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Aeriolod Released

The creator of MagicaVoxel just released a new free interactive path renderer for heightmaps called AerioLOD.  It is a very early version, labeled 0.0.0 and available for 32 and 64bit Windows machines.

The very brief description from the homepage:

An interactive path tracing renderer for height maps.

  • support rendering height maps of size up to 16384^2.
  • support importing and exporting 8-bit and 16-bit png images.

Current release notes:

0.0.0 – 10/19/2019

You can check out AerioLOD in action in the video below.

GameDev News


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Video Game Deep Cuts: Fortnite’s End In Jedi’s Order

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry ‘watcher’ Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner, No More Robots advisor), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.

This week’s highlights include the end (and resurrection) of Fortnite, an early look at Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, plus a whole heap of new titles under the microscope – from Manifold Garden to Killer Queen Black to Disco Elysium and far beyond.

It’s a busy time out there – hope you like all the links, as well as having ‘officially too many games to play’, like I do.

Until next time…
– Simon, curator.]

——————

Killer Queen Black Brings A Perfect Arcade Game Home, With Some Issues (Cecilia D’Anastasio / Kotaku – ARTICLE)
“Since its 2013 release, the 90 Killer Queen arcade cabinets scattered across the states have become one of those underground sensations in urban gaming circles and among in-the-know indie connoisseurs. The 10-player competitive game has amassed a cult following, and is often breathlessly described as “perfect” to anyone who asks, “What’s Killer Queen?””
 

‘BARF!’: Designing River City Girls’ approachable, challenging brawling (John Harris / Gamasutra – ARTICLE)
“In our wide-ranging conversation (reprinted below), Tierney spoke to the challenges of revamping River City Ransom’s design principles for a modern game, what it takes to make brawler gameplay interesting, and what devs can do to help introduce new players to the genre.”

Case study: Steam’s ‘Deal Of The Day’ & DLC attach (Simon Carless / Game Discoverability Weekly – ARTICLE)
“As you may (or may not?) know, Valve/Steam does permit developers to screenshot and release sales numbers and wishlist data using the Steam back end. So this excellent recent Twitter thread by David showcases the power of Steam featuring, and includes real numbers.”

What Does PewDiePie Really Believe? (Kevin Roose / New York Times – ARTICLE)
“A few weeks after the Poway shooting, Kjellberg’s publicist called me. Kjellberg hadn’t given an interview in years — a guy with millions of YouTube subscribers has little need for reporters — but in the wake of the shootings, I had asked, and he agreed to talk. [SIMON’S NOTE: Games-adjacent, at least.]”

The 100 Best Videogames of the 2010s (Garrett Martin, Holly Green and the Paste Games Writers  / Paste – ARTICLE)
“Time is the most absurd lie we’ve ever told ourselves. 2010 feels like forever ago and yet I remember playing through Mass Effect 2 like it was yesterday. That came out the very first month of 2010, just under 10 years ago, and my review of it was one of the very last game pieces to run in Paste’s original print magazine.”

Fortnite has reached The End – changing video game storytelling for good (Keith Stuart / The Guardian – ARTICLE)
“On Sunday evening, more than 6 million people gathered online via streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube to watch the end of the world. Not our world, thankfully, but the world of Fortnite, which was sucked into a black hole, taking the whole game and all player characters with it. [SIMON’S NOTE: also see – ‘Fortnite is exciting again’ from The Verge.]”

‘Disco Elysium’: Riveting delirium (Christopher Byrd / Washington Post – ARTICLE)
“I didn’t expect to find another game this year as conspicuously well written as “Sunless Skies,” or as adept in its use of noir as “Neo Cab,” but here it is. “Disco Elysium” pulls off some surprising moves, like making the story of an amnesiac protagonist interesting by emphasizing his biological makeup.”

The boy behind the biggest coin-op conversion of the 80s (Martyn Carroll / Eurogamer – ARTICLE)
“It’s 6am on a cold morning in November 1987. 17-year-old programmer Martin Webb is sitting in front of a computer at a house somewhere in Shropshire. Martin’s father Dennis Webb is also present, as is Geoff Brown, the boss of game publisher US Gold. They’ve been here all night.”

