The Game Design Dojo Podcast

Brian McRae and Ike Herman: Indie Game Developers, Designers, Podcasters

All About Game Design, Production, and Publishing in Today’s Fast Paced Global Market


GDD 026 : Limitless Production
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:05:27
GDD 026 : Limitless Production

Get more done in less time for lone wolf developers, hobbyists, large teams, and everything in between.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #026

GDD 025 : Virtual Reality Deep Dive
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:08:14
GDD 025 : Virtual Reality Deep Dive

In this expansive episode Brian and Ike discuss the dream, tech, design, best practices, and market strategies of virtual reality for game developers.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #025

GDD 024 : Design – Metroidvania #1
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:06:08
GDD 024 : Design – Metroidvania #1

In this first Metroidvania discussion Brian and Ike define the popular gameplay style, discuss its history, cite game examples, and explore player motivations.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #024

GDD 023 : Production – Lean Startup Decoded
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:03:26
GDD 023 : Production – Lean Startup Decoded

How to use the “Lean Startup” method for game development. A discussion and exploration of how and when to use it for your projects.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #023

GDD 022 : Design – Physics Gameplay
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 53:35
GDD 022 : Design – Physics Gameplay

An exploration on using physics as the core mechanic as opposed to just a supporting simulation system.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #022

GDD 021 : Business – Monitizing Your Game
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 57:28
GDD 021 : Business – Monitizing Your Game

Brian and Ike dive deep into different ways to monitize your games, and how to tie your monitization strategy with your brand.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #021

GDD 020 : Puzzle Design
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:02:59
GDD 020 : Puzzle Design

In this episode, Brian and Ike dive into puzzles and how to implement them in your game design. They compare games using puzzles as their main gameplay or as a feature thrown into the gameplay. They’ll also discuss how they go about using puzzles in their own games. So, enjoy!

Today’s Developer Diary

Brian has starting using Notepad ++ instead of MonoDevelop and Unity Visual Studio because it’s so light and fast. It’s a totally free, tiny little program that he changed all the colors to look like Unity and trained it to get all the key words in there. It’s just fantastic!

Ike has taken the opportunity to step back and put a couple of patches on the three games he has in the store after taking some of the feedback he’s gotten. He also has a fourth and fifth game in the works!

Brian explains that even though Fenix Fire hasn’t released any games this year, they have a lot that is being incubated so they’ve had a really busy year and it’s been the work for hire that’s been able to keep them going. Brian and Ike also discuss the totally different approaches their companies have to releasing games and the importance of having your game featured in the initial launch.

Puzzle Design

As a starting point, puzzles should include a couple of key traits:

  1. It should be very clear what the puzzle is  – For example – With a jigsaw puzzle you know exactly what you’re supposed to do, fit all the pieces together
  2. It should show progress as you’re solving the puzzles – Jigsaw example – As you join more pieces together, not only are you building a larger cluster but you’re also filling in this picture which is satisfying
  3. There should be some sort of a pay off when the puzzle is solved – Jigsaw example – The joy of seeing the picture all together gives a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of completeness

Puzzles in Level Design

The puzzle should be obvious with clearly defined rules. In games like Metroid and Zelda, the camera takes over and points the player to where they need to go. This gives the player a call to the puzzle and also shows the player the ingredients of the puzzle. The most common are a torch, a totem, a door, or a lock and key.

You can be innovative as much as possible when designing your game because you have the amazing opportunity to design a brand new game and can do whatever you really want in it so why resort to something that has been done a million times before?

But, be careful since it’s very easy to lose the player the more you innovate. You’ll still need to have a lot of conventional game design elements because if the game is too weird or out there then people won’t be able to understand it.

 Puzzle Games – Match 3

In a puzzle game, the call to the puzzle is the game itself and it’s just a matter of learning what the mechanics of the puzzle are. Candy Crush example.

  • Familiarity in games –  some players want something new but in a way that they understand it immediately
  • Feedback Loop – the faster a path to failure is identified, the better it is
  • Having clear, constant feedback is good – like a jigsaw puzzle trying to match pieces
  • Sounds are very important – having satisfying sounds when making progress
  • Effects are very important – Puzzle and Dragons example
  • Having a tiny bit of input gives you tons of positive feedback – makes you feel great
  • Prime demographic of match 3 games is women over 40 –  coincides with slot machine games

Every Game is a Puzzle

Anything that requires strategy, which is almost every game, the puzzle is defined by the fact that you have to make choices.

Starcraft – The puzzle is how to win the war.  You have all these tools at your disposal and there’s a constant change in strategy.

Clash of Clans – The puzzle is when you go to attack a village which of your pieces do you put down and where.

Gears of War – The puzzle is being in a large open space and shoot all kind of enemies. The AI is a puzzle and the level layout, level design is always a puzzle.

A puzzle is something that needs to be solved.

A way to declare you’ve beat a games is by saying you’ve solved it. There are puzzles through out the game but the game itself is a puzzle that needs to be solved whether it’s with skill or strategy. Arcade game example- Robotron 2084.

Different Categories of puzzles and Different levels of puzzles:

  • The puzzle game – geared toward the strategy vs the skill
  • Puzzles that are very obvious
  • Puzzles that very subtle
  • Entire game being some kind of a puzzle

Using Traditional Puzzles in Game Play

The motivation for sticking a traditional puzzle in a mostly combat game like Gears of War might be to break up the monotony of the action.

Sometimes people loose interest with having too many puzzles in a game because they’ve played so many games where they couldn’t solve a puzzle and got stuck. The challenge is how do you progress the level design of your puzzles so that you progress the difficulty.

Recommend for games that aren’t puzzle games, like an adventure game with a puzzle thrown in, make that a supplementary experience somehow. So if the player can’t or doesn’t want to solve the puzzle they don’t have to, but it would be better for them if they did.

Mobile Games

Almost every huge hit on mobile has been a puzzle and there’s some elements that are very popular in the genre of a puzzle game but they’ve added these different elements like action and physics based.

  • Taking the puzzle genre and doing more with it
  • Different degrees of solve-ability and rewarding for more mastery – if you could solve the puzzle in a more perfect way, that is then score-able
  • Angry Birds example

Solving Puzzles 

The mark of a great puzzle is to encourage the player to try a lot of different things especially if there’s a lot of different actions they can do and then give them feedback that’s appropriate to how they’re trying to attack the puzzle.

The Boss Fight

  • Been around since arcade games
  • Got all your basic mechanics that you’ve learned throughout the whole level
  • Then you put them in front of the boss
  • The key to a good boss – the character design is good enough to see what it is you’re supposed to do
  • Zelda example

 Hidden Puzzles

Some games have unlock-able doors that you can only unlock later in the game because you haven’t been given the game mechanic yet to open that door. It becomes a challenge of how do you communicate to the player that they’re supposed to acknowledge that that is a puzzle but it’s not yet their time to solve that puzzle.

  • You want them to see it
  • Want to bait them
  • Lets you create other chapters in the game
  • Do want to acknowledge it
  • The powers that you unlock to the player  – be very clear in what actions they do

Source and Puzzlin’ Pieces: USA

Brian talks about his game Source and the color coding puzzles they’re using and the challenges of making a Metriodvania game.

Ike talks about his game Puzzlin’ Pieces: USA and why he put in the hot and cold mechanic in the game.


This topic of puzzles is something that we’re just scratching the surface of and it might be worth breaking this up into sub-categories.

Remember to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and leave us a review of your thoughts on iTunes!

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #020



GDD 019 : How To Get Contract Work
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:07:32
GDD 019 : How To Get Contract Work

Brian and Ike discuss the practicalities of how to get a company off the ground and rolling. If you’re looking for work-for-hire, then this episode provides some useful ways to obtain client work and how to build up your business development.

Today’s Developer Diary

Ike is back! He is fresh after working at iD Tech Summer Camp where he taught high school students game design. It was fun to show them how to make games and by the time they left the camp in two weeks they had their own prototype working on their own phones. Ike also rang his “game release” bell! Puzzlin’ Pieces: USA is now available on iTunes, Android and Amazon. His daughter helped develop this new game about learning about US geography. If there’s any Windows 8 Microsoft people listening, please reach out to Ike. He wants to release the game for Windows, but keeps on hitting road blocks. So, if anyone can help please reach out to Ike!

Brian just got back from Seattle! After doing his very first talk at Unite 2014 –  High End Mobile Development – highlighting his game Gates of Osiris. During the talk he spilled some tips and tricks on how they’re going about the art of the game, a lot of the effects and how they’re building the terrain. Was what really awesome was during his introduction when he mentioned he was a co-host of the Game Design Dojo, people clapped! And people also clapped when he mentioned their responsible for the Tuscany World Demo for Oculus VR. Our listener Vinny came up and talked with Brian. Thanks Vinny so much for coming out to the talk!

Contact Work/Work For Hire

The secret to Fenix Fire’s longevity has been balancing work-for-hire with their own IP. Brian has been an indie for the past eight years and was in AAA for the previous six years. So, he’s actually been an indie longer than he’s been in the friendly confines of being an employee. He owes this primarily to work-for-hire by getting good contracts and doing good business development.

General Thoughts About Work For Hire:

  • It’s a balancing act – you don’t have control over your clients needs and timetables and you’ll have to work around their deadlines as opposed to yours
  • Repeat business – is the most efficient way to get get more contract work
  • Making your own games – can yield a lot of opportunities
  • Have at least one game shipped – really important and brings credibility

Where do you begin to try to get Work For Hire?

For the purposes of this episode, Brian and Ike use the scenario of a start-up company either with a team of 2-3 or a lone wolf who has all the skills needed to make a game. So, how would you go out and start landing a steady stream of clients for full service game development?

Approach #1 – Try doing pro-bono work

Go to a bigger company and offer to make a game for them for free. You’ll make the game for them, they’ll share their IP and you’ll market it. If you have the ability to pull this off:

  1. You’ll be getting a game on the shelf to then go and show other people
  2. When you go to those other people, you’re showing the work you did for a big company
  3. You might actually get numbers because that big company is going to be able to do a lot of marketing

This is something that’s recommended to do for your first project, you shouldn’t do it more than once. But it’s a great way to get your name out there and to build some credibility.

Approach #2 – Make your own IP

Coming up with your own IP and putting it out there does yield opportunities. Brian has had experience of this first hand when he released his game Roboto.

Approach #3 – Target a category of companies

Once you’ve targeted a category of companies that you’re interested in, come up with a prototype or a demo that they can play on the device that you ultimately want to launch it on and show it to them using their brand. When they see it playing in the device, it will make it a much easier sell for them.

Make sure it’s something that you can expand upon yourself or it isn’t so specific to one particular company.

The term used is: speculating or spec work – where you make something in the hopes of getting a contract behind it

The business world is really tough. Nothing is a done deal until the contract is signed and you have the deposit check. It can fizzle at any point up until that moment.

