With Combo Crew we wanted to re-create the magic of the old-school brawler games we loved so much: Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Street Fighter,… but on mobile. So first we nailed down the controls so you could finally play a fighting game on a touch screen, with no virtual D-pad to mess up your moves. The touch controls are smooth, responsive, easy to learn: one-finger swipe to punch / kick, tap to counter, and two-finger swipes for special combos.
Then we worked on re-creating the fun of playing co-op with your friend together on the sofa, commenting the action, and remembering it for days after! This is where the Draw Something-style asynchronous multiplayer kicked in. You can invite your friends to rescue you when you are KO, or rescue them, and of course compete in the leaderboards.
And then we worked on the combat system for the gameplay depth, the arena-style levels in the tower for great sessions of gaming on the go, the unlockables and an “endless” mode to keep you coming back for more. We also hope you will enjoy the parody and references to all the games that have inspired us!
As always we are eagger to hear your feedback via the usual channels, and we are looking forward to playing with you in the game: you can invite us to compete or help, our email is in the game!
Below the full press release.
- The Game Bakers
Combo Crew Launch trailer:
The (Mobile) Fight Is On! Beat ’Em Up Combo Crew Now Available for iOS and Android
Modern old-school brawler from The Game Bakers has smooth touch controls, asynchronous multiplayer
MONTPELLIER, France – 23 mai 2013 – Independent developer The Game Bakers invite mobile gamers worldwide to join the fight in Combo Crew, a high-energy beat ’em up just released for iPhone / iPad and Android. Starting today, the game can be downloaded for $1.99 (USD) from the App Store and Google Play.
A brawler in the spirit of arcade-era fighting games like Street Fighter, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage, Combo Crew was designed especially for today’s mobile gamers. The touch controls are smooth and intuitive, so your fingers do all the fighting with no virtual D-pad to get in the way. Quick arena-style levels and a tower level structure make Combo Crew perfect for gamers on the go, while tons of unlockables and an “endless” mode keep the crew coming back for more.
Trapped in an industrial tower by the maniacal Mr. Boss, the planet’s top heroes must fight their way to freedom one level at a time. In solo mode you face off against swarms of bad guys to master each character’s unique fighting style and special moves, unleash crazy combo streaks, and try for a high score to win the gold medal. In the co-op “Combo Crew mode” the fun kicks into high gear when friends team up to rescue and revive each other from KO. Best of all, this asynchronous multiplayer is cross-platform, so iOS and Android users can play together as part of the same crew.
“With Combo Crew, we wanted to recreate the fun of playing a brawler co-op with a friend on the sofa, but adapt this to mobile gaming. So the Draw Something-style asynchronous multiplayer really made sense,” says Emeric Thoa, The Game Bakers’ creative director. “And if your friends aren’t around, no problem—we’ve included ourselves on the friend list. So if you’re in a pinch, you can request a rescue from The Game Bakers and one of the developers will help you out!”
Combo Crew was created by the developers of SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West, tactical RPGs that have been enjoyed by more than 1.5M players worldwide. Learn more about Combo Crew at facebook.com/ComboCrew and @TheGameBakers.
About The Game Bakers
The Game Bakers is an indie video game studio based in Lyon and Montpellier, France. Led by AAA developers Audrey Leprince and Emeric Thoa, who left their steady jobs at top-tier major publishers to take a risk making the games they love on modern platforms, the core members have worked on numerous console projects before and intend to blend their gathered experience, know-how, and expertise with the advantages of the agile development method and the freedom of a small team.
The Game Bakers focus on creative projects that combine traditional gaming values with the best of the mobile experience. Their most recent delicacy, Combo Crew for iOS and Android, is the first mobile brawler with asynchronous cross-play multiplayer. Their turn-based action RPG series SQUIDS, available for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac, has been enjoyed by more than one and a half million players worldwide. SQUIDS has also been made into a comic book series and is coming to television next year. The Game Bakers make games like they cook food: with a lot of care, a lot of love, and because they’re French, a good bottle of wine. To learn more, visit the company’s website at http://thegamebakers.com.
Pure fight! No virtual D-pad. How come mobile beat ‘em ups are never as much fun as the old days at the arcade? It’s because virtual D-pads suck. But Combo Crew’s responsive controls are fully designed for touch: one-finger swipe to punch and kick, tap to counter attack, and two-finger swipe for special combo moves.
It’s the first beat’em up for mobile to have touch controls and asynchronous multiplayer.
Compete for the best combo streak and come to rescue your friend when he is KO!
The game will release this Spring on iPhone, iPad and Android phones and tablets, and players will be able to play together regardless of the device they are using.
Keep in touch on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ComboCrew, Twitter @TheGameBakers. More info coming soon!
