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Publisher + Gamescom

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One day I want to make a visualization on how often we postponed TRI.

But don't worry, this is not going to be an article about the thousandth delay; instead I'll describe how excited we are about the upcoming deadlines. Yes, you read correctly, we have a deadline. Since we have a publisher now we can fully focus on developing the hell out of TRI and face our release with some professional help in marketing and publishing. And we are going to be at the Gamescom this year. Not as guest, but as exhibitors.

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But first things first. We teamed up with the publisher of games like Cloudbuilt and Deadly Premonition - our new best friends are Rising Star Games! We are very glad that we found a fair and communicative partner with a ten-year experience and an eye for indie 3D games.

What it means to have a publisher in exciting, but also fast fluctuating times like these was shown by the positive responses to the announcement on my Facebook timeline. Despite the fact that many of my friends and colleagues are indie devs and even more studios every day join the business model of indie development.

Anyways! The graphics won't use normal maps, you won't get to shoot a weapon on innocent foxes and we will never add in-app purchases ;) In fact: Nothing will change for you guys, except that we mustn't adjourn TRI anymore, which is important for us! I also hope - since we never had a publisher before - that the transition from our Early Access shops will go on smoothly. If you bought the game it will stay yours, no matter where the game is published later. This change and also the fact that Early Access has kind of a bad reputation nowadays, are the reasons why we are not going to bring out TRI on Steam now, but wait until it will be nicely polished AND finished in September.

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With the help of Rising Star Games we could also effort to have a visual appearance at Europe's biggest game event in Cologne this August. We will be in town to show TRI for a whole week and invite you to come by and meet us! Until I am able to announce where we will be find - have some new artworks!

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You want to learn more about how we made TRI? Have a look at our Making-of videos!

Try TRI before it's even out. It doesn't suck 50% less than the average Early Access game!

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Making-of episode 4 and new screens

Two years ago we had a fully playable version that still neglected story completely, but the triangles worked together with the level design, finally. At this time we heard of other developers trying out "early access", which had the more precise name "alpha funding", back then (or in our case even pre-alpha funding ...). I loved playing these games and seeing diamonds-in-a-rough developing into more playable and polished games with every update.

I analysed everything I found out about these alphas and wrote down The pros and cons of making a game alpha. At the same time we decided to jump into the cold water to try this infamous new method to get early feedback and funding with TRI. The funding didn't work out, but the feedback was pretty motivating. For the first time we had feedback from players and we realized what Early Access really meant: whatever you plan your game to be, players might have their own visions or show you issues that you wouldn't have recognized without somebody playing the game that isn't you.

This version isn't available (anymore), although I wonder if this is fair, since people paid for it. And the current version doesn't look anything like the current one. So, for those of you who missed out this experience, Friedrich and I played it for you again.

Of course we also push TRI forward, instead of just looking in its past. At the moment we try to fix little nasty bugs, polish finished levels with physicalized or animated objects and smooth out puzzles or paths that people got stuck in. Have a look at some of the examples:

At the moment we also work on cutscenes, finishing monologue and story text and mentally prepare for attending the Gamescom in Cologne in August. And finishing the whole project ... somehow ... soon.

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The Golden Sparrow – Der Goldene Spatz 2014

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Last week we received the 'Goldener Spatz' (means 'Golden Sparrow') for TRI. The award is not only a very beautiful pipe-blown glass sparrow, but important for us for mainly one reason: the jury consisted of children only!

The children that applied and were selected for the jury position were all boys, so they were aptly called GameBoys. They were not just asked to play games and choose one among them for the award; the children also needed to be able to articulate what they like, what not, and why. Therefore we received their statement printed on the certificate together with the cute little Golden Sparrow.

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We like the idea that the Children's Media Festival does not only award movies, games and websites for children, but also let them form their own opinion. A jury so young has an interesting advantage as well: the opinions were mostly created without tactical or political decisions. They presumably didn't consider trends nor fame, but followed purely personal taste.

Maybe I interpret too much into this, but it was highly enjoyable for Friedrich to talk to them after the award ceremony in Erfurt, Germany, and hear their thoughts concerning our game TRI. We like how much they engaged with the game, developed their own ideas for what could be added and also were not too shy to criticize it.

