Games and prototypes by Ciro Continisio

Demium Games and their “selection game jams”

 

Final presentations

I’ve known the guys behind Demium Games – namely Alejandro Miralles and Carlos Garcia – since when they summoned me to their office for a mysterious interview at the end of 2014. They were asking a few game developers about their view of the market, about their expectations of a game incubator, and in general for advice.

A few months later, they setup Demium Games, a game incubator that had to be for game developers what Demium Startups was, in a more general way, for start-ups in Valencia. They wanted to foster the creation of small teams of aspiring and promising game developers, and help them to develop and market their first game.

It sounds crazy and in many ways it is, since the developers have little development experience (and also because today’s market is harsh!) but I really like the job that these guys are doing and the contribution to the local development scene. Thanks to the office space, coordination, advice and network of contacts, the teams hosted inside Demium Games have much better chances than just a team of students who just came out of school.

AllStartup Games

Alejandro and Carlos organized, together with the Demium Startups team, the first game jam in fall 2015. The event, named AllStartup Games (the name coming from the similar “All Startup” event, already tested 8 times inside Demium Startups) is a game jam that aims at selecting a batch of game developers to enter the Demium Games incubator.

The AllStartup Games starts with a call for participation, and the prospective jammers are interviewed to check that they really have what it takes to join Demium. In the first two editions around 25 jammers made it through this first screening.

Speed Networking
Speed networking

Once the event starts, the jammers initially play meet and greet activities such as the typical ball-passing exercise and later a round of speed networking. They get to know each other a little bit, and then they voice their preferences on who they’d like to be their team-mate during the jam via a custom-built mobile app.

The ball exercise
The ball passing exercise

The Demium guys then organise the jammers into teams of 3-4, typically while the mentors (me, Luis “Ludipe” Diaz Peralta and Juanma Moreno) give a brief speech on game jams and what to expect from this one in particular.

At this point, the theme is revealed and the boys start working. They would do so for the next 40-42 hours more or less, only briefly interrupted by a couple of interesting speeches (this year one by José Arcas, and others).

The “Destroyer Feedback”

Starting from Saturday afternoon, there are two sessions of what the Demium guys call the Destroyer Feedback.

First, the mentors go around the tables to see how the teams are progressing and what’s the state of the game. Then, the teams take turns and come into another room where, in front of all the mentors and the Demium people, they explain again their game and receive feedback.

Jose Raluy and Julio Braceli
Taking notes during the Destroyer Feedback

This feedback is quite hard (read, candid/honest) and usually the jammers are taken aback by it. After that, mentors discuss briefly in private and note what they did/didn’t like about individual members of the team.

What the jammers usually don’t see until the end (even if I did mention it during the pre-jam speech!) is that this whole process is not intended to have them make the next hit during the jam, but it’s more about the process, the teamwork, the ability to receive feedback and improve on it.

This feedback is a very important part of the jam, something which can be important experience hopefully even for the ones who eventually are not selected.

Thankfully, the Demium guys are usually good (I’m not!) in seeing through the confusing layer of performance anxiety that the jammer display, to assess who is a good developer and a good team-player, worthy of going to the next step and join the Demium Games incubator. This year, out of the 20 people who participated they selected more than half of the jammers to form teams aimed at creating mobile games.

At the end of the day

As I write this, a new batch of developers is entering Demium Games and is getting ready to create their first commercial game, with the guidance, marketing, and advice on metrics by the Demium team. They’ll be working alongside the teams who are already in:

  • A team of two, Enzo and Borja, who are outputting a small free game every two weeks as Mr. Melon Games
  • Miguel as designer of the team Iter Games, who all come from the previous AllStartup Games, working on an unannounced game
  • The programmer Cristina, who lost her graphic artist but will be joined by a couple of the “new recruits”

In 3 days I’ll be giving a talk to the newbies to get them up to speed with Unity and Git, so even graphic artists and designers can collaborate and share assets with no friction. Every Friday, they hold playtesting sessions open for everybody to join – as a player or as a developer who wants to show their game.

The game industry and developer community in Spain is still lagging behind (just like in Italy), and it can really benefit from initiatives like Demium Games and the AllStartup Games. I’ve been following these guys very closely and I hope they will succeed in launching a successful game in the near future.

If you’re in Madrid, get in touch with them, go visit their incubator and check the game that they are developing!