The Game Bakers
Full media alert below:
- – - -
Media Alert: Combo Crew kicks ass on iOS and Android in May (plus new gameplay video)
Coming in May to an iPhone, iPad, or Android device near you: Combo Crew, a blast-from-the-past fighting game that brings the arcade action of the 80s and 90s into the new millennium. Combo Crew is the latest endeavor from The Game Bakers, the studio that made SQUIDS (a tactical RPG with more than 1M downloads worldwide).
No virtual D-pad. Pure fight! How come mobile beat ’em ups are never as much fun as the old days at the arcade? It’s because virtual D-pads suck. But Combo Crew’s responsive controls arefully designed for touch: one-finger swipe to punch and kick, tap to counter attack, and two-finger swipe for special combo moves. In Combo Crew, your fingers do the fighting—because real brawlers don’t need buttons.
Asynchronous co-op on any device. Combo Crew also has a solo mode, but the game’s at its best when played with friends. Compete for high scores, rescue each other from K.O., and reach the top of the tower with the help of your crew—no matter what device you’re using. For the first time ever, iOS and Android gamers can brawl together in harmony.
Old school fighting for today’s mobile crowd. Inspired by classics like Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and Street Fighter, Combo Crew pulls traditional beat ’em ups into the 21st century with an arena structure ideal for quick play sessions, multiple game modes (including single-player, co-op, and “endless”), and plenty of power-ups and bonus moves to unlock.
We are looking for Beta Testers for Combo Crew. We need your help to test and help us balance the game! The Beta Test will start next week. If you have an iOS or Android device and feel ready for the fight send a mail now to email@example.com!
The Squids are back: bigger and better! The epic adventure continues as our band of stretchy heroes explore the underwater Wild West, fight back against the evil Black Ooze, and search for Winnick, their fallen comrade.
If you don’t know SQUIDS yet, SQUIDS Wild West is a great place to start! SQUIDS Wild West has a unique mix of action strategy and RPG: build your team of heroes for challenging turn-based battles against corrupted crabs and shrimp!
This sequel is even better than the original, with many surprises in store: devious new enemies, four new playable characters, and nearly twice as many levels. You can even ride seahorses into battle!
Saddle Up, Cephalopods! SQUIDS Wild West Launches on Google Play
Chart-Topping Turn-Based RPG Optimized for Android Devices PARIS–( Mar 8, 2013) – SQUIDS Wild West continues the story that started in chart-topping SQUIDS while offering exciting new gameplay challenges and improvements, ensuring it will be a hit with returning fans and new players alike.
In SQUIDS Wild West, a team of springy heroes continues their epic adventure across the seven seas to put a stop to the black ooze sliming up their idyllic kingdom. While exploring the aquatic frontier of Seawood, hometown of gunslinger Clint, players will meet up with four new playable Squids, including feisty cowgirl Calamary Jane and the mysterious Chief Ronimo. Plus the group will encounter a bevy of new enemies, environmental obstacles, stat-boosting helmets, and wild seahorses that can be captured and ridden into battle.
The colorful cartoon artwork, humorous storytelling, and catchy music fans loved in the original SQUIDS are back in the sequel, along with a number of new features and gameplay improvements. User interface enhancements make it easier for players to customize their party, adjust a mission’s difficulty level, and unlock in-game items.
« We are very happy to bring the game to Android players, in particular to the many SQUIDS fans that were eager to discover our heroes’ new adventures, » says Emeric Thoa, The Game Bakers’ creative director.
For the launch of SQUIDS Wild West, the original SQUIDS is also updated with new characters and missions, as well as Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Russian languages.
Learn more about SQUIDS Wild West or join the fan community on
PS: This is work in progress footage. Follow us for more info on the beta test!
PS2: And check the full press release below.
Here is the official announcement:
The Game Bakers’ Combo Crew Comes Out Swinging on iPhone, iPad, and Android this Spring
From the makers of SQUIDS: A modern, old-school brawler with platform agnostic co-op play
MONTPELLIER – March 6, 2013 – Mobile gamers, the fight is on! Indie developers The Game Bakers are revealing their next game: Combo Crew, a pocket-sized beat ’em up that combines innovative touch gameplay with good old-fashioned brawling. This action-packed game from the team behind the critically acclaimed SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West will release simultaneously for iOS and Android devices this Spring.
In Combo Crew, a trio of heroes face off against hordes of enemies, fighting their way to the top of the tower where they’re being held hostage. When one hero falls, another can take over to climb the floors and advance the crew toward freedom. Inspired by the best of the arcade-era brawlers, Combo Crew puts a modern spin on classic beat ’em up gameplay with quick play sessions, solo and co-op game modes, a tower level structure, and an “endless” mode. And it’s the first mobile brawler with cross-platform, asynchronous gameplay, so friends can rescue and revive each other from KO no matter what device they’re using.
