Control500 Magazine 2016

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game development micro mortems









THE COVER For the cover I started with searching for inspiration on Pinterest. The theme was supposed to be “change”, but that only gave me lots of Obama pictures. I ended up using “Metamorphosis” instead. That’s when I got the idea for the character’s face to peel off. Kind of like what a snake does when his skin is renewed. I started with a rough sketch to get the composition right. When I was happy, I drew cleaner line art over it. At that point I also added more details. The next step was to determine the colors and the direction of the light. From there on it was just a matter of rendering and tweaking until I liked the result.


GRADUATION PROJECT For my graduation I made concept art for a futuristic dystopian world. Environmental disasters made most of the planet uninhabitable. A group of scientists helped the survivors, but they also took control over the city that arose. The scientists became obsessed with environmental friendliness and the only way to achieve their views was to have total control, and that’s how the city became a totalitarian state. I wanted to make this city look beautiful, yet weird at the same time. Now that I’m graduated, I’m looking for a job where I can learn more about production art or concept art. In the future I’d like to work at a big company like CD Projekt RED or Blizzard Entertainment.


THIS IS ME My name is Moniek Schilder. I’m an artist who recently graduated from the Utrecht School of Arts. In my spare time I like to draw and play games. My recent favorites are The Witcher 3 and Overwatch.

CONTENTS THE GAME FUND LEGACY..................................4




WHAT ON EARTH IS A MICRO MORTEM?! Micro Mortem • noun [mahy-kroh mawr-tuh m] 1. an evaluation of one particular aspect of a game or its development in 500 words Ex.: “Have you read the Micro Mortem on the Character of Journey?” We all like post mortems. A lot. They provide unique insights into the creative process, problem solving and even eureka moments of other developers. However, most post mortems tend to be longreads. Very – long – reads. And sometimes that’s exactly what we need, what we want. But not always. Sometimes we want to be inspired by a short anecdote, a clever solution or a spark of inspiration. That’s what Control500 is all about. We take one aspect of a game and describe its creation. In a maximum of 500 words –hence the 500 in the title. We call these articles Micro Mortems. ( And yes, we know, technically that means sometime like a ‘miniature death’, but choose to ignore that. )


In this magazine you’ll find 11 new micro mortems that have not yet been published on Nine of them are written by developers of the most promising upcoming indie games from The Netherlands.


We hope you enjoy the magazine. If you do, don’t forget to visit every now and then for more sweet and short articles on game development.


Alessandra van Otterlo Editor in Chief of Control Magazine & COLOPHON


Control, media & events for the games industry Amsterdam The Netherlands (Dutch) (English)

CREATING REALISTIC FUN IN STABLE ORBIT .................................................... 19

Editor in chief Alessandra van Otterlo •


Eric Bartelson • Contributing editor Matthijs Dierckx • Design © Summer 2016 • Control Magazine • All Rights Reserved This publication was made possible by

SUBMIT YOUR OWN MICRO MORTEM! You can publish your own micro mortem on Control500! Head over to and find out how. CTRL500.COM


THE GAME FUND LEGACY After eight years, the famous Dutch Game Fund for artistic games comes to a close. We take a look at its lasting impact.

The Game Fund was established in 2008 as a way to support the development of artistic games. Since the inception of the Fund, more than seventy projects received financial support. At the end of this year, the Game Fund will cease to exist in its current form. As per next year, the Fund will be integrated in the new Digital Culture program, which will widen the scope of games and projects that can apply for financial support.

The Game Fund is an initiative of the Dutch Cultural Media Fund and the Creative Industries Fund NL and aims to inject quality into the development of artistic games. But it’s not only the artistic part that counts. Besides insight on game design, mechanics and visual style, applicants are expected to also have a solid budget estimate and a marketing plan. Granted projects vary from games that make pigs play (yes you read that correctly,

8 YEARS OF GAME FUND IN 16 NUMBERS • The Game Fund started on November 1, 2008 and the first financial support was granted in 2009. • At the time of writing this article, 72 projects had been awarded a grant. • However, there are more rounds to go in 2016, so the final number of supported projects will probably exceed 80. • The year with the least number grants was 2012; only 8 projects got funded.


• • • •

pigs), VR experiences like The Pigeon Man, to more mainstream entertainment games such as Metrico. Even though the scope is broad, they all have one thing in common: they make use of one or more innovative mechanics that make the game unique. To see what influence the Game Fund had on the Dutch game developer landscape, we asked a few developers about their experience.

The best year was 2010; 12 games received financial support from the Game Fund. Over the years, Monobanda and Codeglue have been awarded the most grants: 4 each. In 2009 and 2010, the total budget of the Game Fund was €500,000 per year. From 2011 onwards, the yearly budget was decreased to €300,000.


FRAGMENTS OF HIM Fragments of Him was released for Windows in May 2016, with Xbox One and Playstation 4 to follow later. METRICO Metrico was released in August 2014 on PS Vita. Earlier this year, Digital Dreams released Metrico+, an infographics platformer for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC (Steam). BOUNDEN Bounden was released in May 2014 on iOS and Android. The game won a lot of awards and award money, which added nicely to the sales revenue. Game Oven as a company ceased to exist in 2015, but Adriaan de Jongh still makes games. He is currently working on Hidden Folks.