Three days with Clash Royale

As those who know me will already know, I’m not a proponent of the F2P model. Though when Clash Royale (Supercell‘s latest effort) was released worldwide last week, I decided to give it a spin. The surprising result: I really like the game! So I decided to make a small analysis of what I think makes Clash Royale a great game, and positions it above similar titles.

 

How does it work?

(If you already know how the game works, skip this section)

In short, Clash Royale is a simplified real-time strategy game, with its game economy based on top of a deck-building game layer. The cards represent the units that the players can use in battle, and are not consumable. The only purpose of hoarding more cards of the same kind is to level up a certain unit.

The playing field, with the two lanes connecting in the middle on the King's Tower.
The game field

In-game, players have to defeat their opponent by destroying his King’s Tower (sitting in the middle), or the most towers at the end of the match. They do so by placing units (represented by 4 cards taken at random from the player’s deck) on their side of the playing field. Once placed, units start moving and attack any enemy they meet. It looks very similar to Ronimo’s Swords & Soldiers, only top-down. Units cost mana (the famous Elixir), which replenishes all the time.

 

The game is free, and as is typical with the F2P model nowadays, there’s no area of the game that players can’t reach in time without paying a single cent. Players are asked to pay if they want to purchase Gems (the hard currency) or Coins (the soft one). Coins allow the purchase of new cards and leveling up of units, while Gems allow the speed up of waiting times, which usually happen when you want to open a treasure chest. Chests are won after each battle, and they are full of coins, gems, and cards in various amounts.

 

A perceived fairness

As many RTS, units’ strength and weaknesses are dictated by a sort of rock-paper-scissor correlation, meaning that no unit is invincible but always has one or more units that if used correctly, will counter it with ease and move on to attack. For instance, the nearly-indestructible Giant is easily taken down by 3-4 hits from a Mini P.E.K.K.A., but said unit is very vulnerable against any flying unit, and so on. Archers are good against flying units but being a group (of 2), they suffer against units that do splash damage, such as the Bomber.

This relationship makes it so that even if units are of different level, you don’t feel like the opponent won just because he had a level 3 Giant while yours was level 2. It’s harder, but it can be done. Play the right card, and you’re in for an advantage… a second too late, and you’re in for trouble.

 

The game’s matchmaking is divided into tiers, represented by different arenas (which also unlock different cards). So if you have been playing a couple of matches in a certain arena, you already know many of the cards you’re going against, and your opponent level is roughly the same as yours, which helps the sense of this perceived fairness.

The fairness is a much needed component of the game trying to become some sort of e-sport, something reinforced by the incorporation of the TV Royale, a dedicated screen to watch recordings of other people’s matches. Unfortunately, even if matches are entertaining to watch, I feel they I was never compelled to watch more because they show very high-level tier players, thus making the tips I could learn meaningless for my current level. I think Supercell should adjust the matches’ level based on the current player level, or just a little above (to tease him into playing more? uhm…).

The matches are very high-tier!
The matches are very high-tier!

Additionally, even though the game incorporates chance (in the way cards are dealt to the player, they’re random), the fact that you always have 4 cards to choose from mitigates this effect, as it is quite possible that one of them is the right one to counter your opponent’s move.

 

A waiting game

And if you don’t have the right counter-card, there’s always a fifth slot showing the incoming card. If you’re not low on Elixir you can choose to play another offensive card and quickly bring into play the incoming card, and use it to defend. This is why managing Elixir is key, and it’s never too wise to play cards as soon as you have the needed Elixir. Most of the time, this will leave you defenceless against an attack on the other side, so if your card is one that develops slowly (as is any structure that produces units such as the Tombstone (with Skeletons) or the Barbarian Hut, you might have already lost a Tower to a strong unit such as the hateful Balloon (which rapidly deals HUGE damage to Towers if left unattended).

It is very common to see moments of wait when no-one plays a card for around 15 seconds, waiting to see which one will be the opponent’s “opening move”. In this respect, the way units interact with each other and the battlefield is so sophisticated that it allows the possibility of playing bait cards, by using them on the side of the field you’re not interested in. While your opponent plays a costly card to counter your move, you can play a second-class card on the other side to direct a small attack on his lonely Tower, wearing down some of its HP.

For instance, playing a Skeleton Army in the middle of the arena splits it in two, so that the other player has to choose one side to defend. If you have a couple of cheap Archers, you can play them on the side he is not covering to complement the Skeletons that make it past the Tower defences, and deal a small blow.

