day and at night works on his own stuff just to have enough fuel to get through the day. Game development involves a lot of momentum.
We just want to thank you because we’ve received a bunch of great reviews on iTunes! “Keep on killing it guys! It’s like Christmas opening up my podcast app and seeing a new episode.” Thanks so much! It means a lot that we’re resonating and hope to live up to your praise.
Sound and Music In Video Games
Many of you may not know this, but music is Brian’s first love. Before he was an artist, programmer and video game developer he played the guitar and music is in his blood. He’s currently playing in a band too! Brian’s love of music certainly shows in his games and trailers as he uses it as a centerpiece. In the film industry they say score, but in the video game industry it can be broken up into two sides:
Sound Effects: Put onto a jump, a bullet shooting, button sounds in your UI – those are usually a one off, you just play this and it plays a sound file and of coarse there’s some tricks to the trade
Soundtrack: You can do a lot with it like have different soundtracks for different levels like classic Super Mario Bros. or blend from one soundtrack to another like Journey did and make it very composed.
Music and Soundtracks in the Mobile Market
When people play games on their mobile devices, there is more of a tendency to play covertly and the player might not want a ton of sound and music. So how much effort do you put into your sound on a mobile game if a lot people are playing it silently?
Keep in mind people can play with headphones on and there is something to the sound. It would be a huge mistake to not give your sound the attention it deserves. Obviously you wouldn’t give it as much attention as art because that’s visual and how you get your foot in the door. So, you’ll want to get your art style down first and then make sure your sound can support it.
Ike remembered the game EverQuest and how the game had a sound when you leveled up that was the most satisfying sound on the planet. Never forget how impactful sound can be. It can do so much for your production and if you put the effort into it, it will just pay off ten fold.
Putting Sound in Your Game
It’s really part of the basic core feedback to the player. If you think about a game mechanic, there’s three things to think about as far as your core gameplay mechanics:
- A visual of the gameplay – show the actual mechanic
- There’s a sound to go with it – put a sound to it
- A visual component in the UI – somehow draw attention to it in the UI as well
Brian shares his experience when he worked at High Voltage Software with the lead audio guy. He said after the game was prototyped and they’re ready to start putting sound in, he would look for anything that looks like it would add some sort of a sound like if something moves would be the first thing he would look for. If it moves, does it make a sound, then let’s get a sound in there for it.
So, if in doubt put a sound in there for it.
Another interesting thing the lead audio guy would do is ask the Dev team for early video footage of the game and based on that he would put together all the kinds of sound he thought that would be happening. Brian explains this with the game he worked on Hunter: The Reckoning
- Got awesome sounds – guts spilling out, blood splatters, etc
- Layered them on top of themselves and made that musical
- He put that in 1st along with a bunch of weapon sounds – sword slashing, axes slashing, guns firing
- He created this composition of all the sound effects and pitched them – made them musical in and of themselves
- Then only after that part of it did he approach the soundtrack
He found that the mid-range pitches (in the musical spectrum everything has a certain pitch to it) and a lot of the high-range pitches were all being handled by all the sound effects so he was looking to fill in the sound spectrum with the soundtrack to give everything a nice pulse to it and keep everything moving. He arrived at a kinda of techno/goth beat that fit the style of the game and it worked out perfectly. When the sounds for the hack and slash started coming in, it really made the game!
If you were to visualize it on the art side and put nothing but green in your game, there would be nothing for your eye to play on and there would be nothing to identify what’s important or not. Then, if you throw a splash of red on the screen that’s probably really important. It’s similar in the musical world – fill in all the action, then you know what you’re missing so you can fill that in afterwards.
Same idea exists with visuals. You can take any image, bring it into Photoshop and look at it’s histogram and it shows you it’s visual spectrum – how much light, how much darkness, how much mids. They say you want a nice balanced spectrum and there is a bit of a science to it. If spectrum look bad, then it’s probably a bad image. There’s a correlation.
When you Don’t Have a Sound Guy
How do you get that polished sound when you don’t have a sound guy and you’re trying to make something that works?
Being a game developer makes you really sensitive to stealing other people’s stuff whether it’s online or not because so much gets pirated. So, if taking things make sure it’s either public domain, follow the licensing rules.
- Start with grabbing truly free stuff
- Then create sounds based on about two or three sounds that was grabbed
- If picking up a pick-up, might add a chime, a boom or a hit of a drum
- On top of that record your own voice – saying “yeah” or some kind of a tone
- Then combine all together – creates something that doesn’t sound like just got off the internet
Brian goes to websites. About 95% of the sounds he gets comes from 3 different websites. One he uses for sound effects specifically is Soundrangers.com and this website has a bunch of videogame sounds. They have it set up where you can play each file right there before you buy it and the cost ranges from $2-$5 for each sound.
You’re going to want to give yourself about a half a day to listen to all the sounds and you’re going to want to batch it. Get your game to a certain point and then get a batch of sounds. Pick out the ones that you think will work and then pick out a few alternatives because you never know until you get it in the game. A spreadsheet can be helpful especially if doing a bigger project and to have a list of what you intended to use each sound for.
Have Fun With It
Ike likes to look for sounds when he’s eating. It’s a good activity when you have something else you’re doing, like the equivalent to flipping through a magazine since you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for.