Writing about MINIT but every minute I start from the beginning again, which seemed like a good gimmick when I began (Holly Gramazio / HollyGramazio.net – ARTICLE)
“As I play MINIT – a 2018 adventure game from Jan Willem Nijman. Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio and Dominik Johann – I think about how neatly the conceit of a timeloop curse explains so many of the conventions of videogames: the passers-by who always have the same thing to say, the vessel that never needs to be refilled.”

Downscaling, upscaling, same-scaling: Porting to Switch and under-powered consoles (Andrew King / Gamasutra – ARTICLE)
“We chatted with developers from Iron Galaxy (who ported The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), Panic Button (Doom, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Rocket League) and Warp Digital (Return of the Obra Dinn, Blasphemous, Close to the Sun) for a look at the downgrades, and occasional upscales, that different games demand.”

The writing of The Witcher 3 (Keith Stuart / The Guardian – ARTICLE)
“Look at the classic moments – the folk horror of the Whispering Hillock mission, the family tragedy of the Bloody Baron, the reunion on the Isle of Mists – they’re filled with subtle emotion, with little gestures, with intense human qualities. But for most of the development period, the team didn’t have the finished character models, environmental visuals or voice-over recordings to work with.”

‘It’s my escape.’ How video games help people cope with disabilities. (Hawken Miller / Washington Post – ARTICLE)
“In the United States, one in four people have a disability, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gaming allows many of them to do things in a virtual space they could only dream of in reality. It also helps them connect and overcome social anxiety and feelings of depression.”

One Year of Sokpop Games Subscription on Patreon (Tijmen Tio and Aran Koning / GDC / YouTube – VIDEO)
“In this 2019 GDC talk, Tijmen Tio and Aran Koning talk about developing games with the support of 1,000 Patreon subscribers and how this method tries to tackle many of the issues indie developers struggle with right now.”

Trippy ‘Manifold Garden’ Will Break Your Brain in the Most Satisfying Way (Patrick Klepek / VICE – ARTICLE)
“Manifold Garden reminds me of a spiritual successor to Antichamber, another one of those rare moments I stuck with a puzzle game from start to finish because even in the moments where I was tearing my hair out or was forced to look up the solution to a puzzle, the overall experience was worth it.”

Outer Wilds: A Seven-Year Struggle (GameSpot / YouTube – VIDEO)
“With the release of Outer Wilds on PS4, we talk to the creators about the challenges and hurdles of making a game inspired by Majora’s Mask, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and more.”

I took medical speed and played Deadliest Catch: The Game (Nate Crowley / RockPaperShotgun – ARTICLE)
“Apparently, I was advised, the initial dose could be… quite noticeable. “Wouldn’t it make for a good post tho,” I thought to myself, as I went to bed on Sunday night, “if I got up well early tomorrow, took my first pill, and played the demo for Deadliest Catch: The Game”.”

The Creators Of Pokémon Go Mapped The World. Now They’re Mapping You (Cecilia D’Anastasio and Dhruv Mehrotra / Kotaku – ARTICLE)

“Today, when you use Wizards Unite or Pokémon Go or any of Niantic’s other apps, your every move is getting documented and stored—up to 13 times a minute, according to the results of a Kotaku investigation. Even players who know that the apps record their location data are usually astonished once they look at just how much they’ve told Niantic about their lives through their footsteps.”

Ring Fit Adventure review: two weeks with Nintendo’s charming exercise RPG (Andrew Webster / The Verge – ARTICLE)
“This past weekend, for the first time in my life, I felt guilty for not exercising. I was nearly two weeks into establishing a dedicated routine in Ring Fit Adventure, the latest fitness experiment from Nintendo. But I was sick and just couldn’t summon the energy to run on the spot for 10 minutes.”

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order hands-on: Tried, true, and tough (Samuel Axon / Ars Technica – ARTICLE)

“Based on my time with it, Fallen Order isn’t a very original game. But it combines elements from some of the most popular single-player triple-A titles of the past few years in a familiar cocktail mixed for the modern core gamer’s palate. The narrative is strong, the visuals are appealing, the lightsaber combat is tight, and the target audience is going to gobble that up, I suspect.”

