Squids origins and design

Posted by on 08.13.14
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SQUIDS was our first game as The Game Bakers, and since its initial release on iOS in 2011, it has lived a good life. It was ported to other platforms (Android and Windows Phone, PC, Mac), had a critically-acclaimed sequel (SQUIDS Wild West, 87% average on Metacritic), and was recently released on Wii U and 3DS in the form of SQUIDS Odyssey, which compiles the first two SQUIDS games with a new chapter and a lot of bonus content.

Squids versions and platforms

I’ve already discussed the business and financial side of the game in a previous article, and in another one, the fact that the game was developed « in the clouds » with team members all over the world. Now that SQUIDS Odyssey is generating new interest in the franchise, I want to delve into why and how we made some our design decisions, when we first conceived SQUIDS.

Like most ideas at The Game Bakers, SQUIDS was born at the diner table. The Game Baker’s co-founder Audrey Leprince and I were discussing our mutual passion for octopus, squid and calamari, and what incredible creatures they are. (Not only because they’re tasty!) After a few glasses of wine, we started having fun with the idea of a game called « Assassin’s Squid ». It was a good pun but normally this wouldn’t have been a conversation I’d still be thinking about the next morning. This time, though, the idea stuck in my head for a reason I couldn’t identify at the time.

I had been trying to come up with a new game idea for a while. I knew what game mechanics I wanted to have, but I hadn’t found the framework for them. I knew it would be a tactical game with “team management” and at least one real time action challenge, like aiming.

We often pitch Squids as « Final Fantasy Tactics meets Angry Birds », because it’s easier for people to understand, but the true initial references for Squids are Shining Force and Cannon Fodder: Shining Force for its great character design and T-RPG mechanics, and Cannon Fodder for the team-based tactical action.

Squids inspiration

I already knew how I wanted the game to work on a tactical standpoint, but I wasn’t happy with controls like “tap to move”. I wanted the game to work with a gamepad (I already had a console version in mind), but most of all, I wanted great touch controls. Touch devices require controls to be designed for them, with gestures in mind. With tactile devices you slide, you swipe, you pinch, you spread… all these interactions are what make touch devices interesting. Buttons are great on a controller, but not on a screen.

Therefore, with my tactical game in mind, I wasn’t happy with my « tap to move » controls. That’s why the Squid shape stuck in my mind: they have tentacles.

Pull Tentacles

Pulling tentacles, aiming, throwing, managing strengths, bounces… Squids brought with them a whole world of game mechanics to add on to a rather niche genre, the T-RPG. With SQUIDS, we were deliberately aiming for a casual game—deeper than Doodle Jump, but not as complex as Final Fantasy Tactics. Linking the shape of the character to the controls is the greatest way to achieve accessibility, and it worked: even kids immediately understood how to play.

From there, I knew I had the pillars of the game (as you can see in this slide from the original creative overview presentation):
pillars

  • Characters: a group of heroes, with each with individual strengths & weaknesses, and a light RPG evolution.
  • Team based battles: choose your team and decide how to fight: spread out on the battlefield, or stay clustered together, or split up to help a character in danger. All the things that T-RPGs gamers love.
  • Touch controls: a core action mechanic that’s linked to the controls, one you can play over and over without getting bored.

Deep Dive into the helmet system

SQUIDS is a game that looks simple on the surface, but it actually has a lot of features. An awful lot compared to the average iOS game. One of these features is the « helmet system », which ended up being a little different from what you could have expected.

Helmets inventory

Some of the classic features you can expect from a tactical RPG are equipment (weapons, armors, scrolls, etc.) and aesthetic customization. I wanted Squids to be casual-friendly—not to scare players with a lot of menus and UI—so I decided to merge these two features in one. Our Squids fight with their heads when you throw them at the enemies—why not give them some helmets? The helmets were going to be the weapons as well as the accessories to customize your characters.