You should have at least five people you can show the prototype to or would be interested in it. It’s important for them to see their own IP in it but always have an exit strategy.

Approach #4 – Website

Put together a solid brand for yourself and make an awesome website. You should include a great trailer for your game and a services page. Using a Word Press theme is recommended. Once you have that website going, you can start emailing companies you’d like to work for.

Approach #5 – Work with local businesses and companies

Make sure you don’t overlook local businesses and companies around you since it’s really easy for them to tell you to drop in and being able to walk into someone’s office is very valuable. Brian had had experience of this by being in the LA area. Location is key.

Approach #6 – Know, Like and Trust

People like to do business with people they know, like and trust.

  • They’ll KNOW you – if you’ve put something in the market place, built a name for yourself and/or have a really nice website with a great presence.
  • They’ll TRUST you – if they start talking with you and you start working with them, also doing spec work for them will build a lot of trust
  • They’ll LIKE you – if you’re someone they enjoy doing business with who delivers on time and over delivers

Face time is absolutely vital for any sort of real business development. Regardless of what your personality type is, start getting used to inviting people out for coffee and then talking to them there. You have to get used to that face time, it’s going to pay off later on even if it’s a problem to start with.

Rule of Thumb – 20% of your clients give you 80% of your revenue and the other 80% of your clients only give you 20% of your revenue.

Once you start getting clients, it becomes a fun game to see who are your best clients and then being able to turn away from some of the other clients.

The Importance of Networking

Your ability to get business is 100% based on your relationships. The more relationships you have, the stronger those relationships are and the value of who they’re with can give you a lot of staying power with your company.

A teacher explained to Ike that you’re ability to network has more to do with your success after school then the actual skills you learn in school, like math and science.

Developing a good strong network:

  • Answer emails
  • Be responsive
  • Get on LinkedIn
  • Talk to your friends
  • Get out to meet ups
  • Network yourself around

What’s really enjoyable about the game industry is it seems like developers have other developers back because they all know how hard it is being on the bleeding edge of technology.

Get used to being a sales person. Even if you’re an artist or a programmer at a big company, you’re always in some way shape or form a sales person. You’re always selling yourself and selling what it is you’re making whether it’s in a big team or by yourself or as a representative of your small company.

Keep in mind, nobody likes it when you’re like the used car salesman and you’re trying to push something on someone. Everybody is much more comfortable with a conversation so just be sincere and pure to yourself.

Brian and Ike provide an example of successful networking which basically results in:

  1. Making sure your friends in your network get business
  2. Opening yourself up to more questions later on and eventually might be asked for something you can actually do
  3. Creating like and trust

Why do all this Business Development?

Ike’s numbers on a small mobile project range from:

  • $20,000 – on the cheap side
  • $50,000 – moderate to average size
  • $100,000 + – something pretty fantastic

Big companies are looking at games as advertising and as a marketing expense with a large marketing budget that they’re used to throwing that money away. It’s a blue ocean opportunity. Nowadays everybody needs a bunch of apps and all of these big companies are dinosaurs to this.

Game developers can use what they’ve learned and by applying it towards a major brand, it can be extremely lucrative.

Brian’s numbers for Fenix Fire:

  • $50,000 – Starting
  • $80,000 – $90,000 – Median
  • up to $150,000


Option one:

  • Start by figuring out the man month – if one person is making X amount of $ per hour, then how much are they making per month
  • Then you figure out how much work you can do if you’re working on it full time including the total cost of each one’s man month

Option two: A better way especially if you want to balance your own IP with work-for-hire

  1. Look specifically at what your client wants to do
  2. Figure out how long it’s going to take to do all those features based on your hourly rate
  3. Add it all up
  4. Pad it a little bit by like 20-30% (because at Fenix Fire they like to over deliver)
  5. And that’s the number you come up with for the project

Some general advice about negotiating:

  • Suggest getting some sort of deposit
  • Be aware of royalties – can be challenging to get that money
  • Sometimes companies will say, “That’s above our budget we can only afford this and it this does well, we’ll get you on the next one.” – this can be a hit or miss

Deciding to Work with Somebody – The 3 Main Criteria

  1. Is this a project that will get me either repeat projects or other projects? –  Is it an awesome portfolio piece? Is this a big opportunity or a major brand?
  2. How’s the money? – Is the money good? Is the money mediocre? Is it a very rich project or a very poor project?
  3. What’s the working relationship like? – Based on the way the negotiations are going is this a company that is very laid back and easy to work with or are they going to be very difficult to work with?

At Brian’s company Fenix Fire, he likes to make sure to get 2 out of the 3 when deciding to work with that company. When it’s all 3, then it’s great! And over time they figured out that if they’re not getting all 3 then they want to start moving away from those clients.

When a client comes back to you for the 3rd, 4th or 5th time it will get to the point where there’s so much trust and transparency that they will just tell you what their budget is, tell you what their timeline is up front and then let you do your magic.


We talked about how to get out and get clients. We talked at length about how to network and how to be sincere in your networking.  We talked about some of the negotiating processes of once you start talking to a prospective client, how to close the deal, some of the pitfalls that might come up and what to look for in a client.  What makes a good client? And how do you know that you should keep it, how do you know if you should go after it and how do you know if you should let it go. And Ike implores you to get face-to-face.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #019


GDD 018 : Deep Thoughts About Death In Games
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:02:52
GDD 018 : Deep Thoughts About Death In Games

Brian and Ike talk about death in video games where the character dies or vehicle explodes at the end of the game loop. They discuss what death brings to a video game and why it may be important to include it your game. So, get ready for some great insight!

Today’s Developer Diary

Brian is extremely excited to announce his own Twitch TV channel! Here is the link to check it out: Fenix Fire Twitch TV and if you haven’t caught wind of it yet, now would definitely be a good time. It’s become a tool in the indie game dev by using it to broadcast the making of your game while making the game. It’s a pretty awesome way to connect with fans!

Brian’s mind is blown by just experimenting with it. He says the good thing about Twitch is just how raw it is and that production value is considered a bad thing. People who watch want to be a fly on the wall and want to see what makes the game tick, what makes the designer tick and all the decisions that are being made. There’s no post production and really no pre-production. It’s just a matter of hitting play and performing.

Ike is heading to downtown Denver to teach some young budding high school kids how to make video games. He’s really looking forward to it. While he’s away, we plan on having some guest hosts on the podcast so stay tuned for that!

Death in Video Games

Death doesn’t have to be a morbid topic, in the case of death in video games it’s a really interesting topic. Death in a video game is the ultimate point of feedback in your feedback loop. You have to have a carrot and a stick to get the full range of emotions out of a player. But as a player, it feels awful when you die. So why have death in your game?

Well, if you take death out:

  • It remove conflict or friction in the game
  • The mastery element gets thrown out the window
  • There’s no desire for the player to learn a new skill

Rewind the Clock Back to the Arcade

The one good thing about mobile games is they have heart again and some skill going on all of a sudden which is great to see. Reminds us of where video games began….in the arcade.

The entire coin-op industry throughout the 80’s were all about mastery. Atarti made a bunch of coin-op games about mastery like: Pong, Pac Man, Missile Command, Pitfall, Space Invaders, etc. All these games were hard and they were quick. It was a bite sized game. In order for it to be a game, you had to die and that was part of the business plan to throw in more quarters and play again.

Before internet and Twitch TV, you would go to the arcade and just watch someone play since it was a skill based game and be amazed by his abilities. Not only did you have to know the game, but you had to know your specific arcade since all the machines were different.

Mastery is a huge part of all of this that started the video game craze. It’s a feeling that males as opposed to females really strive for which is why it became a male dominated sport.

It was high technology and at the same time brutally difficult. All of this stuff was really hard core and that’s where video games were born from. It’s important to acknowledge that.

Death in Video Games – The Discussion

Brian and Ike go through many different scenarios and ideas of what death can bring to a game as well as some good insight into this interesting and important topic.

The dreaded loading screen:

  • Mostly found in Console and PC games
  • After you died, the game had to re-load and that was a penalty in and of itself
  • Death was painful not because you had to put another quarter in but you had to wait

An example of a game without death was the game Planescape: Torment  where you’re this immortal character and you didn’t “die” you would re-load in your spawn point. The whole game was built on the concept that you don’t die and there was no loading.

 The need for conflict:

  •  In a game, there almost needs to be a back and forth
  • Like the old saying goes, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
  • People need some conflict  – not only to appreciate the good portions but also to learn and to grow
  • Very similar to relationships

Death has been the go to as an instrument by a game designer, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time tested, but not the only solution.

Death in games today:

  •  In the free-to-play model, death gives the game designer a monetization point
  • Somewhat like the original arcades where you had to drop a quarter in when you died, that all of a sudden is a real tactic today
  • A direct correlation between the free-to-play and the arcade games
  • Expect the arcade games didn’t have the internet and couldn’t save progress
  • If used properly, free-to-play mobile games can be fair to both sides
  • People now don’t want to pay for anything which is totally different from the arcade market

In multi-player games death is a great tool to give finality to the game, as opposed to just a point system. When death is involved it makes the game finalized with a declared winner – the one that didn’t die.

The concept of Permadeath:

  • When playing a game, you’re advancing on and something’s killed you and there’s no way to resurrect you – you’ve lost everything
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, permadeath was part of the rule set and because of that everyone would be glued to the situation
  • To see what you’ve invested all go away was catastrophic

In the free-to-play market you see permadeath all over the place and it makes the player respect death and play to that. On top of that, they have to pay if they want to keep their character alive.

The direct relation between time and emotion:

  • If your character dies and you’ve invested 2 weeks in him or her, you will be upset because of the time that you invested – you might not be emotionally upset
  • RULE – You’re not emotionally invested unless in addition to all that, you customize the character in some way
  • When you create a character, you’re giving life to something – a reflection of you, an alter ego – and you wind up loving this character
  • MODIFIER to the RULE – how much social sharing have you done with that customized character that you’re invested in

Players can become so attached to their characters in the game that they actually experience the 5 stages of loss. The last stage being acceptance. And in this case acceptance would be deciding to play the game again and to re-build and re-make new characters.

Video games are very magical because you can have a new beginning and a clean slate.

With death, the player has to feel like there’s a decision they made that caused the death. Otherwise, the death is just maddening.

The Theory of Trial and Error Gameplay:

  • You’re put in a difficult situation, you try something, you fail, you restart and stay in that loop until you discover the one or two ways to pass that area – in a nutshell
  • This is gameplay is mostly in adventure games and in Dungeon & Dragons
  • The Swiss army knife of actions
  • Not a very favorable game design method when dealing with death
  • If the player doesn’t know what to do, then they’ll just turn the game off

The use of trial and error might be more effective when the player is not dying but trying to solve a door puzzle to see what levers and switches open each door, for example.

Is Death in games necessary?

