June 25, 2014

Dirty Depths - The ugly, the good and the bad guys

DIRTY DEPTHS
(iOS, Universal)

Dirty Depths title screen

In fact, in order to make a joke, we liked the title Piranha 2D but finally we decided to use Dirty Depths because the fish is not a piranha. This is our fourth title of a series of five short games we want to finish before embarking on more complex projects. The goal of this is to finish and publish games, test the market, try things, learn, make mistakes and solve them, and all that.

THE GAME

It's an arcade survival game to test your ability and reflexes. You play with a horrid ugly fish that eats fast food thrown into the water by a girl driving a jet ski. Get close to the food and the fish will open its mouth and devour it after a while. Food gives you points, so your goal is to survive as long as possible and eat all the food you can to enter our fantastic in-game world Top 10 leaderboard. The food that sinks faster will give you more points.

Dirty Depths in-game screenshot

So far everything seems easy, however, you're quite a monstrous fish to be accepted by this intolerant society. Lots of fishermen and seafarers have come looking for you and they will do their best to capture you, preferably dead. Avoid all hazards on your way, whether underwater mines, depth charges, harpoons... Well, actually every hazard has its own behavior so you should observe and learn in order to master the game.

Dirty Depths gameplay video on iPhone 5

Luckily, the girl driving the jet ski also throws other items into the water that will make your life easier. The Bubble item will protect you from being hit once. The Slow Down item will make all other items to sink slower. The Letter items will let you complete the word PIRANHA, the familiar hallmark of your distant freshwater relatives. This will remove all hazards from the screen and will give you an extra ration of fast food.

That's it. Download and play Dirty Depths because, in our humble opinion, it's more fun than Bike Assault and we're quite happy with the result. We could say this game requires more concentration by the player. Also, enjoy our high quality pixel art graphics and remastered 16-bit style music, as always.

AND NOW WHAT?

Our next step is to code our fifth and last short game of the series that, of course, it's also very curious. Maybe it has the best graphics of all five games.

Have a nice day!

June 24, 2014

Do you wanna learn pixel art? Here are some tips.

Hello folks!

We're writing this because a reader of our blog would like to start making pixel art, and he asked us about what pixel art software do we recommend. As it seems that the answer could be of general interest, here are some tips for anyone interested on entering the exciting world of pixel art. As an example, this is the tavern we uploaded to PixelJoint a few days ago:

Tavern with some vikings from our "Project V"

PIXEL ART SOFTWARE

First of all, and although it's not more important than undertanding the theory, we will recommed some software for making pixel art: Graphics Gale. There are many more programs for this purpose, in fact, we made a list at the end of this post: Mac doesn't have any decent pixel art software yet. Overall, we think that Graphics Gale is the most versatile software available for pixel artists, and it's free. It allows you to work with layers, the color palette lets you easily copy and arrange colors, and you also have animation tools. That said, the truth is that we prefer to work with iDraw Chara Maker because we're used to it (due to our RPG Maker past), but we consider that tool a bit obsolete (from 1996).

Graphics Gale, recommended pixel art software

WHAT IS PIXEL ART (AND WHAT'S NOT)

Pixel art is not about drawing using the pen tool in any image editor, and much less using automated and uncontrolled behavior tools. Pixel art involves an intrinsic manual thorough pixel-level work, with a reduced color palette 100% chosen and controlled by the artist. We highly recommend reading the following tutorial on pixel art, created by Cure, one of the many great artists you can find in PixelJoint: The Pixel Art Tutorial.

FIRST STEPS

Once you understand what's pixel art (and what's not), you could sign in to PixelJoint and start uploading your work to the forums (or to the gallery if you have polished it enough). You'll receive feedback to help you fix common errors and improve. Our personal recommendation is to keep a low resolution or image size, i.e., do not upload giant drawings made with the pen tool, pure black line-art and coloured via paint bucket tool. Take a look at what was done in pixel art games from the past (you have lots of references in The Spriters Resource). Also we recommed Henk Nieborg portfolio, which is our favourite background pixel artist.

