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  • Game Store Partner Profile: Digital Download Game World

    This is the second post in a new series of profiles of GameStreamer game store partners.


    A recent GameStreamer game store partner, Digital Download Game World Inc. was created in 2008 as a group of like-minded video game enthusiasts, developers and retailers to observe and report on the growth of the digital distribution sector of the video game industry. Marketed globally, the website sees the majority of its traffic coming, in order of volume, from the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K.


    Digital Download Game World 


    Digital Download Game World likes to work directly with indie game developers to show the world that digital distribution is allowing for great game design concepts from even the smallest of studios to make it in this competitive marketplace.


    The site also communicates with developers, retailers and readers about the continual growth and change in the digital distribution sector of the video game industry.


    We wanted to get to know DD Game World even better, so we asked CEO Dan Awadalla to tell us more about his site and his gaming habits.


    GameStreamer: What are your goals with DD Game World? Future plans or news?


    Dan Awadalla: With significant growth since we started with our small forum site a few years ago, we have discovered that this new branch of the video game industry is filled with opportunity and pitfalls. At Digital Download Game World Inc., we are discovering our niche in consultation, design and industry reporting.  


    In the near future, we will continue to provide indie developers with the advice they need to succeed and will continue to select and report our favorite stories from this exciting industry. Don't be surprised to see some of our own titles launching in the mobile arena, as well. 


    GS: Your site is known for its Toronto-area events. Do you have any coming up? What has been your favorite event?

    DA: The Toronto geek and gaming scene is as good as it gets anywhere, and we are lucky to have so many friends who are very active in keeping it that way.  I would have to say FanExpo and GamerCamp are two of my favorite events. Microsoft Canada and Sony Entertainment Canada are both well known for their great Toronto-based preview and launch parties.


    GS: What’s your favorite video game or franchise?

    DA: Personally, I have been playing video games since 1976, my first game, of course, being the ATARI PONG home console. So I always find this question difficult. My fondest memory is playing Kareteka on the Commodore 64 and Karate Champ in the Arcade. More recently, my favorite franchises seem to come from Ubisoft Montreal and include Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell as both still have the capability to produce immersive single-player experiences in a continually saturated market. For multiplayer gaming, it's gotta be a shooter. I prefer the Call of Duty and Battlefield series depending on my mood.


    GS: If you could have a superpower for one day, what would it be?

    DA: Without a doubt, Time Shifting. I'd start my day in a coin-op arcade and end it on a HoloDeck!  


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  • Publisher Profile: FRONTLINE Studios

    This is the first post in a new series of profiles of GameStreamer publishers and independent developers.


    Modestly sized independent developer FRONTLINE Studios derived its name from the company’s commitment to pushing the technology and design to the limit. Established in 1998, the company develops games for next-generation entertainment devices (Nintendo Wii, PS3, XB360, PC and Mac), as well as handhelds (DS, PSP, and iPhone). FRONTLINE Studios' technology consists of dozens of platform-independent components integrated into scalable and flexible object-oriented architecture. NetVigil software keeps the company's projects efficient and provides real-time reporting and monitoring.


    Company offices are in Florida and California, and the main studio is located in Poland (Bydgoszcz). FRONTLINE games include Gene Labs and Christmas Chicken and upcoming titles Life Savers and Mech Wars.


    To learn more about FRONTLINE Studios, we asked CEO Marcin Michel a few questions about his company and his personal experiences as a gamer.


    GameStreamer: How did FRONTLINE get its name?

    Marcin Michel: Since the very beginning we have had a mission to become a prestigious, well recognizable and creative game developer, so one day we could get a chance to get on the front line of the videogame industry. At FRONTLINE we always try to stay ahead with the proprietary technology and development tools, always trying to deliver top-of-the-line, quality products. That is, we thought FRONTLINE Studios is a great name that reflects our business strategy.


    GS: What was the first game FRONTLINE self-published?

    MM: The first self-published title is Gene Labs. Due to limited internal funds, we have selected this simple and fun arcade game, so we could afford to bring this game to many platforms simultaneously and at low cost. In the past we have delivered over 30 titles on many different platforms developed for retail game publishers, and currently we do have 12 titles that we are going to self-publish within a few upcoming months.



    GS: Can you give us a sneak peek of some of your upcoming titles?

    MM: Sure. Valet Maniacs (screenshot below) is an arcade-strategy game where you are a valet parking supervisor. Galactic Siege puts you in the middle of a space-shooting adventure, and Red Prison gives hidden object games a new twist. If you love to fish, Salt Life: Ocean Hunter offers a first-person fishing experience.   