Designing for disaster in Finji’s Overland (Bryant Francis / Gamasutra – ARTICLE/VIDEO)
“Overland, like many games Saltsman dreams up, began in his mind as a series of screenshots. He first began to conceive of its design after playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Michael Brough’s 868-Hack, an abstract turn-based dungeon crawler with a hacking aesthetic.”

Autonauts review – sim robots share the load of colonisation (Will Freeman / The Guardian – ARTICLE)
“Autonauts is a game about colonising new worlds; landing alone on an unspoiled planet, your task is to build a thriving civilisation. There’s a little of the DNA of genre classics such as SimCity in there, but Autonauts busies you relentlessly with the fine detail of constructing a new settlement.”

Honks vs. Quacks: A Long Chat With the Developers of ‘Untitled Goose Game’ (Patrick Klepek / VICE – ARTICLE)
“It would have been fine, maybe even enough, if Untitled Goose Game’s legacy was a funny trailer for a video game concept that worked better in theory than in practice… But in 2019, a year where the news outweirds itself on a daily basis and events feel plucked from a randomizer that’s pulling ideas out of a hat, our current status is equally plausible: Untitled Goose Game is not just a funny game but an excellent one.”
 

——————

[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts – we crosspost to Gamasutra later, but get it first via newsletter! Story tips and comments can be emailed to [email protected]. MINI-DISCLOSURE: Simon is one of the organizers of GDC and Gamasutra & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]

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Legislators condemn action against Hearthstone pro in letter to Activision Blizzard CEO

United States senators and representatives have penned a letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, condemning Blizzard’s decision to punish a Hearthstone pro for voicing support of ongoing protests in Hong Kong during an interview.

That letter, dated October 18 and readable here, is signed by senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) along with representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). In it, lawmakers chide Blizzard for its decision to penalize that player, a move they say “is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.”

“Activision Blizzard benefits from China’s growing market for es-orts, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China’s largest technology firms,” continues the letter. “As you and your company are no doubt aware, the Chinese government uses the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions with which it disagrees.”

For its part, Blizzard has stated previously that its issue with the actions of the Hearthstone Blitzchung, or Ng Wai Chung as referred to in the letter, were unrelated to the specific content of his message. In that statement, Blizzard instead said that it would have taken the same action had a streamer voiced an “opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way.” The goal, explained Blizzard president J. Allen Brack several days after the incident, is to keep event broadcasts “focused on the game and […] not a platform for divisive social or political views.”

Despite the intent outlined by Blizzard after the fact and a subsequently reduced punishment for those involved, the controversial action led to protests across Blizzard’s esports circuit and player communities, as mentioned in the lawmakers’ letter. An American college Hearthstone team notably shared a similar “Free Hong Kong” message (with the addition of “Boycott Blizz”) days after Blitzchung’s comment and ban, and were met with their own ban nearly one week later.

Those earlier protests from Blizzard’s community caught the attention of Senators Wyden and Rubio last week. Both shared concerns that Blizzard’s reaction sets a troubling precedent for the game industry, a sentiment echoed in the letter.

“As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values—like freedom of speech and thought—or to give in to Bejing’s demands in order to preserve market access,” continues the letter. “We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it.”

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Dota 2 Update – October 18th, 2019

Matchmaking Update:
==
– Immortal players can now only party with Immortal or Divine players in Ranked.
– Immortal players will only ever be matched with other Immortal or Divine players in Ranked. This means, for example, that if there is a Divine player in a party with players below Divine, that divine player will as a result never end up in a match with other Immortal players.

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Don’t Miss: My Friend Pedro’s journey from Flash cult hit to indie success

A little over five years ago, an acrobatic Flash shooter called My Friend Pedro launched on Newgrounds.

Developed by one-man studio DeadToast, this Matrix-esque amalgamation of bullets and bedlam quickly cemented itself as a cult classic, but was unfortunately lost in the bygone era of browser games. 

Recently, however, My Friend Pedro received a massive overhaul, to the extent that an entirely new set of systems and mechanics were assimilated into its makeup. Now, Pedro exists as a violent rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, teeming with spent ammunition and devastatingly lethal frying pans. Also, it stars a sentient banana. 

Building a Flash cult hit into a full-fledged indie success

“A lot of the original inspiration for My Friend Pedro came from Flash games released around the year 2007,” DeadToast developer Victor Ågren tells me. “That’s when the original Flash version of My Friend Pedro first started taking shape.”

