Author Archives: Salim

About Salim

A game designer that likes action/adventure games and that lives in Montreal.

Setting up a small gaming event in your hometown

Last March, me and another game designer friend decided to launch an indie gaming event in our hometown of Montreal along with the help of our friends and some very kind volunteers.

We never organized a major event before and a great deal of experience came out of it. I want to share our experience with you in case you are planning to organize a gaming event yourself.

The idea of the Montreal Independent Games Festival (MIGF) came to us when we realized that there wasn’t a great deal of events that focus solely on celebrating indie developers in Montreal. Gamers of Montreal know all the big studios already, so we thought it would be only fair if they had an opportunity to know the little studios as well. Been inspired by events such as BitSummit that is held in Kyoto, we thought that this kind of project could be feasible with the resources that we had. The activities of the event would be kept simple for the first year, focusing on showcasing indie studios on the show floor and giving non-cash prize reward for the best games.

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We soon realized that we were right; in fact, the event surpassed our personal expectations. We had over 40 game submissions and we estimated that about 900 people came throughout the day.

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Finding the right sponsors and partners

We learned that if you have schools in your hometown that give courses related to video games, they can become essential partners. Even if they can’t help you with funding, they can offer so much more. Schools often have rooms that are specifically made for events and they can already have a system in place for planning such events. In our case, we already had good relations with Dawson College, a local college that offers courses in independent game design; they were more than happy to give us access to one of their conference room in exchange for promotional space for their programs.

Working with a small budget

Ok, so we did manage to get a venue fairly easily, but we also realized that there would be costs involved such as for artwork, printing, awards, etc. We knew that since it was our first year, it would be very hard for us to get big sponsors such as the Microsoft or Nintendo. Also, we decided that charging people at the door or asking a fee from the indie studios would not be a good option since it would compromise the accessibility of the event.

Our strategy was simple: Focus on the activities that are low cost and high value for the first year to keep the budget low. Since the showcase of indie studios on the show floor was an activity that required little cost and management from us, we decided to fully focus on that.

As for the awards, we decided not to focus on prize money and rather on the prestige of winning an award. One of the awards was voted by the public and added even more drama to the scene. As organizers who were also indie developers, it was clear to us that we should not participate in the awards or be part of the nomination process.

Reaching to the local media

I contacted websites before as a developer to promote my game, but I never did it to promote an event and I never really contacted the local press; I didn’t know what to expect. As it turns out, we got excellent coverage; two key local newspapers wrote about us and also a few noticeable local blogs. On this point, I would advice to be ready to tell your story and also answer questions; reporters find personal story behind an event very appealing.

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Things to improve

Things went very well for the first year of MIGF, but we also know that there’s always room for improvement. Here are some things we want to improve.

  • Our most common critique was that the room was too small. The truth is, we didn’t expect the show floor to be so packed; I guess it’s kind of a good problem to have. We already have a bigger room planned for next year.
  • We should have contacted the sponsors earlier and be more active in our search. Alot of the sponsor work was done too close to the event date and that put some pressure on us. We would also like to get more partners and sponsors that not necessarily help us with funding but with supplies and other benefits as well.
  • As for promotion, we focused on blogs and newspaper this year, but I would also like to start reaching out to other media outlets such as local radio and TV shows.
  • Hopefully, with more partners and sponsors, we can add new activities to the festival such as musical performance and also guest talks.
  • Also, we noticed that the work done by our volunteers was fantastic and we want to give them more rewards for their help in the future.

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Conclusion

All in all, our festival was a success and we are extremely happy with the result. We learned a lot of things while making the event and we are also very grateful to our friends and the local professional in the gaming scene that took the time to give us advices. I hope that this post was able to inspire you or help you if you are planning a gaming event yourself!

The 3 Fans that Make or Break your Indie Game Community

With the indie games scene getting more crowded, simply having an amazing game might not be enough. Unless you dedicate yourself to promoting your game and building a community, it would be unlikely for your game to reach its full potential of success. Since most indie developers like myself don’t have the budget necessary for traditional marketing methods such as television ads or street banners, we often need to rely on internet-based methods when it comes to promotion.