    Valet Maniacs, FRONTLINE Studios


    GS: What was the first video game you ever played?

    MM: I can't really remember what was the very first game I've played. There was a bunch of cool games I've played on my first fun machine - Commodore 64. I had been basically buying all games I could get in Poland those days, and I think I've collected at least 30 best games on my Commodore.



    GS: What is your favorite aspect of working at FRONTLINE?

    MM: There are many aspects for sure, including the possibility to be a part of creative process, however I must say that our company's culture and its people are the most important aspects that keep me going.



    GS: If you could be any game character, who would you be and why?

    MM: One of my favorite is definitely Drake from Uncharted, as I would love to try my luck in treasure hunting one day!


    If you would like to be featured in our next publisher profile, contact us at

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  • Slaying the Dragon: Think Small

    This is the third post by independent game developer Dan Felder, who has his own indie studio and consults other game developers in his spare time.


    The dragon rears its head, roaring loud enough to shake the stony walls of its mountain home - fire shrieking through the air to blast in at you. You duck, you dodge, your desperately roll - heat searing your cheek red. And now the dragon itself is barreling toward you, its long serpentine neck, each shining scale a tiny reflection of your imminent death, rushing out with its longsword-sized teeth eager to rip and tear through your screaming flesh.

    There is a sickening, shattering crunch...

    And its teeth taste stone.

    Welcome, Indie Game Company, and congratulations on your quick thinking. You managed to survive by ducking into a tiny passage in the cavern's side - enough for you to fit inside but nowhere near large enough for the massive beast to follow you through.

    There are times when it pays to be small.

    Now, you probably hear this all the time - people saying that being small is an advantage to an indie company... But usually their reasons ring a little hollow, and you're left feeling that they themselves don't quite believe it. The best reasons they can offer up are that being small makes you quicker, faster, more agile and more able to explore. If they say more, it's hard to hear over the silent cries of 'bulls@!#' echoing in everyone's mind. After all, bigger companies have far more resources to explore new projects with. They can power titles to market much faster due to their manpower and while they might be less agile at times, agility doesn't do you much good when you're so cramped for resources that you can barely stand up, much less turn a somersault.

    However, there is one way that you can leverage being small and turn it into a fearsome weapon indeed in your battle against the dragon... And it just so happens that that's what this article is all about.

    Isn't it nice when things work out?

    So, grab your adventurer's pack and your trusty longsword because we've got a dragon to slay.

    First, a shortage of resources is nothing more or less than a creative limitation. You don't have the budget to make glorious AAA graphics or a millennium of fully scripted content. It's easy to bemoan our losses and just accept that our graphics and such will be worse than our competitors... But 'worse' is a very tangled term. Our graphics might not be as fancy or lifelike as our competitors... But does that make them worse?


    Only if you allow it.


    For example, take a look at Calvin and Hobbes. No, it's not a game - it's a comic strip by Bill Watterson that was featured in newspapers once upon a time. It was pure comedic gold as well as being exceptionally meaningful and wise... And look at the art style. It's simple, cartoonish and absolutely perfect for the strip.

    Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

    Would Calvin and Hobbes have been more enjoyable if it were drawn in a much more difficult, hyper-realistic style? No, not at all. The comic strip's creator was an eminently talented artist and was very capable of creating much more 'high-end' illustrations, but he wisely chose not to. The cartoonish style served Calvin and Hobbes far, far better. Even though he had the resources to produce highly realistic and fancy drawings, he stuck with a much simpler style that suited the strip better.

    See a parallel here?

    If not, then let's set sail to Tales of Monkey Island, Telltale Games' most successful title to date. The game has garnered high praise for its art style, one that suits the game absolutely perfectly... And yet, it's nothing near what something Square Enix might spin into being. Ask yourself, would Tales of Monkey Island be better off for having FFXIV's graphics at their disposal? Hardly! The game is meant to be silly and fun, something the graphics provide with grace. If the game used the fanciest of high-end graphics, it might well hurt the title and be vastly more expensive overall. That's something that no game company should want.

     Tales of Monkey Island by Telltale Games

    Limitations on resources are a little like street signs. Just because you can't cross the street on red doesn't mean that it's a bad thing! If you can figure out a way to get where you want to go on time, by following the proper street signs, you'll still be there and you won't get nailed by passing cars on the way. If you can figure out how to make your limitations work FOR you... You're way ahead of the lumbering dragons still trying to chew their way through a stone wall.