“Flash games like Madness Interactive definitely had an influence, but also Half-Life mods like The Specialists,” he continues. “The most influential game, though, must have been Rag Doll Kung Fu. Sprinkle in a fair share of Max Payne, The Matrix, and Equilibrium and you’ve got the core of the seed that later grew in to My Friend Pedro.” 

Although the sources that inspired the original Pedro span far and wide, the modern remake sought to build on its predecessor more so than to incorporate new influences.

“Most things in the game grew very organically and it was all about discovering as I went along,” Ågren explains. “The ‘secret spice’ of My Friend Pedro was discovered in the Flash version of the game, which is the flipping-through-the-air-in-slow-motion-mechanic.”

This mechanic may seem ostensibly and exclusively aesthetic, but its primary purpose is to serve a performative function. According to Ågren, “The idea was to make the player feel like a puppeteer in control of the movement of the playable character, rather than having the player just press a button to watch a cool looking animation.”

When the original Pedro launched, this mechanic was what made it stand out from the saturated market of Flash shooters. It’s no wonder, then, that when Ågren began work on the contemporary Pedro remake, this was the first detail he implemented into the game. “From there I kept experimenting with various levels, guns and enemies,” he explains. “The enemies ended up feeling a bit overpowered so it felt like some sort of dodge-maneuver was needed, and that’s where the little pirouette was born.”

Pedro has been widely celebrated for its ballet-like mobility style, with the pirouette becoming a core mechanic designed to dodge incoming fire. However, because Pedro’s movement mechanics are hyper-stylistic, implementing the pirouette necessitated more work on the mobility system as a whole. 

Juicing up the slo-mo acrobatic bullet ballet

“Since I didn’t want the player to get stuck in a single animation while performing an action, I had to make sure all the moves could blend dynamically,” Ågren explains. “There isn’t really any smart system going on behind the animations. Most of the time it’s been a case of manually adjusting the bones of the character in LateUpdate to make them, for example, aim towards the cursor. It was a lot of tweaking a number, play to see the difference, go back to tweaking the number, play again, and so on. Today, with a bit more experience with Unity and 3D game development, I probably would have done things a bit differently.”

On top of the mobility overhaul, Pedro 2019 also implemented a whole new range of shooting features. “The split-aiming was something I always wanted to do,” Ågren tells me. “At first I wasn’t sure how to do it, but then I just tried the most obvious thing that came to mind, which ended up being what stuck in the game. I think coming from making games in Flash, I was just really excited about being able to use the right mouse button for the first time.”

Although fan reaction to split-aiming has been massively positive, incorporating the mechanic game came with its own set of trials and tribulations.

“While still figuring out the fundamentals of the game I remember having the bullets of the player and enemies travel a bit too slow to be pleasing,” Ågren tells me. The intent here was to make dodging easier for the player. “Also, I hadn’t figured out how to do reliable collision detection with objects that were moving too fast.”

“Eventually I sped up the bullets and figured out the technical aspects and suddenly the game was a lot more fun,” Ågren continues. “In order to have faster bullets, but still giving the player time to react to incoming enemy fire, I had to spend some time tweaking the enemies’ accuracy and reaction times.”

The Pedro remake also replaced the knife from the original game with a kicking action, which naturally begot a whole range of kickable objects. “Adding objects to the world for the player to interact with was a fairly late discovery in making the game,” Ågren explains. “It started with the idea of being able to kick a gas canister into the air so that you could shoot it at just the right time for that classic action moment.“

“After adding that I was just messing around with kicking other objects that I already had models for,” he continues. “One of those objects was the frying pan. After playing with that a bit I wondered what would happen if you shot the frying pan in mid-air with the gas canister. It seemed like a fun idea to have the bullets ricochet to nearby enemies, so I tried that.” 

“I recorded a GIF of that moment and put it up on Twitter,” Ågren adds. “The reaction to that GIF was the biggest reaction I’d seen so far. People loved it and it got me thinking about what other silly over-the-top objects I could add and how else I could use the kicking mechanic.”