“With Combo Crew, we wanted to bring back the spirit of the old console beat ’em ups—the ones you used to play on the couch with your buddies—in a way that makes sense on modern mobile platforms,” says Emeric Thoa, The Game Bakers’ creative director. “Games like Street Fighter and Final Fight require a D-pad controller, and that just doesn’t make sense for touch devices. So we challenged ourselves to make a brawler with really good, intuitive touch controls. And we’re pretty sure we’ve pulled it off!”
Combo Crew’s intuitive interface combines highly responsive controls with exciting, tactile gameplay. Swipe to attack, tap to counter, and use a two-finger swipe to unleash combo streaks unique to your character’s martial arts skills. When your super combo meter is full, you can trigger special moves, racking up massive high scores in the process! See how it all works in the first gameplay video: http://youtu.be/-20DW6gTK6E.
Upon its release, Combo Crew will be available for download from the App Store and Google Play. Leading up to launch day, more details will be revealed at http://www.facebook.com/ComboCrew and @TheGameBakers.
About The Game Bakers
The Game Bakers is an independent video game studio based in Lyon and Montpellier, France. Founded and staffed by industry veterans whose credits include numerous AAA console games, The Game Bakers focuses on creative projects that combine traditional gaming values with the best of the mobile experience. Their turn-based roleplaying series SQUIDS, available for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac, has been enjoyed by more than one and a half million players worldwide. SQUIDS has also been made into a comic book series and is coming soon to television. Their upcoming brawler Combo Crew will release for iOS and Android in Spring 2013. To learn more, visit the company’s website at http://thegamebakers.com
We are super happy to announce that our crew of cephalopod heroes is now moving onto TV. After the comic book available on the App Store, the partnership between the talented teams at Moonscoop and Frima will bring the Squids universe to another level. We are looking forward to exploring more of Squids’ unique characters and storyline, and provide our fans with a rich cross media experience!
Frima Studio and Moonscoop Announce Co-Production Partnership with The Game Bakers
New York City – February 8, 2013 – Today Frima Studio and Moonscoop announce a new partnership for the production of an animated children’s TV series based on Squids, the hit mobile game from The Game Bakers. The show will follow the exploits of four springy octopus adventurers as they travel between themed underwater kingdoms to hold the evil Baron and his infection at bay!
“Ambitious projects like Squids allow us to showcase the talent of Frima’s artists and animators,” said Steve Couture, CEO of Frima Studio. “As an experienced mobile game developer ourselves, we’re well positioned to create a show worthy of this popular title with the world-renowned team at Moonscoop.”
Released in October 2011 for iOS devices, Squids is a turn-based action RPG with over 1.5m players across iOS and Android. Squids and its sequel Squids Wild West feature a cast of memorable sea creatures and have been praised by gaming critics for their innovative gameplay and charming visual style.
“With Squids among the first titles created for mobile gaming and now heading towards television and other screens, we’re pleased to offer a cutting edge transmedia experience for our fans,” said Audrey Leprince of The Game Bakers. “We’re confident that the Squids brandwill shine on TV thanks to the highly capable teams at Frima and Moonscoop.”
“With a wide range of expertise among the partners, the Squids’ content has the potential to reach consumers on screens of all sizes,” said Christophe Di Sabatino, CEO of Moonscoop. “We are eager to develop one of the first brands linking original content from mobile to television.”
About Frima Studio
Frima is Canada’s largest independently owned game developer. Since 2003, the company has been developing world-class media including virtual worlds, social and web based games, console titles and mobile apps. Their services also include the animation and special effects expertise of Frima FX as well as the concept art development of Volta. In addition to working with world-renowned clients such as Electronic Arts, Activision, Warner Brothers and Ubisoft, Frima develops successful, original IP titles such as Nun Attack,A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks! and Zombie Tycoon. With over 350 artists and programmers in-house, Frima produces high-caliber products that are as remarkably outstanding artistically as they are technically. For more information, please visit www.frimastudio.com.
Moonscoop is a leading worldwide kids production, distribution, brand management and entertainment company, focused on producing original projects and building brands with international appeal and longevity. With around four new series per year, the Moonscoop group gathers the best actors in the animation industry: Moonscoop (Paris) and Moonscoop LLC (Los Angeles), two world class animation studios: Antefilms Studio (France) and LuxAnimation (Luxembourg).
Moonscoop Distribution is also heavily invested in launching internationally branded non-linear (VOD, SVOD, FVOD, EST) kids offerings on New Media platforms (IPTV, Web, Mobile, Connected TV).
Its rights library combines many of the most successful programs and best-loved animated creations in the global television market and includes over 3000 half-hours of programming airing in more than 160 territories worldwide. Key brands include “Code Lyoko”, “Chloe’s Closet”, “Geronimo Stilton”, “Hero 108”, “Tara Duncan” and “Casper’s Scare School” which are licensed in markets around the world. Moonscoop‘s production slate currently includes new series as “Code Lyoko Evolution”, “Sabrina The Teenage Witch”, “Chloe’s Closet, Season II”, “Jungle Book, Season II” and “Ava Riko Teo, Season II”.
