Get a job: Vicarious Visions is hiring a Level Designer

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The Gamasutra Job Board is the most diverse, active and established board of its kind for the video game industry!

Here is just one of the many, many positions being advertised right now.

Location: Albany, New York

We’re looking for talented World Designers to create cutting edge experiences in the Destiny universe. If you’re interested in jumping in and working with some of the most talented developers in the industry, apply today! 

 Your Guardian will be Responsible for:

  • Be a member of a team of designers building compelling worlds and encounters
  • Work with the Lead World Designer and Design Lead on level design layout, scripting events, tuning AI encounters, 2D design documentation, and all things gameplay-related
  • Work alongside other designers, artists, animators, and engineers to create environments that are incredibly fun, look great and run well
  • Work within established level design metrics and utilize the game systems to create challenging AI encounters, interesting puzzle scenarios, and unique moments

The skills we’re looking for in order to level up your Guardian:

  • At least 3 years’ experience as a designer, having been through multiple complete game ship cycles
  • Previous experience working on levels, combat encounters, and missions/quests in action titles
  • Strong spatial and layout design skills
  • Intuitive understanding of how action games work and why people play them
  • Solid understanding of game engines, technology, and the game development process
  • Familiarity with 3D level design tools (UnrealEd, Kismet, Maya, Max, or similar 3D editor)
  • Passion for cross-collaboration with designers, artists, animators, programmers, audio designers, testers, and producers to achieve a common goal
  • Excellent organization, negotiation, and communication skills 

In 2016, Vicarious Visions celebrated its 25th year in the industry. Over the years, we have made hundreds of games, in every genre, on every conceivable game platform in the known universe.   We are a studio that is built to last, and now we are embarking on a brand new chapter.

We are currently partnering with Bungie to further expand the award-winning Destiny universe.

Our philosophy of combining cutting-edge tech with creative innovation is evidenced in all of our products – from Skylanders to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 to our recent contributions to this year’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.  We apply the same dedication to excellence to every video game franchise we’ve worked on over the years and we are bringing that same philosophy to the Destiny franchise.

We thrive on a culture of collaboration, respect and fun. We have built a welcoming and relaxed workplace that invites creativity and encourages individual voices. We not only give our developers a safe and warm place to incubate and grow their ideas but the tools and support necessary to turn those ideas into impactful and memorable experiences.

Our studio is located in Albany, NY, a thriving northeastern city with an abundance of professional theatre, music, dance, and sports attractions, as well as a backyard full of recreational activities. (That’s a metaphorical backyard. The studio’s backyard has a patio and grill though…with seasonal awning.) And for those looking for more adventures, we’re located less than three hours from NYC, Boston, and Montreal!

Interested? Apply now.

Whether you’re just starting out, looking for something new, or just seeing what’s out there, the Gamasutra Job Board is the place where game developers move ahead in their careers.

Gamasutra’s Job Board is the most diverse, most active, and most established board of its kind in the video game industry, serving companies of all sizes, from indie to triple-A.

Looking for a new job? Get started here. Are you a recruiter looking for talent? Post jobs here.

Source: Gamasutra 2

Valve shuts down Greenlight submissions, dates Steam Direct launch

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After months of detailing store changes and features coming to its new self-publishing platform, Valve has announced that today is the last day for its soon-to-be-replaced service, Steam Greenlight.

As of today, Valve is not allowing submissions to the Greenlight program and has shuttered user voting on existing projects as well. Meanwhile, its replacement, Steam Direct, will go live on June 13 with a $100 submission fee, the same amount developers paid to submit a game to Greenlight before.

But if you’re a developer with a game still in the Steam Greenlight pipeline, here’s what you need to know. Valve is in the week-long process of reviewing the catalog of Greenlight submissions yet awaiting a response, but it notes that catalog is currently made up of over 3,400 titles.

Valve’s plan is to directly greenlight as many of those games as they “have confidence in” but notes that some options will be denied based either on insufficient voter data or player reports. However, denial during this final week does not disqualify developers from submitting their projects to Steam Direct when it launches next week.

More information on the shutdown, as well as details on both Steam Direct and statistics from Greenlight’s five-year reign, can be found on the Steam Blog.

Source: Gamasutra 2

Don't Miss: The understated genius of the Spelunky Daily Challenge

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Despite the fact that Derek Yu’s Spelunky was released for Xbox 360 last year (while the original version has been available for PC many moons now), the game is seeing something of a resurgence of late.

This is, of course, partially down to the fact that the exclusivity on the Xbox version has finally run out, and Yu has now fired out versions for both PC and PlayStation consoles. But there’s a little more to it than that.

The latest PC edition of the game comes with a new mode called the Daily Challenge. Each day a randomly-generated adeventure is offered to every player, and you’re asked to see how far you can get.

The twist is that every single player is carefully tumbling and whipping their way through the very same set of levels as everyone else. Oh, and if you die at any point, then you can’t retry the adventure at all — you get one chance to clock a score in on the game’s online leaderboards, and that’s your lot for the day.

This seemingly simple addition to the main Spelunky offering appears to be a fun side-order of death and dungeoning — but as it turns out, the Daily Challenge is an all-consuming beast that lives on long after the main action has played its last note.

