Bio: Simon Joslin, co-founder of The Voxel Agents, likes to design games with broad appeal and a unique gameplay twist.
We just received a new advertisement for Train Conductor 2: USA made by Asher Blok, a high school student in Maranatha, Victoria.
PAX was such a great event and I loved meeting our players, especially those of you who have been supporting us for so long! You fill me with pride and excitement that we are making something worth making. Events like these get me so inspired, and they remind me why I make the games I do.
I got the chance to be part of the panel ‘Getting out of the Garage’ with a fellow devs from our oz industry. We spoke about what inspired us to get started, and what mental illness we had to let us do so. During the talk I mentioned that our inception was partially inspired by a manifesto for making iPhone games. We weren’t always the fearsome, bearded developers you know us all to be and at the time of creating the studio, it wasn’t obvious that starting a mobile games studio making original IP was such a good idea. Certainly at the time there were zero prominent examples of it working in Australia!
Matt, Tom and I (and our other friends too) had always talked about starting a studio . It wasn’t until our team won the 48 hour game making competition twice in a row, and when Pandemic closed down and I had quit Halfbrick that it just all fit together. We knew it was time to start a studio. The manifesto isn’t the reason we started, it just formed a part of the conversation. But it’s interesting to look at it in retrospect, and see that where we were coming from.
The “Manifesto for iPhone Game Development” was actually a tongue-in-cheek title to a thread I posted into a private forum my uni friends and I frequented. The “manifesto” bit was the joke. At the time the title seemed stupid. iPhone’s weren’t “gaming” devices. But I can’t take credit for thinking otherwise. I’m an unashamed Apple fanboy for almost a decade now. I was reading Roughly Drafted regularly and Daniel Eran Dilger’s ideas convinced me that there was huge economic potential in the App Store, and that the iPhone’s success seemed highly certain. Daniel Cook’s game design blog was my significant designer inspiration – especially the articles about innovation and creating new genres. The iPhone seemed to be the perfect mix of the circumstances Cook talked about for great innovation to occur.
Without further ado, here is the Manifesto as it was written back in November 2008.
The Manifesto for iPhone Game Development in 2008
There is no first party developer to compete with. Apple has no interest in making games. Yeah they have a Poker app, but that feels more like proof that games can exist as apps, rather than any significant attempt to become a game developer.
Big companies aren’t that interested yet. All the massive developers and publishers are either ignoring the market entirely, or giving it extremely little focus. The attitude is generally that the iPhone is not a serious gaming device.
Game developers are generally avoiding Apple products, regardless of opportunity.
Quality standards are easy to beat.
The platform lacks a defining title, and the opportunity is there for an innovative title to fill that role. Gameboy = Tetris. Famicon = Mario Brothers and Zelda. Playstation = Wipeout (to me at least). iPhone = Trism? Really? Good idea, but surely we will progress from here.
The iPhone is at a very early stage and innovation on the platform has barely begun – it is an exciting time to be designing iPhone games! Think of all the possibilities with a multi-touch screen, an accelerometer, an always connected internet device, a device you ALWAYS have with you, GPS, bluetooth! Each offers huge potential for new experiences!
Consumers expectation are at a comfortable level for indie studios; $1 – $10
Units sales are already considerable and sales growth is huge. Consider that the iPod sells hundreds of millions a year… well where are those iPod users likely upgrade to?
The approval process is relatively easy for indie developers to satisfy. Certainly better than current handhelds, and forget consoles!
When we started the company, we focused in on the multi-touch screen as our key differentiator. Ultimately though I think the always-on internet connection and “always with you” device have been the single most important aspects for innovation for game design, and even the games business. So much innovation has occurred by exploring these aspects.
In 2013 I’d it’s not so clear cut that the iPhone is the best platform for an indie studio to get started with… But that is a whole other discussion!
Puzzle Retreat as we know it today is a far cry from where it began in May 2011. It started as a third-person game about felling trees, and it finished as a relaxing minimal board game about sliding ice blocks. In between, it ventured into a massive variety of themes and styles, including one where you were responsible for unfurling dragons by the pool so they could sunbake. It’s had explosions, bad guys, tractors, floating islands and even storylines. The game you play today was only possible with eighteen months of refinement, simplification and a whole lot of love from a creative team striving to make the ultimate logical puzzler for mobile. This is Puzzle Retreat’s game dev story.
Yangtian Li, our in-house artist at the time, pitched to the team an elaborate design for a lumberjack-come-carpenter game. You fell trees in the forest, bring them home and make furniture. You can then unlock, sell and buy different design schematics, paints, flourishing details, and then trade what you make with other players online.
Add a Splash of Puzzle
Henrik Pettersson was immediately inspired by the puzzle potential of felling trees in a forest. His first design was a puzzle game where the trees fall into each other and knock each successive tree down dominoes style. The second design, and eventual winner, focused on your player character who stands behind each tree to push it over. You must have enough space to stand behind the tree to push and there must be space for the tree to fall onto. This puzzle design requires you to find the right order to knock all the trees down whilst keeping the appropriate spaces free, and not locking yourself in.