It’s kinda fun being the audience for a minutes instead of creating and putting your essence out there you can sit back and listen to a lot of different things and think about how they would work in your production.
Another thing that’s a lot of fun is to try to create some sounds for the effects that you’re looking for. You can make a lot of sounds just from sitting at your desk using: ceramic jars, keys, bells, chotchkes, a coin and a bottle to make a coin drop. With a simple little microphone you can get pretty far with a lot of these sounds and it might not be 100% professional grade but it’s lots of fun.
Brian wanted a certain sound for his game SOURCE but couldn’t find anything that would fit so he went over to his cheap old Casio keyboard and used it as a MIDI controller and plugged it into his Mac through the USB. Then he used the program Logic Pro and was able to create the perfect sound after doing a bunch of takes. It was really fun and brought everything to life!
When to Add Sound Effects
Ike suggests putting them in pretty early, at least for the core game loop. He finds that it also helps set some landmarks. Having about 20 basic sounds like button clicks and bullets, even if they’re not great, can highlight key game play things very early is probably really helpful.
We’ve talked about the core gameplay loop, prototyping that core gameplay loop and adding the UI around that so that you really have a continuous experience – That’s a perfect time to add the sound.
When you add sound at this stage, something magical happens and suddenly the game feels more finished. Even if it’s not the perfect, right sound put it in anyway.
Another landmark or beacon as Ike like to call it, is before you hand your game over to someone, get some sound in there. The general consumer expects it and can’t overlook it.
The Video Game Soundtrack
Brian’s game SOURCE actually came from the soundtrack and that’s what really guided the artistic direction of the visuals of the game in case anybody’s curious why it looks the way it does.
It’s really hard to write your own soundtrack, so here’s some tips:
- Look to a professional or a musician that does composition
- Go to a website – Audio Network plc.com – Amazing high quality soundtracks with cost ranges $100-$400
- Especially mobile games, there’s potential to embrace player’s own music library and allow them to play their own music – has to be the right kind of game
- Websites go by mood to find sounds – can act as a guide if end up hiring a professional
- If find good sound guys, keep using them
One definition of being creative is being put in a box and actually trying to come out with something interesting and awesome. This is very true about sound guys. If you can find good sound guys keep using them. There’s a lot of people that can make sound, but not a lot of people that can create an emotion from their sound that plays perfectly to your visuals. Very valuable people.
A ballpark number would be somewhere around $800 for a 30 sec loop custom made by a top LA studio that also had movie and TV credits.
Or you can try to team-up with graduates or students who want to build up their portfolio and work out a deal like if they make the sound for free, you’ll put their name in the credits for example.
We’re big fans of if someone does work and they do good work, then compensate them for it. It’s not easy. So try to take core of the people that are helping you out with your productions. It’s also important to never burn bridges with people.
Trailers and Cinematics
Can approach in two ways:
- Create the action and have the sound match it
- Find the sound 1st then use that to fill in the tone and the pacing of the action
Both work fine, it depends on how you’re going to source the actual sound.
For SOURCE, Brian started with the soundtrack for the trailer. He used Adobe Premiere as the video editor and started by putting the soundtrack down then cutting up gameplay footage and laying in on top of the soundtrack while being mindful of the overall duration of the trailer. He ended up doing a bunch of design and implemented gameplay for the sake of the trailer.
The trailer was actually driving development because it forces you to think about:
- What is the story line?
- How does this all roll out?
- What’s the progression?
- What are the arcs?
Putting it all together in a cinematic really helped and gave some great functionality that hadn’t planning on doing until further in the development.
The good thing about a song is it has a beginning, middle and an end. If the song has a peak to it and you don’t have any grand moments in your game – that’s a problem. It can help you fill in the picture.
Promotional Materials for Sony and Microsoft
They will ask for things with and with out sound effects. Sometimes they want something called ‘B Roll’ – which is straight gameplay, not edited it’s just a stream of someone playing.
It’s important to make sure there’s an easy way to turn your sound effects and your soundtrack on and off when doing your screen grabs. True for both the consumer and marketing reasons.
The Key To Sound Effects
Feedback 1st and Mood 2nd. It’s a combination of feedback and mood. Highly encourage using the rule of 3 with any key gameplay element: have the visual of the gameplay, the sound effect and the UI support all together on your core gameplay experience.
With SOURCE, did the opposite and started with mood and now have an extremely moody game.
How you approach that is going to have a big impact on your development and how you progress.
Thank You Again For The Great Reviews!
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #017
Aug 08 2014
Rank #4: GDD 005 : Getting Started With Procedural Level Design
This episode is an exploration on how to approach creating a procedural level design system for a variety of game styles, and what to look for when it’s up and running.
Getting Started With Procedural Level Design
Procedural Level Design is basically the design of the game and making it fun while keeping gameplay long. For example Jet Pack Joyride and Temple Run. With procedural level designs it’s easier to adjust gameplay vs. crafted level designs. Free to play mobile games are good reason to use procedural level design because you want to keep gameplay at 30 sec to a minute and a half, you can ramp it up to become impossible and the player wants to purchase power up etc.