Finding the right look

On top of the fact that the Pedro remake drastically improved on its predecessor in terms of its systemic makeup, it also implemented a radically different art style. In the original Flash game, the protagonist is dressed in full Matrix leather, whereas the new version features an aesthetic that combines parkour with some sort of sublime delinquency. 

“Funnily enough there is pretty much no concept art for most parts of the game,” Ågren tells me. This is surprising, given the fact that Pedro’s aesthetic is unwaveringly confident in itself. “Sometimes there’s a rough sketch, but usually, since I’ve been doing this as a solo developer. I never had to communicate my ideas to a team. So I just jumped straight into making the final thing.“

“I knew this game would mainly be about the feeling of playing it, rather than how it looked,” he continues. “And again, since I was making this solo, I knew I had to choose how I spent my time and energy wisely. My main goal was to find a look that was easy to read and fast to make — but still stood out among other indie titles.” 

“I decided to make all the environmental textures grayscale and tint everything with lights and post processing effects,” Ågren adds. “That way I could reuse a lot of assets and still make things feel fresh, but also ensure that the player and enemies always had a good contrast against the backdrop.”
 
Amidst all the changes to Pedro, there stands one feature which is almost entirely the same as it was in the original. “As I was wrapping up the development of the original Flash version of My Friend Pedro, I needed some sort of tutorial helper to appear and help you progress through the game, and also provide some sort of weird, simple substitute for a story,” Ågren explains. “I wasn’t very precious about how the game would turn out and thought ‘bananas are easy to animate’ — and so the banana was born.” 

“It also turned out to be a good eye catcher when used in key art, and it signaled to players that the game doesn’t take itself too serious,” he continues. And that’s what seems to make My Friend Pedro stand out: it’s more than just bullets and ballet. It’s bullets, ballet, and sentient bananas.

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Building a basic story bible for your game

Game developers often find themselves dreaming of fantastic, far-off worlds. But at the end of the day, those worlds need to be implemented in a game’s logic in some form, otherwise they’re just ideas floating around in developers’ heads. 

This is particularly true in narrative games, like the ones that Ubisoft Massive lead writer Anna Megill has worked on. With a resume that includes Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, ControlGuild Wars 2, and many other games, Megill’s had a bevy of experience bringing those fantastic worlds to life. And at Sweden Games Conference this week, she took the time to share some of her techniques for the benefit of a larger audience. 

Megill in particular dove into the making of story bibles–foundational documents developers can use to guide the writing, design, art, sound, and other aspects of a game and facilitate communication between different teams. 

She first identified a game’s story bible as a “living document.” “Your bible has to accommodate changes while displaying what needs to be in there,” she said, urging developers against static documents that can only be changed in an emergency.

These documents are often difficult to share publicly, because as Megill said, “If you’re writing a good story bible, you’re writing the universe around the game, events the player doesn’t encounter, events that have yet to come.” Companies become averse to sharing them because they may reveal secrets about the game that aren’t ready for the public yet. 

Megill begins all her bibles with a 2-3 paragraph summary that contains the core elements—it’s more evolved than an elevator pitch, but still a shortened version of the overall bible. From there the bible contains the game’s tentpoles. From there, like many design documents, bibles tend to contain the game’s pillars themes, and other key information to lay the foundation of designing a game. 

Further in the document, Megill lays out key objects, major events, and locations that define elements of the game’s backstory. Key objects are objects that story can be attached to, major events are narrative moments that can be referenced in dialogue and art, and locactions are obviously important so the level design team can begin thinking about where the game is taking place and what those spaces can feel like. 

From here, Megill showed she includes components like explaining the game’s combat, an overview on the game economy, and even information that will be relevant to the game’s marketing. Beyond that, Megill includes a set of relevant references to help keep team members on the same page. 

In defining a game’s story, Megill tries to establish the tone, the language, the characters, and an overall narrative summary, all with the hope of conveying a document the development team can use to communicate with one another. 

After laying out the game’s story, Megill explained developers need to lay out storytelling methods–exact definitions of how information is conveyed to the player. A key unusual example of this was the Threshold Kids from Control: a creepy children’s show that drips narrative information via uncanny puppets. 

One goal of story bibles is that they can help narrative designers and game writers create a sustainable production process. Whether a game is live like Guild Wars 2, or has a fixed ending, it’s best to ensure the document has room to grow as different teams pitch ideas.