We really liked the potential depth of puzzles this mechanic presented, and the simplicity of the interaction. Playtesters were scratching their heads and smiling, and we could feel the potential of this game really standing out – it’s a brain scratcher that can fit into a few minutes a day on a mobile.
Save the Ozone
Hey there, we’re making a game at ACMI at Federation Square. We’re going to take an earlier prototype we made in 2011 called Time Travel Treasure Hunt, and make it into a fully fledged app fit for the App Store in just 14 hours! (Meanwhile we’ve spent a year working on our upcoming title… shh). So this is going to be EXTREME GAME DEVELOPMENT. 1 year? who needs that? 48 hours? Who needs that? 14 hours? Just perfect ;P
Come say hi at ACMI and pitch in your ideas. We just had a communal brainstorming with some luverly audience members, and we’re setting up two machines for you to make art for the game and make sound effects for the game. We’re here all weekend and I’ll be live blogging as often as possible. Supposedly I’m meant to be “spruiking” the audience, but I think ACMI forgets I’m a computer nerd LOL so we’ll see how that goes.
Ok so we’ve got the stations setup, people are recording explosion sounds. We’ve got people suggesting names for the game and we’ve got a drawing station with people filling in the lines for chickens, cows and houses!
I’ve uploaded our first build of the game: Play it here. The basic mechanics are up and running and from the first brainstorming session we are working our way through the list of todos.
The second build includes the first audience made art ; the trees and cows (?).
But Tian doesn’t like having people watch over her shoulder. Especially when she has to make art that fits the same style as what the audience can draw… haha oh Tian, it’s ok we know you’re AWESOME.
Day 1 – Hour 5 – 2:01pm
People recording chicken sounds has got to be the best part of this whole shenanigan! It always gets a laff. BEGGGEEERRRRRRKKKK
Day 1 – Hour 6 – 3:31pm
Just had a quick team meeting. We’re dividing up the workload and putting champions in charge of certain areas. Matt, Tian and Henrik are building the first major scene and getting the flow happening in the core gameplay. Sam is getting sounds into the game and the audience user made content flow flowing. Tom is on the star collection crusade and I’m tackling the introduction to the game.
Day 2 – Hour 14 – 4:31pm
We’ve had no internet all day! Sorry for the lack of updating…
But on the plus side we’ve been better at ignoring people today and desperately rushing to have the game ready for shipping. 26 minutes to go…
The final game!
In 2011 we made loads of prototype games; some small, some funny, some that sucked, almost all ugly (except the lucky few that receive Tian’s touch :D). Here’s a visual tour of 20 of the 24 games that we made in five months. Together they paint the picture of what Voxel Agent games look like when they’re born – a mish-mash of squares, circles and terrible colour schemes!
We’re proud to announce that Train Conductor 2: USA is finally available for android phones! Launched in early december, the new Android version is double the size with twice the content of the iOS version. We’ve spent many months creating cool new unique content for this release. It’s the biggest update to the Train Conductor series that we’ve ever attempted. So what’s new?
The existing survival mode feels like you’re running a marathon compared to the fast paced, action packed new Challenge Mode. In Challenge you’ve got to deliver as many trains as you can in about 2 minutes. One thing we noticed about the old survival mode is that you can draw out the experience by stopping lots of trains and dealing with one a time. This is fine, and we’re leaving survival mode as it is so you can continue to play that way, but in Challenge Mode if you leave a train waiting for too long, it will signal to the train network that there’s a delay and all new trains will stop from entering the screen. This keeps it fast paced and rewards players who can “Enter the Matrix” of Train Conducting with finest of crash-avoidance skills.
If challenge mode sounds stressful to you – don’t panic! You can toy around and make mistakes without stress as you’ve now got three lives up your sleeve in Challenge Mode. We all love the new three-lives feature, and in the later challenge levels, you’ll need it!
Updated Game Icon
If you look at all the best icons, they feature just one element and look very clear when miniaturised. Finally I think we have a very distinctive and clear icon to represent the game, also it looks HAWT 😀
New location: Chicago – the six track demon
Like Challenge Mode, Chicago is not for the fainted hearted. Players have always asked for six tracks, and here it is – it’s a demon!
During the course of a typical day on a busy city train network, there will be peaks and troughs in the flow of trains as commuters pour into the city in the morning and out again in the evening. Agent Henrik and I were trying to recreate these peak times of the train network in this new design.
We found that six tracks is at the EXTREME limit of human train conducting abilities 😀 Seven was out of control, to the point where it’s hard to target the right track because they were so close together, whilst also being hard to find the right track instinctively without having to count down from the top every time. So this is it, the maximum number of tracks we’ll ever put in a level.
Android Exclusive: New Train Droid gives extra points
This Android character is one cute little robot. We couldn’t resist putting her into the game. You’ll find Train Droid in Challenge Mode levels, but she can’t be everywhere at once – so keep an eye out for which level she’s in each day.