We realized, by receiving an award made for and by children, that we should totally aim for children as an audience. Especially because TRI is challenging but non-violent, imaginative, and it triggers what most children love most: curiosity and exploration.

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Photos by Florian Hohmann @hohse

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EGX Rezzed, Amaze and Making-of part 3

Birmingham - EGX Rezzed 2014

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The REZZED, including 2 days of visiting Birmingham, were a blast! The convention is full of interesting games, diverse genres, from AAA to smaller and very experimental indie titles. It was really fun and rewarding to be chosen for the nicely arranged Leftfield Collection. And to have TRI presented to young kids, families, a whole bunch of YouTubers, and curious players for the first time after two years of work was a really good feeling! Of course, meeting other devs and talking about their games was pretty cool, as well.

I really feel that I should have written more about the Rezzed, since our days in Birmingham were absolutely enjoyable and also important for us, to show the game around. But unfortunately, we take the final sprint to the release of TRI, which makes writing up all the events nearly impossible.

A Maze Berlin 2014

At least I have to mention that we visited the third edition of Germany's very international Indie Festival A Maze in April, again. Being there is always a big highlight of our year! It feels almost like coming home to the place where you belong. The A Maze is a crazy colorful exhibition with all sorts of games you might or might not imagine. From weird stuff you never fully understand, to multiplayer games you can play for hours, to pieces of art and artistic expression, students' works and polished diamonds smash hits. Not to forget workshops and talks. This festival is always so fully packed with interesting people, enlightening talks and fun games that I just get crazy, not knowing where to jump first.

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Making-of TRI episode 3

For the lack of written blog posts we made this third episode of our making-of story. This time we talk about our first prototype and why it was scrapped, again.

We soon have some fresh news for you at the end of the month, as we're working on the Steam integration! Until then we need to give this guy here more interaction, voice and animation.

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Update for TRI, Making-Of 2, Game Jams, Presskit

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We finally could release a new version of TRI - after "ObliviousFox" comes "OptimusFox" (or in numbers: the game has now version 0.4.1)! Here are the most important changes:

  • Fixed missing collision geometry in level "Tower of Nowhere"
  • Hidden stone parts now save and load their position correctly
  • Kami part of Level "Prisons" is now beatable
  • Changed level info in the pause screen
  • Loading screen can't appear anymore when loading right after death

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If you got the game via any platform (Desura, our own website, IndieGameStand, GamersGate) we recommend you download the new version as soon as possible, as you can't complete the game otherwise. (Sorry for that!) While we're at it, we'd also like to mention that TRI is now also on itch.io.

      Making-Of, Part 2!

We filmed the second installment of our TRI Making-of series! Have a look:

You can find the first part on YouTube.

      Game Jams!

Two weeks ago, the 7-Day-Roguelike Challenge 2014 started. Tradition demanded that we should participate, and so we did. Unfortunately our ideas didn't trigger the right motivation, and in the end I (Friedrich) started on Friday alone, with only 2.5 days left, to make a small game named Variablo that already got a bit of nice press coverage. In Variablo you have to not only walk through a dungeon and kill monsters, but also move parts of the dungeon around like in a sliding puzzle. It's inspired by the board game Master Mind. It's fairly short.

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But wait, there's more - this Saturday, Mini Ludum Dare 50 starts - and I am the host! I had several ideas in mind for the theme, but ultimately decided to please the fans and announced that participants need to make a Demake.

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Demakes are remakes of already existing games that use a "less advanced" technology - like going from 3D graphics to 2D - or they only present a subset of the original gameplay. Officially the MiniLD starts Saturday and ends Monday, but you can create and upload the game until end of March.

      EGX Rezzed

We changed our plans and decided to fly to Birmingham, UK, the next week, to visit the EGX Rezzed. So if you're around from Friday to Saturday (28th - 30th), and want to have a chat, we will be near the Leftfield Collection (where they exhibit TRI) from time to time! Hope to see you there!

Of course, we will still visit the A MAZE. / Berlin in April. Phew, a lot of traveling around in such a short time frame!