    A title that I'm currently working on has been conceived from the ground up by this principle. Directly going into the earliest design stages I was planning the title to use the least expensive resources to its advantage. I knew I didn't want to worry about a high art budget, so I decided to create a lost-in-wonderland style based on creating a sense of childlike wonder in the player. Even now the main line in the design document for art style still reads, "The graphics should look like something out of a seven-year-old's sketchbook." By adopting such a simple style and tying it to a strong theme, we can make the most out of our limited resources. If someone came to me today and offered me a hundred million dollars to give this title the best graphics money could buy, I'd turn them down in a heartbeat. And that is a wonderful place to be in.


    There is a catch, though. If you're a tiny game company who wants to make a title in the style of Mass Effect... You're in trouble. Mass Effect benefits enormously from a sense of hyperrealism. The more lifelike the aliens look, the more plausible the technology, the more a sense of belief in its universe is created - something needed for a serious Sci-Fi title. Less realistic art styles aren't always better, you need to find ways to make them the best choice in your particular situation. Give Monkey Island's graphics to Mass Effect and you'll end up with a lot of disappointed gamers. You'll be fighting fire with a much smaller fire... And we all know how inefficient that is, right? If not, take a look at the second installment in this series for a little reminder.

     Mass Effect 2 by BioWare

    But when you scope the battle with your size in mind, you can make extraordinary use of it - diving into tiny caves, tunnels and holes the dragon cannot follow you through, running between the dragon's legs to hack at its ankles and remembering, always, the simple truth:


    The bigger they are, the harder they fall.


    Dan Felder


    About Dan Felder: A student at Babson College in Massachusetts, Felder is studying entrepreneurship while building his own indie game studio. He has a passion for storytelling and theater, which is playing out in his studio by giving it a creative vision to advance the conversation about what games can be and how games can touch us, move us, embolden us and strengthen us. He also blogs for Gamasutra, a leading game industry news site.


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  • GameStreamer Loves Independent Game Developers

    GameStreamer supports independent video game developers. We believe they bring to the industry some of the most innovative and creative thinking.


    Developers can distribute their games through our flagship stores and growing number of white label partner stores at no cost. Our extranet makes it easy to upload and manage games, as well as view sales figures. We offer an above-industry-standard revenue split on games sold. On our game store sites, users can search the Indie genre, where we have 80 games and counting.


    If you’ve been reading our blog recently, you’ll have seen posts by independent developers offering advice to fellow indies. Look for more posts like these in the coming weeks. If you would like to contribute a post or to distribute your game through us, contact us at

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  • Slaying the Dragon: Fighting Fire with Water

    This is the second post by independent game developer Dan Felder, who has his own indie studio and consults other game developers in his spare time. Read his first post here.


    Look at the dragon. It’s tremendous, a monstrosity that dwarfs giants and their kin. Its gleaming scales are hard as diamonds, its jagged teeth sharper than nails…. And to top it off, it breathes fire. Yes… Fire. Now that’s just not fair!


    In order to defeat the dragon, you can’t fight fire with fire (remember its aforementioned respiratory condition). If you want to take down this beast of legend and get away with some of its treasure, you have to tip the battle in your favor. Seriously, have you ever tried fighting fire with fire? It sucks. Instead, fight fire with water – you’ll be a lot happier.


    When you’re shifting the battle to your favor, it has to be at a game the dragons aren’t used to playing. Hit them where they’re weak, hit them where they can’t strike back, and – if possible – try to challenge them to a ballet contest. Dragons are great at tearing through mountainsides and roasting regiments in their flames… But they have a bit of trouble fitting into a theater (not to mention a tutu).


    So how do you shift the battle to your advantage?


    It starts in design.


    Your first goal is to create a title that changes the discussion of how to evaluate the game, matching your strength directly against the Dragon’s weakness. You don’t have to be better at everything, you just need to be different in one thing – so you become a legitimate choice.


    Here’s a real-life example. A few months ago, I was strolling through the farmer’s market and passed by a pie salesman. The man was selling blueberry pie. Now I was actually on my way to a stand a few dozen feet away, one I’d been going to for years, that made the best apple pie I’d ever tasted… And I love apple pie.


    Still, the blueberry pie salesman waved me over and asked me if I liked pie. I responded, politely, that I did, but only apple pie – and I was on my way to get a piece right now from the other stand. “Great farm.” He nodded, “They make great apple pie. You want me to tell you what makes mine special?” I shrugged and said, “Sure.”


    He lifted one of the pies from the table. “This pie,” he said, “Is the only pie here made from the freshest, most delicious wild blueberries. There’s nothing else like it. Want to try a slice?”


    I did, and it was great… And I ended up buying a pie, too.