Segment out the Experience
It’s important to make a beginning, middle and an end in your video game by putting random seeds in random seeds and creating in and out points. Here’s a breakdown:
- Beginning – easy intro and limit the length
- Middle – the bulk is Act II and should be moderately difficult while introducing new mechanics to keep the game fresh and fun
- End – last is very difficult, almost impossible and the player relies on luck
Apply Fast as Fun to Video Games
Think about when you were a kid and when riding your bike down a hill and that exhilarating feeling of having little control. In gameplay, it creates a satisfying experience when the player is lasting longer in the game then they should. Roller Coaster are designs with this in mind: Thrill minus death equals fun.
Sometimes levels aren’t going to come out as you planned and it’s important to push boundaries like with magnetic fields or orbit bullets. Allow the player to explore because that kind of discovery is fun for the player and you can also use social media as a tool for players to post their new discoveries.
Challenges with Procedural Level Design
Procedural level design can be tough and harder than hand-crafted level design. Some challenges we discuss are:
- Hard to gage if the game is fun – needs to be focus tested
- Play the same scene
- Easy to lose relationship of difficulty
- How to measure success of game?
Endless Runner and Tetris are good examples of games that overcame some challenges.
Bait the Player
In a Sandbox game the player is in a physical world and can do things and move things the way they want. But the challenges that come with that are not sure what the player will do and will they all just bunch up in the corner? To overcome those challenges, give the player a reason to explore – bait them.
Baiting is a good idea especially when you’re not seeing a behavior you want, you can bait them in a procedural fashion. One way to accomplish this is to play with resources. Have resources run out and the player will need to explore to get more.
Choosing a Theme for your Video Game
The great thing about developing video games is you never stop learning when you make games. You can look to Mother Nature as a natural source of inspiration as well as look to history and make it your own. Video Games can be a story telling medium. Some things to consider when choosing your theme:
- Have depth and be interesting in some kind of way
- Easy to play – difficult to master
- Once have procedural level design down, you have the gift that keeps on giving
Tetris is probably the best example of procedural level design and was academically rated the most perfect game ever made. It found a balance and made a scale and made it simple and effective.
Helpful Pointers with Procedural Level Design
- Important to distinguish curve to shoot up difficulty
- Bait player with a carrot stick in front of them
- Understanding random
- Access tables to edit on the fly – adjust a couple of parameters
- Be the master mind behind the curtain to create the show
Dungeons & Dragons is a classic example of understanding randomness. As the Dungeon Master you can learn how to adapt situation to keep everyone in game, keep player’s interest and learn about design. Recommend playing it for insight.
Examples of Procedural Level Designs in Depth
- Beach Buggy Blitz – environments feel open
- Smurfs Village – make village feel alive
- Real world train set – create illusion village exists
- Sims – Freedom, user can create level
- Minecraft – like Legos, become the level designer
Procedural level design can have user generated content that allows high levels of creativity players can share. It also can be action based where the player feels fun, comes out, go through the shop to enhance character for the next round.
When developing your video game, you as the developer want to be in control as the puppet master with an adaptive system playing with randomness to find the fun for the player.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #005
Nov 11 2013
Rank #5: GDD 019 : How To Get Contract Work
Brian and Ike discuss the practicalities of how to get a company off the ground and rolling. If you’re looking for work-for-hire, then this episode provides some useful ways to obtain client work and how to build up your business development.
Today’s Developer Diary
Ike is back! He is fresh after working at iD Tech Summer Camp where he taught high school students game design. It was fun to show them how to make games and by the time they left the camp in two weeks they had their own prototype working on their own phones. Ike also rang his “game release” bell! Puzzlin’ Pieces: USA is now available on iTunes, Android and Amazon. His daughter helped develop this new game about learning about US geography. If there’s any Windows 8 Microsoft people listening, please reach out to Ike. He wants to release the game for Windows, but keeps on hitting road blocks. So, if anyone can help please reach out to Ike!
Brian just got back from Seattle! After doing his very first talk at Unite 2014 – High End Mobile Development – highlighting his game Gates of Osiris. During the talk he spilled some tips and tricks on how they’re going about the art of the game, a lot of the effects and how they’re building the terrain. Was what really awesome was during his introduction when he mentioned he was a co-host of the Game Design Dojo, people clapped! And people also clapped when he mentioned their responsible for the Tuscany World Demo for Oculus VR. Our listener Vinny came up and talked with Brian. Thanks Vinny so much for coming out to the talk!
Contact Work/Work For Hire
The secret to Fenix Fire’s longevity has been balancing work-for-hire with their own IP. Brian has been an indie for the past eight years and was in AAA for the previous six years. So, he’s actually been an indie longer than he’s been in the friendly confines of being an employee. He owes this primarily to work-for-hire by getting good contracts and doing good business development.
General Thoughts About Work For Hire:
- It’s a balancing act – you don’t have control over your clients needs and timetables and you’ll have to work around their deadlines as opposed to yours
- Repeat business – is the most efficient way to get get more contract work
- Making your own games – can yield a lot of opportunities
- Have at least one game shipped – really important and brings credibility
Where do you begin to try to get Work For Hire?
For the purposes of this episode, Brian and Ike use the scenario of a start-up company either with a team of 2-3 or a lone wolf who has all the skills needed to make a game. So, how would you go out and start landing a steady stream of clients for full service game development?
