Warm Hearts (Lyst Summit 2014)

Have you ever slowly slid your finger into another person’s fist? Or have someone slide theirs into your fist? Give it a try. You might like it. I know I did.

And that’s not the only thing I did and enjoyed at Lyst Summit 2014 in Copenhagen last weekend.

Conference Info Envelope

Conference Info Envelope

I couchsurfed and I was on a boat. I got my hair braided and made rich_lem paint his nails with my polish. I made a game and danced in a dome. I learned how to do sex in Nordic LARP and I read a touching love letter. I gave and was given hearts. I felt comfortable and I laughed. I humped a man’s back and sang into a floppy piece of asparagus. Oh and I laughed. A lot.

To put it in a nutshell, Lyst was an absolute blast.

Foreplay (Getting there)

I’ve already spent this year visiting a few conferences. In Februrary I was in Amsterdam on Casual Connect. March was San Francisco with the annual Game Developers Conference. And finally in April was the terrific A Maze in Berlin. And after that I was done with conferences, until the astonishing Lucy Morris pointed out Lyst to me. Love, romance, sex and games? I knew I had to be there.

Since the year was pretty expensive already I was looking for a cheap couch to stay and fortunately the Lyst folks set me up with the Kajakklubben, a bunch of Dutch game developers, none of which I knew. I arrived late thursday, bringing 5 liters of good german beer with me. A traditional present for my gracious hosts. I’m not sure if it was me, their open attitude or the beer but we had a lot of fun making some impromptu music (or noise), talking and hanging out and suddenly it was two o’clock in the morning.

Dirty Talk (The conference)

Even though I meant to be there for the first talk the previous night’s escapades delayed my getting-out-of-bed somewhat. Getting on the bus I was at the love boat in time for the second session though. Yes, you read that right: love boat. The Lyst Summit was held on a boat, the MF William Jørgensen. Granted, I was a bit iffy on the idea, as my stomach tend to be sensible when it comes to these things. The boat featured one open area, where most of the festivities, chaired by non other than Richard Lemarchand, were held and it was appropriately decorated with hearts and made comfortable by a smattering of carpets. And best of all: It didn’t once leave the harbor. Otherwise I might have not enjoyed the excellent food as much as I did. Queasy stomach and all.

Arriving at the Boat

Ida arriving at the Boat

Keynote: Touching the Player

The first talk I caught was from Jaakko Stenros. He talked a bit about Nordic LARP, a scene of LARP in Scandinavia that often veers from the traditional fantasy LARP and into more expressive and experimental territory. He talked about how, in the late oughties they started looking for ways to simulate and abstract amorous interaction (love, sex etc.). Just as we don’t want to engage in actual violence within the game, there are enough reasons why we might not want to engage in actual lovemaking either.

Jaakko presented a few of these rules or methods. Among them such things as radio play, where the interaction is audibly telegraphed to inform the potential audience, without there being any actual interaction. Something often employed in LARPs with lots of tents. Or Ars Amandi, where only the arms and shoulders of the participants touch to model the encounter and it’s qualities – rough or gentle for example. Or using body painting as similarly sensuous abstraction.

Why the Games [4Diversity] Jam Mattered Matters

When Menno Deen took the stage he talked about his experiences with the Games [4Diversity] Jam he organized and how he tried to make the world a better place with it. So far the Jam has dealt with feminine and LGBTQ issues. The talk was enlightening to see his presentation but most interesting were the questions and comments afterwards.

So for the coming year the Jam is planing to deal with the issues of race. A topic I’m currently working on myself with my as-of-yet-unreleased game Different. Next to sex, race is an obvious and often talked about facet of diversity. But as the venerable Ernest Adams pointed out: Age is one too – one we often forget. Our industry is generally very young and only rarely deals with issues of age. The same is true for physical disabilities, something Menno himself was bound to find out, since his right arm was in cast from a bike accident.

Being the only Woman in the Room

Cristina Majcher was next. I met her at GDC earlier this year, sitting on the floor trying to breathe life back into my dying iPhone 5. We shared the power socket and a few words. She’s an industry journalist, covering games for a long time, and she talked about how she’s often the only woman in the room.

She is a very positive person and this came through in her talk as she tried to focus on the potential positives of such a situation. The super-power of being different from the rest can be a powerful asset. For example the unique perspective of the “lone woman” can be especially valuable.

She also spoke about a personal experience, that spoke to me in a slightly different context: She mentioned how she regularly got (and still does) these incredulous questions, after she mentions that she writes about games: “Oh, do you play?” and how she initially used these as a springboard to educate. But after more and more of these came she eventually got fed up and angry with them.

While I’m not the only woman in the room, I’m usually the non-white German in any room, especially outside game development. And I usually get the “Where are you from?” question, that has started to annoy me so much, I’ve started making a game about this (the above mentioned Different. And yes, you can play it. Soon. I promise).

