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Mind is a collection of brain-training mini-games; three unique brain-training exercises comprised into a single app.
Mind includes the following mental tests:
CALCULATE: Squares will flash on a grid in succession, and all you need to do is keep track of the total. How fast can you count?
SEQUENCE: Squares will flash on a grid in a patterned sequence. Re-input the sequence correctly to increase your score. A tough memory test.
EIDETIC: A pattern of squares will briefly flash on a grid. Your task is to count the number of squares that flash. Recognising patterns certainly helps with this one.
With each cognitive exercise you’re given three lives, which you’ll certainly need as your score increases and the challenges get harder…
• Three games comprised into one package.
• Each compulsive game provides a unique brain-training challenge.
• Keep practicing, and try to beat that high score!
Array is a challenging strategic logic and memory puzzle game for mobile devices.
For each level, you’re shown an arrangement of numbered tiles on a grid. The idea is to place tiles on an empty grid below, to match the pattern shown. Placing a tile adjacent to another will increase the number shown on the existing tile.
The early levels are easy enough, but soon things get a lot tougher and there’ll be some intricate patterns to solve. Finding the correct place to start is half the battle…
The later levels will put your brain through its paces, but the game’s elegant, relaxing and ambient style will help you along the way…
There’s 198 levels so far. Can you get through them all?
Staking Claims is a free mobile and web strategy game. It is a digital version of the ‘old school’ pen and paper game, Cheese Squares. Players take turns to draw lines onto a square grid; the idea being to complete squares to secure them.
The discovery of gold in the Californian countryside lead to a stampede for wealth. Tens of thousands simply downed tools and travelled to the gold fields. Imagine that you are in command of an army of gold hunters, trying to claim riches from as much land as possible before other bands of fortune seekers beat you to the punch.
You’ll ‘draw’ fences on the land, and once you’ve fenced off a full square, that land will be yours. Of course, some areas of land are more valuable than others, so you’ll need to be creative as to how you place your fences to fend off the competition. Command your gold hunters in a single player mode against an AI, or compete against friends. Staking Claims is a unique title with hot seat multiplayer, played with a single device.
The Quest is a puzzle game for Mobile and Tablet devices. It was our very first original release in 2011, and in 2014 we completely re-mastered and re-released the game to mark its second anniversary.
The game itself takes the mechanics of the Rubik’s Cube and adapts them into an adventure spanning three unique and vibrant worlds.
The player controls the reluctant and bumbling Knight, Steve, who is sent on a Holy Quest by God… To recover his favourite mug!
In order to help him on this awesome quest, you’re given the power to manipulate the environment around. Rotate sections of the cube world to allow Steve to move to each level’s goal.
The Quest is a self-contained, free game. There’s no in-app purchases, so you can enjoy puzzle solving without the underlying notion that you’ll need to pay to get the most out of your download!
Beating cancer through a space game never seemed possible. Until now.
Every day, scientists across the globe are painstakingly analysing the genetic faults in thousands of cancer samples. They are looking for clues that will help develop new cancer treatments. This game let’s you help.
Play to Cure™: Genes in Space is a pioneering way of helping these scientists in their mission to beat cancer sooner and all via this world first mobile game.
Instead of one lone scientist analysing a cancer data set by eye for hours, a group of gamers can get through that data simply by playing this space themed game and collecting a valuable and tradable substance dubbed, Element Alpha.
Having more eyes on the data means we could generate more accurate results. And crucially it means moving us closer to the day when all cancers are cured.
A mysterious substance is discovered in the voids of deep space. Dubbed Element Alpha, the substance is refined for use in medicine, engineering and construction and soon the Element Alpha industry explodes galaxy wide.
As an employee of Bifrost Industries, one of the biggest traders of the substance, your job is to collect as much Element Alpha as you can and trade it for upgrades to your spacecraft to help you manoeuvre the asteroid filled space course.
• Arcade/action space gameplay
• Rise through the ranks at Bifrost Industries from Recruit to Galactic Legend
• Upgrade and customise your ship with unique items, weapons and colours
• Plan your route to maximise your Element Alpha haul
• Maximise your profits by trading your Element Alpha when the market is high or sell immediately for a guaranteed return
HOW THIS HELPS TO BEAT CANCER SOONER
Element Alpha represents genetic cancer data that scientists across the world analyse on a daily basis. Genes in Space has successfully translated this data into an interactive, asteroid-strewn intergalactic assault course.
By collecting Element Alpha and navigating your spaceship through the cosmos you’re finding the significant genetic changes which help scientists to discover cancer causing genes and develop new life saving treatments.
So gamers take note. The Genes in Space story may not be real, but the impact of what you’re doing is far from science-fiction.
Play to Cure™. Beat cancer sooner.
The Excuse-O-Matic is a web based, random sentence generator we created for the BBC in conjunction with the CBBC show, The Dog Ate My Homework.
It functions in the fashion of a slot machine; when the columns stop spinning a random and plausible excuse for why you couldn’t hand in your homework on time is given to you.
During the summer months of 2013 to tie in with a new season of Dennis & Gnasher, we were commissioned by DC Thomson to create three small browser-based games. These games are available on DennisandGnasher.com
Manoeuvre Dennis as he skateboards around obstacles littering a road. Try to skate as far as possible.
Splat tomatoes against Beano characters to earn points. You’ll need to splat a certain number on each level to make it to the next level, just make sure you don’t hit the red targets.
There has been an explosion at the pie factory and pies of all flavours are raining down. Move Pieface left and right to catch the pies, but make sure you stack them up in the correct order.
Available to play at Dennis and Gnasher
As part of our continued relationship with DC Thomson, we were commissioned to develop a prank application for iPhone and Android to coincide with The Beano’s ‘Menacing Mondays’ marketing campaign.
The app includes five unique pranks:
Beano Bigmouth – Take on the mouth of Dennis, Gnasher, and many others. Choose a character and hold the phone up to your own mouth to speak.
Fart Finder – Track the guilty party with the Fart Finder. Start the scan and subtly touch the phone screen as you lower the device to register a target.
Super Soundboard – A collection of the most annoying sounds played at the tap of a button, or set the timer and hide your devices for a truly annoying outcome.
Menace-O-Meter – Dennis the Menace will test your menace level. Place your hand on the scanning area and once finished, you will be considered ‘a menace’. Next, tap the hidden button and get your victim to place their hand onto the scanning area. They will be insulted…
Eye Fright – Get your victim to take part in a colour blindness test. Midway through the test a scary image will pop up unexpectedly…
On The Freerun was developed by Team Lazy Boyz, a group of young people with learning disabilities, as part of a game development workshop run by Guerilla Tea and ENABLE Scotland’s East Renfrewshire Local Area Coordination Team.
The game was built during the course of a single day, with the group learning about the techniques and processes involved in game development.
The world has been subject to an alien invasion!
Hostile, extra terrestrial elderly people have descended from the skies!
Take control of Norman in his endless running endeavours as he dashes from rooftop to rooftop, avoiding the nefarious old folks, while collecting mystical mana along the way.
After the final printed edition of The Dandy in December 2012, the world’s third longest running comic moved to the digital arena. Guerilla Tea are extremely proud to be involved with the development of the new, web-based Dandy comics. We have utilised our game development expertise to create mini-games which fit neatly into the story of the weekly comics. Shooting Bogies, Throwing Cows into Space and Blowing up a Petrol Can to name several of the tasks you’ll be undertaking in this modern dose of Dandy!
A Virtual Pet game where players care for a cute critter, watching it evolve from a baby through to an old, and hopefully healthy Dollop. Entertain your pet regularly with different activities, but try not to be too exhausting, and certainly keep an an eye out for illness.
Available to play at The Dandy
For thirty seconds of fast paced action try ‘Go Go Go Banana!’ dart across rooftops as Eric, and watch him transform into the heroic Bananaman. Jump between rooftops and cranes, and try not to fall off a building… Eat more and more bananas to increase your Banana Power, then unleash it and fly in true superhero fashion.
Available to play at The Dandy
Ward Round is an exciting new medical learning experience where you are placed in the role of the doctor to solve clinical medical mysteries against the clock.
Test your medical knowledge and improve your clinical deductive skills through varied cases, spread across nine specialties, to become the ultimate diagnostician.
•Unique Levelling-Up system which tracks your progress as you successfully complete each case.
•Practice Round: Attempt five randomly chosen quick fire cases to put your knowledge to the test.
•Big Medical Quiz: Compete with players around the world. Upload your score to Facebook and show your friends you are the true Ward Round master.
A truly innovative study aid suitable for medical students, trainee doctors, and all those considering a career in medicine.
Matt is currently the CCO and founding partner of Guerilla Tea. He has served as the sole artist within the company, before building and now managing the companies growing art department. He coordinates the staff and controls the artistic style and vision of many simultaneous projects.
Matt began his career as an interior architect, and has applied the skills he has learnt in both traditional design and communication to game art for Guerilla Tea’s projects. He has an excellent ability for turning his hand to any sub-division of the art discipline (Something that is absolutely essential for a young start-up), having worked on 3D environment and vehicle design, 2D & 3D character creation and animation, UI and concepting for a huge range of different projects at Guerilla Tea.
With the continued success of the company, he now undertakes management responsibilities on top of art tasks, providing direction to other artists within the studio and creative communication with clients to ensure that the company succeeds in delivering their vision.
Matt is a key charismatic figure with excellent public speaking and presentation skills. From the beginning of Guerilla Tea as a studio, he has been involved in promotion and communication particularly with clients and was recently invited to be on the Industrial Advisory Board at Glasgow Caledonian University.
He is the driving practical creative force on the team, working closely with game design.
Mark is the CEO and Co-Founder of Guerilla Tea and is the driving force behind Guerilla Tea as a business. Within the company he is responsible for the business management, business development and also managing our in-house games production. This includes dealing with general day-to-day tasks of running a game studio, along with casting the company net to establish our client base and managing the company’s strategic development. As a young independent game developer, an innate business ability can often be the missing puzzle piece. Mark has been invaluable in filling this gap.
Charlie Czerkawski is a founding partner and CDO for Guerilla Tea. His time is currently evenly divided between practical day to day game design tasks, along with managing external communication for the company. His role covers all core branches of game design including vision keeping, system design, gameplay balancing, creative writing and level design. He is also responsible for the more outward facing roles such as promotion, marketing and aspects of business development. He has worked as the creative vision keeper over multiple simultaneous projects of varying shapes and size, while at the same time working tirelessly to promote the company and individual projects. This has been instrumental in establishing Guerilla Tea as one of Scotland’s top up and coming studios.
Charlie began his career in video games as a tester, gaining significant experience at a young age working for e4e (Absolute Quality) (working on Dirt 2) before moving onto Rockstar North and then Traveller’s Tales, working on GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony and Lego Harry Potter Years 1 – 4, respectively. He has used this previous experience effectively to craft and maintain the gameplay of Guerilla Tea’s titles, not to mention testing all the Guerilla Tea projects.
Alex is currently the CTO and founding partner of Guerilla Tea and has already established himself as an excellent team leader. Founding Guerilla Tea in 2011, then building and managing the programming team. Through Guerilla Tea’s work with numerous clients including DC Thomson and Cancer Research UK, Alex has been an invaluable technical director. He maintains communication, and coordinates staff over multiple projects.
As well as leadership qualities, he’s a force to be reckoned with in terms of raw technical ability. Originally, he worked tirelessly on Guerilla Tea’s early projects as the sole programmer, and also has an excellent ‘feel’ for strong game design, not to mention an artistic ability making communication between departments far easier.
This entry was originally posted on the Microsoft UK Developers Blog. View the origin...
This entry was originally posted on the Microsoft UK Developers Blog. View the original HERE.
It’s odd how things tend to come full circle… The development story behind ‘The Quest’ is evidence of this.
The four founding partners of Guerilla Tea met in 2010 on the Professional Masters course in Game Development at Abertay University. During the first semester we were randomly put together into a team and given the brief of building a small game prototype titled ‘The Quest’, and by chance we were assigned to work with the Windows Phone 7 platform.
After a night of brainstorming we hadn’t fully settled on a design to carry forward. We wanted to make a puzzle game and we kept coming back to the idea that ‘to be original is to return to the origin’ and when it comes to puzzle games the origin for all of us was the Rubik’s Cube so we kept returning to the idea of a game based on the Rubik’s Cube mechanic. This lead fairly swiftly to the core Quest mechanics.
Before settling on anything, we went out to the local shopping centre and bought a Rubik’s Cube along with some paper stickers, and applied them to cover over three of the colours on the cube. The result was the very basic physical prototype shown below. Needless to say, the gameplay mechanic worked incredibly well. You could actually play by holding your finger against a specific tile, rotating the cube to align specific coloured tiles, and then sliding your finger along eventually reaching the goal, which we’ve marked with the ‘X’ below.
With the core of the game working, we needed to make the whole experience a little more vibrant. We decided to go down the light hearted humour route, and wrote a brief story around the game.
Our hero would be a brave but bumbling knight, who we aptly named ‘Steve’. He would be tasked by God to retrieve his favourite tea mug, otherwise known as the true Holy Grail. God would grant Steve the ability to manipulate the surrounding terrain in order to aid him on his quest.
And from here, the overarching story neatly fitted into the gameplay mechanic. Steve stands on the Rubik’s Cube-like world with varying terrain such as grass, water and mountains covering the individual squares. The player taps on squares to move Steve, and the idea is to guide him over the terrain to the goal square (ultimately containing the tea mug). Rotating the segments of the cube world allows the varying terrain types to align ultimately creating a path for Steve.
To add additional depth and complexity to the gameplay, we added special ‘transition’ squares which allow Steve to move between two terrain types. These transition squares became specific vehicles, such as a sledge which links grass and mountains.
By the end of the first semester, we had created a vertical slice for the game. Here’s a screenshot from ‘The Quest’ in its university project form:
Our prototype was very well received in academic circles, and was shown at a number of conferences by academic staff from Abertay. In 2011, it picked up a Creative Loop award under the ‘Best Computer Game Concept’ category.
From here we moved onto other university projects right up to the end of our course, and The Quest remained as a great portfolio piece to take forward.
It was only after the course had finished that we managed to return to working on The Quest. In the run up to Christmas 2011, our CEO and producer, Mark, worked some magic and managed to secure the IP for the game back from Abertay University.