In general, your technique will improve if you start working at low resolution (32x32 canvas, 64x64, 100x100, etc). Definitely, making graphics for games will help you in this regard (even if they are imaginary ones or will never be released). You can always make mockups like our tavern, composed fully by low resolution individual pieces (characters, items, tiles...). That whole scene can be decomposed into smaller individual works, each one crafted pixel by pixel. Here is another example from our "Shooter II" paused project.


With pixel art, you can make awesome stuff in a small canvas

Well, we hope this helps newcomers. Now all you have to do is practice, make mistakes, fix them and improve.

Have a nice day!

June 6, 2014

Business models for mobile games

What's up, people!

Gordon Gekko brings some advice for you!

Let's make a summary of the main business models for mobile games, based on our own experience after trying almost everything in our short games series. We have been thinking a lot about this. We will also comment the pros and cons based on our own point of view as indie developers with a small team and no budget for marketing, so please undertand that the conclusions fit well in our particular case. Anyway, we're sure this post will help someone.

While it's said that first you should have a polished game (and that's true), the fact is that, in this apps ecosystem, the business model is very important and will almost determine the type of game you should do. We recommend thinking about it in design stage, before starting the development process. If, however, you develop a game without thinking about its business strategy, you'll be reducing the number of business models to benefit from in the future, and may eventually be detrimental and irreversible.

PAID APPS

This model does not condition the type of game you should be developing at all. You can design and develop any idea you want and sell the game. It's that simple. The problem is that the market is saturated with apps and now the fight is about getting visibility. Also, unfortunately, there is a large gap between paying and not paying. It's not about how much the user must pay; it's about paying or not paying. If the game has no demo, good reviews, articles and press coverage, you'll lose a sale from any doubtful customer.

Perhaps this business model is recommended to big companies with vast marketing budgets, or games that are "special" for some reason, or developers with important contacts or friends in the press and media, or non indie developers teaming up with a publisher. Overall, it's not recommended to independent developers, since they often lack staff, time and budget for marketing and creating hype. But if you have a very polished game, this is the way to go. Gamers are willing to pay for good games.

FREE + ADS

Offering the game for free will help you get visibility and downloads. This will eliminate the economic barrier. But you, as indie developer, need some revenue to keep creating amazing stuff in the future, so ads could be the solution. In fact, ads come up with several problems. First, disfigure and condition the visual aspect of the game (though not its game mechanics, so you can keep developing any idea you want). Second, ads are displayed only in certain countries (at least using Apple iAd Network), but obviously they are the most important. You'll lose sales / income from other countries. Third, ads are profitable in the long term, and only if you get a large volume of app downloads, hence lots of ads impressions.

This is a very interesting business model for indie developers. In fact, it lets you focus on development, leaving most of the marketing stuff in the background. If you create an attractive game, for whatever reason, you'll get downloads, visibility and gain some income. With this model, advertisers put the money, and users put the time. Believe us: users prefer to pay with time instead of money. This may be the most honest and less compromising model. But we repeat: you'll need a high volume of downloads, and that's not easy.

FREE + IAP

If you want to offer the game for free, but without relying on advertisements and their obscure details, you could enable In-App Purchases (IAP). This is the business model that currently generates more revenue. However, this model itself determines the type of game, as you should guide its design and development towards the creation of users needs. This is called Freemium (free basic version, paid premium version, shareware), but there are several ways to apply the concept. 

The honest one: offering premium content (for example, new levels, new characters, remove ads, etc.), but while users aren't purchasing new content, developers won't see any income. And, in fact, the conversion rate (people that actually pay for new content) is usually absurdly low.

The greedy one: pay to keep playing. The ultimate goal here is to "force" users to pay, and several times if possible. Basically, pay to keep advancing on the game. You can call it "Free to play", but we consider this method a variation of the Freemium model. This method is applied by all major companies, of course.

If you only pursue money, this is the way to go. From an independent developer's point of view, which in theory is independent precisely to create the games he want, it may not be the best business model because this only works with some very specific genres and type of games. You will be forced to introduce In-App Purchases in your game design, and although they are all legitimate, some of them border on the immoral (but does anyone care about that at this point?).