However Cristinas positivity again shone through when she overcame her frustration and went back to trying to educate people instead, focusing on the good she can do when she hit’s this unreflected ignorance. Something I want to take to heart.

Reinventing Slumber Party Games

Lau Korsgaard took the stage to talk about their thoughts behind and experience with Spin The Bottle, their game for Wii U. He explained how slumber party games ride the line between innocent play and potential transgressive context. The talk was very inspirational and ended up being the springboard for the Game Jam project of my team, of which Lau was also a part.

Keynote: The Mechanics of Love

In the second one-hour keynote Ernest W. Adams stepped up to deliver a talk on human relationships and how they could possibly be simulated. He took apart a few games that try to deal with relationships. Among them dating sims, Leisure Suit Larry and Dragon Age. He showed how these are often troublesome, propagating very unhealthy systems of attraction or friendship. How you only need to give enough presents to your “target” until the final reward of sex is unlocked.

He also talked at length about the different ways with which relationships can be simulated, different preferences and weighting among other things. Most important to me though was his closing remark: Making love into a game is doomed to fail, as this will always overlay values of winning and game mechanics onto it. Simulating love however is a valuable pursuit.

Ellie’s Last Line

Unfortunately I missed a big chunk of Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewarts talk, as I had to flee from the drastic Last of Us spoilers.

Arse Elektronika

Johannes Grenzfurthner of the artist collective Monochrom has been organizing Arse Elektronika for a few years now. The conference is not only a pun on the famous ars electronica, it’s also a honest-to-god conference about sex and technology. Each year dedicated to a different topic. Johannes gave us an intense and rapid fire look at a few of the conferences with anything from the 12 year development time of a personal butt-plug up to books on electrical stimulation. The world of sex and tech is wonderful and weird and this talk was a tremendously interesting (and entertaining!) look into that world.

Art - A special place for special people

Johannes on art: A special place for special people

Loving through Games, Designing for Compassion

In the days final talk Dr. Hanna Wirman, who works for the Hong Kong Polytechnic University recounted her experience in designing games for non-human animals. In her case she’s working with orangutangs, experimenting with games specific to their nature. Another very interesting talk and her playdoer for compassion was an excellent way to end the formal part of the conference.

Dinner and Games

With the talks done we played some games. We played a wild selection of getting-to-know-you games. And the weird and wonderful tale of the lovebirds was told. Players rubbed their beaks against one another in the shade of the gummi trees, while a violin played on. And moaning was heard as two players joined their rhythms in a version of the Dark Room Sex Game played with Playstation Move Controllers.

Dark Room Sex Game

Menno and Karin playing Dark Room Sex Game

After this we turned to dinner and then got started on the second part of Lyst: The game jam.

Play Time (the game jam)

Separated by the colors of our hearts we formed into groups. Mine, the purple hearts was made up of Cecilie Stranger-Thorsen, Lau Korsgaard and myself. We quickly knew we wanted to make a game that helps you to get to know people in your group a sort-of pub setting. With that out of the way we spent many hours discussing back and forth, coming up with ideas and throwing them away. At one point we had a game about escalating dares with the loser paying a round of beer. That ended with me singing the Rains of Castamere into a floppy piece of asparagus, to a crowd of strangers. Sexily.

Saturday rolled around and we were still struggling with lots of ideas. By then we knew we wanted something with lots of physical contact. The hands seemed ideal for this, as they are often used to touch others in the hand shake, and they are a very innocent tool but can also be used to get closer to someone. This would allow people to get more physically comfortable with one another without making anyone uneasy. However the game still eluded us until I brought up the German kid’s game of Commando Bimberle.

Here one player calls for a gesture and all other players need to quickly execute it. There’s an element of misdirection involved, as the lead player can say something different from what the gesture they make, trying to confuse others. This was the initial inspiration for our game but we knew we didn’t want the element of misdirection.

Sushi Hands

After this it didn’t take long for Sushi Hands to emerge. Without any tech we were able to play the game pretty instantly. We grabbed a few volunteers here and there and started testing out the game. As soon as we showed the gestures and had some people playing the giggling started and we knew we were on the right track. So I got off the boat for a bit to work in a less sway-prone environment as we started to refine the game:

We tried out a lot of different hand gestures to provide some variety while maintaing the suggestive nature of the game. We also found out that we needed a bunch of three-handed gestures to make even numbers of players more likely to lose hands. And we added the Sushi Train rule to break ties, which often happen around 6 players with 2 hands or 1 hand each. We also wrote the rules, something that is far more difficult than one imagines. We tested the rules over and over by letting new people read and explain them. In the end we rewrote them at least half a dozen times.

We also added the rule of switching seats at the end of the game. I have often experienced that when sitting around the table people usually only talk to the ones they are close to. Add to this the fact that people often only sit close to the people they know best and getting to know new people gets difficult. This rule makes it more likely for the seating to change and the players being able to engage other people, in the game and out of it.