  • Without death, will there be enough conflict or friction?
  • Are there other ways to put in friction?
  • The Next Gen Shooter games at E3 have hit points and to re-heal yourself you just need to get out of that situation – kinda makes someone feel g0d-like
  • There’s a delicate balance
  • Have a hard time with games that allow you to survive regardless
  • Clash of Clans example
  • Building a real life snow fort example


Death in video games is a topic that we’ll talk about many times. It’s something that finishes the game loop and it’s a powerful thing in a video game. If done right, it can draw a lot of emotion out of the player. But if done wrong, it can derive a lot of anger out of the player and have them leave the game and never play again. It’s a double edged sword.

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and leave a review of what you thought of this episode in iTunes! Thanks!

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #018



GDD 017 : Audio and Soundtrack for Games – An Overview
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 57:25
GDD 017 : Audio and Soundtrack for Games – An Overview

We received an inquiry from a fan and it inspired us to discuss how to use music and sounds in video games. Brian and Ike tackle this topic with great detail using some of their personal experiences. So, enjoy!

Today’s Developer Diary

Ike’s watching movies and Brian talks about his experience at E3. This was much different than PAX which was all consumers, so you’re audience and players and you can see that they really are interested in what you’re doing. But the main difference at E3 is it’s more of everyone sizing each other up, more of a competition. It’s basically media and industry professionals at E3. The fact that the game is made by just a two person team is getting some attention.

The One Room Schoolhouse had been busy and getting pretty close to launching another education game this year and doing some contract work as well. He does contract work during the day and at night works on his own stuff just to have enough fuel to get through the day. Game development involves a lot of momentum.

We just want to thank you because we’ve received a bunch of great reviews on iTunes! “Keep on killing it guys! It’s like Christmas opening up my podcast app and seeing a new episode.” Thanks so much! It means a lot that we’re resonating and hope to live up to your praise.

Sound and Music In Video Games

Many of you may not know this, but music is Brian’s first love. Before he was an artist, programmer and video game developer he played the guitar and music is in his blood. He’s currently playing in a band too!  Brian’s love of music certainly shows in his games and trailers as he uses it as a centerpiece. In the film industry they say score, but in the video game industry it can be broken up into two sides:

Sound Effects:  Put onto a jump, a bullet shooting, button sounds in your UI – those are usually a one off, you just play this and it plays a sound file and of coarse there’s some tricks to the trade

Soundtrack: You can do a lot with it like have different soundtracks for different levels like classic Super Mario Bros. or blend from one soundtrack to another like Journey did and make it very composed.

Music and Soundtracks in the Mobile Market

When people play games on their mobile devices, there is more of a tendency to play covertly and the player might not want a ton of sound and music. So how much effort do you put into your sound on a mobile game if a lot people are playing it silently?

Keep in mind people can play with headphones on and there is something to the sound. It would be a huge mistake to not give your sound the attention it deserves. Obviously you wouldn’t give it as much attention as art because that’s visual and how you get your foot in the door. So, you’ll want to get your art style down first and then make sure your sound can support it.

Ike remembered the game EverQuest and how the game had a sound when you leveled up that was the most satisfying sound on the planet. Never forget how impactful sound can be. It can do so much for your production and if you put the effort into it, it will just pay off ten fold.

 Putting Sound in Your Game

It’s really part of the basic core feedback to the player. If you think about a game mechanic, there’s three things to think about as far as your core gameplay mechanics:

  1. A visual of the gameplay – show the actual mechanic
  2. There’s a sound to go with it – put a sound to it
  3. A visual component in the UI – somehow draw attention to it in the UI as well

Brian shares his experience when he worked at High Voltage Software with the lead audio guy. He said after the game was prototyped and they’re ready to start putting sound in, he would look for anything that looks like it would add some sort of a sound like if something moves would be the first thing he would look for. If it moves, does it make a sound, then let’s get a sound in there for it.

So, if in doubt put a sound in there for it.

Another interesting thing the lead audio guy would do is ask the Dev team for early video footage of the game and based on that he would put together all the kinds of sound he thought that would be happening. Brian explains this with the game he worked on Hunter: The Reckoning

  • Got awesome sounds – guts spilling out, blood splatters, etc
  • Layered them on top of themselves and made that musical
  • He put that in 1st along with a bunch of weapon sounds – sword slashing, axes slashing, guns firing
  • He created this composition of all the sound effects and pitched them – made them musical in and of themselves
  • Then only after that part of it did he approach the soundtrack

He found that the mid-range pitches (in the musical spectrum everything has a certain pitch to it) and a lot of the high-range pitches were all being handled by all the sound effects so he was looking to fill in the sound spectrum with the soundtrack to give everything a nice pulse to it and keep everything moving. He arrived at a kinda of techno/goth beat that fit the style of the game and it worked out perfectly. When the sounds for the hack and slash started coming in, it really made the game!

Visualize It

If you were to visualize it on the art side and put nothing but green in your game, there would be nothing for your eye to play on and there would be nothing to identify what’s important or not. Then, if you throw a splash of red on the screen that’s probably really important. It’s similar in the musical world – fill in all the action, then you know what you’re missing so you can fill that in afterwards.

Same idea exists with visuals. You can take any image, bring it into Photoshop and look at it’s histogram and it shows you it’s visual spectrum – how much light, how much darkness, how much mids. They say you want a nice balanced spectrum and there is a bit of a science to it. If spectrum look bad, then it’s probably a bad image. There’s a correlation.

When you Don’t Have a Sound Guy

How do you get that polished sound when you don’t have a sound guy and you’re trying to make something that works?

Being a game developer makes you really sensitive to stealing other people’s stuff whether it’s online or not because so much gets pirated. So, if taking things make sure it’s either public domain, follow the licensing rules.

  • Start with grabbing truly free stuff
  • Then create sounds based on about two or three sounds that was grabbed
  • If picking up a pick-up, might add a chime, a boom or a hit of a drum
  • On top of that record your own voice – saying “yeah” or some kind of a tone
  • Then combine all together – creates something that doesn’t sound like just got off the internet

Brian goes to websites. About 95% of the sounds he gets comes from 3 different websites. One he uses for sound effects specifically is and this website has a bunch of videogame sounds. They have it set up where you can play each file right there before you buy it and the cost ranges from $2-$5 for each sound.

You’re going to want to give yourself about a half a day to listen to all the sounds and you’re going to want to batch it. Get your game to a certain point and then get a batch of sounds. Pick out the ones that you think will work and then pick out a few alternatives because you never know until you get it in the game. A spreadsheet can be helpful especially if doing a bigger project and to have a list of what you intended to use each sound for.

Have Fun With It

Ike likes to look for sounds when he’s eating. It’s a good activity when you have something else you’re doing, like the equivalent to flipping through a magazine since you don’t necessarily know what you’re looking for.

It’s kinda fun being the audience for a minutes instead of creating and putting your essence out there you can sit back and listen to a lot of different things and think about how they would work in your production.

Another thing that’s a lot of fun is to try to create some sounds for the effects that you’re looking for. You can make a lot of sounds just from sitting at your desk using: ceramic jars, keys, bells, chotchkes, a coin and a bottle to make a coin drop. With a simple little microphone you can get pretty far with a lot of these sounds and it might not be 100% professional grade but it’s lots of fun.

Brian wanted a certain sound for his game SOURCE but couldn’t find anything that would fit so he went over to his cheap old Casio keyboard and used it as a MIDI controller and plugged it into his Mac through the USB. Then he used the program Logic Pro and was able to create the perfect sound after doing a bunch of takes. It was really fun and brought everything to life!

When to Add Sound Effects

Ike suggests putting them in pretty early, at least for the core game loop. He finds that it also helps set some landmarks. Having about 20 basic sounds like button clicks and bullets, even if they’re not great, can highlight key game play things very early is probably really helpful.

We’ve talked about the core gameplay loop, prototyping that core gameplay loop and adding the UI around that so that you really have a continuous experience – That’s a perfect time to add the sound.

When you add sound at this stage, something magical happens and suddenly the game feels more finished. Even if it’s not the perfect, right sound put it in anyway.

Another landmark or beacon as Ike like to call it, is before you hand your game over to someone, get some sound in there. The general consumer expects it and can’t overlook it.

The Video Game Soundtrack

Brian’s game SOURCE actually came from the soundtrack and that’s what really guided the artistic direction of the visuals of the game in case anybody’s curious why it looks the way it does.

It’s really hard to write your own soundtrack, so here’s some tips:

  • Look to a professional or a musician that does composition
  • Go to a website –  Audio Network – Amazing high quality soundtracks with cost ranges $100-$400
  • Especially mobile games, there’s potential to embrace player’s own music library and allow them to play their own music – has to be the right kind of game
  • Websites go by mood to find sounds – can act as a guide if end up hiring a professional
  • If find good sound guys, keep using them

One definition of being creative is being put in a box and actually trying to come out with something interesting and awesome. This is very true about sound guys. If you can find good sound guys keep using them. There’s a lot of people that can make sound, but not a lot of people that can create an emotion from their sound that plays perfectly to your visuals. Very valuable people.

A ballpark number would be somewhere around $800 for a 30 sec loop custom made by a top LA studio that also had movie and TV credits.

Or you can try to team-up with graduates or students who want to build up their portfolio and work out a deal like if they make the sound for free, you’ll put their name in the credits for example.

We’re big fans of if someone does work and they do good work, then compensate them for it. It’s not easy. So try to take core of the people that are helping you out with your productions. It’s also important to never burn bridges with people.

Trailers and Cinematics

Can approach in two ways:

  1. Create the action and have the sound match it
  2. Find the sound 1st then use that to fill in the tone and the pacing of the action

Both work fine, it depends on how you’re going to source the actual sound.

For SOURCE, Brian started with the soundtrack for the trailer. He used Adobe Premiere as the video editor and started by putting the soundtrack down then cutting up gameplay footage and laying in on top of the soundtrack while being mindful of the overall duration of the trailer. He ended up doing a bunch of design and implemented gameplay for the sake of the trailer.

The trailer was actually  driving development because it forces you to think about:

  • What is the story line?
  • How does this all roll out?
  • What’s the progression?
  • What are the arcs?

Putting it all together in a cinematic really helped and gave some great functionality that hadn’t planning on doing until further in the development.

The good thing about a song is it has a beginning, middle and an end. If the song has a peak to it and you don’t have any grand moments in your game – that’s a problem. It can help you fill in the picture.

Promotional Materials for Sony and Microsoft

They will ask for things with and with out sound effects. Sometimes they want something called ‘B Roll’ – which is straight gameplay, not edited it’s just a stream of someone playing.

It’s important to make sure there’s an easy way to turn your sound effects and your soundtrack on and off when doing your screen grabs. True for both the consumer and marketing reasons.

The Key To Sound Effects

Feedback 1st and Mood 2nd. It’s a combination of feedback and mood. Highly encourage using the rule of 3 with any key gameplay element: have the visual of the gameplay, the sound effect and the UI support all together on your core gameplay experience.