Over a period of 6 – 7 months, while Guerilla Tea was a very new indie studio finding its feet, we fully rebuilt The Quest in Unity for an iOS and Android release, expanding it from a vertical slice of gameplay, to a fully-fledged commercial game. Unfortunately at this point, despite the fact that the prototype worked wonderfully on the Windows Phone 7, the platform just wasn’t commercially viable yet so we were only able to release on iOS and Android.
From here we became BAFTA nominated, and in April 2012 The Quest was released as a premium app for Android and iOS. It was also featured in the New and Noteworthy section, and was generally well received, picking up praise from Pocket Gamer:
“The Quest takes a well-known concept in the form of the Rubik’s puzzle and gives it a fresh new challenge by adding in the task of getting Steve to the mug of tea. In this respect, the game is something of a triumph – few puzzlers have grabbed us in quite the same manner.”
Things were looking good, but despite being an excellent first release for the company, The Quest didn’t perform quite as well commercially as we’d hoped.
Fast forward 2 years…
After stabilising and growing the studio with a series of work-for-hire projects, including work on the Beano and Dandy brands, and most notably Play to Cure: Genes in Space for Cancer Research UK, we returned to working on The Quest in early 2014 to mark the second anniversary of the original release. This involved a full re-skin and we also took this chance to include a third Egyptian themed world which had been previously built but sat gathering dust without ever actually being included within the 2012 release for iOS and Android. Seeing the re-mastered version, it was refreshing to see how far we’d come in the intervening period…
The updated version was launched on iOS and Android in March 2014.
We’d been keeping an eye on the Windows Mobile since we first developed The Quest so when we saw Microsoft and Unity holding a porting day in Glasgow just a few weeks after we had re-launched The Quest we sent some of our coding team through to participate.
During the day, all current Guerilla Tea titles were for the most part ported successfully to Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. We met some incredibly helpful people from Microsoft, and over the next few weeks, took the chance to polish and finalise the Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 versions of our games.
Firstly, there was The Quest, but we also ported our casual strategy title Staking Claims over to Windows 8. It’s a digital remake of the classic pencil and paper game, Dots and Boxes, which took up a lot of time during our rainy school lunchtimes years ago.
This was something we’d been looking forward to for a while so we wanted to make it a bit special so we decided to launch our new logic puzzle game Array on the Windows Phone 8 marketplace along with our ported games. Eventually we’ll move it to iOS and Android but for now it’s a Windows Mobile exclusive.
The Quest had a slight name alteration for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, becoming The Quest: Anniversary Edition, and has now come full circle, returning to its roots for a release in May 2014 on Microsoft’s platforms.
Guerilla Tea began with the four of us working ridiculous hours on PCs set up around our producer’s kitchen table, while at the same time holding down part time jobs to pay the bills. We worked hard and managed to get our start with some small projects for DC Thomson regarding the Beano and Dandy. From here we began to build up the studio with a balance of original IP and work-for-hire, and eventually Guerilla Tea became a full time job for us all. We also moved out of the home and into premises in Dundee city centre, and expanded our art and code teams.
Our recent major project was the hugely successful Play to Cure: Genes in Space developed for Cancer Research UK. We are going strength to strength and continuing to work on a variety of interesting projects, including a series of original titles.
Everyone at Guerilla Tea has been incredibly impressed with the Microsoft support operation and it’s been a really smooth process to port and launch our games onto Windows and Windows Mobile. We’re now nearing completion of our next game, which is to launch on all our core platforms simultaneously; Android, iOS and Windows Mobile. I have no doubt that other developers will do the same.
The original post “Guerilla Tactics – Handling Unfamiliar Terrain – How to deal
The original post “Guerilla Tactics – Handling Unfamiliar Terrain – How to deal with Clients” was written by Alex for a blog on MobileCamp Dresden. Take a look at the original article HERE.
So, let’s talk about clients. I know a lot of indie game devs frown at the very thought of working for hire. And let’s be honest here, if we could just do our own stuff without ever having to worry about how we pay next month’s rent or get food on the table, most of us wouldn’t even bother talking to someone outside the industry. But the reality is, we’re still running a business and we need to make money. And unless we’re producing the next Flappy Bird or whatever magical timesink is currenly floating on top of the app store charts, we need to have an eye on our revenue stream.
Now, I’m no expert, but we’ve been around for about 2.5 years now and worked with a whole bunch of different clients from a variety of industries. The most notable ones were DC Thomson and of course Cancer Research UK, with whom we developed the hugely successfull Play to Cure: Genes in Space – the world’s first mobile game that actively helps with finding a cure for cancer (seriously, how epic is that?!). But all of that still doesn’t make us the ultimate authority in the field of B2B relations, so don’t take everything I’m writing here as gospel. It’s just how we do things at Guerilla Tea because we found they work for us, and our clients.
Now, with that said, let’s get to the question. How do we deal with clients that don’t have a games background but want to develop a game? (Note: most of this is applicable to pretty much any client regardless)
1. Know the territory!
This is probably the most important part when working with a new client. Do your homework! It’s a bit like a job application; the better you know who and what you’re dealing with, the easier the whole process will be and the less friction will occur once you actually start working on the project.
The first thing we did when putting together the pitch for Genes in Space was researching the other companies involved, their experience, past projects and so on. For example, we knew CRUK had already sucessfully launched a serious game on the web called Cell Slider together with Zooniverse (of Galaxy Zoo fame), so we knew they had some experience working with external developers and had people with the technical background to understand the implications of running a backend system for several hundred thousand users. This was great for us since it allowed us to be more technical and therefore precise when writing the pitch. If your client doesn’t have a technical background, it takes a lot more effort to explain what and why you’re doing things, so be careful and make sure you adjust your language appropriately (and *never* try to hide knowledge gaps behind tech lingo)!
Maybe even more important than researching your client is doing the research for the project itself. What is it? Why do they want it? What and who’s problem does it solve? How? For Genes in Space, this involved me digging through every academic research paper on BAF Data, detection of Copy Number Variations and related subjects that I could get my hands on. I didn’t become a Geneticist overnight, but at least I got a good enough understanding to be confident about the project requirements. As a side note here, don’t be afraid of researching subjects that you don’t have previous experience in. My knowledge on genetics before that was basically 7th grade biology and watching Jurassic Park, but by constant cross referencing and a lot of help from Wikipedia I still managed to get a decent enough understanding of the subject. You don’t need to know everything about it – that’s your client’s job – you just want to know enough to communicate effectively and make sure you understand what it is you’re supposed to be doing.
At the end of the day, this will keep both you and your client happy because you will have a lot less misunderstandings that cost time and money to resolve. The more you know about your client and the subject, the easier it is for both parties to find and realise a common vision!
2. Control communication!
Keeping clients in the loop is important. Keeping clients that don’t know about games development in the loop is a lot more important. Look at it from their perspective: they just shelled out a lot of money to a company they never worked with to build a product they don’t fully understand. Of course they are nervous, so the better you keep them informed about the project, the happier they will be.
We acomplish this in multiple ways. The first one is to have regular conferences with the client (usually weekly). If possible do face to face meetings, but if the distance is too large, Skype and Google hangouts are two viable options we use regularly for that purpose. The more often you communicate directly, the easier it will be for both of you to spot problems and address them before the project veers off track.
You also want to give your clients at least some access to your internal scheduling tools. Trello and Asana are really good for that, but if your tool of choice doesn’t support this behaviour, an up to date spreadsheet on Google docs will do the job as well (you should still get a better tool though, because yours is obviously crap). This will reduce unnecessary communication overheads because everyone involved knows what you’re currently working on and when a certain feature is supposed to be implemented.
Finally, having an iterative development methodology works incredibly well with that. This way your client always has the latest stable version of the game for testing, and necessary changes can be fit into the schedule with very little friction. You don’t have to use any of the heavily formalized methodologies like SCRUM for that. We’re using our own homebrew mixture of agile and waterfall which gives us enough stability in terms of cost and time projections, but still allows us to act and react very flexible on changing requirements. Anything that gives your client enough input into the development process should work.
In addition to keeping up client communication, make sure you don’t forget to talk to the most important group of people: your target audience. Most of the time this will be your players, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For Genes in Space, our main audience were not the people who played the game but the researchers that had to use the analysed data. We therefore made sure to run any changes we made to the data analysis by them first to verify that it was still accurate enough. We also sent them regular samples of the data to see if we needed to improve anything. That’s not to say that we didn’t do regular playtesting sessions as well to make sure the game was fun and accessible, but those were not our main priority.
3. Hold your ground!
The last lesson we leant when dealing with clients was probably the most difficult one, but it’s absolutely crucial if you don’t want your project to turn into a nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions: you need to learn to say no. I know this is hard. It requires being somewhat confrontational and it can be incredibly scary because that clients money could be the only thing keeping your company from going belly up. But if you think that a client not getting the feature they wanted is bad news, wait till you see what happens when the deadline slips for the 3rd time because the project is choking from feature creep, you’re nine months late and your code has more bugs than a roadside motel bed because all those nifty little features were glued together by spit and good hopes, without any proper planning whatsoever. That is when you should be scared.
Now, I’m not saying you should just tell your client to bugger off when they have an idea for a new feature. But if it doesn’t fit into the schedule or would be too costly to implement or is just a generally bad idea, you’ve got to deal with that. Explain the situation. Look for compromises. Maybe you can get that new feature in if you remove another one that is less valuable. Maybe you can come up with something that is less costly but emulates almost the same functionality. In the worst case, tell them that you will have to adjust the schedule and costing of the project if they really want the feature in. Whatever you do, just don’t simply say “yes” because the client asked for it; that’s the express lift to developer hell. Stay focused on your goals. Keeping the project on time and on budget is infinitely more valuable for everyone involved in the end than a little disappointment every now and again.
Also, don’t just watch out for the client. Your team members are just as prone to come up with potentially damaging features. However, they are usually easier to deal with since they have a better understanding of the development process. When we were building Genes in Space, Charlie (our designer) had a lot of ideas that I’m sure would have made the game a lot more exciting to play. Making a game fun is his job after all. However, we needed to shoot a lot of them down because they would have meddled with the accuracy of the data analysis. For these cases, I recommend having one team member as a dedicated “guardian”. The job of the guardian is to make sure that whatever is proposed does not interfere with the main goal of the application; a bit like a vision keeper, but with a much narrower focus. Take the person with the best understanding of the project’s goals and give him the authority to veto every new feature if it violates these goals.
Now, as I said at the beginning, this is just the way we do things. It took us a while to get there, but for now it works pretty well – for us and our clients! However, we’re still prone to making mistakes at one point or the other, so if you use a different process that might help us or have a good idea that might improve the ones we have, we’re looking forward to hear about them. Maybe in a year or so I’ll write an update for this post to see what we’ve learnt in the meantime.
Play to Cure: Genes in Space is a ‘one of a kind’ game that pushes the boundaries of
Play to Cure: Genes in Space is a ‘one of a kind’ game that pushes the boundaries of the serious gaming genre. By playing the game, you’ll in fact be analysing genetic data ‘beneath the surface’ of the gameplay.
The game centres around the collection (or harvesting) of a mysterious substance known as Element Alpha. This fictitious chemical found in deep space is actually inspired by neutronium, and has significant benefits within medicine, engineering and construction.
Once you install the game you’ll become a base level employee at Bifrost Industries, the leading processing organisation in the Element Alpha industry.
From here you’ll be thrust into deep space in your harvester vehicle, collecting Element Alpha and trading it in for credits. Spend these on spaceship upgrades and progress through the ranks at Bifrost all the way up to the revered Galactic Legend…
How it all started…
We first heard about the project in summer 2013 and we were put forward as a potential developer; with huge thanks to Colin McDonald at Channel 4. We were invited to pitch for the project and set about coming up with a solution to the brief…
The task was to come up with a proposal for a mobile game which is not only entertaining to play, but simultaneously analyses genetic data to find anomalies, ultimately helping to potentially find a cure.
Hours of research from Alex our CTO allowed for a far greater understanding of the science underpinning the project. This gave us a springboard for coming up with a creative game concept which closely fitted the outlined brief.
We spent a lot of time writing and experimenting with different ideas and directions, but one in particular we kept returning to was a space exploration game. We could put the player in charge of a futuristic spacecraft exploring the galaxy. Running with this, we decided to centre the gameplay around collecting a mysterious substance from deep space, which would later be named ‘Element Alpha’. This would add some intrigue but most of all would tie in very nicely with the method we were using to analyse the data.
Our pitch effort culminated in a gruelling 24 hour shift in the office, fuelled by pizza and energy drinks to create the best possible game proposal. We submitted this and several days later travelled to London to present our game to Cancer Research UK. It went extremely well and we returned home to wait on a decision…
It wasn’t a long wait before we got a phone call with the good news. Time to get started.
What Genes In Space does…
If you can imagine the genetic data as an area (or graph) containing many dots, forming a pattern. We have taken this data and basically imagined it as the Element Alpha deposits, distributed around an area of outer space. Players control a spacecraft, guiding it over the Element Alpha to collect it. In a sense, the spacecraft is flying ‘over’ a graph, and we are recording the position of the spacecraft in order to analyse the data.
This is however not the whole story. The player also analyses the data in a different way prior to flying through space. We included a Route Mapping section where the player must place markers on a representation of the Element Alpha deposits in order to plan the best possible route. This effectively doubles as the genetic data, and we then compare the marker locations with the route the player actually flies through to provide accurate data back to Cancer Research UK.
The huge challenge with building this game came down to the fact that we were very constrained in terms of the behaviour of our core gameplay. The most important aspect is of course the ability for the player to analyse data. However, the game needed to be fun to keep players coming back for more. We decided Genes in Space needed a little more intense action. Since we couldn’t tamper with flying over data graphs, we decided to include a section where the player would enter an asteroid field. They would be able to shoot or avoid these, and wouldn’t necessarily enter the asteroid field each and every time they played. This helped us create a bit more tension. Every time you play you’re faced with the risk of stumbling upon an asteroid field and if so you have to concentrate on making it out in one piece…
Using Video Games in new ways…
Since the beginning of Guerilla Tea the four founders have shared a common interest; in that we want to use video game design and development effectively within other disciplines. This project is the absolute epitome of this, and it’s been a massive challenge for us, but ultimately the rewards have been huge. Genes in Space has had significant interest from the gaming and mainstream press even from the initial announcement. It’s certainly one that has upped the stakes in the serious gaming sector and moved our company to the next level, all for a massively important cause.
