Games and prototypes by Ciro Continisio

Demium Games and their “selection game jams”

 

Final presentations

I’ve known the guys behind Demium Games – namely Alejandro Miralles and Carlos Garcia – since when they summoned me to their office for a mysterious interview at the end of 2014. They were asking a few game developers about their view of the market, about their expectations of a game incubator, and in general for advice.

A few months later, they setup Demium Games, a game incubator that had to be for game developers what Demium Startups was, in a more general way, for start-ups in Valencia. They wanted to foster the creation of small teams of aspiring and promising game developers, and help them to develop and market their first game.

It sounds crazy and in many ways it is, since the developers have little development experience (and also because today’s market is harsh!) but I really like the job that these guys are doing and the contribution to the local development scene. Thanks to the office space, coordination, advice and network of contacts, the teams hosted inside Demium Games have much better chances than just a team of students who just came out of school.

AllStartup Games

Alejandro and Carlos organized, together with the Demium Startups team, the first game jam in fall 2015. The event, named AllStartup Games (the name coming from the similar “All Startup” event, already tested 8 times inside Demium Startups) is a game jam that aims at selecting a batch of game developers to enter the Demium Games incubator.

The AllStartup Games starts with a call for participation, and the prospective jammers are interviewed to check that they really have what it takes to join Demium. In the first two editions around 25 jammers made it through this first screening.

Speed Networking
Speed networking

Once the event starts, the jammers initially play meet and greet activities such as the typical ball-passing exercise and later a round of speed networking. They get to know each other a little bit, and then they voice their preferences on who they’d like to be their team-mate during the jam via a custom-built mobile app.

The ball exercise
The ball passing exercise

The Demium guys then organise the jammers into teams of 3-4, typically while the mentors (me, Luis “Ludipe” Diaz Peralta and Juanma Moreno) give a brief speech on game jams and what to expect from this one in particular.

At this point, the theme is revealed and the boys start working. They would do so for the next 40-42 hours more or less, only briefly interrupted by a couple of interesting speeches (this year one by José Arcas, and others).

The “Destroyer Feedback”

Starting from Saturday afternoon, there are two sessions of what the Demium guys call the Destroyer Feedback.

First, the mentors go around the tables to see how the teams are progressing and what’s the state of the game. Then, the teams take turns and come into another room where, in front of all the mentors and the Demium people, they explain again their game and receive feedback.

Jose Raluy and Julio Braceli
Taking notes during the Destroyer Feedback

This feedback is quite hard (read, candid/honest) and usually the jammers are taken aback by it. After that, mentors discuss briefly in private and note what they did/didn’t like about individual members of the team.

What the jammers usually don’t see until the end (even if I did mention it during the pre-jam speech!) is that this whole process is not intended to have them make the next hit during the jam, but it’s more about the process, the teamwork, the ability to receive feedback and improve on it.

This feedback is a very important part of the jam, something which can be important experience hopefully even for the ones who eventually are not selected.

Thankfully, the Demium guys are usually good (I’m not!) in seeing through the confusing layer of performance anxiety that the jammer display, to assess who is a good developer and a good team-player, worthy of going to the next step and join the Demium Games incubator. This year, out of the 20 people who participated they selected more than half of the jammers to form teams aimed at creating mobile games.

At the end of the day

As I write this, a new batch of developers is entering Demium Games and is getting ready to create their first commercial game, with the guidance, marketing, and advice on metrics by the Demium team. They’ll be working alongside the teams who are already in:

  • A team of two, Enzo and Borja, who are outputting a small free game every two weeks as Mr. Melon Games
  • Miguel as designer of the team Iter Games, who all come from the previous AllStartup Games, working on an unannounced game
  • The programmer Cristina, who lost her graphic artist but will be joined by a couple of the “new recruits”

In 3 days I’ll be giving a talk to the newbies to get them up to speed with Unity and Git, so even graphic artists and designers can collaborate and share assets with no friction. Every Friday, they hold playtesting sessions open for everybody to join – as a player or as a developer who wants to show their game.

