TAG | development

At the 2013 Game Developers Awards hosted by the GDAA, Puzzle Retreat was awarded with the Accessibility Award. Not only is it an awesome and prestigious award that we like showing off in our office, but it marks a very important milestone when it comes to game development. Film Victoria and Screen Australia now consider accessibility when it comes to providing funding and are now rewarding companies that excel in developing games that are accessible to a wide audience.’

We think this is pretty swell.

Accessibility in gaming has always been a topic of contention. How does one make a game that caters towards people with motor, cognitive, hearing, speech or vision impairments? Mainstream games usually shy away from this demographic in favour of the masses.

In terms of our games, we aim to make them accessible to those living with impairments. We believe everyone should experience the joy of gaming!

Puzzle Retreat was designed from the ground up with that philosophy in mind.

Sometimes games (particularly puzzle games) rely too heavily on language, small icons or graphics that are make it difficult for players with certain types of vision impairment or  difficulties with language to be able to understand and follow. We’ve attempted to alleviate the problem by using large and bold icons that can easily be differentiated. Furthermore we tried to make the game playable without understanding any written text.

There is an definitive association between time limits and penalties with puzzle games. I’m sure you’ve all felt the frustration of nearly completing a level, only to have the timer run out on you. We decided to take a different route when it comes to unforgiving scenarios.

We eliminated them entirely.

Puzzle Retreat allows players to take as much time on an individual puzzle as they’d like, reset it as many times as they want and even skip the puzzle entirely. Puzzle Retreat was designed to be a relaxing puzzle game, so it only felt right to dispose of time limits and penalties.

We’ve also tweaked the detection radius of the blocks so that its extremely forgiving when a player misses a block by a small margin. This feature, plus the removal of the timer allows players who don’t have a range of fine motor skills to be able to enjoy Puzzle Retreat.

We at The Voxel Agents are extremely excited when it comes to the future of gaming in Australia. With so many awesome studios producing games of such high quality and Film Victoria and Screen Australia providing consideration for funding to those who place emphasis on accessibility, we can’t wait to see what gets released in the future.

This is Agent Aiden, signing out.

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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!


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Last weekend, we competed in the #fab48hr game making competition in Brisbane, Australia… and what a wild weekend! We won! That was great, but more importantly I was absolutely blown away by the quality of games made by the other teams. I was particularly impressed with the level of quality and polish that was developed in “indie” / student room. There is an enormous amount of talent in Australia and I’m sure we’re going to see more from those awesome young developers.

In the #fab48hr competition, each team must concept, design, and create a game based on three keywords that are provided at the beginning of the competition. This year, those words were “suit”, “key”, and “badger”, provided by Yug, Hex, and Jinx.

We made this:

Download the game we made here [WINDOWS] or if you use a Mac, try this link [MAC].

The Badgers of Fury 161

The Badgers of Fury 161

How to Play: Without giving too much away, if you have a couple of XBox controllers, plug them in for the best experience, using “A” as your action button. If you have to use a keyboard, you can use the arrow keys for player 1 and WASD for player 2, with “shift” as the action button. Also be aware the the glowing yellow floor (which totally looks like lava) will kill player 1 and the swirling blue circles (evidently poisonous gas…) will kill player 2. That’s all you really need to know… oh yeah one more thing: the badgers aren’t nice and they will eat your face.

The Badgers of Fury 161 was developed by the Alliance of Indie. This team was composed of developers from a number of Australia’s top Indie studios including yours truly Agent Tom (The Voxel Agents), Liam Hill (Defiant Development3 Blokes Studios), Cratesmith (Cratesmith,DefiantStrange Loop), Matt Ditton (Queensland College of Art, Defiant), and the incredibly talented Milenko (Strange Loop,Defiant).

The Alliance of Indie

Matt Ditton, Agent Tom, Liam Hill, Cratesmith, Milenko

But really, kudos where kudos is due:
As proud as we are of the game we managed to make in 48 Hours, the real winners of the competition were the indie team Rockin Moses (read about them here: http://making-games.net/48/?p=2916) who made a really fun game called The Fifth Suit. 