    If the man had tried to offer an apple pie, he never would have been able to beat out my favorite stand – but he didn’t try to fight fire with fire. Instead he offered me something completely different, yet absolutely great in its own right. He knew he couldn’t compete with my favorite stand when it came to apple pies – but they sure couldn’t compete with him when it came to blueberry. Why? Because they didn’t make blueberry pies!


    He changed the battlefield and got me to buy in, and I’ve loved blueberry pie ever since.


    So what about fighting fire with water?


    The key is that the dragon’s got a weak point. Maybe on its flank, or in its co-op mode, but it has one SOMEWHERE. All you have to do is find it and then craft your title to slam through that weak point as powerfully as possible. Just pick something, anything, that the most popular titles don’t do too well (or at all)… And then make it your purpose in life to do it so well that everyone else looks absolutely silly by comparison. You don’t have to beat them with better graphics, you just have to be different – wonderfully, engagingly different. If the battle isn’t about the best graphics and the biggest explosions – then the dragons won’t know what to do.


    After all if the battle’s about teeth vs. teeth, fire vs. fire… The biggest, meanest dragon always wins. But let’s take a look at mermaids. Could a dragon eat a mermaid alive? Oh hell yes. It’s called sushi. But which do you think a sailor would rather spend time with? Well, I’ll let the Flight of the Conchords answer that (via YouTube). 


    So, right from the moment you’re shaping your title, make sure that its strengths hit directly against the dragon’s weaknesses… And don’t you dare do it halfway. A poke at the dragon’s weak point isn’t going to do anything, you need to hit that sucker with a sledgehammer. If the biggest titles have overly complex leveling systems, make yours so simple that a near-sighted goldfish could make it through the game. If everyone’s simple – make yours require a graduate-level course in character customization just to make sense of it! Alright, these are exaggerations but only barely so. In order to avoid comparisons to the dragons, you have to make sure that people can’t compare you to the dragons… Except where your strengths lie. Just make sure the game’s still fun!


    So put your flamethrower back on the shelf and pull out the fire extinguisher. Trust me, you’d rather have the extinguisher when you’re facing down a dragon. Unless it’s trying to twirl its way across a ballet stage that is, but then – you’ve already won.


    Dan Felder


    About Dan Felder: A student at Babson College in Massachusetts, Felder is studying entrepreneurship while building his own indie game studio. He has a passion for storytelling and theater, which is playing out in his studio by giving it a creative vision to advance the conversation about what games can be and how games can touch us, move us, embolden us and strengthen us. He also blogs for Gamasutra, a leading game industry news site.

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  • New GameStreamer Game Stores

    A big welcome to our newest game store partners, Gamer Reaction and Digital Download Game World! Their game stores are branded to their sites and contain the same games that GameStreamer carries on our stores, and


    Gamer Reaction is a popular gaming news site that features podcasts and articles for the “common gamer.” Marketed worldwide, Digital Download Game World covers news about the growth of the digital distribution sector of the video game industry.


    For both sites, a game store is a perfect fit with their audiences.


    “At Gamer Reaction, we are constantly talking about all the games we are playing or looking forward to or remember from years ago,” says Dianna Lora, Gamer Reaction Producer. “A GameStreamer game store seemed like the obvious choice to us. We tell people about games, and then they don't even have to leave our website to get them. Gamer Reaction tosses the ball up, GameStreamer dunks it.”


    Daniel Awadalla, CEO of Digital Download Game World, says, “As digital download game sales continue to grow worldwide, we can’t be anything but excited about an opportunity to enter into a partnership such as this. We found the staff at Game Streamer Inc. to be highly motivated and professional and the integration of the store with our current site could not have gone more smoothly.” 


    Game store partners have full administrative control over their stores, including which games to sell and which ones to feature. Templated game stores cost partners nothing, and they receive a cut of their stores’ revenue. Fully customized stores require a fee. Game store partners are responsible for marketing their own stores, but GameStreamer does offer a few free tools. Partners can create banner ads to promote games on their websites. Also, GameStreamer creates a customized, weekly newsletter featuring new games and specials that partners can send to their users.


    If you are interested in adding a game store to your site, contact us at

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  • 'Arena Morte' - A Premortem

    In this 'premortem,' FRONTLINE Studio's Brian Dreyer discusses the in-progress demo and pitch on his company's original console IP Arena Morte.


    I really like postmortems, especially the big-budget, console title ones where there’s commentary from different team members like the Executive Producer, Producer, Lead Designer and so on. There are always things that went well and things that did not. Honestly, I think most people, rightly or wrongly, enjoy the negative part more.