The reflex design for this is to assign bonus stats to each helmet. The early ones would be weaker than the final, golden-legendary ones. That’s how it works in all RPGs: the wooden stick gives +1, the diamond sword +52. The downside from a customization standpoint is that even if the player prefers the look of the first helmet, they would still end up equipping the later one because it has better bonus stats—goodbye customization. A downside for us, the developer, is that we’d spend days to design, model, export sprites, fix sprites, and integrate the new helmet into the game, for only a few minutes of play before the player found a better helmet and dropped the first one forever.

That would be a shame, because I love our little helmets. They’re all interesting, they carry a lot of the game’s identity, and I wanted players to be able to choose whatever helmet they wanted without losing the benefits of better stats.

Squids Odyssey helmets

That’s why I came with the « transfer power » design idea. As soon as you got a new helmet, its bonus stats would transfer automatically to the Squid giving you the helmet’s power, but also letting you enjoy the customization aspects as you liked. This way, we’d go the Pokemon route: « catch’em all ». You were enticed to collect all helmets for empowerment and free to customize your Squid as you pleased, while in a classic RPG you don’t care about the wooden stick anymore once you have the diamond sword.

The design kinda worked, but we realized during the first playtest that there was a problem with the implementation: players didn’t realize that the helmets gave stats, and how much they gave. They would find the helmet, equip it, and the stats would transfer automatically. We skipped the crucial phase of visualizing the character’s empowerment so people thought helmets were only visual accessories.

To fix this, we added a completely unnecessary button: “Transfer Power”. When selecting a new helmet, you’d be able to actively tap “Transfer Power”. You’d see the bonus stats being transferred and your Squid would do a little victory dance. This changed how people perceived the helmets and was a more active way of getting the bonuses than a simple automated animation.

transfer

Between the initial idea of merging “weapons and customization” to the final helmet “transfer power” design, seven months passed. Not all this time was focused on this part of the design, of course, but it’s important to realize that a game is built from lots of little ideas that get crafted to parts of the UI, the controls, the animations, and the sounds. Time is key in the conception process. A game is the sum of its features growing over time, side by side but independently, like a tree growing its leaves.

When SQUIDS released, we found that players appreciated this original and unconventional way of handling weapons and customization. Some were immediately enthusiastic, while others mentioned that they found it weird at first, but loved it in the end.

Here is one of many quotes from players about this part of the system:

Player syntheticvoid  on TouchArcade’s forums:
You flick squids around, collect pearls, fight enemies, level up, equip, TRANSFER POWER FROM ITEMS TO YOUR CHARACTERS (friggin sweet mechanic!) – meaning once you buy an item, you can give it’s power to your character, then unequip it, and keep all the perks of that item… =oD

Although it’s not planned at the moment, I often think about designing a brand new SQUIDS game. It would be a massive reboot, a more tactical and deeper game. But for sure I’d keep the transfer power system.

Follow us @thegamebakers / @EmericThoa

Combo Crew in Humble Mobile Bundle

Posted by on 08.06.14
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We are very proud to see our own little Combo Crew in the new Humble Mobile Bundle, along some other great games like Duet, Eliss Infinity or Threes! The Humble Bundle version

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A screenshot exporter for the App Store and Google Play

Posted by on 05.31.14
2 Comments

Overview: this is a tool that helps exporting screenshots with localized text in all the different resolutions required by the Apple App Store and Google Play. 

If you are a mobile game developer and have published some apps, you probably have prepared screenshots for the different stores, in varied resolutions, and maybe different languages.

mobile_stores_screenshots_resolutions

For Squids and Combo Crew, we published the game on the App Store and Google Play. The App Store is 5 screenshots of 3 different resolutions (iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPad) and Google Play has also 5 screenshots of 2 resolutions that are different from the iOS ones (7 and 10 inches). We also have localized the game in over 8 languages and we had some text on the screenshots, that we wanted localized as well. That makes a total of 5 x 5 x 8 = 200 screenshots to export manually.

It’s ok, it’s an hour of grunt work for sure, but anyone can do it. But when for some reason you want to update something, a text or a picture, that’s another round of manual exports and that’ll become a bit annoying.

We had a very resourceful intern (thanks again Hannes!) who wrote a handy photoshop script that will export all the screenshots for all resolutions from a well set up photoshop file. It’ll save you time for the initial export, and if you have to update something later on, you’ll just have to update the picture or the text once and watch the script do the rest for you.