This game was great fun to play. For me, their game evoked “Smash Brothers Brawl”. While playing, I was less concerned about winning and more concerned about trying to make life difficult for my opponents. It was a strong social experience and quite a polished product for just 48 hours of work! You can grab a PC version of their game here [WIN] but it’s best played with XBox controllers. If you’re lucky enough to have some XBox controllers then I strongly suggest you get this version [WIN – XBox Controllers].

Congratulations Rockin Moses!

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We spend a lot of time being all creative and fuzzy and nice here at The Voxel Agents, but often we need to stand back and have a good hard think about what’s actually happening out there in the mobile games space.

To make sure we are all still on top of everything, I spent all of last week researching the mobile market space. I forgot everything I knew about iPhone and Android and had a good hard look at the information that is out there. Some of my findings certainly will be old news to you, and some might change what you thought you knew. So, if you’re interested in the business (pronounced “biz-niz”) side of being an indie game developer, check this stuff out:

 

You may think the iPad is a mobile device, but you’d be wrong.

  • 43% of iPad owners use their iPad more than their desktop computer 
  • 28% say it’s their primary computer
  • 34% use it more than their TV
  • 83% use it primarily while at home. Only 11% use it on the go.

Source:
http://gigaom.com/apple/admob-survey-shows-what-the-ipad-is-good-for/

 

Developers are flocking back to the iOS platform

According to a blog post by Flurry, in the first quarter of this year, about 65% of new projects were for iOS compared to a respectable 35% targeting Android. However, in the second quarter, iOS accounted for 75% of new projects, leaving just 25% for Android.
It’s worth considering this is based on Flurry’s information alone, so it could equally be taken to mean that Flurry itself is proving to be more popular with iOS developers compared to Android dev’s. This would mean Flurry’s stats in the future are going to have a strong iOS bias.

Sources:
http://blog.flurry.com/bid/66618/iPad-2-and-Verizon-iPhone-Take-Some-Wind-Out-of-Android-s-Sail
http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-20079497-94/apple-regaining-momentum-with-developers-study-says/

 

Even though iOS has more Apps, Android has more free Apps

And that’s not proportionately, that’s in total. The paid model is just not working well on Android.
This same report concludes that sometime this year, the total number of Android Apps will equal the number of iOS Apps (contradicting the story told by Flurry).

Sources:
http://www.distimo.com/blog/2011_04_the-battle-for-the-most-content-and-the-emerging-tablet-market/
http://makingmoneywithandroid.com/2011/05/google-android-marketplace-vs-apple-app-store-latest-report

 

iOS has served 15 Billion downloads compared to Androids 4.5 Billion

Given that the iOS App Store has been around for so much longer, this is not a bad showing from Android. However, the vast majority of the iOS downloads occurred in the face of competition from Android. The nail in the coffin: a greater proportion of those iOS downloads were paid.

Those numbers should have six 0's after them too, by the way

Also interesting: the average iOS user has downloaded 75 apps.

Sources:

 

Android App installs per day may be reaching parity with iOS installs

But more of the Android installs are free Apps. Clouding the picture is the fact that Apple has clamped down on “incentivized” installs which has removed a lot of “false” installs.

Source:
http://www.insidemobileapps.com/2011/07/14/android-ios-parity/

 

500,000 Android devices are activated every single day

Which means that in the time it took you to read this post another 30,000 Android users began on their merry way. What’s less clear is how many of these devices really deserve to be considered competitors to iOS devices; presumably a large number of them are low powered devices designed only for basic email / web access and social networks.

Sources:
http://www.ubergizmo.com/2011/06/google-activates-500000-android-devices-daily/

 

 

and most importantly of all…

Android or iOS regardless, it’s a very VERY tough market out there
There’s only so much pie, you see. If we all got an equal slice of that pie, then we’d take home about $8,500 each, which is hardly “quit your day job” money. If you then consider that Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja are both very very fond of pie, then you start to realise that a lot of developers are going hungry (so to speak…).
Sources:
http://gigaom.com/apple/the-average-ios-app-publisher-isnt-making-much-money/
http://blog.flurry.com/bid/24163/Rise-of-the-New-Middle-Class-Indie-iPhone-App-Developers-Part-I
http://www.geeky-gadgets.com/80-percent-of-paid-android-apps-are-downloaded-less-than-100-times-27-05-2011/ 

Thanks for reading this far. Hopefully this is useful information for you. Please let us know your thoughts on the state of the market. Should game developers consider market forces, or should they make games they love and hope that there’s an audience?