Here’s the thing about Spelunky‘s Daily Challenge mode — despite the fact that you’re essentially playing the very same game you’ve been playing for hours beforehand, it still feels like a very different experience.

The idea that one small slip-up will cost you the entire day (and make you look silly on the online leaderboards) amplifies the risk involved. Treasure that I’d usually make a beeline for without a second thought suddenly feels trapped behind a series of enemies and obstacles that could potentially end my life.

spelunky 1.jpgThis massive injection of risk causes the player to tackle the game in a very different way, with slow approaches and more calculated movements — and as a result, teaches new methods for playing the game.

Since playing the Daily Challenge for the last two weeks, I have become a notably better Spelunky player. Before the PC version of the game rolled along, I had never even managed to reach the Olmec encounter at the end of the game. Since playing the Daily Challenges, I’ve now reached the final level five times, and feel disappointed if I don’t manage it.

I have a new-found excitement for elements of the game that I hadn’t really considered all that much before. When I spy a shop, my heart goes all aflutter with the possibilities. I love stocking up on dozens of bombs. I cannot wait to reach the Temple, since I now thrive on the fear of its highly dangerous enemies. A single additional game mode has made me enjoy Spelunky even more than I thought was possible.

It’s got to the point where I’m now treating the main game mode as a practice mode for the real game — the real game being the Daily Challenge mode. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a year-old game being re-energised in the same way that the Daily Challenge has re-kickstarted Spelunky.

The risk versus reward nature of the Daily Challenge needs a catalyst, of course, and the competitive nature of the average video game player is more than enough to spur this on.

It’s not just the online leaderboards supplied with every single Daily Challenge that are keeping us coming back each day. Since everyone is playing an identical set of levels, some players began uploading videos of their playthroughs. Other players would watch to see the various tactics and methods that other players used to get past certain traps and problems, and then began uploading their own videos too.

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Gunpoint developer Tom Francis decided to go a step further and start the Spelunky Explorers’ Club, recording the scores of other players and bringing together the videos of their various runs. I took part myself, as evidenced by the above video.

As such, communities of Spelunky players have begun popping up, all vying to beat their friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Players are swapping Steam friend details to get their daily leaderboards filled up, and subscribing to each other on YouTube. A very single player experience has suddenly erupted into one of the most exciting multiplayer games I’ve ever taken part in.

I’ve never been the sort of person who watches videos of other people playing games before, yet here I am, checking out various tactics and deaths each day, building some sort of competitive narrative for when I’m attempting my own runs.

Of course, Spelunky is far from the first game to implement Daily Challenges — but it’s perhaps one of the first to really run with the concept from a real nerve-wracking angle.

Take the Halo and Call of Duty multiplayer experiences, for example. In Halo 4 and Halo Reach, you’re presented with such daily challenges as “Kill 20 Players” and “Win 15 Matches.” Modern Warfare 3 featured similar challenges — there are also weekly and monthly challenges involved, and players receive experience points if they manage to complete these tasks.

These approaches are perfectly reasonable, but they aren’t really as involved or exciting as Spelunky‘s Daily Challenge. In Halo and Call of Duty, the daily challenges are a neat little addition that you might decide to aim for alongside regular play.

Unit 13 from Zipper Interactive has a more interesting approach, and one that resembles Spelunky‘s. Players of the PS Vita shooter are provided with a special mission each day, and if you die during it, you don’t get another shot. Online leaderboards are provided for each specific day.

And the recently released Rayman Legends has its own daily and weekly challenges too which, much like Spelunky, provide a new randomly-generated level and objective to blast through, and beat your friends at.

The point is that in the majority of previous approaches there isn’t such a risk element, as you can play the unique mission over and over as many times as you want — nor will most players stick around for very long, given that it begins to feel quite repetitive and samey after just a week or so — but given the Rayman Legends Challenges App that released for Wii U over the summer still has thousands of players booting it up every day, there’s clearly an audience for the mode.

olliolli.jpgThere are more opportunities for entertaining Daily Challenge modes on the horizon too. OlliOlli, for example, is an upcoming skateboarding game for the PS Vita that has a daily challenge, wonderfully named “The Daily Grind.”

Each day, players will be presented with a randomized skating spot that can be practiced over and over again until you’ve nailed the exact trick that will get you the most points. At this point you can choose to jump into the real attempt, and your score for this run will be recorded online. Mess it up, and all that practicing was for nothing.

The prospect of implementing Daily Challenge modes in all of my favorite games makes me truly believe that it is potentially the silent video game innovation that no-one is really paying attention too — “the next big thing” if you will, like Angry Birds, Oculus Rift and the endless runner genre before it.

If you’ve been dodging the Spelunky Daily Challenge for whatever reason, please consider giving it a try. It’s genuinely, and literally, a game-changer that you may want to implement in your own game.

Source: Gamasutra 2

Blizzard to sell Overwatch credits instead of loot boxes to Chinese players

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Blizzard has reworked the way it handles Overwatch loot box sales in China in response to a new law that requires game publishers to disclose the probability of item drops in random-chance loot boxes.

The new format sees the company directly selling in-game credits to players and including loot boxes as a free gift with the transaction, seemingly sidestepping the law.