FRAGMENTS OF HIM - SASSYBOT The first prototype for Fragments of Him was made during the Ludum Dare Game Jam in April 2013. It’s a first person narrative game that revolves around a tragic accident, and the life of the victim and his loved ones before and after the incident. When a lot of people liked the Ludum Dare prototype, Sassybot and game and narrative designer Mata Haggis decided to keep working on the game. Fragments of Him received €42,000 from the Game Fund. Tino van der Kraan, co-founder of Sassybot about what the Game Fund grant meant for them: “The subsidy was a great help in allowing Sassybot to get through the start-up phase and develop Fragments of Him to be a commercial product.” Roughly one-fifth of the budget for Fragments of Him was covered by the Game Fund, The largest chunk of the remainder was funded by Sassybot themselves. Van der Kraan: “We decided to cut our salaries and live below the poverty line in order to lower our burn rate to a point of sustainability.” The money went into the general budget and paid for part of two full-time developers during the course of 26 months, software, outsourcing of audio and 2D assets, PR, marketing and events. Some of the higher costs, such as voice acting, were paid for by private investments.

METRICO - DIGITAL DREAMS The first prototype of Metrico was made in 2011 during the Global Game Jam. The core of the game is infographics. Bar charts and pie charts form the playing field for this unique platformer. They change shape or location based on the movement of the player.

BOUNDEN - GAME OVEN Bounden is Game Oven’s whimsical mobile dancing game that makes two players dance together to choreographies by the Dutch National Ballet. The game started as an experiment, but in 2013 the Game Fund granted developer Game Oven €35,000 to develop Bounden into a game.

In 2012, developer Digital Dreams received a €45,000 Game Fund grant for Metrico. Without this money, Metrico would not have been developed into a full game. Digital Dreams co-founder Thijmen Bink: “Besides enabling us to make Metrico and lowering our personal financial risks, the grant was a token of faith. It looked good when dealing with publishers, and helped drive the budget down during negotiations, leaving room for other options.”

Bounden is another example of a game that would have never seen progress after the initial prototype if it wasn’t for the financial support from the Game Fund. The money provided financial support and artistic freedom. Adriaan de Jongh, co-founder of Game Oven: “The Fund’s money allowed us to dive into Bounden’s development, without having to jump through hoops to secure further funding, and without having to sacrifice any creativity for financial reasons.”

The Game Fund money was roughly 25 percent of the total budget for the game. Some additional funds came from a few loans, but it was mostly their own investment and sacrifices that covered the rest of the project. After releasing the game, they repaid their loans and replenished their bank accounts with the money they received from their Sony Pub Fund deal. Digital Dreams didn’t spend the grant on anything specific, it was part of the entire budget. Bink: “Working on a game for two years means you need a lot of money to cover rent, visit the necessary promotional events and staying alive in general.”


About 40 percent of the total costs of Bounden was covered by the Game Fund. The rest of the money came from sales of their previous games, mainly Fingle. Game Oven used the grant to pay for the rent and food of all Game Oven employees for the duration of the development of Bounden. The game would later be released to ravenous reviews and managed to pick up numerous awards around the world.

For new grant opportunities see page 22 of this magazine.



KEEPING THE CAMERA IN YOUR FACE PERSON OF INTEREST Erik Söderholm has been with DICE since 2007 when, fresh out of Luleå University of Technology, he started working as an animator. He worked his way up from senior animator to Animation Director on titles like Battlefield, Bad Company and Mirror’s Edge.

DICE’s Animation Director Erik Söderholm calls it the most important part of camera animation: “Getting the player to understand, and almost feel, what your character is doing.” And when that character is on a ledge 50 stories high that feeling better be perfect. According to Animation Director Erik Söderholm one of the biggest challenges in a first person game like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is trying to make Faith, the protagonist, feel alive and agile: “We worked hard to remove the feeling of her simply being a box that glides around the game-world. Getting the shadow to read, showing Faith’s limbs interacting with objects at the right moments and good camera-animation was key in creating immersion.”

sible any time Faith is doing basic locomotion, running, crouching, sliding etcetera to keep the simulation sickness away. We allowed ourselves to be more creative with it when she’s climbing, vaulting or fighting. You can be a lot more crazy with the camera if you have a fixed point where you naturally lock your eyes, as in combat. You usually look at the enemy you’re fighting and in small short bursts of combat attacks we can jolt the camera around a lot more.”

SIMULATION SICKNESS Getting the camera right took a lot of iteration, says Söderholm: “It’s so easy to give players simulation sickness by over-animating the camera, while it is still one of the most important tools we have for informing the player what Faith is currently doing. What we ended up doing was to have the camera be as still as pos-

FEEDBACK LOOP “We never really tested camera movement on people”, says Söderholm. “But we had a majority of the animations set up early on in the project, so we could get a good feedback loop from the rest of the team. If anyone got sick, or felt that something didn’t feel right or didn’t understand what was happening in the first person



view, we knew we had to iterate on it.” Motion capture was used as a basis for the majority of Faith’s animations. Söderholm explains: “One of the benefits for this was that we didn’t have to recreate every animation in first-person and third-person for reflections and shadows, but could use the same animation. MOCAP One of the problems we faced by mocapping in first person was that arms and feet aren’t necessarily visible enough when simply slapping the data onto Faith’s rig. We had to massage every animation to get the feel just right, same thing with the camera. We also did do a lot of hand-key animation for Faith as well. Especially for some of the more extreme animations, like flying down a skyscraper holding onto a Drone. It’s kind of hard to mocap something like that.”

LIMB CLIPPING “Most of the time the camera was set at Faith’s eye-level. However this doesn’t always work for some animations as Faith’s limbs can start clipping the camera, or the large FOV will make her arms and legs look extremely long. For cases like that we were able to animate the camera away from her head, usually forward, to lessen the impact of FOV and clipping.”



