Presentation date: 17/10/2011

Brief history of working @ Bizarre

Pete started working at Bizarre in 2004, as an environment artist. As an environment artist, he was offered many trips around the world to some awesome locations. Pete was sent to various places such as Las Vegas, New York, Moscow, Germany. At these locations he would take thousands of pictures, which would later help create the locations within a game engine. He has also done PR work for Bizarre at these locations, and went to many conventions on behalf of Bizarre. I had heard about jobs like this before, but I never realised how extreme some of the situations these employees are put in; some can be so dangerous that a bodyguard is required like Russia, and some are extremely nice, such as going to Tokyo. However it shocked me that some of the artists had to bribe people in places like Russia, and they had to get some sort of receipt to prove the bribe! It is crazy!
Pete went into more detail about his trip to Moscow; he was sent to Moscow on behalf of Sega when they were working on ‘The Club’. He was taken to a hugely expensive sky bar which gave him a chance to see a panoramic and beautiful view of Moscow. In this sky bar were other developers, one important person he met was the head of Epic Games! I never thought that people from different companies would meet up at a private PR event, but that is awesome! In my mind I always thought that all companies see each other as competitors, therefore there would be no situation for them to work together, but I found out that some companies share resources when creating some games. In addition, the publisher can chose to more one project from one company to another, so resources and created assets have to be shared. So Pete shined a light onto some of the good opportunities you can have from working in a position like Pete had.
He explained that was extremely hard working, some days he would have to talk to press from 8am to 9pm (13 hours), however from this experience he felt that working with PR meant that he got a well-rounded view of each part of the company and dev team roles.
He decided that environment art wasn’t for him, and asked to be made into a level designer, and he eventually got moved into the design team. He explained that working as a level designer is another well-rounded role, as you become the manager of the levels you create. As many assets get placed into the level, the level designer has to communicate with everyone; talking with sound designers, producers, artists, etc.
One of the career paths I have been interested in is Games Design; from Pete’s lecture I felt that doing lots of different modules such as art and scripting will be of worth when I enter the industry, as I will be able to have a good understanding of how the artists and programmers work, and I will understand the tasks that they are doing which will benefit the level design process. To be honest, it was nice to see that these different departments work together as my vision of the industry before the lecture had been a lot different; I thought the designers worked with designers and just used the assets created by the artists, without having any say in what the artists are creating for the levels.

Tiny Invaders 

Tiny Invaders is the first game published by HogRocket; Pete Collier is 1 of 3 co-founders of HogRocket. The other co-founders are Stephen Cakebread and Ben Ward. The game took 8 months to develop and release, and was released on the App store on the 1st September 2011. The game has 60 levels total, over 4 host worlds. “The most infectious game on the app store!”  The game was also featured on the Apple iPhone 4S Keynote, 2011. (This was an amazing opportunity for them; however it was due to their contact in the Apple team which provided them with this opportunity, although it was not guaranteed).

The game is a level based action-puzzle game. The main story is that these ‘tiny invaders’ have landed on Earth, planning to take over the President of the United States of America. However, they make an unplanned trip to Hicksville, USA and accidently land in the body of a civilian there.
The invaders travel through the blood streams of the civilian, dodging the white blood cells, and collecting orbs (DNA), which they then return to their Mothership! To play the game, the player has to tap the junctions of the bloodstream to change path direction for the tiny invaders. The germs can also be boosted by being tapped, which can help solve puzzles more efficiently and quickly.
The end of level screen shows the player how many stars they earned on the level they just completed; this is a 1 to 3 star system, which bases the stars on how quickly the level was beaten, how few moves did you do it in, and how many times you died on it.

HogRocket

Recently there has been a tectonic shift within the gaming industry; this is due to the increase in casual gaming on social sites, and touch screen devices. So if you’re not in a company producing AAA titles, you should be joining or starting a small company. “A flight to value” – this means that there are many small companies appearing all around the country, and their games will be selling to a huge audience, and not just gamers. People don’t have as much money as they used to, so indie dev’s and companies are being created. As well as consumers are only spending a lot of money on a AAA title, or they will spend a little bit of money (or none at all) for a small, casual game. This is a huge opportunity for company start-ups (Facebook, ios, android). Some licenses to publish games are as little as $100, and that is for an Apple developer license. There is also exciting new hardware to work with; touch screens, the ability to always be connected, augmented reality, and digital distribution. It is a fascinating challenge, business intertwined with Games Design.