The law itself, which went into effect at the beginning of May, requires publishers to clearly disclose potential item drops and the chance each item has to show up in a box. And while Blizzard did initially share a slice of that probability data, the company’s new changes point out a potential loophole since it now seems that the law only covers boxes being directly purchased for real-world currency.

A translation of a post from the Chinese Overwatch forum explains that players will no longer be able to purchase Lootboxes outright. Instead, microtransactions now sell Chinese players between 5 and 120 of the game’s in-game currency and toss in 2-50 loot boxes as a free gift, depending on a number of credits purchased.

The ‘free gift’ loot boxes included with the in-game currency purchase seem to be where most, if not all, of the value in these microtransactions still lie. On its own, the new system, which charges as much 238 yuan (roughly $35) for 120 credits would otherwise be a sour deal for players.

120 credits is enough for the cheapest tier of character skins, which sell for 75 credits but the more sought after legendary and event exclusive skins can come in between 750 and 3000 credits on their own. But, since the 238 yuan tier also comes with the “gift” of 50 boxes, Blizzard is able to still essentially sell loot boxes without disclosing probabilities and item lists for future loot boxes. 

Other developers and publishers operating in the area have also implemented changes to accommodate the new law. For example, Valve temporary shut down sales of random drop boxes for Dota 2 and League of Legends’ publisher has meanwhile complied with the law and released a table detailing the probability powering each drop.

Source: Gamasutra 2

Blog: How musical variation can aid player understanding

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

Pictured: video game music composer Winifred Phillips at the BKOM booth during GDC 2017.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Since one of my most recent projects, Little Lords of Twilight, became available worldwide earlier this year and was recently greenlit on the famous Steam platform, I thought I’d write this article to share some of my creative and technical process in composing the music for this game. In particular, this project presents a great opportunity to look at how compositional variation (as we understand it from music theory) can be useful for the structure of interactive music.

Developed by BKOM Studios, Little Lords of Twilight won a Best in Play Award at GDC 2017, a Best Designed Mobile App Platinum Award from the BMA Awards, a Communicator Award for Best Mobile App, and has appeared on numerous “Best of” lists, including those published by PocketGamer, Explore Gadgets, and GameInOnline. As a player-versus-player turn-based strategy game, Little Lords of Twilight offers a unique gameplay mechanic influenced by the in-game passage of time. Day and night cycles dramatically alter your character’s appearance and abilities. Depending on whether it is currently day or night in the game, your character will have access to a completely different complement of awesome skills and spells to wield on the battlefield.

An illustration of the Little Lords of Twilight video game, from the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.I first encountered Little Lords of Twilight on the show floor of the popular Electronic Entertainment Expo last year. After being thoroughly charmed by the game’s art style and intrigued by its mechanics, I had the chance to meet with the BKOM Studios representative at the booth and talk about music needs for the game. The timing couldn’t have been better. That initial conversation led to more in-depth talks with more members of the development team over the ensuing weeks, and I was subsequently hired to create the music of the Little Lords of Twilight game. So, I suppose the lesson here is that we game composers can never be sure when opportunity will present itself, but the E3 convention seems to be a good place to go looking for it!

Pictured: an illustration from the Little Lords of Twilight video game, from the article by video game composer Winifred Phillips.The expert development team of Little Lords of Twilight were interested in a musical style that would feel simultaneously adventurous, whimsical and sinister. So, let’s first listen to my Little Lords of Twilight main theme music, which was designed to express the musical style of the game as succinctly and iconically as possible. Here’s a video that shows how a player encounters the main theme music while navigating the game’s menu system. Notice the whimsical celeste and glockenspiel on top, the adventurous orchestral strings and brass underneath, and the darkly sinister timpani, theremin and sound design rounding out the mix.

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While the main theme sets the general mood of the game, the atmosphere of the gameplay in Little Lords of Twilight is much more intense and determined. To get a sense of how gameplay proceeds, here’s the trailer for Little Lords of Twilight, featuring music I composed for the game:

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You’ll notice that the trailer highlights the game’s most distinguishing play mechanic – the power of day and night to bring about change in the characters’ appearances and abilities. For most of the pieces I composed for Little Lords of Twilight, I was asked to musically execute this abstract idea of fundamental change between the innate nature of day and night in the game’s magical world. The interactive music system of Little Lords of Twilight hinged on the changeover from day into night and vice versa. The music for these two gameplay states needed to transition well into each other, and yet convey distinctly different atmospheres. Let’s take a look at a couple of levels from the Little Lords of Twilight game to see how this worked.