 

You’ll be hooked

Part of the reason I love (and hate) Clash Royale, is its amazing feedback and its fast game loop.

Clash Royale 2
End of a match and the emoticons

First, the game is obviously built on top of juicy feedback all around: whatever action you take is satisfactory and full of juiciness, effects, particles, and amazing sound effects (especially the character voices, they’re really fun). This is all good, and a rule in modern game design, especially mobile/F2P.

Second, the game’s 3-minute match formula is a cool one, because of a couple of reasons. When matches are so short, victories are sweet but losses are not that hard to take. Every time you lose, you feel like you need a revenge, and since matches are so short, you feel like you always time for one more.

Also, apart from their name and clan, you don’t really know much about your opponents. And since you cannot chat but only use a system of emoticons, your interactions with the other players are standardized, and lose uniqueness. As such, any opponent could be that guy that has just beaten you to the last second, and thus, I was personally feeling the need to play “just one more match” to set things straight, even if I was actually playing against another person.

The game also makes good use of all of its gifts as hooks to lure the player back into play. They are spaced very near to each other, so while you’re waiting for your 3-hours Silver Chest to open, it’s almost time for the Free Chest (spaced every 4 hours in time), and you’re just 6 hours away from the Crown Chest (which is available once every 24 hours. Plus, you only need 20 trophies (won in each battle) to get to a new map… and the list goes on. Basically, every 2 hours you’ll have an offline notification from the game, and every moment is good for just playing a couple of matches waiting for that Chest which is just about to open.

And yes, there’s no way to turn off the offline notifications.

There are a lot of Chests waiting to be opened
There are a lot of Chests waiting to be opened

If you detach yourself from the game just a bit, you’ll feel the tiredness of such a sensory overload and relentless rhythm. It happened to me once that after playing “just a few matches” (I probably played 15), I was 12 minutes away from a Free Chest. In the end, I sunk more than an hour into the game without even realizing.

 

Epilogue

It is at that point that I decided to uninstall the app from my phone. I still think the game is a very good game and a good example of how to do RTS on a touch screen properly, but I feel the game is begging for my time using too many nasty tricks. Apart from 2 days of intense play, I don’t want to invest an enormous amount of time just too see a few more higher level units. I’m too old for this : )

Jammers Don’t Use Drugs

This weekend is Ludum Dare #33 but as much as I wanted to take part, I couldn’t really get inspired by the theme “You Are the Monster” (not to mention that 4 LDs ago the theme was “You Are the Villain”… imagination much?).

But I definitely got inspired by this tweet where a mythical beverage by Luis Díaz Peralta is mentioned. You see, for us in GMT+1 Ludum Dare started at 3 am, and many people around Europe decided to skip the night of sleep, and actually get to work immediately. Personally, after more than 20 jams, I’ve decided to take it easy and not to “jump into the jam whatever time it is”, but let things take their natural course. My plan would have been: go to sleep relatively early, wake up around 8 am, read the theme, shower, get breakfast and start brainstorming.

So I came up with this:

It’s a silly modification of the famous graphic that appeared in the 80’s arcade cabinets before games, where the FBI prompted young gamers not to use drugs. I don’t want to syndicate on people use of drugs, but if you’re going to jam, don’t use “drugs” (and by drugs I include coffee too) to keep you awake when you shouldn’t be: trust me, your productivity will be greatly enhanced.

The rebirth of the blog (and website)

Hey everyone! It’s been a long time and I’ve been neglecting this website for much too long… if you check, apart from a couple of recent updates, the sixth-seventh article (at the time of writing) is already from about 2-3 years ago!! That’s a long time!

And the layout and general look… I mean, look at this:

Old websiteIt seems like the website was made in 2010 or something… oh wait, it actually was!

So, I’ve decided today that I wanted to revamp the whole blog, website, graphics and contents, and I did. I moved everything to WordPress, chose a simple and free theme (named “Coeur”, which proved to be awesome in every respect) and made the switch. The Prototypes are still missing, but after 5-6 hours of fiddling around, I’m mostly done.

So, expect more and more articles soon, especially devlogs about FATAL ERROR!

FATAL ERROR is on Steam Early Access

The game I’ve been developing with Ennio Pirolo for the past few months has finally landed on Steam. Check the trailer:

FATAL ERROR is a local multiplayer shooter with a twist: everybody is looking at the same screen, but there is information that only one player knows. We achieve this through what we call “stealth mechanics”, which add a lot of spice to the matches and have proved to be kinda fresh, and a lot of fun.