CONCLUSIONS

Let everyone do what they want based on their personal situation. We already have been thinking about this, maybe too much. The conclusion is that, as independent developers, we have two arms for getting visibility, downloads and revenue without having to beg for money and attention anywhere: making curious and rare games (like we do), and offer them free with ads (and the choice to remove ads for who so wishes). But this will only happen with short games (our first five games). Upcoming better games will be paid. With this already decided, we can focus on game development without transforming our games into digital stores.

Thanks for reading!

June 1, 2014

Making pixel art graphics for games? Keep it simple.

Hello folks! 

If you want to start making independent pixel art games, maybe you feel like reading the conclusions we have reached in time, after dealing with the development of several different projects (some of them are still in development). Basically, it comes down to a very important premise: you're making a video game. Betting on the graphical complexity is fine for personal satisfaction and to improve, but the result you should be looking for here is, mainly, to create an entertaining game with content. 

For a small team, a high graphic work load becomes impracticable. We have roughly estimated that the graphics production usually take 80% of the development time on large projects. So, based on our mistakes, here are some tips or conclusions, very useful when development time becomes an important issue.

LOWER RESOLUTION

If the game is for a 480 x 320 pixels (iPhone 4) screen resolution, it would be advisable to use a resolution of 240 x 160 pixels (50% original size), and subsequently display the game magnified twice (200% or 2x). The pixel artist will be more productive and, of course, creating and animating stuff becomes as easy as a walk in the park for an experienced artist. Obviously, some visual details are lost, but the playability factor will not be greatly affected. The gameplay is still the same. But this is undoubtedly the most drastic cut; negative from a visual point of view, positive as far as productivity is concerned.

F-15 airplane sprite from Aero Fighters and from our paused project "Shooter II".

The Humanitos at 240x160 (fast reduction). If we fix the graphics, the game is still the same.

TILESETS AND TILEMAPS

Creating vast scenarios or unique backgrounds from scratch is, in our opinion, an error if you intend to give your game much more content later. To solve this we recommend using tilesets and tilemaps. With a small set of "pieces", levels can be created without excessive graphic work load. A tileset is versatile, easy to extend, and takes up less disk space and memory. Needless to say that a tilemap can be exported to an image and serves as a starting point to create a more detailed and less repetitive scene.

The magic of tilesets and tilemaps. Map from Final Fantasy VI.

ANIMATION AND TRANSITION

Another cut with low impact on gameplay would be to reduce the number of sprite frames in each animation and bypass transition poses / animations. When, for example, a character moves from stand pose to attack pose, a transition occurs. This transition can be instantaneous, or smoother if intermediate frames are used. For large sprites, transition poses are useful and usually need many frames. For small graphics, a priori, this is not so important and you can animate using key frames exclusively. It depends on the game, but keep in mind that transition frames detract immediacy to gameplay. As an example, you can compare Megaman X with Earthworm Jim to understand the impact of animation in gameplay.

Megaman X and Earthworm Jim (which likely is "over-animated").

DO NOT RE-USE COLORS

The reason: nowadays there are no limitations in this regard, at least if you're not making a true retro game for old hardware. It's advisable to have a separate color palette for each area of ​​the sprite (skin, hair, shirt, pants, etc). This will facilitate color management and adjustment, which is usually done when you already have all the graphics done, in order to align and homogenize the visuals.

What the...! I only wanted to change the hair color!

CONCLUSION

If we are going to make our own indie pixel art game, we have to be realistic when planning the project. You must know and understand what resources and personnel you have, and based on that, make decisions. At this point, maybe visual cuts don't have as much impact as cuts in content. In short: keep it simple.

Regards!

May 19, 2014

The Humanitos - Crush'em all! Well, not all...

THE HUMANITOS
(iOS, Universal)
https://itunes.apple.com/app/the-humanitos/id861341884?mt=8
 
The Humanitos title screen (iPhone 5).

The Humanitos is a remake of our first game for iOS, titled Mosquito's Insomnia. Such old project (2011, almost 3 years ago) was made with one goal in mind: learn how to program in Objective-C and publish games on the App Store. It was a simple enemy tapping game for iPhone only, with no rules. Now, with our experience, this new version, The Humanitos, features more interesting gameplay mechanics, cleaner programming and interface, music according to the situation and, definitely, it's a better game. Of course, now it's an universal app and has been designed for all devices and screen sizes. In summary, Mosquito's Insomnia was out of the App Store for a long time and we thought it would be cool to bring it back and offer our players a polished new game, like Firemen Rush or Bike Assault.