Game Jam Presentations

On sunday the presentations of the games rolled around. A total of 11 games was produced during the jam. Most notable to me were the following:

Fever, game where multiple players need to join together to wrangle all the input on a controller into a very precarious position to recreate the pattern on the screen.

Touch of Three, which has two players control to human avatars in an escalating battle of physical contact. The players alternatingly decide on actions and the avatars decide whether to go through with them or not. Only if they perform the action does the player get points. The player to get the most points wins. Since riskier actions score more points but are more likely to be denied by the avatars the game makes the players try to explore and push the boundaries.

Touch of Three presentation

Touch of Three presentation

Dear You, a twine game that features two interactive love-letters. One to a little brother and one to a best friend. The is well written, honest and personal. It was touching to read.

Custody, is for two players, each playing one parent on one computer. Between them is the smartphone, which is the child around which play centers. Each computer shows a match 3 game that needs to be played to earn money. The child is also always with one of the two parents, requiring attention and distracting from work. At regular intervals the child is passed back and forth. In the end the player who performs best wins custody of the child in the end.

The jam was also ranked, with the winners being chosen by the participants. Custody came first with 10 hearts, Fever followed with 9 and Sushi Hands came in third with 8 full hearts. A very satisfying result for us.

Lyst Jame Scores

Lyst Jame Scores

The Climax (My Conclusion)

In case it wasn’t evident, but Lyst was a complete success for me. Despite not knowing anyone in Copenhagen and only having met two of the attendees briefly previously, I felt welcomed. It took no time for me to feel completely comfortable with All the participants rank among the most excellent of human beings. As do the organizators. The whole conference was simply made with love. everyone around. From the envelopes that contained all the paper, to the heart-shaped name-tags. Everything was excellent.

And even beside the conference and the jam we simply had an excellent time. There was great food, dancing, swimming, cupcakes, the spoiler boat, painting nails and even a chocolate fountain to be had. Granted, there was little sleep to be had, but that’s a price gladly paid.

So after these three spectacular days in Copenhagen I can confidently state two things:

  1. I find myself gently rocking back and forth as if I still was on a boat.
  2. And I will nevertheless be stepping on board again next year. After all Lyst has won my heart.
Lyst Nametag

Heart-Shaped Nametag


Ludum Dare 29 and Me

So earlier this week the 29th installment of Ludum Dare happened. This time the theme turned out to be the wonderfully evocative Beneath the Surface. Joachim and me had been meaning to join in for over a year now, and this time we managed to actually do so. However not together.

Ludum Dare Logo

Ludum Dare Logo

Joachim and his wife Mel joined the jam, which gave them 72 hours to build a game with a team. Their little piece is called Mars Station 23. Check it out! Considering this was Mel’s first time creating pixel art it turned out pretty damn nice.

I on the other hand took part in the compo part, which gives you 48 hours to build a game on your own. My little game is called Happy Birthday. It’s not a coincidence that my birthday is actually today. This Jam ended up being a very personal journey for me and I’d like to share it with you here. It’s going to be very candid and open. Also there will be spoilers for the game.

Happy Birthday Title Screen

Play Happy Birthday

First Thoughts

So, I started Ludum Dare knowing I didn’t have a lot of experience building a game completely on my own. Also I knew I had bunch of things planned on the weekend so I wanted to go with something really small. Having just recently played Electric Tortoise, which I enjoyed, I knew that I could do something of a similar complexity. I also still had the free version of the Unity Plugin Dialoguer lying around. This meant that this was a doable coding challenge and it would let me flex my writing muscles for a change.

So then, what could I write about given the theme of Beneath the Surface?

I quickly knew that I wanted to write about a conversation that could be only on the surface level, but if the player would want he could delve deeper and see what’s beneath the surface. I decided to deal with depression or sadness that’s hidden beneath the surface. This is a very personal issue that I’ve been dealing with for a while, one that has also impacted my creative side. In the last couple of months I’ve also had similar conversations with friends, from both perspectives. In essence this game ended up being a conversation with a weird sort of version of me.

Initially the game was supposed to be a real conversation, possibly even multiple spanning a few days. The idea was that it would be triggered by a serendipitous meeting of the two characters. However during development it eventually morphed into a single facebook-conversation (for pragmatic reasons) with the all too common “happy birthday!” post as the starting point. Posts like that are well-meant wishes and they are an excellent opportunity to get in touch with someone you rarely speak with, yet they almost never go deeper than a wish followed by a thank you.

My Facebook wall today

My Facebook wall today

So I had my start, my medium and my content.

The Message

I knew however that I wanted to make this conversation difficult. Talking to someone who has personal issues and is not very good at sharing is a bit like walking a tightrope. For me it’s finding the right mix of listening and providing some perspective when helpful. When I want to share, things take time and it’s sometimes better just to listen and not to provide lots of insightful advice.

