Developing Across the Globe by Brandon Driesse

We’re on the final video/article from PAX East 2018. How exciting!

I’m kidding, it’s time to crack my knuckles, slink back into my chair, and put on a GearVR headset to play some more of Lila’s Tale. Rafael Ferrari(holy shit, really? That’s his last name.) is a member of Skullfish Studios, and there have a very familiar story: A few game developers scattered across the globe with only a company name in common that bands them together. That makes their company sound looser than it is, but I’ve always been more of a poet than someone who writes in prose. Anyway it’s the same for us at Scarecrow Arts.

By this point(we released the videos sequentially in the order we filmed them) I’ve become an expert at hearing thick accents and understanding a solid forty-percent of what they’re actually saying. As for Rafael’s booth situation, he’;s comfortably seated between two other studios that pitched in to attend together at a third the cost(again this kind of setup needs to be disclosed in the application).

Lila’s Tale is actually very interesting, you control the entirely game by wear you look, and subsequently, where you don’t look. Rafael was a lead developer for GearVR in Brazil(where he’s from) and is now working from country to country with his team on interesting VR titles for a console most people unintentionally already own. The game runs very well, I didn’t play long but there was no hint of motion sickness, and the lighting is very pretty. That’s not my favorite word to describe the visuals of a game, but I was a little surprised how colorful and cartoony, yet detailed, the models were. Phones are cool, I’m not much of a mobile gamer, but maybe Joe Russ has the right idea; we did try to make an android build of The Story Goes On back in 2016, might be time to revisit that.

 
 

Something unique about Skullfish Studio’s goals is accessibility. Lila’s Tale uses very little language, it’s not strictly English or Spanish. Having English as a second language is damn near a requirement to play good video games, something we strive for with TSGO, Anton’s initiative, is to translate the game into as many languages as possible for players who are either too old or too young to be able to read English speedily. Another, much simpler, way would be to throw language out entirely like Skullfish and uses shapes and culture-agnostic symbols to tell your story. It’s very fitting with Lila’s Tale, looking around is just about the first thing you ever do as a human being and it’s the main game mechanic.


Brandon Driesse Creative Director

 

Showcasing w/Playcrafting by Brandon Driesse

Talking with Eddy Walda was a pleasant surprise. I was on my way to meet and exhibitor I talked to on Friday about doing an interview at the Playcrafting booth and on Sunday I ended up with an entirely different person and game. THat’s partially the beauty of Playcrafting, one of the many cheaper alternatives to getting your own booth at PAX East.

Eddy is interestingly enough a student, like myself, at Harvard, very much unlike myself. Here’s a widely known fact that somehow people keep forgetting, students don’t have money. I spend most of my yearly earnings outside of food and living expenses on attending these types of cons; I can’t imagine dropping twenty-times my usual amount on showcasing solo. That’s where Playcrafting swoops in like a majestic hawk of bureaucracy and you fill out several forms to attend and gain valuable feedback(that thing Momin was raving about, kind of totally necessary).

While the booth strives to be consistent, some applicants can only stay a couple days or sometimes even just one. In that case it’s just a matter of rotating out a laptop and a couple banners to accommodate you better. Playcrafting not only helps smaller devs showcase at big cons but also host classes in Unity and design little bootcamps to walk newbies through the whole process of game development. Stuido Studios, who we talked to previously, actually participates in teaching these week-long programs. You can start to see from interview to interview the connections between devs that are intertwined, something that Momin Khan was, again, raving about.

It’s hard to not feel… nostalgic? Something to that effect, when writing these articles and editing these interviews together. Something about the conversations we had sticks with me and I yearn to do even more, maybe see some old faces and/or meet someone new. I want to provide a resource for small indie devs scared of all the big buzzwords and steps one needs to go through in order to get their game in front of players. Sure, itch.io and newgrounds.com have public portals to dump your work into, but there’s a stark difference between faceless downloads/viewcount and receiving a paycheck based on copies sold, watching twitch streams of your product(I watch every stream of TSGO I can find) or better yet seeing someone play just a couple feet from you for the first time. I want to go back again this year to conduct more interviews, but even still I really want to showcase our own games one day, bring the three of us around the world together talking shop with players. Maybe something like Playcrafting can help.

Sorry Eddy, I would talk about your game Hexile, but nothing quite explains this title so much as playing it. There’s a demo available on their site, as always click on the Dystrophic logo to travel there and play it. The first few minutes is very simple but stick with it(and for the love of me turn of motion blur) and you ay have a good time. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.


Brandon Driesse Creative Director

 

Multi-Platform Releases by Brandon Driesse

Joe Russ is part of one of those utterly amazing teams that pump out incredibly polished games. He is very skilled in his craft(and fluent in after effects puppet animation, a favorite program of ours too) and so is his partner in crime. Speaking of crime I want to introduce you to Jenny LeClue, an ace detective born from the likes of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys we have puzzle/adventure game decorated like a mystery, with perhaps a little murder involved. I’ve been following this game for ages, and lucky me when it comes out I can buy it on… basically every modern console out today; sorry Ouya.