With SOURCE, did the opposite and started with mood and now have an extremely moody game.

How you approach that is going to have a big impact on your development and how you progress.


Thank You Again For The Great Reviews!

Please support us by giving us reviews on iTunes, Twitter and Facebook. Let us know what you think and if you have any ideas for a new episode!


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #017



GDD 016 : When is a Game Done?
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 46:47
GDD 016 : When is a Game Done?

We received a Facebook question from our friend Bradley Erickson asking us “How do you finish and ship the dang thing after months(or years) of iteration and work?” after we published the episode ‘How to turn an idea into a game?’. So, we got together and recoded this episode to answer his question. Enjoy!

 How Do You Know when a Game is Done?

This brings up the question, “Is it ever done?” Well, at the end of the day you need to just ship it and get it out. This episode will give you some insights on how you can tell when you’re ready to rap it up.

Creating the Minimum Viable Product

Ideas are everywhere. An important skill to develop is taking an idea from start to finish. In general it is good practice to finish what you started. Finding a way to create a minimum viable product and getting that out in the world will do wonders for you and even hopefully earn you some money.

What Does Minimum Viable Product Mean?

From a gameplay perspective:

  • You can feel the meta loop – the core game loop
  • You’re able to replay that loop in the right amount of time and have a continuation of where you left off
  • The whole system is working for you
  • Social Media – perfectly acceptable high level meta loop or meta game
  • If you can get that short term, medium term and long term loops in place that’s a good indicator that you’re close to being done

No Bugs

It is extremely important that as your playing in all three loops of your game  that you’re not coming across any bugs or errors. The worst thing you can do when launching a game is get a bunch of 1 stars for something you had control of.

Soft Launch

Launching to a small market first avoids the disastrous results if there are any problems with your game.


Find ways to get as much feedback as you can. Seeing how people are playing your game can be a safety measure to catch problems really and make sure there are no road blocks.

Using achievements is a cheating way of doing analytics. It works based on what achievements the player is getting you’ll have some analytics. Brian used Flurry Analytics with his game Roboto and put a hook in the beginning of each level to gauge how people were playing the game.

What Corners Do You Cut To Get Your Game Out Sooner?

It is really hard to hand something over to someone when you know it had flaws. At some point you have to make the decision that this is good enough. But what do you give up on?


On free-to-play games, you can shave (not cut out) on monetization and focus more on player retention so they are more likely to play the game and stay with it; then over time you can introduce more areas to monetize like more in-app purchases. How about an in-app purchase that takes the ads away, for instance.

Amount of Assets

Visual polish is more favorable that the amount of assets. Instead of making six worlds for your game, you can put all your focus on worlds one and two and make them absolutely amazing.

Determining When Your Game Is Done

 Create An Amazing Experience

Your experience can be shorter and better.

Keep in mind, the game doesn’t have need to be the everything game that does all kinds of stuff. Players are going to move on to a game that has a different kind of experience – go in understanding that.

But, the experience you’re making is so special and so different and so unlike anything else that they only get it when playing your game. So, take that one thing that you’re doing so far and you’ve presented it in such a brilliant way  that it’s going to be unique and fresh and that’s why they’re sticking with it.

Working Through the Half Way Point

When working on a game, about half way through the game, you want to start working on the next game. Don’t. Finish that thought (remember, it was once a brilliant idea) and then move on to your next game instead of trying to turn this game into your next game.

It could be a tough pivot. Make all your pivoting early on. It’s not the time to pivot when all the features are in and everything’s working, it’s time to wrap it up.

UI is Super Super Important

Spend a lot of time on UI:

  • Making the graphics
  • Piecing it all together
  • Changing the flow
  • Adding options for different platforms
  • Can’t cut too many corners

It’s all about how you’re handling UI buttons for tablets and phones:

  • Are they fun to press?
  • Do they have little noises and sparkles that come out of them?
  • Do they slide in really cool?
  • Is the frame rate on these sliding UI panels really sharp and clean?
  • Are all these elements super slick?
  • Is it fun to navigate though menus?

These points are super important to consider for App games.

 Features – To Add Or Not To Add

A skill that is learned at this point of game development is knowing which features to put in and to keep going on in the development and which ones to not include and be thinking about wrapping it up.

Ask yourself:

  1. Realistically how long will it take to put in and be flawless?
  2. Does it solve a problem you have in the game?
  3. Does it solve your short, medium or long term game play loop?
  4. Is it needed for the meta game to make the experience fun and interesting?
  5. Does it address the minimal monetization needs that you have?
  6. Is it needed to understand more of what your players are doing from an analytics standpoint?

Identifying whether or not you need that feature to fit the core basic needs of the player is how you would evaluate it at that point.

Let’s say you’re a year in, the game has zero bugs and you’re determining if you put in a new feature – Stop innovating, no more creativity.  Look at other games to see what they did and take innovation off the table. Why re-create the wheel when there are plenty of mechanics that people already accept and know.

Deadlines – Respect Your Own

Give yourself a firm deadline! Treat deadlines seriously even if they’re artificial and stick to that timeline. People generally work to the amount of time given. Think of it this way: if you want to get better at running, sign up for a race. The real pressure will help motivate you.

Hold yourself accountable and do whatever mental trick works for you. You have to learn what buttons to use to motivate yourself and see what works as far as timelines go.

Knowing When Your Game Is Done

You’ve made sure:

  • To fit the core needs of the core game play loop
  • Have a hint of a monetization model – you can fill out more as time goes on
  • You’re deadly serious there are no bugs – can cause permanent damage
  • It feels fun and it doesn’t have to be long winded
  • What you show is extremely polished – especially the UI
  • It’s heavily themed
  • The visuals don’t detract from the experience

These points make up your minimum viable product.

Thank you again Bradley for asking us this question, hopefully we helped out with getting your games out into the world. Good luck!

Keep the questions coming!

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #016



GDD 015 : What To Do With $10K?
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:00:22
GDD 015 : What To Do With $10K?

There’s a million ways you can spend $10,000 but what would be the best way to make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck? Brian and Ike discuss a few different scenarios on how they would handle a big chunk of money.

Today’s Developer Diary

Ike launched his game Rhythm Friends on iOS and Amazon! Although it’s technically his second game he’s shipped, it’s the first game he started and finished this year living up to the New Year’s Resolution of “Ship It”. Rhythm Friends is a rhythm tapping game intended for 6-8  year old’s. Ike worked with his 6 year old daughter who just started taking piano to help her improve on the feeling of the notes rather than just knowing the counts of each note. He goes into some detail about the gameplay and challenges he faced but all in all this was a great experience and if nothing else a great memento working with his daughter. We wish Rhythm Friends luck and be sure to pass it along to anyone you know with kids in that age group!

What Would You Do With $10,000?

We decided to challenge ourselves a little and think about what we’d do if we had that kind of money and had a game we were working on, how would we spend that money? Since it depends on what stage you’re in and where you want to go next, we explored a few different scenarios.

Scenario 1 : The 1-2 Person Programming Team

We can break it up into categories:

  • Marketing
  • Key Art Points – Character
  • Store Front Presence

For the programmer heavy team, it would be wise to spend your money on art and hopefully you’re not making a game that is too character heavy but more of a puzzle game like Doodle Jump.

It is really important to have good looking promotional screens, a landing page and an icon because it can give people a vibe of your game. With that said, we would put about $2500 towards getting all the promotional art and marketing materials including a video. An artist can polish anything indefinitely and in the world of art, the saying goes “It’s never truly done, it’s only abandoned.”

Here’s a breakdown:

  • $2500 – Marketing Materials
  • $500 – Music and Sound Effects
  • $3500 – Characters and Effects
  • $3500 – Backgrounds and Props

How do you squeeze the most amount of the highest quality art as possible with the amount of money?

Focus on monetizing. In the free-to-play market you want to drive the player to purchase by trying to figure out how to get money in a way that is rewarding for both sides (you and the player).  So focus on the up-sell art that gets the consumer looking it and wanting to have it.

How much art should you expect?

An artist can ask anywhere from $20-$100 per hour.

  • Seasoned Artist – $50-$60 per hour
  • Mid-Level Artist -$30-$40 per hour
  • Junior Artist – $15-$20 per hour

If you find an artist that charges $35 per hour, $3500 will get you 100 hours or two and a half weeks of work. It will take the artist a day or two to get acclimated to the style unless you provide them with a style guide with color palates and so forth this helps the artist to not go in a direction you don’t want them to.

Keep in mind you’re probably going to have some lost work. It’s really hard to have a game almost 100% done and then plug in the art and it all works perfectly. Some of the work will get lost, called art waste.

It also depends on how much business vs art orientated you are. As well as your inspiration and goals.

  • More Art: the game is done when  say it’s done – can end up spending more money, not having it out as soon but have an amazing game
  • More Business: This is the game – have it all gray boxed in, put in final art and when we’re done with the budget we’re shipping it. If does well, maybe invest 10-20% back into the title


There is always an expense related to every platform that you launch on, usually a couple hundred bucks. You might have to purchase devices during your development. Brian likes to purchase the older models simple because you develop for the lowest common denominator and the widest user base. Once you have your game running on an older model, you can push the graphics on the newer machines.

Scenario 2 – The Generalist

You’re working a job not related to games and you want to start making a game. You’ve downloaded Unity to your computer, gone through a few tutorials and have an idea for a game. What’s the next step?

The best way to spend the money is to invest in yourself by taking a look at your own skills and deciding  what you’d like to get better at. Then go through some tutorials, look at the asset store and find some starter packs and then modify from there.

The important thing to remember is the always keep it fun for yourself. It has to feel like your down time and it has to stay fun and interesting.

Scenario 3 – The 2 Artist Team

Most likely if you’re a working artist, you don’t really have a lot of time to devote to making a game so you might have to outsource the programming and most of the design. It is really tricky to hire programmers since they are smart people with business smarts and may want to become your partner. Try to find the programmer/designer type to help put the art together and run with it.

There are tools that artists can use as game making apps:

Scripting is relatively easy and since artists are good at adapting like chameleons because they generally have to learn so many high end programs so jumping into Unity is basically easy. However, opening up a scripting file might look confusing to a lot of artists which is why some use visual scripting tools like schematics. Brian used to use Vicious Engine by Vicious Cycle.

Everyone Should Be Knowledgeable

There should be no more just artists or just programmers, everyone has to learn both sides. Artists should learn scripting and programmers should learn Photo Shop. In the 90’s programmers ruled because they had to write their own engine, but now it’s art that’s separating the men from the boys. Somewhere between the blurred lines of art and game design is the content and that’s the most important thing.