    After all if it’s a great game that’s being dissected, it’s fascinating to know where they screwed up. So, let’s leave the positive and the ‘We got really lucky when…’ comments aside and in the spirit of constant improvement just focus on the negative.


    From a “what went wrong” perspective, the common denominator seems to be surprises. There are always bad things that happen during the development process that were not planned and so all we can ever really do is mitigate the risks.


    Risk mitigation involves everything: people, tech, art, budget, internal processes, leadership, talent, and goals. With that, we should outline the essential early steps in creating a concept and a new title (IP) that addresses what a good postmortem really should look like after the game is done. I call this a “Premortem.” That’s what we’re doing with “Arena Morte.”


    STEP 1 – What’s the Team’s Interest, what games do they like to play and why.


    For us, the studio’s experience and history has been an interesting one. While successfully in business for almost 10 years now, we’ve been stuck doing mainly budget projects to keep the internal workflow steady.


    Obviously not happy what comes with this territory, i.e., there’s never enough time, never enough money, rarely a true focus on quality from the publisher. It doesn’t take an MBA from Harvard to determine that the ROI won’t be good.


    The Team is an entirely different story: talented people, solid technology and art skills, some CVs with AAA credentials and a universal desire to make better, more meaningful and, most importantly, more fun games. So now what? Well, we just need some time, a reasonable advance and something cool to work on. This was my challenge.


    We had some solid concepts, some art and other assets to show, but after endless pitching and good old-fashioned business development it became obvious that we need a demo. For a publishing contract today, the concept demo has become even more important given the cost and competition in the market today.


    The demo has to be polished, successfully showing the new game’s unique and compelling features with a high level of quality. The bottom line here is that the chances of securing a publishing partner are about as likely as winning the State Lottery without a great demo. There’s simply going to have to be a demo that works and we’re going to have to fund it.


    So now that we’re talking about real internal investment, it’s time apply some process. Before spending a dollar, the first high-level question the executives should ask is, “What sort of game should we make?” Traditionally the direction of this conversation usually goes towards what the market needs.


    While this is logical, it can be dangerous to focus too much on a market niche and it’s better to save this sort of discussion for later. My idea was to focus on what the Team thought was most interesting, what kind of game do they want to make and why? After all, they are the ones doing the heavy lifting.


    Much to my disappointment, yet not completely unexpected, the responses were all over the place, from MMOs to Facebook. They were sort of stuck on the marketing thing. One day it occurred to me that during lunch breaks and after hours most of the guys played fighting games. 


    And not just played them, but were virtually obsessed with them, most notably “Street Fighter IV” with all the smack talk and interaction you’d expect. So I did what any good Executive would do… I told them to get back to work! Just kidding obviously, I actually interviewed them a bit and it became obvious that we need to do a fighting game.


    STEP 2 – Get a short list of synopses and include something to convey the feel, usually concept art.


    For us, the prospect of doing “Street Fighter X” is a bit too, shall we say, aggressive? There’s a lot behind the curtain that make this franchise so successful and the loyal followers simply will not tolerate a… western version for lack of better description. But the interviews revealed some interesting takes on the genre of the fighting experience. So next we just let their minds wander a bit.


    Most will tell you to leave the creative people alone, let them create and that’s a unique and subjectively individual thing. I agree with this but the cats eventually need to be herded. Carefully (keyword!) we collected high-level ideas and kept it high-level and fun to encourage more ideas and participation. This also helps to get the group to buy into the overall direction of the game being formed. The herding process sort of ended when we eventually asked for a short list of synopses.


    Our thinking here is that if the game is going to be great, it has to be articulated at a high-level in writing, not just a random collection of thoughts. This is a bit of an oversimplification of a very complex exercise, mainly that there is a human interaction component at work here and there has to be an adult in charge of this cat-herding activity. There are tons of books and theories about this topic and it really is critical, generally speaking, to interact or communicate with individuals in a manner in which they are most comfortable communicating and interacting.


    Arena Morte by Frontline Studios 


    STEP 3 – Focus on game play features.


    Video games are interactive (keyword!) entertainment. Making a great game means emphasizing this interaction, a painfully obvious yet frequently forgotten step in the early development process. The traditional approach to making the interaction better is to make it different.  That is, have the player do something he/she’s never done before, take the player to a new place to do new things, to visit new worlds in a tactical sense.


    I agree with this to a degree but my experience tells me that it’s not very logical or practical to bet too much on the farm here. To me it has almost always made more sense to focus on the new games features which are at the heart of the interaction.