There’s a lot of other things that can go wrong and that only make the other party feel worse. Some things I’ve encountered and others I’ve (unfortunately) practiced in the past. An obvious mistake is to not take someone’s personal experiences seriously enough. Or to outdo them by telling them how you’ve had it even worse in the past. Or by bringing in empty platitudes.

Because this decision between talking and listening is very important I decided that the the conversation always progress automatically, if you don’t decide on a line. This can be good in some cases, as your conversation partner keeps sharing, and can be bad in others when he’s left hanging.

Execution

So, then I went to work.

I started looking at Dialoguer and then adjusted it to build the conversation behavior I wanted. This meant mainly adding the wait times, the conversation history and adjusting the looks accordingly. This went pretty well. I was making good progress and feeling pretty good about this thing. The early sort of euphoric phase of a project, I guess.

A Brief Motivational High

A Brief Motivational High

However when the system was in place to build the conversaion I needed to start writing. And that’s when I pretty quickly hit a wall.

Frustration

Whatever I wrote, I just wasn’t happy. I didn’t like my texts. Everything felt overly whiny. I was convinced nobody would care about this sort of self-indulgent bullshit. Why should they? Fucking artsy-fartsy crap. I tried to slog on but why would anyone want to play this at all?

Eventually I just gave up.

I put the project down and watch five episodes of The Wire to get my mind off it. I went out to a party and got drunk, yet the project wouldn’t really leave me.

A picture from my last birthday

A picture from my last birthday

In hindsight this is kind of funny for three reasons:

  1. I’m working on a game about being depressed and being dissatisfied with everything I’m working on because of that depression. And then of course I’m dissatisfied with the game I’m working on.
  2. I’m writing about loneliness and of course feel isolated. Everyone is having fun at awesome Ludum Dare locations, Jo is working with Mel and all I’ve got is my boring white Ikea desk and my monitor.
  3. I’m writing about the difficulty of sharing deeply emotional content. And of course I think it’s shit. I don’t want to bother anyone with my problems. The main reason I have such a hard time sharing my feelings.

So Sunday rolls around and I show the game to a friend of mine (Thanks Pepe!) looking for some positive feedback. It’s not enough though and I decide not to submit the game to Ludum Dare Compo. After all I didn’t work on in enough and most of the text is missing and a couple of other made up excuses. On Monday I think I could submit it to the Ludum Dare Jam but again chicken out.

However the itch remains.

Breakthrough

Over the first few days of the week I talk to a few people about the game. Describing it and the ideas behind it. I feel silly doing so as it’s very personal, and I’m bad at this. But I know that talking about this helps me – I’ve learned that much.

And it did help.

Writing Process

Writing Process

Today I sat down, hungover from the early birthday celebration, to finally finish the game. I had to cut some content but now it’s done and I’m damned elated. Happy Birthday is not an excellent game and I don’t think the writing is anything special. But my journey has been.

I’ve finally managed to start a project and see i through the end, in spite of all the frustration and discontentment. After a long time of nothing I finally made a game again.

And god damn it that feels good.

:)

Martin - Game Designer

Martin – Game Designer


Touch of Death Free released

So we’ve had Touch of Death out in the wild for a good bunch of months now. Unfortunately the game didn’t really have any success so far. About 150 downloads in total. Even our change in graphics late last year didn’t change the numbers much. This is below what we expected, as we think the game is fun and engaging and can stand on it’s own.

Touch of Death Promo

We feel that the reason for the lack of success is primarily found in the fact that we chose to make the game a premium app. With so many free games out there it is hard to convince people to pay up front, before even having tried out the game. This only seems to work when there’s a hype, or when the game is an already proven IP (such as The Walking Dead, X-COM or anything from Vlambeer ;) ).

So to figure out if Touch of Death works better when it’s free, we have now released Touch of Death Free. It’s available on all major app stores for free, with a banner in the main menu and interstitials after each fight. Give it a try!

iOS App Store Badge

Google Play Store Badge

Samsung App Store Badge

Amazon App Store Badge


Trouble in Paradise

We here at Sharkbomb Studios hit a bit of a roadblock lately.

For the last six months we didn’t really make much in terms of progress. Of course our day jobs and regular lives were keeping us plenty busy. Yet we still had time for Sharkbomb Studios and we kept working on our games. We published Hipster Zombies on the Amazon and Samsung app stores, we added new art to Touch of Death. However the one thing, we were looking for didn’t seem to happen.

A new project

Mid last year, after Hipster Zombies and Touch of Death were released, we started looking for a new project. We were aiming to maybe go for something bigger, more complex than our last two games. We had a bunch of ideas and we were enthusiastic to start.

