A lot of people have been asking about this– now it’s finally here! The original soundtrack to Starbloom, our iOS game about space and circular motion, is now available. It features music from the first five levels, the upcoming five new levels, and a special, slightly embellished version of the beat used in the tutorial level. Listen to it for free on BandCamp, buy it if you like, and spread the word!
I hope you’re all as excited for PAX East and GDC as we are! All this week, those of us attending have been preparing, planning, and getting ourselves pumped up to attend these two events. During this process, a few thoughts occurred to me: Why am I so excited to go to a game convention? Why did I get into the industry of making games?
With these questions floating around in my mind, I decided to talk with the other folks at Shadegrown Games to find out what they thought. I found the results to be rather insightful and hope you do too!
Okay. So to start off, who are you and what do you do at Shadegrown Games?
MB: I’m Matthew Burns, the Founder and Creative Director at Shadegrown Games. I’ve worked in the industry for a while on big-name titles, but I want to do something new and interesting. I composed the music, created the sound effects, and, with the team, contributed to the game design and graphic design of Starbloom. I pitch our projects to potential partners and take care of the legal stuff when needed.
BW: I’m Brenton Woodrow, I’m one of Shadegrown’s game designers. I design mechanics, build levels, write proposals, tweak values, and generally just craft each game’s play experience. I also sometimes do Producer work for Shadegrown, but that’s boring to talk about.
JK: I’m Justin Kimball, I’m originally from Harrison, Maine. I started working with Shadegrown back in 2010 during my senior year at Champlain College and have been with them since then. I’m the lead artist, I define the art style and handle most of the visuals for our games.
KM: I am Kyle Murphy, a programmer here at Shadegrown Games. I script (in C#) the game systems that power the mechanics behind our games (with a good bit of help from the Unity Engine, of course).
AR: I’m Andrew Richardson, and I’m a programmer for Shadegrown Games. I write scripts for the user interface and some enemy behaviors.
CM: I am Chris McCarthy and I like to think of myself as kind of the mad scientist of the team. Though my imprint is not as prominent now, I have been working with the guys from Shadegrown since before the company even started.
Why did you get into the game industry?
MB: I got into the game industry because I see its potential to produce a “total work of art” - something that combines interactivity with visual art, music and sound, theater, architecture, and more, all harmonized into a cohesive experience. It is the dream of creating those kinds of works that drew me to work in the game industry.
KM: I’ve always been into playing games, but I think what really pushed me toward being a developer was tinkering inside the map editors of the various Blizzard games. Most of the credit goes to Warcraft III for that, as (while I didn’t exactly make anything impressive with it) I played around with the trigger system and unit customizer in that game a ton. The fun I had working with the logic in those systems ultimately pushed me toward taking my first programming class in high school, and I continued down that path when I went to college.
JK: I’ve always had an interest in games ever since I was a kid, so making games was basically a dream job. Then once I started my first game development and 3D art classes at Champlain College I was hooked.
AR: I got into the industry because I love everything about it. I’ve been playing games since I was 4 years old and I haven’t skipped a day. (Well, that may be an exaggeration).
CM: Like many in this industry, I played a lot of games when I was younger. I loved the art form through and through. Also like many in my industry, I would commonly use the editors to games and make my own missions and mods, just for fun. So when faced with what I would like to focus on for a career, I couldn’t think of anything better. Since then, I haven’t looked back once. It’s been an honor and a rush to be working in a vibrant industry that is at the forefront of both technology and art.
BW: There are several good-sounding answers I could give to this question. I could tell you that it’s because video games are the convergence of art, technology, and theater. I could say that the business side of the game industry changes so rapidly and is so complex that I couldn’t help but want to be a part of it. I could also look back to how much I loved making up games like the classic “the floor is lava” when I was a kid. The honest answer? I got into the game industry because of how it feels to make games and be amongst my game industry colleagues. For me, that feels like coming home after being away for a really long time. It feels right to make games, and it feels like something I have in life that I can excel at. That feeling is what got me from a student studying game design to someone who wants to spend the rest of their life making games.
What’s it like designing games at Shadegrown?
BW: I think I was the second person to ever work at Shadegrown Games, after Matthew Burns our founder. I’ve been working with this team since 2009, and during the time most of Shadegrown Games was based in Burlington, VT I was the team lead. I love this team and the games we make. I lose sleep over the fact that we haven’t gotten Planck to the point where we’re ready to share it with the world. I look forward to the future because I know that the games we create will have positive impact on players as well as on the landscape of the industry we are a part of.
CM: Currently I am in the midst of a backpacking adventure in the land down under and have been funding myself off of the scraps of freelance work I can pick up. Though I have a multitude of mobile and flash games to my name, whenever people ask for an example of my work in passing I always point to the work of our team. It’s some of the highest quality work I have ever been involved with and it most in-line with what I would like to be involved with during my career as a game developer.