Approach #1 – Try doing pro-bono work
Go to a bigger company and offer to make a game for them for free. You’ll make the game for them, they’ll share their IP and you’ll market it. If you have the ability to pull this off:
- You’ll be getting a game on the shelf to then go and show other people
- When you go to those other people, you’re showing the work you did for a big company
- You might actually get numbers because that big company is going to be able to do a lot of marketing
This is something that’s recommended to do for your first project, you shouldn’t do it more than once. But it’s a great way to get your name out there and to build some credibility.
Approach #2 – Make your own IP
Coming up with your own IP and putting it out there does yield opportunities. Brian has had experience of this first hand when he released his game Roboto.
Approach #3 – Target a category of companies
Once you’ve targeted a category of companies that you’re interested in, come up with a prototype or a demo that they can play on the device that you ultimately want to launch it on and show it to them using their brand. When they see it playing in the device, it will make it a much easier sell for them.
Make sure it’s something that you can expand upon yourself or it isn’t so specific to one particular company.
The term used is: speculating or spec work – where you make something in the hopes of getting a contract behind it
The business world is really tough. Nothing is a done deal until the contract is signed and you have the deposit check. It can fizzle at any point up until that moment.
You should have at least five people you can show the prototype to or would be interested in it. It’s important for them to see their own IP in it but always have an exit strategy.
Approach #4 – Website
Put together a solid brand for yourself and make an awesome website. You should include a great trailer for your game and a services page. Using a Word Press theme is recommended. Once you have that website going, you can start emailing companies you’d like to work for.
Approach #5 – Work with local businesses and companies
Make sure you don’t overlook local businesses and companies around you since it’s really easy for them to tell you to drop in and being able to walk into someone’s office is very valuable. Brian had had experience of this by being in the LA area. Location is key.
Approach #6 – Know, Like and Trust
People like to do business with people they know, like and trust.
- They’ll KNOW you – if you’ve put something in the market place, built a name for yourself and/or have a really nice website with a great presence.
- They’ll TRUST you – if they start talking with you and you start working with them, also doing spec work for them will build a lot of trust
- They’ll LIKE you – if you’re someone they enjoy doing business with who delivers on time and over delivers
Face time is absolutely vital for any sort of real business development. Regardless of what your personality type is, start getting used to inviting people out for coffee and then talking to them there. You have to get used to that face time, it’s going to pay off later on even if it’s a problem to start with.
Rule of Thumb – 20% of your clients give you 80% of your revenue and the other 80% of your clients only give you 20% of your revenue.
Once you start getting clients, it becomes a fun game to see who are your best clients and then being able to turn away from some of the other clients.
The Importance of Networking
Your ability to get business is 100% based on your relationships. The more relationships you have, the stronger those relationships are and the value of who they’re with can give you a lot of staying power with your company.
A teacher explained to Ike that you’re ability to network has more to do with your success after school then the actual skills you learn in school, like math and science.
Developing a good strong network:
- Answer emails
- Be responsive
- Get on LinkedIn
- Talk to your friends
- Get out to meet ups
- Network yourself around
What’s really enjoyable about the game industry is it seems like developers have other developers back because they all know how hard it is being on the bleeding edge of technology.
Get used to being a sales person. Even if you’re an artist or a programmer at a big company, you’re always in some way shape or form a sales person. You’re always selling yourself and selling what it is you’re making whether it’s in a big team or by yourself or as a representative of your small company.
Keep in mind, nobody likes it when you’re like the used car salesman and you’re trying to push something on someone. Everybody is much more comfortable with a conversation so just be sincere and pure to yourself.
Brian and Ike provide an example of successful networking which basically results in:
- Making sure your friends in your network get business
- Opening yourself up to more questions later on and eventually might be asked for something you can actually do
- Creating like and trust
Why do all this Business Development?
Ike’s numbers on a small mobile project range from:
- $20,000 – on the cheap side
- $50,000 – moderate to average size
- $100,000 + – something pretty fantastic
Big companies are looking at games as advertising and as a marketing expense with a large marketing budget that they’re used to throwing that money away. It’s a blue ocean opportunity. Nowadays everybody needs a bunch of apps and all of these big companies are dinosaurs to this.
Game developers can use what they’ve learned and by applying it towards a major brand, it can be extremely lucrative.
Brian’s numbers for Fenix Fire:
- $50,000 – Starting
- $80,000 – $90,000 – Median
- up to $150,000
- Start by figuring out the man month – if one person is making X amount of $ per hour, then how much are they making per month
- Then you figure out how much work you can do if you’re working on it full time including the total cost of each one’s man month
Option two: A better way especially if you want to balance your own IP with work-for-hire
- Look specifically at what your client wants to do
- Figure out how long it’s going to take to do all those features based on your hourly rate
- Add it all up
- Pad it a little bit by like 20-30% (because at Fenix Fire they like to over deliver)
- And that’s the number you come up with for the project
Some general advice about negotiating:
- Suggest getting some sort of deposit
- Be aware of royalties – can be challenging to get that money
- Sometimes companies will say, “That’s above our budget we can only afford this and it this does well, we’ll get you on the next one.” – this can be a hit or miss
Deciding to Work with Somebody – The 3 Main Criteria
- Is this a project that will get me either repeat projects or other projects? – Is it an awesome portfolio piece? Is this a big opportunity or a major brand?
- How’s the money? – Is the money good? Is the money mediocre? Is it a very rich project or a very poor project?
