Tag «Tri»

The Casual Connect / Indie Prize 2015

On February the 3rd I took the train to Amsterdam. I was in the Netherlands before, but Amsterdam is something on its own and a city I'd really like to explore a bit. Unfortunately I wasn't able to see much of it during my time there: the Casual Connect Europe was calling! But not really. The Casual Connect - to be honest - is a convention about making money by utilizing browser and mobile games, free2play, in-game advertizing and so on. Not something where our game TRI would fit in, at first glance.

But here's the thing: the Indie Prize, which according to its Twitter is "a scholarship program for up and coming indie development teams who show promise to be future leaders in the games industry", also is an integral part of the Casual Connect. They probably included it so they would have actual game developers present and not only the publishers and SDK developers. Therefore five large rows of tables were set up and housed around 100 indies and their games. And PC games were allowed!

Play TRI!

So that's why I could show TRI for three full days on our laptop, along with some promo material. My table, or rather my half of the table, consisted of red table cloth to stand out a bit in a subtle way, a laptop with TRI to play, some flyers and my old 7 inch Galaxy tablet showing the release trailer of our game in a loop. I had to download an app so the trailer would actually loop - turned out the normal video player doesn't support that. I didn't find an app that would be able to show more than one video, but I guess that's asked too much already. I really wanted to have our iPad to play the trailer, but somehow it seems to be an impossible task to get the synchronizing of your own stuff (like videos) to work correctly. To be honest, Android is a bliss in this regard...

Anyway, it was really helpful to have the trailer, otherwise it would not be clear what TRI is about if you just looked at the screen for a few seconds. Some kind of eye catcher is always a plus! (Although some people pushed it a bit too hard with posters 2 meters high, just so you'd vote for their game ...) And for the first time our flyers were really nice - as they were not only printed with the correct colors, but also printed in time, so I actually had them with me. Yay!


The other half of my table was reserved for Constantin Graf aka RebusMind and his puzzle tile swapper with RPG elements SwapQuest, presented on two tablet computers. I played it for a long time when there was nothing to do, and I must say I really like it. The option to customize your character and the appealing graphics made me dig it a lot, and when Constantin will finally release it (soon) on Android I'm going to buy it for sure. Game Loop Lab's Blockadillo was next to Constantin, another 2D mobile game - this one has nice graphics, which for a change are handdrawn AND not pixel art! I already played it a bit on my own device as it is free2play, so I can only recommend to try it out. Last in the row of 'German games' was Schein, another PC game actually made by the Austria-based Zeppelin Studio. It's a unique, well done and very hard puzzle platformer which I luckily already have on Steam.

German Corner

It became apparent pretty fast that the organizers of the Indie Prize placed developers together according their country of origin, which was cool because this way one could compare games from each country and culture directly. So when I found the time to actually walk around a bit and have a look at the other projects, it was like wandering over a tiny globe. ;) Unfortunately I didn't have that much time or energy to play a lot of games. I remember liking Find the line a lot, and I wonder why it wasn't even nominated at the awards.

Indie Prize Tables

But the award ceremony was pretty well done, in my opinion. It had the right length, everything between the nominees was short and emotional. It was super nice that each finalist had a short moment of fame as a trailer of the game was shown. The judges did the right thing and didn't nominate any game more than twice - this way, more different games were in the final rounds and the award ceremony did not become repetitive. We are very grateful that TRI was nominated in the categories "Best Game Design" and "Best PC Game" - truly a big honour for us! Congratulations at this point to every team which won an award - I won't list them here, as I surely would forget someone. (You can find all the winners here!)

Award Ceremony

My only gripe with the ceremony is the fact that it began at noon on Friday, a bit of a strange time. I missed a warm lunch this way! Of course, that's not really something to complain about, as free lunch packages were handed out by the friendly volunteers and the buffet was free too. Overall this was the least expensive convention I went to, ever - even the accommodations were paid for: the StayOkay hostel was around 15 minutes of bus ride away, but it was comfortable and the breakfast was included. Interesting enough I was the only one in my 6-bed-dorm; I talked to some people about their lodging, and no one knew that there was some kind of Indie Hostel!


As I had to take the bus or the tram each day I had the opportunity to have a better look at Amsterdam. It really is a captivating city, with the grachten and the cool architecture. I will definitely revisit it some time, so hopefully I can actually see it by daylight then. ;) At least I had the change to explore some of the party locations, as the Casual Connect hosted a get-together each evening. For example, Constantin and I played a local multiplayer game and danced a bit at the Official Party "NEON" in the Club AIR.