You can help the fight against cancer for FREE on iOS or Android devices:
Just One Trip This entry was originally posted by Brian Beacom on his personal blog.
This entry was originally posted by Brian Beacom on his personal blog. It is cross posted here with permission.
Last weekend myself and the folks from Guerilla Tea found ourselves at the Dundee site of the Scottish Game Jam which itself is an arm of the Global Game Jam. The 48 hour game jam takes place at the same local time everywhere from New Zealand to Hawaii, but I’ll cover the event itself in more detail another day.
What follows is an account of our game, Just One Trip and the dark journey it leads you on through the heart of addiction.
Note: This blog is still to be revisited with added pictures but I wanted to get something out asap.
As with all game jams, or at least all good ones – it all starts with a theme, every game at every site had to be based somewhat around the theme provided at the start which was:
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
From this somewhat vague theme we spent a large chunk of time brainstorming and coming up with some concepts around the ideas of perception eventually centring around the concepts of addiction and a journey and we settled on what became Just One Trip – a journey through addiction focusing on how an addiction can affect your perception of reality.
The game at its core puts you in the shoes of a mild addict struggling through life, at each hurdle the player is presented with a choice: the player can conquer the challenge and rise further above their addiction or drink their problems away, sinking deeper into their addiction. The choice the player takes will affect their reality, the path of someone clean of their addiction becomes easier over time however the challenges they face are increasingly harder to handle. Meanwhile the addict may find that the challenges they face aren’t so insurmountable but simply navigating through life may be fraught with difficulty and as they succumb to their addiction they may note the highs aren’t quite as great any more, nor indeed is life itself as easy to appreciate whilst they shuffle and stagger through it.
So that’s the basic idea but that’s a helluva lot of metaphor and not much game play so lets take a closer look. The game is broken up into three chunks the puzzles, the paths and the main room.
Puzzles represent life’s challenges and consist of 3 different types:
Movement Puzzle – A basic puzzle involving jumping from block to block without falling.
Brick Breaking Puzzle - A button mash event where you knock all the bricks out of a wall whilst they slower regenerate
Pendulum Puzzle - A series of swinging pendulums that you must pass without being knocked off.
Paths represent the players path through life and can also take various forms such as being packed with furniture or the floor moving beneath you.
Finally, the room provides some information on game performance, it will change over time as will the quotes from your wife.
These pieces are fit together procedurally to create an ever changing game that has no ending, reflecting the lifelong battle people suffering from addictions face and the individual puzzles and paths are also procedurally built allowing the path and puzzle to be dynamically varied in difficulty to a massive extent allowing for most of the rich metaphor above.
The final key game play characteristic is in fact the deterioration in ability of the player, as the player becomes more addicted they will begin to slow down, the camera will be prevented from looking up and you start sliding to the side as you look around, this combines to produce a very uneasy feeling. Particularly, the inability to look up feels very uncomfortable which was considered an interesting trait by everyone involved – it’s not something you consider but the inability to hold your characters head high translates very well.
The outcome of all this is that the player finds themselves very uncomfortable whilst addicted but due to that deterioration will really struggle to complete the puzzles without taking the easy route which provides more and more to the metaphor being built.
We set out to create a fairly ambitious game in just 48 hours including an entirely procedural, infinite, full 3D environment that closely followed a design that would identify the struggles of someone suffering an addiction. In all honesty, I’d probably call it pretty inconceivable to pull that off and almost certainly thought it at several times throughout the weekend whilst suffering from chronic fatigue but y’know what, we pulled it off and in my opinion very nicely – every element of the game is true to the design we envisioned and in a lot of cases better. I unfortunately lack the pre-requisite medical knowledge to know whether this could be remotely be considered a useful tool for teaching people about addiction or even if our realisation of addiction is in any way accurate but it would be nice to think it is and if nothing else it was really pleasing to have pulled it off.
Want to play?
See all the details including credits, source and playable builds at the Global Game Jam website:
Even though we’re only 2 working days into 2014, it’s already showing signs that it’s
Even though we’re only 2 working days into 2014, it’s already showing signs that it’s going to be a busy month, and on top of that a busy year. Since it was a successful 2013 that gave us a superb springboard for this year, I guess it’s a good time to reflect on the past year.
At the beginning of the year, we jumping head first into a number of projects, the most notable being the Beano iPrank app in conjunction with DC Thomson. This app went through a relatively fast development cycle, and went on to become DC Thomson’s most and highest rated digital product. We also continued our work on other aspects of the Beano and Dandy brands, along with attending several events including a TIGA Game Dev night in Dundee (where I did a presentation on the company).
One project which had been in preparation since 2012 came to fruition in early 2013; our Game Development Workshop with ENABLE Scotland, with a group of young people who have learning disabilities. This actually involved two separate workshops. During the first event we met with the group, introduced them to the games industry (with an outstanding talk from Brian Baglow), and went on to concept out a simple game on paper. We took the work back to the office and prepared for the second event where we would build and release the game. This follow-up workshop took place alongside Futures Fest 2013. The four company partners attended the two day event in Glasgow; first day we held a number of presentations and panel sessions about working in the industry, and the second day we did the follow up ENABLE workshop. During this we built an endless runner for iOS and Android called ‘On the Freerun’. The events received some great coverage; you can download the game:
In April we moved office (a space that was formerly the home of Digital Goldfish), and expanded our programming and art teams.
During the summer, we continued to work with DC Thomson, creating mini-games for the Dennis and Gnasher site, while also making a small original IP, ‘Staking Claims’ which was released on Android Tablet, with an iOS release to follow this year.
It was around the same time that we pitched to Cancer Research UK for the ‘GeneGame’ project. We put in the work, including a great deal of research culminating in a 24 hour shift to polish our pitch. It paid off and we won the contract which has kept us busy up until now, to be released early this year. To add to this we were shortlisted under the ‘Best Newcomer’ category in the ScotlandIS Digital Technology Award 2013.
Around autumn time, when we were snowed under with work, we were greeted with several high points including being selected for the Develop Top 100 UK Games Companies along with the Develop Top 100 European start-ups. Continuing the recognition from Develop magazine, our CTO Alex appeared in the 30 under 30 list.
The workload continued into winter, but Alex and Matt did free up a weekend to take part in the TIGA Game Hack, where they created a prototype tower defense game with a twist… It’s called sandbox TD; take a look at the gameplay trailer.
We’re now at the start of 2014, and we’ve got a lot to look forward to as we move through the year.
Here’s to a successful year!
Today the sixth annual 30 under 30 list from Develop magazine went live. We’re very p
Today the sixth annual 30 under 30 list from Develop magazine went live. We’re very proud to see the appearance of our very own CTO and founding partner, Alex Zeitler!
On the 27th November 2013 Develop Magazine published a list of the 100
On the 27th November 2013 Develop Magazine published a list of the 100 most promising start-up companies in Europe. Needless to say we’re very proud to be included. It’s been one hell of a roller coaster ride since we began in 2011…
We survived the first year, were profitable in our second and have now doubled our staff from 4 to 8. We’re on a busy run up to Christmas this year, and are looking for a strong start to 2014!
This past weekend two of the Guerilla Tea unit, namely Alex and Matt working u
This past weekend two of the Guerilla Tea unit, namely Alex and Matt working under the alternate name ‘Guerilla Pizza’ (dubbed Grill-A Pizza by Ryan Locke) attended the TIGA Game Hack 2013.
After packing up a portion of the Guerilla Tea office PCs late on Friday, they arrived on Saturday morning and set up their own Grill-A Pizza office in the fish tank area of Abertay University’s Kydd Building.
So armed with coffee, energy drinks and a lorry load of pizza, they were ready to receive the top secret theme of the game jam…
And the theme was… Childhood.
Utilising the recently refined creative process practiced at the Guerilla Tea HQ, they set about deciding exactly what would be made in the following 24 hours. Five minutes for open ended brainstorming and a further twenty five minutes to refine the ideas into a coherent game concept.
The end result of this was a Sandbox game.
Project scope is always an issue at game jams, and it’s even more of an issue when you’re trying to run an indie company, but this was no ordinary sandbox game. Contrary to any initial notion you may have had of them trying to build a full open world game in 24 hours, what they in fact did was take the term sandbox literally and piece together a game set in a child’s sandpit.
It’s a tower defense game with an interesting twist. You can deform the sandy terrain to create mountains and canyons. This will cause navigation problems for the enemy tanks hell-bent on destroying your precious sandcastle.
From here you have additional defences at your fingertips. Place cannons, robots and helicopters on the mountains you’ve created and they will fire-at-will on any attacking foe.
That’s the gameplay in the form of a blurb, but if a picture says a thousand words…
Then a video must say a million, right.
And if a video says a million, then a working prototype must say a… Googol
So the game jam ended and Alex and Matt were very very very very very tired. They unfortunately didn’t win a prize but they finished with something that is certainly more valuable to Guerilla Tea; a great prototype with a huge potential of becoming a strong original IP for the company. A great event and a huge thanks to TIGA.
For now it’s back to running a studio!
This is the Guerilla Tea company profile as of October 2013. This was originally post...
Name of Company: Guerilla Tea
Date Founded: 2011
Location : 31 South Tay Street, Dundee, DD1 1NP
Founder(s): Alex Zeitler, Matt Zanetti, Charlie Czerkawski, Mark Hastings
Background of founder(s):
Art: Matt Zanetti has a background in interior architecture started his career working at MKW Design Partnership and Michael Lairds Architects. When Matt decided to change industries he came to Abertay to do the MProf in Games Development which eventually led him to Guerilla Tea.
Design: Charlie Czerkawski is a qualified mathematician with past experience in video game quality assurance on the Grand Theft Auto franchise. He has a wide range of interests including many sports, travelling and creative writing.
Production and Business Development: Mark Hastings followed a traditional games education route, gaining a BA (Hons) in Game Production Management and an MProf Games Development from the University of Abertay, focussing on the skills necessary to run a game studio.
Number of Employees: 8
Describe your company: The Guerilla Tea studio is built around a core in-house team of highly skilled dynamic developers that draws upon the best local talent to bolster internal resources when necessary. Utilising the highest level of development standards Guerilla Tea mixes creativity, innovation and passion and strives to offer risk-free development solutions across multiple platforms covering hundreds of handsets and multiple languages.
Over the past two years Guerilla Tea has striven to build a solid reputation as a dependable studio in the work for hire market while building the team we need to develop our own games and IP. Over the next year we plan to focus more on our own games using the skills and resources gained from our contract work.
Platforms supported/Services offered: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, PC, HTML5, Flash, Software Development, Application Development, Games Development, Consulting, Social media Management and Project Rescue.
Cancer Research UK (working title GeneGame) – A mobile game to aid the fight against cancer.
Knux – A mobile game being developed for Kydaemos.
Unnamed HTML5 game for BBC
Fangs Out [working title] – A model helicopter dogfighting title.
Releases To Date: The Quest, The Quest: The Beginning, Ward Round, Ward Round: Picture Quiz, Go Go Go Bananas, Dollops, Dandy Integrated Minigames, Staking Claims, Beano iPrank, Piefall, Splat-apult, Board Silly.
Favourite game(s): Assassin’s Creed series, Grand Theft Auto series, Total War Games, Shenmue, Fallout Series, Metal Gear Solid, Cut the Rope and many others.
Member of: TIGA
Social Media Links:
Fangs Out - This is a gameplay preview video of our main original IP currently in development.
The Quest - This is a gameplay trailer video for our first original IP, The Quest.
This past weekend, I took part in the Tough Mudder event at Dalkeith. For anyone who
This past weekend, I took part in the Tough Mudder event at Dalkeith. For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, it’s basically a mud run with ‘military designed’ obstacles littered throughout. Take a look at the event website if you’re interesting in signing up next year.
It’s a heavily marketed event (just look at the site), and it’s tempting to believe that the marketing is exaggerating things. I’ll admit I had a feeling it would be relatively tame considering the usual health and safety constraints.
Anyway, I’d been warned by a few friends not to take it lightly, as it took them by surprise. Bearing this in mind, I showed up with the rest of the team on Sunday morning ready to rock and roll.
After registering, leaving my bag in the bag drop area, and taking an energy gel, we proceeded to the start line, which itself involved climbing over a short wall. There’s a fairly energetic announcer who basically gets everyone jumping and shouting just before we set off.
What followed was a 12 mile run over fields and countryside, with about 20 obstacles involving icy water, high walls, and electrocution…
I’m not going to go through each and every one of them, but any notion of the course being tame was quickly washed away so to speak. Mainly because after only about 20 minutes of running, there was a lovely vat full of muddy, icy water to swim through, including a section where you need to swim underneath a beam crossing your path. It knocks the air out of your lungs and makes running straight afterwards a lot harder…
After this, different obstacles were placed at intervals throughout the course, which was mapped through many forest tracks and open fields; lots of uphill and downhill areas, etc.
The ‘Mud Mile’ obstacle was particularly interesting; basically a long traipse through avery muddy forest track where I was trying very hard not to lose my trainers in the mud.
I was genuinely concerned about getting over the Hero Walls also. 12 foot walls are surprisingly high when standing directly beneath them, although my height certainly helped on the way down the other side.
Aside from this, there were a good few obstacles that involved crawling through tight constraints, such as the ‘Boa Constrictor’, which was pretty enjoyable really.
Just before the end, there’s an obstacle called ‘Everest’ which is basically a dash up a half-pipe slope. You sprint up as far as you can before it becomes too steep to run, then reach up a try to grab the top, or hope someone at the top catches you. Anyway, I managed to pull a leg muscle badly on my second attempt so I pretty much hobbled on to the final obstacle on one foot. The final challenge before the finish line was a run through electrical wires. Needless to say, I got shocked about ten times, and I recall the commentator shouting something along the lines of “This guy thinks he’s a horse!” to coincide with my galloping along… Good times!
I did feel that being 6’4” and 19 stone let me down a little. Obstacles such as monkey bars or ‘Human Gecko’ where you move across a wall with very small protruding handles and footholds never will be suited to someone of my size.
I’m exceptionally strong and my cardio fitness and speed is good for my size, but no matter what I’m never going to be small. As a result I’m well-nigh allergic to running uphill, and in general not built for long distance running. Although my own mistake I admit was practicing road running too much and not cross country running, as I did tire a lot quicker than I should have…
Seriously though, it was superb. You do get a great sense of achievement at the end as you’re met with a headband, t-shirt and a pint of cider.