We are very happy to announce that the SQUIDS [tentacular] universe just got its first extension today with the launch of the SQUIDS Comics and the first two episodes of SQUIDS To the Edge of the Sea.
It was also a great occasion to craft a surprise for our fans: today SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West get free updates on the App Store with new content and in particular The Ballad of Clint and Sammo, a mini-comic book in two parts that reveals how the mighty Sammo first crossed path with the most wanted Squids Clint!
The comic book dives into that exciting part of the backstory when Steev, Clint and the team set to find the missing Winnick with the hope to stop the Black Torrent for good. But they uncover fragments of Winnick youth that send them to perilous new adventures, tracking the extraordinary crew of a ancient pirate ship on which Winnick was a sailor and discovering some dangerous secrets on the way.
The book has been created in collaboration with the talented team at APE Entertainment who already used their magic on properties like Pocket God or Cut the Rope. We are extremely happy with the amazing art and swashbuckling story and confident that it will appeal to fans and comic book lovers as well.
Check the official press release from APE Entertainment below.
Squids To the Edge of the Sea – Cover Art by Jérome Renéaume
Squids To the Edge of the Sea – page 2
The Ballad of Clint and Sammo – Art by Jérome Renéaume
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Ape Entertainment Brings Aquatic Action to App Store with Squids Comic App
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – November 29, 2012 – Ape Entertainment, in association with independent game developer The Game Bakers, today unleashed a wave of adventure onto the App Store—the Squids Comic App for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Exploring the backstory of the chart-topping game series, “Squids,” the comic app is priced at $.99, which includes the first issue and, for a limited time, the second issue at no additional cost.
Additionally, SQUIDS and SQUIDS Wild West get free updates on the App Store with new content and in particular The Ballad of Clint and Sammo, a mini-comic book in two parts that reveals how the mighty Sammo first crossed path with the most wanted Squids Clint.
As for the comic app, Issue No. 1, entitled “SQUIDS: TO THE EDGE OF THE SEA,” dives into the deepest part of the story when our heroes Steev, Clint, and the others investigate the secrets of the missing Winnick to uncover the mystery of the Black Torrent. And what they find kicks off a swashbuckling adventure like none the Seven Kingdoms have ever seen.
“We had a blast developing the SQUIDS universe with the input from the talented crew at APE. We are confident the comic book will appeal to fans of the series and to comic book lovers as well,” said Audrey Leprince, The Game Bakers’ COO and cofounder.
But wait, there’s more cephalopod-tastic excitement in Issue No. 2, KA-POW! It’s the continuation to our wall-busting first issue. Did Steev get in over his helmet? Can Clint rally the Squids against their Oozy opponents and save Winnick’s home—and its many secrets—from the grasp of the nefarious Baron? Will anybody be able to catch that book-snatching shrimp? Find out when the action continues in SQUIDS: TO THE EDGE OF THE SEA #2!
For more information, please visit www.ape-entertainment.com or http://thegamebakers.com/.
About Ape Entertainment
Founded in 2003, Ape Entertainment is the brainchild of lifelong comic book devotees David Hedgecock, and Brent E. Erwin. Ape Entertainment is the comic book home to innovative new titles such as LITTLE GREEN MEN, SCOUTS, and HERO WITHIN. Ape is also the North American publisher for licensed properties THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR, KUNG FU PANDA, RICHIE RICH, CASPER, STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE, POCKET GOD, and CUT THE ROPE. Visit Ape Entertainment online at http://www.ApeComics.com.
About The Game Bakers
The Game Bakers is an independent video game studio based in France. Founded and staffed by industry veterans whose credits include numerous AAA console games, The Game Bakers focuses on creative projects that combine traditional gaming values with the best of the mobile experience. Their first game, SQUIDS, has had more than one million downloads since its October 2011 launch and can be enjoyed on iOS, Android, Mac, and PC. A sequel, SQUIDS Wild West, went live on the App Store in June 2012. To learn more, visit the company’s website at http://thegamebakers.com. The Game Bakers are also on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/thegamebakers) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/thegamebakers).
AppMotionPR for Ape Entertainment
The Game Bakers
Hello, hello, on recherche un Animateur 3D pour des animations de combat / Kung Fu, rendu cartoon. Avec Maya, et à Montpellier si possible !
We are looking for a 3D Animator for Combat / Kung Fu animations, in a toon style. With Maya, and ideally in Montpellier!
Contact us firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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:
1 technical manager / data manager
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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:
The pros & cons in short
Here is a last bit of experience regarding virtual studios:
Simplified ability to hire worldwide talents
Reduced office costs
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!
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.