Hipster Zombies photo shoot

Hipster Zombies photo shoot

We both took vacation for January and February well in advance. The plan was to have a concept by then so we could start the new year with a new project at full steam. We spent October, November and December prototyping, throwing around ideas, but nothing stuck. Instead we were only going back and forth with little to show for it. Eventually the new year came and we still had no new project.

So we changed the way we went about things. Instead of larger ideas and prototypes we tried to go for small, concepts. More of a jam than a real prototype. But try as we might, nothing stuck. Again. Drained and tired we hoped that maybe the Global Game Jam could provide some new energy. But, as you might have read in our blog post about it, that didn’t really happen either.

The root of this evil

From what we can see, the reason is pretty simple:

Global Game Jam 2013

Global Game Jam 2013

The two of us are, at heart, quite different players. While I, Martin, am more of an action gamer, Jo generally dislikes fast-paced games and prefers strategy titles. We’ve been aware of this from the start but we were confident that we were able to find some middle ground. Now however it’s been making our life difficult.

We want to do a game that we’re really enthusiastic about, no compromises. And so far we seem to be unable to find something that excites the both of us. This could be mitigated if one of us was able to hype the game and get the other one on board. However by now we’re both pretty drained and that just doesn’t seem to be happening.

Next steps

So, what now? We take a break.

A Maze 2013. Photo by Julian Dasgupta

A Maze 2013. Photo by Julian Dasgupta

We’ve decided to put Sharkbomb Studios as it was on hiatus. That doesn’t mean we’re closing it down. Sharkbomb Studios will still exist but we won’t continue in it’s current form.

We’re still friends, we still love games, and we’ll probably still make them. However we won’t neccessarily be making them together. The current plan is to keep Sharkbomb Studios still open and running. Instead of it a joint-development effort it will now be more of a label that the both of us can release games under. And who knows, maybe now that we’ve taken the pressure off we might just find something that the both of us are enthusiastic about.

Either way, things are changing.

- Martin and Jo


Global Game Jam 2014, Karlsruhe

So the dust has settled, I’ve had a good night’s sleep and some good food. Time to write a little recap of the Global Game Jam from my point of view.

Joachim and me again attended this years GGJ at the HFG Karlsruhe (University for Design). We really enjoyed it last year and decided to join in again. Primarily because it’s a great time but also because I was itching to do something besides game design for a change. And lastly the both of us were looking for some inspiration. We’ve been struggling with the search for a new project for a while now.

I’ve got two out of those three, so that’s not bad. Find out which ones below.

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

Brainstorming

After the keynote, when the theme was announced you could hear a lot of mumbling in the room, as people were trying to figure out what it meant to them. A small group formed and we sat down at a table going for a round of brainstorming. We initially just discussed the theme, coming up with ideas of what it could mean or how we could interpret it. Then in a second round we tried to create actual game concepts out of this mass of ideas.

Global Game Jam 2014 - Brainstorming

Sticky note brainstorming

Here’s a few of our more fleshed-out ideas:

Familiar Perspective

The game is about a few siblings and their different interpretation of their shared experiences. The player explores the history of the family through their retellings, playing different scenes from the different perspective, trying to figure out what actually happened. Maybe there’d be an inheritance involved or something.

Voicelight

A first person game where the environment is invisible at first. Now as the player makes sounds into the microphone he “feels around” the air, temporarily uncovering parts of the map. Maybe high sounds light up walls and traps at the top, while low sounds show what’s on the floor. It might be about escaping a maze and the fact that at some point the player might have trouble with his voice from constantly making sounds would be part of the experience.

WordChain

Here the game is a network of words, that the player navigates through, quite similar to the Visual Thesaurus. This audiovisual experience changes as the player moves through the network, based on the area the player is in. Because you will have different associations than other people it would be your unique path. At the end the game would create a video or replay of your personal experience.

Word Network Graph

Word Network Graph

Reverse Empath

In this game the player can project the emotion of his character on the other actors in the world. That way he can get them to behave a certain way and to achieve his goals for him. The perspective would be a simple top down view, and it was intended to be more of a sandbox than a real game.

Joachim was really fond of this idea and even though no one else was really inspired by it he decided to try to go for it on his own, while the rest of us kept looking for more concepts.

Rohrschach Test

Here the game would be a sort of funny and interesting psycho quiz. The game would present the player with an inkblot picture and let him pick something that he associates it with. We discussed ideas of drawing on the inkblot to show what it reminds you of. The game could possibly be multiplayer with one player rating the others drawing and interpretation among a few psychological axes.

Concept Roadblock

So we had a bunch of ideas but they didn’t really stick. Two hours after the start of the game jam we had a public round of pitches but I was still unhappy with everything we came up with. In the end we struggled until about ten o’clock, growing more and more frustrated. You can clearly see our exasperation in the picture below.