BW: I have a rather different design style than Chris McCarthy, our other designer, in the sense that I practice more of a top-down design philosophy. What does that mean? It means I tend to be like an architect while Chris is a mad scientist. We clash often but have worked together long enough where we now balance each other out and work really well together. When designing Planck, it’s been Chris who has been making sure the moment-to-moment experience feels great while I have been responsible for making the whole experience feel great. With Starbloom Chris has been away and the design has mostly been my responsibility with some guidance from Matthew, so if you like or don’t like the gameplay of Starbloom, that’s on me.
CM: Though my prominence in the team has waned a bit due to my travels, in the past I would be the one to lead the charge when developing a game. This is reflective of my closely held belief that rapid prototyping is paramount to developing great and original gameplay. As mentioned before, I also enjoy being the mad scientist on the team. This is not to say I am the only one on the team who is happy to draw outside the lines but I have been known to go AWOL for an evening and add some new mind-melting new effect into the current build simply because I can. This sort of creative and exploitative allowance granted to me by this team is just one of the multitude of reasons I enjoy working on Shadegrown games.
What’s your favorite part of being a game dev?
AR: What I love about game development is seeing the user reaction to your game. Setting people having fun and enjoying your game is I’ve of the best feelings in the world.
BW: My favorite part of being a game developer is a result of how I design games. As I mentioned before, I design games by first visualizing them and building them out on paper. During this phase of development I often dream about these designs, both daydreaming and at times actually dreaming (nightdreaming?). So when we build these games and I get to play them for the first time, I am quite literally seeing my dreams become a reality. There is nothing cooler than that and that is my favorite part of being a game developer.
JK: Getting to see a game grow from nothing into something fun and interactive, also getting to play it as all the improvements, changes, and discoveries happen.
KM: What I think I enjoy the most about being a game programmer is making the gameplay systems come to life. It’s very satisfying to see the transition from an idea on paper to an actual functioning mechanic that you can immediately play with. A secondary source of enjoyment is using my own knowledge to generally figure out what makes other peoples’ games tick as a mental exercise, though this is a double-edged sword; For me, a lot of games wind up being more fun to watch other people enjoy than to enjoy myself once I’ve mentally broken down their mechanics.
CM: Though working in games provides me a chance to explore so many front whether academically or artistically, I would be lying if I said it was these grander perks that keep me loving this job. Honestly what I love about working in games is that it is never a predictable process. There is never the same grueling repetitive task or at least not much when compared to so many other industries. Every time I open my laptop to get to work, I am dealing with a brand new complex and interesting puzzle to unravel, new concepts to further master, and new emotions to draw from artistically. Maybe someday building a game will be like building a warehouse, but until that day comes I will be typing away on my computer working on my next big project.
MB: My favorite part of being a game developer is seeing players “get” what we’re trying to do with our games - that feeling of connection through a shared experience.
After receiving all of these wonderful responses by the Shadegrown Games team, I was all ready to make this blog post until I realized I still had yet to answer my own questions. So here goes!
JB: My name is Jason Bestwick. I’m a PC gamer, LARPer, and overall gaming nerd and I’m not afraid to say it! I’m the newest addition to the Shadegrown Games team, having only been working with these wonderful guys for about a month now. I’m not sure I have an any specific title for what I do with Shadegrown Games but I know that in the industry, it has many names. You could call it Community Management, or Online Customer Relations, or Customer Service Representative but I prefer to just call it “the community guy”. I’m responsible for keeping up with the various social media pages (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) as well as making sure that we don’t forget to keep making more blog posts.
Oddly enough, when I first got into the game industry, it was to help a friend of mine write surveys, reports, and various other things he had trouble with. I didn’t go to school to be a coder or artist, I just kind of fell into place and I certainly do not want to give it up now that I’m here!
Although I do not necessarily fit the term of being a “dev”, my favorite part of being in the process of making games is that I get to be a part of making people have fun. I love being able to read various posts by players saying how much they enjoy what we just created. Knowing that I had a hand in the enjoyment of all those people just makes me extremely happy myself!
So with that, we have all answered the questions I put to the team. Hope you’ve enjoyed looking into the minds and souls of the Shadegrown Games team and I hope it’ll give you insight into the way we design and build our games!
Keep your minds and hearts open and we’ll see you next time!
-Shadegrown Games Dev Team
Now that 2013 is in full swing, we thought we’d take a look back on the past year. We had an important milestone for Shadegrown Games since we finished and shipped our first title Starbloom on iOS. We’ve been pretty pleased with the results, and so have many of you! We wanted to share some of those reviews and responses.
To start us off, Starbloom was Kotaku’s Gaming App of the Day on October 17th. Evan Narcisse said that the game “makes me feel like a Cosmic God”.
Over at 148Apps, Denis Farr gave Starbloom a 4.5 out of 5 overall score, an Editor’s Choice, and said “the soundtrack created alone justifies the purchase of this app”!
Hanuman Welch, from Complex, says that our game “is set to some of the most laid back electro-hash that has ever pumped out of your iPhone speakers.” That one in particular makes Matthew smile.