Exhibiting is hard, it’s grueling and the hours are long. Most teams elect several members to go to any given con, but for a two-man team like Mografi Joe went and Ben stayed home to keep working on the game. Scarecrow Arts is really just myself, Malcolm and Anton with various artists that we commission and work alongside. In a situation with a small team like this, take advantage of the extra Exhibitors Badges and bring a friend along, someone you can set by the game station and give you a break while delivering the spiel to attendees.

First hot tip down, now time to gush once again at the gorgeous mystery game Jenny LeClue. The whole genre is under-tapped, and although this game has more of a linear adventure based around puzzle-solving and not deduction, I thoroughly enjoyed the demo and what the team has in store for their 2019 release(delayed). The game was always planned for mobile so the build was always pretty lightweight. I was a bit concerned when Joe told me that his team wanted to release all platforms simultaneously with different prices(even though logistically the desktop builds will be ready much sooner than mobile). Easily only an hour before our interview my cameraman, Matt, and I attended a panel where a seasoned dev berated the idea of under-valuing your game on a different market and instead roll out the cheaper options later in the game life to keep buzz going and milking the most money(not really as evil as it sounds when your game selling is livelihood-dependent). It’s easy then to rationalize that a phone user wouldn’t pay 20 dollars for a mobile, but if a Steam user saw the game was undervalued on a different market(e.g. 2 dollars on IOS) they would flock to the cheaper option instead. Joe, however, seems pretty comfortable with his decision and has confidence that the player will always gravitate towards their usual platform of preference and after some thought I tend to agree.

One final note to discuss is Mografi’s attendance at PAX East. Joe actually registered to be a part of their official Indie Showcase, similar to PAX West’s “PAX 10”. After paying the registration fee and getting selected, Mographi earned a free booth at the con, and, almost as good, free press! Visibility is crucial in an expo of 200+ booths. Always submit to these programs first if you can, but the final selection comes down to what PAX assumes attendees want to see. This time it was Jenny LeClue: Detectivu.


Brandon Driesse Creative Director

 

Getting Started With VR by Brandon Driesse

Jose Zambrano pulled me in across the expo hall on charisma alone. We’ve got another studio showcasing their first game and this time it’s… Stuido Studios. Come on guys, you gotta keep your SEO in mind! Let’s take a moment away from the do’s and don’ts of showcasing at PAX East. Let’s take a moment to dive into VR and how you can get your hands on a free headset(kind of).

The advice in this video I quickly took to heart and shared with Malcolm, proposing a VR title as a side project. That idea got scrapped, but we still intend to explore the medium, and with Jose’s shared experience you can too.

It’s time to hussle! If you’re like Stuido Studios in NYC and your desired convention is within driving distance then drive. If you gotta fly the team out, arrive early and purchase TV sets, tables, consoles, whatever you need and return or sell that equipment in Boston. Shipping costs can be detrimental and unpredictable. Sometimes two days into the con you realize you need a third TV, not everything can be planned for and you’ll end up purchasing new equipment anyway. Talking about VR, developers can go to Oculus’s website, the Vive, and PS VR and under hidden tabs you’ll find entry programs for making games. These platforms are barren and need to be filled with quality content so the environment can survive. Due to this demand studios like Stuido were able to apply for a headset and get a couple for free for development purposes(there’s a lot of steps) and in the meantime, while waiting for the papers to get approved, borrowed headsets from local friends who jumped on board early with VR.

As an indie dev you’ve always gotta hussle like Jose. Each member of a small team must wear many hats to get anything done. This is a small lesson outside of VR talk and convention shenanigans. A game studio is a business, there’s contracts, there’s money changing hands, there’s problems. Take the time to learn about your business, read up on legal jargon, or elect to use a professional in your stead. Look for other outlets to make money on the side and keep your doors open. Stuido teaches Unity class in NYC where they’re located and we here at Scarecrow Arts create After Effects tools and templates for consumers and other creators.

Go hussle.


Brandon Driesse Creative Director

 

When to Get a Booth by Brandon Driesse

Momin “Nine-words” Khan from Root 76 games joins me for some meaningful discussion. I actually met Momin a few months prior at MAGfest and played his game Clash Cup Turbo(which I was actually already on the mailing list for during Alpha) and attended an interesting panel he did on the importance of game jams. Now our new best friend, Momin, may be an indie game developer, but he did not get a booth for PAX East. You could click the video to find out why or read on.

You may have guessed a big issue with getting a booth is the cost; we’ve talked about it plenty already and will do so much more. There is a way to circumvent that cost though, all you need to do is get into a joint booth with Megabooth, Minibooth, PAX 10, Playcrafting(which we’ll discuss in a later video), etc. Be careful however, PAX strictly prohibits registering for a booth and then sharing it with other developers, you must register together.