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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!

http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/19/android-galore-a-complete-list-of-the-android-phones-and-their-specs-droid-best/

 

Blackberry style keyboards

http://www.examiner.com/technology-in-national/another-android-form-factor-t-mobile-s-motorola-charm http://www.intomobile.com/2011/03/07/samsung-galaxy-pro-rocks-android-blackberry-form-factor/

 

Buttons everywhere!

http://phandroid.com/phones/

 

 

The Playstation Phone looks pretty awesome!

http://www.androidtapp.com/xperia-play-the-playstation-phone-review-why-should-you-buy-it/

 

Multiple screens!

http://phandroid.com/2010/12/06/the-weirdest-and-most-unique-form-factor-for-android-yet-by-samsung-video/

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/

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Agent Henrik is cutting paper boards for our next game! Guess what kind of game it is!

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2010 was a great year for The Voxel Agents. We saw the massive success of the Train Conductor series and we cemented our position as producers of high quality indie games for iOS. 

So now that 2011 has rolled around, we decided the time was right to grow our team. We’re very, very, happy and proud to announce Henrik Pettersson and Yangtian Li as the latest additions to our secret service / games development studio.

TianYangtian Li is joins us as our new graphic designer and she will also be the Minister for Pranks. Tian is a very passionate artist has a love of drawing and animation. She came to Australia from her home country of China to study and to pursue her creative ambitions. Tian is a hard core gamer – no one in the office can beat her high score at game dev story. Tian likes all sorts of art and creation including cooking and of course eating. Yum yum. She hates most sports except the ones that have background music. Tian’s short-term goal is to continue to have her work featured in artbooks and exhibitions, and also to avoid getting hit by a car because she doesn’t have health insurance. Tian was the valedictorian of her class at QANTM and has a very bright future in the gaming and animation industry. 

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Train Conductor 2 USA (TC2) is the best game we’ve ever made. We’re really proud of the way it looks and plays, especially when compared to the original Train Conductor. However the launch hasn’t been without issues. In fact, we’re quite embarrassed by some of the bugs that crept into the game before we submitted it to Apple.

We are really sorry that the graphics on iPad and iPhone 4 were not up to scratch. The complaints are totally warranted – we are and have always been listening. It’s completely our own fault for wanting to get the game onto iPad and iPhone 4 right away, but not having enough time to stick to our own quality standards.

Here’s how we’re planning to adress the iPad and iPhone 4 issues:

We’ve been working nights and weekends and, fortunately, we’ve been able to fix many, many bugs while giving the HD graphics a major overhaul! On both iPad and iPhone 4, all text is now crisp and hard edged, buttons are pixel-perfect, train models have increased detail, particle effects sparkle at high resolution, the HUD is cleaner.

We’re pleased to say that this major “World Leaderboards + bug fixing and graphical improvement update” was submitted to Apple just *yesterday* and it will arrive on the App Store shortly as a free update soon!

Graphical improvements in the 1.1 World Leaderboards update:

Tutorials

You're looking great Penny

Trains models

The trains sparkle in the sun!

Miami Beach

when HD and SD collide...

HUD and pillars

I score better in HD

Main Menu

Train Conductor 2: USA all crisp and clean

What’s next:

Since submitting the update we’ve continued to improve the HD iPad and iPhone 4 graphics — they will be prioritized and made better with each subsequent update. We’re really hard at work developing techniques to make better use of the screen space and to have the graphics render more cleanly on all resolutions and devices – not a simple task for the first major game to be distributed as a Universal App.

These improvements will arrive alongside new locations (such as Seattle), a bevy of achievements to keep you busy for hours, and some exciting new gameplay that we are still hush hush about.