My personal highlight - besides the nominations - was the fact that I had the chance to briefly speak to Peter Molyneux - I just love his game Dungeon Keeper. He was there to give a talk about inspirations and having new ideas. It was kind of interesting, as he gave some insights into Godus, 22cans' team structure and how to engage players. All this not very deeply, of course. I hope the Unity team recorded the talk, as he expressed "I love Unity!" loud and clear on stage. In the end I managed to give Mr. Molyneux a TRI flyer, which I am sure he framed and hung above his bed.

Molyneux At Work

I only found the motivation to visit one additional lecture; it was about workflow and automation for when you have lots of content and a small team. The talk was held by Alexander Birke from Rumpus Animation and was pretty complete, as everything was explained on what you should do in order to keep a general view over your project. There were a lot of other talks and presentations, always four at the same time. Fortunately most of them were about user acquisition and advertising and so on; not really interesting to me - thus I had more time to showcase TRI.

Although that was a bit in vain, as there wasn't much press at the Casual Connect (or it hid really well from me). But meeting other indie developers along with the volunteers (who guarded the tables and helped where necessary), and talking to them was the best part of the whole show anyway.

At the last day I got a bit sick, which is why I left right after the end. Normally I only catch the Fresher's Flu when I get home, so this was a new thing for me. Nonetheless the Casual Connect was nice and a positive surprise to me thanks to the Indie Prize organizers. A big shout-out to them!

And next time I might even be more open to the whole business thing!


TRI, our next project, and Advent of Indies

Happy New Year 2015! Well, yes, it's after mid-January already, and Jana's last blog post is from over 1.5 months ago. There just wasn't much to tell since the last blog entry; and still we are not ready to show our next project, which will eventually be our first bigger game since the release of TRI. (Also, I am more comfortable to write blog entries when I sit in a train with nothing else to do, and as I write this one we're on our way to Prague for some kind of short vacation!)

But let's talk about something else first: the Advent of Indies 2014. In our opinion it was a cool calendar this time, with great indies and a lot of people participating in the prize draws, which was nice. On the other side I am not so sure we will do it again (in this form) - too many people sent their material much too late. Especially the Christmas greetings, which we thought were the most important and interesting aspect this year, as they made the event personal and actually caring about the game developers and the community.

Advent of Indies 2014
One of the indies didn't answer messages anymore and we had to find a replacement quickly, which resulted in Bumblebee presenting their game Ghost Control Inc. on the 12th day. Thanks for helping out, Tassilo! And some days before the final 24th, everybody who came after was so late with their stuff that Robert Podgorski from BlackMoon Design offered his help and even sent material (for The Few) ready to release within an hour. Thanks a lot! In the end everything worked out somehow and I didn't have to replace another indie, but it was nerve-wracking, to be honest. This is why the next Advent of Indie might change a bit, at least for the participating developers.

Of course this is only the organisation side, which I know will never be without problems, especially if you try to gather 22 different people, all with their own plans and schedules. So we want to say thanks again to everybody who participated, who wished us a happy new year and who gave us a bit of feedback! Traffic seemed to have increased at least for some, which is actually just a side effect of our goal: we mostly wanted to spread some joy and bring the faces of indies in front of the community. Personally I loved when an indie was personal in their Christmas greeting. :)

Another thing not going as planned is, of course, TRI. A short retrospective: TRI was the game project we started to plan end of 2011, and which was finally released in October 2014 on Steam (with the help of our publisher Rising Star). Boy, what a ride! It was our biggest achievement in 2014, and we are glad it's over, although I still plan to do at least a small update for the game, perhaps even adding official Oculus Rift support. Because some people actually like it when they get dizzy, apparently. ;)

TRI on Steam
Unfortunately the game is not doing as great as we would have liked. While the reviews and general reception are mostly positive, TRI is missing the visibility in order to be actually profitable. It's just that not enough people play or even know the game. After three months on Steam the initial drive is long gone and we're stuck with a meager 70 user reviews on the Steam page. Everybody who really wanted the game probably got it in the Holiday Sales. (I find these big sales dangerous for the percepted value of games, but I won't go into this topic for now.) Apparently TRI is on a lot of Steam wishlists, but I don't think you can trust this too much - I saw people with 500 games on their wishlists...

Right now a small bit of money is dribbling in every month, but this will change soon enough. There's too much games out there nowadays, all craving for attention. Last I heard 300 games got released on the iOS AppStore in 2014 EACH DAY. And Steam isn't that much better with 15 to 20 new games daily, especially if you consider the price difference. I won't blame the market only - of course we also failed to generate a hype for the game, and even after over two years of development it still could use some polish. A real, thorough analysis is probably only possible after six or more months.

Yet we are thankful that we were able to work on such a grand project, and we learned a lot over the development time! Oh, and did I really imply that we worked for around three years on TRI? Well, this must mean that the Rat King became four years old two weeks ago! Happy birthday!


Yes. These are rats bursting out of a cake. Why not!

Our next project is still not planned to the fullest. Some important points are clear, but that's about it - we want it to be smaller than TRI, with less development time. We want to be on more platforms this time, especially mobile, not only desktop, which means it should support touch controls out of the box, ideally gamepad controls too. And it should be easier to handle and get it, so there should be "fun" right from the start.

Of course we already have some more concrete concepts, but nothing is totally set in stone. There's still a lot that can change on a whim, just because we think it would lead us into a dead-end eventually. Slowly but steadily we gain confidence about what we're going to do. By the way; if you played our old roguelike Pitman a bit, it wouldn't be wasted time if you could write about which parts of it you liked, and which you think totally should get changed. We need some feedback on it for research reasons...

TL;DR: Happy new year! Advent of Indies ended and was exhausting but cool. We wish TRI would be more popular. Our next project is on the way.

TRI Post Mortem

TRI is a game with a long story, so I won't even attempt to remember every detail. Instead, I will write down what comes into my mind. This way the following article might be a bit inconsistent; I hope it's still an interesting read.


The story begins in April 2011, when I participate for the first time in a big Ludum Dare event. It was the 20th Ludum Dare, with the theme "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!" (a quote from Zelda) – but the theme didn't really matter, as I got the idea for my entry the evening before. I was inspired by working with 3D modeling software, where you create and manipulate polygons, and I thought: how could I use that for a game? Good thing the eventual Ludum Dare theme kinda fit – I just equipped the player with a "Tri Force Field Gun" (the "this" for the theme), and TRI was born, where all you do is creating triangles to walk and jump on them, and solve a few puzzles.

The Olde TRI

My entry was kinda successful: I submitted it to the Compo, but eventually switched to Jam, because I copied a character controller from the Unify wiki (as Unity's inbuilt one was too wonky). The Jam worked a bit differently back then, so my entry didn't receive any ratings. But PoV featured TRI in the results announcement post, and people who played the game (the community of Ludum Dare, and players on Kongregate) liked it well and some even asked for more levels.
A few months later, in October 2011, we were searching for a cool new project. Somehow we convinced ourselves that we could create a full version of TRI within a few months, which of course was very naive. We actually already made two commercial games back then, but as those were done in a much shorter timeframe and were for mobile only we still underestimated how hard it is to make a full-blown game with individually designed levels, somewhat complex gameplay, physics and a story-line. Also – and this was the worst part – a lack of clear direction (due to missing experience) hindered a straight development, and so we changed the design several times before TRI became the game you can see and play nowadays. Of course, we learned a lot during these three years, but I often wish we would have learned this stuff faster.


TRI was made by Jana and me, Friedrich. Jana created the visuals and most 3D models, while I programmed in Unity/C# and also made the GUI. We both created the levels and searched for and worked on the sounds. The music was composed by my brother Ludwig.

It is still funny for me how each department is received extremely differently by different people: some love the graphics, some find them bland. Some adore the gameplay, some think it's clunky or just headache-inducing. Some bought the soundtrack, some just found it repetitive. I know that tastes differ, but as most feedback nowadays comes from official reviews, it's just silly how one piece of opinion claims that our levels are "not convincing" while the other describes them as highly genius.


But yeah. A lot of reviews miss the "polish of Portal" in TRI, and I can't do anything else than concur. We are a two-man team, still learning, with a fraction of the budget of Portal. I guess the secret of success is to hide such facts as well as possible, but I don't know how. So the biggest learning for us: we won't do anything this big again soon. At least we shouldn't.

We even had to take breaks during the years, because of interfering contract work, or just because we had to take some time off. Both didn't make development any shorter, and if Rising Star wouldn't have approached us to give us some funding and a deadline to kick our asses, we probably would still work on TRI (or having a break from it).

In reality, TRI was a good project for a small team, as the game has a narrow scope: the main gameplay is about creating triangles, and almost all of the other mechanics somehow work with this mechanic. For example, there are light rays, and you can reflect them – with the triangles. And you can walk on the walls and the ceilings – thanks to the triangles. There are also some basic physics puzzles (dropping crates on platforms and so on), but the physics are built into Unity. So how did TRI become a "too big game"?

By not being absolutely clear about the game's direction.


One indication for this is the game's story. We wanted a background story from the beginning; the original TRI has one, although fairly simple and only communicated via texts on walls. And yet it added a big portion to the package – so we still think some kind of narrative is necessary as a hook. Just think of how showing triangles would be boring for reviewers and YouTubers. This is why we needed some characters in the game. Unfortunately our story changed a lot during the development, or rather: the whole design and with it the story. From a sci-fi setting with a mad professor and a fantasy story with an alchemist, to the now present fable about a Monk and a Fox. This last iteration of TRI's plot feels a bit tackled on sometimes, and really you can still complete the game (hopefully) even when you skip all story bits (hopefully not). So it's there to entertain, but the narrative sadly isn't an integral part of TRI.


The most problematic thing was that Jana and I never fought over what TRI actually should be – at least there never was a clear winner. Jana was all for making a game about atmosphere and looking at nice architecture. I on the other side was totally focused on the gameplay, and how there should be a lot of puzzles, because I feared people would be bored otherwise.
This way TRI became a game with two souls – there are parts that are mostly about the design, and parts that contain a lot of riddles and obstacles. Thankfully it doesn't feel too much like a game with multiple personalities because Jana added her personal touch to each level after they were done by adding the textures and decorations. And fortunately the Monk and Fox also help to string them together, at least in my opinion.


Nobody ever complained about the sound design – apart from our very own voices for the climbing. Still, this fact is kinda great because although we actually tried to hire someone to make sound effects, the deal didn't come to place and we found our best partner in freesound.org – really a great resource for indie developers. Most of the sounds actually were done within a few days. Sound design may be something that we still neglect, but TRI didn't focus on sounds anyway, even though we wish we had time to create atmospheric "sound carpets" for each level, because sometimes everything is silent and nothing happens, and it then feels a bit too lifeless.

Screenshot 1

Although we normally tell everyone that the game was released on 9th October 2014, we actually put TRI online for the first time in June 2012, as a "pre-alpha", which was a stupid description. We renamed it quickly to "alpha", and a bit later I also tried to get rid off the version numbers (like 0.3.0) which always were low and unattractive, by replacing them with something cooler: code names! The next version was then "MagicalMonk", which sounds much more confident.
These early-access versions (purchasable via our website and Desura) were not very successful in terms of sales, but we actually never did much marketing for them. We rather tried to get feedback from people interested in the concept and art style, by pre-selling the game for a low price and adding a survey at the end of the game. The later versions even included the possibility to give direct feedback via an inbuilt form. (Thanks to Jedi for the idea!) This was great, because people could send us bug reports or suggestions together with a game save. And it was a solution for our QA problem – every game needs testers, and this way everybody can be one!


In October 2013 we submitted TRI to Steam Greenlight, and some months later it was finally approved by Valve. It also made a lot more people aware of our game. But unfortunately Greenlight was a better marketing tool when it started in 2012. While the first batches of greenlit games were celebrated by the press, this effect became non-existent, thanks to the countless, bi-monthly batches with 100 titles approved at once – and TRI was part of one of these, in February 2014.

It was like winning $20 – nice, but absolutely underwhelming. On the other hand we're a bit proud of being greenlit before TRI even reached the Top 100, although I am not sure what exactly that means.

Thank you!

Anyway, at least we're on Steam – and as the saying goes: “be on Steam, or don't be”. A little anecdote: to be visible to curators (the new thing on Steam) we had to rename TRI, as the name was too common (think “Counterstrike”) for the search form to work, as it relied on auto-completion only. This is why TRI is now called “TRI: Of Friendship and Madness” (Jana's idea) almost everywhere.

Thanks to Rising Star Games we're also on GOG. GOG was great regarding the release, as they wrote a very cool release article. And you can also get our game directly on the HumbleStore, too!

Overall we are happy with the reception of TRI: more reviewers than I would have expected like or even love the game, and our Steam user score is pretty high – as of writing we have 30 positive and only 2 negative reviews, resulting in 93%. Yet, the game is still missing visibility – Steam, Greenlight and reviews alone don't do that for you (anymore). We need more YouTubers with a high amount of subscribers, playing the game on their channels. And probably some sensible discounts, as it seems a lot of potential buyers are just waiting for the inevitable XY% off sale. I can't even blame them: with so many games on my backlog, I do the same with most new titles.


What can TRI offer you? It has 16 levels created by our hands, 5 different "worlds" each with a different background music and a new look, two animated NPCs, all degrees of freedom, and unlimited triangles. You conjure these to overcome abysses, to block and reflect light rays and lasers, and to walk on the walls and the ceilings. A lot of areas can be approached differently, depending on your own play style. Even some of the puzzles have more than one solution, and I sometimes see people solving them in a new, unique way. There are very open levels where you can fall into the void, and levels with a lot of narrow hallways. You can jump, crouch, climb, run, carry crates around and use levers.

TRI is a bit about celebrating freedom and possibilities, and we hoped that a lot of people would love that. For now, we still have to find out how to reach them.


If you enjoyed reading this, you might want to have a look at our Making-of video series, our the rest of our blog.

Screenshot 2