Day and night in the forest

The music of the forest in the daytime is driven by a moderate tempo and a 3/4 time signature that gives the music its whimsical touch, accented by plentiful bells and harps to further enhance the effect. The string section states a repeating rhythmic motive right from the start and continues to emphasize this same pattern throughout the piece. The composition goes through several melodic sections with chord progressions that create forward momentum from one musical idea to the next. When I was composing this track for Forest Day, I had in my mind that for the Forest Night track, I wanted to use a recognizably familiar variation on the same rhythmic motive, along with variations on melodic sections and chord progressions that had already been heard in Forest Day. However, it was very important that the contrast between the two tracks made itself readily apparent to the listener. Let’s first listen to the Forest Day track in its entirety:

Now, let’s turn our attention to Forest Night. Unlike Forest Day, the music for Forest Night is in the common time signature, although the tempo is still moderately paced. Xylophone, theremin and frequent tremolo strings emphasize the sinister, gothic nature of nighttime in Little Lords of Twilight. Listening carefully, however, we’ll notice that variations on the same rhythmic motives, melodic sections and chord progressions from Forest Day are present in the compositional structure of Forest Night. These elements also occur in the same order in which they previously appeared during the daytime music. Let’s now listen to the Forest Night track:

Okay, so we’ve listened to the two tracks. Now let’s see how they worked in the game. Notice the transition from day to night at 0:26 seconds:

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Let’s now see how this same principle worked in a very different level of the Little Lords of Twilight game.

Day and night in the Underground

By the time the player has reached the Underground, the intensity of gameplay has increased considerably, and the music also grows more correspondingly anxious. Like the music for Forest Day, the music for Underground Day incorporates a meter and rhythm that focuses on threes. In the forest, the music is written in a classic waltz-like triple meter (3/4). In the Underground, however, the music is written in an unusual compound meter, in which there are nine beats per measure, with each beat divided into three parts. The bassline in this track is the most characteristically iconic element of the music, with its insistently repetitive structure creating the forward momentum of the track. This momentum builds towards a chord modulation in a new section midway through, which also introduces a plaintive high-pitched melody line. When composing this track for Underground Day, I knew it would be important to retain all of these musical elements in the nighttime track and execute them in a way that created contrast while still retaining familiarity. So let’s listen first to the Underground Day track:

For Underground Night, I retained the focus on nine beats per measure, although the compound meter is now simplified to a more traditional rhythmic structure (each beat divided into two parts rather than three). The tempo in Underground Night is now greatly accelerated, which helps to indicate the higher stakes of gameplay at this point in the game. Despite these differences, we’ll notice that the same bassline from Underground Day is now forming the backbone of Underground Night, along with a melody line that is a variation and development of the plaintive melody from Underground Day. Let’s listen to how these elements worked together in the music for Underground Night:

Finally, let’s see how both of these tracks worked in the game. As sometimes happens in the game, in this video you’ll notice that gameplay begins in the nighttime state, and then transitions into day. Notice the transition from night to day that occurs at 0:32:

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In this article, we’ve explored how musical variation can be used to make interactive music transitions more impactful, while still retaining a distinct musical identity for specific locations within a game. I hope you’ve found this discussion of the music of Little Lords of Twilight interesting! Thanks for reading, and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Photo of video game composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio.Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose most recent projects include the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution and the Dragon Front game for Oculus VR. Her credits include games in five of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, Total War, God of War, and The Sims. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As a VR game music expert, she writes frequently on the future of music in virtual reality games.

Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

Source: Gamasutra 2

Postmortem: Joel McDonald's Prune

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Prune is a tiny mobile game about the simple pleasures of growing and cultivating trees.Of breathing life into barren soil and thriving against all odds in a hostile, indifferent world. It’s a delicate dance to remove that which does not matter in favor of that which does.

Prune is my love letter to trees.

The seed of the game (first and last tree pun, I promise!) actually started with a tweet from a friend:

The game was originally supposed to be a short two to three month project to get my feet wet as a solo indie game designer. I had a fair amount of experience as a designer on large AAA teams but had never put anything out on my own so I figured I should start as small as possible. Unfortunately, three months quickly turned into six months, and finally into a year and three months.

I, along with the help of Kyle Preston and Simon Ferrari, finally managed to get the game out onto the Apple App Store in July of 2015. For most of the game’s development I had zero clue as to how the game would be received since it was this weird procedural, interactive art thing. Prune has far exceeded any of the modest expectations I had for it. On release it garnered Apple’s Editors’ Choice award and more recently has been named TIME Magazine’s Game of the Year for 2015 as well as Apple’s iPad Game of the Year.

I wanted to write this postmortem for a couple reasons. First, I’ve been reading postmortems for a while now, starting with classic issues of Game Developer magazine, so it feels almost like a rite of passage when you finally get to write your own (as cheesy as that sounds). But more importantly, having read so many, I know it can be tempting to not exactly give the whole truth, to sugar coat things, to TED-ify the long arduous development into Five Easy to Digest Takeaways. And as a reader, especially as a young, thirsty game designer, it can be easy to convince yourself that if you just “do these five things, and avoid these five other things” you’ll be well on your way to your very own Notch house.

Just pick the exact right platform (Ouya obviously), iterate-iterate-iterate, and find the “fun”, all the while avoiding nasty things like feature creep and you’re set!!

So with all of that in mind I’m going to try my best not to candy-coat the development of Prune. I want to try and illuminate some of the less talked-about aspects of indie game development, especially as it relates to success. Obviously game development is an incredibly messy and complex process and a single write-up is never going to paint a fully accurate picture, but hopefully it will help paint a slightly more honest one.

1. White Moves First

Privilege is something that’s really easy to take for granted and of all the postmortems I’ve read over the years I don’t ever remember seeing it mentioned. Yet, more than an original game idea, more than streamlined design, more than any other thing I feel that privilege was the key contributor to Prune’s success.