Here is how it work:

1. Download this package that includes the script and a photoshop template file.

Note: there are two scripts, one for exporting in JPG and one in PNG. I recommend using the JPG one for the stores, as the files will be lighter and upload faster.

2. Open the .psd file and look at it:

- HowTo is just a reminder of how the script works.
- Sizes are just reminders of the different resolutions.
- Screen1.jpg, Screen2.jpg… are the folders with your 5 screenshots for the App Store and Google Play.

layers

Note that the file is 2726×1536 in size. That’s the iPad retina resolution with the iPhone 5′s ratio. If you optimize for the iPad retina you probably already do your UI and full screen elements with this in mind. If you don’t have 2726 wide screenshot, you can always resize the file to a 1280 or 1136 width after having done the iPad retina ones.

3. Fill with your content:

- Replace the screenshots with yours.
- Replace the text background, or delete it if you don’t need it.
- Enter your texts in the « txt » folder. The layer names will be used in the filenames later on.
Attention: make sure you don’t go further than the iPad boundaries so that the text isn’t cropped on iPad.

4. Export:

- Once this is done, select the screenshot you want to export (a visible layer must be selected for the script to work).
- Click on ExportScreenshotsJPG.jsx. A popup will ask you to confirm you want to launch this script. Go back to photoshop and go make yourself a coffee while it works.
- All the files are going to appear in the « out » folder.

Here an example with only one screenshot and two languages:

ExportFolder

Hopefully this will save you some time like it did for us!

One of the hardest hidden star to find!

Posted by on 03.31.14
0 Comments

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it’s very well hidden, and you need a well trained Scout to get it!

Squids Odyssey, the cast

Posted by on 12.22.13
0 Comments

How hot is this casting for Squids Odyssey?! Oh yeah, the last one is a new one, gotta keep a bit of surprise, shouldn’t we?

Squids in Squids Odyssey

Squids in Squids Odyssey, from the WiiU

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Combo Crew Tips from the Developer

Posted by on 06.05.13
4 Comments

Choose your grip style

The default controls and tutorials have you hold the device with one hand and swipe with the other. But you can also play by holding the device in two hands, like a portable console, and swipe with both thumbs. (Your fingers can rest on both sides of the screen when you double swipe for triggering combos.) There’s an option in the settings to choose the control scheme you prefer. It’s a matter of style really; there is no absolute best here. Control selection image

Don’t get hit, keep your streak alive!

At the risk of stating the obvious, getting hit will break your Combo Streak. The Combo Streak is essential for achieving high scores — the base score of each hit is multiplied by the Streak value, so keeping your streak alive is your top priority. The simplest way to do that is to counter every enemy attack by tapping the screen as soon as you see an exclamation point. Beware: don’t trigger a combo until you’ve blocked and countered, or you might cancel your counter before it starts and get hit while performing the new combo attack! Multiplier screenshot

Learn to counter

The counter controls are quite simple, once you get a hang of the game flow : « one tap » anywhere on the screen when an enemy attacks you, and your character will block and counter-attack automatically. However, we have observed that sometimes new players button-mash the screen and start a new combo instead of countering. In that event, the character is triggering his next attack, and you can’t cancel it anymore! Therefore, when you see an enemy with an exclamation mark over his head, tap once (or multiple times like a maniac, if you want to be 1000% safe), but do never trigger a new combo! At the beginning, the safest way to avoid getting hit is to tap to counter once after each combo. Combo Crew Countering image explanation However, countering all the time will not make your reach high scores, you’ll have to find your ways around the arena to stay on the offense for that. But learn the defense mechanics well first, is our advice to you. Take your time, breath, and everything will be fine !