Global Game Jam - Discussion

Late night concept search

I’ve been thinking about why it seemed so difficult to decide on a concept, even though we had a few clearly workable ideas. I’ll have to shoulder some of the blame for that: I’m generally a very critical and vocal individual. Both are pretty good attributes for a game designer but I can sometimes come across as dismissive. By itself that wouldn’t be a problem but as of lately it’s been very hard for me to be enthusiastic about my own ideas, and this very difficult to inspire others.

That means if there’s no one else in the group who’s crazy about their ideas that it will be very difficult to settle on something. Eventually though I turned off the criticising part of my brain and, we managed to find a concept. We went back to some interesting shapes that Wendy had scribbled and all of us liked. We wanted to see more do more of those so we came up with a concept around that, inspired by the awesome Moon Waltz.

StarChild

In StarChild you take care of an unformed being. At the beginning the being has a lot of potential. As it progresses through the world you can decide with what stance it deals with the challenges it faces: Forceful, Creative or Thoughtful. As you overcome challenges the StarChild crystalizes, it’s potential diminishes as it develops in a certain direction. The more challenges you face the more you will advance, reducing your potential. At the end of the level you will feel like you have a unique being, but after the reaching the goal you’ll find out that you’re just like many other people.

StarChild goals

StarChild goals

Building it

By the time we had that concept though most of the other people from the intital group had already found another project to work on. Who remained was Wendy (art), Martin (sound) and me. Since I was the only one with some coding experience I took on programming duties. I decided to go with flash because it was perfectly suitable for the project size and even though I hadn’t used it in a while I was familiar enough with it to be sure that I could deliver.

We then set down to building the game. With the help of the awesome Avoider Game Tutorial I quickly got started on the game and already had a playable, albeit ugly, version running by late afternoon on Saturday.

Global Game Jam - StarChild in Progress

StarChild in Progress

From the on I was able to do some code polishing, adding a music system, menus, score tracking and an animation system for the obstacles. Most of Sunday was then spent on moving assets into the game. Unfortunately we had some incompatibility issues, with me using Flash CS3 and Wendy using Flash CC.

StarChild screenshot

StarChild screenshot

In the end we had to cut a lot of our planned content because we simply did not have the assets in place. We wanted to go for seven or eight possible final-forms but ended up with only three.

Presenting it

By the time we got around to presenting it to the other jammers I already had a few beers on a mostly empty stomach so I’m afraid I rambled a bit. Regardless, the presentation was fun and people enjoyed finding out how the different obstacles reacted to the three approaches. There was definitely a sense of exploration and discovery at work, that tells me that the concept was a good idea that could be explored further.

The team: Me, Wendy, Martin

The team: Me, Wendy, Martin

In the end I am very happy with the result. I’m pretty proud that I managed to code a fully functional tiny game in flash in 48 hours, considering I have no formal education in the field at all. I think that it would simply need more content to properly transport the idea behind it but I think what’s there is pretty good for a small game jam team.

Play it



Game Jam Resume

So, as mentioned in the beginning, I participated in the Global Game Jam for three reasons:

  1. To have a good time
  2. To do something besides game design
  3. To get over our inspirational hump at Sharkbomb Studios

After the grueling concept finding phase was over I got to delve into programming. I really enjoyed the challenge and opportunity and had a lot of fun with it. So the first two conditions were certainly met. But what about the last one?

Well, that didn’t really happen. Since Jo and I went on different projects we, as Sharkbomb Studios, didn’t really get what we wanted out of the Game Jam. Our inspirational hump is still there, but that’s a story for another time.

- Martin


Coming Soon: Unity3d basics video

If you want to get to know Unity3d, this might be your chance.

My buddy Anjin Anhut (who made the Touch of Death graphics) and I have been wanting to do a little skill share. I will give Anjin an introduction to Unity3d while he will share his knowledge on Art Direction with me.

Now we’ve finally found time to get started with this. And since both of us are very open people we decided to go public with this. Our sessions will be streamed and recorded, for your convenience.

SkillShare

Introduction to Unity

We’ll be starting with my part first: An introduction to Unity3d. We’ll be on Google Hangouts on Air on February 1st 2014, at 2:00 PM, German time. We’re planning to run for about 4 hours, probably with some short breaks in between. Follow us on twitter (@mnerurkar or @anjinanhut) or check out the Sharkbomb Studios Google+ or YouTube page to join.

The whole session will be mostly covering the basics. I’ll try to help you get familiar with the engine. Anything from the interface to library management and export processes. We will probably also talk about some basic gameplay functionality like collisions, movement, which will provide an inroad into scripting. Since the session will be unscripted I can’t really give you a specific rundown yet. I still hope to see you there!

- Martin


Touch of Death 2.0 released!