You have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, so you’re going to do fine, right?
No!
You also need to figure out who is reading about your game, where they are reading it from,and what content they are looking for.

While making our game The Girl and the Robot, I noticed that there were 3 types of people that showed interest in our game, and I quickly realized that they were all different but still essential to the success of our game. They were: fellow developers, the press, and gamers (“regular” fans).

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Fellow developers

When you talk about your game to fellow developers at the start of your project, they can become your very first fans. Even if you only have an idea and no prototype, they can still be excited about your game because, unlike others, they can see the potential of a game idea more easily. If you share ideas and development methods early with them, they will not only talk about your game, but they will also give you quality feedback to make your game successful and help you grow as a developer.

One of the best ways to keep fellow developers interested is to post about your game progress and about your development methods. This is information that will inspire them.

For example, we started by making a thread for The Girl and the Robot in the Work in Progress section of the Unity forums and the early feedback we got from other developers helped us confirm the potential of our design and make better decisions. It’s also good to show the game’s progress on social networks and participate in events like Screenshot Saturday on Twitter and Reddit.

From my experience, fellow developers are often:

  • On Twitter
  • On Reddit (r/gamedev/)
  • On forums (indie development, Unity Forums, etc.)
  • At your local indie meetups
  • In your own circle of developer friends

The press

You are in the middle of development and your game is starting to look pretty good. You finally feel that it’s time to show it to the world. Fellow developers know about your game, but that’s about it. This is the perfect time to reach out to the press. If members of the press like your game, they can dramatically increase its awareness.

The press is looking for something different than fellow developers. Since they want to write a good article, they want a story. If there is something unique about the gameplay or the art of your game, or if there is an interesting story about how you made your game, it’s in your best interest to tell them. For us, one of our stories was the fact that our team was working remotely and spread pretty much around the world (Japan, Canada, England and France).

It’s also important to have good relations with the press and this often starts with a proper email. I recommend reading Mike Rose’s article on communicating with the press to get started.

Again from my experience, you can reach the press:

  • By email
  • At gaming event
  • On Twitter

Gamers

Now that the press started talking about your game, more of the regular fans come in. Obviously, those fans are extremely important as they are the ones that will ultimately pay you to play your game. They can also give you feedback and valuable data about the design of your game.

When we presented our game at the Indie Game Festival BitSummit in Kyoto, I had to take out my notebook because the feedback we got from gamers was just too valuable. Watching them and listening to them helped me spot parts of the game that could be better designed.

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Fans will want information about your game often in the form of announcements, trailers and screenshots. Some of them will also want to interact with you (the developer) and with the other fans in your community. Social media tools such as a Facebook page and your company forum page will cover that need nicely. Also, organizing events such as contest, give aways, and special events can also keep them interested.

Your fans will try to reach out to you:

  • On Facebook
  • On your crowdfunding page
  • On gaming press site
  • On your company forum page
  • At expositions and festivals
  • On digital stores such as Steam

Summary

As you make your game, you will find that different kinds of people will be interested in your game at different times and for different reasons. It’s important to identify who they are and produce content for each one of them. This will help you build a strong community throughout the development of your game.

If you have an opinion on the matter, I would love to hear from you.
Our Twitter: @FlyingCarpetsG
Our website: Flying Carpets Games

 

My old survival horror game featured on Windows 100% in Japan!

Back in 2008, I made a survival horror game called Sambatra. It was in black and white and was played from a 3rd person perspective. The game helped me get a level designer job at Gameloft and taught me a lot about making games in 3D. Recently, the  Japanese magazine Windows 100% came across my game and decided to talk about it in their September issue. Thank you Windows 100%!