Camaraderie is the theme of the event, and it’s very prominent throughout. There’s always someone there to offer a helping hand with the more difficult obstacles. I’ve never experienced more people offering help and words of encouragement. It helps you push yourself and a lot of physical challenges are firmly rooted as mental challenges. You can push yourself through them, after all, pain is just weakness leaving the body, right?
Crunch is a fairly sensitive topic, and there are a lot of strong opinions floating a...
There are a good number of horror stories that have become public knowledge regarding excessive working hours. 7 day weeks and 12+ hour working days, including resulting health problems, etc are all covered, as well as the angry responses from relatives and colleagues.
To counter balance this, there are companies who are completely against crunch and will absolutely never demand overtime regardless of circumstance. Fair enough. If this works and the company succeeds then great; we have huge respect for this.
Something which also occurs is ‘optional overtime’ which comes with a type of emotional blackmail where staff are made to feel guilty for working anything less than life consuming hours. This happens through all the roles over all career stages, and in the junior positions such as QA, the paycheck just doesn’t match the required commitment.
So what about our view on crunch?
First of all, in no way would myself or Guerilla Tea condone the spirit of making employees feel guilty. We do not demand staff work additional hours on a regular basis. We sometimes find ourselves virtually insisting on staff going home and relaxing in the evening.
I suppose we sit somewhere in the middle ground. If we’re being honest, as directors of the business we have worked long hours since our part time days as students, and continue to work until we are finished, rather than until 5pm. I think anyone in the position of running an indie studio or start-up will relate to this. There is a general notion that if you’re only doing nine to five when running a company then you’re doing something wrong… I believe this, but since the business is your ‘child’ you don’t feel the same drag of working long hours.
People often talk of crunch as the result of poor management and scheduling. I’m sorry, this may be a nice theory and it’s very easy to say this when you’re on the outside, but the practical reality just doesn’t always allow for things to run smoothly, particularly in the pressure cooker that is a young games studio where maintaining sufficient cash flow is a constant worry.
Ergo, there are periods of time when work picks up considerably. Just recently several of the Guerilla Tea partners worked through the night to finish a major work pitch. It was very much worth that brief, extra effort.
I have to be careful here. I may be walking a bit of a tightrope but the other pertinent point about crunch I can’t ignore is the general contempt that the very word itself evokes. Crunch is simply another word for ‘working overtime’, which in other industries isn’t something that has been completely demonised. And yes, the games industry isn’t the only industry in the world where people work additional hours! Sometimes I feel people forget this in the haze of complaints. This is not to say that certain companies don’t overdo it and do take advantage of employees as I mentioned in the opening paragraphs. However, there is nothing wrong with extra exertion now and again. Making games is not easy, and to be successful you need complete dedication. In the paraphrased words of success expert Brian Tracy, “If you think it’s hard trying to be successful, try being unsuccessful. You don’t know what hard is until you’ve lived like that”.
CANCER RESEARCH UK APPOINTS GUERILLA TEA TO BUILD WORLD-FIRST MOBILE PHONE GAM...
CANCER RESEARCH UK APPOINTS GUERILLA TEA TO BUILD WORLD-FIRST MOBILE PHONE GAME TO SEEK CANCER CURES
CANCER RESEARCH UK has hired games and software development agency Guerilla Tea to build the charity’s first mobile phone game to pinpoint new genetic causes of cancer – accelerating potential new cures.
The agency will work closely with Cancer Research UK’s scientists to develop a game, working title GeneGame, that anyone with a smart phone and five minutes to spare can play to analyse Cancer Research UK’s gene data. The game will launch in the UK later this year.
Dundee-based Guerilla Tea creates mobile, handheld and online games. It was appointed by Cancer Research UK with help from games expert Channel 4’s games commissioner, Colin Macdonald. Cancer Research UK selected Guerilla Tea because it most closely fulfilled the brief to develop a game format that is both fun to play but simultaneously feeds highly accurate analysis of variations in gene data to Cancer Research UK’s scientists.
Guerilla Tea will consolidate the expertise and formats generated at Cancer Research UK’s GameJam event in March 2013. The event brought together the charity’s world-leading scientists alongside over fifty ‘hackers’ – computer programmers, gamers, graphic designers and other specialists from Amazon Web Services, Facebook, Google and games technology academics from City University London and Omnisoft.
Amy Carton, citizen science lead for Cancer Research UK, said: “We were very impressed by the initial format produced by Guerilla Tea and we’re excited about seeing the final result.
“We’re right at the start of a world-first initiative that will result in a game that we hope hundreds of thousands of people across the globe will want to play over and over again and, at the same time, generate robust scientific data analysis.
“Combining complicated cancer research data and gaming technology in this way has never been done before and it’s certainly no mean feat but we’re working with the best scientific and technology brains in the business, we’re ready for the challenge and believe the results will have global impact and speed up research.”
Mark Hastings, CEO of Guerilla Tea, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to have been selected by Cancer Research UK for this project. We’ve always believed games technology has the potential to provide huge benefits to other sectors and this project will be a wonderful example of that. We’re very excited to get started and through our work look forward to helping speed up discoveries that one day might lead to new cancer treatments.”
Cancer Research UK’s scientists are investigating new ways to treat patients in a more targeted way based on their genetic fingerprint – but this research produces terabytes upon petabytes of data requiring analysis. Advances in technology help our scientists identify new causes and drivers of cancer, but much of the data must be analysed by the human eye rather than machines – which can take years.
‘GeneGame’ is the charity’s second project set up to harness the power of the public to help analyse these colossal amounts of data, with the aim to drastically speed up research.
The first initiative, Cell SliderTM, launched in October 2012 and allows the public to classify archived breast cancer samples, helping Cancer Research UK scientists to better understand breast cancer risk and response to treatment.
Dr Joanna Reynolds, director of science information, Cancer Research UK, said “Over 200,000 people have already visited our CellSlider site, from over 100 countries, making more than 1.6 million classifications. In just three months, citizen scientists had analysed data that would typically take our scientists 18 months to do and early indications of the accuracy are promising. With GeneGame we are being bolder, braver and bigger and we hope that by the end of the year we’ll have a game that not only is fun to play but will play a crucial role in developing new cancer cures sooner – ultimately saving lives.”
For media enquiries please contact Emma Rigby on 020 3469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Notes to Editors:
About Guerilla Tea
Founded in 2011 by Mark Hastings, Matthew Zanetti, Charlie Czerkawski and Alex Zeitler, Guerilla Tea is an award winning Dundee based Games and Software Development Company. Focusing primarily on web and mobile platforms Guerilla Tea develops products for the global market.
The Guerilla Tea studio is built around a dedicated in-house team of highly skilled dynamic developers that draws upon the best local talent to bolster internal resources when necessary. Utilising the highest level of development standards Guerilla Tea mixes creativity, innovation and passion and strives to offer risk-free development solutions across multiple platforms covering hundreds of handsets and multiple languages.
About Cancer Research UK
Beer, Cake and a Game Release! As of today, we’ve been in business for 2 years. It’s
As of today, we’ve been in business for 2 years. It’s scary how quickly the time has gone by. We could describe the past year as ‘tumultuous’ to say the least and it’s been an awesome learning experience. It’s still very early days for Guerilla Tea, but throughout the last year we’ve built up a strong client base, moved into superb new premises and expanded the core team. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears so far, which has combined to give us that much needed luck. We’ve had a few ‘reality checks’, and it’s safe to say we have a lot to learn.
On a more light hearted note. Cake and beer is always essential to mark such an occasion. It’s one hell of a cliché but we’ll say it anyway. This cake is not a lie.
As well as our foundation in client-based work, we also do make our own games from time to time. We are releasing Staking Claims early on Android tablet to tie in with our 2nd birthday. Look out for Flash and iOS releases to follow.
Staking Claims is a (very) casual strategy game that should stir some rainy school playtime nostalgia (unless you’re still at school of course!). It’s a digital version of the pencil and paper game ‘Cheese Squares’, the ‘time wasting’ game of choice for many. Players take it in turns to draw lines onto a square grid; the idea being to complete squares to secure them.
Our game is themed after the California Gold Rush of the mid 19th century. Imagine you are in command of an entire army of gold hunters, trying to claim riches from as much land as possible before other bands of fortune seekers beat you to the punch. You’ll draw ‘fences’ on the land, and once you’ve fenced off a full square, that land will be yours.
Of course, some areas of land are more valuable than others, so you’ll need to be creative as to how you place your fences to fend off the competition.
The game can be played single player against an AI. For an easy round, blast through a greenhorn opponent, or go loco and play against a tough tactical enemy. We’ll be adding another difficulty setting in due course for an ultimate test of skill…
Staking Claims can also be enjoyed as a hot seat multiplayer game. Take your turn, then pass the tablet (or mouse) to your opponent.
There are a millions of possible terrain layouts with random level generation, so the gold won’t dry up anytime soon…
Enjoy the game and happy hunting!
Staking Claims is available to download here:
Android (Tablet Only) – DOWNLOAD
Coming to Flash and iOS!
Game testing, or Quality Assurance (QA), is a role in the industry which seems to bri...
Game testing, or Quality Assurance (QA), is a role in the industry which seems to bring with it a ton of misconceptions. When I used to work in QA, if I mentioned my job as a “games tester” to someone outside of the games industry, they’d jump to the conclusion that we play our favourite games at home for a few hours in the evening with a beer, and happen to get paid for it…
Ok, so this is a bit of an exaggeration. We know this sounds ridiculous, but in all seriousness people do think that game testing involves leisurely playing through a selection of games. Someone once asked me which of the hundreds of games I’ve played, was my favourite to test? I gave the usual game tester reality speech about working on one project for months on end, repeatedly playing the same tiny section over and over, and reporting bugs.
I’ve noticed that oftentimes, the thought that there has to be a methodical process to finding and fixing bugs within games goes over the heads of most people. The fact that we need to use special problem tracking software can sometimes also come as a surprise. There is a set process to game testing, and writing bug reports. Although there are slight differences from company to company, the general pattern stays the same.
The General Process of Game Testing
Functionality testers will often play a small section of a game repeatedly, basically trying to break that section. Testers have to approach their assigned area of the game from every conceivable angle, thinking outside the box, to try and expose any bugs, no matter how obscure. Once a bug is found, the tester will write and submit a bug report using the particular bug tracking software used by the company (It’s basically a database that stores the bug reports). At Guerilla Tea we use JIRA, but there are many others including Mantis, Bugzilla, and larger companies may have their own proprietary program.
The tester assigns a bug report to a member of the development team, or maybe to their lead tester who will then assign it to the relevant developer. The developer will fix the bug, mark it as resolved, and assign it back to the tester.
Once the next build of the game becomes available, hopefully with the bug now fixed, the tester will try to reproduce the bug in the new build and if it doesn’t occur, he/she will mark it as closed. However if the bug still occurs, the tester will assign the bug back to the relevant member of the development team, and the process repeats for the next build of the game.
This is a brief overview of the process, but what about the individual bug reports? There is a standard format, again with minor differences between companies.
Standard Bug Reports
Bug reports tend to be very similar throughout the games industry and include the following sections:
- Summary Sentence
- Steps to Reproduce
- Rate of Occurrence
- Expected Result
A single, short sentence describing the bug, which will often begin with the type of bug such as art, gameplay or crash. For example.
“Crash – Game will crash at start of Tank boss battle in chapter 2.”
A longer description of the bug, going into far more detail.
Steps to Reproduce
The sequence of actions you did in-game to make the bug happen. It’s deemed one of the most important aspects of a bug report and each step must be very clear, but not exhaustive. You generally shouldn’t have more than about 10 steps. Common sense really; you wouldn’t summarise playing through an entire game if the bug happened on the final boss!
How serious the problem is. We tend to classify bugs as A, B, C or D.
A = Game breaking; crashes, etc. Something that stops player progression.
B = Major problem, but game can still be completed. Serious gameplay or art issues usually.
C = Minor problem. Less noticeable gameplay and art issues.
D = Design bugs. Possible improvements, very minor design suggestions, etc.
The priority is a very important aspect of a bug in terms of the development process and works in tandem with the severity, in a way. Priorities may be marked as “must fix”, “should fix”, “could fix” or “won’t fix”, but it does vary. A bug may be ‘A’ class in severity, but if it only occurs less than 1% of the time under a very obscure sequence of actions, then it would likely be marked as “won’t fix”.
Rate of Occurrence
The rough frequency with which the bug occurs, usually marked as a percentage. The tester must try to reproduce the bug several times, and then judge the frequency from there.
A brief sentence describing what the tester expects to happen if the bug is not present. Could be as simple as “Game should not crash”
I understand that developers will know all the above inside out, but I speak to so many people that have completely the wrong idea about the QA role. It’s an important first rung on the career ladder for many, especially those looking to get into game design and unfortunately a job that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
Best Newcomer – 3rd Place We attended the ScotlandIS Digital Technology Awards 2013,
We attended the ScotlandIS Digital Technology Awards 2013, having been shortlisted in the Best Newcomer category. It was a terrific night at the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow. In the end we finished in 3rd place behind some insanely tough competition. We’re at the start of a very long journey!
Since we started Guerilla Tea in 2011, the use of social media has been hugely import
Since we started Guerilla Tea in 2011, the use of social media has been hugely important to us. I’ve wanted to share some of my thoughts on our approach for a while, so this week’s blog seems like a good opportunity.
One thing we have learned (the hard way, actually) is that simply making games as an indie studio is not enough. You must also have individuals on the team who are more outward facing, and handle business aspects, finance, and marketing & selling. Of course, we make no secret of our heavy focus on contract work, and we have a producer who handles business, finance and any similar issues.
My role within the company as Chief Design Officer involves traditional game design where I’m holding the vision of our projects, creating the game mechanics, balancing, etc. Although another vital hat I wear is that of marketing and selling. By this I mean my job is try to get our games and our business as well recognised as possible.
The problems facing every indie developer are visibility and reach. The two are closely related. This is something we all battle with. Without the massive marketing budget available to large organisations, how can we get our games and our company name out there? How can we become a recognised company and how can our games be seen through the masses which clutter the app store?
From my experiences so far, there is no secret formula to it as such. Generally ‘putting yourself out there’ through attending events, establishing contacts, completing projects, and being active in the communities certainly puts you on the right track… And social media plays a heavy part assisting with this.