Today we’ve finally released our big update to Touch of Death! The gameplay is still the same hypnotic fun it was before. But now we’ve improved everything else!

iOS App Store Badge Google Play Store Badge

EN_1_overview

Artwork

The game looks a lot better with all new artwork from our good friend Anjin Anhut. We now have a total of 6 enemy types: three male and three female fighters. And not only that, each of these has five different heads, that provide an awesome flavor. And some of these heads are rarer than others, requiring you to keep your vengeance up for a while!

Exchangable Enemy Heads

Exchangable Enemy Heads

Levels

In addition to the new art there are two new levels available to fight and die in. The mountain temple set in a remote and peaceful area. Well it used to be peaceful until you showed up to take your revenge! And then there’s the snow village, which is just waiting for you to turn it red!

Snow Village Intro

Snow Village Intro

Smartphones

And the proably biggest change is that you can finally play the game on smartphones. This required us to make a few changes and improve performance but now you can burst hearts on the go! Be aware though that we had to make some changes to the gameplay for the smaller screen, so it’s not going to play perfectly similar.

Touch of Death 2.0 on a Nexus 4

Touch of Death 2.0 on a Nexus 4

And that’s it from us. We hope you enjoy the game and let us know if you have any issues or questions!

- Martin


Hipster Zombies data analysis.

I hope you like numbers, cause this article will be chock full with the beasts. Not only that, there will also be graphs! I’ll be looking at the performance of Hipster Zombies over the entire lifetime. That includes, among other things, downloads and revenue for iOS, Android, Ouya and Samsung Apps.

Hipster Zombies: Numbers & Graphs

Hipster Zombies: Numbers & Graphs

Let’s start from the beginning:

Soft Launch

We decided to try our hand at one of these fancy soft launches. To that end we silently released Hipster Zombies on Google Play. The game went live on the 10th of March in Austria (as a test for Germany) and Canada (as a Test for the US). It was on for five days before we launched for real.

Here’s a look at the downloads during that time:

hz_softlaunch

As you can see there was only a single download during that time. From an Austrian account no less. To be honest, we expected a bit more downloads and attention, simply from being new in the store listing, yet that did not happen.

  • Learning 1: A silent launch without marketing is not a launch at all.

Instead of some downloads, we got something else though:

Android Piracy

Even before we released Hipster Zombies on the 15th we already had pirated APKs flying around. Obviously that was from that one Austrian, who grabbed the soft launch copy, presumably just to crack and distribute it. So pirated before release? Achievement unlocked, I guess. So we were off to a good start but how did things develop from there?

hz_android-piracy

This is a graph of all downloads on Android seperated by marketplace. The blue set are all downloads that went through the Google Play Store, the red are all those that did not have a marketplace set. From what we can see they represent the pirated copies.

Oddly enough there’s one huge spike from the 30th to the 31st of May. We have no idea where it came from but that was about 2500 downloads in a single day. We also had pretty good growth with the pirated version, probably because we were in some nice, exposed spots on the apk piracy websites.

Regardless, what you can see it that piracy makes up about 50% of our total Android downloads. Looks scary but we don’t really feel like we’ve lost much revenue there, especially since we’re a free-to-play title. If Hipster Zombies was an upfront payment app we’d probably feel different.

  • Learning 2: Don’t underestimate the speed of pirates. They could be a great multiplier to get the word out.

But where did all these pirates come from?

hz_android-piracy_source

As you can see most of them come from China. We’re assuming that part of that is because the Google Play Store is not available in China and there is simply no other way to get Hipster Zombies ;)

Total Downloads

So on to more positive things. How did we actually do in terms of legal downloads? The following graph gives an overview over the total lifetime downloads of Hipster Zombies so far. As you can see we released Android first, then iOS, OUYA and finally on Samsung Apps.

hz_downloads

The graph does not represent uninstalls but you can clearly see the launch effects. It’s a bit difficult to read from this graph but the iOS launch effect seems to be a bit more pronounced but not to hold on as long. What is evident though is that Android makes up the majority of our total user. Here’s a closer look:

hz_downloads-byappstore

  • Learning 3: There’s lots and lots of Android users.

So we had downloads, but how did people like the game?

Mobile Reviews

One of the good things on mobile platforms is the ease with which users can review and give feedback. Granted, there’s often lots of frustrating feedback but it’s nice to get a feeling for how well your game is received.

hz_review-average

So looking at the average review for the Google Play Store we end up at around 4.5 stars after a total of 160 reviews. That’s pretty satisfying to us. The 5.0 rating on iOS should be more satisfying but considering that it comes from only 5 reviews, that’s by far not representational.

  • Learning 4: The Google Play users like Hipster Zombies.

Speaking of the amount of reviews given, here’s a look at the number of reviews given per week.

hz_review-frequency

As you can see on iOS and Google Play, there’s an initial spike from friends and family. Where iOS stops completely, Google Play keeps the reviews coming consistently. Why? Well one reason is that we put in a review prompt on Android sometime in mid July. But that can’t be all of it because you can notice a clearly higher frequence of reviews before that time. Our assumption is that this is because it’s easier to write a review on the Play Store than it is in the App Store App.