“When we were writing Guild Wars 2,” Megill explained, “we had a full game with tons of expansions we had to account for, while still allowing writers (and players) to tell stories in the game’s new space.”

“You have to be careful when you’re doing this stuff. You don’t want to paint yourself into a corner, and that’s what sustainable worldbuilding is. Seeing it coming, putting all this stuff down, making it sustainable by thinking of the transmedia surrounding it, thinking of the marketing etc.” 

Once the game’s bible is written, it’s still a chore to turn that bible into a proper game world while collabrating with colleagues. “Cohesion is a really really important thing. Creating a story bible means feeding this all together.” 

For instance on Control, the game’s story bible dictated that its setting, The Oldest House, be a chaotic labrynth of ever-changing rules. But the art team had become enraptured with the sterile stillness of brutalist architecture. But these two elements became cohesive when the team began finding ways to implement that chaos into Control’s levels, creating ominous shifting spaces filled with stern right angles but moving like the flow of the ocean.

“These ideas were completely at odds with each other. But somehow, that contrast is what made it work,” said Megill. 

It was an illustrative look at how professional writers and narrative designers can use a practical form of documentation to structure the magic players relate to in narrative games. 

Gamasutra is a media partner of Sweden Games Conference, who provided travel and lodging to cover this event

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Bigmoon Entertainment acquired by World War Z dev Saber Interactive

Bigmoon Entertainment, the Portugal-based studio behind the racing game Dakar 18, has been acquired by Saber Interactive and rebranded as Saber Porto.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but a press release from Saber notes that the studio will be tasked with developing two games for console and PC, neither of which has been announced. Bigmoon, now Saber Porto, also plans to triple its current team of 40 by the end of 2020.

“Paulo [Gomes, Saber Porto game director,] and the new Saber Porto will help us access talent in yet another thriving region, expanding our capabilities as a developer for both third-party IPs and our own original franchises,” said Saber CEO Matthew Karch in a statement.

Beyond that, Karch notes that the company is actively keeping an eye out for teams that fit with Saber’s ambitions, so future acquisitions likely aren’t out of the question.

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Humble Monthly is lightly rebooting as Humble Choice later this year

Moving forward, what was once Humble Monthly will soon be known as Humble Choice and give its subscribers the ability to choose which games they’ll receive every month, a departure for the blind box method employed by Humble Monthly.

On top of that, the new spin offers three different tiers its subscribers can pick between, ranging in price from $4.99 to $19.99 per month, though current Humble Monthly subscribers have the option to keep their current $12 monthly fee as long as their subscription doesn’t lapse before Choice launches, or at any point in the future.

The Classic plan notably offers the best price and perk package of the pack, something Humble is seemingly using to try and entice new subscribers ahead of the changeover, or keep Monthly subscribers from jumping ship.

Humble Choice’s actual launch date is a bit up in the air right now. Humble says that it hopes to launch Choice in 2019, which gives it just over two months to make the switch, but nothing concrete has been announced.

The overhaul falls a little over three years after Humble Monthly first launched as a service that offered its subscribers a handful of mystery games each month in exchange for that recurring fee. The service later expanded to coexist with the company’s Humble Original initiative, and expanded further in 2017 to include the then-new subscription library Humble Trove.

Choice offers its members a bit more control over the games they keep than Monthly did, but keeps access to both Humble Trove and Original games as part of the deal. The lowest price tier, however, drops the ability to keep games completely and instead focuses mostly on allowing access to Trove. 

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A look at the studio-building process at Avalanche Malmo

As game development companies go larger and larger, more work has to go into the operations of keeping the studio doors open. No longer are studios just opened up in random office spaces–they’re designed and scoped out to be the best place for game employees to work. 

At Sweden Games Conference this week, Avalanche Malmö studio manager Sara Ponnert offered insight into the process of building a Swedish game studio from scratch. In her words, she’d hoped to share some shortcuts that other developers can use to help build their studios, and lay the foundation for companies that will still be there years after the groundwork is laid. 

Ponnert’s journey building Avalanche Malmö began in 2018, where she began laying the building blocks for the new branch of the studio that produces the Just Cause series. 