Our first port of call is Facebook. Likewise for many businesses with a company page. However I do things a little differently with Guerilla Tea in that as well as a company page, I also manage a standard personal profile page.
Although I can share topics when using Facebook as my company page, I can’t ‘like’ other people’s comments, I can’t myself comment on other topics or post into groups or on walls. Having Guerilla Tea as a person on Facebook allows me to do all of the above.
When we have something to share, I tend to cross post it from our personal profile onto our company profile. These are the standard items that companies tend to share; posts relating to our activity such game projects, careers, or events we have attended, etc.
On top of this, I post other information relating to not only our company, but also our industry in general (usually via twitter) and possibly Scotland as well (more on that later…). Using a personal profile, I can put things onto the Scottish Games NetworkFacebook group. This is invaluable as the SGN is effectively the voice of the Scottish games industry.
Thanks to this strategy, I have connected with other extremely active users who support their business with social media. I post on other groups, as well as commentand click the ‘like’ button on posts from other people. Very important as this helps create more of a personality for our company. We have always promoted ourselves as a studio with a strong spirit, and people will relate more to a personality, rather than a soulless commercial entity.
I suppose I’m trying to work a type of synergy between promoting the business through social media, and creating a personality for the company. There is also the very correct school of thought that sheer volume of content and communication boosts company promotion. Basically, the more times you have your logo and name popping up on a social media network, the more noticed you’ll eventually become!
Facebook assists us in essentially trying to build a small community around the company, which is closely tied to the Scottish games industry community. Information from the personal profile and company page appear in activity feeds, but we find that not everyone wants to add us as a friend, so they have the option to ‘like’ the company or befriend us, or both! The options are open.
I feel that a trap some fall into is treating social media communication too formally, almost in the same vein as a professional blog. It very much isn’t. Social media allows us to be a lot more colloquial in our communication, basically.
Everybody’s heard about the bird!
Twitter is a great service for the creative industries. We use twitter constantly, and of course tweet about company activity, in a similar vein to our Facebook use. We have our Twitter account linked to Facebook so these tweets appear on our FB wall also.
There is no strict rule to our tweeting, but in general I tweet very often.
In addition to the regular tweets about releases, etc. I try to tweet random, amusing things relating to work, and possibly just about game development life in general, even very indirectly. I also tweet about games education such as tips for graduates trying to break into the industry.
Attaching images whenever relevant is also very effective, cohering to the adage “A picture says a thousand words”. Screenshots will be the first thing that comes to mind for a games company, but I try to put other photos up there too.
I’ll tweet a good number of links to interesting articles, which adds to the idea I discussed above about trying to create a personality for our company. It’s important to tweet links to your games often after release. However, it’s important not to overdo tweeting links. You run the risk of constantly appearing to be selling something, and you want to allow people to be interested in you, rather than wonder what you are trying to provide them.
In addition to this I’ll regularly retweet from other people, and always use recognisable hashtags. I almost always tweet a short ‘thanks for the follow’ to people who follow Guerilla Tea, and on Fridays I’ll do 2 to 3 Follow Friday tweets, usually listing new and interesting followers, and likely one relevant to game developers, review sites, etc.
Last point on Twitter, I’d fully recommend downloading TweetDeck. It’ll allow you to organise and filter columns regarding tweets, activity, etc. and will generally make your life a whole lot easier.
There’s A System in Place!
We have the following rules in place for marketing and promotion through social media. These are guidelines, and of course it fluctuates either up or down (slightly) depending on our projects:
- Tweet 5 times a day minimum.
- Put up one Facebook post a day, even if it’s very short.
- Write one developer blog post a week, which is then shared on social media. (Writing a blog post is a greater time investment that most people think!)
What about subject matter? Well we have three points when judging whether something is relevant.
- It relates to the company.
- It relates to the wider games industry.
- It relates to Scotland.
So these are my thoughts on using social media. I have no doubt that there will be many differing opinions, just as there are with game design theories. The only thing I can say is that you really need to find what works for you and then stick with it. Effectively using social media doesn’t happen overnight, and it will take the combination of this, and generally building up the status of your company to ultimately get the most out of it.
Images courtesy of Stock Free Images.
The following blog was originally a featured post on Gamasutra. It is a more d...
The following blog was originally a featured post on Gamasutra. It is a more detailed account of our game development workshop with ENABLE Scotland.
My name is Charlie Czerkawski and I’m the CDO of Guerilla Tea; a Dundee based game and app developer. Several weeks ago Guerilla Tea worked together with ENABLE Scotland’s East Renfrewshire Local Area Coordination Team to run a few game development workshops for young people who have learning disabilities.
ENABLE Scotland is the country’s leading charity supporting children and adults who have learning disabilities and their families and carers. The charity campaigns for people who have a learning disability to live full and independent lives.
Several months ago Guerilla Tea met with ENABLE Scotland quite by chance at Futures Fest, an annual careers fair held in Glasgow. There we discussed the video games industry and the organization mentioned the fact that a number of their members were extremely interested in video games, specifically how games are made and the possibility of it as a viable career path.
Guerilla Tea is a young, ambitious company and as we continue to grow the business we are interested in exploring a number of different aspects of game development. It is widely known that there is still very little structure in place and routes into the industry, as well as prospects of career progression, are still somewhat unclear. However, one aspect that we have had to come to terms with as we have learnt the business is that the industry can, at times, feel fairly insular. With the increase in popularity of casual and mobile games however, and the ease with which games can be developed and published, we wanted to try and reach out and promote game development as a great past time, and potentially a great career.
The meeting with ENABLE Scotland’s LAC team came at an interesting time for us, and after some lengthy discussions within the company we decided that this was a cause that we all felt was worth investing some of our time in. After months of careful planning we decided that as an initial event we would work with a small group, around 12, young people supported by ENABLE Scotland. We would run game development workshops where we would introduce the group to the Scottish games industry, and teach them the methods and some of the more user-friendly software involved in game development. During the course of the two scheduled workshops we would work with the group to decide on a game concept and move it towards a working design. We would then build the game and ultimately release it on iTunes and Google Play as a completed product.
Workshop 1 – Concept Design
Our first workshop took place during early February where we met with the group and began with an introduction to the Scottish games industry by veteran Brian Baglow. The talk itself was extremely entertaining and Brian covered the Dundee game development scene, which is recognised as a hub of game development in the UK. He talked about the existing game companies and a little about the history of the games industry. A few myths were dispelled in the process, including the notion that Grand Theft Auto was developed in the United States!
After a short lunch break, we set about doing some basic concept design with the group. The first thing we needed to do was come up with a team name for the group, and we took a number of suggestions, eventually deciding on the name ‘Lazy Boys’ by majority vote. There were a number of catchy names suggested, and ‘Sonic Muscle’ was my personal favourite!
Our idea was to basically structure the two events in the fashion of a game jam. We then told the group about the idea behind a game jam, and the fact that normally games take months or even years to make, but here we speed up the process to cover a single weekend, often losing a few night’s sleep… Although these workshops would take place over two separate days and wouldn’t involve working throughout the night.
We set team Lazy Boys with the task of coming up with some ideas for games, noting down suggestions on paper. The main lesson we were aiming to teach the group here was project scope. Given our limited time and resources there would be a lot of features and gameplay elements which would simply be unachievable, and our challenge was to keep the concepts within the umbrella of simple, pick-up-and-play casual games. The group understood the idea of scope extremely well, and there were a lot of concepts for games ranging from several different takes on the platforming genre covering a number of themes, along with ideas for text based quiz games.
After a few hours we took some time to collate the concepts. There were several ideas for various elements within the concepts including enemies along with pickups and other gameplay enhancements. We got the group together to work through the ideas and essentially vote on elements to include in our final project, eliminating aspects which were not relevant or feasible.
A recurring idea was platforming as mentioned above, which we worked into an endless running game. A theme which seemed popular was cyberpunk, so Lazy Boys decided that the character would be running over skyscraper rooftops in a dystopian future. Thinking about the character, there were several ideas for outlandish creatures but ultimately the name ‘Norman’ was decided and a regular cartoon styled human figure seemed more fitting. So how could we make the game a little more interesting? Random ideas thrown together was becoming the theme of the day, and to keep in tune with this the team voted for the enemies to be extra-terrestrial elderly people, appearing to block Norman’s path on the rooftops. Norman would also collect Mana which would boost his score.
A name for the game – ‘On The Freerun’. A fitting name and descriptive of the content, which was another lesson we covered during the day, as many amateur games are created with weak titles which limit their potential reach.
As the first workshop came to an end, we had a game concept which would be taken to the next stage. There were of course a lot of other ideas and some members of the group had shown a great deal of interest in making games in their spare time. After highlighting the fact that the software Guerilla Tea uses to make games is beyond the hobbyist price range, we talked about available free (or more affordable) software programs such as Gamemaker, Unity and GIMP, which can be purchased or downloaded, and we prepared a list to be sent out to the group.
This concluded a successful first workshop, and during the intervening period Guerilla Tea undertook some basic preparation for the next workshop which would be the development day.
We designed a logo for ‘Lazy Boys’, and also put together a basic front end for ‘On The Freerun’. We also worked on putting some of the core framework together for an endless running game using YoYo Games Gamemaker engine.
We decided that the most effective approach to building the game with Lazy Boys would be to have them create the art assets for the game using traditional means, ie. simply creating it on paper with coloured pens. We would then scan it into a PC, and add a little minor polish using Photoshop. With the game framework in place we would create the gameplay on the day of the event and import the art into it, finishing the day with a working game.
Workshop 2 – Development Day
The second workshop began with two further talks, beginning with games industry adviser Phil Harris giving a presentation on the games industry in general. Throughout the talk he covered organised game jam events in greater detail, again something which the group showed interest in.
University of Abertay Lecturer Ryan Locke then gave a very motivating speech on focussing on your goals and ambitions, and the value of attending university, and in particular how closely tied the University of Abertay is the Dundee games industry, providing all the benefits when looking to build a career.
After lunch we separated Lazy Boys into those who were interested in programming and those who were interested in art.
The programmers worked with YoYo Games Gamemaker, with help from Guerilla Tea CTO Alex Zeitler. The object of this was to learn Gamemaker in the process of building On The Freerun. With our basic pre-prepared framework, a few members of the team began implementing the designed functionality of the game. They managed to get a character moving in the randomly generating environment, and implemented the health and scoring system, as well as the behaviour of the Mana and damaging effects of the hostile elderly people.
Simultaneously, the members of the team who were more interested in art worked with the help of Guerilla Tea CCO Matt Zanetti and Ryan Locke to create the art assets for the game. We set about putting up a list of required objects onto our large projector screen, and then assigned different tasks to members of the team. Throughout the next few hours the team created a series of buildings, enemies and mana objects on paper.
It was great to see the team working towards the design established from the first workshop, keeping things simple. Although in the process we did lose the cyberpunk style and the game world did become more cartoon-like. Something that was unavoidable with the tools to hand and the short time frame.
We had already planned out the basic running and jumping animations for Norman previously, and at a point in the afternoon, Matt helped a few members of the team draw a simple design for Norman using Photoshop, and also tweak some of the animations with Maya. This was definitely a more sensitive aspect of the design, so a lot of supervision was required here.
Myself, Matt and Ryan guided the tasks during the day and as the development session came to a close, we collated the afternoon’s work and brought the art assets into the prototype which Lazy Boys programmers had created, tidying up some of the art using Photoshop, although this was very minimal.
The group then had a chance to test their game to round off the day. The majority of the team had been particularly keen on the game tester role within the industry, and they did actually find a good number of bugs in the game in only a short time playing. However, the ins and outs of game testing was not the objective of the workshops but since it’s a well recognised first rung on the career ladder in the games industry, we recommended some of the older members of the team to actively look into testing work.
On The Freerun
Over the following few days Guerilla Tea set about adding a little polish, and more importantly fixing the bugs the team had found. We released the game to the world on iOS and Android:
Lazy Boys now have a completed, released game with their names in the credits, published by a professional development studio, certainly something to be extremely proud of.
This is one of the first events of its kind and we hope to open up many possibilities in the future. I’m very pleased with the positive response from we have had from the games industry so far, along with some excellent media coverage. We hope to further reinforce game development as an enjoyable and rewarding career choice for those willing to put in the work.
A Great Career
The games industry can at times seem fairly insular but we hope that this small event is just the first step in proving otherwise.
I was quoted in the media:
“We wanted to show the kids and the adults, the concepts of making a game, the software, some of the processes of game development and at the end have a game with their names on the credits.”
“We were really promoting that game making is a viable career option, for anybody. It is certainly not cut off or elitist.”
Dougie Purves, Service Leader with ENABLE, said:
“We identified that many of the young people we engage with have an interest in the games industry and were really keen to give them the chance to find out more about this field and the training and employment opportunities that exist in Scotland.”
“This was a unique experience for everyone who took part. The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. We are so grateful to Guerilla Tea for making this possible.”
It’s been a wild few months for Guerilla Tea so thought we’d reflect on what’s been g
It’s been a wild few months for Guerilla Tea so thought we’d reflect on what’s been going on.
Early in February, we held the first game development workshop with ENABLE Scotland’s East Renfrewshire LAC Team, where we worked with a small group on some basic game concept design. We finished the day with a working game design to carry through to the second workshop in March.
Back in the office we developed and released the Beano iPrank, which has been successful so far with hundreds of thousands of people pranked as a result! It was amazing to see our work actually appear in the Beano comic.
Shortly after this we were filmed for the BBC programme ‘Maths in Action’ where we were interviewed by young people interested in learning how maths is used within our industry. The programme actually explored a number of different industries, and is now available here.
The same week, we braved the snow on the way to Glasgow to hold a games industry workshop at Futures Fest 2013, involving presentations and a panel session. Great day and great feedback.
The following day we held the second game development workshop with ENABLE Scotland. We developed a game, called On The Freerun, in record time with the group (who decided on the team name Lazy Boys), which has now been released on Androidand iOS. All in all, it was a fantastic event and a huge thanks to ENABLE Scotland and everyone involved. This project as a whole has had some superb coverage in the media, and was picked up by the BBC.
To make our lives even more busy, we have this week moved office. We are now based on South Tay Street in Dundee, in the office which was formerly the home of Digital Goldfish. It’s a great space and perfect for further building Guerilla Tea. The future is looking very bright for this Dundee developer.