A few insights:

  • Be the composer – learn all the different skills
  • Be smart – download rocks, trees, textures from the asset store – not your main character
  • Invest in yourself – decide what skills to invest in

Here’s some more:

  • Marketing in the mobile space is an unknown quantity
  • Most important piece of the marketing puzzle is the video trailer
  • Video is king – if you can’t make a high quality video then spend the money
  • People want to hear from the developers – be honest with yourself and with the people

 A Hundred Different Ways to Spend $10,000

If you are fortunate enough to have $10,000 we suggest to focus your attention towards building your own skills and getting your game across the finish line.

We wouldn’t take $10K and put it into a $200K game. Remember, anymore than 2 or 3 months of development and the risk profile of you getting your money back becomes a lot higher. Seasoned developers can go beyond that point but generally start with a small bite sized game and go from there.



GDD 014 : How To Turn an Idea Into A Game
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:03:58
GDD 014 : How To Turn an Idea Into A Game

The first step to designing a video game is transforming an idea into something that is playable in three key gameloops.  Brian and Ike explain these loops and give examples.

Today’s Developer Diary

Brian and Ike are baffled about Flappy Birds popularity and the simplicity of the game. Perhaps, sometimes the simple idea is the best idea. Ike shares he had to take a step back from the games he’s been working on to try to make some more simpler games. Brian shares one of the most fun games he’s made was a super simple, addicting game for John Deere driving a combine.

Most video game designers want to develop the best game they can, but 90% of their efforts are lost. Just like a Jazz musician that has spent countless hours learning scales and cords, but then Pop music makes a lot more money with just a catchy chorus. The only certainty that Brian and Ike can conclude about this discussion is your success is all in the execution.

How to turn your idea into an Actual Game

Once you’ve done the tutorials, know basic programming, and found a friend or someone that can do art where do you go with your idea? This has been a common question we’ve discovered through Facebook. With so many thoughts and questions running through your head about what to do, we can certainly see why. This podcast will give you the basics of where to start and what to do, ready?

The Basic Game Loop

The first thing is to prototype the basic game loop. The game loop is key.

Most games have three main game loops:

  1. Meta Loop (Highest loop) – The overall game
  2. Level Loop (Middle loop) – Getting through the whole level alive
  3. Core Loop (Smallest loop) – Core mechanic

The first place to start, even before the art, is to define and prototype the core mechanic (your moment to moment gameplay) and try to figure out how the person is going to interact with the character.

You start with the Core Loop. Why?

  • Since the story and overall background in the Meta Loop is something you can always be thinking about but doesn’t get implemented – you can think of it as the North Star guiding you
  • The game can change frequently – the prototyping stage is a discovery stage
  • If you wrote it all out, it wouldn’t be a game – it would just be a story

Sometimes it can be good not to even think about the Meta Loop and overarching story and be ridiculous in your core loop then make sense of it later. It’s all about finding the fun in that core loop.

You start developing, but it’s not as fun as you’d like it to be?

The game needs to be satisfying. Developers always have the tendency or the impulse to keep adding more stuff of variety. Be careful. This could be a trap because adding variety will make it a more lasting experience but it doesn’t necessarily make it more fun.

Keep going super deep in the core ability that you have. Constantly ask yourself and evaluate why you’re adding features and identify will adding it make something else more interesting. Brian talks about Gates of Osiris.

UI Elements

Try to limit yourself to 1 UI element that supports your Core Loop and the basics of what you’re trying to do.

Brian explains a term in the art word called “Gesturing it in.” Ike shares a similar principle in the programming world. The bottom line is when making the core mechanic or core loop, “gesture in” the UI. Just toss it up there without worrying about the details and it might even be good enough to ship it that way.

Starting to Feel Like a Game

  • 30 sec experience – lets you know if the idea has any promise or not
  • If yes, then you can move into a more complete thought

Basically it will start feeling like a game when you have a bit of the Meta game with the level progressions in there and the basics of getting through the level. Even if it’s all just gray and the character is a box, it should still feel like a game.

The Tech Demo

The tech demo is something completely different, but there is power in it. You create something that is not a game by making one thing incredible. Like taking one character fully modeled, rendered and jaw dropping amazing to get people excited. But be careful. It could be a trap or as Ike puts it Fools Gold. If you’re trying to get game deals and they can’t visualize where you’re going with it, it becomes challenging and you might run into some road blocks.

You can use the tech demo to try to build buzz before you can actually build your game. The benefit of that is people will understand what the game play will be like. It won’t be a game loop but more of a promotional thing, but it might help you in your development. You can have both of those tracks going simultaneously with one person working on the core loop and another working on a vertical slice of what the whole thing’s going to look like.

Working on the Core Loop

  • Go through many different prototypes
  • Allows you to throw the idea out
  • It gives you a place to evaluate and stop
  • Failing fast

You know you’re on to something when it might not look great, but people keep playing it. Ike shares about the rhythm timing game he’s been working on.

Once you’re done with that core prototype and it’s all working, it’s a yes or no as far as if you can make it into a game. Then you’re ready to move into the production phase – which will be discussed in another show.

Here are some basic steps to take:

  1. Gray box at least your Core Loop
  2. Once that’s working, do your Level Loop
  3. Play testing, get feedback
  4. Make an internal greenlight decision – invest more time or pivot
  5. Try not to get defensive and keep an open mind with critiques
  6. Polish and iron out issues before in the spotlight

We’ll be keeping this conversation going. We’ve just scratching the surface of basically going through and taking a game from point A-Z, from idea all the way to completion.

Please leave any comments or questions you might have for us on Facebook or Twitter, we’d love to hear from you!










GDD 013 : PAX East And Kickstarter, Lessons Learned
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:07:56
GDD 013 : PAX East And Kickstarter, Lessons Learned

Brian shares 15 tips from his experiences at PAX East 2104, the Indie Megabooth, and launching a Kickstarter campaign.

Source is live and doing great on Kickstarter! So far it’s 16% funded after about 6 days. The game received an awesome response at PAX and now just waiting and hoping to reach 100% funding by May 11th. Source Kickstarter 

PAX East 2014 – IndieMEGABOOTH

Brian gives an inside, behind the scenes, detailed recap of what it was like showing his game at PAX East this past weekend April 11-13.  He includes his struggles with starting a Kickstarter campaign at the same time, working through computer glitches, and updating the build while in Boston to make the demo of the game go much smoother. So sit back and get ready to hear about the drama of being in the IndieMEGABOOTH.

Getting Prepared

First step was to submit an application with a video, a write-up and screenshots to the IndieMEGABOOTH. Then around January we received the email that we were accepted! After that it, there was paperwork to fill out and hats off to the MEGABOOTH for making it really easy to fill out the scary paperwork that PAX was requiring.  Next came ordering the prints and the buttons. All this was a good month to month and a half of intense deadlines while also putting together a Kickstarter campaign at the same time.

The biggest reason why Brian and Anna decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign at the same time as PAX was to have a clear call to action with the audience. They didn’t want Source to become forgotten among the craziness of PAX. Of coarse, nothing can go as planned so the Kickstarter launch had some set backs.  Just when Brian though he could hit the green button to make the campaign live, he gets an email saying it will take another 3-5 days for verification. This is Thursday night, PAX starts in the morning! So, naturally he was really upset then wrote tech support a sob story email and by the end of PAX on Friday, the Kickstarter campaign was live. Can you sense the drama yet?

Expo Tips

Here are some useful tips Brian came up with to help your Expo experience go more smoothly. He elaborates on them in more detail, but here are the bullet points of each tip.

  1. Stick to one game  – we showed Source and Gates of Osiris, but really only focused on Source
  2. Bring your own hardware – this will prevent computer issues and crashes
  3. When you arrive at your booth, Don’t wait – seek people out or you might never get what your equipment or devices that you need for your booth
  4. Have a Call to Action
  5. When launching a Kickstarter campaign, go through all the verification one month before you want to launch – this will eliminate stress and worry if more verification is needed
  6. Have a quick pitch ready
  7. Wear neon orange shirts with your logo – this helps identifies who to talk to about the game
  8. Engage with people coming to the booth, interact with fans and treat them like gold
  9. The Build of the game should be tailored to put action up front – important to get people in the meat of the game quickly
  10. Make sure you have ability to make last second adjustments to the Build
  11. Have a bunch of hot key on the keyboard – reset, kill, etc.
  12. Have back-ups of your Build
  13. If you have a network game, be prepared to handle network problems unless you can get a direct connection
  14. Make the game the large banner going across your booth – it prevents confusion
  15. A side tip not mentioned on the podcast is to have hand sanitizer at the booth – people really appreciate this and it’s good for you to have too

The Cost

Brian gives a breakdown of the costs to consider:

  • The 10 x 10 space with the base package includes 1 TV, 1 Computer, a table with 2 chairs, base carpeting with no padding and a wastebasket – $1750
  • Prints – 2 7-foot tall banners – $125 each
  • Prints – 10 x 3 Logo Banner – $250
  • Buttons – 1,000 – $250
  • Travel – including hotel, airfare and a rental car – $2,000
  • Grand total – about $5,000 with food, etc.

The Experience of PAX East IndieMEGABOOTH

So the question is, Was it worth it? Well, Brian definitely wants to do it again! There were many benefits of showing at PAX like making connections with fans and play testing, getting new contacts with press and just being out there for people to see.

We do have to give a shout out to Danielle that came up to Brian on Sunday and completely made his day! Thank you Danielle! It was great meeting and talking with so many interesting and nice people, just that alone was worth it.


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #013



GDD 012 : Two Ways You Can Get Funding For Your Game
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:14:10
GDD 012 : Two Ways You Can Get Funding For Your Game

Detailed strategies on how you can get publisher funding for your game or go the crowdfunding route. Complete with real world war stories from the trenches.

Exciting NEWS!!!

“Source” by Fenix Fire is live on Kickstarter! “Source” is not just another project to Brian, it is THE project. He gives some personal insight of the inspiration for the game and explains it’s all about exploration and life. Brian will be at the Indie MEGABOOTH booth 2 at PAX East in Boston April 11-13 2014 where you’ll be able to play “Source” live. So, make sure to tell your friends and help make this game a reality with a successful Kickstarter campaign!

Funding Your Game

In this podcast we drill into two primary ways to get funding for your game – Publishers and Crowdfunding. We discuss the proper etiquette to use when trying to raise money for a project and/or a studio. We also give some advice on certain things or behaviors to avoid.


The #1 attitude you should have when approaching a publisher is the feeling that the train is leaving the station and it’s their choice whether they want to get on board or not. You want to let them know how their money will add to your project and how it will be useful for you if they jump in. Keep in mind no one wants to be a parachute for you. Investors want to be part of the success story.

If you believe in your game, you’re going to find a way to make it. You don’t want to depend on money from publishers to make your game. Firs,t be able to show the core mechanic and the core game loop and then make a clear plan of what you’re going to do with hat money.