When HogRocket was first created they had to sort out: finding an office, registering themselves as a company, business bank account, etc. Although one of the first things they decided was they would all work together, but from home. This was because the price of renting an office was ridiculous, and petrol costs were high.
The name of their company was created using a name generator filled with various positive words, with a few random words thrown in for good measure; some names they could’ve called their company was InterJet, Instaswift and Hyperdare.

Platform studies is analysing and deciding which platform to initially create your game for. hogrocket decided they would like to work with the iPhone. After deciding they wanted to work on the iPhone, they had to discuss what makes a good iPod game, and who their main target audience through the iPod is. They found that there was no main audience for the app market; the age ranged from 6 to 50 yrs old, and they were all mostly non/casual-gamers.
Hogrocket found themselves doing lots of early prototyping, writing up many design documents, as well as working on many projects. Their idea was to take a simple concept and play about with the ideas to see which works best.
There was a multi-stage pre-production:
– Tech development; developing the engine, game-play and level editor (as their game is level based, it needs an editor).
– Game elements and structure: timing, rhythm, rewards structure (medals/stars), and level progression.
-Being distracted by “the great expensive 3D distraction”.
-Objectivity; talk to ‘outsiders’ about your game, and your ideas.
-Getting artists involved, and pitching what art styles they wanted. Hogrocket found that using non-game artists proved crucial as they could have a fresh view when it came to the art.
-Core mechanics within the game were there from the start, but the art kept changing. The initial idea for the art was farm animals, and sheep dogs, as well as a steam-punk style game. However after changing the themes, they decided on a ‘Viruz’ theme, which eventually developed into the final ‘Tiny Invaders’.

The great play-test tour
Hogrocket decided that they needed some feedback on their game. Analytics were extremely important, as this meant information could be gathered automatically through the iPod. Hogrocket toured around mainly the south of England, and they attended many conferences and events. During the usability testing, the area had to be silent so the players can gather their first impressions and thoughts about the game. Having a variety of testers is a huge advantage, and younger testers are usually better as they are extremely honest, and absorb new information very quickly. Some bad testers are games designers, as they can often be too analytical, and try to change the game when it doesn’t necessarily need to be changed.

Hogrocket believed that they learned a lot more when they released the game, than they did during the usability testing. They believed their app was less of a product, and more of a service, as they can update and improve the app even after being released.

Having an Apple contact is like gold-dust in the present day and age, as Apple are the hottest new company around. It is also very beneficial when you are developing Apps specifically for the iPod. Also, big publishers may see your game and want to buy it off of you, however developing and publishing a game can be done without the aid of a publisher.

50% of the developing process was all about marketing the product. Marketing is extremely important. Luckily for Hogrocket, their app was presented at the Apple iPhone 4s keynote, which was a huge boost to their marketing, and getting their name out there.

Future – iPad version of Tiny Invaders, Localisation for European countries, more platforms, new levels and more PR.

Conclusion – Making decisions are vital, as you quickly learn your strengths and weaknesses. “Let your experts be experts”. Be in the same room together, as there can be different types of stress on your developers. Most importantly, MAKE MONEY!

Hogrockets next mission statement: “Build a profitable and sustainable user base”, and Freemium is the future!

My thoughts on HogRocket

From Pete’s lecture, I personally decided that creating my own business with a few friends is not the way for me. It seems extremely costly, and is very risky! I don’t think I could handle the type of stress which comes from my wage not being guaranteed and being solely based on how the games created by that small company sells. In addition to the stress of money, there is the stress of whether people will like and buy the game; advertising a new title from a new company is so risky as many people buy a game based on who is in the game. Many games can sell solely on if there is a licensed character in the game or if it is a franchised game, which customers recognise.
Although one good point of starting up a new company is that you and any partners have all the say in how the company is run, and what direction the company is heading in. This is a huge plus to starting up a new business, but I personally don’t think I have the right mind-set and the ability to not stress so much to start up a business.


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