We read every single bit of feedback that we can find. We believe in making super fun, tight experiences that feel great to play and so it means a lot to us when people aren’t happy. Here’s a list of feedback to date, and what we plan to do about it:

  • “I miss the multiplier” (Georgina, TouchArcade) – We can’t satisfy everyone on this one. There were complaints from the original game arguing that the multiplier system was too complicated. We tend to agree that it needed simplification. Ultimately though, with endless play mode that old system just couldn’t work. Your multiplier would be reaching numbers larger than human beings have ever imagined. We wanted to start with a simpler scoring mechanism, and build on it. Stay tuned.
  • “Missing the PROGRESS METER. Now we have no visual indicator of the requirement for unlocking the next area” (thespaciousmind, iTunes user review USA) – We agree that the experience points of Train Conductor Australia were a motivator. With TC2 we really wanted to focus on high scores and sharing and competing with friends. We felt that high scores didn’t receive anywhere near enough attention in the first game, yet they were a core part of the train conducting experience. We will fix this issue in a future update by giving more feedback about what you have to do to unlock the next level.
  • “I was surprised about lack of Plus as well. Perhaps they are holding off in anticipation of Game Centre?” (eugekav, TouchArcade forums) – Two reasons; first, Game Center is on it’s way and we didn’t want to have Plus+, Game Center and Facebook – it would have been a complete mess. Secondly, we wanted to integrate the leaderboards into the experience a lot better than we could with Plus+. With Achievements (a.k.a. Awards in Plus+ speak) we’ve actually got all of the important Plus+ functionality anyway. World Leaderboards will arrive in a couple days, and Achievements shortly after. What features of Plus+ you’d like to see in TC2? Let us know in the comments.

There are some big things coming, so keep your eyes peeled and your fingers ready 🙂

Please keep posting with suggested improvements, levels you liked best, questions about design decisions, etc… We plan on keeping an active conversation going so we can keep improving the game.

Thanks
TC2 Development Team

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Happy birthday to The Voxel Agents – now one year old!

This is Agent Simon here. Recently we’ve been reflecting on our first year as an indie game studio, and at the April meetup of the IGDA Melbourne Chapter I presented a retrospective of the business side of running the studio. I’ve posted the slides (link at the bottom), but first I thought I’d give some context to the presentation.

Slides accessible at slideshare and in PDF

Going indie is very rewarding and enjoyable. It is also extremely hard to make a living from it. We wanted to share our experiences to help others who are planning to start an indie studio. The retrospective covers our mistakes, our successes, the things we did that gave the most value and some harsh realities of the indie financial situation. To succeed as an indie, you need to be well organised and have a clear plan. We set out with some pretty outrageously unachievable goals, and although that blind optimism has certainly helped to get through some difficult times, I think we’ve mostly stuck to the goals and we’re now well on our way.

I like to think of running an indie studio as pushing a snow ball along. There isn’t any one single thing that you do that will make you successful, but each successive step forward helps to slowly build the snowball bigger, and hopefully one day it will be big enough to start feeding yourself from it (we’re not there yet).

There’s a very vibrant community of indie developers in Melbourne, and in the hope that we could help, we were really happy to share all the details. The presentation covers how much we invested, our income and expenses and a quick summary of our marketing and production approaches, as well as other tidbits.

The slides are available on slideshare and in PDF. There is a lot more detail I would have liked to add but couldn’t in a 30 minute presentation. I am now developing the retrospective into a full article and if there’s any aspect you’d like covered in particular just leave a comment. You can be notified when the full article is ready by following us on twitterfacebook or via RSS.

Good luck to those who applied for the Film Victoria funding round.

Assistance starting an indie studio in Australia:

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Last week we announced Train Conductor USA and showed some screenshots of the Grand Canyon level. This week, I’ll be covering our New York level.

Regular New York travellers will feel at home with the new subway track numbering, based on real MTA subway lines.For now we’ve chosen the 1, 4, C, Q, and S lines, but, as always, we’re open to suggestions. The visual style in the subway is very urban (as you would expect) and features some stunning graffiti details. In the final level, look out for buskers performing on the platforms!

Manage real MTA subway lines in the NYC Subway!

Manage real MTA subway lines in the NYC Subway!

The challenge in this crowded NYC subway level is to avoid the columns between the tracks. You’ll really need your conducting hat for this level! We’ve played with many different column layouts, some more complex than others. So expect to see several variations in the final game!

Avoid the obstacles between the tracks to be sure the trains arrive safely.

Avoid the obstacles between the tracks to be sure the trains arrive safely.

Watch this space for more upcoming levels and inspiring new art and music!

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