Director’s cut or… Author’s Edition

13 08 2009

Have you ever heard of director’s cut version of your favorite movie? I’m sure you did. How many developer’s cut versions of games have you heard of? Not too many? If at all.

Two days ago Darek Rusin made a comment on my blog and because I haven’t heard from him for a while I went to his website to check out what he’s up to.  He started Orchid Games and released Heartwild Solitaire.  So far his website is dedicated to just this one game and that made it easier for me to spot the thing that made me mention his website. Right under the title he put Author’s Edition. That made me very interested and I immediately wanted to check out what is so special about this version. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any info about it. Too bad. It could help “steal” customers from portals.

When we worked on Runes of Avalon we had to remove very nice feature in my opinion – Amulet of Spells. We had to remove it because it didn’t work so great and we didn’t have time to find out how to fix it, but I really believed in Amulet of Spells (you don’t earn money by having great ideas, but by releasing games). This made me thinking about releasing developer’s version of Runes of Avalon. It never happened in the way we know it from movie industry. It was much better for us to release this version as Runes of Avalon 2, as we figured out that amount of changes is too big to make it “just” a special edition.

So you see, it’s worth commenting on blogs. You might get a link to your website for  free ;-)

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Just don’t do it

12 05 2009

I’m working on a new game. A game with new gameplay mechanic. Maybe not the whole new genre, but something that hasn’t been done this way in this genre. The thing is that I am really tired of this experimenting. A lot of indies want to create innovative games and a lot of them blames others for making clones. But if you are just starting your game development career… if you don’t want to get frustrated by trying solutions that for most of the time don’t work… if you don’t have a strong team and faith in your project…

Just don’t do it.

Find a game that you like to play and would like to develop and clone it. Really! It’s so much easier and you’ll get things done so much quickier. And when you’re small, you shouldn’t waste to much time on research. It’s not that you won’t be able to develop new and fun gameplay mechanic, but the chances are minimal… and you’ll either find it on the first try or give up in the middle of the project.

This is my third innovative game (after Runes of Avalon and Pony World). We will make it fun. It’s fun already, but can you imagine how much effort it took to make it fun? How many times I wanted to quit and would quit if my partners didn’t push on me to move further?

Generally, innovative games are too risky… but may be also very rewarding as everything that is risky (have you put your savings in stocks lately?). What’s your take on this?

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Interview with Chanon Sajjamanochai, Executive Game Producer of Viqua Games

23 02 2009

One of the greatest things about indie (and casual) games is that you don’t have to live in the USA, Canada or UK to make great games. You can leave in Poland, Croatia or… Thailand. Chanon Sajjamonachai, Executive Game Producer of Viqua Games is a great example of that. Shop-n-Spree, their latest release holds strong in Big Fish Games top 10 sales chart. If you want to know how Chanon makes those top selling games reading this interview will a be great start :)

How did you start your game development adventure? How big is your studio now?

I knew I wanted to make games since high school. Soon I began learning C++ on my own and made a minesweeper clone and a simple top-down shooter. It was extremely hard to find info on making games though here in Thailand. About the time when I got to college, the internet explosion was just beginning, so with my top-end (at the time) US Robotics 33.6K modem I tried to find and learn everything I could about making games.

Fast forward 5 years later, I got bored with my enterprise software development job after a year and decided to resign and start a software company, thus ViquaSoft was born. At that time J2ME games on cell phones was supposed to be the next big thing, so we did a few games for that, but then I discovered the Dexterity forums and decided that developing casual downloadable games on PC was more exciting and might be more lucrative. So we started developing Tommy and the Magical Words and have focused on downloadable casual games ever since.

Right now we have 8 full-time people at our office here in Bangkok. We started with 3 in the beginning about 4 years ago and have been expanding continuously. Right now we’re expanding again and are looking for some more good programmers.

I am impressed by execution of themes in your game. You surely get maximum fun out of it. Who designs your games?