      Presskit

Last but not least Jana took the time to create a new presskit for not only TRI but also about us and our company. She used the excellent presskit() by Rami Ismail. We also have subpages for Pitman, Tumblox and our game jam games now, complete with descriptions, screenshots and videos.

That's it for today! Thanks for reading!

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TRI – Beta, Greenlit and a making-of

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1. Beta

The last months really were a blast. I think for the first time of the development of TRI we managed to stick to our schedules.

After a lot of work and headaches to create the final levels, we now have 16 of them - each more beauti-weird than the other. Ready to keep you busy for around eight hours in our spaces of gravity-madness and color.

  • We also added some gameplay elements like solid light rays - tubes you can reflect like light rays, but are able to walk on.
  • And there is a new effect which greyes out the region where you won't be able to set the other two points and make a full triangle. So creating them will be quicker and more fun!
  • The last levels are not fully tested, but you will be able to play through the complete game from now on.

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If you want to have a look at the new content check your favourite platforms to get the latest version!

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GamersGate2. Greenlit

Since September we were climbing the steep mountain of Greenlight. After swiftly getting the first 65% ("To the Top 100") we somehow camped in the stormy regions of 70%, took some steps upwards whenever a new batch got greenlit and fell back when we didn't manage to loudly beat the drums for people to recognize us there. But in February we finally reached more than 90%, also through the help of HOCGaming, who did a bunch of Twitch.tv sessions with TRI.

At February the 19th we completely skipped the Top 100 and got greenlit by Steam! We are so very happy and want to thank everybody who supported us on this way!

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3. Making-of

Because the release date is crawling nearer and nearer (and won't slip through our fingers that easily like it did before), we decided to filma little series of stories that led to the creation of TRI. Have a look at the first episode, in which we talk about the beginning with the Ludum Dare #20 version.

The upcoming month are going to be very stressful AND exciting. TRI will be presented in the Leftfield Collection of the EGX Rezzed in Birmingham from March, 28th-30th and we are going to attend the A Maze in Berlin from April, 9th-11th. It would be cool to see you there, as it is an truly amazing event for indie game developers and gamers alike.

In the meantime we will be working on the characters, animations, cut scenes, sounds, voice overs and polish, polish, polish. So, stay tuned and if you played the beta, we would love to hear your feedback, of course.

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Global Game Jam in Leipzig

I wrote this article after a request to GGJ organizers to tell stories about your own location. It got published on the GGJ page, as well.

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You might have heard of Leipzig as a game city, once. Until 2009 the GDC Europe and the Games Convention were hosted in the capital of Saxony, Germany. But since it moved to Cologne in 2009 (and was renamed to “Gamescom”), there was not only a huge convention missing. The absence of game developer events were visible and it hurt to realize that the city became unimportant for the developer scene. Besides, Leipzig has a sparse population of game companies – few of them dedicate their 100% manpower to game development only.
But even without company clusters, big names, game events and conventions, we have a very cool monthly regulars' table hosted by René Meyer, who owns the world's biggest retro console collection. Usual visitors are professional game devs, journalists, a twosome who owns the Retro Games Store, a company that has Germany's biggest board game distribution, musicians, amateur game devs and indies like us.

But we still have very few to no events where game devs exchange and show their skills. Although we knew of game jams like Ludum Dare or the Devmania Overnight Contest, we never heard of the Global Game Jam – until we met Zuraida (GGJ Dir) in Berlin at the local BIG Jam, where we learned about this global madness. Totally enthusiastic to participate in the Global Game Jam I started a web search for locations near Halle/Leipzig. Error. The next local event was in Berlin.

Die Teilnehmer des GGJ 2014 von Klaus Bastian

Die Teilnehmer des GGJ 2014 von Klaus Bastian

So we did something I totally hate, but which was necessary to be part of the jam: we searched for rooms and became organizers ourselves! Together with Klaus Bastian from the local university HTWK we started the first GGJ location ever in Leipzig.
Now that we got the location and the knowledge to set up everything there was only one thing left for completion: people. Where the hell would we get people for a jam from a city that has no huge game developer community?