FIREWATCH TRANSLATING 2D CONCEPT ART INTO A 3D OPEN WORLD Graphic designer Olly Moss designed the striking 2D concept art for Firewatch. But how did it translate into a 3D open world game? Environment and Lighting Artist Jane Ng explains.

POSTER BOY • Concept Artist Olly Moss is best known for his poster designs of Star Wars and The Last of Us. His mission for Firewatch: ‘The Game takes place in the Shoshone National Forest in the summer of 1989. Although the visuals can look stylized, the world has to feel real. The art needs to support the sense of realness despite whatever stylization.’

“We released a poster with an image of a lookout tower set in a forest as an announcement of the game. The picture was actually also the key art for our game. We knew what story we wanted to tell, but visually this was all we had. The next three elements were key in the transition from 2D to 3D.

ing up to the sky? The answer is atmospheric fog. With this we can actually control the color of the fog in the different layers. When the fog intensity is high it really hits close to the graphic artstyle in the poster.

nize. An overhanging cliff or a set of very pointy rocks for instance. We made just a handful of rocks that we place all around in the world in different sizes and angles. By keeping this number small we had less data to manage.

2) Strong shapes

3) Narrative details

1) Layers of colors

Much of the composition of the key art is made with flat shaped but strong distinctive silhouettes. Since Firewatch is set in the realistic, natural world of Wyoming there are hardly any handmade iconic shapes to be found. Instead lots and lots of trees and rocks everywhere.

You may not notice at first glance, but if you look closer, the story is actually hinted at in the little details in the key image. Now we kept the trees and rocks relatively standard because they only set the stage, but we put a lot of design, love and thought in the props because they help build narrative. And narrative is the core of our game. It establishes a visual language that helps the player navigate through the world. Any object with a certain level of texture detail is something that adds to the story.

There are beautiful and bold colors here and they are in very distinct layers. The color palette really sets the right tone for a mystery in the woods, but just lifting the colors of the concept art and apply them to the game is really out of the question. So we needed a dynamic solution. Since the game is set in the outdoors, the largest chunk of color is determined by the sky. We developed our own tool to generate procedural skies. Sky is also important because we derive a lot of game lighting from it. And lighting is a huge factor in determining color on screen. But how do we create these layers lead8.

When creating trees I focus mostly on the silhouette they create in the distance. They still have to look good from up close of course but I just make sure that the lower branches are up to snuff because usually the rest of the tree is way beyond players’ reach. They are realistically proportioned so they are around 20 to 30 metres tall. We use the landscape to create landmarks that the player can recog-


Based on Jane Ng’s GDC-talk Control500 is media partner of GDC

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Olivier Derivière has been scoring music for animation, films and video games for over ten years and is widely acclaimed for both his composition and innovative approaches to connecting music with the game experience.

THE ASSASSIN’S CREED GAME THAT NEEDED MORE THAN JUST A SCORE Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry composer Olivier Deriviere needed something special to score the story of Adewale. Here’s how he achieved a truly unique musical experience. step was to record La Troupe Makandal – emotional poignancy in a way my score As a spinoff of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Freedom Cry is a self-contained story focusing on Edward’s quartermaster, Adewale. Adewale escaped the bonds of slavery at a young age and sought a life of his own on the Jackdaw, serving under Edward Kenway. Set 15 years after joining the Jackdaw’s crew (a storyline explored in Black Flag) Freedom Cry finds Adewale on his own adventure when he is shipwrecked in Saint-Domingue without his crew or weapons. As a long-time fan of the franchise, I know how historically precise the architecture, dates, and character designs are. I wanted to treat the Freedom Cry score with that same historical accuracy, while also providing a musical narrative specific to Adewale’s personal journey. TRADITIONAL HAITIAN SONGS Therefore, the Freedom Cry music needed traditional Haitian songs to infuse the soundtrack with cultural, historical, and

would not manage by itself. However, on its own, historical accuracy would not necessarily describe the game’s specific story arc, which sees our hero cast aside his indifference toward the atrocities of slavery, gradually becoming more involved until he ultimately embraces the plight of his people. In short, the soundtrack needed both – but it wasn’t going to be as simple as building a score of my own music around some generic, pre-recorded traditional Haitian songs – that was simply not going to work. To successfully achieve an eloquent and articulate sound, the Haitian songs would have to cooperate seamlessly and synergistically with the main score. WESTERN FLAVOR In light of all this, I submitted a special plan to Ubisoft – I would compose the music with a very western flavor – but only as a starting point. As the composing progressed, my style would be increasingly influenced by the Haitian songs. The first


a group of musicians dedicated to Haitian music – at Avatar Studio in New York City. Next, I was off to Belgium, to record a 40-piece strings orchestra performed by the Brussels Philharmonic at Galaxy Studios. All of this to capture the emotional power behind Adewale returning to his roots, and to imbue the gamer with that moving experience. The journey of the music production itself was equally moving, and hopefully somewhat cathartic. As I’ve mentioned, the game centers on the slavery of the African people at the hands of the French and the Belgians. And here we all are, centuries later, reuniting the same groups of people and creating music that revisits the legacy of the slaves. It was also ‘funny’ to watch the faces of the Belgian musicians as they grappled with certain parts of the score, and its very Haitian rhythmic figures that are so far removed from their habits. They embraced the challenge with exaltation. 9.