Optimize your SUPER meter

Two players who manage to beat a round with a perfect Combo Streak can have a big discrepancy in their scores based on how well they use their SUPER meter. Each damage point inflicted by a SUPER is worth 40 points, where one inflicted for a combo is worth only 20. Furthermore, the score of a SUPER hit is then multiplied by the SUPER multiplier, on top of the combo Streak multiplier. No need to be a math genius to know that BIG x BIG x BIG = BIGGER. Therefore, optimizing your SUPER is the key to truly mastering Combo Crew. Here are a few tips for that:

  • Use two fingers to tag enemies during the SUPER move. Both inputs are recorded, and you can score twice as many points using two fingers instead of one.
  • Try to get the biggest possible multiplier. If you fill the SUPER meter several times, the score you’ll get for each hit during the SUPER will be multiplied. Triggering the SUPER every time the gauge is enabled will help you get rid of enemies faster, but you’ll most likely score higher if you wait for SUPER meter to triple fill before unleashing mayhem upon them all. Also, it is way more effective to trigger your SUPER when your streak is as high as possible, because each hit will be multiplied by the Streak value as well.
Combo Crew Super Multiplier explanation

Vary your moves

Style is rewarded. Using varied moves will fill your SUPER meter faster, which is key for reaching higher scores. There are eight types of attacks: the basic attack, the counter, the charged attack, the air attack, and the four Combos. Using one of them for the first time will fill 1/8 of the SUPER meter, and this will happen again each time you fill the meter completely. So, theoretically, you can fill the SUPER meter every 8 hits. Combo Crew Moves variety explanation

Use air attacks when enemies attack from behind

Using a combo that Juggles the enemy and then doing an air attack without getting hit is tricky, but it’s worth mastering it since more points are awarded for this than for Combos. The big risk with air attacks is that you’ll get hit by another enemy while jumping. Although you can sometimes jump over an enemy if the timing is right, the safest way to use the air attack is when the enemy is attacking from behind. When jumping, your character will move forward and naturally avoid the attack. If the enemy is coming frontward, don’t take the risk — counter or move away. Combo Crew Air Attack explanation

Moving away beats countering – Risk vs Reward

When an enemy targets you, you have two options: counter or attack (this enemy or another one). Countering gives you less points than any other attacks — even normal ones — so it’s better for scoring to move away from the attacker by attacking an enemy who’s far away, instead of countering. It’s way riskier though!

Always counter bombs

The previous tip works for physical attacks from regular enemies but bombs are the exception to that rule. Bombs might damage enemies when exploding (stealing away potential hits from you) or they might explode on their own (in which case nothing changes). So by countering bombs, you basically score « free points » that you couldn’t have scored otherwise — it’s always better to counter bombs.

Tagging enemies

When no enemy is attacking, you can switch the target enemy (enemy with the red circle below him) by tapping on the desired target. This will only « tag » him without doing any attacks on him. Then you can execute a combo on him or any other attack.

Tap and hold

If you just tap and hold, this will enact a charge attack on the currently selected enemy. If no enemy is selected, an enemy will be automatically chosen for you. *** Here comes a new challenger! Well, now that you have all the pro tips, the Bakers are throwing down the gauntlet. If you feel like losing all your crowns, you can add « combocrew (at) thegamebakers (dot) com » to your crew and face the true challenge of beating our scores.

Greetings!

Posted by on 12.30.12
0 Comments

The Game Bakers wish

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happy New Year to all our beloved players and developers friends!  

A Game Studio in the Clouds

Posted by on 10.26.12
3 Comments

The last time I had a second of free time was over the Christmas holidays and I used that free time to write a paper about our experience making SQUIDS and the realities of budget and profitability for an iPhone game. I wrote this post-mortem because when I started as an indie, I would have loved to have such information and I felt it was useful to share with other developers.

I was amazed by the attention it got and I was very pleased to read all the nice comments about the article. And for those who asked: no, it didn’t have a visible impact on SQUIDS’ sales, but it generated 24k unique visitors to our website in three days, which made the article more visible on Google and made the information more available to the industry, and that’s always a good thing.

There’s something else I would have loved to know more about before diving into indie game development: the tools and best practices for running a virtual indie game studio. By “virtual,” I mean a game development studio that doesn’t have an office. This is a situation shared by many indies: you start your project from home and don’t have the budget for renting an office, or maybe you’re a programmer and you have an artist buddy who lives in a different place. Lack of an office might have been a problem in 1995, but it shouldn’t prevent you from making games anymore. The problem nowadays is that there are so many ways to do it, the idea of running a virtual studio can be overwhelming.