Incidentally, the header image at the top of this post isn’t the new office. Believe it or not…
I think this quote from game designer Bob Bates sums up the idea of sto...
I think this quote from game designer Bob Bates sums up the idea of story within video games very well:
“Story and gameplay are like oil and vinegar. Theoretically they don’t mix, but if you put them in a bottle and shake them up real good, they’re pretty good on a salad.” (Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell)
From my time working in the industry I’ve heard a wealth of different opinions regarding the importance of story in games. I’ve met super heavy advocates of story who’ll try and squeeze out the vaguest of narrative elements from the latest FIFA title (believe it or not!), to those who like to deny its existence even in the very story relevant titles. Ok, fair enough, this is not an exact science by any means and there’s a lot of personal opinion coming through here, but to keep things sensible I’ll say that it’s foolish to treat all games equally when were thinking about storytelling, but some take storytelling ‘more seriously’ than others. I’m bearing modern action adventure/RPG/sandbox games in mind as I write this.
I think the quote above does hold very true, but how well the gameplay and story mix depends a lot on the designers approach to crafting the experience from the outset of a project. This is of course not always something that is in the hands of the game designers, but is often affected by deadlines, budget and publishers, etc.
It’s not always the goal of a project either and ‘tagging’ a story onto a game as an afterthought is something that is still frowned upon, but I always feel that this is an undue complaint from people who try to draw direct comparison between video games and film. They should really be trying to identify the differences between the two mediums.
Hack and Slash action adventure games are well known for featuring ‘nonsense’ tagged on storylines. But the goal of these games is to present the gamer with high-octane close quarters combat sequences, and to challenge the player’s reaction time and muscle memory. They achieve this very well and so long as the game environment and sequences are given a little context with a basic plot, this is all that is needed.
Heavy Rain (and all Quantic Dream titles) on the other hand is considered an interactive drama and is heavily story centric. The whole game and its elements are presented in such a way as to tie in with the overall narrative arc of the game. The gameplay is solely context sensitive and this allows the challenges which make up the game to be shaped around the plot and events. I suppose you could think of this as the exact opposite of a story which is tagged on to the gameplay.
Following on from this, since games are inherently different from other mediums, and I think it follows that some types of storytelling lend themselves more to games, just as some types lend themselves to books, theatre, etc.
One of my pet peeves is the notion among some that books are a superior medium as they allow the imagination to work in deeper ways. They are not superior, they aredifferent. Books play a lot more on senses with strong use of verbs and less intense description. (Books with too many adjectives read as though they were written by a 12 year old!) Film creates feelings with visuals and effects, and stage plays are about the emotion of the actors stepping into their roles. Games are driven by visuals and emotion also, but are very unique as they involve the audience. There’s a huge amount of untapped potential with games and I see titles such as the Mass Effect series as great examples of games which tell a story in ways that all the other mediums just couldn’t. The clever combination of travelling around the galaxy, undertaking various tasks and missions, and absorbing content (even as written descriptions) really brings forward the idea that the whole universe is alive. No matter what way I turn it, I can’t see this working as well in anything other than a video game.
All in all, these are my own opinions, and every one of us has our own with regard to story in games. The one thing storytelling isn’t, is easy! Games unlock a huge amount of possibilities with the potential for multiple branching narrative paths and the idea of ‘on demand’ storytelling (which is a topic for another post). I think a lot of professional writers would do well not to overlook video games as a great new challenge, and something to consider working with, or using as reference during research. I imagine many already do!
Featured Image courtesy of Stock Free Images
This is a guest post from Phil Harris on the ENABLE LAC Games Workshop ...
This is a guest post from Phil Harris on the ENABLE LAC Games Workshop run by Guerilla Tea, first published on Scottish Games Network.
We were delighted to be invited to Guerilla Tea’s second workshop with Enable Scotland’s East Renfrewshire Local Area Coordination (LAC) Team; with some parents and LAC’s there with the kids. For those of you who don’t know LAC’s support people with disabilities to think about and plan for a life that makes sense to them.
These youngsters had actively shown an interest in the games industry and the LAC Team had the foresight to talk to Guerilla Tea at Future Fest, to make things happen. After a little negotiation Guerilla Tea considered a set of workshops over two days, so here we are.
At the first event Brian (Baglow) spoke about the general history of games in Scotland, answering questions from the children and discussing how we had gone from then to now; a talk which I’d advise anyone to catch if they get the chance. This event saw talks from Ryan Locke (University of Abertay) and myself discussing further aspects of the industry.
I went first, discussing ways you might enter the industry, what to prepare, the differences between companies and the fact that the great world of multi-media was drawing everything closer together. Elements of videogames were now associated with TV, film and more traditional gaming experiences, and I highlighted the fact that the industry would consider anyone with the talents. Ryan followed talking about his experiences through university, the energy of proving peers – who suggested you couldn’t get a job in the industry – wrong and the fact that university learning was an open and engaging experience. Ryan reiterating the fact that the industry had grown up enough to see beyond disability and to the heart of the person beneath, be they programmer, artist, audio or design.
Following this Matt reminded the children of the company name, Lazy Boy, and the game concept they had invented. This cyberpunk reality, where the elderly were blocking the hero Norman from an alien invasion; causing him to have to use his cyber-watch to change his human abilities, so that he could move them out of the way.
It was great to see the youngsters actively animated and interested in this project, deciding whether they were working with programming, design or art elements and considering the needs of each other. They had high concept involvement too, which needed just a little reigning-in, as the game needed to be completed by the end of the day. However with gentle encouragement from Guerilla Tea, the LAC’s, parents, Ryan and myself things moved quickly – including the children passing positive reinforcement back to their tutors.
Lazy Boy’s first game will be launched for all to see later, after a little Guerilla Tea polish but, as always, the event itself was a shining example of what the games industry could achieve. Parents and LAC’s asked the whole team questions, looking for tips and ideas of how to support their young wards into the industry and some solid bonds were made. The chance for active engagement and the realistic feeling that they were part of something greater and could truly consider an industry job.
Guerilla Tea and the LAC Team have made a great step today and we hope that this event will be repeated next year, becoming an industry standard and ensuring that those who have disability understand that there is value in their work and skills within this constantly changing industry.
As part of Guerilla Tea’s ongoing relationship with DC Thomson, we were recently comm
As part of Guerilla Tea’s ongoing relationship with DC Thomson, we were recently commissioned to develop a Beano prank app for iOS and Android as part of the Menacing Monday Digital Campaign being done in the run-up to April Fool’s Day.
The app contains 5 humorous prank programs; Beano Bigmouth, Fart Finder, Super Soundboard, Menace-O-Meter and Eye Fright.
In true Q-Branch fashion, we’re going to proceed with an equipment briefing, so you’re fully prepared for the mission of generally being annoying.
With the Beano Bigmouth, choose a Beano character and hold the phone up to your mouth. The character’s lips will move with your own speech. Simple laughs.
If a bright red face isn’t enough to identify the guilty party, then the Fart Finder is the tool of choice. Believe it or not, it doesn’t really tell you who farted; although we’re looking into the technology for that… If you discretely touch the screen when lowering your phone, you can pin the blame on anyone your little heart desires…
There is nothing in this world more amusing that the sound of a fart. I know, it’s the small things in life… (And flatulence seems to be a recurring theme) Nevertheless with the Super Soundboard you can irritate the hell out of anyone and everyone with headache-causing noises. It’s not just farts, there are buzzing flies, toilet flushes and plenty more; the best part is that you can mash the buttons and play them all at once. Seriously, we’re easily amused!
The Menace-O-Meter is a top of the range scanner detecting the ‘menace’ viability of a particular individual. Get your subject to place his or her hand on the scanning area of the device, and upon completion, the subject will be declared either a menace (which is a good thing by the way), or just generally uncool in every way. How does this work? You’ll just have to download the app to find out…
The Eye Fright is used to catch out unsuspecting victims by disguising itself as a harmless Colour Blindness Test application. Just when you think things are progressing as normal, Gnasher will make an untimely appearance.
This concludes the briefing session. All that remains is to download the app and test them in the field. Go on, you know you want to.
The concept of flow is particularly interesting in terms of game design. Flow: The Ps
The concept of flow is particularly interesting in terms of game design. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi delves deeply into the topic and I’d fully recommend picking up a copy, regardless of your interest in video games or design.
‘Flow’ is the “state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake”
Basically, it is an analysis of pure happiness and the idea of complete involvement with whatever activity you’re current doing.
I first became interested in this concept a few years ago while researching for a piece of coursework during my Masters. It’s a fascinating idea, and something that tends to just blow by many people without a second thought. The book examines flow from many different aspects of life including food, music and sex… Too much to consider for a blog post on game design, but the general idea of happiness and enjoyment are very relevant.
I feel it’s true that a great majority of us are unfulfilled with life. We’re inclined to look back and think that we’ve wasted a lot of time. I suppose it is natural in a way… There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, but the whole idea behind flow is enjoying something for its own sake, so my positive thinking advice for the day is to simply enjoy things while they last and try to forget about the end result; in years to come I may even be able to charge vast sums of money for advice like that. Seriously though, so many people talk endlessly about planning for the future, and in the process forget to enjoy whatever they are doing.
So thinking in terms of game design, we are trying to get our players enjoying the challenges of the game purely for their own sake. Although I understand that there are many completionists out there, and the feeling of moving ever closer to the 100% point does create its own flow, in a sense.
It’s easy to throw around phrases like ‘maintaining player engagement’, but it goes deeper. First of all, there is a difference between pleasure and enjoyment.
Pleasure is a feeling of contentment. It happens when a prior expectation has been met. ie. When something satisfies a pre-programmed need or desire. For example, it is pleasurable to sit in front of the TV with a glass of wine in the evening after a long day at work. You wouldn’t call this enjoyable as such… It could be considered more passive than enjoyment.
Enjoyment involves the idea of satisfying needs, but also goes a step further and includes a feeling of novelty and accomplishment. You have extended yourself and achieved something. The moment of winning a close tennis match would be enjoyable, as an example. That run up to the moment wouldn’t be pleasurable or enjoyable, as such, and that rush or buzz when the moment occurs would be something beyond a basic pleasure.
I tend to associate the pleasurable feeling with familiarity. You are comfortable in a way, but enjoyment is a step into the unknown and you look back and remember it as something that was new and has changed you.
When making games, we are trying to utilise both pleasure and enjoyment. We try to create a basic loop of gameplay; the standard ways in which someone plays the game. This creates the feeling of familiarity throughout, so that person becomes comfortable. For example, in an action adventure game, there is a common loop of movement, taking cover, aiming, shooting, movement. The game will then throw unexpected things in your face. These require additional engagement, but once done you get that raw feeling of accomplishment.
So thinking back to the original idea… Does this keep a player in flow and enjoying the game for its own sake? Not necessarily. If it was that simple then all games would engage all players regardless of how they are put together.
In my own opinion, the key is the overall arc of gameplay. You’ll find yourself replaying your favourite games over and over. These are the games that keep you in flow. You’ll remember each section and what comes next as you play through. You may dip in an out of specific sections or chapters. Stop and think, you are engaged in this game as a whole. You’re not just trying to get to end credits.
The game is keeping you in flow with an intricate balancing of pleasurable standard gameplay, and new and ‘attention grabbing’ events, even if you already expect them to occur, the most effective ones will still bring forward that sense of achievement.
Every aspect of a game contributes to this. The core gameplay, environment, story, art style and level design in particular. Flower by ThatGameCompany is a great example of an experimental game which has looked into keeping the player in that state of flow. A must play for anyone interested in this idea.
Game design is still very vague as a discipline in the industry to this day. It is about the minutiae, and I don’t believe it should be considered as too much of a science. Nevertheless, through a lot of trial and error, tweaks, and more importantly through observing emotions of players trying out your game, you can judge (at least roughly) how well your masterpiece keeps the audience in flow.
This past weekend Guerilla Tea, working with ENABLE Scotland’s East Ren
This past weekend Guerilla Tea, working with ENABLE Scotland’s East Renfrewshire Local Area Coordination Team, ran a game development workshop in Glasgow for children and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and other similar learning disabilities.
We met with East Renfrewshire LAC Team last year at the ScotCampus Futures Fest in Glasgow. ENABLE Scotland is a charity campaigning for a better life for children and adults with learning disabilities, and they were particularly interested in teaming up with the Scottish Video Games Industry to promote Games Development as a possible career to their members.
The Games Industry, with its fairly insular nature, can at times be its own worst enemy and the Scottish games industry is unfortunately no different. This is something that we’ve found frustrating in the past as the much discussed lack of diversity in the Games Industry is caused, at least in part, by the widely held belief by so many outside the industry that it just doesn’t represent a viable career path. We’re determined to prove to the public that making games is in fact a great career to pursue so when this opportunity arose we jumped at it.
So our idea…
We would run two workshops for a small group of young men with additional support needs, aged between 14 and 20.
The first would introduce them to the games industry, and with the help of industry ‘legend’, Brian Baglow, teach them about the industry, what the roles are, and how we put games together. We would then do some brainstorming and by the end of the day, have a concept to work on for the next workshop.
The second workshop would involve us working with the members, tweaking the gameplay, putting art into the game, and finally releasing it. Everyone involved would end the day with a completed, released game with their name on it.
Last Saturday (February 9th) we held the first of the workshops beginning with Brian Baglow entertaining the group with a talk on the Scottish games industry, helping to dispel the myth that Grand Theft Auto was developed in the United States and hopefully convincing all those involved that there are in fact more than 10 games companies in Scotland. Hugely entertaining and the idea of developing a game about the man himself even arose… Although having Lara Croft as a love interest was the only request.
We then covered some of the roles involved in game development. I think only one person really wanted to be a producer… But everyone was of course interested in testing games, less so once they realised testing isn’t the same as playing.
Our programmer discussed software such as Gamemaker and Unity, and how it makes the creation of games all the more accessible to hobbyists, something which we hope some will seriously look into.
After lunch, the first task was to come up with a team name. By majority vote, the team became known as ‘Lazy Boys’, although a number of other suggestions narrowly missed out. (Sonic Muscle was my personal favourite, but not to be!)
We then jumped into some game concept design with a full on brainstorming session where the participants fired down ideas onto paper for games they’d like to make.