OUR ENTIRE GALAXY RE-CREATED PERSON OF INTEREST: DAVID BRABEN Founder of Frontier, a games development studio based in Cambridge, UK, co-founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, BAFTA games and SkillSet board member.

Our galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars and all of them can be found in Elite: Dangerous. Well, at least the same amount of stars. Of course, David Braben and his team didn’t dot their virtual galaxy manually with all those star systems, they used procedural generation. “I think it is a distraction when you start describing it as ‘we generated our galaxy procedurally’. It belittles the fact that we actually put a lot of artistic work in it and gathered real data. We have a one-to-one scale model of the milky way in our game, with all the 400 billion star systems. What we’ve done is we got real data from 160,000 star systems. That’s every single star in the night sky. About 7,000 are visible to the human eye and a lot more with a telescope. These are all in the game. And all the nebulae and things like that. Now, beyond 30 or 40 light-years from Earth, even Hubble can’t resolve the smallest stars. So, the most common star we know about is a Class M Red-star, and beyond those 30 to 40 light-years, Hubble

can’t see them. But you CAN see them as a sort of smoke, you just can’t see individual stars. And I’m sure in our lifetime, we’ll see further and further with better telescopes. But the point is, we can populate that smoke with stars –with the right sort of mix of stars as well as the density. Because we know how much radiation is coming out of that smoke. And that’s the sort of approach we have taken.

he’s drawing with the air brush. And that’s what we’re doing here. So, it’s not just a bland filling it uniformly with continuous, constant planets. It’s getting the texture and beauty of the milky way. So that in the game, the night sky is actually generated from that data, including all the dust that’s in the galaxy and all the nebulae. And it does look remarkably like our night sky. In fact we had to increase the amount of dust to get it to just match.

BEAUTY OF THE MILKY WAY Using procedural generation to create that smoke, in much the same way an artist uses an air brush or computer. The artists doesn’t mind where the individual dots come, what he’s doing, is getting the pattern of the smoke right, or whatever it is

MAGNIFY THE INPUT Procedural generation is just a tool. Think of it as algorithms to help improve the graphic richness if you like. Procedural generation taken at its face value, is simply the use of computing procedures to magnify the input of an artist.”

THE FIRST ELITE (1984) Elite was written by David Braben and Ian Bell starting in 1982 while the authors were still at Cambridge University. It was first published by Acornsoft on the BBC Micro in September 1984 to huge critical acclaim. It set many firsts,


and was the first genuine 3D game on home computers and is credited as the first truly open world game. It went on to sell around a million units and served as an inspiration for many developers today.


CRAP! I’M BROKE REAL-LIFE AS INSPIRATION Aspiring game developers who were broke and had to find jobs, are making a game about... being broke and having to find jobs. CRAP! I’M BROKE • ARCANE CIRCUS Molly Heady-Carroll and Erik van Wees are the founders of Arcane Circus. Heady-Carroll is the artist and Van Wees the designer/ developer on Crap! I’m Broke.



In Crap I’m Broke you can make money in ordinary jobs like dishwasher, bartender or by flipping burgers, but you can also try to rake in the cash as street performer.



Being broke and desperate for money isn’t the most enjoyable experience a person can have. Yet here at Arcane Circus we took this all too familiar situation and ran with it in our latest game. When Erik moved out of his mom’s house, he had to find a job immediately and he remembers wandering around desperately looking for “wanted” signs in windows. This is just one of the real-life experiences which defined the identity of Crap! I’m Broke: Out of Pocket.” Recalling real life events is one thing but incorporating them into an engaging gaming experience is another. This was the design challenge of Crap! I’m Broke. The overall feel we were looking for in the game was: funny, light-hearted, hectic and all in a universal and relatable setting. These core values influenced every aspect of Crap! I’m Broke such as art, gameplay, sound and music. Hectic feel Having a foundation for the overall game experience allowed us to look back at our real-life experiences with direction. Having to do jobs to pay the bills in time was a direct inspiration for the core gameplay whilst the choice to turn the jobs into short mini-games came from wanting to emphasize the hectic feel of the game. We had to scrap lots of ideas because we couldn’t see the idea fitting the core values. Maintaining these core values was important to us throughout the creation of the game


because we knew it would lead to a more unified and consistent gaming experience. Christmas lights We made thorough use of both our own and our family’s job experiences for inspiration. Molly’s dad has done pretty much every job in the world. That was very useful when thinking up jobs to do in the game. He once had to untangle loads of Christmas lights in Australia in the middle of summer. The Factory mini-game in Crap! I’m Broke was directly influenced by Molly’s father. He worked in a pineapple cannery for a while. He said the noise was deafening and the pineapple juice melted his shoes. Up until this day he won’t eat pineapples because he’s still mad about the shoes. Because we drew from common real-world situations, the subject matter of our game spoke to lots of people during testing and showcasing. Players would often talk about how they’re broke at the moment, or have been in the past, and how well the game captures that experience. The abstract art style and setting of the game meant we could focus on creating a game about the general experience of being broke, rather than a specific scenario about an individual person. It may still suck to be broke in reality, however, the approach we took to develop Crap! I’m Broke transformed a negative real-life scenario into an engaging gaming experience.


Intergalactic Road Warriors is a side-scrolling combat racing game set in outer space. Players compete in this violent grand prix and try to eviscerate opponents with glorious explosions, send them off into wormholes or copter their way overhead in a battle royale to the finish line.