    Given that the player’s interactions in the game are most important, a focus on what the player is actually doing at all times is essential or again focus on features.  Story, characters, environment alone are just not enough. 


    Features basically come down to two different categories; in-game mechanics and generically new content for the game. We looked at all of this early in the concept process but focused more on player-interactive features that have been done before (hacking and slashing) and making them feel brand-new.


    We took a methodical look at past, present, and likely future features in this genre. We looked in detail at other sources such as movies, comics and books to come up with a list of what we think are compellingly new or significantly improved game play features that we’d like to do… after all, we’re gamers.


    STEP 4 – Visualize, get a qualified writer, check the tech and make the “Go/No-go” decision. If no-go, review what likely went wrong and start over.


    By this time we have a generally good idea of what we want to do with this concept, IP and demo, including the work-in-progress name – “Arena Morte” (sometimes having a name early gives a concept a reality on which to build from). The next step was to do some of the nuts-and-bolts stuff.


    That is, with a feature approach list it was time to find that property’s art vision, its soul if you will. We started to put together character and environmental concept art that everyone liked. This, too, helped give the feature list more life, meaning and purpose, and provided a visualization stage. Much like a game is nothing without features, great features are meaningless without characters, substance, and story.


    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, never (dangerous word!) do a video game story that involves characters without someone skilled at writing about characters. Fortunately we found John Zuur Platten through our friends at Union Entertainment. John loved the character look and concept work, as well as the general direction we were going in, and with John, the rest was pure magic.


    In a fairly short period of time he was able to go beat-by-beat through a few stories that will truly captivate the player… I’m not going say any more; you’ll have to play the game when it comes out. I will say, however, that the story and character arcs will be such that the player will want to know more.


    Another core issue is technology. Visualizing the game’s soul can be the most fun part of the development process, but you have to ensure the tech is there to make it come to life.


    We obviously needed to do some work to make sure the features we love are doable in such a way that it works well, gels together and are fun for the player. Technology is a big part of this. That is, it can’t be just good enough, these features make or break the players experience and it has to be 100% verified f-ing (bad word!) cool. We work in a world where anything is possible and sometimes the anything sucks.


    We evaluated every possible tool we could get our hands on and I’d put Krystoff Malinski and Dominic Libek up against anyone in the industry when it comes to evaluating tech. I love these guys and they have a history of making our own tools so I know they’re going to be tough and detailed critics when it comes to picking tools.


    We selected Trinigy’s Vision Engine and were a tad-bit disappointed, so we came back to Unreal 3… this was a premortem moment (picking tools). It’s now go-time.


    STEP 5 – Focus on features and the player.

    Arena Morte by Frontline Studios 

    Now we’re doing a demo project plan so that the demo can achieve a few things; show 90 to 100% of the features we selected, show some art skills (while art is not really important for the demo, we’ve got something to prove here) and maybe most importantly do this in such a way that it does not send us into Chapter 11.

    Regarding art, we believe expressing some art vision in a demo is essential for the pitch process when you consider that publisher executives generally will ‘get it’ quicker with some high-quality eye candy. We have two characters in the demo that will be near complete. The character art decision centers around the fact that the game’s story is one of the key features and it will be much easier to pitch if there’s more than just concept art and visual targets.


    However, the key here (and everywhere I suppose one could argue) is the player’s experience influenced by the demo’s feel. The player is our god. So again, features are key as we will have plenty of suspense and several “WTF” moments.


    Before we hand this off completely to the Lead Designer and Programmer, and while we’re starting the demo’s production, we’re still thinking about the player. That is, we’ve compiled this great list of what could go wrong with tech, tasks and so on, but ‘features and player’ is what the ‘premortem’ is all about. If this is done well the postmortem will be fun.


    STEP 6 – Design with the features to make the game wow the player.


    Ok, the Leads are ready to do their thing but this concept needs some high-level executive direction. These are my basic commandments for designers:


    1.       Features – tattoo these features on the inside of your eyelids, make them beyond cool, this is your most critical objective.


    2.       Don’t ever let technology prevent you from creating what you know needs to be in the game.


    3.       You own getting the art you need to ensure coolness. I don’t care if you use crayons, get feelings from the team and draw them something; anything that resembles a storyboard is good.


    4.       Prototype crazy-stupid ideas, and celebrate them publicly always in a positive (keyword!) way. Stupid is gold.


    5.       Think player rewards and achievements without being too formulaic, not that formulas are bad, just think before you act.