One thing I love about indie development is that it’s not only about having people play our games, but also about developers freely exchanging ideas about our work and methods. So here is a bit of information about how we’ve tackled this issue at The Game Bakers, how we are organized, what tools we’re using at the moment, and how much this stuff costs us.

 

The Global Game Bakery

When I think of a “real” game studio, I think of a traditional office with an open space shared by the development team. I call The Game Bakers a “virtual studio” because we are spread out around the world. The team works together all day, but remotely from different cities, countries, and even different continents.

When I was working at Ubisoft, of course I was working in real offices, but I also had a lot of experience working remotely with other studios. Splinter Cell Double Agent was made by three teams spread across three continents; GRAW was made by four teams in the USA, France, and China.

When we started The Game Bakers, we wanted to make smaller games with a smaller team than we had been at Ubisoft, but we also wanted to create high quality games with good production values, like the console games we had worked on. One of the cornerstones of this ambition was to rely on a network of talented people whom we had worked with before on console games, but who were now spread out all across the world. (Even our initial members in France were not living close to each other.) Working with these talented people we already knew and liked would guarantee better efficiency, higher quality, smoother communication, and it would make our work more fun on a daily basis. To set up a structure that would work for day-to-day operations, we had to draw upon our past experiences with remote collaboration.

Here is our team for SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West. Roll over the pictures (or tap them on mobile) to see the team member’s info.

bubble
carte interactive Emily Morganti Audrey Le Prince Emeric Thoa Nam Hoang Jerôme Reneaume Florent Dotto Florent Dotto Romain Gauthier Henri Yim Jeff Simmons Jay Lessard Thomas Varoux Aurélien Rousse Mérédith Alfroy Tom Wurtz Anne Julie Pachurka Inconnu Découvrir Squids the game Découvrir Squids Wild West

The core team is made up of six people spread out in six cities, in two different countries. The total team is 19 people, five countries, and almost as many workplaces as people on the team.

The core team, working full time on the games, includes:

  • 2 programmers
  • 1 technical manager / data manager
  • 1 artist
  • 1 game designer / level designer / producer
  • 1 level design intern
  • 1 studio manager (funding, legal, HR, marketing)

UI, story, audio, modeling, and PR were handled by part-time coworkers. Most of the team are freelance contractors. Working with contractors instead of employees is convenient in that it saves a bit of money for the studio, but it’s very uncertain as anyone could leave the team anytime. That’s a huge risk for a project where everyone is responsible of a key aspect of the game. One way to reduce this risk is to keep the projects short (shorter than a year). Being extra nice to them also doesn’t hurt. Managing trust is a much more important task in a virtual studio with distant contractors than in an office where everyone is an employee.

Even if you forget the part-time people and just consider the core players, this is pretty big for an indie team and a bit of work and effort is required to keep everyone moving in the same direction. The key word here is communication.

 

Communication tips and tools

When people ask me, “What’s the most important quality in a game designer?” they often expect me to answer “creativity” or “knowing games” or “understanding both the technical stuff and the art stuff.” But I actually think the most important quality is being able to communicate clearly and to fire up a team with your concept. Programmers are some of the hardest people to get excited about a concept, but if they get all fired up after asking the game designer a question—with shinning eyes and fingers itching to start typing some code—that’s how you know you have a good game designer.

Communicating your vision and having the energy to make it happen is already difficult when your team is all working from the same place, and it can become a huge challenge when you never see these people face to face.

 

Talk is cheap… but effective!

At Ubisoft, I had this great producer who told me once, “If your e-mail is longer than five lines, just pick up the phone and call. E-mails are for cowards, they create misunderstandings and take a long time to write. Just call. Do it!” I started to pay attention and realized that she was absolutely right.