Sales gets a bad rap. Here are some fundamental techniques and advice:

  1. The more you know who it is you’re selling to and the more more they know, like and trust you – the less you’ll need to do the hard sell, will be more conversational
  2. The less you know them and the less they know, like and trust you – the harder the sell, like a used car salesman
  3. Do not need gimmicks to sell
  4. Need to create  and build relationships
  5. Understand in the business world, sales are a very slow process and need to have a lot of respect
  6. NEVER Lie – always be upfront and honest, because it can easily backfire

Meeting With a Publisher

Like a resume, you want to ask yourself how do I get someone at a big company to pay attention to me? First, look for small victories for instance competitions, rewards, honorable mentions or Kickstarter funding. Try to build up credibility to give them reasons to trust you.

Brain shares his experiences with publishers and touches on Mobile Publishers. A word of caution he gives, “If you’re trying to raise quick cash, any day in the game industry will not get you there.” It is a long road that takes a long time and everybody who’s successful in the game industry had to earn it.

General Advice:

  • The further your game is along, the easier and typically faster the sales cycle is going to be
  • Don’t bend your design just to get get your game funded
  • When they ask for stuff, then you ask for stuff – respectfully not confrontational
  • They usually find you or send out a format to email back to them
  • Work on your community before game is launched
  • Move forward with the thought that you don’t need the publisher

The Pitch

Let’s say, you’re game has been identified as the specific kind of game the publisher is looking for. What happens next? Well, they will bring it back to a committee or group for evaluation. The #1 thing you can do is understand what that committee is looking for. Work with the ambassador to adjust your pitch. Also, the less amount of people you bring to a pitch meeting, the better.

A 20 minute pitch:

  1. Introduce yourself and your company – talk yourself up
  2. Start a light conversation – pretend talking to only one person
  3. Don’t waste any time – pick up controller and start playing
  4. Introduce character, world, goals and details that make your game remarkable
  5. Be very passionate about your game
  6. Build to a cliffhanger – leave them wanting more
  7. Open up to questions
  8. Have money slide and market slide prepared
  9. Thank them for their time – always be courteous

A great way to prepare for the pitch meeting is rehearsing in front of friends, family or co-workers. Once you get that awkward and embarrassing feeling out of the way, the real thing tends be much easier. Another tip is to talk in front of a mirror. It’s also awkward and weird but it helps you practicing good eye contact.

If the pitch went well,  they’ll ask questions like:

  • How much do you need?
  • When’s your release date?
  • What else do you need?
  • What happens after the launch?

If the pitch went bad,  they’ll ask questions like:

  • What makes you think this game will stand out?
  • What is special about this game?

Remember to answer honestly and not to get defensive. Maybe there’s something not in the build yet but you have a vision for it. Try to answer as thoughtfully and as best you can.

Publishers typically don’t say “no”, they just don’t say “yes”. There is never a finish line, it’s a marathon and a relationship.


Most of what we’ve discussed about publishers transfers over to crowdfunding. You want to develop relationships, build confidence and gain trust that you’ll be able to deliver. Instead of showing a demo of your game, you will be making a video that shows why your game is remarkable, interesting, fresh and unique. Brain shares his experience since he’s currently working on his video.

An interesting tip on Kickstarter is to make your campaign a do or die situation – unless you fund us,  this project will never be made. This is different than a publisher because the game is going to be made regardless and it’s up to you if you want to jump on or not.

See which approach Brian took with his Kickstarter campaign and watch his video!!!


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #012

GDD 011 : Beginner’s Guide To Enemy AI
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 58:34
GDD 011 : Beginner’s Guide To Enemy AI

Crash course in how to set up AI for your game, complete with pro tips from our resident AI programming expert, Ike.

GDC 2014 has come and gone, we give a little recap of our highlights of the conference. The most exciting part was after Brian’s speech at the Unity Booth fans from this podcast came up and talked to us. So just wanted to give a shout out to those that approached us, Thank you!

In other news, Brian’s company Fenix Fire will launch a Kickstarter campaign for “Source” which will be available for Xbox 1, PS4, and Steam Greenlight for PC. We want to be as transparent as possible so you can learn from this experience. We’ll be showing and discussing the approach, marketing, press, social media, numbers and much more. This is an exciting an unmarked territory challenge and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you.

Enemy AI

This podcast is a beginner’s guide on how to set up a basic enemy character and how to organize basic functionality. Ike uses his 15 years of experience and gives some black belt examples and ideas while Brian keeps it on a simpler level so wherever your skill level is this will be a helpful podcast for your game development.

3 Key Elements of Enemy AI

  1. Goals
  2. Movement
  3. Responding to player


First split up behavior between unconscious decisions and conscious decisions. Separate your actions, behaviors and animations into which category it’s going to be in and understand the unconscious decisions take priority over the conscious decisions.

A good exercise when starting out is to write down all the conscious and unconscious actions that you’re Enemy AI will do. Keep it at a high level.

Conscious Decisions

  • Patrol – trying to find the player, but not necessarily seeking them out
  • Idle – waiting for something to happen
  • Moving – to a specific location
  • Attack – aggressively of lightly

Give a sense of urgency  to each goal this allows you to swap in different animations later and when you have the character respond the same for starters it also gives flexibility later on. However, different states of urgency is more of an advanced feature, the next layer so to speak but it’s one that has to be developed early on because it’s hard to add later and it creates a more life like complex character for human behavior.

Unconscious Decisions:

  • Hit reaction – hit by bullet
  • Falling – fell off a ledge
  • Thrown on the ground
  • Death Sequence
  • The character doesn’t think about what’s happening to them, they’re a victim of the environment

Step by Step in Unity

Next, we go though a detailed explanation of diving in and creating an example using Unity.

Here are some definitions and explanations of terms we’ve used:

Pathfinding: Basically the study of how do you get from one location to the other when the direct path is unavailable.

Character Controller: Certain kind of entity that you can put on to an object and it all of a sudden assumes and absorbs a lot of the nice functionality for moving characters around.

Ray Cast: Imaging looking through binoculars or a telescope and you’re looking down a very pinpoint vision, a cone of vision but can see very very far and anything that is interrupting that can be sensed because you’re using a ray cast. Basically you pass in a starting positions and an ending position in 3 dimensional space and the first thing that it comes in contact with from the starting position you can get data on it.

Switch Case Functions: A little bit different than an if then statement in programmer talk. Brian gives a detailed example of how he uses this with his Enemy AI

Helpful Advice

We’re big believers in tracking and recording the state changes of your NPC. Create a change state function and have all the state changes go through there then put it out to your debug window to always have it around. Because one thing with AI is it’s really hard to reproduce the same situation over again sometimes and it’s a really good idea to have that paper trail with the game time since it gives you a little sense of what’s happening to evaluate it later. Again it’s really hard to recreate a fluke thing over and over again.

When you have multiple enemies on screen at the same time, you can put a debug widget that floats  above their heads. Color is a huge thing, can match the color with an action. Take a little time and put all that in so you can read what you’re enemy is doing because you’ll end up saving a ton of time in the long run.

Help us Help you

We only scratched the surface with Enemy AI, but for the future we’d like to hear from you about what you’d like to hear. Some examples are:

  • Pathfinding
  • Obstacle Avoidance
  • Separating Enemies Out
  • Flocking
  • Top Down Space Shooter

So, let us know what you think via Facebook and Twitter @GameDesignDojo and depending on the request we’ll either include it in the newsletter or make a podcast. You can sign up for our newsletter on our website. Thank you and have a great day!

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #011








GDD 010 : Screenshots – Get The Attention Your Game Deserves
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 48:35
GDD 010 : Screenshots – Get The Attention Your Game Deserves

On this episode of Game Design Dojo, Brian and Ike discuss ways to capture the best screenshots for your marketing channels, and may also help guide your game’s production.

It’s GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) week and we recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to go should most definitely go. Brian will be speaking at the Unity and Qualcomm booths. It is such an honor and really exciting! Check for updates on our facebook page for more details about GDC.


A screenshot should be how you visualize what your game should look like. It can be challenging to capture the essence of your game with just a screenshot. Do keep in mind a picture is worth a thousand words and at a glance someone needs to “get it”.

3 Key Elements for Screenshots:

  1. Does it have a clear action
  2. Can you see a puzzle
  3. Is there a clear theme

Screenshots at a glance – What are they looking for?

A good analogy is the back of the box. Remember back to console games when you would look at the back of the box to see what the game was all about. The front cover would usually be very enticing and the back would have a small screenshot of the game. Blizzard executed this well.

When looking at a screenshot, the player should have a clear understanding in a nanosecond of what the game is about and what they’re supposed to do. One suggestion is while working on your game, take screenshots regularly, look at them, scale them down to a thumbnail, then look at the primary elements in that frame and decide if those elements come across in a clear way.

Some things to consider with your screenshots:

  • Needs to be some sort of an action – all games have action
  • Working in 3’s is always a good idea
  • Be careful with effects like fake motion trails because you can potentially mislead the player
  • Have to be honest
  • Using text isn’t always a good idea
  • Video clips should be secondary

Generally, the progression of the consumer is first they look at the icon, if that looks interesting then they go to the page, if the screenshots look good and there’s a video, then they’ll watch the video. There is an increase in time commitment from one step to the next and people typically don’t go straight to the video, which is why video clips are secondary to the screenshots.

 The Conflict – What am I up Against?

Puzzle and action work similarly. A puzzle has a clear indication like a jigsaw puzzle and is relevant in game design elements. With puzzles, it’s not obvious how you’re going to solve it, you just know you can solve it. You know you have the ability to solve it and feel like you can. This is an important feeling in video games to think you can win and at a glance say, “Hey, I can do that.”

Another way to look at it is think of the cruise ship brochure for excursions. They highlight the end result like scuba diving and swimming with the dolphins, not the slow boring part of getting there. The same is true when putting together screenshots. Usually you have at least 5 screenshots. The first one is all encompassing and shows the very core of the core mechanics you have in your game. Then you expand on that from 2-4 with number 5 being a wildcard.

Some more things to consider:

  • Capture the ‘wow moment’
  • Give a little hint of something totally new
  • Show what the action is and the progress of where they are with some sort of a puzzle
  • Have key elements to fit your demographic
  • Start showing screenshots to people for feedback and make adjustments
  • The sooner you start taking screenshots of your game, the sooner it starts coming together visually

Have a Clear Theme

You want the theme to transcend through all elements of your game. Theme parks are so interesting because they create an atmosphere with the music, effects, sound, colors, graphics, locations, characters, buttons and so on. There is an encompassed theme that is consistent all the way through the entire experience. The best directors in Hollywood are masters of theme.

Find a way for your environment to have a strong theme. Star Wars for example, always gave you the feeling that you were part of a bigger story. No matter how small your game is, you can take that lesson. Hinting to a world that is deeper than the one you can show and create a depth for the player.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #010





GDD 009 : How To Add Replay Value To Your Game
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:03:12
GDD 009 : How To Add Replay Value To Your Game

Replay value is one of the most import aspects of creating a compelling video game experience that keeps players coming back again and again.  Brian and Ike explore three ways to pump up your game’s replay value for ultimate publishing success.