    6.       Money-shots – every ‘level’ or significant game play segment needs at least one “whoa” moment.


    7.       As always, interact with the team in a manner in which they are most comfortable communicating and interacting. 


    8.       Have fun – unlike most people on planet Earth, we get paid for making freakin’ video games!


    Design is probably my favorite part of this process. Maybe because it’s a team sport, or maybe it’s the escape of reality one experiences by putting themselves in the game. Whether the player’s character is the hero or the villain or just fantasying what it would be like and feel like to actually be in the world that’s being created is all just very cool.


    This is where “the rubber meets the sky” and when all cylinders are firing, a good postmortem is sure to follow. With that, I’m going to repeat what I said earlier because it’s so fundamental to success in our business given that making games is a team sport. In design, as in all areas, it is critical we deal with individual team members in a manner in which they are most comfortable communicating and interacting.  This requires a “Coach” that can always be aware of this rule and micromanage this rule.

    Arena Morte by Fronline Studios 


    STEP 7 – This is a business, never forget that and start from day 1 thinking about marketing and value.


    The business side of making games is not to be taken lightly by anyone in the building. While I’m presenting this near the end of this article, it’s really something the executives must do constantly throughout the production process. That is, when the game is being pitched early, having a thorough competitive analysis can and does help guide the creative as well as business development. Also, while some today don’t like to even use the word ‘genre’ if you’re looking for publisher support, the publisher will use the word, so you should too. This is still a good way to eventually guide a publisher discussion and deal with questions such as, “How is this different than Street Fighter?” With the genre discussion comes value proposition. From a business perspective every game needs a value proposition, but prepare to discuss the polar opposite of value which is the ‘R’ word – risk.


    When the publisher conversation has gotten to risk mitigation, you are dealing with an interested publisher. Not only is a development advance risky but the follow-on marketing spend is also painful. Consider always that the publisher is spending today’s dollars for the opportunity to get a return 2-4 years later once the game is released and profitable.


    The marketing aspects here are a normal part of the expense of developing a console title. So, while the publisher owns marketing, today marketing is as much (arguably more) about viral as it is spending money on traditional marketing spends and both are needed. Marketing is an expensive cost, so it’s a risk. If the game’s look and feel lends itself well for traditional and viral marketing, make that case during the pitch process.


    As the developer for “Duke Nukem: Critical Mass,” we were blown away by our publisher’s marketing tactics while at GDC in San Francisco when Deep Silver had put urinal pads in all the men’s rooms with ”Duke-isms” on them.


    Then at the popular watering hole (Jillian’s) across the street, every cocktail napkin and coaster in this fairly large establishment had a Duke-ism on them such as, “When all else fails, I don’t. – Duke.” Now that’s some good stuff and by the end of the event there were even several Urinal Pads… uh… missing.

    Duke Nukem


    Great video games come from great and usually new or improved features that are iterative enhancements to known good game play mechanics. The fact of the matter is we know what these features are. We know the ones gamers love. We know our teams, technology and processes.


    We know the business models. So we should focus more on taking these features and people up a notch or two and not focus too much on reinventing the wheel so often. While today a great demo is everything, balance the business with the Team’s interest, visualization and buy-in so that the postmortem is likely to be a good one.


    I think it’s safe to say we all tend to overthink and overanalyze in this business. After all, we know our business, capabilities, and markets so we naturally should be able to see fairly far down the road. 


    As in all businesses there’s competition and with that the never-ending pressure to continually be successful, to think of and deliver the next big thing for the player. This is the Holy Grail of making great games and the trouble is that the quest for the Holy Grail can lead to some real nonsense without some premortem process.


    Oh… by the way, we’re still building the demo and preparing for pitch round 2 so stay tuned.


    About FRONTLINE Studios: Formed by enterprising and passionately committed people, FRONTLINE is a well organized yet very creative team with offices in Florida and California, and the main studio located in Poland (Bydgoszcz). The company develops games for next-generation entertainment devices (Nintendo Wii, PS3, XB360, PC), as well as handhelds (DS, PSP, and iPhone). Look for FRONTLINE Studios games on in the near future.

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  • Slaying the Dragon: How Indie Game Studios Can Hold Their Own

    This is the second post in our series by independent game developers. Our guest blogger this week, Dan Felder, has his own indie studio and consults other game developers in his spare time.


    It’s the classic boss battle at the end of the game. The enemy is huge, tremendous, seems nigh-indestructible and as old as time… While you stand there with only your sword. The battle seems impossible to win… But you know that it is not, that no enemy is perfect, and that even this leviathan must have some fatal flaw, some weak point through which to drive your blade.