It’s crucial to maintain human relationships with your remote coworkers. Voice chat allows that (in addition to saving time and being a more precise way to communicate). Within the team, we use Skype for instant messaging and conference calls, with a set of guidelines:

  • We always turn Skype ON when working, so that everyone on the team can reach us.
  • Every day, the whole team tries to have at least four hours of time that we’re all online, even if some of us have to deal with a six hour time difference (ex: Paris / Montreal).
  • When text-chatting on Skype about a feature, if the discussion takes more than two minutes, we move to a call. Like e-mails, text-chatting can feel nicer and easier, but it’s really less productive.
  • Video chat is nice sometimes, but really it isn’t necessary. Voice matters much more.
  • As the producer and creative director, I try to talk to everyone on the core team at least once a day.
  • To keep everyone updated, the whole core team has a “weekly meeting”, during which everyone explains what he or she did during the week.

This last point is very important. How much someone sees of the big picture can be vastly different from person to person, and there‘s no water cooler where you can catch up with the more “informed” members of a virtual studio. The weekly meeting lasts between 30 to 45 minutes, and everyone is updated and has the opportunity to ask questions.

Cost:
- Gmail account: Free + around $8/year for your own domain name
- Skype or Google Hangouts voice chats: Free

 

A video is worth a thousand pictures

Regarding game design documentation, I’m a big advocate of videos. If I were creating a game design scholarship program right now, I would trash MS Word and replace it with Final Cut and Photoshop. Sharing your vision for a game mechanic or a gameplay loop is way easier with a video. It gives the whole team a concrete direction… and the whole team actually watches it. Who wants to read a 10-page game design document? Not everyone on your team. But everyone wants to watch a one minute game concept video.

Here are examples of early game design documents I did for Squids.

  • Keynote .pdf files with very little text, includes a generic overview of the features and VISUALS.

Squids documentation sample

Squids Documentation Sample

  • A mock-up video made mainly with pictures borrowed from Google Images and assembled in After Effects. It’s ugly, it’s badly animated, but it gives an idea of the game. In the video you’ll also see how it evolved to become the much prettier game that SQUIDS is.

Cost:
- Sharing a video on the Internet: Free

Sharing this video to remote coworkers is super easy and free with YouTube or even password restricted on Vimeo, and is a good example of how much remote work has changed in the last 10 years.

Getting into details

Once I have shared my global vision of the project and I have a set of features in mind, I usually start on the “ugly” documentation, which is more project management actually.

  • A feature list in Excel, prioritized, and a timeline and budget.
Feature List Screenshot
  • A list of tickets (features specifications chunked) entered in Assembla, an online Cloud development tool that allows managing projects in an Agile kind of way.

Assembla screenshot

Our use of Assembla is pretty basic. We define milestones that we split into 2-week sprints (a sort of “mini-milestone” with defined objectives and a working version). For each sprint I write a bunch of specs and break them down into tickets. We review them with the programmers at the beginning at a sprint and each ticket has a status: new, fixed, pending, closed. The usual stuff.

This works perfectly for the programmers, since their work is very systematic. For art production, we rely more on a simpler Excel task list and we try to check in on progress twice a week, in order to reprioritize and keep the project moving.

 

File sharing, versioning and source control

For all videos, documents, and art resources, we use Dropbox. For those who don’t know about Dropbox, it’s a great file hosting and sharing service that basically allows you to share a folder from your computer with others, and syncs it in the Cloud.

For most of the team we managed to increase the default free space (2Gigs) to around 4Gigs, which is enough so far, and for the art and design team we have pro accounts so that they can store bigger files like high-resolution PSDs.

Cost:
- Dropbox 100 Gigs account: $99/year
- Dropbox 2Gigs account: Free (and Dropbox offers a lot of ways to increase the free space).

The code is hosted on Assembla, and we use Git as a source control tool. It’s proven to be very efficient and reliable. One big advantage is that everyone has a repository with complete version history locally on his or her computer, which basically means that I don’t need to be connected to the Internet to commit some work, and most importantly, if I somehow screw up the server data there will always be someone with a clean version that we can restore. For a clumsy designer, it feels safer.
We use GitX on Mac to commit our changes, an open source version control system with a visual interface, but many other tools exist too.