Scope was the word of the day (at least from us, ‘Zombie’ seemed to be theirs). Our challenge was to whittle down their ideas for GTA 6 into something ever so slightly more manageable… Some of the concepts were superb actually, and in the end everyone did understand the constraints we’d set.
After an hour or so we collated all the ideas onto the ever-so-useful ‘Magic Whiteboards’ of Dragon’s Den fame.
So what game are we going to make in March?
Well we took all the concepts and picked the best parts of each, voting on specific areas. The phrase “2D platformer” cropped up on numerous occasions, which then evolved into an endless running game a la Canabalt, which assumed the name On The Freerun.
Lazy Boys decided that the main character will be called Norman; not entirely sure how that happened but it is nicely open to interpretation so we’ll see what weird and wonderful designs the team come up with…
What about a setting and theme? Cyberpunk High-rise. You’ll spend the game running across skyscraper rooftops in a dystopian futuristic world.
This world will naturally be riddled with crime and we needed to come up some enemies for Norman to overcome. There’s nothing quite as daunting as senior citizens with evil intent, so our setting will be populated with pensioners out to put a stop to Norman’s free running endeavours.
Eventually the first workshop came to a close and we will now be preparing for the second ‘development day’, to be held during the Futures Fest event on the 20th March. Team Lazy Boys will be working on the game during the day, creating artwork on paper, which with the help of Guerilla Tea, Adobe Photoshop and a trusty scanner will be put into the final game. We’ll also be tweaking some gameplay elements, and doing a little testing work.
Some great ideas came out of this past weekend, all of which could potentially become a reality thanks to software such as Gamemaker. We thoroughly enjoyed running the event; huge thanks to the LAC Team and Brian Baglow.
Look out for On The Freerun, by Lazy Boys coming to Android and iPhone after March 20th.
[This article is cross-posted from a piece I wrote for Game Career Guid
[This article is cross-posted from a piece I wrote for Game Career Guide shortly after we released Ward Round. It examines how we used game design techniques when building a study aid application. See original article here.]
Ward Round is an application which experiments with utilizing video game design methodology within an academic discipline, in this case, medicine. The project, aimed at medical professionals, integrates the study of medicine with the enjoyable spirit of video games, and was the first commercial project for Dundee based game development company, Guerilla Tea.
By introducing game design elements such as risk and reward, experience tracking and a heavily competitive edge, Ward Round seeks to innovate in the field of medical study. It utilizes a question bank which covers nine discrete specialties and involves the user tackling medical cases in the form of real life scenarios, rather than single, unrelated questions.
For each case, questions take the player through potential diagnoses, initial investigations, interpretation of results, treatment and knowledge of pathophysiology. These allow the user to deal with medical/surgical pathologies in a more natural, holistic way.
The Ward Round project was a ‘slow burn’ and something which was introduced to me before I had really started on the long career road of video game design although I always aspired to work in that field. The concept had arisen in casual discussions, some years ago, with my client and good friend, Dr Adrian Raudaschl, during our time at the University of Glasgow, where I was studying for a BSc in Mathematics. He was a medical student at that time, but had always been interested in the video game industry, specifically in combining his career in medicine with video games in some fashion.
With the formation of Guerilla Tea in 2011, we were on the lookout for commercial projects. We share a common ambition in that we are interested in finding innovative methods for utilizing the video game medium within other disciplines. The Ward Round project conformed to the proposed ethos of the company, and – of course – the eventual aims of both Guerilla Tea and Dr Raudaschl.
Upon the project receiving the green light, we were given a design brief detailing a quiz application which would serve as a medical study aid. It would present textual information on interesting, real life, medical cases, the idea being for the player to answer a series of questions on each case, effectively carrying out clinical deductions. The brief also required the integration of video game elements into the project, creating a fun and absorbing educational game while retaining a serious, professional, study application feel.
Extensive medical information was presented to Guerilla Tea with the brief being to utilize it as effectively as possible, in an interactive product. Due to the highly specialized nature of the project, and the fact that no member of Guerilla Tea has medical knowledge, regular and effective communication between ourselves as developers and the client, at all stages, was imperative. One of our main aims, as a small developer, is to function effectively through good verbal communication between team members – something which can (in my experience so far) be lost within larger companies. We were always aware that the need to work closely with each other and to communicate with our client at all times, through our producer Mark Hastings, was vital to the success or otherwise of this project.
Concept Design and Art Style
Early concept design for Ward Round involved identifying an over-riding theme and art style for the game. During this stage, I liaised closely with our artist, Matt Zanetti, working through a number of early iterations. The game was intended to be a loose representation of a virtual tour of the hospital wards, governed by specific textual information. The medical content was presented in the form of ‘cases’ containing detailed descriptions, along with questions and answers, taking the player through individual diagnostic processes.
The original concept involved a stylized hospital setting for the game, where the main menu consisted of a representation of a reception area. In this iteration, the game would effectively move through the various departments of the hospital as the player proceeded through the game. But game development naturally involves a degree of trial and error, over a number of iterations. Although this concept seemed to match our brief, we felt that it was ultimately going to become very art heavy and did not quite fit the slick feel we were trying to achieve, a reservation with which our client agreed. We therefore focused on a certain amount of simplification, formulating a style themed around basic (almost stereotypical) medical items such as pens, clipboards, and stethoscopes. This moved the app closer to our desired outcome, but further experimentation was clearly required.
We ultimately decided on a more minimalist style, which played heavily on a clear, medical blue color, and would make use of transitions between screens, alternating between screens with greater blue areas, and greater white areas.
Ultimately it was agreed that this art heavy approach with its pseudo-realistic elements threatened to cheapen the overall experience by becoming kitsch or even worse still overshadowing the primary focus of the app, the vast question bank. In response to this we decided to strip everything back to a far more minimalist style focusing on bold colors reminiscent of medicine, strong graphic design elements and simple motion graphics animations. This helped to elevate the app to its intended age limit without becoming dry when being observed for long periods of time or through multiple visits.
Working closely with our client, we divided Ward Round gameplay into three modes:
Specialties. The player has the opportunity to choose a specialty and play through all the scenarios in no particular order. This acts as a free play mode, providing access to the full content of the game. The lack of constraints presented in this mode allow it the greatest amount of versatility in terms of studying and it may be approached in either a linear or random fashion.
Practice Mode. Much medical learning involves memorizing, but the challenge lies in applying that rote learning in any given situation. This is intended as a ‘mock test’ for the player, where he/she can test knowledge gained through five different scenarios picked from the main information bank. This mode essentially presents a challenge to the player.
Big Medical Quiz. This mode was designed to function in the same way as the Practice Mode in terms of gameplay, but is more representative of the ‘real thing’. Attempts are limited to one per twelve hour time period. This mode demands a certain level of confidence from the player, and utilizes a risk/reward mechanism, whereby limited opportunities are given, but evidence of good performance (and practice) can be shared with others, worldwide, thereby giving it more significance.
The inclusion of a competitive element was important for this project for two reasons: one was that even with such a practical professional subject as medicine, an element of competition would provoke enjoyment (and consequently engagement) in the player. The other, arguably even more important, was that the examination system in the world of academia has a certain competitive edge. In developing Ward Round, we were always aware of the need to achieve an even balance between a valuable personal study aid and an enjoyable and stimulating experience.
It is my belief that the video game medium still has a great deal of untapped potential in terms of story-telling, and indeed many mobile and casual games do not require any overt storyline in order to achieve success. However, this largely comes down to one’s definition of ‘story’. Many casual games have an engaging persona and absorbing environment, created through a vibrant art style. It would also be true to say that video games of all kinds require the presence (and control) of one or more characters, with some objective which will encourage gameplay. The above could be regarded as going some way towards creating a story of sorts, even if it is largely in the mind of the gamer.
With Ward Round, I very much wanted the player, in essence, to play as him or herself, throughout the game. This is an app aimed at trainee doctors, and the player, already part of the medical profession, had to become totally absorbed in the sense of learning and achievement for themselves. With regard to design, there is a loose but interesting parallel to the RPG genre, where the player is given freedom to create his or her own persona. But since Ward Round is also indisputably a teaching aid, this inspired the decision to include a mentor character, who would be known simply as ‘The Professor’ – suggestion from Dr Raudaschl. This character was used to introduce the game to the player, appearing as part of a pop-up message tutorial. The character was also used on a general help screen accessed separately. To maintain a professional, serious application feel it was important not to over-use this mentor character. The idea of a non-player character guiding the user through the challenges had to remain subtle at all times. The Professor would appear with speech bubbles at distinct benchmark points within the gameplay, such as advancing in experience level, and for score submission forms, after completing playthroughs of Big Medical Quiz and Practice modes.
Experience and Leveling-Up
Player progress tracking and rewards could be considered a video gaming constant, used across many different genres and within contemporary gaming. This key game design element clearly had to be an important feature of Ward Round. The Experience system in Ward Round was inspired by the RPG genre, but somewhat simplified to facilitate quick learning, for the mobile platform. The experience summary screen would contain all progress information on a single non-interactive screen accessed from the main menu.
The experience system is composed of three elements:
An empty bar which fills gradually as the player answers questions correctly, akin to vitality bars within action and combat games. This bar is designed as a general completion bar, tied in solely to individual questions answered correctly. This provides a graphical representation of progress covering the main content, holistically.
Linked to the progress bar are rank titles. The player begins at the rank of ‘High School Student’, and progresses through various rankings, all the way to ‘Doctor Demi-God’. Rank names were introduced to provide a more engaging benchmark of progress. Decisions on the exact number of required correctly answered questions were made as a result of extensive playtesting during development.
Speciality Complete Medals:
Medals are awarded for the individual specialist categories, once the player has answered all the questions within that specialty, correctly. This provides the player with a different form of achievement, in effect, rewarding a greater concentration of knowledge.
Like most academic disciplines, medicine can be studied in a number of ways, with individuals specializing in a single area or spreading their knowledge more evenly. To some degree – and while remaining aware of the need for a student to absorb a significant body of general medical knowledge – the Ward Round design encompasses this idea within the experience system while the mentor character is called upon to reveal these progression highlights such as Specialty Complete medals, as and when they occur.
An area of design in which mathematics played a large part was the scoring system applied to the Big Medical Quiz and Practice modes. I devised a specific formula to process gameplay information obtained during a playthrough of either of these modes. The actual details of the formula are beyond the scope of this article, but it had to take into account the number of questions answered correctly, along with the overall time taken during the play of the mode.
An interesting aspect to this formula is that it actually rewards the player for answering all questions correctly, in any particular individual case. In other words, for a Big Medical Quiz playthrough, the player may answer, on average, 25 questions. If the player answers 5 questions correctly from a single case, this will score higher than answering 5 correct questions spread throughout the 25.
Medical professionals do tend to specialize and will be stronger in certain areas than others. To a certain degree, this will have an impact on Big Medical Quiz performance. On balance, therefore, I felt that it was more important to reward full completion of a single case from initial diagnosis through to treatments, than for a player to answer random questions correctly during a playthrough, especially since random questions may be answered correctly solely through the element of chance.
The actual values of each score, utilizing gameplay data, are fairly low, so to conform to the convention of using high values for the scores within video games, multiplication constants were used to drive scores into the thousands.
Development Design – The Question Bank
Games do not need to be ‘perfect’ and never will be. Even the most high-end, AAA titles feature bugs, animation and gameplay problems. However, there are some imperfections which are ‘acceptable’ among players, and some which are not. A significant challenge of game development lies in knowing (largely through testing) which imperfections can be waived, and which must certainly be fixed. This idea was particularly relevant during the development of Ward Round, as it was clear from the outset that the factual medical content needed to be absolutely accurate and it was indeed supplied and checked by professionals.
The extensive medical content was provided in spreadsheet form, which was then translated from this to the game. This was achieved via Guerilla Tea’s proprietary database software, which was used to save out a database file of the full question bank, for simple input into the game. The real challenge involved manually creating the database from the information contained in the spreadsheet files. Thanks to our programmer, Alex Zeitler, this approach allowed myself, as the designer, to check each item of information individually, place it into the correct field of the database, and assign the solutions provided by the client to each question. In effect, my work could be completed and checked independently of the main game engineering and art. This is not to say that mistakes were not present after many hours of database building, but our testing phase was utilized to iron out any minor errors.
During the development process, many other minor development and design decisions arose for the team, including how the game would handle questions with multiple correct answers, and the methods for information display during the timed case questions. Because the questions for each medical case are inter-related, the idea of giving instant right/wrong feedback was rejected, since we believed that this would damage player motivation. The idea would be to let the player play the game, and allow him/her to review performance at the end of a case – thus facilitating the desired learning process. Another design element aimed at limiting player frustration was the ability for the player to review the case scenario descriptions as necessary.
Minor design tweaks contributed towards the final product to create an attractive, high level, professional educational application.
All in all, Ward Round has been a successful and enjoyable debut project for Guerilla Tea, and as the game has only recently been released worldwide as an iPhone app, its full potential is yet to be seen. Updates, and supplementary projects are currently in the works, and we have had a degree of interest from medical organizations and universities, especially from the U.S. We aim to continue to find innovative concepts and projects for future work, especially those where we can apply video game design methodology, and ideas of fun and absorption to other disciplines.
The next few months we’re taking part in a number of talks and e
The next few months we’re taking part in a number of talks and events (or at least it seems so!) Some of these are focussed on basically what it takes to get into the games industry, and build yourself a career doing what you love. So to in keeping with the theme, I’m going to dish out some advice on those looking to get into game design.
I published an ebook in late 2011 called Breaking Into Video Game Design: A Beginner’s Guide. The book is actually a little outdated now from my perspective, but there is some timeless advice in there for anyone looking for a job designing video games.
The main problem with game design, unlike programming and art, is that it can be very difficult to prove your ability. The main way to do this is to have a track record of shipped titles, but of course this first requires you to get a job designing games, so we hit the industry catch-22 that we’ve all heard before…
So how do you get around this? Well there’s no doubt it’s a problem, but there are several things which stand out to me as extremely important.
Firstly, get some experience working in video game testing (QA). You don’t need a degree as such so you can get summer jobs during university holidays, for example. At Guerilla Tea, we see QA as the most important foundation for games designers; it is a subdivision of design.
We also don’t currently do the “programmer-designer” or “artist-designer” thing. A game designer is a vision holder for a project, working with documents, spreadsheets, bug trackers, and good old fashioned verbal communication. So it follows that getting some experience working in the heart of a game company is very valuable indeed, and QA is a first port of call for this.