René and Klaus started everything super-professional and sent out press releases to local newspapers and it worked! They responded and wanted interviews to learn more about the event. Afterwards, people I never heard of appeared on the website and subscribed to be part of this new jam thingy.

When the jam started on Friday, the 27th January 2012, people showed up and we managed to develop seven games. Yes, I'm talking about seven games here! But the jam was not only about creating games. Thanks to the event we got to know new people, exchanged addresses for future works and finally had our own one-weekend game development event in the year.

Vorstellungsrunde von Klaus Bastian

Vorstellungsrunde von Klaus Bastian

Additionally to the jam we opened up the “dev cave” on Saturday for visitors, introduced the open development not only to families with their little game-devs-to-be, but also got new people interested for the upcoming jam. This event worked out so well, we continued encouraging people to jam with us the following year.

2014 we are going to host the third edition of the Global Game Jam in Leipzig and everybody is super excited. We want to grow and try to find even more interested people from around Leipzig.

Thank you, creators, executives, directors and admins behind the Global Game Jam. You guys encourage local scenes with this amazing concept of worldwide jamming! Because of your already established concept and infrastructure you motivate us to get out of our holes and force us to find like-minded people. And the greatest thing: it doesn't matter if there was or is an already big scene.
Go create your own location, or make more of the already established ones!

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The winners of Ludum Dare, and what to learn from them

This was originally a quick and dirty talk I held in 2014 at our Global Game Jam location in Leipzig, Germany. I wanted to give the audience (mostly students, a lot of them without experience in the art of game jam) an impression on what is possible during a game jam even when you're alone and have to do stuff from scratch; so I showed them the last five Ludum Dare compo winners, which means each of them got the first place in the "Overall" category. The talk would conclude with some best practices, at least in my opinion.

As most of you probably know, Ludum Dare is an online game jam held several times in the year, with the big versions always commencing in April, August and December. Thousands of participants make a game in 48 hours each time, and a lot of them also are part of the quite active community surrounding the jam. Everybody who joins can be sure to get feedback and answers via the blog on ludumdare.com, and via the IRC channel #ludumdare on AfterNET. And don't forget that for three weeks afterwards, every participant can rate all the others' games, so the brutal final ratings for each category (e.g. Graphics, Fun, Mood) are there for the whole world to see. With the high numbers of entries, winning the competition may sound nearly impossible. So let's take a look at some of those who actually did it!

 

Ludum Dare 24 – Theme: Evolution

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Evoland is a Zelda-like with a funny idea implemented well. It has a lot of chests – in each chest you find a feature that hauls the game to the next step of videogame evolution. At first you can only walk right, but you get the ability to walk left soon. After that, you can walk north and south, how cool is that! Scrolling! Colors! Sounds! Weapons! Nicolas Cannasse broke down a pretty standard Zelda clone into its most minimal parts, used those parts to let the player explore them, and made a unique game this way. (Later on he even extended the game and you can now buy it on Steam.)

As a game jam game Evoland is very ambitious and I couldn't believe that it was made in 48 hours. I assume Nicolas had the idea and concept very early in the process, and using a programming language he invented himself might have given him a good headstart.

 

Ludum Dare 25 – Theme: You Are The Villain

Atomic Creep Spawner

Atomic Creep Spawner!! reminds me a bit of Dungeon Keeper, although you can only do a fraction of what is possible in that game. A pompous knight is raiding your very own dungeon, stealing your money and destroying your orbs, and you have to stop him by spawning a lot of monsters. You create those hordes of zombies and ghosts via simple clicks on the floor, and they find their own way (more or less) to the rampaging knight. A fair bit of AI must have been programmed for this game.

Made by Sébastien Bénard (known as deepnight, one of the most successful Ludum Darers!), Atomic Creep Spawner features great humor and amazing pixel art. Sébastien even found time to include a tutorial at the beginning. What the game lacks in interactivity it makes more than up with polish and love for details.