Deliver Gold Trains to unlock Challenge Mode
Existing players of TC2 are thinking, “Gold Trains? They already exist!”, but what I mean is Double Awesome Super Special Gold Train, it’s just a bit long of a name. In this update there’s a new “golder” train, maybe its 24 carats? In all levels except Miami, you can deliver Gold Trains (or Gold Ghosts at night) to collect Gold Tracks, and with enough Gold Tracks you’ll unlock Challenge Mode of that level.
The Gold Trains are rare, and boy when one appears, you do not want to stuff that up!
New Nashville level art and special FX
Previously we redid the Miami art because it just wasn’t up to standard, now Nashville has also had a make over too!
We’ve also updated the colours on the ghosts. Previously, the ghosts and demons were similarly coloured (i.e. white), and users were smart to complain. It most adversely affected the Nashville level, and you can see the results of Agent Tian’s touches.
Improved score screen
We always felt that the score screen didn’t really reflect your excitement each time you beat your high score – it didn’t erupt with awesome like a cream filled awesome cake. Hopefully now when you break that high score, you’ll feel like a king. We’ve also added some great feedback in-game for when you deliver that trains that puts you in the record books. But you’ll just have to play it for your-self to experience it.
Keen conductors will notice that we’ve also brought the score screen over the level. This means it takes less time for you to hit the ‘retry’ button. Some players are playing levels hundreds of times over in one session and we don’t want to waste their time jumping between screens.
Improved “Level Unlocked” Screen
Unlock a new level and be showered in awesome 😀
New Level Select Screen
The previous level select screen was entirely superfluous once you’d played the introduction. It really didn’t do much for you. Although I don’t think the new design is without it’s own flaws, you now have access to both modes (an unavoidable decision making step) and the introduction button is appropriately de-emphasised. Also, you don’t have to jump into a level to see the leaderboards anymore, it’s right there on the next screen.
Not to be forgotten. we created a whole new Lite Version that will bring the game to a wider audience. If you’re not sure if you will like connecting trains, test out the Lite Version and see what you think. It’s got the first three locations there and will keep you busy for hours. Almost all of the changes above are in there, with the exception of Challenge Mode.
- Sparkles and Fireworks – New celebration for players who beat their high-score
- When you beat your high score, you want to know about that in-game, not just at the end. Break a high score and you’ll see it, hear it, and feel it.
- Menu backgrounds and buttons are more pretty
- Simply, we let Agent Tian loose on the graphics, and she worked her magic.
- Added a screen to let you know that “You finished the game!”
- It just seemed odd that you spent so long unlocking levels, and then suddenly there were no more to unlock. At least you can feel good now that you’ve unlocked every location! (and now go collect Challenge Mode levels :D)
- We made the sound effect and music mute buttons bigger.
- Tutorials are shorter and more to the point.
- All buttons are now blue.
- This helps show what you can click, and what you can’t. There are a few minor exceptions, but the major pathways through the game are cleaned up.
- Twitter and Facebook integration have been rewritten to improve the login and posting processes.
- The pacing of the trains appearing in Miami has been made more interesting, less repetitive and more friendly to new users.
- The fonts in-game throughout the HUD, menus and in-game are more consistent.
- Numerous graphical elements were upgraded to HD.
- Improved the induction process of welcoming the player to the game.
- Bug fixes galore.
And this is just the latest in a long history of improvements…
This is the sixth major update to TC2. Here’s what’s been added in the past:
- v1.5 – Massive “high definition” update, prepared the game for iPad’s big display.
- v2.0 – Added world and friend leaderboards
- v2.1 – Added a new level: Roswell
- v2.2 – Added a new level: Seattle
- v2.6 – Update for Retina Display, including the new Miami art.
- v3.0 – Everything mentioned above!
We have been looking into the different Android devices out there, and there’s way more Android devices than you’d ever think! We were shocked to learn that there’s been 77 new Android phones released in just the first six months of 2011, more than 120 in 2010 and 35 in 2009! That’s crazy when you’ve coming from working on the iPhone!
Here’s some of the crazy Android phones we’ve spotted!
Slide out keyboards!
Blackberry style keyboards
The Playstation Phone looks pretty awesome!
Highest selling units: http://blog.flurry.com/bid/54035/Android-Special-Report-Is-Samdroid-the-new-Wintel
Link to the complete list of android devices: http://www.androidtapp.com/list-of-android-devices/
We like to use paper prototypes to test our ideas. We find it helps to test ideas really quick, and playing board games is a pretty super job to have 😀 We like it so much, our next game came from a board game prototype.
Three “good” characters
Three “bad” characters
A treasure chest and a coin
Three environment pieces
Five generic symbols
We need to learn to communicate our creative ideas better as a team! We figure that since our diverse life experiences and inspirations shape how we dream up and explain our ideas, we should share more of them with each other. Voila! Voxel Afternoon Tea was born. During Voxel Afternoon Tea we share something that has inspired us recently, and let the discussion begin…
You can also check out the first Inspiration Session from a few weeks ago.