- What’s the working relationship like? – Based on the way the negotiations are going is this a company that is very laid back and easy to work with or are they going to be very difficult to work with?
At Brian’s company Fenix Fire, he likes to make sure to get 2 out of the 3 when deciding to work with that company. When it’s all 3, then it’s great! And over time they figured out that if they’re not getting all 3 then they want to start moving away from those clients.
When a client comes back to you for the 3rd, 4th or 5th time it will get to the point where there’s so much trust and transparency that they will just tell you what their budget is, tell you what their timeline is up front and then let you do your magic.
We talked about how to get out and get clients. We talked at length about how to network and how to be sincere in your networking. We talked about some of the negotiating processes of once you start talking to a prospective client, how to close the deal, some of the pitfalls that might come up and what to look for in a client. What makes a good client? And how do you know that you should keep it, how do you know if you should go after it and how do you know if you should let it go. And Ike implores you to get face-to-face.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #019
Sep 05 2014
Rank #6: GDD 016 : When is a Game Done?
We received a Facebook question from our friend Bradley Erickson asking us “How do you finish and ship the dang thing after months(or years) of iteration and work?” after we published the episode ‘How to turn an idea into a game?’. So, we got together and recoded this episode to answer his question. Enjoy!
How Do You Know when a Game is Done?
This brings up the question, “Is it ever done?” Well, at the end of the day you need to just ship it and get it out. This episode will give you some insights on how you can tell when you’re ready to rap it up.
Creating the Minimum Viable Product
Ideas are everywhere. An important skill to develop is taking an idea from start to finish. In general it is good practice to finish what you started. Finding a way to create a minimum viable product and getting that out in the world will do wonders for you and even hopefully earn you some money.
What Does Minimum Viable Product Mean?
From a gameplay perspective:
- You can feel the meta loop – the core game loop
- You’re able to replay that loop in the right amount of time and have a continuation of where you left off
- The whole system is working for you
- Social Media – perfectly acceptable high level meta loop or meta game
- If you can get that short term, medium term and long term loops in place that’s a good indicator that you’re close to being done
It is extremely important that as your playing in all three loops of your game that you’re not coming across any bugs or errors. The worst thing you can do when launching a game is get a bunch of 1 stars for something you had control of.
Launching to a small market first avoids the disastrous results if there are any problems with your game.
Find ways to get as much feedback as you can. Seeing how people are playing your game can be a safety measure to catch problems really and make sure there are no road blocks.
Using achievements is a cheating way of doing analytics. It works based on what achievements the player is getting you’ll have some analytics. Brian used Flurry Analytics with his game Roboto and put a hook in the beginning of each level to gauge how people were playing the game.
What Corners Do You Cut To Get Your Game Out Sooner?
It is really hard to hand something over to someone when you know it had flaws. At some point you have to make the decision that this is good enough. But what do you give up on?
On free-to-play games, you can shave (not cut out) on monetization and focus more on player retention so they are more likely to play the game and stay with it; then over time you can introduce more areas to monetize like more in-app purchases. How about an in-app purchase that takes the ads away, for instance.
Amount of Assets
Visual polish is more favorable that the amount of assets. Instead of making six worlds for your game, you can put all your focus on worlds one and two and make them absolutely amazing.
Determining When Your Game Is Done
Create An Amazing Experience
Your experience can be shorter and better.
Keep in mind, the game doesn’t have need to be the everything game that does all kinds of stuff. Players are going to move on to a game that has a different kind of experience – go in understanding that.
But, the experience you’re making is so special and so different and so unlike anything else that they only get it when playing your game. So, take that one thing that you’re doing so far and you’ve presented it in such a brilliant way that it’s going to be unique and fresh and that’s why they’re sticking with it.
Working Through the Half Way Point
When working on a game, about half way through the game, you want to start working on the next game. Don’t. Finish that thought (remember, it was once a brilliant idea) and then move on to your next game instead of trying to turn this game into your next game.
It could be a tough pivot. Make all your pivoting early on. It’s not the time to pivot when all the features are in and everything’s working, it’s time to wrap it up.
UI is Super Super Important
Spend a lot of time on UI:
- Making the graphics
- Piecing it all together
- Changing the flow
- Adding options for different platforms
- Can’t cut too many corners
It’s all about how you’re handling UI buttons for tablets and phones:
- Are they fun to press?
- Do they have little noises and sparkles that come out of them?
- Do they slide in really cool?
- Is the frame rate on these sliding UI panels really sharp and clean?
- Are all these elements super slick?
- Is it fun to navigate though menus?
These points are super important to consider for App games.
Features – To Add Or Not To Add
A skill that is learned at this point of game development is knowing which features to put in and to keep going on in the development and which ones to not include and be thinking about wrapping it up.
- Realistically how long will it take to put in and be flawless?
- Does it solve a problem you have in the game?
- Does it solve your short, medium or long term game play loop?
- Is it needed for the meta game to make the experience fun and interesting?
- Does it address the minimal monetization needs that you have?
- Is it needed to understand more of what your players are doing from an analytics standpoint?
Identifying whether or not you need that feature to fit the core basic needs of the player is how you would evaluate it at that point.
Let’s say you’re a year in, the game has zero bugs and you’re determining if you put in a new feature – Stop innovating, no more creativity. Look at other games to see what they did and take innovation off the table. Why re-create the wheel when there are plenty of mechanics that people already accept and know.