A great outlet for video game developers are local meet ups. Meet ups are a great place to find somebody that can help you with your project or you can help out with theirs. As well as talk about challenges in your game development and gather feedback. With free Wifi and laptops you can meet up at a Starbucks or something. It’s a really cool way to meet other developers with similar experiences and skills you might be looking for.

Help support Ike’s game Barnyard Bubble HD. It’s a fun game geared toward one year olds to help them say animal names by popping bubbles and listening to the animal noises. If you have a little one, check it out because they will LOVE it!

How to Add Replay Value To Your Game

Replay value is one of the most important aspects of creating a compelling video game experience that keeps players coming back again and again. You might have  a game that’s fun to play, but it there’s not a strong sense of replay value then they’ll only play it once and never play it again. That’s an issue.

3 Key Elements to Create Replay Value

  1. Are there alternate ways to play your game?
  2. Is there a desire for mastery?
  3. Is there a strong sense of progress?

A holy grail for game developers is to have a game the player doesn’t want to set down and they want to keep going. All the best games have amazing replay value.

Alternate Ways to Play

In general, the player is given choices during gameplay giving the game alternate directions it can go. A great example is the game of Chess which has amazing replay value. Basically when you can come back to a game and it will be a different experience every time you play, you have replay value.

Social Media is a way people can share what they’ve discovered during their gameplay and see what others are doing to bring alternate ways that you may not have thought of or unveiled yourself.

Here are example of different games that demonstrate this key element:

  • American Football – never gets dull to watch
  • Street Fighter
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • Legend of Zelda – open map with some funneling, but still have choices
  • Psi-Ops – can play the game all different ways
  • Hit Man

Those are all big budget games, but what about a one action game with infinite amounts of ways to play? Any game that has a procedural or random level design can lend itself to that where the player can take a different path.

Some examples:

  • Match 3 – pieces come out randomly
  • Words With Friends – find a pattern or process that works for you
  • Field Runners
  • Temple Run
  • Racing games

The racing mechanic at it’s core has a conservative path that is obvious which will get you average to good results. To be great, you have to know where the shortcuts in the track are. Usually it’s high risk, high reward.

Desire For Mastery

Naturally, when you play a game you want to get better at it. We can’t think of a game that you don’t want to get better at. Even playing slot machines in a casino have people mastering it in their minds. The bottom line is people are always trying to get better at whatever game their playing. It’s one of the definitions of game, it’s something you can master.

The best games have a strong sense of the ability to master the game. With fighting games for instance, you have to train to know and learn all the moves of your character. There is mastery of strategy and mastery of skill. Golf is an example that has both, part skill and part mental.

Lessons From The Olympics

The Olympics is a celebration of human mastery. With the winter Olympic games fresh in our minds, we can apply it to this concept. For video games make sure you can play your game over and over again and it has the ability for the player to really master it. And beyond that, think about how you can reward the player for mastering your game with tiers of rewards like a gold medal for instance.

Include rewards and feedback into your game. However, if the gaps are too large I in the game for you to feel that progression of mastery, you won’t feel like you’re getting better at it and you want to avoid the player from plateauing too hard. The rewards have to keep progressing.

The best competitions don’t happen all the time, which makes them special. An Olympic gold medal wouldn’t be as important if it happened every year. One strong desire of mastery is the competition and being able to demonstrate it publicly. In the Olympics the whole world is watching and that one moment makes it special. Competition is really important and it drives a lot of people.


Having the desire to collect, to progress with levels, collecting things, unlocking features of the game. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re any better at the game so it’s different from mastery. Progress is the idea of growing through your actions in the game and getting better over time.

Showing and saving progress is very important, like Minecraft for example. The game gives a sense of progress you’re building. It’s also a great feeling to know that you’re not wasting your time on something. You can share it with your friends and don’t have to start back at square one.

Evaluation of Games with the 3 Key Elements:

  1. Angry Birds
  2. Metroid
  3. Slot Machines

A lot of the great games shows example of these 3 pillars – alternate ways to play, desire for mastery and progress. You don’t necessarily have to have all 3 but people will make them up and incorporate them. You definitely want to have replay value in your game and if you do it well, your game will be remembered.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #009

GDD 008 : How To Make 2014 A Great Year For Game Developers
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:03:23
GDD 008 : How To Make 2014 A Great Year For Game Developers

Happy 2014! It’s a new year and times are changing fast in our video game industry. It’s important to evaluate your skills and abilities in order to make smart, achievable goals to make your company a success. Packed with insights and examples this episode will help you get going in the the right direction.

Hey everyone! We’re all rested up from a great holiday break and are getting back in the saddle for a great 2014. The word of the day: Ship it! Well, that’s two words I suppose. For both of us, 2013 was a transitional year as Ike started his new company and I incubated multiple original projects. This year, you can expect both of us to launch our own stuff and we hope that you each launch at least one game 2014.

5 Ways to Maximize Your Chances For Success

People think of video game industry as gold rush. However, in reality it’s very rare to make millions, much like the lottery. The truth is that thousands of developers making games don’t earn a single dollar! Here’s some sure fire ways maximize your chances for success:

  1. Set goals to have more product launches or, in baseball terms, “at bats”. The more at bats you have, the more chances you have to get a hit.

  2. Look at having a long career in games, not just a flash in the pan.

  3. Over time the more you shoot, the more accurate you’ll get and the better you’re going to get at knowing your audience and your craft.

  4. Repetition in this cycle will create mastery.

Planning Your Goals Using the Indie Game Developer’s Survival Pyramid

One way to look at how to plan your goals is to find out where you are on the Game Developer’s Survival Pyramid. This hierarchy, modeled after Pavlov’s Hierarchy of Needs, illustrates how a developer can go from a single professional into a very successful business.  Let’s take a closer look.

Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid

Basic psychology from Pavlov:

  • Bottom of pyramid – basic needs like food and shelter

  • Next layer have some luxuries and so on

  • Top layer – enlightenment

In video game development:

  • Level 1, Ground Floor – looking to earn money from video game development.

  • Level 2, Lift Off – you’re working in the industry as an independent contractor or as an indie game studio doing work for hire.

  • Level 3, Cruising Altitude – you have a steady steam of clients and have grown your staff.  You’re now launching your own original games.

  • Level 4, Stratosphere – You no longer or very rarely do any work for hire and spend most of your time updating and launching games to your fans.

Level 1 – Ground Floor

The first thing you’ll need to do is to take a look at what skills you have. Then, you’ll need to find a way to either get work for your skills, learn new skills, or find other like minded partners that have complimentary skills to join you – either by hiring them or by partnering. Also, it’s important to get out and do some networking, since this stage is all about people. Here’s a short list of places that can help you find work and partners:

  1. Local Meet Ups – highly recommended

  2. GDC – Game Developers Conference

  3. Casual Connect

  4. College – perfect situation for networking

Once you have a small group, what’s the next step? Get a website together and show the world what you can do. We suggest WordPress as a great template to build really nice looking websites very inexpensively. Look to the site to be a portfolio site that can clearly illustrate what skills you have and what types of projects you can do. Polish and quality are key here people!  At this point, look at these opportunities:

  1. Publishers willing to pay for a project

  2. At the point to launch a Kickstarter campaign

  3. Get some money because raised enough awareness through social media

  4. Another company sees what you’re doing and ask to do for them

Level 2 – Lift Off

At this point, you are working and making money creating art, writing code, or making entire games. Hopefully, you’re even doing it full time! You’re getting some fans on Facebook and you’re posting on Twitter to raise awareness for yourself. Congratulations, you’re well on your way.

Besides continually building your skills, you’ll need to look to the next step: launching your own game. To do this you’ll need a long run way, or war chest, to weather the storm. Don’t assume you can finish a blockbuster game in two weeks, it’ll never happen. Plan for how long you think it will take and then double it, adjusting your scope as you go. Figure out how much money you’ll need to survive that long and then save for that amount. This will ensure you have a lasting career in games.

Level 3 – Cruising Altitude

Now that you have a steady stream of clients and a couple of games under your belt you are truly an indie game developer. Congratulations, you’re the real deal.

To keep the party going, you’ll need to treat your clients like gold to keep them coming back. Also, look to grow your team but be careful about spending too much money, you’ll need that nice long runway you’ve built for yourself!

Most importantly create games! We’ll talk about how to pick a project on another episode, but for now just focus on getting in there and getting it done! Don’t forget to share your progress with social media and the press along the way.

Level 4 – Stratosphere

This is Indie Game Dev bliss. You’re working on your own games basking in the glow of all your wonderful raving fans. We’re not sure what to do here, because we’re not at this point, but it sure would be pretty awesome to be here one day.

Good luck, have a great 2014, and we’ll be pulling for you every step along the way!

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #008

Helpful Links’s_hierarchy_of_needs


GDD 007 : Camera and Cinematography For Games
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 56:30
GDD 007 : Camera and Cinematography For Games

In this episode Brian and Ike discuss camera and cinematography with a focus on the various angles, styles, and uses in game design. How to choose a camera, iterate on it, and reference film cinematography are all covered in this jam packed episode.

We got feedback! It’s such a great feeling when we hear back from listeners since we’re flying blind so to speak. Please keep it coming with your feedback so we can make the most out of your listening experience! We have been busy with our own studios, but enjoy taking the time out to make this podcast.

5 Ways to Consider Using Camera and Cinematography for Video Games

Camera and cinematography in video games are similar to that of movies. There’s a lot to consider and sift through to keep the right amount of dramatic feel to your game.

  1. 3rd Person Camera
  2. Strategically use Camera and Handle Views
  3. Controls and Camera Relative Controls
  4. Cinematography 101
  5. Camera Angles

Getting Started with the 3rd Person Camera

Using a 3rd person camera creates a more artistic video game with a cinematic feel as apposed to using just a 1st person camera. You’re able to do more story telling in your game design as well as identify with the main character like in the movies. The player can see just how cool the character looks and is going to feel like that character in a clear connection. This concept brought on more female characters in videogames as well – Tomb Raider example.

Strategically use Camera and Handling Views

For your video game you want to create a great experience for the player. A way you can do this is to use many different shots and angles during game play. Diablo example. Also you can relate back to acting and the difference between Movies and Stage Acting and apply it to game developing. The goal is to use the camera strategically.

Views can challenging because it is a sensitive thing that needs to be done well since it is the eyes the viewer is looking through. A few things to consider are:

  1. How far back do I want the Camera
  2. How fast do I want the Camera to rotate
  3. How fast will the Camera move
  4. What happens when player goes around the corner
  5. What happens when an obstacle is in the way

There is so much more with no specific answer, you just have to keep playing and testing your game. Sometimes the answers depend on your environment.