Secondly, look for any and all opportunities to build games in teams. There are lots of different ways you can go about this. A university course may give you this, or maybe you can team up with an artist and programmer friend (people you might meet by getting a job in testing!) and put together a simple prototype. If you can show some type of playable artefact, where you worked with other people, then you’re very much on the right track.
Lastly, go live. Strange one this I’ll admit, but whatever you do, don’t only play videogames in your spare time. It seems obvious but there are plenty of people who stick to the stereotype far too closely… If you’re in charge of creating experiences for players, then having some yourself is pretty important, right?
Above everything, it’s all about working your ass off. Put in the hours early on, and the rewards come later, honest.
If you’re looking to get involved with the video games industry in any way, th
If you’re looking to get involved with the video games industry in any way, then I wholly recommend The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell. It’s geared towards game designers, but there is a huge amount to take away regardless of your own discipline.
I grew up playing action adventure games from the PSOne era, where puzzles were a major part of the experience, so a chapter I found particularly interesting was Twelve: Game Mechanics Support Puzzles.
The chapter goes into a lot of detail with ten puzzle principles, which basically act as guidelines for designers. I try to work from these for my own designs, although I’m feeling compelled to blog about a few of them which I think relate very nicely to our first release, The Quest.
Principle 3: Give a Sense of Progress
Quoting directly from the book; “A puzzle also demands an answer, but frequently involves manipulating something so that you can see or feel yourself getting closer to the solution, bit by bit.”
The gameplay of The Quest is to move the character Steve along the surface of a world derived from a Rubik’s Cube; we basically replaced the colours of the cube squares with 3 different types of terrain (Grass, Water & Mountain) and the player can move between each using special transition squares.
As I was building and testing the levels – generally experimenting – I managed to hit upon that sense of progression using the transition tiles. You’re moving between different terrain and you get the idea that you are finally ‘getting somewhere’ with the level. Even better, sometimes you’ll find yourself so close, yet so far away; standing on a tile adjacent to the goal but unable to touch it.
Principle 4: Give a Sense of Solvability
I had to get across the idea that you could actually complete the levels. I’ve played so many games which have presented puzzles which just seemed impossible… I honestly could have stared at it for a year and not have had even a light in the brain switch on.
The book actually mentions the Rubik’s Cube in relation to this principle: Rubik’s Cubes come in a solved state when purchased so there is instantly a sense of solvability. Fair enough, this wasn’t feasible for The Quest as such, but I felt that because The Quest was so obviously based on a Rubik’s Cube, it would give the player that idea that each level would be have a solution.
On the other hand, a number of people thought that you had to be able to actually solve a Rubik’s Cube in order to play the game! Predictable, I suppose.
Principle 6: Parallelism Lets the Player Rest
This principle discusses the idea that puzzles tend to make the player stop and think, and if they are unable to solve the puzzle, they will likely give up in frustration and abandon the whole game. This was a danger when I was piecing together our game’s levels. If just one of them had an odd difficulty spike, there was the risk that our audience would just give up. The levels are arranged in sequence but I decided to unlock 2 subsequent levels for each level completed. This very subtle design decision gives the player an option should they become stumped by a particular level.
Principle 10: Perceptual Shifts are a Double-Edged Sword
This final principle is essentially a warning to game designers to steer clear of a specific type of puzzle. The example of a perceptual shift puzzle given is “Can you arrange six match sticks so they form four equilateral triangles?”
It is one of those exercises that has a very high “you either get it or you don’t” factor. It reminds me of chronic intelligence tests, and the type of exercise sometimes given in schools to determine how successful the pupil will be later in life…
The truth is that there is no true learning with these perceptual shift problems. If you fail to solve one, you’ll not gain any useful knowledge or experience to take into the next. Fortunately, in regard to The Quest, we basically avoided this problem all together. I tried to make the game as easy to learn as possible, and once you know how to play, each level challenges you further, rather than throwing in something completely different.
This has been just a brief run through with The Quest in mind, and there are of course the other puzzle principles, some of which apply more than others. It isn’t an exact science by any means, but they provide very good guidelines to work from.
All in all, if you’re an aspiring designer, I’d go out and pick up a copy of The Art of Game Design. It’s an inspiring book covering everything important about the design discipline. It helped hugely when we were making The Quest, and I often use it for our current projects.
At Guerilla Tea are busy as ever as we start back in 2013. It has been a succe...
At Guerilla Tea are busy as ever as we start back in 2013. It has been a successful first 18 months, and things are moving onward and most definitely upward for this company. We’ll have regular updates over the coming months, but it seems like a great time to reflect on the past year’s activity and achievements.
At the beginning of 2012, with Ward Round safely released to thousands of students and medical professionals, we returned to our original IP, the Rubik’s Cube inspired puzzle game The Quest. We worked on a number of small contracts including Fairground Photos, simultaneously while developing The Quest, ultimately releasing the, now BAFTA nominated game on iOS, Android and Kongretate in April.
A trip to London for the finals of the TIGA £100k competition followed shortly, with Guerilla Tea winning the ‘Games on the Move’ category, funding the prototype development of Fangs Out, a model helicopter dogfighting game. This success involved an office move and some much needed security for the summer period. Work continued and Guerilla Tea was featured (primarily with Fangs Out) for the BBC programme Show Me The Money.
During the summer months a free version of The Quest was released, called The Quest: The Beginning, and the Ward Round supplementary application, Ward Round: Picture Quiz began, and was duly completed.
August was exceptionally busy as we presented the completed prototype of Fangs Out to the public at the Dare Protoplay event, and two days later left for a productive trip to Cologne for Gamescom.
On our return we were delighted to become involved with the digital relaunch of The Dandy, developing additional games, and integrated mini-games for the world’s longest running comic. We moved into a superb new office at Seabraes House in Dundee to continue development and expand the company. We were also featured in the October issue of develop magazine with a six second studio spotlight, and around the same time released Ward Round: Picture Quiz.
Early November saw us attend Explay 2012 Festival in Bath, which involved exhibiting Fangs Out to the public for a second time, covering the South West of England. Big thanks to Remode for the invite.
It has been a tough but hugely rewarding first year, and we will continue with more exciting work in the new year including fresh contracts and a return to Fangs Out. For more news as it happens follow us on Twitter, Click the like button on our company page and certainly don’t be afraid to add Guerilla Tea as a friend; we’ve given our company a personality thanks to the wonders of Facebook!
Welcome to the second Fangs Out! development blog post! As you all know...
Welcome to the second Fangs Out! development blog post! As you all know now, Fangs Out! is an action game where players control virtual model helicopters, and engage in living room dogfights through a variety of intense single and multiplayer contests.
The main inspiration for Fangs Out, and indeed the key ‘feel’ for the game which we are aiming for, is related to the ways in which children play and use their imagination. Children can entertain themselves for hours on end by creating role plays, stories and situations with inanimate toy vehicles. They use their imagination extensively, and we naturally tend to lose this desire and to some extent ability as we move into our teen years. Though I’m sure we all did it at one point or another! With the design of Fangs Out, we are aiming to play on the nostalgic value of childhood imagination, and bring to life the battle scenarios and stories which people enjoyed as children.
The first major stage for the design of Fangs Out was to define and document the core gameplay mechanics to provide direction for programming. At this stage our artist began creating concept art for the gameplay environment and vehicles, which you’ll know all about if you’ve read the previous blog post. This early design stage involved a great deal of research and experimentation; looking towards other vehicle combat games, examining our own resources, and then finding a gameplay system which would best apply to Fangs Out.
We decided to utilise the gyroscope contained within most modern phones and tablets, and create a motion control system for the helicopters. The game is intended to be a fast paced, casual experience; a game where players will become engaged very quickly. With this in mind, it was important to steer clear of any type of helicopter simulation design, and we ultimately created an arcade control scheme where the player tilts forward and backward to move respectively, and rotates to steer. This was combined with touch screen buttons to control weapons and the engine power (height) of the helicopter.
Content design involved a degree of research, and working closely with our artist to devise the helicopters to be included in the game, and to map out the game environment.
The helicopters are mainly inspired by real life attack helicopters, but it was important not to lose that core feel of ‘toys’ fighting one another, so I decided to fashion the default helicopter, the FO-RC mk1, in the standard RC helicopter style, and use the more ‘warlike’ helicopter styles and designs for later, potentially more desirable vehicles.
The game environment is a modified living room, kitchen and hallway area inspired by a colleague’s home. I began with some simple paper sketches to get the general layout of the level, and moved onto blocking it out in 3D using Google Sketchup. This was then passed onto our artist who modelled the environment using Maya, to be loaded into the game. Once the basic environment was in the game and playable, it was extensively tested for general playability, and then built up through a number of iterations and tweaks.
A major feature of Fangs Out! is the customisation system. The system is intended to allow for aesthetic and gameplay related customisation. All customisation items (weapons and upgrades) are kept as peripheral to the helicopters, and not associated with any particular vehicle. This gives players the freedom to use any weapon or upgrade they like with their favourite helicopter.
Two currencies are used in relation to items and upgrades. Coin is used for the initial purchase, and Experience Points (Xp) are used specifically to increase the effectiveness of each upgrade. This allowed me to gain more control over the pricing of items and the in-game economy and therefore the monetisation of the game. It also provides a greater reward to the player for playing the game, as increasing effectiveness can only be achieved by using Xp which are solely attained from gameplay.
With Fangs Out! I decided to give players two methods of attack, allowing them to take one type of machine gun and one type of missile into any one battle. This may seem fairly facile in some regards, and is common within games, but small decisions such as these result in a great deal more art, code and design work as the game moves through the development process…
Other upgrades cover Engines, Rotors and Armour. These affect the speed, turning speed, and vehicle health respectively thereby allowing the player to upgrade these attributes which should, in turn, provide a dynamic gameplay experience. E.g. you can personalise your helicopter to become more nimble, or possibly become a slower, heavily armoured helicopter.
The key is balance. The main design task with regard to the statistics mentioned above was intensive numerical balancing. I used a number of spread sheets to create tables of statistics and in some cases mathematical formulas were used to aid balancing (particularly pertaining to xp levels). This was combined with extensive play testing, to achieve the desired gameplay.
As development continues we are constantly refining the design. As the game comes together, as the programmer and artist bring the game mechanics to life, new decisions and tasks surface. The main role of the designer is continuous decision making, so I’m sure I’ll be busy. It is an on-going process. Keep an eye on this space for more Fangs Out development updates in the coming weeks and months.
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will follow the development of Gueri...
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will follow the development of Guerilla Tea’s second original title ‘Fangs Out!’. In the coming weeks you will see blogs about Game Design, Programming and Production however today we begin with Art; specfically the concept art stage of this project. The idea for Fangs Out! was born out of the notion of what happens in a childs imagination when playing with their toy planes and helicopters. As a result the team decided very early on that we wanted the game to be larger than life, over the top, humourous and stylized in a cartoon manner in order to try and imitate what it might be like in a childs mind. As you can imagine the most important art task in a helicopter game is of course the visual design of the helicopters themselves, and so once a style had been discussed the first major art task was to deal with these. Once our Designer (Charlie) had decided on the helicopters that would be available in the prototype; a generic model helicopter, the AH6 Little Bird, an Apache and something similar to the Scorpion, as a premium product, the task of visualising them began. The first step was to get an understanding of how the helicopters looked in real life. This was done with some very simple line drawings in Illustrator using all the correct proportions. As we were trying to achieve a stylized cartoon art style I decided to make the helicopters much chunkier than they were in real life and to play with their proportions a bit; for example shortening the tail and over-sizing the body in order to pull them out of reality and emphasize each helicopters individual qualities. We also decided that as we wanted to really push the ‘larger than life’ aspect of them we would make the weapons greatly oversized, almost as much as it would seem that the helicopters would barely be able to fly with them attached. Once the Illustrator sketches had been completed it was important to ensure that, due to the amount of visual noise that would be contained within each map, that each helicopter model was easily recognisable from one another. This was vital as we wanted to ensure that no matter which helicopter a player chose they would always be able to defeat other players as long as they used tactics which emphasised their chosen helicopters strengths, for example is it fast and agile with low armour such as the FO-RC mk1 or slower and less manoeuvrable but with great armour like the RC Naked Flame. Thus the design of each helicopter had to be immediately distinguishable from each other, even in low lighting or visually dense scenes in order to allow the player to make very quick tactical decisions on how to tackle their opponents. To test this we used a very simple shadow study in which all detail was removed from the helicopter so that only the only information available to tell apart each model was the silhouette. This guaranteed that even in the poorest of lighting conditions the player could identify what model an enemy player was using. We were very keen to provide a high level of customisation to Fangs Out! not only in terms of how each individual player could load out their helicopter in terms of rotors, engine, weapons and a few other things we’re keeping a secret for now! We also wanted to include some aesthetic customisation in terms of pattern and colour choices. The next task then in terms of concept art was to choose the four patterns that would be available for the prototype and apply these to the drawings to see how they worked and also give the helicopters a bit of character and finalise how we would achieve a cartoony style with shaders, which in the end was decided to be a Toon Shader optimised for iOS and mobile. Once the vehicle design had been completed the last part of this relatively short concept process was to map out the environment in which the battles would take place. As we had decided to only create one environment for the prototype we wanted to really try and reinforce the idea that these were model helicopters and not actual military helicopters flying around fighting; the end result was a living room. The main aspects to work out in the mapping of the environment was the; scale, layout and general placement of obstacles in order to make as interesting an area as possible, as well as being believable as liveable space. Initially we thought it would be nice to treat the environment with a Toon Shader in the same way we had the vehicles, however due to the technical limitations of mobile devices we decided that this would not be feasible. Instead we decided to give it a semi-realistic feel while restraining ourselves from getting carried away with too much detail in the textures so that the main focused remained on the helicopters themselves and environmental gameplay features. In the end we feel that this also benefitted the idea that helicopters and combat were taking place within a child’s imagination and thus were stylized and the environment was simply where the events happened to be taking place and so remained somewhat realistic, proving that technical limitations need not always take away from you’re games final outcome. Well, that’s our first development blog post, I hope you all found it interesting. The next post will be from our Designer so keep an eye out for that. Matt Zanetti The Artist
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The Quest was featured in issue 32 of 3D Artist magazine with an extended six page master class in mobile game development!
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