    Welcome, Indie Game Company. Your enemy is Epic Games, EA, Ubisoft, Bioware and many, many more. Your weapon? Your newest, perhaps first, title. But as wondrous as your blade may be, it is useless unless you drive it into the beast’s weak point. Only then may you claim title as the ruler of the realm and live to fight another day.


    But how do you find that chink in their armor?


    First off, you must answer the question, “Why should someone buy our game, instead of any of the most popular titles in existence – ones with heavy marketing and established brands?” Think about that question a moment – and don’t you dare try to argue “we’ll charge less”. If the main argument for your game is that it costs less money… You’re already setting yourself up to fail. Besides, why would you want to spend months of your life making a product designed to be inferior? You wouldn’t – so throw that out with the trash and let’s get back to slaying this dragon.


    So why should someone buy your game instead of Activision’s latest?


    Because you offer something that they don’t.


    You don’t have much budget, so awesome graphics are probably out. This means you offer some part of the experience that is better or at least different than what the most popular titles in your genre do. Sure, you might be making an RPG – but your RPG is funny as hell. Sure you might be making an RTS, but your RTS is more customizable than anything with ‘craft’ in the title… Or maybe you just offer an entirely new way of melding mechanics to create a unique play experience. Try to get the words “first ever” somewhere in your game description – that will go a long, long way. But, no matter how you do it, you need to answer the question “why should someone buy our game instead of the most popular titles out there?”


    If you can’t explain it in one or two sentences, then you’ll never be able to explain it to your customers… And the dragons will eat you alive.


    Dan Felder


    Naturally, this is a huge topic and this entry has barely scratched the first scale of the beast we all seek to tackle. I’ll be delving into it much further in future articles. In the meantime, what are the reasons your games are worth buying over your competitors? Leave a comment below with the name of your game and the reason it is special.


    About Dan Felder: A student at Babson College in Massachusetts, Felder is studying entrepreneurship while building his own indie game studio. He has a passion for storytelling and theater, which is playing out in his studio by giving it a creative vision to advance the conversation about what games can be and how games can touch us, move us, embolden us and strengthen us. He also blogs for Gamasutra, a leading game industry news site.

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  • Advice from an Independent Game Developer

    This post is the first of a series of posts by independent game developers. They will be sharing their experiences and advice for aspiring developers, as well as their viewpoints on the game industry. Our first guest blogger is George Hufnagl, co-founder of My Escape, an eight-month-old development company.


    As we conclude production on our group’s first game and dovetail into the sophomore title, I am letting out a poignant sigh of relief because, for our group My Escape, we are about to achieve a victory toward which our progress had me holding my breath for months. Four artists, three programmers, one designer, audio designer/producer and advertising consultant later, we are excited to release Critter Cubes, a micro game that serves as a stepping stone for what we aim to be a long and healthy journey as a developer. Our current team of seven (wonderful) members is pumped, not because we are breaking any technological barriers or hailing in a new epoch of development, but because we finished a game. Yep. That’s it.


    In the eyes of the gaming community, this will likely be a minor contribution to what is, in reality, an overcrowded carnival of multi-million-dollar AAA games, match three variations and everything in between. In our eyes, however, it means the world, because despite having eyes that were bigger than our stomachs, the unkept commitments of former members, the multiple changes in direction for a game that we never completed, the technological uncertainties and the fact that we work exclusively online with a 14-hour difference in time zones, we finished a game. Yep. We did it.


    Entering our eighth month as a team, I am building up a nice tab of lessons learned, including:


    • Enthusiasm is paramount. Don’t work with anyone whose voice doesn’t get higher when they talk about their work.
    • Someone needs to be the boss. Bohemia is nice for vacation, but not for game development.
    • Structure your time before, during and after development, both individually and collectively.
    • Encourage your teammates.
    • Encourage yourself.
    • Be creative.
    • Be nice.
    • Be honest.


    The question to ask is, “when the proverbial hits the fan, what will carry us through?” Is it the accolades, the (virtual) bags of money, the legions of fans? Those are nice, but they’re all superfluous to the main event – your gaming Id – desire, passion, enthusiasm. The rest is just noise.


    George Hufnagl

    Producer/Audio Designer

    My Escape™


    About My Escape: To etch the brand in online gamers' memory, My Escape seeks to create games that will entertain and appeal to those seeking a less-immersive gaming experience and a quick escape from quotidian reality. Competing in the online gaming industry that boasts to reach nearly one out of every two Internet users (Flash Games Market Survey, ComScore via Mochi Media, 2010), My Escape is set to play ball by introducing games centered on oddness, strangeness and peculiarity.

    For more information about My Escape, please visit

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