Cost:
- Assembla “Single plan”: $19/month.
- GitX or Github: free.

For beginners, what all this means is that all the team can work at the same time, on the same project, and then merge everyone’s work together on a remote server instead of having to “send manually updated files” to the whole team.

 

Sharing versions of the game

Sharing builds is a universal need within the digital industry and it’s not really any easier or harder for virtual studios, but it is something we needed a solution for.

We have several ways to distribute a development build.

  • TestFlight is a very convenient service that allows you to send an iOS or Android version to a list of recipients. It’s very easy to use, but it requires the users to subscribe and if you want to send an ad-hoc build on iOS you will need to add the user’s UDID to your list of devices.
  • HockeyApp does more or less the same, but we also use it to get crash reports from our players.

Cost:
- HockeyApp: $25/month.
- TestFlight: Free

 

Workcamps, and getting drunk together

Finally, one of the best ways we’ve found to improve remote work is to stop being remote for a while. We call this a Workcamp, and the recipe is pretty simple.

Workcamp recipe, for a 6-8 person team

  • Rent, or find someone to lend you, a big house with enough beds for everyone.
  • Make sure the house has a peaceful, countryside location, or is close to the sea.
  • Make sure it’s far away enough from anyone’s home that nobody can go home at the end of the day.
  • Make sure you’ll be able to get a decent internet connection.
  • Book the place for two weeks, preferably soon before a milestone deadline.
  • Book plane and train tickets for everyone.
  • Bring a lot of board games.
  • According to your taste, bring a dedicated cook (like we did twice) or prepare to cook yourself (knowing that you’ll lose at least two hours of worktime a day). Or just warm up pizzas!
  • Make sure you won’t run out of wine and beer.
  • Repeat every 6 months.

The values of a Workcamp are numerous:

People get to work together for real, and that bonding will last and prove useful for the next six months of remote work.

It’s also extremely productive if done at the right time. Before an important milestone, work is usually well defined and everyone has a lot to do. We’ve found that in this setting, everyone is fine working 10 hours a day, with a nice lunch break and a little game time at night. For us, a two weeks workcamp is as productive as three weeks of normal work.

It’s simply the spirit. Sharing indie dev time, game time, and food and drink time with your team is always fun, but it’s especially cool when there’s something exceptional about it. The simple fact that the Workcamp breaks the routine makes it cool, and worth the financial investment.

Here is a short sample of our Workcamps:

Cost:
- Transportation: Depends on your team. For us, it’s around $1200.
- Housing: we managed to borrow a place a few times. We rented a great place once for $1500 for two weeks.
- Food: $300 (everyone chips in $10/day, and the studio pays for the rest. Basically, for the wine.)

We also have celebration parties when we ship a game. Here is the “baking / squid cooking workshop” we did after SQUIDS’ release:

Team Squids at a cooking workshop

 

The pros & cons in short

Here is a last bit of experience regarding virtual studios:

Pros:

  • Simplified ability to hire worldwide talents
  • Reduced office costs
  • Schedule flexibility
  • No travel time to the office
  • More quiet than an open space

Every week, I find myself in a situation where I really appreciate working from home. For instance, going out to buy something at 11am is something I didn’t do for the 7 years in worked in a company office. Another example is the ability to focus on work for 4 hours without being interrupted. When I was at Ubisoft, I had someone coming to my desk asking for something every fifteen minutes. Lively for sure!

Cons:

  • Requires an experienced core team, with very autonomous people
  • Requires dedicated people (serious workers) with calm home offices
  • Reduces productivity due to harder communication
  • Although technical tasks are easy to manage remotely, art and game design tasks need even better communication
  • Can’t get a beer with your buddies after work!

Even if the team works well together and everyone’s on board with the virtual studio organization, you will still miss some of the comfort of a real studio. Skype voice chat quality problems might occur, or simply feel the need to draw something on a whiteboard (game designers love white boards). Online white boards have not been a great solution so far.

At first glance it might seem like a virtual studio isn’t worth it, but the point about having a worldwide team alone makes virtual studios a growing necessity: today, making games is frontierless.