In Intergalactic Road Warriors, developers mix 16­bit color palettes, smooth animations and modern techniques. Here’s how they do it. BY RICHARD LEMS (TURTLEBLAZE)

What would a game that ran on a turbo­ charged Super Nintendo look like? We figured it would look like a blend of 16­bit color palettes, smooth animations and modern techniques like motion blur and bloom. This is the core idea behind the art style of Intergalactic Road Warriors (IRW). This article is a lightweight breakdown of how some of the effects in IRW were done. Compositing Pixel Art Animations I have a preference for frame-­by-­frame animations. When animating this way, a good artist can add a certain flair and style to the animation by transforming shapes in unique ways in combination with carefully thought-out timings. It’s a unique signature that can take your animations to the next level. I’d love to put in that amount of effort but I’m the only artist on the team and I simply don’t have time for such details. So we needed a solution that would save time and look good all the same.

Generating worlds with shaders For some of the effects and objects in the game, we’ve opted to write a shader that ‘generates’ art based on parameters instead of creating traditional bitmaps. Good examples of this are the planets in the background of the track select screen. All of the shaders written for Intergalactic Road Warriors are made in Shader Forge, a node based shader editor for Unity. The steps involved in building shaders in a node based editor actually work a lot like compositing visuals in After Effects. The difference is that now you’re using a flowchart style approach, rather than a stack IMAGE 1



of timelines (see image 2). Using this technique, we can create infinite planet variations by just tweaking the material parameters and maybe swapping a noise or cloud texture. Or even better, generate those textures as well! We could generate an entire random universe of fully animatable planets, with a few lines of code! Traditional art still plays a big role in the game’s art pipeline. For assets we’ll generally choose the art workflow which gives the best quality in the least amount of time. These are just some examples of generating art using compositing and custom shaders in Intergalactic Road Warriors. THIS GAME IS CURRENTLY IN DEVELOPMENT. PLAYABLE AT GAMESCOM HALL 3.2 BOOTH D-018, C-019

Welcome to the world of compositing. I use Adobe After Effects for animations that are complex, require a lot of frames or both. Like flames for example, one of the trickier elements to animate traditionally. For these type of effects I mostly abuse a combination of the following image operations/generators:

• Noise functions (Perlin, Fractal or other) • Masking / Blending modes (add, multiply, overlay, screen etc.) • Value thresholds / rounding (posterize) A basic composition could look something like image 1 (below). The benefit of compositing an effect in AE is that your workflow is completely non-­ destructive. You can tweak every operation on your effect stack at any point. So once you’ve got a basic effect set up, it becomes trivial to make variations on what you already have. Once you’re happy with the effect, it’s simply a matter of rendering your frames and building a texture sheet for use in Unity.


Richard Lems is the technical game artist unicorn at TurtleBlaze, a studio he founded together with Benjamin de Jager. TURTLEBLAZE.COM


HOW I MADE CIRCLES FEELS INTUITIVE WITHOUT ANY TEXT OR TUTORIAL This developer thinks casual games are boring but intuitive. So, he made Circles, a pick-up-and-play game that still boasts a lot of depth. BY JEROEN WIMMERS (ILLUSIVE GAMES) CIRCLES • ILLUSIVE GAMES Jeroen Wimmers is indie game developer and founder of Illusive Games. Circles is Illusive’s first game. Previously, Wimmers worked on Westerado: Double Barreled. CIRCLES-GAME.COM


During his internship at a casual games company, Wimmers grew to dislike casual games. However, the their accesibility inspired him. He wants Circles to be just as accessible as casual titles but with refreshing gameplay.

Circles is an abstract and very minimal puzzle game. It doesn’t have any text, tutorial or score system. Instead, it teaches the player by its form and feedback. The result is a game that feels very intuitive and even zen-like. It took a lot of time reducing the noise and focusing on the core, to accomplish this. Two years ago, Circles started out as a simple prototype. It had the basic mechanics and it seemed very similar to the current game. However, this prototype failed quite badly. Players were confused and didn’t know what they were supposed to do. By running a lot of playtests I had to figure out how players learn and how they perceive the mechanics. This was a challenge, since the whole game consists of only circles. The first level teaches the player the basic mechanics. And while this is the easiest level in the game, it was the hardest one to design, because It needed to be crystal clear to prevent any confusion on following levels. With the following images, I’ll explain how the first level plays out.

The first thing the player sees is a gray pulsating dot.

If the player touches it, red circles pop up around it and a second gray dot appears on the other side.



When the player touches the gray dot on the other side, the red circles start to pulsate and the player can collect them and form a big circle.

After the player collects all the small circles, a line of levels appears at the top of the screen. The big circle explodes and the player is taken to the next level. By playing this simple level, the player learns a lot of useful things. They learn that gray circles are safe to touch and when they do so, colored circles pop up, forming a wall around the player. This indicates that the colored circles should be avoided. The second gray dot pops up, in a safer area, so the player knows it’s okay to touch it. When the cursor changes into a big ring and starts to collect nearby circles, the player learns it’s now safe to touch the colored circles, and they can collect the remaining few. It was important that the player learned the mechanics in small, concise steps. In every step something new is introduced and they learn how it relates to the rest. The player is not forced to do anything, they figure out everything on their own. This way, the player will gain a clear understanding of the game and it will feel intuitive to play.