The game industry and developer community in Spain is still lagging behind (just like in Italy), and it can really benefit from initiatives like Demium Games and the AllStartup Games. I’ve been following these guys very closely and I hope they will succeed in launching a successful game in the near future.

If you’re in Madrid, get in touch with them, go visit their incubator and check the game that they are developing!

Three days with Clash Royale

As those who know me will already know, I’m not a proponent of the F2P model. Though when Clash Royale (Supercell‘s latest effort) was released worldwide last week, I decided to give it a spin. The surprising result: I really like the game! So I decided to make a small analysis of what I think makes Clash Royale a great game, and positions it above similar titles.

 

How does it work?

(If you already know how the game works, skip this section)

In short, Clash Royale is a simplified real-time strategy game, with its game economy based on top of a deck-building game layer. The cards represent the units that the players can use in battle, and are not consumable. The only purpose of hoarding more cards of the same kind is to level up a certain unit.

The playing field, with the two lanes connecting in the middle on the King's Tower.
The game field

In-game, players have to defeat their opponent by destroying his King’s Tower (sitting in the middle), or the most towers at the end of the match. They do so by placing units (represented by 4 cards taken at random from the player’s deck) on their side of the playing field. Once placed, units start moving and attack any enemy they meet. It looks very similar to Ronimo’s Swords & Soldiers, only top-down. Units cost mana (the famous Elixir), which replenishes all the time.

 

The game is free, and as is typical with the F2P model nowadays, there’s no area of the game that players can’t reach in time without paying a single cent. Players are asked to pay if they want to purchase Gems (the hard currency) or Coins (the soft one). Coins allow the purchase of new cards and leveling up of units, while Gems allow the speed up of waiting times, which usually happen when you want to open a treasure chest. Chests are won after each battle, and they are full of coins, gems, and cards in various amounts.

 

A perceived fairness

As many RTS, units’ strength and weaknesses are dictated by a sort of rock-paper-scissor correlation, meaning that no unit is invincible but always has one or more units that if used correctly, will counter it with ease and move on to attack. For instance, the nearly-indestructible Giant is easily taken down by 3-4 hits from a Mini P.E.K.K.A., but said unit is very vulnerable against any flying unit, and so on. Archers are good against flying units but being a group (of 2), they suffer against units that do splash damage, such as the Bomber.

This relationship makes it so that even if units are of different level, you don’t feel like the opponent won just because he had a level 3 Giant while yours was level 2. It’s harder, but it can be done. Play the right card, and you’re in for an advantage… a second too late, and you’re in for trouble.

 

The game’s matchmaking is divided into tiers, represented by different arenas (which also unlock different cards). So if you have been playing a couple of matches in a certain arena, you already know many of the cards you’re going against, and your opponent level is roughly the same as yours, which helps the sense of this perceived fairness.

The fairness is a much needed component of the game trying to become some sort of e-sport, something reinforced by the incorporation of the TV Royale, a dedicated screen to watch recordings of other people’s matches. Unfortunately, even if matches are entertaining to watch, I feel they I was never compelled to watch more because they show very high-level tier players, thus making the tips I could learn meaningless for my current level. I think Supercell should adjust the matches’ level based on the current player level, or just a little above (to tease him into playing more? uhm…).

The matches are very high-tier!
The matches are very high-tier!

Additionally, even though the game incorporates chance (in the way cards are dealt to the player, they’re random), the fact that you always have 4 cards to choose from mitigates this effect, as it is quite possible that one of them is the right one to counter your opponent’s move.