Thanks :)

The answer to that question is all of us. All 8 of us are the designers of our games.

The process goes like this:

First when we need to come up with a new game idea, we have everyone go back and try to come up with some and we meet and have everyone pitch their concepts. Then we kind of vote to choose the best one. But I still have the final say of course :)

Then when it comes to the actual designing, we do a lot of brainstorming together. We try to gather everyone’s ideas for the game and choose the best ones. This period consists of lots of meetings where we iteratively refine the details of the game design.

You could call this design-by-committee which some say is bad. I’d rather call it design-by-passionate-team :) From our experience if it is managed well then it leads to a well thought out design pretty quickly. With this method everyone in the team gets to exercise their creativity and build their game design skills. Just by listening to the more experienced team members discuss about the design issues, the less experienced team members learn a lot. Also each team member has a lot more personal investment in the game’s design and the game’s outcome. In any case, the producer (me) has the final say though.

Everyone understands the reasons behind every design decision which helps a lot, otherwise you have team members arguing and complaining to each other (and me) on design decisions all the time which makes everything go slower.

I believe that if you have programmers and artists just developing according to a designer’s vision without being able to give any input, they will feel like machines. Additionally the team members wouldn’t really be growing as “game developers” as design is a big part of game development. So the aim for me is to build everyone’s skill in game design so that together we can create better and better games more effortlessly.

And it is tons of fun discussing the game designs together, bouncing ideas off each other. During the design phase it really makes work feel like play and I sometimes feel guilty that I have a job that is so fun.

So how do you create a best seller game?

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Interview with Jake Birkett (Grey Alien), Big Fish Games Lead Programmer

11 02 2009

Jake Birkett is well known in the indie game developers community. He developed Holiday Bonus, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Fairway Solitaire. In the end of 2008 he made a transition to Big Fish Games and is no longer indie, but he still works on great games. If you want to learn more about Jake, find out what makes a best seller game and how indies can compete in todays market start reading now.

NOTE: In this interview Jake speaks for himself and not as BFG representative in any way.

Jake BirkettFairway Solitaire was published over 14 months ago. Isn’t it the time for a new release? When we can expect it?

You can expect it around the Weekend of Sat 21st Feb.  This is 100% certain now unless something crazy happens.  I’ve spent a long time on this game (about 11 months) but I’ve been pretty busy moving continent and other stuff…

Should we expect another hidden object game?

No.  BFG in Seattle makes those, we are tasked with making other games in Vancouver.  It will be fun to hear what people say about it – mixed opinions no doubt, but as long as the customer love it (and express their love with their credit cards) then I’m happy.

Ok, so how did you get started in game development?

In 2005 I went full-time Indie after making business software for 9 years in Delphi and SQL.  I’ve always made games as a hobby since the age of 8 (I’m 33 now) in BASIC, assembly, C, C++, Delphi, Blitz and probably a few other things along the way.  I reached a certain point where I realised that I enjoyed making games so much that I just *had* to do it for a living – so I stopped doing business software and started writing games professionally.  I made two downloadable match-3 games and was contracted by Injoy Games to make a 3rd, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which went well.

Match-3 as a jump start in game development career? That’s how you’ve met BFG?

The Wizard of OzEmmanuel from Big Fish Games Europe saw Oz and thought it was programmed well and asked if I would be interested in programming a game for them.  I had to think about this quite hard because I saw it as great opportunity to learn more about casual games from some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, yet I also was keen on building up my own business and working for BFG would slow that down.  Also frankly at the time I needed the money because, as many Indies will know, it takes quite a long time to build your business up to the point where you are making a half-decent living.  In the end I said “yes” and signed a contract to program Fairway Solitaire.  However, before I started work on that game I quickly launched Holiday Bonus using an upgraded Oz engine, and it’s done really well for me over the last 2 years.

Fairway Solitaire was a great success for BFG. Why solitaire? Solitaires were not so popular at that time?
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