Deadlines – Respect Your Own
Give yourself a firm deadline! Treat deadlines seriously even if they’re artificial and stick to that timeline. People generally work to the amount of time given. Think of it this way: if you want to get better at running, sign up for a race. The real pressure will help motivate you.
Hold yourself accountable and do whatever mental trick works for you. You have to learn what buttons to use to motivate yourself and see what works as far as timelines go.
Knowing When Your Game Is Done
You’ve made sure:
- To fit the core needs of the core game play loop
- Have a hint of a monetization model – you can fill out more as time goes on
- You’re deadly serious there are no bugs – can cause permanent damage
- It feels fun and it doesn’t have to be long winded
- What you show is extremely polished – especially the UI
- It’s heavily themed
- The visuals don’t detract from the experience
These points make up your minimum viable product.
Thank you again Bradley for asking us this question, hopefully we helped out with getting your games out into the world. Good luck!
Keep the questions coming!
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #016
Jul 09 2014
Rank #7: GDD 006 : Characters, Control, and Mechanics
In this episode of Game Design Dojo, we discuss how game characters and gameplay mechanics go hand in hand with level design and control schemes. How many controls do you give the player and why? Characters and control are the backbone of your game’s interactive experience and we walk through plenty of examples.
Characters, Control and Mechanics
Game characters and gameplay mechanics are essential to creating your video game. Once you’ve determined your character and what gameplay mechanics to give your character you can create level designs and start enjoying the game developing process.
Characters and control are the backbone of your game’s interactive experience and we walk through plenty of examples. Put your phone on vibrate and come along for the ride.
A Look at Gameplay Mechanics
What are mechanics you ask? Basically whenever the player presses a button, what does that button do? Once you determine what gameplay mechanics you’d like your character to have, you can start to work around that mechanic. Here are some things to consider:
- Will the character walk, run, jump, shoot, etc.?
- How many mechanics will the character have?
- If character jumps, create steps and moving platform
- If character shoots, add guns and targets that include an explosion
- Remember: What is fun in real life, is fun in gameplay
Combining Gameplay Mechanics
Combining gameplay mechanics during your video game is a great way to enhance your game. This should be instantly understood by the player and can be something simple like the jump and duck from Mario Bros. You can introduce new abilities which makes for good level designs. You can use telekinesis as a mechanic and change the gameplay.
The best combinations come from not being planned. They usually happen through testing, by accident or from different angles. Ideally you want to make sure each mechanic is doing something different in the environment – ex. bazooka gun vs. machine gun.
Source – Good example of Design Character and Mechanics
The character of Source is a butterfly-like creature with giant wings, so we decided to have it hover over platforms. Then we gave it a jump with a speed burst but it is always losing energy like a real living organism. Next we made a sensor or a feeler that has a bolt of lightning that comes out and senses around like an antenna. Things happen when the character senses something it can use and some things are hard to find. So through this mechanic, we decided to make exploration a huge part of the game.
The player is prompted to pick up an object, and through testing we instinctively wanted to throw the object. We included that in the gameplay. Now with objects, the character can:
- Lift up an object
- Move the object over
- Carry around the object – although it depletes energy
- Throw the object and watch it explode once it hits a pillar
Fundamentals for Mechanics
When choosing what buttons to use for the mechanics, keep in mind it needs to make sense to the player and needs to feel great when using. For ex. hold an object using y, and tap b to throw. Coder tip: Don’t bury input controls – have a master control list.
Good character design is a combination of a really neat toy and a Swiss Army knife. An example of a Swiss Army knife would be something like Minecraft. An example of a toy would be something like Mario Bros. even with only two buttons, still had a lot of actions. Some other examples are Legos and Transformers. You build it and then discover what to do with it since it doesn’t do only one thing.
Fighting games are good examples of the toy and Swiss Army knife concept. Gameplay includes timing and content, surprises with secret attacks, button exploration, and learning each character with some basics and then go more in depth with each character.
Top things to remember:
- Character controls define gameplay
- There is a lot of character controls
- Approach character mechanics as a puzzle with a problem to solve
- Once have basics – take a step further
- How smoothly all things work together defines how well the game is put together
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #006
Dec 12 2013
Rank #8: GDD 004 : The Power of Focus Testing
Brian walks through a recent focus test, his take aways, and how to process the information and feedback he receives.
The Power of Focus Testing
Focus testing is a great tool for video game designers. Once you have a core loop (start a level, progress, and die) you can gather feedback in order to enhance gameplay and create an exciting, successful game. We talk about our own experiences with focus testing and the results, also tips and suggestions for productive focus testing.
Focus testing should be done way before bug testing. You want to see what’s working and what’s not. Once you can play a loop and get a feel for the core mechanic, then it’s important to gather feedback. The more informal it is the more honest people will be and don’t tell them what to do to see if the player is connecting to the character and gameplay. Try to keep it fun and casual with about 5 testers and the developer.
Focus Testing Experience
When developing a video game, you usually are developing it for yourself but you do have to keep in mind your targeted demographic. In this case it’s a 12 year old boy. Brian shares his detailed focus testing example of going to his neighbor’s house that has two boys ages 6 and 12 and a girl age 15. Here are some of the things to watch for:
- Does the player want to start over and jump right back in?
- Does the player look up to see what to do next?