“Real studios” are great for many reasons, and sooner or later we might move to some sort of hybrid organization here at The Game Bakers. But so far, the virtual studio has allowed me and my team to follow our dream of creating our own studio, our own games, and own our IPs.

Alongside the “digital distribution,” a virtual studio organization is a major factor for why it’s now possible to make games with total creative freedom and earn a living from it. I hope sharing our methods will help some other indies who might otherwise have been scared off without even trying.

Any questions, feel free to contact me @EmericThoa and for update follow us @TheGameBakers.

Squids Wild West update 1.1.0

Posted by on 08.04.12
0 Comments

Hey Seawood boys and gals! Wild West has been updated with a lot of bug

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fixes and 5 new bonus missions, one at the end of each chapter. You’ll also find 4 new helmets hidden in these missions! New helmets for Squids Wild West Have fun with the update until we come back with a new chapter in September!

Yeeeee-haw! SQUIDS Wild West Gallops Onto the App Store This Summer

Posted by on 05.23.12
13 Comments

Yeeee-haw! We are delighted to announce that your favorite Squids adventures will continue this summer with SQUIDS Wild West on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Get a sneak peek today by downloading SQUIDS free update with some exclusive new content. – - – Full Press Release below – - –

SQUIDS Wild West Artwork

Yeeeee-haw! SQUIDS Wild West Gallops Onto the App Store This Summer Get

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a Sneak Peek of the New SQUIDS Game Today via Free iPhone / iPad Update PARIS – May 23, 2012 – The Game Bakers, creators of the fan-favorite mobile RPG SQUIDS, are announcing that the next chapter of their undersea saga, SQUIDS Wild West, will release for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch this summer. Even better: eager players can get an early look by downloading SQUIDS’ latest free update from the App Store, which includes three bonus levels set on a SQUIDS Wild West map. SQUIDS follows a band of unlikely heroes who must protect their idyllic underwater kingdom from the destructive black ooze settling over the seas. Set in the western kingdom of Seawood, SQUIDS Wild West takes the group into deeper, more dangerous waters as they regroup against oily crustacean enemies and search for a fallen comrade. They’ll help the feisty Calamary Jane save a besieged frontier town, explore native Squid lands and a volatile mine, and start to understand the evil they’re up against—but not without paying a terrible personal price. SQUIDS Wild West will be a Universal App with more of the gorgeous cartoon art, jaunty music, and humorous storytelling that made SQUIDS a fan favorite. Like the original, SQUIDS Wild West combines tactical RPG-inspired gameplay with the convenient interface of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Although turn-based battles are easily fought using an Angry Birds-style “flinging” mechanic, SQUIDS Wild Westprovides a much deeper challenge than the average mobile game. Strategy and skill is required as players use environmental elements, the Squids’ strengths, and enemies’ weaknesses to succeed. With devious new enemies, four new playable characters, and nearly twice as many levels as the original SQUIDS, the upcoming sequel also has many fun gameplay surprises—including seahorses that you can corral and ride into battle! In today’s free update, SQUIDS players can dive into the Wild West with three missions that take place in Seawood. This exclusive sneak peek introduces a new Squid hero: Cleef, a vengeful gunslinger with secrets to hide. And a formidable enemy, the massive Buffalo Shrimp, will rear its ugly thorax. The update also features a new Game Center achievement, a new level cap, and enhanced social media functionality. Those who own the original SQUIDS on iOS can download today’s free update from the App Store, while new players can buy the game (with the SQUIDS Wild West demo included) for just $1.99:http://itunes.apple.com/app/squids/id467904350 The original SQUIDS has been downloaded over a million times and has ranked as the App Store’s #1 RPG in 65 countries. Since its October 2011 release, it has maintained a perfect 5-star fan rating on the App Store. It is also available for Android, PC, and Mac. To learn more about SQUIDS and the upcoming SQUIDS Wild West, visit the official website athttp://www.squidsthegame.com. SQUIDS fans can befriend the game’s tentacular heroes on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/squidsthegame) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/squidsthegame).