WITH PILLO THE CONTROLLER IS A... PILLOW THE DESIGN CHALLENGE FOR PILLOWS By turning a pillow into a controller, Pillo manages to reach a whole new audience. However, designing games for it proved somewhat of a challenge. BY­ARD JACOBS (PILLO GAMES)

Pillo is a new intuitive and comfortable interface for controlling games, in the shape of a pillow. Sounds cool, right? And it is! It is specifically meant to make special games that cater to a new gaming audience, namely elderly, young kids, and people with reduced motor or cognitive skills. However, designing games for such new audiences, using a new interface, presents new design challenges.

Balanced progression Games for these audiences almost never discuss increasing difficulty as a progression dynamic. Rather, we discuss how aesthetics or scenery could evolve to il-

Another example is in games for children with reduced cognitive skills. Imagine how having them play along with a self-­ evolving story makes them interact with the game at their own pace, whilst getting audio­visual feedback that triggers to explore more. The interaction is more valuable here than the progression.

PILLO GAMES Ard Jacobs is an Interaction & Experience Designer with a real passion for play. His mission is to strengthen the relation between visual and sensitive capacities. PILLOGAMES.COM


Rethink the input First of all, the Pillo interface challenges game designers to rethink the meaning of game input. With Pillo you don’t have an arsenal of buttons to link to all your game and character features. A Pillo controller embodies a gyroscope sensor, accelerometer and a highly sensitive pressure sensor. So instead of designing from a genre interest, at Pillo Games we start with investigating how people use our controller and how the game’s feedback is experienced as meaningful and expected. Based on such use cases, we start concepting games that focus on joy in repeating (or training) these interactions.

lustrate progression. In, for example, physiotherapy the physical exercise itself becomes more difficult over time, so making the game more difficult would easily break the flow of training. Look at the game from the perspective of a patient and imagine that exercises can be boring or even painful to execute. Therefore, we should do all that’s in our power to distract them with something that is enjoyable, without losing sight of the core method of training, namely repetition.

Third party developers can also design games for the Pillo controller by using the Pillo Development Kit. You can find more information about this on the Pillo website (

Much more to explore And Pillo still offers way more opportunities for innovative gameplay that we haven’t explored yet. As it provides also a gyroscope and accelerometer, you could think of racing games or real physical games with tossing or shaking Pillo controllers. We might not even be talking about “gameplay” in the traditional sense anymore, because Pillo game experiences go beyond the screen.



CHEAT PHYSICS, AVOID PLAYERS FEELING CHEATED To prevent player frustration, KABOUNCE has a built-in cheat, which certainly doesn’t feel like one. BY TIM BAIJENS (TIVARU)

KABOUNCE • TIVARU Tim Baijens is a student at NHTV Breda. For KABOUNCE he is designer, project lead and he takes care of the business side of development.



KABOUNCE was originally conceived within 40-45 hours during “Rocket and Roll” themed Unreal Engine 4 Game Jam. One of the team members shouted: “Rocket propelled pinballs” and the rest is history.


When we first started with KABOUNCE, a multiplayer competitive pinball game, we tailored it to the theme of a UE4 game jam: Rocket and Roll. Physics based, rocket propelled pinballs you control, seemed like an easy, small scope game at the time. We added a dash of multiplayer team sport, some tron-esque post processing, and we had ourselves a game, or so we thought. When we started to fully develop KABOUNCE, we quickly figured out that there were some inherited challenges within the jam concept which we had to overcome. In this article, I will talk about how we overcame one of these challenges. Similar to pinball, in KABOUNCE one of the primary objectives for players is bouncing the pinball into bumpers. In doing so, players colour them into their respective team colour – orange or blue – and score points associated with those bumpers. We often distribute bumpers into what we call ‘clusters’. Between different clusters there should be space for players to manoeuvre. Clusters, in turn, should be a combo galore. KABOUNCE used to be almost completely physics based, however, physics can be difficult to grasp. Especially in a third-person, fast-paced, rolling ball game built around ricochets. It’s simply too much to ask of new players. This led to players feeling that one of the core gameplay elements was unpredictable, unless you had a lot of in-game practice or understanding of physics.


Oftentimes it was difficult to hit satisfying combos, which caused a core feature to have an enormously steep learning curve. Due to the fast-paced nature of KABOUNCE, it was even considered frustrating or impossible to hit the bumper combos you wanted. We decided to design a system that would make the bumpers function how we wanted: turn rolling around in a pinball machine into a gratifying, ‘juicy’ experience which feels true to the explosiveness of points and combos in pinball. We ended up designing an aim-assisted system that tackles the aforementioned inherited challenges with physics based gameplay. The system basically does a projection for the player, detecting the bumper in the closest proximity of the actual projection vector. It then adds a correction to the ricochet direction to ensure players will connect with the next bumper. This may feel like a ‘cheat’, but none of the players we tested with noticed it. Some even reacted in disbelief after we explained the system to them. The reality is that most of us are very poor at doing quick, real time projections, let alone from an angled third-person perspective at KABOUNCE’s pace. At times when players – or even I – played, they would be confident their approach to the bumper would cause them to ricochet into the next bumper, only to end up against a wall, causing them to feel cheated by the game’s design and physics.

A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THE ROOM ESCAPE GENRE Surrealistic room escape game Rusty Lake Hotel tries to spice up the genre. BY­ROBIN RAS (RUSTY LAKE)

People who try our games at events are often more familiar with the popular r­eal life room escape than with the point and click-styled room escape games we develop. Even though the “old” room escape flash games have been around way longer than the first real life escape game, which was created in Silicon Valley by a group of system programmers in 2006.