 

Ludum Dare 26 – Theme: Minimalism

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MONO implements the theme via its graphical style (which looks simplicistic, but is actually very well done), but most certainly not via the gameplay. While at first glance it seems to be a minimalistic game in every sense – you navigate a small sphere through a world of rectangles – the levels soon become more and more diverse, which is what keeps the game interesting. This is a nice trick you can learn from: make a game with only some basic functionality, and if you have the time, add another level with new elements and mechanics inside it – rinse, repeat.

Tim Hantel managed to make a neat dexterity puzzle game with a lot of atmosphere, mostly by adding a fitting soundscape. The gameplay mechanics sometimes make the game a bit frustrating (you die by touching a wall already), but in general the player's death is a forgivable experience: you spawn instantly at the level start again. An important lesson I think.

 

Ludum Dare 27 – Theme: 10 Seconds

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PROBE TEAM could easily be part of the Ludum Dare before – it uses one single color only, enhanced by some cool looking post effects. While I never liked the theme in itself, because I always felt that it would cripple gameplay concepts instead of fertilize them, Andrew Shouldice actually made an interesting type of exploration game out of it. You start little probes which have 10 seconds of fuel each (so be economical with your commands), lead them through some kind of maze and activate triggers to open doors. It feels a bit repetitive, but the moody atmosphere absolutely helps to tolerate and even enjoy it.

 

Ludum Dare 28 – Theme: You Only Get One

One Take

One Take by Daniël Haazen is a great example for an unusual idea creating a whole new experience. You play as a camera operator taking one continuous take from a movie scene, and all you do is following orders from a film director in the form of short sentences, like "Zoom in on the sheriff" or "Go back to the guy in the alley". The scenes are a bit animated (while most of the action comes from yourself) and actually feel like small movies – already worth an honorable mention in my opinion. The cherry on top are the pixelated newspapers after each level, including reviews about the 'movie' and your performance.

 

Learnings

So what can we learn from these great examples of Ludum Dare rapid game development, for our own jam games?

  • Make something simple. All the mentioned games concentrate on a single idea. Be it spawning monsters in a dungeon or moving a small sphere around obstacles – important is to focus the game's concept on one aspect and not trying to add more and more features. Of course, this implies you actually have a nice idea that can be played barebone and that you like.
  • Be inspired by the theme. This one surprised me a bit, probably because more often than not the theme of a jam hinders instead of helps me. But all the winners above are very close to the theme, and that must tell something, probably about inspiration.
  • Think in two dimensions. Although one of the games uses Unity, all of them are 2D games, varying from totally abstract to concrete pixel art. I don't know exactly why that is, but there is probably more than one factor why jam games prefer to be 2D. My guesses are: the game is simpler to make, the graphics look better while being less work, there are a lot of premade frameworks, and you get a nostalgia bonus.
  • Use a framework. The Ludum Dare rules state that you must make your game from scratch, but it is allowed to use libraries, tools and engines that were already made by you or others. So use them! The winners from above utilized Haxe (compiled to Flash), Java with libgdx, Unity and LÖVE. Three of these games were playable in the browser (with plugins), which might also be a small factor adding to their successes. Remember that Ludum Dare's winner are determined by people who have to play thousands of other entries, too – the less problems they have to play your game, the more likely they will play it.
  • Generally you should try to make your game as accessible as possible. Deepnight's winning game Atomic Creep Spawner includes a tutorial, but you don't always have to go this far. Just don't innovate where it isn't needed, and explain things when they come up for the first time, be it via text or picture (better yet, force the user to play it to understand it).
  • The last learning for now is somewhat vague, as the games tackle this very differently. Some of them use a lot of humor, via little comments from the characters for example, others are pretty atmospheric, often thanks to their great use of sound. What we can take away from this is: don't shy away from trying to evoke emotions in the player. It seems the humoristic way is a bit easier than the one with the dark mood and the feels. Speak to the player, or let them explore interesting places. Give them reasons to attach to your game!

 

Conclusion

Making a game in 48 hours is hard, winning Ludum Dare is even harder. But if you look at the above examples you see it's not impossible! Sure, you need to know your tools in and out – the Ludum Dare Top 10 isn't the place for learning a new programming language. (This could be a bonus learning.) Just keep in mind to have fun and make something worth playing. Everything else comes afterwards.

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