It’s impossible for me to fully acknowledge everything that was on my side, but here’s a start:

I was born male, middle-class, and white. My dad was a computer programmer and we had a computer in the house from an early age. Since I was a boy growing up in the 80s and 90s videogames were this socially accepted thing for me. Being middle-class gave me the free-time to dabble in computers from an early. It gave me the luxury of taking part in the Quake mod community and eventually led to me getting my foot in the door in the AAA game industry.

Being fortunate enough to work in the game industry gave me a huge advantage. I may not have known much of anything when I started back in 2006, but seven years later I had an Education in game design, in the game production process, in how to make an interactive experience worth having. It also allowed me to make friends and connections that proved crucial later on. I’m truly not saying any of this to boast, but to simply point out the huge amount of privilege I had on my side when I decided to quit my job and go indie in the fall of 2013.

Even upon going indie I still took so much for granted. I was incredibly lucky to have time and money to burn (more on that below). Oh, and did I mention I live in the US? Turns out being near critical developer events like GDC is a pretty big deal, not to mention that whole speaking English thing. Indie developers in other countries have a much tougher time breaking through and we in the US get this free ticket to a ton more coverage and press.

Looking at Prune’s success in a vacuum is just seeing the palm tree and cute little mound of sand peeking above the water and ignoring the mountain of privilege that built to that island. It’s ignoring the years of repeated failure I was allowed to have suspended over a safety net built and subsidized by my starting position in life.

If you’re reading this and you are in a minority or marginalized position, then you’re well aware of the uphill battle you face. Please, please don’t be discouraged by all of this. New organizations are popping up more and more lately to help address the issue. There’s Girls Who Code, Dames Making Games, and Different Games to name a few. Plus the IGDA has long advocated for inclusivity and even the ESA is trying to help. I, and I’m sure many other indies, would love to help out, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

2. Have a Lot of Time/Money (Preferably Both)

The hopefully not-so-big secret is that becoming a “successful” indie (usually defined as financially sustainable) takes a whole lot of time. A recent Gamasutra article concludes that it tends to take two to three years to sustainability while I’ve heard some indies estimate the average to be as much as five years. And all of this is assuming that you’re even lucky enough to become sustainable at all.

The main reason it takes so long is because you need plenty of time to fail a lot. For me, first there was the last 15 or so years of stumbling my way through how to even make game experiences, then upon going indie there was six months of prototyping questionable game ideas, and finally with Prune I spent another six months lost, prototyping everything I could think of.

Having the luxury of time allowed me to eventually find the soul of the game.

Six months in, I basically had a full game, with over 60 levels (more levels than I eventually shipped with). But I wasn’t happy with it. Playtests showed the game was clinical and frustrating. After talking to some friends, I worked up the courage to essentially reboot the game.

I stripped things down to a bare minimum: just a tree, sunlight, and shadow. I also had been thinking for a while about how to make pruning more expressive. Up until now, pruning was a wholly subtractive process. Trees were these static structures that could be cut away but that was it. This was limiting and was one of the reasons I had to rely on a bunch of other mechanics to bolster the game.

Instead, what if I made pruning both a subtractive and additive process? By imbuing the tree with a sense of “conserved growth potential,” I could get a much wider, more dynamic range of expression from the tree.


Old vs New

Of course, this wasn’t as easy as flipping a switch in code. I had to completely rewrite how the trees grew in the game, and it took me several tries over a couple months’ time to get it right. But it finally felt like I had found Prune’s soul. If I had had tighter constraints on my time, the game likely would not have found nearly the success that it did.

I’m extremely fortunate to have had all of this time and runway to experiment. Growing up middle-class put me at an advantage from the start. Add to this living in the Midwest, being lucky enough to not have any student loans, and being a generally frugal person. Combine all this with the money from my AAA job and it meant that I had way more time than I deserved to get the necessary failures out of the way and have a chance at success.

3. Don’t Listen to Advice (Including Mine)

The indie scene is in no shortage of handing out advice, that’s for sure. There’s plenty of advice on which platform to bring your game to, how best to market your game, how to monetize it, etc. Of course, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with advice, as long as you temper it appropriately and realize that it might be tied to a specific time and/or place. Videogames as an art form is moving so fast that the sage advice you hear at the beginning of developing your game may be completely null and void a year or two later when you finish.

The first piece of advice I heard upon going indie back in late 2013 was, whatever you do, don’t go mobile! Mobile is an unhealthy marketplace, a hopeless wasteland where your game will go to die. The PC/Steam was where any smart indie should bring their game. Make a good game on PC and you’re pretty much guaranteed success, is what they said.

So I actually listened to this advice and probably would have followed through with it were it not for stumbling upon Prune. Of course, now it’s 2016 and the so-called indiepocalypse is a thing and PC is not at all the safe bet it once was. Here’s the funny thing about advice—if you’re hearing it then EVERYBODY ELSE is also listening to this advice. Any proclamation that doing X is a guarantee for success is a lie and is going to be this incredibly fragile thing.