As it stands Clash Clup Turbo(Root 76’s four year project) is almost complete. Where Tribute games might suggest taking the time and money to showcase the game and slide into that small window of focus the gaming community will give you, Momin counters with an equally logical approach. The team justifies the cost of conventions by using player-feedback that they observe like safari guides and put that information into bettering their game. Clash Cup Turbo is past the point of needing player feedback and requires final polish. Renting a booth at PAX East would net the game little new feedback and ultimately display a slightly worse version than the build that would release several months later.

The bottom line is this, and Momin says it best: “going to PAX East costs as much as going to four other conventions. PAX East is great to be at, but is it better than showing at four other conventions around the world?” I love PAX East, there’s a special place reserved in my heart for all the memories, troubles, trials and tribulations I face yearly with my closest friends to have a blast. I will not be renting a booth myself for Scarecrow Arts this year(maybe something closer).


Brandon Driesse Creative Director

 

Developing in Australia by Brandon Driesse

The Shy Kids Club is a wonderful little husband and wife dev team based in Australia working on a fun co-op side-scroller for the Nintendo Switch. They’re also hosts for the global game jam down under and have experience running somewhat big events as well as attending them overseas. Talking with Craig I gained a lot of insight into their budgetary needs/concerns. One country outside the US that is well known for their video games is Canada, mostly due to the government there supplying creators with financial assets and write-offs in the form of the Canadian Media Fund. Australia used to have something similar, the Australian Games Fund, but has disappeared in recent years.

As a dev, you need to justify spending money to showcase at a con: all of the expenses to fly equipment out and stay for the entire duration of the event can quickly run up in the thousands(which may be better spent elsewhere depending on where you’re at in the dev cycle. This calculation is somewhat skewed when you’re traveling internationally as well. Craig and his wife came to PAX East on a whim after they had an good reception back at PAX Australia, sealing their fate.

Let’s talk about their new game for a second. The couple has previously participated in many game jams, creating little projects, but this is their first really big project together; a good one at that. “With Friends Like These”, a somewhat unfortunate name to search online(we’d know a little something about that ourselves), is a co-op required side-scroll adventure where two different colored orbs must work together and communicate to succeed, alternating pilot and gunner. It was a lot of fun playing alongside Craig, there’s a few minibosses that lack a health bar(YES PLEASE) and the controls were very tight.

To keep this article short you can watch the full interview above, but one thing to note is that no matter where you’re coming from, no matter how awesome it is to be at PAX East, try a smaller local convention first and test the waters. I’ve found many great indies traveling the small expo circuit in New Jersey from college campus to rented-out used games stores. Look online and drive to these places, see how you can market your game and get immediate feedback before dropping several Gs. A final take-away I learned from Craig(although I suppose I knew myself deep down when creating this series of Dev Talks), going to conventions is a great way to meet other devs, make connections with publishers and perhaps run into the very next new member of your team. same can be said for the Global Game Jam that the Shy Kids Club hosts back home!


Brandon Driesse Creative Director

 

Pacing Your Dev Cycle by Brandon Driesse

Have you heard of Tribute Games? Maybe not, but you have to have seen their games; most notably Flinthook! I love this game, there’s something about killing enemies without touching the ground that makes me feel like an extra-special Spider-man. Also interestingly enough they use the same method of randomizing the rooms in each level that we do in The Story Goes On. I’ll talk some more about the game in a later paragraph, but more importantly let’s learn from some French veterans in game development. They’ve been around a long time children, so listen close and gobble every word of wisdom up in the interview shown below.

For the hearing impaired or non-millennial who prefers to read large blocks of text instead of watching a short video(like the guys at Tribute Games), I’ll talk some more about “pacing your dev cycle”. I apologize for how short that discussion runs in video and will go on this page, but I just started gushing while talking to Yannick about his game and he’s got such a great personality.

Something we’ve talked about in the last video was: when to decide a booth is right for you. When specifically in the cycle you should show the world your game. The team over at Tribute asks themselves this question a lot and very much has to do with the development cycle of an indie title. A few years ago, Yannick goes on to say, a team might want to showcase the game up to a year in advance, but current trends suggest that indie titles only have a few precious moments in the gaming community’s eyes before passing on(due to flooding). We see this a lot with early access titles that get a huge buzz at E3. A couple years down the road I tend to ask my self “Did We Happy Few ever come out? Oh it did? A year ago?”. Now Tribute Games choosing to attend the convention with two completed games to showcase and say: “It’s out now, you like it? Go buy it.” We’ll start to refer to this as “The Netflix Approach” in future discussions.

I want to write about Flinthook and Mercenary Kings, but screw it, nothing will sell you better than the trailers themselves. Click their logo to visit their site and just play it. By god just play them. And drink plenty of water, your health is important and although crunches are productive and fun, too many will kill you. Learn from Yannick’s youth, the game will be done eventually.


Brandon Driesse Creative Director