And if you’re wondering why we did not put in a Review Prompt on iOS: Initially we didn’t have the plugin and when we did, we just forgot about it.

  • Learning 5: The review prompt has an effect. Just add it. Especially on iOS

Halloween Update

As we mentioned before, we’ve tried our hand at a little Halloween update earlier this year. Here’s how that panned out in a graph of the daily downloads by platform:

hz_halloween

It’s a bit difficult to read with all the noise but you can see that both Google Play and the iOS App Store didn’t really move the needle much. In fact you can even see the steady decline in Google Play downloads. However the OUYA saw a spike in downloads. We’re assuming that happened because we were featured in a few of the official Halloween communications from the OUYA team.

  • Learning 6: Seasonal updates are another chance to get featured, nothing more, nothing less.

Revenue by App Store

So after all these users, how did we actually do on the money side of things?

hz_revenue-byappstore

Considering the OUYA only makes up 5% of our users but 44.5% of our revenue, that’s a pretty good cut. If you’re wondering where Samsung is in that graph: the Samsung Apps version is not monetized, it is simply released without in-app purchases because we did not really have time to deal with their store system yet.

Revenue per Download by Product

If we look at that revenue a bit different you can see which product on which plattform brough in the most money per download. And you can also see the total money per download.

hz_revenue-byproduct

The OUYA clearly wins here, with a revenue/download just shy of 0.08€. About 5.5x the revenue/download on iOS or over 15x the revenue/download on Google Play. That was quite surprising for us but might point towards the more hardcore console and pc audiences being more willing to spend money on their entertainment.

Two additional notes though: Firstly the monetization model is also different on OUYA: Instead of selling items to accelerate the gameplay experience, we only give out the first 2 levels for free. Further levels need to be unlocked in game. Secondly the OUYA team gave out some free store credit to all backers, which happened around the time of our release. We believe that this made some people more willing to spend, among other things, on Hipster Zombies.

  • Learning 7: iOS users spend more than Android users, and OUYA users spend more than both.

Time spent

So after all these words and numbers on the performance of Hipster Zombies, how did we actually get there? Luckily we decided early on that we wanted to track our time spent. Among the two of us Hipster Zombies took about 980 man-hours (or about 120 man-days or 6 man-months).

hz_timespent

As you can see the primary part of that was code work. The art aspect was also significant, followed by design. As mentioned during the Hipster Zombies postmortem, we believe that this is actually too little time spent designing and we could have improved the game if we had kept a better balance.

  • Learning 8: Art creation takes longer than you think.

The Bottom Line

So after all these numbers? How did we actually do? To be honest? Not that well…

After substracting everything we only made about 315€ (about $425) in revenue with Hipster Zombies. Counting all the way up from March up until now, about 9 months later. That’s not a lot, and it’s even less if you consider how much development cost us:

hz_financialsuccess

Putting in an average flat fee per day for our hours spent and adding our expenses for office, audio, plugins etc. we came up with a total project cost of about 50.000€. And that puts us pretty far away from break even.

  • Learning 9: Even a small game project is really expensive.

Final Words

Welp, we didn’t get rich on Hipster Zombies. We didn’t expect to but the financial success (or rather lack thereof) is beyond what we had hoped for. However we’re still proud of the product. We think it’s a fun little game. And so far we managed to reach over 30.000 people with a consistently high app review score. That’s a pretty nice success in our book.

However if we ask ourselves if we would do it again, we probably wouldn’t. Not that we regret the time spent but we started Hipster Zombies as a small, fun project. A pragmatic test run for us to get used to the tech and the market. While it fulfilled these goals it also ended up too big, costing too much time, energy and money. Instead the next time we’ll be focusing on a project that’s truly dear to our hearts.

  • Learning 10: Spend your time on something truly awesome.

And that’s it. Any questions? Any comments? Feel free to let us know what you think! We’d love to hear from you.

- Martin

tl;dr

You’re busy? Here’s all our learnings condensed:

  • Learning 1: A silent launch without marketing is not a launch at all.
  • Learning 2: Don’t underestimate the speed of pirates. They could be a great multiplier to get the word out.
  • Learning 3: There’s lots and lots of Android users.
  • Learning 4: The Google Play users like Hipster Zombies.
  • Learning 5: The review prompt has an effect. Just add it. Especially on iOS
  • Learning 6: Seasonal updates are another chance to get featured, nothing more, nothing less.
  • Learning 7: iOS users spend more than Android users, and OUYA users spend more than both.
  • Learning 8: Art creation takes longer than you think.
  • Learning 9: Even a small game project is really expensive.
  • Learning 10: Spend your time on something awesome.