Category: Developers

A one man army

The Man Behind the Game

The man behind Ratatosk Games — I’m emphasizing the singularity of the matter — is Lars Kroll Kristensen.

Ratatosk Games (site)

Lars Kroll (Twitter)

The Meek (site)

The Meek (Facebook)

Lars, just to mention a few of his credentials:

#1 Used to work as development director for Unity Studios.

#2 Used to run Runestone Game Development.

#3 Has worked on projects for LEGO (although because of an NDA, there are no details on this project).

#4 Has worked as a tech lead for Mjølner Informatics.

#5 Does talks, workshops, and consulting on game design, gamification, and real-time 3D graphics.

Lars is currently working on a stealth survival horror game called The Meek. In the game, you play as Janet Patrick, a special effects technician trying to escape a city gone mad. It’s your responsibility to use your brains and wits to face an apocalypse and discover the truth behind its origin.

However, you can try The Meek at Game Scope 2018, so let’s talk to Lars about going indie — and most importantly, going solo.

Let’s make a timeline from what Lars has told me about his journey from wanting to make a game to actually making a game.

When I was 12-13 years old in the 80’s, I made a roleplaying game rule system, and tried to convince people around me to play it with me.

At the time and because of where Lars lived, there wasn’t any store where you could play actual roleplaying games, so Lars went out and made his own.

After making his roleplaying game rule system, he, of course, tested it with friends and family, but, in his words:

[it] didn’t work out super well, partly because my family and friends from school at the time didn’t really care much about roleplaying games, and partly because my roleplaying rules system sucked.

Later he luckily found some friends that shared his interest, AND he also found a commercial roleplaying game.

Fast forward some years, Lars is out of high school and heading for Aarhus University, ready to enrol in Computer Science.

From there it became clear to me, that making video games should be part of my future.

A questions could be, what did Lars do to further his dream?

It’s a simple answer, really. Doing his studies, he went back to making roleplaying games — more precisely, roleplaying game activities.

He then joined a telecom company — a sidestop from the dream, but “funding”, especially or presumably for the fridge, apartment, and internet is important for any aspiring developer.

Not long after, he founded “Runestone Game Development” with friends and set out to make an MMO. A pretty bold move for an indie team. And the question remains… did they succeed?

Didn’t end well, but we learned a lot […].

Unfortunately, not all endeavours end as we might want them to. Lars learned from it and he has used that knowledge to grow, which is a lesson in and of itself. Another lesson worth learning is Lars’ call to action:

He didn’t NOT continue to hone his creative skills. He didn’t NOT learn the practical means he would need. He pursued his goal, which led him to down paths that wasn’t necessarily pointing towards his goal, but they were adjacent to it.

Some of the steps maybe weren’t the “right” ones to take in hindsight, however, the second-to-most important things about failure, is to learn from them and by doing so, grow.

I asked Lars if at any time he’d experienced setbacks while on his journey, and this was his answer:

Going bankrupt with Runestone, of course, was a major setback, but I personally decided I would not leave the game business unless I was carried out.

A setback like that is hard to return from, and although the game industry requires skill — skill is only one side of the coin, where on the other side is luck. Through Lars’ journey, he, admittedly, also had some luck.

First, he convinced an investment manager to provide the necessary investment capital to start Lars’ first company, “Runestone Game Development”. Second, after his company had gone bankrupt, and after doing freelance work, he was hired at Unity Studios in Aarhus and with Allan Kirkeby, grew that from nothing to 30 people. But that wouldn’t’ve been possible without Unity Technologies having had their own remarkable success.

I want to end on a high note as game development is tough but you shouldn’t be discouraged from trying to follow your dream. Lars has a talk at Game Scope, which he and I, highly encourages you to come to.

This could be your call to action.

If you want a small taste of it here, then here are Lars’ tips.

Lars’ 101 Game Development

#1 Know your strengths and weaknesses.

#2 Actively seek feedback from an early stage.

#3 Be self-critical but believe in yourself and your idea.

#4 Exploit the Hell out of asset marketplaces and third-party tools.

#5 Don’t solo if you can avoid it at all. A team is stronger.

#6 Exploit the Hell out of the low cash burn you enjoy by soloing.