- Does the player hand it over to a friend?
Make sure you ask the players how many stars they would give the game. Focus testing is great to reinforce and validate your ideas. Especially in today’s workplace where most people are working from home and can’t ask the guy next to you for feedback. Remember: Kids are very honest and their first initial feedback is important.
Breakthrough Moments in Gameplay
It’s an awesome feeling when the player understands the main mechanics of your video game and everyone who’s watching learns and is strategizing for their next turn. Players making feature requests is a good sign of a good game idea. As a developer it’s important to be disciplined and a goal keeper so to speak with those ideas. The skill of game design is always learning.
Recommend the book: The Lean Startup
- Relevant for Software and Games
- Old game development cycle and release changed for the better
- Now release to small market and find out early trough focus testing
History of Roboto
Roboto is the first self published game Fenix Fire ever put out. It was released in the Summer of 2011 for IOS and Android and made Game of the Week (before Apple changed it to Editor’s Choice) and also made Top 10. We kept it a closed development by staying silent until it was ready to release with no one testing it. But we sadly watched to fall out of the top 200 after the first week.
Fenix Fire is currently working on an update for Roboto. The game is a side scrolling platformer with virtual controls – 2 buttons on right and a thumbstick on the left. It’s like Mario and Sonic and similar to a Nintendo 3DS game which we couldn’t release it on because Unity is not compatible. A cool platform feature the game has is when the character flips upside down and goes through the level.
Roboto Discoveries through Focus Testing
We took the game back to the same neighbor’s house for focus testing. Here’s what we found:
- We added exploring the environment for reward
- We found the players just wanted to get through the level as fast as they could
- We couldn’t get them to play again once they died
- Thought about the rules of game design – should we reward or punish?
- Arcade Game Analogy
Through focus testing we might rethink the platformer genre for this medium since mobile is tough with platformers and possibly release Roboto on the Ouya where the player can play with a controller.
Next Steps with Focus Testing
It’s very important to focus test. Roboto as example could have avoided not playing on some devices and could have prevented some nightmares caused by being released globally on the same day. Friendly advice – Start close then slowly progress out.
Take the Next Step by:
- Leveraging the neighborhood – find targeted demographic
- Go to GameStop – has gamers willing to help developers
- Ask Facebook friends and family – biased opinions
- Survey – template rate system
- Hidden Focus Testing with analytics – studying and segmenting results
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #004
Oct 25 2013
Rank #9: GDD 013 : PAX East And Kickstarter, Lessons Learned
Brian shares 15 tips from his experiences at PAX East 2104, the Indie Megabooth, and launching a Kickstarter campaign.
Source is live and doing great on Kickstarter! So far it’s 16% funded after about 6 days. The game received an awesome response at PAX and now just waiting and hoping to reach 100% funding by May 11th. Source Kickstarter
PAX East 2014 – IndieMEGABOOTH
Brian gives an inside, behind the scenes, detailed recap of what it was like showing his game at PAX East this past weekend April 11-13. He includes his struggles with starting a Kickstarter campaign at the same time, working through computer glitches, and updating the build while in Boston to make the demo of the game go much smoother. So sit back and get ready to hear about the drama of being in the IndieMEGABOOTH.
First step was to submit an application with a video, a write-up and screenshots to the IndieMEGABOOTH. Then around January we received the email that we were accepted! After that it, there was paperwork to fill out and hats off to the MEGABOOTH for making it really easy to fill out the scary paperwork that PAX was requiring. Next came ordering the prints and the buttons. All this was a good month to month and a half of intense deadlines while also putting together a Kickstarter campaign at the same time.
The biggest reason why Brian and Anna decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign at the same time as PAX was to have a clear call to action with the audience. They didn’t want Source to become forgotten among the craziness of PAX. Of coarse, nothing can go as planned so the Kickstarter launch had some set backs. Just when Brian though he could hit the green button to make the campaign live, he gets an email saying it will take another 3-5 days for verification. This is Thursday night, PAX starts in the morning! So, naturally he was really upset then wrote tech support a sob story email and by the end of PAX on Friday, the Kickstarter campaign was live. Can you sense the drama yet?
Here are some useful tips Brian came up with to help your Expo experience go more smoothly. He elaborates on them in more detail, but here are the bullet points of each tip.
- Stick to one game – we showed Source and Gates of Osiris, but really only focused on Source
- Bring your own hardware – this will prevent computer issues and crashes
- When you arrive at your booth, Don’t wait – seek people out or you might never get what your equipment or devices that you need for your booth
- Have a Call to Action
- When launching a Kickstarter campaign, go through all the verification one month before you want to launch – this will eliminate stress and worry if more verification is needed
- Have a quick pitch ready
- Wear neon orange shirts with your logo – this helps identifies who to talk to about the game
- Engage with people coming to the booth, interact with fans and treat them like gold
- The Build of the game should be tailored to put action up front – important to get people in the meat of the game quickly
- Make sure you have ability to make last second adjustments to the Build
- Have a bunch of hot key on the keyboard – reset, kill, etc.