THE GAME

The Humanitos in-game screenshot (iPhone 5).

The mosquito can't sleep due to those noisy little winged humans (the humanitos). You can help the mosquito by crushing those humanitos, but there is an important rule: you should crush the humanitos with the same face as the one that appears in the mosquito's dream, and said dream changes constantly. It's an arcade game, your goal is to crush more humanitos than anyone in the world, and features some seek and find elements. If you crush the wrong humanito, you lose time. The timer starts with 1 minute left, and the game is over when the time runs out. Luckily, you can make combos (quickly crush two or more humanitos) to get more time and quite odd power-ups. It's maybe a bit hard the first time you play.

The Humanitos gameplay video (iPhone 5).

These are the items (power-ups) you can get:

 
Game power-ups.

The pill. This item freezes all humanitos that are different from the one that appears in the dream. It's very useful because the whole game becomes almost desaturated except the humanitos you must crush (still in color and moving).

The pill freezes all humanitos different from the dream.

The bomb. Explode it to poison and eliminate all humanitos on screen, except the ones you must crush. The classic screen cleaner.

The bomb eliminates all humanitos different from the dream.

The star ball. Does this item look like a dragon ball? Just a coincidence. This item does not appear very often because its effect is quite powerful: it transforms all humanitos into the same one that appears in the mosquito's dream. Well, it's time to make a mega long combo and regain precious time.

The star ball turn all humanitos into the same one that appears in the dream.

Sometimes, and randomly, a sheep tied to a rocket appears. Please, don't look for an explanation about that (or about this game). Simply go crazy and give the sheep a beating if you wanna get lots of points! We know it's hard to beat up a sheep with such a cute face, but you have no choice if you really wanna enter the in-game Top 10 leaderboard.

Beat the sheep up!

The game needs some strategy in order to enter the in-game World Top 10 leaderboard, but it's better to discover that by yourself. Some people might wonder why our in-game leaderboards show the best 10 players only. It's simple: a hard to enter in-game leaderboard makes some hardcore players happy and gives you a goal other than killing your time. In other words, this bring back arcade competition. And it has merit indeed, we're talking about being one of those 10 best world players, showing your face inside our game, a honor. Also, you won't find In-App purchases on our games in order you give you any advantage over rivals (in fact, you won't find any IAPs at all). Only your ability matters.

DEVELOPMENT

You already know we work pixel art graphics only. Most of the graphics were already done, though we have added some new stuff (logo, star ball, etc.), modified the color palettes in order to get more colorful visuals, and we have extended the famous title screen and mosquito hovel. We say famous because, long time ago, those pixel artworks received very good reviews by pixel lovers from around the world.

Title Screen and Mosquito's Hovel pixel art masterpieces.

As a curiosity, there are four humanitos based on real people. When we first released Mosquito's Insomnia, we offered to be part of the game as a cameo. We received several emails from people interested in this (with a photo and a description of accessories they wanted to wear), unfortunately we listened to the first four only. The work load of this proposal was excessive.

Some humanitos were based on real people that contacted us!

The game uses cocos2d-iphone v3.1 as render engine. This is the latest version. It's not recommended for production, though we don't care about that because v3.1 comes with quite interesting features like a new renderer and automatic sprite batching. Sorry about the technicalities. Like someone said: vertical integration.

The music and sound effects have been made with Logic Pro 9, as usual in our games. We try to make SNES style music (we're not composers nor musicians), but process it to obtain a cleaner sound, so we call this “remastered SNES style music”. We have used instrument samples from a Super Famicom only game called Super Zugan 2. All sound effects have been synthesized with Logic's EFM1 plugin, except the sheep (and edit from a real sheep).

AND NOW WHAT?

We have three more games ready to be coded (all graphics done). The next game is very curious, but we don't usually talk about our projects during development. It's much better to let people speculate and get surprised at release.

Best regards!