Another commandment I failed to follow was if you go mobile then you HAVE to go free-to-play. Premium mobile games are dead! It may be true that going F2P can increase your revenue by 10X or whatever, but F2P certainly wasn’t right for me (I can’t stand it) and I wasn’t necessarily interested in maximizing the game’s revenue. It also turns out that there are a lot of mobile players who are thirsty for quality experiences and are willing to pay a fair price for that. My point isn’t that F2P sucks and you should definitely go “premium”, but that you should listen to your heart. Do what’s right for you.

4. Finding a Creneau

Now that I’ve finished telling you to never listen to any advice I’m going to dispense some advice! First, some background: I’m the type of person who always wants new experiences, new and different ways to do things. This can sometimes drive my wife crazy when I refuse to watch a good movie again if I’ve seen it in the last ten years or so. But it turns out this is a pretty useful trait to have when you’re an indie since you’re naturally drawn to want to try things that nobody has done before.

As it also turns out, there have been entire business and marketing books written on the subject. Crazy, huh? I would have never sought one of these out on my own but, upon going indie, a friend suggested I read the book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, and it did a great job of explaining what was already deep inside me. It’s not a revolutionary concept but it explained how to find a creneau. That’s fancy French for a hole, or pivot, in which to get a foothold to position yourself with respect to the competition. If that sounds too business-y, think of it more as what makes your game special? What’s the one thing you’ll focus on that is going to make it stand out against all the others?

This was exactly my approach with Prune. The App Store is crowded with cutesy match-3s, zombie tower defense games, and infinite runners so why do anything remotely close to any of these when I could instead go the complete opposite direction? One of the clearest ways to see this is in the art direction for the game. Rather than finding an artist and commissioning elaborate, hand-drawn or 3D modeled assets I chose to embrace my limitations and make something procedural that didn’t look quite like anything else I was seeing on mobile.

5. Have a Lot of Luck

This postmortem wouldn’t feel complete without mentioning the L word: luck. Luck tends to be a big part of any success and it’s not something I want to discount. I’ve already mentioned a few things but just to drill home the point here is a non-comprehensive list of times when luck was on my side:

  • Lucky that I even saw my friend’s tweet to begin with
  • Lucky that I had time and money to burn, finding the game’s soul
  • Lucky that I happened to have an iPad to test on (I don’t own a smartphone)
  • Lucky that I had a family to support me while working from home (to keep me sane)
  • Lucky that I met Kyle Preston and that he was able to contribute his amazing talents to score the music in the game
  • Lucky that well-respected, successful indies would take the time to help me find the game’s soul and build up my confidence
  • Lucky, when black smoke started billowing out of my computer, that it was only my spare hard drive
  • Lucky that I was introduced to Apple contacts from a friend
  • Lucky that Apple happened to love this particular game
  • Lucky that I didn’t go up against Angry Birds 2 which released the following week
  • Et cetera, et cetera

And who knows how much luck I’m not even accounting for! Please don’t take this as me saying “hey guys and gals, just be lucky like meee!” Again, it comes from a place of trying to be sincere.

There are, of course, ways to increase your chances of being “lucky.” The usual advice is to open yourself up more, to try and make more connections with people. I pushed myself to do this. I went to local events. I shared the game with people. I kept a devlog. One example of how it paid off was that I got to meet Kyle, my eventual composer, through TIGSource where I had posted my devlog.

But luck is also a messy, tangled web of systems that are ultimately out of our control. To me it seems wise to acknowledge that luck exists and do our best to influence it. But at the end of the day, we also need to remember that luck, of the out-of-our-control variety, is still a considerable factor for any success or failure.

1. Getting Lost in the Wilderness

The initial prototype for the game was finished in only a couple evenings. It was clear this would be a game with procedural trees growing in real time and the player’s main verb would be cutting branches away. Oh, and remember: it would be finished in a couple months!

My next step was to explore the design space. I had heard repeatedly over the years from wise, successful indies that the key to a great game is to fully explore the design space around your game idea. I’d heard it described as this vast undiscovered wilderness. Some game idea design spaces will prove to be rich and fertile with gold nuggets lying everywhere, while others would be barren wastelands.

The problem is that I misinterpreted this advice to mean I should just start prototyping anything and everything related to the broad topic of trees. I didn’t know what my design space really was, I had no focus.

My initial focus (basically everything)

I spent the next six months prototyping all kinds of things–shield power-ups, infinite fractal trees, tree planets, weird inverted trees, and countless game modes like 2-player coop, FRENZY!, and endless modes.

This all had a time cost and a mental cost. I started to become overwhelmed with the possibility space, lost in the wilderness. In retrospect I should have focused in on the heart and soul of the game. Pruning as player expression was the most interesting part of the game and I should have been searching in that much more constrained space from the beginning.

Where I *should* have focused

2. Worry About Every Little Thing

I don’t want to belabor this point since others have talked about it at length, but I definitely have a bit of a perfectionist streak running through me. This is a common trait with game developers and can often be good for ensuring things that really matter to the project are just right. But when the things you’re fretting over don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things you just end up wasting a lot of time.

I would waste hours of my time tweaking the look of a soon-to-be-cut mechanic, days of my time picking the exact right font, and weeks or months of my time deliberating over decisions such as how to represent the score in game.

