How does an indie game development company stay current and expand their market? Let’s look at multi-award winning indie game company Threaks, creators of BeatBuddy, and talk to Co-CEO Wolf Lang to see how they are navigating the game development world.
From Student to Indie Project
Threaks GmbH is a Hamburg-based indie game development group that specializes in the creation of non-linear music games for sustainable commercialization of digital music. Their first recognition came as a nominee for the German Video Game Awards “Best Student Project” in 2011 for an early version of their console style PC game Beatbuddy.
Based on the belief that video games are an art medium that can provide unique, user-created experiences, they built the first musical action-adventure, non-linear music game where the user can move either forward or backward in the song. Each level uses a different song and set of hand drawn graphics with the mechanics and level design based on the structure of that song. Throughout the game there is different gameplay for the verses (puzzles and fighting) than for the chorus (arcade style, traveling in the Bubblebuggy). Threaks co-founder Wolf Lang compares Beatbuddy to a game like Super Mario built around a visually deconstructed musical composition.
Beatbuddy underwent multiple prototypes to find the right balance between visualization and gameplay. It has been a fine line enticing both music game fans and mainstream gamers. For an interesting chart on the different reactions between gamers and music game fans, see Wolf Lang’s
article https://www.makinggames.biz/features/5-reasons-why-music-games-suck,7085.html. The article also covers some of the very time consuming issues they experienced with the music industry.
Threaks spent the next couple of years processing feedback and improving the game. Wolf credits Intel’s Level Up contest for providing a major boost in the company’s industry career. Beatbuddy won the Intel Level Up Award 2012 for Best Sound and for Best Art. The feedback and exposure to industry leaders brought this small Indie company into the real gaming world. They succeeded in having their pre-production version of the game accepted on Steam and received more free feedback. Beatbuddy then won “Best PC Game” at PAX East 2013.
Expanding to New Platforms With a Touch-First UI
Continuing their relationship with Intel, Threaks started to expand development by optimizing the interface for 2-in-1 devices. Threaks engineers developed and shared code for the 2-in-1 transition in Unity. That code is available under license below.
The transition includes an automatic pop up and switch to touch when the system goes into tablet mode. For more information on 2 in 1 transitions see the References below.
Next came a version for OS X* and iOS* and selling both game and soundtrack in the Apple Store, where BeatBuddy won Editor’s Choice. The iPad* version won Best Game of 2014 in 6 countries.
Multiple challenges arose when moving to mobile; from dealing with gamers who have the sound turned off to dealing with minimal disk space as uncompressed music produces large files. Most games use MP3 music files but this file type doesn't provide the level of musical information critical to a game that uses the music’s stems and matches animation precisely to the music and rhythm. In addition, the game has to look great even when performance varies. So Threaks developed their own sound technology (patent pending) that makes animations precise to the millisecond with sound files hooked to the game mechanics.
New platforms require a re-evaluation of the entire interface. Threaks spent 6-9 months to consider and create a mobile UI because they didn’t want to add buttons or a virtual joystick that took away from the natural experience. So they redesigned each game mechanic to ensure overall fluidity and used the TouchScript free plugin.
The result – a game where the UX is all intuitive touch, where gameplay can follow the player’s finger to provide control over the character while allowing the user to enjoy the rhythm puzzles.
What are the development tools for all of this? Threaks uses Unity* for their cross platform development. They state that in general, they design games on paper, scribble their thoughts and discuss them until they decide what to do. They then switch to Unity for the prototype phase to make sure that things work when they are interactive. When asked how they developed for iOS, they said they used Unity3D so they can basically develop everything on Windows*, and only need a Mac* to compile on and test.
On to Android*
Threaks next new challenge is bringing the game to Android. At GDC 2015, Threaks will show their results and a version for lntel-based Android devices using the Intel® Atom™ Processor Z3000 Series for Android* Tablets is already available in the Google game store. (Check out the Intel booth at GDC 2015 and say hi to a Threaks!).
Wolf points out that they’ve been excited to find out that the Intel-based Android devices are quite powerful. With hand drawn 3D graphics and complicated sound technology, they could not have run on past mobile devices but with new chips and power, it’s “amazing how much is possible on new devices…..Intel Android is a very interesting and important platform.”
Additionally for Android, they had to deal with a shorter attention span for small form factor gamers and make the gameplay understood in 30 seconds. So they added a new tutorial to get the user into the game quicker. Wolf explains that by enabling additional platforms and form factors, they found that historic PC controls don’t make sense for mobile and not every mobile game makes sense for the PC. Some games are too complicated for tablet or some, such as rhythm games, may actually be improved on mobile devices.
How can indie developers succeed? Wolf Lang wants to see a European indie community cooperating like that in the US. In 2013 they helped create the Indie Arena at Germany’s Gamescon, starting with 10 European developers in 2013 which grew to 18 in 2014. The Indie Arena provided visual proof of gamer interest in indie apps and led to the decision by the Gamescon organizers to bring the Indie MEGABOOTH over to Europe for the first time at the Gamescon in 2014. Intel sees value in these showcases, and is sponsoring the Indie MegaBooth at GDC 2015.
hreaks also worked with the Humble Bundle team who translated their storefront for the first time into German and showcased 12 German indie game developers.
Working Social Media
Advice for Small Developers
Wolf recommends that any developer wanting exposure and good feedback should enter their app in an Intel contest. “You’ll get valuable feedback and if you win, it lets you get to know industry leaders and it’s really awesome! “ And if you get a chance to appear in an Intel booth, Wolf says: “As a small developer, it’s a great chance to get exposure for a game. It’s hard to afford a booth and get this media reach and make contacts…It’s a match made in heaven."
Threaks has provided the attached 2 in 1 detection utility class code for use in Unity. It contains a MonoBehaviour Class "TwoInOneUtil" that will provide a notification of a change into or out of tablet mode by subscribing to the event "ModeChanged". You’ll need to define an additional "scripting define symbol" named "TWOINONE". Code is attached to the bottom of this article.
Intel provides :the touch developer guide at https://software.intel.com/en-us/touch-and-sensors, information on Developing-for-high-dpi-applications-for-windows-8, info on detecting form factor change, and how to write a 2 in 1 aware application.
Microsoft provides information on scaling-to-different-screens and supporting multiple resolutions
For more such Android resources and tools from Intel, please visit the Intel® Developer Zone