#7 Set goals realistically.

#8 Exploit the Hell out of the agility you enjoy as a solo.

If you want ANY of these explained in further detail. Well, too bad, this article is done. But I would suggest you go straight to the source.

See you at Game Scope!

Knight…Out?

A co-op game for the family!

KnightOut is made by 2nd Studio, and like all other developers attending Game Scope this year, they are a Danish game development studio. They do client work as well as make their own games. To mention but a few clients: we have DisneyKiloo, Nordic Game, amongst others.

Showreel

Both of the two founders and the lead programmer have a lot of experience under their belts. Whether it’s co-creating a StarCraft Mod at the age of 15 or being a 3D trainee from Onyx Studio in Paris, or having worked for Blue Byte Ubisoft Studio, these guys are amazing at what they do.

A short introduction, I know, but I really wanted the question of what is KnightOut? to be answered by Dennis, a developer at 2nd Studio.

What’s “KnightOut”?

Dennis: KnightOut combines tactical building with real-time frantic brawling against your friends or hordes of enemies.

KnightOut hasn’t got a release day yet, but it’s coming to PC and Switch only at the moment. The guys behind it want to bring it to as many platforms as possible but:

[…] as indie developers it can be costly and time-consuming [to port the game to consoles] so for our launch, we are bringing it to PC and Switch. We can’t promise any other consoles, but if we get the opportunity we would like to port it […].

Sad news for me as I’m a diehard PlayStation fanboy. However, with the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go on the Switch this November, I might just go ahead and order me some KnightOut while I’m at it…

But, let’s get back on track. Succeeding as a game developer really depends on different factors. Luck, skill, original idea, execution of said idea, and more. However, indisputably, a community who supports you and your game can both give you financial aid as well as a morale boost.

Whether it’s nice comments or seeing someone play and love your game, it can be an emotional train leading you straight to Hogwarts. But let’s hear it from Dennis, as I asked him what some of the best moments he’d had while working on the game.

We had a lot of playtesting among friends and at game expos when people really get into it and do everything they can to win it warms our hearts to see that people can have so much fun with something we created.

Adding to that:

Last year at Game Scope a father and his son played the game, and they really had fun. I was so humbled by the experience because both ages had fun and I felt like we created a game that could bring people together.

Now… as I’ve mentioned, there isn’t a release date yet, but I wanted to know if 2nd Studio had anything planned, like updates, new features, or even some new projects they could tell us about.

The game is still in development […]. We have added a lot of new items to build, different traps and new weapons that we have not revealed yet.

KnightOut is, by the way, a Co-Op game in essence — I’d even dare say it’s more meant for couch play or local Co-Op more than online multiplayer. I played KnightOut, however, only a little, at last year’s Game Scope.

I generally liked the game, but local Co-Op games aren’t the type of games I usually buy. But what Dennis mentioned next got me really excited!

We are working on more content as well that will give you a great single player experience, but we can’t say too much about it yet.

On the subject of a future “new” project, Dennis had this to say:

We want to give KnightOut everything we can, and keep updating it after it’s released if it sells well we would like to bring it to other platforms as well. With that said, we always have new ideas and are working on different projects but nothing we can reveal yet.

Want to see what 2nd Studio is up to?

2nd Studio (site)

2nd Studio (Facebook)

2nd Studio (Twitter)

Mutant Monkey’s Deadly Devices

A new classic?

Mutant Monkey Games is the classic reason why game studios are founded — whether it’s indie or AAA, it all starts with a love and passion for the medium.

Mutant Monkey Games (site)

Mutant Monkey Games (Facebook)

Mutant Monkey Games (Twitter)

For Bo Michelsen and Lars Tornbjerg it started with Mega Man 2  in 1991. To my own regret, I wasn’t able to experience the era of neither the NES, SNES, nor the Sega Mega Drive. However, I’ve read countless stories from ‘Back in the Day’ and I believe it’s near impossible to deny the deny the influence games like Mega Man and the likes of Zelda have had on games in this generation.

Quadruple D or De-de-de-de?

Nevertheless, Bo and Lars founded Mutant Monkey Games, and from their love of pixel art and puzzle platformers, sprung the game, which was talking about today, Dr Demitrium’s Deadly Devices, or shortened just DDDD.