Even up until the end of the project I maintained a hotlist of must-do items before shipping the game. These were “super important” things like ensuring certain branches in certain levels didn’t look too thin when curving a particular way, or certain pipes at the end of the game not having proper collision. Well guess what? I shipped the game having never addressed a huge chunk of these “critical” issues and even now, half a year after release and I *still* haven’t managed to get to them and nobody has noticed! The point is, our time as developers is incredibly precious, it’s limited. I should have asked myself more often than I did, what’s most important and what will nobody ever care about?

3. Be Really Bad at Scheduling

If there was an award for being the worst at scheduling I’m pretty sure it would have my name on it. Remember how I mentioned that my initial goal was to finish and release the entire game in two to three months? That’s a bit of a lie. In actuality I was hoping to “game jam” it and have it out in a month. But I’d heard enough times that you should double or triple your initial estimate so that’s why I picked two to three months. It’s hard to explain just how bad I was at accurately forecasting how long things would take me and actually sticking to a schedule.

Here’s how it would generally go down. I would first make a crude schedule, not based on anything reasonable or sane but based on what I delusionally wanted to get done. I would give myself a fraction of the time actually needed to accomplish the remaining tasks. And then I would let this schedule sit in a dark corner of my hard drive for a while and get to working on stuff. Then one day I’d happen to unearth the schedule and look at the calendar and realize it was now 45 days later and I hadn’t even finished half the tasks on my list.

I did this over and over again during the development of Prune, partly because I didn’t know what game I was making and partly because I had completely unrealistic expectations. After a while it started to become a boy-who-cried-wolf situation where I felt like I couldn’t even trust myself at all any more. The only thing that saved me was finally realizing that I could use external deadlines, such as awards submissions, to force myself to focus and make hard decisions.

4. Struggling to See the Light

Searching for my game’s soul, spending too much time on dumb things, and constantly being over schedule all led to some really low, discouraging times for me. I constantly questioned whether this was the right project to be working on or whether I was just wasting my time. I considered just cutting my losses and releasing the game as-is several times since I figured the game would probably never make back the little bit of money I put into it. I questioned whether I was even cut out to be “indie,” to work on my own game.

Even though going solo was the right decision and is how I work best, toiling away alone for over a year was hard on my emotional well-being. It may not sound like a lot, especially when some indies endure three or more years of this, but for me it felt like an eternity at times. I’m fortunate that I had my wife and two boys to keep me in balance—I at least had an escape at the end of each day, somebody to talk to.

I went on a lot of walks during dev. Often it would let me distance myself from a problem just enough to let me think clearly about it. But at the lowest points I walked to distance myself from the game, to distance myself from my self.

Of course, all of this that I’m describing develops into this vicious downward spiral wherein you get discouraged and stop doing any productive work on the game, which in turn discourages you further, causing you to lose more calendar time, ad infinitum.

This is something that isn’t talked about as much as it should be in the indie scene. So often we only pay attention to results. Was the game a hit? Was it successful? Did it pay off the dev costs? We sweep under the rug the process, the struggle, the emotional drain. In the future I need to focus more on my creative process and direct more of my attention to my mental health before it gets too late.

Even though I struggled and made a whole lot of mistakes, I’m still really proud of Prune. My goals for going indie were to live modestly, work on new and interesting games, and make just enough money to get by. As my first project, Prune has done all of this and more.

One of the best parts about the experience has been the player reception. I didn’t make the game for gamers—there’s plenty of options out there for them—but for anyone. My heart has been warmed over and over again upon receiving touching emails from old ladies who have never played a video game in their life. I’m humbled that my tiny game has resonated with so many people and am incredibly grateful that I’ll be able to continue on this journey going forward.

Source: Gamasutra

Kanye West has a video game, and it's a lot different from his wife Kim's

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Rapper, producer, and fashion mogul Kanye West has stepped into the world of video games today with the announcement of Only One, a game that depicts his late mother, Donda West. “The idea of the video game is my mom traveling throguh the gates of heaven,” he said, when introducing the game. You can see the trailer he debuted above.

It’s a notable step for the omnipresent music star. It’s also very different than his wife’s eponymous and highly succesful game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which is a more conventional mobile title. 

“That’s not easy to do, man!” West said, after debuting his game on stage at a live-streamed event showcasing his new album and clothing line, Kotaku reports. “I go out and meet with everybody in San Fran, and they’ll diss the fuck out of me. And I’ll be like, ‘I wanna make a game,’ and they’ll be like, ‘FUCK YOU.’ That was hard to do, bro!”

It’s as yet unclear what platforms the game is for, or how it plays — though wild speculation based solely on the visual style would put it closer to something like Journey or Flower than Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

What also seems interesting about the game — beyond its highly personal content — is West’s apparent desire to roll a video game into his string of achivements alongside a new album and fashion line. When taken with the subject matter, it suggests that West has a healthy respect for the medium. 

Source: Gamasutra

Activision has NFL-like ambitions for eSports

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The future of Activision Blizzard is, indeed, all-in for eSports. Some trends emerged in the company’s latest results and, particular, its conference call, which suggest that this is a major direction for the company moving forward — and that it’s part of a bigger strategy than just running tournaments and thereby generating interest and selling more games.

