TAG | milestones

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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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!

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Our number #1 fan, 4 year old Andrew of the U.S., has been waiting MONTHS for the chance to play Train Conductor USA.

He is a massive fan of the original Train Conductor Australia, and back in March we got an email from him wanting to know when he’d have more levels to play.

Well, after the release of Train Conductor USA today, Andrew got his chance and he was kind enough to record himself playing. Andrew, I have to say that you made my day.

Click here to listen (Warning! Incredibly cute!): Andrew Plays Train Conductor 2

We’re glad you love the game Andrew and we’ll get some more levels made for you to play soon.

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Hello Agents!

For the past few months we have been planning to release the mega sequel to Train Conductor on the 4th of July.

Just like this blog post, our submission was unfortunately not released in time for the Independence Day celebration of fireworks and barbeques.

Train Conductor USA

No need to stress! Train Conductor USA will be available shortly after the holiday weekend. It’s currently in the submission process. We’re simply waiting for Apple’s approval before we release – we thought it would be nice to give them the weekend off.

Gamble with ghost trains in Las Vegas

While we were researching trains in America, we were actually quite inspired by the enormous impact they had upon the American industrial revolution and the role they continue to play today.

We pay homage to this throughout Train Conductor USA. It features the steam trains of the old wild west, the modern monorails of Miami, and of course the electric subways of New York – enough historical transport to make Paul Revere proud.

Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Nashville, Miami, and New York

No need to wait long! We expect to be approved soon after the long weekend is finished. After that we’ll start our own celebrations with a few competitions and prizes for our very patient Train Conductor fans. We’ll be running the comps over Twitter and Facebook so if you’re not already friends with us make sure you don’t miss out – join us at Twitter and at Facebook.

The labyrinthine New York Subway

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Simon Joslin, Matt Clark, and Tom Killen are pleased as punch to let everyone know that our company is now one year old! Just twelve quick months ago we (perhaps naively :P) pledged to give up our day jobs and take the plunge. We decided to go indie.

We couldn’t have made it this far without fantastic support from our friends, the gaming community, and help from the Victorian Government and Industry, particularly Multimedia Victoria and the Game Developers Association of Australia.

To celebrate our birthday, we have taken the decision to go Green. We have calculated the amount of carbon we produced over the past year and we are offsetting that by purchasing carbon offsets from Greenfleet.

The Voxel Agents’ take our responsibility for the protection of the environment and the sustainability of its business very seriously. To help us in the fight against climate change we have partnered with Greenfleet. Greenfleet is the first not-for-profit forestry organisation in Australia to become an Approved Abatement Provider under the Australian Government’s Greenhouse Friendly™ initiative.

Greenfleet.com.au Carbon Offsets

At the next Melbourne IGDA meetup (7pm Tuesday, 13th April at The Embassy), Agent Simon will be conducting a detailed discussion about our experience so far which will be of interest to everyone in the games industry, and particularly those who are contemplating going indie themselves. For those unable to attend the talk on 13th, we will make all the notes and slides available on our blog so that you don’t miss out.

Thanks for your support over the past year. A big thanks to Derek Pritchard, Logan Dowell, Jarrod Anderson, Joe Gatling, Joel Joslin, Sam Wong, Rob MacBride and of course, thank you Mr Steve Jobs.

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