But what is DDDD?

Dr Demitrium’s Deadly Devices is a grid-based puzzle-crawler for mobile set in a spacey, sci-fi universe. You take on the role of the brave Space Captain Jim, who must get back his girlfriend, Gertrud, and his beloved dog, Bingo, who both have been kidnapped by the evil Dr Demitrium. […].

Adding:

A must-play for people who miss epic space drama in their mobile games.

So if you love space drama, Mega Man-stylish pixel art, and possibly an old-school-like game, then Dr Demitrium’s Deadly Devices are out pretty soon.

We have a revised release date because we’ve embedded a bitter-sweet story element to the game, but the final release date is the 12TH OF AUGUST! Just in time for Game Scope!

Before we talk a bit more about the game itself, it’s core mechanics and such, I asked Bo to describe with one sentence why people should be excited about his game.

If you like to experience a challenging, story-driven puzzle game with a bizarre humour, set in space, then you should play Dr Demitrium’s Deadly Devices!

With that said, you can experience the game at Game Scope in Aalborg from the 17th to 19th of August — you can even share your love for old-school games with Bo, who’s attending.

But, let’s talk a bit about the game. With puzzle-crawlers, game mechanics are key to success. Fluid movement, fun controls, exciting actions, and head-scratching puzzles are all the recipe for a good game. However, let’s hear it from Bo himself.

In order to get them [Gertrud and Bingo] back you must survive a dungeon sprawling with deadly devices and traps, you can only get your loved ones back if you outsmart Demitrium, and figure out a route through each level in his lair!

And it’s these traps, which are part of the core mechanic.

The basic gameplay mechanic is that in order to traverse a level you must learn how each trap within the level behaves. Every trap has its own cycle, so, for instance, the spike traps have two “safe” states followed by a “deadly” state. Therefore in order to cross a level successfully, it is required that the player is mindful of nearly all of the tiles at once, to maintain safe cover and timing while avoiding getting shot by lasers.

A piece of cake! He lied. In all honesty, this sounds a lot like how you’d describe the old school games, DDDD takes inspiration from. And with its mobile release, you can experience the classic difficult games nearly everywhere you have your smartphone.

A game about sound or the lack thereof

From “Sound not there” to…

Bark Lab is a fairly new “studio” — studio in quotations because when I chatted with Kristoffer, he told me that they weren’t actually a company yet nor had they a website. So, fairly new.

However, Bark Lab is one of the studios that prove the only thing needed in order to band together and make a game is a common interest. Of course, other elements as skill, talent, and work-ethics also play a part in game development. And when it comes to indie game development, it’s more often or not that you’ll need an innovative or original idea, and/or execution of said idea.

Bark Lab did just that. Banded together, the group of strangers who met at the biggest Danish game jam, Nordic Game Jam, created a game revolving around sounds.

Themes are common at game jams, and the theme at Nordic Game Jam 2017 was “Not there”, which prompted the team at what would become Bark Lab to create a game called “Sound Not There”. The game is fairly straightforward: you walk around and… gosh, why am I telling you this? Let’s hear it from someone who’s actually worked on the game:

The premise of the gameplay is to interact with animals or objects inhabiting a 2D environment. […]. When the player interacts with an object, its animation is connected to the sound it plays. Let’s say the player presses an elephant holding the sound of a rooster. Now the elephant jumps up on its back legs with its trunk lifted in the air, while crowing like a rooster.

Next step: find the rooster. Pretty straightforward. It’s a simple puzzle game — albeit maybe “too” simple. However, that was the product of a game jam, meaning 48 hours of intense programming, drawing, and scripting.

Now, Bark Lab brought their game jam project to Game Scope 2017 where they got a lot of feedback on their game, including being presented to creator/presenter/writer and host of Troldspejlet, Jakob Stegelmann.

With the feedback, the team gathered, brainstorming how they could further develop their game, and this is what Kristoffer could say about that:

We met again at Nordic Game Jam 2018, where we discovered that the ideas of puzzles and themes we had brainstormed up to the event could be split into two different games: A game for adults with a “twin peaks”-like atmosphere and more in-depth mechanics. And a game for children on handhelds that is cut to the bone of the game, which is the game mechanic of switching sounds.