Why Early Access?

FATAL ERROR is a game that has been shaped by player feedback from its very first days: before it went into alpha, it had already been showcased in 3 game events. We take feedback very seriously and that’s why we decided to bring it to Early Access: we have a clear idea of where the game is going, but we want the players to be able to shift the course of development, suggest new features and voice their opinion on the ones we have in mind.

We planned many tools to communicate with you players, and we intend to use them in full force:

  • We will use the Community Hub for main feedback and suggestions.
  • We have a public development board on Trello, where players will be able to vote on the features they suggest and follow the development closely.
  • We also have a dedicated public board for tracking bugs.

Finally, you can see the roadmap for future builds on our public Roadmap on Wunderlist.

UFHO2 is on Steam

It took a looong time and there were a few bumps on the road, but finally, UFHO2 is on Steam. As Steam would say, “insert confetti here”!!

For those of you who don’t know what UFHO2 is, take a look:

It’s a delicious mix between a board and a strategy game. You play as an alien who is trying to navigate a maze-like UFO, in the effort of getting to the room where the gem of power is before your opponent. It’s a brainy game for puzzle-lovers, with plenty of content that will keep you occupied for a while and local multiplayer to challenge your friends.

On Steam you can get also a Deluxe edition which includes the soundtrack and a bunch of extras:

It just took 4 years, didn’t it? 🙂

The Indie Speed Run is looming on us!

Just a quick blog post to tell you all that next week, I’m going to participate in the Indie Speed Run with two of the top-tier backers for UFHO2!

The original text of the reward description (among other things):

[…] we’ll have a brainstorming about a small game which then we will develop with your creative help.

As a part of their rewards, in fact, the backers of this tier were supposed to be able to brainstorm and create a game with me. We will use the Indie Speed Run as an excuse to do it, and to do it fast!

I’ll work with Bill, a musician turned web developer with years of experience, who’ll take a coding role – collaborating with me on Github. Nathan will join us, but since he’s very very busy with a day job in the game industry he will probably only be able to chime in for the concept part.
Here’s our team, Team Peach Pie (in honor of Bill, who’s from Ontario) follows my naming convention for jam teams, like GGJ 2010’s Team Focaccia or last year’s ISR’s Team Pastiera.

So, follow us on Twitter @ccontinisio and (if Bill feels about using it) @estrategylab, or on Tiny Colossus’ FB page. We’ll start around 23 GMT on monday, which will be midnight here in Rome and between 14 and 18 in Bill and Nathan’s timezones. Crazy!

UFHO2 is out on Desura Alphafunding!

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After 9 months in development, we finally launched UFHO2 on Desura Alphafunding!
You have the chance to get it now at 40% off while in alpha/beta stage, and of course this purchase will become the full version when it becomes available.
You can get it for PC, Mac and Linux! Nobody’s left out!

UFHO2

What’s this “alpha100”?

This version of the game is called alpha100, and will be the base for the progress that will lead to version 1.0. Future alpha builds will be called alpha101, alpha102, and so on…
Speaking of features, here’s the changelog as it appears in the Desura build:

Added Commander palace stage
Added Void stage
Added a 2 seconds waiting time before starting the turn for the AI
Added a Quit button in the main menu
Added full galaxy map with missions submenu
Added interface animations in the main menu

Changed the banner for the resolution dialog
Changed the black overlay so now it’s shown on the very first turn as well
Changed the maximum player number for the Downed UFHO stage at two players
Changed the menu so it goes back to the last option after a match
Changed the stage selector in Local Match

Fixed the audio bug in the main menu

As you can see, there’s a couple of new stages to try in local multiplayer (both more or less dedicated to Commander Video), some tweaks to make the game more smooth, and a taste of what is to come in the story mode.

The game went live yesterday, and I already patched it once (it sported a nice game-breaking bug in one stage). I hope nobody encountered the bug yet, but anyway the guys at Desura were quick in getting the patch on the system during the night.

Kickstarter backers

If you backed UFHO2 during our Kickstarter campaign to receive the access to the alpha version (which means, 55$ and up) you already have a Desura key waiting in your inbox. Check the email (check the spam folder if you don’t see it!) or log into Desura with the same email you used during the campaign, and you will get the game.

We hope you will enjoy this first version of the game! Stay tuned and check the updates on Desura/IndieDB (or our Facebook page, or my Twitter) for more features coming!