In his column Pocket Treasures, Brendan Keogh gives a fairly in depth review of his experience playing Starbloom. After his technical review, Brendan gets a review of the experience itself and said “Starbloom is relaxing and, in an entirely positive sense, mindless. It wants you to simply swirl around its celestial bodies, getting lost in the noises of its universe.” Sounds like a good time to us for sure.
Mike Schramm at The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) said “the graphics and design, along with that really amazing soundtrack, make this a musical experience that you probably shouldn’t miss”!
In a Featured Post on FinalCheckpoint, Chris Bowden rates Starbloom at a 8.5 out of 10 and says “Starbloom’s graphics and textures are beautiful and really make you feel like you’re drifting through space. But what seems to really be holding this game together is the music. The music is just plain amazing.”
Finally, Jessecox gives us a shout out on TGS Podcast #37 and says “I kind of love it!” Check it out here.
Thanks to everyone who played Starbloom! We know it’s a little off the beaten path, but it’s been truly heartening to see so many people “get” what we’re trying to do. Best of all, this is only the start. In the coming year, we’ve got more updates for Starbloom in store as well as some information on other things we are currently working on. Keep your eyes and hearts open for more!
-The Shadegrown Games Team
It’s been interesting watching the trends of the industry lately from the perspective of a game designer. Ever since the popularity (and financial success) of casual and social games captivated the big publishers, players have seen a plethora of casual design patterns seep in to games of all types and genres. This trend caused a divide between the ‘hardcore’ and the ‘casual’ gamers, that in turn caused the hardcore group, which tended to enjoy most of the attention, to feel like the games they knew and loved were going extinct. This feeling culminated in the reaction to Ubisoft Montreal’s 2008 Prince of Persia, when those who disliked the game’s forgiving nature took up arms and fiercely debated the direction of the franchise on forums across the web.
A year later, From Software released Demon’s Souls, a radical departure from the inclusive design trend that was found in most mainstream games. This game met critical and financial success and led the resurgence of challenging and unforgiving game. This resurgence found its peak with Dark Souls, which received several game of the year awards and showed that this type of game is sorely missed and dearly loved by gamers. Here on the indie side of things, where we grow our games in the shade, we’ve seen Roguelikes such as Dungeons of Dredmor and FTL find love and audiences. The trick for the game designer is break down these trends and understand why gamers like these games. The best way that I know to do that is by analyzing the common mechanics and by asking the players who love these games. Permadeath, “Hard but Fair”, and a user based narrative are the common things found when analyzing games like Dark Souls, FTL, Realm of the Mad God, and XCOM.
Why Permadeath? Why are gamers so attracted to a game mechanic that represents an experience so different from the inclusive design that was so popular just years prior? Permadeath introduces a new level of importance to the aspects of the in-game economy. Everything from health potions to crew members become more valuable when the player knows that one wrong move can boot them back to the title screen (or at least the last save). This type of mechanic conflicts with the RPG-style progress system that we, as designers, have learned is so sticky (or “addictive”). Games have overcome this conflict by allowing players to go back and retrieve their past life’s progress or by placing the progression system on something with more stability like an army or a ship. This set-up has allowed game designers to have their cake and eat it too with both an RPG progress system and the added meaning created by permadeath.
Permadeath was a common design strategy back when games were designed to eat quarters, but modern developers have moved past that archaic design by creating games that are “Hard but Fair”. This level of difficulty is important because it is how permadeath can be successful with today’s audience. Every failure point is telegraphed and preventable, so when a player does die/fail/lose, he or she feels fully responsible for that failure. Better yet, these players are able to learn from failures and take that knowledge to improve on their next experience with the game. This creates the incredibly satisfying feeling of triumph over adversity, and through permadeath this adversity feels severe and very real. These triumphs and failures hold such meaning and are so memorable that players feel compelled to share them.
Ask anyone who’s played Dark Souls or XCOM about their favorite moment of gameplay and I guarantee you that you will have an earful as they vividly recall a triumph over adversity. These games have found success by handing the keys over to their players to craft their own narrative, and because of that, players are finding these stories to be the richest in the medium (except for maybe Walking Dead #ForClementine). I guarantee Subset Games did not place a tenth of their time developing FTL into narrative development, but I have countless people recalling crazy ship flights with moments of epic heroism from their crew. This type of narrative sticks with people because they helped create it, and it is very personal and unique to them.
At Shadegrown, we want to focus on making games that we find fun and worth the investment of our lives that we place in to each. We will also continue to play games, make games, talk about games, and think about this unique medium as it grows and changes.
Talk to you again soon.
We’re thrilled to have shipped our first game, Starbloom, which is available now on the Apple App Store for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. The game has been getting some great writeups and reviews as well as generating some interesting discussion.
So, where do we go from here? We’re set to talk about that more in the coming months but the short version is that we’re still working on Planck - applying the lessons we learned from actually shipping something to the game - as well as on a new idea that we’re excited about. Thanks for all your support so far!