“As soon as I got the job of studio manager, I started thinking about the values that I’d need to run the studio,” Ponnert explained. Those values included respect, diversity, openness, trust, collaboration, inclusion, passion, courage, and creativity. She scrawled them down on a sheet of paper that still sits on her desk to this day, and tried to make decisions around each value. 

The studio began at Game Habitat DevHub, a coworking space in Malmö. From here, Ponnert began thinking about finding a permanent location that would fit her employees’ lifestyles. The goal was to find a place that would be no more than a 20 minute commute for employees. Ponnert herself lives on a farm outside of the city, so her own workload was something she was considering while planning a space for her coworkers. 

Sustainability was not initially on Ponnert’s list of values, but she described it as a mentality that underlay all of her other values. “I wanted the office to be built with sustainability at the core…not just sustainable in terms of full free electricity, but not to buy stuff just because. Even if it’s a stapler, why do you need 3 staplers, for instance?”

Respecting the value of diversity proved especially challenging. Ponnert flashed a photo of what the Malmö team looked like when it started, and unfortunately, it was a team of mostly men. “We did not just get applications from women,” Ponnert said. 

This wasn’t for a lack of trying. The company posted in women’s game dev groups, established gender-neutral language in its postings, but still struggled to find women candidates or candidates of color. “We just had to keep looking and searching all over the world to build that diversity.”

According to Ponnert, the studio has grown to a 20-80 women to men ratio, still not matching her diversity goals, but improving on the initial photo she showed to the crowd. 

While building the team, getting into the final Malmö office took a total of four months. To Ponnert’s dismay, they found the previous tenant had cut off all the ethernet wires from the server room. 

After the studio was built, Ponnert and the studio’s lead producer began taking time to meet with team members one on one, taking lunch meetings to try and get to know each individual employee and encourage them to keep communication open with studio management. 

For routine communications, Ponnert tries to create special stand-ups that help everyone internalize team information. “Every Monday, we get the team together to sync with the studio in the Stockholm. Before we call Stockholm, I get everyone together to tell the team who’s visiting, who’s starting, what the budget looks like…some of this information they will forget, but at least I know I told them once.”

Once the studio was up and running, the management began implementing a feedback survey to try and evaluate the mood on the studio. Every Friday, the team tries to survey its employees to understand how they feel about etam spirit, inspiration, etc. According to the data shown onscreen, Ponnert says the team is still satisfied, but they’re aiming to keep those numbers up after the “honeymoon period.”

As for what Ponnert learned in this period, “Everyone loves to contribute, even if it’s the smallest thing,” she said. She also stressed the value of constant communication. “I’d rather people tell me to shut up than have them feel they didn’t know what was going on.”

During the Q&A, Ponnert circled back to the harder conversations that sometimes happen with employees. “We practice a lot of feedback, to try and give feedback without hurting anyone’s feelings. The lead groups train on each other before talking to anyone who may be a little more sensitive.”

“We want people to keep coming in and giving us ideas, and if you give feedback the wrong way, people may not feel as encouraged to give it.” 

Gamasutra is a media partner of Sweden Games Conference, who provided travel and lodging to cover this event

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Unity is raising Pro and Plus prices for new subscriptions in 2020

Unity has announced new pricing for its Unity Pro and Unity Plus subscriptions, giving both plans a slight price hike at the beginning of the next year.

Developers with existing Unity subscriptions won’t be affected by the change, but those that sign up, add additional seats, or renew expired custom agreements after January 1, 2020 will end up paying a little bit extra.

The current monthly rate for Until Pro is increasing from $125 to $150, while Until Plus will rise from $35 to $40 a month. In a blog post and accompanying FAQ, Unity says that it doesn’t routinely raise rates like this and doesn’t plan to do so regularly, but will “periodically review pricing and consider making adjustments” when appropriate.

“The price has remained the same for over three years and we are making these increases in order to continue investing in new technology, features, and services that will benefit all Unity creators,” explains the post. Unity Personal, the version of the engine open to developers with revenue or funding below $100,000 within the last year, is set to remain free.

These changes go into effect on January 1, leaving developers a few months to add seats to a current subscription or sign up under the Pro or Plus plans for the existing, slightly cheaper monthly rates.