The recent acquisition of MLG and the hiring of an ESPN exec are big clues, of course, but CEO Bobby Kotick made a much clearer argument for the direction the company is going in the future.

They brought together to major ideas the company is making much noise about, nowadays:

  1. Looking at its overall monthly active users, across all of its products, and considering these players a network of users. “In the fourth quarter, our monthly active users grew to the highest level ever, to 80 million users,” the company’s COO, Thomas Tippl, said on the call.
  2. Considering a “year-round player engagement model” to hook players in to the company’s franchises and keep them there via a variety of initiatives (including eSports.) This will move more of the company’s revenue into the earlier parts of the year, execs promised.

    In a telling example, Activision CFO Dennis Durkin forecasted on the call that Call of Duty sales would fall next year but revenues would actually rise — thanks to Activision’s digital initiatives. “The add-on purchases… are increasingly important and growing incredibly fast,” Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg said.

Execs trumpeted the eSports possibilities of many of the company’s upcoming launches: “Of course, our eSports initiatives on Call of Duty are transforming the experience for pro players and fans alike. … We’ll broadcast 750 hours of competitive Call of Duty programming, but more importantly we’ll inspire millions of Call of Duty fans to celebrate the game in a whole new way,” said Hirshberg, while Blizzard president Mike Morhaime talked up plans for a “robust eSports program” around Overwatch.

Here’s a nice slice of Kotick’s comments around eSports and the company’s overall strategy of viewing itself as an entertainment network comprising its games — and what that means:

“Upon the expected close of our acquisition of King later this month, we’ll have over half a billion monthly active users in 196 countries, which as an entertainment network ranks only behind Facebook, YouTube, and WeChat in monthly active users. We’ll have seven times the audience members of Netflix and have a larger audience than Snapchat and Twitter combined.”

“Last year our Activision Blizzard games were played for over 14 billion hours, and spectators watched over 1.5 billion hours of video content based on our games. In 2014-2015 season, fans of the NFL watched about 7 billion hours of nationally televised games, which is less than half the time spent engaged with our franchises. Those televised games generated approximately 7 billion dollars of broadcast rights fees for the NFL, and another 4 billion dollars in other revenues, including sponsorships, merchandise, and ticket sales.”

“When we think about our franchises, we think about our responsibilities to our fans and the associated business opportunities through the lens of these leagues, like the NFL, the Premier League, the NBA, Major League Baseball, and the NHL.”

And Kotick says that this way of looking at things will generate revenue: “Our franchises today generate revenues principally through the sale of interactive content,” he observed. Those other monies that sports leagues pull in? That’s a wide-open field for Activision Blizzard. “We continue to believe that eSports is another long-term growth pillar for our company,” he said.

“When you look at ESPN, with 80 million subscribers and you see the flight of some of those subscribers, and the opportunity that we see there is roughly $5 billion of operating profit there, $4 billion of league payments for the broadcast rights. And we have 80 million of our own players, and over a long period of time we think that watching a video game competition is going to be a tremendous opportunity.”

Source: Gamasutra

King's fortunes falter as Candy Crush Saga grows older

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Newly-acquired Activision Blizzard subsidiary King has reported its revenues for its holiday quarter, the three months ended December 31, 2015, as well as its full 2015 fiscal year, and everything seems to be trending downward.

The (non-GAAP) numbers are notable, so let’s start with the quarterly results: Payments made by players in King’s free-to-play games (what the company calls “gross bookings”) fell year-over-year, down to $509 million from $586 million it saw in the same period a year prior.

King blames the drop on a few things, including fluctuations in currency value, but it primarily places blame on the decline in gross bookings from its more mature games — including company flagship Candy Crush Saga.

“The year over year decreases in both gross bookings and revenue were primarily due to lower gross bookings from our more mature games, in particular Candy Crush Saga,” read an excerpt of the company’s earnings report, which went on to note that the drop was “partially offset by increased gross bookings from our newer games, in particular Candy Crush Soda Saga.”

The company still posted a $91 million profit for the quarter, though that’s $50 million less than it reaped in profits during the same quarter a year prior.

During its fourth quarter King also saw year-over-year drops in both its daily and monthly active users (down 21 million/14 percent and 84 million/16 percent year over year, respectively), which it once again blamed on the growing age of its popular games — most notably, again, Candy Crush Saga, which was first released in 2012. More of the decline is among web players than mobile players, something King believes is tied to the general decline of Facebook desktop game players.

Incidentally, the company said much the same thing three months ago to explain similar drops in monthly and daily active players.

King also saw a year-over-year drop in revenue and profits for the full 2015 year, though it still managed to report an adjusted profit $617 million on $2.02 billion in revenue. That’s quite a chunk of change, but it’s a bit smaller than the $738 million profit it reaped from adjusted revenues of $2.38 billion in 2014.

The company also saw a relatively minor slide in active player counts in 2015 compared to the prior year, slipping to 494 million monthly active users and 141 million daily active users from the 499 million and 142 million (respectively) it saw in 2014. 

However, the company reports a marked year-over-year uptick in in how much its getting out of each paying player; in 2015 King’s monthly gross average bookings per paying user hit $24.20, up from $20.21 the year prior.

Source: Gamasutra