Twin Peaks When we started Rusty Lake in April 2015, we had clear ideas how to add something new to this point and click room escape genre. Very important to us was trying to add as much suspense and atmosphere as possible to the games. For this we got inspired by the humor and uneasiness of David Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks. Our goal was to publish a series with a new installment every two to three months. After one year, we have released nine games on iOS, Android and Web.

RUSTY LAKE Robin Ras is co-founder of Rusty Lake. He studied law at the VU University in Amsterdam, but Ras prefers games over legal action. RUSTYLAKE.COM

Something bigger Our first premium game, Rusty Lake Hotel, is a bit of a sidestep from the Cube Escape series. It’s a good example of how we made something bigger out of an ordinary room escape. We made a story based around five andromorphic animals, visiting the hotel as guests. The player takes on the role of the hotel butler. It’s the butler’s duty to attend to the needs of the guests and to organize an excellent dinner party for them every night. The basis of the game is a point and click adventure, with some added puzzles and a room escape concept. Evolve The story of Rusty Lake is not over yet. We’re currently working on our second premium game which will have a slightly different structure than the basic room escape principles we used before. We will continue to experiment in future to see how we can evolve from the room escape genre.

CTRL500.COM is a portal on which you can find the Cube Escape series, Rusty Lake Hotel, but also escape room and puzzle games from other developers.



By then, online gaming portals were already filled with flash room escape games, taking place in the common environments like abandoned houses, basements or prisons. Although the genre is popular, it’s not always taken seriously. One of the reasons is that it always involves the same sort of puzzles and the same atmosphere. Most of these games use the same principles of finding clues and getting keys to open new doors and chests. However, this mechanism also gives the genre its power. It has a recognizable structure and the entry level is very low.

We started with the free Cube Escape series: surrealistic room escape games, that take place in our imaginative world called Rusty Lake. Using this world as something bigger than the games itself gave us a lot more options then we could foresee in the beginning. Although people are playing in one room, they know it’s part of something bigger. A place where anything can happen. Each chapter is somehow connected to the others and every installment reveals more about the Rusty Lake mystery.

TIED TOGETHER MAKING PEOPLE COMMUNICATE Tying players together creates a unique and wonderfully fresh mechanic. And forces them to actually really communicate with each other.

TIED TOGETHER • NAPALMTREE STUDIOS Luuk Waarbroek started in the game industry with creating big Unreal engine mods. He is now the jack-of-all-trades for Napalmtree, and he teaches game development. NAPALMTREE.NL



Tied Together is a local multiplayer party game where two to four players are tied together by a rope. This requires all players to coordinate and communicate. A simple jump obstacle can prove difficult if one of the players does not jump together with the rest. This has been the focus of our game: coordination. Because of the rope people are dependent on each other which means that if someone wants to go somewhere in the level the rest has to follow. It also means that if someone falls into the spikes most likely everybody will fall into the spikes. The only way to complete a level is by working together. Each mechanic, puzzle and level has been designed to force people to communicate. This encourages people to discuss the possible solutions and when a group is playing, you always see some kind of leader emerging who is calling the shots. Each puzzle has been designed to force players to talk to each


other. The rope and the level play a crucial role. Let’s take a look at the scenario on the left. As you can see there are two keys, one at the lowest and one at the highest point of the level. We have four players who have been given a random place on the rope. There is a player on each end of the rope and there are two players in the middle. The only way to solve this is by making sure one of the players at the end of the rope is underneath the platform and the rest is on top of it. Communicate clearly The situation as it is pictured on the left is not going to work out so people have to communicate clearly and tell each other where to go to be able grab both keys. When they do it right, you will get a situation as is pictured on the right. The players can pick up both keys and the level can be completed.


CREATING REALISTIC FUN IN STABLE ORBIT Fun trumps realism in this fictional space station sim.

Realistically proportioned station modules (WIP)

Space station flying over my home country - Hi mom!

STABLE ORBIT • CODALYN Jim Offerman is the one man army behind game studio Codalyn. In the past, Offerman worked on franchises such as Tomb Raider, Deus Ex and Thief. CODALYN.COM

Sunset over central Russia BY JIM OFFERMAN (CODALYN)

Realism in Stable Orbit doesn’t end with how things look. It extends all the way down to the inner workings of the simulation. Whenever possible, I source numbers from reality. Members of the simulated crew require a food intake of approximately 2,500 Kcal and ca. 2.5 liters of fluids (water) per day in order to maintain their health – just like a real person. Solar panels have operating temperatures in the range of -150 to +100 °C, because that’s the range of temperatures

Even though realism has brought good things to the game, I don’t want it to become dogma. Where deviating from reality makes the game more fun or playable, fun trumps realism. The ISS completes roughly sixteen orbits a day. Given that, at normal speed, a day lasts only 48 seconds in Stable Orbit. Matching the orbital speed of the ISS in game results in a spin so fast most rollercoaster rides would feel slow as a snail by comparison. For most players, that alone would make the game utterly unplayable. In the end, I may still include realistic speed as an option – for those brave few souls who’d be willing to try it.