The feature is on page 95, be sure to check it out if you are in Japan. And if you are interested in the game, you can play it at http://www.salimnoatelier.com/sambatra/Default.aspx. Oh and it is a old game and there is a lot I would have changed so be gentle in your critic 😛

How to Make a Zelda Dungeon

This year is the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda, and as a game designer, what better way to celebrate than with a short study on how a Zelda game is made. There are many factors that make a Zelda game great, but I’m going to try and focus only on the dungeons, which represent in my opinion the very core of the level design. The goal of this study is to understand the structure of a Zelda dungeon as a source of inspiration for designing levels.

What is the core gameplay of a Zelda game?

Before understanding what a Zelda dungeon is made of, we must first understand the core gameplay of a Zelda game. Most people will agree that a modern Zelda game is a third person action adventure game. And they are right. But this does not satisfy me in regard of describing the core gameplay of a Zelda game. Allow me to make an hypothesis and describe a Zelda game as the following: A blocked path to Princess Zelda; the player needs to use his combat and puzzle solving skills in order to unblock this path. In this case, Princess Zelda is the goal, but it and can also be the Trifoce or something else depending on the game. At any point in the game, the path to this goal is blocked by one way or another and the player needs to find the “key” to proceed.

Keys and Doors

The main mechanic of a Zelda dungeon is something that I call  “Keys and Doors”. It’s simple; a door is blocking the player’s progress and he needs to find a key to open it. This often forces the player to take alternative paths in order to find the key. A good example that shows that mechanic is the very first dungeon of the original Legend of Zelda game as show in the next picture. As we can see, the players needs to explore alternative rooms in order to find keys and proceed to the locked rooms.

 

The many shapes of a key

The “Keys and Doors” mechanic is very common in games, but what makes a Zelda game unique is the many shapes that can take the key. In fact, the” key” is nothing more than an analogy.  A “key” can be a simple small key, but it can also be a newly acquired item. For example, as shown in the next pictures, at the beginning of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the player cannot go through the forest of Outset Island because the path is blocked with trees. Only after training with the old sword master, the player can get the sword and use it to clear the path. In this case, the trees are the “locked door” and the sword is the “key”. Items like the hookshot, the boomerang and the candle will all become the “key” at some point in the game.

Keys and Doors

Items are not the only “keys”; sometime the key has another shape or no shape at all. The “key” can be:

  • A puzzle to solve on the spot (moving crates and pressing switches)
  • A room that need to be cleared of enemies (defeat all the skeletons to open the door)
  • A room that requires agility skills (jump from platform to platform to reach the next room)

Those are all “keys” in a way. Once we understand the “Keys and Doors” mechanic, we can better understand how to make a dungeon.

What do you need to make a Zelda dungeon?

The following is a recipe that includes the basic ingredients I found to make a Zelda dungeon.

The entrance

The entrance is the room that connects the dungeon with the overworld (world map). Usually, the player had to also deal with the “Keys and Doors” mechanic in the overworld in order to gain access the entrance of the dungeon.

The spider body

After passing through the entrance, the player usually ends up in a central area that I would like to call the “spider body”. This area connects the multiple main paths of the dungeon and can even be connected to the locked boss room.

The spider legs

In the spider body, the player can take on multiple paths that I call “spider legs”; some of those paths are locked and some are not. If the player does not have the necessary “key” to open a path, he will need to explore the paths that are unlocked in order to find it. Remember, a “key” in a Zelda game can have many shapes.

A room with a key

A spider leg path consists of a series of room. Some room holds a “key” that enable the player to proceed in the dungeon. The last room of a spider leg is often a room with a “key” that enable the player to explore a new spider leg.

A new item

A dungeon usually holds a new item, which is basically a new “key”. The player needs to figure out how to use it in order to unlock new paths.

The spider head

The boss room or the “spider head” is the location of the dungeon’s boss. Often this boss needs to be defeated with the newly acquired item (weapon) found in the dungeon. Defeating the boss usually clears the dungeon. I noticed in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess that mid-level bosses are introduced in the middle of a dungeon to probably give a better pacing to the gameplay.

Conclusion

This concludes my depiction of a Zelda Dungeon. I hope that my little personal study helped you better understand the level design in a Zelda game and that it can inspire you for your own game projects.