“Paplyd”

As in most every field, having a goal is essential to get anywhere. With Bark Lab being a newly-founded studio, only one having one release under its belt, I wanted to know what they hoped to accomplish with their game — in other words, if they had a goal:

Obviously the game is not for everyone. The game is supposed to be picked up by parents who want an imaginative game for their kids. Hopefully, we are also able to convince parents who are sceptical of games.

That’s it from Bark Lab! Be sure to find them at Game Scope 2018 — the most important things to indie developers are feedback and building communities, so they are sure to love a conversation whether it’s about their game, games in general, or game development.

Gift of who now?

Foldergeist Studios

Foldergeist Studios (site)

Foldergeist Studios (Facebook)

Foldergeist Studios (Twitter)

Have you ever wished you could battle it out as wacky wizards with three of your friends in a pixel world called Gift of Parthax?

No? Maybe not that specific, but Gift of Parthax IS a game about wizards using more than just the elements to defeat foes and also each other from time to time.

What is Gift of Parthax exactly?

I had a chance to chat with the CEO, Anders Ljungquist, who when I asked him what he would describe his game as for his 10 years younger self. Here’s his response.

Killing a lot of insane powerful enemies and bosses with a huge arsenal of magical power.

Anders is the CEO Foldergeist Studios, who was founded by three students at Erhvervsakademi Dania. The three friends were all programmers as they studied computer science. Early on when they founded the studio, the guys faced a bit of a struggle since neither of them was any artist.

It was an early struggle — one, which they overcame. However, indie teams struggle a lot, and Foldergeist Studios was soon facing one of the most common, but also one of the more dangerous of obstacles…

Funding.

But, as luck plays a role in almost everything, game development is no exception.

However, I think we had it somehow easy for us, even though we didn’t have any money or investors. Since we got a lot of help from Gamehub Denmark and ended up finding our publisher for our upcoming title.

You might ask yourself, if you’re an aspiring game developer, “how do I begin?”. And although the beginning is usually the hardest part of doing anything, there is something you can do to increase your chance of success.

And it’s not a magical ring that gives a boost to your luck stat.

One general tip is to “surround” yourself with people who love, not necessarily the exact same genres/design elements/ or whatever as you, but with people whom you can spare with and ultimately grow with.

Take a look at Foldergeist Studios’ project! I can’t with a 100% certainty say that Anders alongside his friends wouldn’t have developed the idea for Gift of Parthax if they hadn’t been coincidentally stuck together… But I’m not, NOT saying that just might be the case.

But why take it from me:

It [Gift of Parthax] all started as a school project and we really liked the early prototype of the game. Simple arena fighting game with some spells and runes to customize your playstyle.

Well, I do believe we’re at the end of this article, so let’s round up by hearing what’s next for Foldergeist Studios:

Our biggest dream is to keep going doing what we like, making games people love to play. So our next step is to find a way to keep going, without having to take a job to fund our games and ourselves.

Bedtime Digital Games and Figment

Just a short disclaimer, with Bedtime Digital’s response to my questions, there is nothing really I can add to it.

I think this is best read raw and uncut — with zero ‘funny’ remarks from my side. Enjoy!

Bedtime Digital’s… Figment

Bedtime Digital (site)

Bedtime Digital (Facebook)

Bedtime Digital (Twitter)

Bedtime Digital Games has become a household name, propelled by the success of Back to Bed, but truly cemented by the critically acclaimed Figment. I want to pick your brain a bit: why do Bedtime Digital make games — what’s your motivation, what’s the goal?

I think each member of the company have their own different reasons, but at the core, I feel it is a combination of us being gamers, like creating experiences and games being the new big medium of our generation.

As a company, we look at games as the sum of its parts. It not just codes and mechanics, nor is it fancy graphics effects and sounds. A game is a medium that needs all of these things to work together to give an experience that no other media can.

We love working together across fields of expertise in order to ensure that the gameplay experience we try to give works together with the aesthetics, effects and audio. When nothing is playing second fiddle, the total sum is a much better game. Achieving this motivates us a lot and is the line we try to walk in all our games. Might not succeed all the time, but that is our goal.