 

A waiting game

And if you don’t have the right counter-card, there’s always a fifth slot showing the incoming card. If you’re not low on Elixir you can choose to play another offensive card and quickly bring into play the incoming card, and use it to defend. This is why managing Elixir is key, and it’s never too wise to play cards as soon as you have the needed Elixir. Most of the time, this will leave you defenceless against an attack on the other side, so if your card is one that develops slowly (as is any structure that produces units such as the Tombstone (with Skeletons) or the Barbarian Hut, you might have already lost a Tower to a strong unit such as the hateful Balloon (which rapidly deals HUGE damage to Towers if left unattended).

It is very common to see moments of wait when no-one plays a card for around 15 seconds, waiting to see which one will be the opponent’s “opening move”. In this respect, the way units interact with each other and the battlefield is so sophisticated that it allows the possibility of playing bait cards, by using them on the side of the field you’re not interested in. While your opponent plays a costly card to counter your move, you can play a second-class card on the other side to direct a small attack on his lonely Tower, wearing down some of its HP.

For instance, playing a Skeleton Army in the middle of the arena splits it in two, so that the other player has to choose one side to defend. If you have a couple of cheap Archers, you can play them on the side he is not covering to complement the Skeletons that make it past the Tower defences, and deal a small blow.

 

You’ll be hooked

Part of the reason I love (and hate) Clash Royale, is its amazing feedback and its fast game loop.

Clash Royale 2
End of a match and the emoticons

First, the game is obviously built on top of juicy feedback all around: whatever action you take is satisfactory and full of juiciness, effects, particles, and amazing sound effects (especially the character voices, they’re really fun). This is all good, and a rule in modern game design, especially mobile/F2P.

Second, the game’s 3-minute match formula is a cool one, because of a couple of reasons. When matches are so short, victories are sweet but losses are not that hard to take. Every time you lose, you feel like you need a revenge, and since matches are so short, you feel like you always time for one more.

Also, apart from their name and clan, you don’t really know much about your opponents. And since you cannot chat but only use a system of emoticons, your interactions with the other players are standardized, and lose uniqueness. As such, any opponent could be that guy that has just beaten you to the last second, and thus, I was personally feeling the need to play “just one more match” to set things straight, even if I was actually playing against another person.

The game also makes good use of all of its gifts as hooks to lure the player back into play. They are spaced very near to each other, so while you’re waiting for your 3-hours Silver Chest to open, it’s almost time for the Free Chest (spaced every 4 hours in time), and you’re just 6 hours away from the Crown Chest (which is available once every 24 hours. Plus, you only need 20 trophies (won in each battle) to get to a new map… and the list goes on. Basically, every 2 hours you’ll have an offline notification from the game, and every moment is good for just playing a couple of matches waiting for that Chest which is just about to open.

And yes, there’s no way to turn off the offline notifications.

There are a lot of Chests waiting to be opened
There are a lot of Chests waiting to be opened

If you detach yourself from the game just a bit, you’ll feel the tiredness of such a sensory overload and relentless rhythm. It happened to me once that after playing “just a few matches” (I probably played 15), I was 12 minutes away from a Free Chest. In the end, I sunk more than an hour into the game without even realizing.

 

Epilogue

It is at that point that I decided to uninstall the app from my phone. I still think the game is a very good game and a good example of how to do RTS on a touch screen properly, but I feel the game is begging for my time using too many nasty tricks. Apart from 2 days of intense play, I don’t want to invest an enormous amount of time just too see a few more higher level units. I’m too old for this : )

Vlambeer interviews

I went to the Netherlands some time ago, and I visited the Dutch Game Garden in Utrecht, which is super cool and interesting for game startups. Apart from a general tour of the structure given to me by Viktor Wijnen and Jan-Pieter van Seventer (the directors), I had the chance to meet a couple of developers that have their offices hosted by the DGG.

As a result, here’s a little-big interview I posted on Indievault.it with the guys of Vlambeer, Jan Willem Nijman and Rami Ismail (in english with italian subtitles):

Oh, wait wait wait… first read this blog post to understand the stupid jokes in the videos.

Part 1

Part 2

Coming soon, an interview to Jasper Koning of Ronimo which I took the same day…