- Have back-ups of your Build
- If you have a network game, be prepared to handle network problems unless you can get a direct connection
- Make the game the large banner going across your booth – it prevents confusion
- A side tip not mentioned on the podcast is to have hand sanitizer at the booth – people really appreciate this and it’s good for you to have too
Brian gives a breakdown of the costs to consider:
- The 10 x 10 space with the base package includes 1 TV, 1 Computer, a table with 2 chairs, base carpeting with no padding and a wastebasket – $1750
- Prints – 2 7-foot tall banners – $125 each
- Prints – 10 x 3 Logo Banner – $250
- Buttons – 1,000 – $250
- Travel – including hotel, airfare and a rental car – $2,000
- Grand total – about $5,000 with food, etc.
The Experience of PAX East IndieMEGABOOTH
So the question is, Was it worth it? Well, Brian definitely wants to do it again! There were many benefits of showing at PAX like making connections with fans and play testing, getting new contacts with press and just being out there for people to see.
We do have to give a shout out to Danielle that came up to Brian on Sunday and completely made his day! Thank you Danielle! It was great meeting and talking with so many interesting and nice people, just that alone was worth it.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #013
Apr 28 2014
Rank #10: GDD 009 : How To Add Replay Value To Your Game
Replay value is one of the most import aspects of creating a compelling video game experience that keeps players coming back again and again. Brian and Ike explore three ways to pump up your game’s replay value for ultimate publishing success.
A great outlet for video game developers are local meet ups. Meet ups are a great place to find somebody that can help you with your project or you can help out with theirs. As well as talk about challenges in your game development and gather feedback. With free Wifi and laptops you can meet up at a Starbucks or something. It’s a really cool way to meet other developers with similar experiences and skills you might be looking for.
Help support Ike’s game Barnyard Bubble HD. It’s a fun game geared toward one year olds to help them say animal names by popping bubbles and listening to the animal noises. If you have a little one, check it out because they will LOVE it!
How to Add Replay Value To Your Game
Replay value is one of the most important aspects of creating a compelling video game experience that keeps players coming back again and again. You might have a game that’s fun to play, but it there’s not a strong sense of replay value then they’ll only play it once and never play it again. That’s an issue.
3 Key Elements to Create Replay Value
- Are there alternate ways to play your game?
- Is there a desire for mastery?
- Is there a strong sense of progress?
A holy grail for game developers is to have a game the player doesn’t want to set down and they want to keep going. All the best games have amazing replay value.
Alternate Ways to Play
In general, the player is given choices during gameplay giving the game alternate directions it can go. A great example is the game of Chess which has amazing replay value. Basically when you can come back to a game and it will be a different experience every time you play, you have replay value.
Social Media is a way people can share what they’ve discovered during their gameplay and see what others are doing to bring alternate ways that you may not have thought of or unveiled yourself.
Here are example of different games that demonstrate this key element:
- American Football – never gets dull to watch
- Street Fighter
- Grand Theft Auto
- Legend of Zelda – open map with some funneling, but still have choices
- Psi-Ops – can play the game all different ways
- Hit Man
Those are all big budget games, but what about a one action game with infinite amounts of ways to play? Any game that has a procedural or random level design can lend itself to that where the player can take a different path.
- Match 3 – pieces come out randomly
- Words With Friends – find a pattern or process that works for you
- Field Runners
- Temple Run
- Racing games
The racing mechanic at it’s core has a conservative path that is obvious which will get you average to good results. To be great, you have to know where the shortcuts in the track are. Usually it’s high risk, high reward.
Desire For Mastery
Naturally, when you play a game you want to get better at it. We can’t think of a game that you don’t want to get better at. Even playing slot machines in a casino have people mastering it in their minds. The bottom line is people are always trying to get better at whatever game their playing. It’s one of the definitions of game, it’s something you can master.
The best games have a strong sense of the ability to master the game. With fighting games for instance, you have to train to know and learn all the moves of your character. There is mastery of strategy and mastery of skill. Golf is an example that has both, part skill and part mental.
Lessons From The Olympics
The Olympics is a celebration of human mastery. With the winter Olympic games fresh in our minds, we can apply it to this concept. For video games make sure you can play your game over and over again and it has the ability for the player to really master it. And beyond that, think about how you can reward the player for mastering your game with tiers of rewards like a gold medal for instance.
Include rewards and feedback into your game. However, if the gaps are too large I in the game for you to feel that progression of mastery, you won’t feel like you’re getting better at it and you want to avoid the player from plateauing too hard. The rewards have to keep progressing.
The best competitions don’t happen all the time, which makes them special. An Olympic gold medal wouldn’t be as important if it happened every year. One strong desire of mastery is the competition and being able to demonstrate it publicly. In the Olympics the whole world is watching and that one moment makes it special. Competition is really important and it drives a lot of people.
Having the desire to collect, to progress with levels, collecting things, unlocking features of the game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re any better at the game so it’s different from mastery. Progress is the idea of growing through your actions in the game and getting better over time.
Showing and saving progress is very important, like Minecraft for example. The game gives a sense of progress you’re building. It’s also a great feeling to know that you’re not wasting your time on something. You can share it with your friends and don’t have to start back at square one.
Evaluation of Games with the 3 Key Elements:
- Angry Birds
- Slot Machines
A lot of the great games shows example of these 3 pillars – alternate ways to play, desire for mastery and progress. You don’t necessarily have to have all 3 but people will make them up and incorporate them. You definitely want to have replay value in your game and if you do it well, your game will be remembered.
Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #009
Mar 10 2014