With Figment being equal to, or maybe an even greater success than Back to Bed, the question remains, what’s next for Bedtime Digital’s creative hands and minds?

Right now we are spending a good deal of energy porting Figment to new platforms, so more players can enjoy it and experience the story we have worked so hard on creating. Just like Back to Bed, Figment is made to be playable and work on many platforms. And even though this is going well, porting always takes some time to do.

Regarding what we are doing next, I can’t be very specific at this time, but we are working on new things, and it is gonna be awesome. Some recognizable stuff and some new. So you do have stuff to look forward to, as we plan on keep making games for a long time.

Game development is a tough career choice. It requires skill, dedication, and some luck is definitely appreciated in the long run. But tell me, what are your five best tips when it comes to the game industry?

Hmmm. At the core it is to understand, as mentioned above, that game development is about people of different expertise working together. So there will always be different factors for the different expertise. But I will try and set up some general guidelines.

Game Scope presents: Bedtime Digital’s

How to Game Dev 101

  • Love and play different games – It is key to like games and collect different experiences from them. Especially since it helps with getting ideas and learning from the experiences of other devs. It also helps to have common experience pool when working with other people. For example, it is easier to talk about a top-down hack & slash if all involved have played Diablo at some level.
  • Look at games professionally – It is not just enough to love games, in fact, being a huge fan of just playing games can be dangerous as a developer. It is key to be able to look at games as analytically as possible. Understand why players as a whole like them, even if you don’t. You might hate the newest trendy game, but a good dev understands why others do.
  • “Kill your darlings”  This term means being able to kill a bad idea, even if you have to spend a lot of energy and time on. Like above, look at games as a developer, not a player, and be able to drop something if it does not help the game experience. This is a skill that must be trained and honed.
  • Garage development Try making games, graphics or just raw game design yourself early and often. This can mean going to game jams, designing boards games, making art or running Pen & Paper Roleplays. Even just being in charge of large events can help with leadership experience. And if you like what you created, put aside for the future. Showing drive and experience is key
  • Knowing limitsHere I am talking about both your own and the practical ones. If you and your friends wanna make a game in a weekend, don’t try to make an MMO. And if you don’t have any technical experience, maybe making a board game is a better use of the weekend. A lot of our initial success came from understanding out time limits and planning ahead, so we had time to polish.

Hope this gives some guidelines for people, and remember if it sounds like too much, that all of us had to learn this as well. You can never be a master at the start.

Now, long days and sleepless nights are common stories when talking about game development, especially in the months and weeks prior to a milestone. How does Bedtime Digital Games deal with the crunch?

Actually, we try to avoid the dreaded crunch as much as possible in the company. We see it as one of the worst concepts, that for many reasons, have become something that too many see as necessary in game development. In our experience crunch rarely achieves that much in the long run, it can be used in small doses, but using it as a stable “tool” have a high cost. Often it will drain the developers for far longer than the crunch goes on, resulting in a production delay on other parts of the game, and many times the product itself will suffer since there is not enough testing being done.

Adding to that:

That said, sometimes we do a little crunch, but we try to avoid it and keep to around release. But in the long run and with more than one production in the company, giving people time to relax and having weekends pays off more in the end, since the devs are way sharper and energetic.  

While working games, whether it’s game design, graphics, coding, or whatever, do you still find time to play — is there still a “craving” to play games when the shift is due? After launch, can you still return home, sit comfortably and enjoy video games?

Hehe, that question is way more common than you would think. To be honest, it is hard to say, but at the end I do think that I play less games than before, but that might also be something to do with getting older and having other responsibilities.

I still play a lot of the bigger games that I always played, like AAA or specific nerdy games, but not as many small indies as before. Those games are more relegated to our company friday game, where we play indie games that we can learn from. So I get that indie itch scratched at the company.

That said, I do use a more energy on mobile games, non-digital games and pen & paper roleplay, and I know I’m not alone amongst developers around the world in this. The mobile games are easy to squeeze in a busy day, and sometimes it is nice to go outside the digital world for gaming experience.

So games are still part of our lives, just in more different ways, and luckily playing specific game for references are part of the job.