In my upcoming game, Stable Orbit, the player is asked to build and maintain the successor to the ISS which, in the fiction of the game, has been deorbited five years prior. My ultimate goal is to create a game that not only is loads of fun to play, but also feels incredibly realistic. In order to achieve this goal, I’m spending a lot of time getting the details of the station itself and the environment right. Not only is the space station orbiting earth at an average altitude of 400 kilometers (just like ISS), the relative positions of the sun, earth and moon, are close to correct for the simulated time of year. The earth model is wrapped in a set of massive 65,536×32,768 textures so that, no matter the zoom level, there is always sufficient detail available to convince the player that they really are floating above that big blue marble we call home.

that voltaic cells can operate in. Station modules have a maximum diameter of circa 5 meters and maximum lengths of 10 meters, since those are the dimensions of the largest payloads we can get into orbit. At least for now. Interestingly, my pursuit of realism has in many cases contributed to the game becoming more fun, by introducing new challenges for the player to overcome. In early prototypes, the earth and the sun were static background objects with no influence on the simulation. Now, with the station actually orbiting earth, which in turn orbits the sun, the player has to plan for powering their station when the solar panels are not exposed to sunlight, as well as providing sufficient cooling to combat rapidly rising temperatures when the station is exposed to the sun’s heat.

DESIGNING A PREHISTORIC LANGUAGE After deciding to develop a game about caveman, a robot and a primitive language, Grotman Games actually had to come up with the words. Here’s how they fared. BY OSKAR MOLEMAN (GROTMAN GAMES) TRIBAL & ERROR • GROTMAN GAMES Oskar Moleman is co-founder and team lead, artist and designer at Grotman Games. He will receive his bachelor of Creative Media & Game Technologies later this summer.



For those interested in some serious next level language design, Oskar recommends checking out the Language Construction Kit


In Tribal & Error you play as a robot sent back in time to help cavemen survive the ice age. In order to be able to do that you need to learn their language first. Besides being a time traveler, the player is also a tape recorder robot. This allows them to record words the cavemen speak. These words are represented as little speech bubbles with strange symbols. Once recorded, the player can play them back. The response of the cavemen gives an idea of what these words might mean. Through the process of collecting words, the player starts to build a vocabulary and can then form simple sentences and use that to explain things to the cavemen. Things such as how to make fire, thereby helping them survive. Fantasy words For the development of Tribal & Error we needed to design a prehistoric language from the ground up. Being a game with a historical setting, a subject that naturally comes up during development is that of authenticity. Our goal was not to recreate what an actual prehistoric language might have been, but rather to simulate the experience of learning a language. To do this we needed to design a language that goes further than swapping English words with fantasy words. It also needed to be primitive and basic enough to be accessible for an enjoyable play experience. To begin the language’s construction we started with words that had a cultural relevance to a caveman tribe. Words such


as: fire, sun or beast. When designing the sound of the language we looked for words of which the sounds are derived from their meaning, also known as an onomatopoeia. Words like cough, fiz or flutter. Some examples of the use of the linguistic principle of an onomatopoeia is our cavemen word for cold: ’’ronko’’. With this we wanted to mimic the sound we make when shivering, namely ’’brrr brrronko’’. Or the word ’’lommamo’’, unique to the cavemen language, meaning something similar to “It’s okay”. As it is used as a comforting act we wanted to express something softer and gentler in its sound. Careful with the ‘Olastik’! Another method of designing words was combining them to form new meaning. When the cavemen discover fire they obviously don’t have a word for it yet. So to be able to communicate this new discovery they compare it with things familiar to them. The only other shining source of warmth known to them is the sun, so they describe fire as a small sun. Their word for small being ‘’tik’’ and sun ’’olas’’, this results in the word ’’olastik’’ for the word fire. These are just a few examples of the system behind the language design. Through the use of our language mechanic we aim to present some of these linguistic principles in an accessible way. As many of these same principles apply to modern languages, we hope to provide a lens with which players can achieve a greater understanding of the evolution of languages through the ages.

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WHAT IS THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES FUND NL & Creative Industries Fund NL is the cultural fund for digital culture, design, architecture and every imaginable crossover. The Fund operates within the context of the Dutch government’s culture policy and supports designers and creatives with (inter)national projects and talented individuals in the creative industries.

• POSSIBILITIES FOR SUPPORT People working in the games industry can apply for grants at, among others: • Game Fund (in collaboration with the Dutch Cultural Media Fund): which provides a boost to the development


of artistic or indie games. Special focus lies on the design and the innovative nature of the game. Grant Programme for E-culture: for cultural and artistic productions at the interface of design, technology and society that stand out thanks to a strong innovative component. Grant Programme for Talent Development: supports exceptional talents in digital culture and is aimed on strengthening their cultural entrepreneurship. Internationalization Programme: aims to advance the international posi-


tion of the Dutch design sector and open up opportunities abroad. There should also be an element of cooperation between Dutch and foreign parties, or this should be a project’s expected outcome. UPCOMING CHANGES At the end of this year, the Game Fund will cease to exist in its current form. From 2017 on, the Game Fund will be integrated in the new Grant Programme for Digital Culture (formerly known as the Grant Programme for E-culture), which will widen the scope of games and projects that can apply for fi-

Breathe in, breathe out DEEP By Owen Harris (Dublin) & Niki Smit (Netherlands)


DEEP is a meditative and psychoactive VR game that is controlled by breathing. Players don the Oculus Rift and the custom DEEP controller to explore a beautiful and mysterious undersea world. While exploring, the game teaches you yogic breathing techniques that can relieve stress, anxiety and mild depression. In 2014 DEEP received a grant from the Game Fund.

nancial support. The change will make the games industry a more integral part of the creative industries. This creates new opportunities for not only game developers, but also researchers and people from other creative disciplines, who are interested in incorporating games in their work. For this year, there are two more deadlines to apply for the Game Fund, being, August 23 and October 18. Visit for more deadlines and information. Or contact Joris van Ballegooijen: