The Climate Change Jam we hosted on Alakajam has ended, and we actually managed to submit an entry too. Our idea was to bring the need for our planet's reforestation to people's attention. Ultimately, Forest Poems became less of a game but a collaborative forest where participants can create and add their own small soil patches with trees which also form a poem.
The texts are semi-randomly generated from a list of words, chosen from five different nature-themed poems by five different authors (you can find the credits in the game). Prominently on Forest Poems' start screen are three links to various sites concerned about planting trees.
We like how players are have to place their trees in a pleasant composition while also thinking of a somewhat meaningful poem. And afterwards it has to fit to the already existing patches, slightly challenging creativity a third time. And of course, seeing the virtual forest grow over time is a joy to watch.
Ten projects were submitted to the Climate Change Jam - more than we expected! Mostly because the theme is hard and does not spark "fun"; which is the reason we wanted to do it. Game jams are awesome, and we think they could be inspiration for "more" than just throw-away projects. In any case we want to thank all the participants (and those who tried)!
By the way, this week the gamescom in Cologne starts. Jana will be there for a few days - if you see her, say hi!
In the last full week of August we not only visited the Gamescom, which is the biggest gaming convention in Europe - we actually went there to showcase our current project, Behind Stars and Under Hills, at the Indie Arena Booth. As Jana is part of the orga team of this 'convention within the convention' we took the opportunity to present the game on 9m² and get some feedback by gamers. (Of course, the 'game' itself still is a prototype, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union and the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung.)
Behind Stars and Under Hills is very much pre-alpha (which means nothing is set in stone, everything is a placeholder, and anything can change) and won't be finished for at least a year. But it's important to let people see and feel a project early enough, so you don't develop a game eventually nobody wants to play. This is why this time, in contrast to our Gamescom presence 3 years ago (with TRI), we offered sheets of paper and felt-tip pens so players could write down their feedback. Quite an impressive amount of colorful text was produced this way, filled with criticism, wishes and comments.
So, to say it loud and clear: thanks to all our players! While for me just standing around and talking all the time quickly became tiring, and the whole experience was stressful and even annoying sometimes (thanks to loud presentations by some hardware vendor, offering t-shirts to the cheering masses), meeting so many cool, polite and interested gamers was a blast and made up for any inconveniences. Personally I was a bit surprised that most visitors of our booth were delighted by the design of our game and of the dialogs. To be honest, I expected people to be less patient - but here it shows the benefit of being part of a site dedicated to indies only, as the expectations of the visitors coming by are different.
During the five days of Gamescom the most common gripes with the game were the lack of a button for sprinting and a missing (auto-)map. Of course we already planned some kind of map, but are not sure yet how to implement it exactly. We'd like some kind of 'cartography skill', to make the maps more meaningful and part of the gameplay. Or maybe we'll just distribute hand-drawn maps in the game's world, to support the lore and the immersion.
On the other hand, sprinting is a different thing. We never planned to have it, as we actually want to make a "slower" game with a certain atmosphere to convey. (If you remember the development of TRI, you will feel like having a deja vu.) And maybe such a sprint mechanic could even lead to new problems especially for people with short attention spans, where they wouldn't process the environment anymore and just rush through, and find their way even less. So it's possible not the lack of running is the problem, but the amount of backtracking (e.g. having to go back to familiar place because of a quest with an NPC there). Maybe having a map already fixes this particular problem; thus adding maps has a higher priority for us. In any case, something like teleporters between the levels (anchored in the background story) are definitely planned.
I regret a bit that I wasn't able (physically and mentally) to play some of the other games, not even at the Indie Arena Booth. Behind Stars and Under Hills is so unfinished, fragile even, that I couldn't bear leaving it alone to the masses for too long. I mean, it was the first time the game was playable for the public!
But of course it never really was alone, as we had help by our wonderful volunteers - here's a shoutout to Björn, Jacky, Ludwig and Max! Not only did they explain the game to interested bystanders and answered questions, or helped players who got stuck, they also handed out flyers and made the whole experience much less of a hassle than it could've been. Here's hoping the Gamescom, loud and chaotic as it was, has been a wonderfully crazy experience for them, too.
Our next plans are to develop Behind Stars and Under Hills further of course, and refine it a bit - for example, the whole storyline still is too hazy so we need to work on it a lot more. More gameplay has to be implemented, more characters created, more levels built... Also coming up is the Poznan Game Arena in October, but it's much too soon, i.e. that we probably won't have much new to show. Still, if you happen to be around, come by and try to find crazy old Willard in our small game demo!
Yes, updates seem to become rarer and rarer. The main reason for this is that we still do not have a new project. Yes, we do have plans, but as usual nothing is set in stone yet, and nothing drove us into a development frenzy. Since the release of TRI we created a few internal prototypes and game jam games, some of them I wrote about on my personal blog. We also update our Facebook page more often than this blog, as some news are tiny.
And while we planned and created ideas and abandoned them every month, we were also giving interviews for local radio and TV broadcasts and local newspapers - so it's all in German. Press came when they heard that we won "Best Youth Game" at the German Computer Game Award 2015, so this is a nice side effect. Jana also created a booklet for German indies, which you can grab at the upcoming Gamescom 2015, or just read it online thanks to Martin Nerurkar. (Yes, we will be at the Gamescom, but mostly as visitors only.)
Another thing we did was filming my brother Ludwig Hanisch in his basement, where he created the music for TRI. It's an interview of around 15 minutes about family, inspirations and instruments. Watch it now - it even has English subtitles!
In order to create a more extensive, more interesting post-mortem of TRI, we made a digital artbook. Even though I already wrote a short retrospective about TRI's development, I felt it was necessary to close this chapter in a much cooler way. Thus there is the artbook now, which exists in two versions:
The full edition (94 pages) contains it all, background information, WIP screenshots, concept art, scribbles, etc. - everybody who bought the deluxe edition of TRI has it.
The lite edition is free to download for everybody - it contains the first 51 pages of the full edition and is only missing the transcript of the developers' commentary; the very same commentary you can also unlock in the game.
Oh, and one last thing: to our surprise TRI got an Honorable Mention at the 2015 Geekie Awards, which is pretty crazy if you consider the high-quality competitors. Thanks to the judges for the mention!
That's it for today. Hopefully we have more news sooner next time!