Controls and Camera Relative Controls

Remember every time you touch the camera, it will have an effect on the controls. It is a one to one relationship and when developing, it’s important to spend the same amount of time for both. You can use the camera in combination with the controls to help guide the player. (Rage example. Resident Evil example).

Try to tame the camera. Think about movies and the restraint they use. The cameras are mostly still and subtle. Don’t make it about the camera, the player shouldn’t be thinking about the camera. You know you’re doing the camera right when you don’t notice the camera.

Use the Camera as a tool in game design:

  • Can have other influences or something interesting in the environment
  • Use camera to guide them
  • Hint the player where to go – softly
  • Shadow of the Colossus and Journey example

Cinematography 101

The Theory of Thirds is essential in video game development because you want your character not to be in the middle of the screen, that would be boring. So, first you take your frame, divide into 3 horizontal lines and 3 vertical lines like a tic tac toe board. The 4 points where the lines intersect are the most dramatic. (Examples of formula to create more drama. Gears of War example). It adds drama whenever you change how the camera performs.

Depth of Field is another great tool to use in game design and development. (Source example). The camera focus is really important and needs to be used correctly. It acts as a soft way to lead the player since eyes naturally follow what’s in focus.

Camera Angles

Two camera angles to consider:

  1. When Camera Looking Down – player have a feeling of being more powerful/godlike than the character and in control of everything
  2. When Camera is Slightly Below Character’s Center – makes the character larger than life and gives the character a hero feeling

Studying camera angles goes a long way to direct your audience in how to feel without telling them how to feel. When a camera is far away, it means you want to focus on the environment and it’s a great way to tell the player what to look for. (Mario Bros. example). When the camera is in tight, you focus on the character instead of the environment and when the camera pulls back it creates drama. (Journey example).  A little research with camera angles can make a big difference.

Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #007

GDD 006 : Characters, Control, and Mechanics
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:00:23
GDD 006 : Characters, Control, and Mechanics

In this episode of Game Design Dojo, we discuss how game characters and gameplay mechanics go hand in hand with level design and control schemes. How many controls do you give the player and why?  Characters and control are the backbone of your game’s interactive experience and we walk through plenty of examples.

Characters, Control and Mechanics

Game characters and gameplay mechanics are essential to creating your video game. Once you’ve determined your character and what gameplay mechanics to give your character you can create level designs and start enjoying the game developing process.

Characters and control are the backbone of your game’s interactive experience and we walk through plenty of examples.  Put your phone on vibrate and come along for the ride.

 A Look at Gameplay Mechanics

What are mechanics you ask? Basically whenever the player presses a button, what does that button do? Once you determine what gameplay mechanics you’d like your character to have, you can start to work around that mechanic. Here are some things to consider:

  1.  Will the character walk, run, jump, shoot, etc.?
  2. How many mechanics will the character have?
  3. If character jumps, create steps and moving platform
  4. If character shoots, add guns and targets that include an explosion
  5. Remember: What is fun in real life, is fun in gameplay

Combining Gameplay Mechanics

Combining gameplay mechanics during your video game is a great way to enhance your game. This should be instantly understood by the player and can be something simple like the jump and duck from Mario Bros. You can introduce new abilities which makes for good level designs. You can use telekinesis as a mechanic and change the gameplay.

The best combinations come from not being planned. They usually happen through testing, by accident or from different angles. Ideally you want to make sure each mechanic is doing something different in the environment – ex. bazooka gun vs. machine gun.

Source – Good example of Design Character and Mechanics

The character of Source is a butterfly-like creature with giant wings, so we decided to have it hover over platforms. Then we gave it a jump with a speed burst but it is always losing energy like a real living organism. Next we made a sensor or a feeler that has a bolt of lightning that comes out and senses around like an antenna. Things happen when the character senses something it can use and some things are hard to find. So through this mechanic, we decided to make exploration a huge part of the game.

The player is prompted to pick up an object, and through testing we instinctively wanted to throw the object. We included that in the gameplay. Now with objects, the character can:

  1.  Lift up an object
  2. Move the object over
  3. Carry around the object – although it depletes energy
  4. Throw the object and watch it explode once it hits a pillar

Fundamentals for Mechanics

When choosing what buttons to use for the mechanics, keep in mind it needs to make sense to the player and needs to feel great when using. For ex. hold an object using y, and tap b to throw. Coder tip: Don’t bury input controls – have a master control list.


Good character design is a combination of a really neat toy and a Swiss Army knife. An example of a Swiss Army knife would be something like Minecraft. An example of a toy would be something like Mario Bros. even with only two buttons, still had a lot of actions. Some other examples are Legos and Transformers. You build it and then discover what to do with it since it doesn’t do only one thing.

Fighting games are good examples of the toy and Swiss Army knife concept. Gameplay includes timing and content, surprises with secret attacks, button exploration, and learning each character with some basics and then go more in depth with each character.

Top things to remember:

  • Character controls define gameplay
  • There is a lot of character controls
  • Approach character mechanics as a puzzle with a problem to solve
  • Once have basics – take a step further
  • How smoothly all things work together defines how well the game is put together

 Helpful Links


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #006

GDD 005 : Getting Started With Procedural Level Design
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:16:00
GDD 005 : Getting Started With Procedural Level Design

This episode is an exploration on how to approach creating a procedural level design system for a variety of game styles, and what to look for when it’s up and running.

Getting Started With Procedural Level Design

Procedural Level Design is basically the design of the game and making it fun while keeping gameplay long. For example Jet Pack Joyride and Temple Run. With procedural level designs it’s easier to adjust gameplay vs. crafted level designs. Free to play mobile games are good reason to use procedural level design because you want to keep gameplay at 30 sec to a minute and a half, you can ramp it up to become impossible and the player wants to purchase power up etc.

Segment out the Experience

It’s important to make a beginning, middle and an end in your video game by putting random seeds in random seeds and creating in and out points. Here’s a breakdown:

  1. Beginning – easy intro and limit the length
  2. Middle – the bulk is Act II and should be moderately difficult while introducing new mechanics to keep the game fresh and fun
  3. End – last is very difficult, almost impossible and the player relies on luck

 Apply Fast as Fun to Video Games

Think about when you were a kid and when riding your bike down a hill and that exhilarating feeling of having little control. In gameplay, it creates a satisfying experience when the player is lasting longer in the game then they should. Roller Coaster are designs with this in mind: Thrill minus death equals fun. 

Sometimes levels aren’t going to come out as you planned and it’s important to push boundaries like with magnetic fields or orbit bullets. Allow the player to explore because that kind of discovery is fun for the player and you can also use social media as a tool for players to post their new discoveries.

Challenges with Procedural Level Design

Procedural level design can be tough and harder than hand-crafted level design. Some challenges we discuss are:

  • Hard to gage if the game is fun – needs to be focus tested
  • Play the same scene
  • Easy to lose relationship of difficulty
  • How to measure success of game?

Endless Runner and Tetris are good examples of games that overcame some challenges.

Bait the Player

In a Sandbox game the player is in a physical world and can do things and move things the way they want. But the challenges that come with that are not sure what the player will do and will they all just bunch up in the corner? To overcome those challenges, give the player a reason to explore – bait them.

Baiting is a good idea especially when you’re not seeing a behavior you want, you can bait them in a procedural fashion. One way to accomplish this is to play with resources. Have resources run out and the player will need to explore to get more.

 Choosing a Theme for your Video Game

The great thing about developing video games is you never stop learning when you make games. You can look to Mother Nature as a natural source of inspiration as well as look to history and make it your own. Video Games can be a story telling medium. Some things to consider when choosing your theme:

  1. Have depth and be interesting in some kind of way
  2. Easy to play – difficult to master
  3. Once have procedural level design down, you have the gift that keeps on giving

Tetris is probably the best example of procedural level design and was academically rated the most perfect game ever made. It found a balance and made a scale and made it simple and effective.

Helpful Pointers with Procedural Level Design

  • Important to distinguish curve to shoot up difficulty
  • Bait player with a carrot stick in front of them
  • Understanding random
  • Access tables to edit on the fly – adjust a couple of parameters
  • Be the master mind behind the curtain to create the show

Dungeons & Dragons is a classic example of understanding randomness. As the Dungeon Master you can learn how to adapt situation to keep everyone in game, keep player’s interest and learn about design. Recommend playing it for insight.

Examples of Procedural Level Designs in Depth

  1. Beach Buggy Blitz – environments feel open
  2. Smurfs Village – make village feel alive
  3. Real world train set – create illusion village exists
  4. Sims – Freedom, user can create level
  5. Minecraft – like Legos, become the level designer

Procedural level design can have user generated content that allows high levels of creativity players can share. It also can be action based where the player feels fun, comes out, go through the shop to enhance character for the next round.

When developing your video game, you as the developer want to be in control as the puppet master with an adaptive system playing with randomness to find the fun for the player.


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #005

GDD 004 : The Power of Focus Testing
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 1:01:56
GDD 004 : The Power of Focus Testing

Brian walks through a recent focus test, his take aways, and how to process the information and feedback he receives.

The Power of Focus Testing

Focus testing is a great tool for video game designers. Once you have a core loop (start a level, progress, and die) you can gather feedback in order to enhance gameplay and create an exciting, successful game. We talk about our own experiences with focus testing and the results, also tips and suggestions for productive focus testing.

Focus testing should be done way before bug testing. You want to see what’s working and what’s not. Once you can play a loop and get a feel for the core mechanic, then it’s important to gather feedback. The more informal it is the more honest people will be and don’t tell them what to do to see if the player is connecting to the character and gameplay. Try to keep it fun and casual with about 5 testers and the developer.

Focus Testing Experience

When developing a video game, you usually are developing it for yourself but you do have to keep in mind your targeted demographic. In this case it’s a 12 year old boy. Brian shares his detailed focus testing example of going to his neighbor’s house that has two boys ages 6 and 12 and a girl age 15. Here are some of the things to watch for:

  1. Does the player want to start over and jump right back in?
  2. Does the player look up to see what to do next?
  3. Does the player hand it over to a friend?

Make sure you ask the players how many stars they would give the game. Focus testing is great to reinforce and validate your ideas. Especially in today’s workplace where most people are working from home and can’t ask the guy next to you for feedback.  Remember: Kids are very honest and their first initial feedback is important.

Breakthrough Moments in Gameplay

It’s an awesome feeling when the player understands the main mechanics of your video game and everyone who’s watching learns and is strategizing for their next turn. Players making feature requests is a good sign of a good game idea. As a developer it’s important to be disciplined and a goal keeper so to speak with those ideas. The skill of game design is always learning.

Recommend the book: The Lean Startup

  • Relevant for Software and Games
  • Old game development cycle and release changed for the better
  • Now release to small market and find out early trough focus testing

History of Roboto

Roboto is the first self published game Fenix Fire ever put out. It was released in the Summer of 2011 for IOS and Android and made Game of the Week (before Apple changed it to Editor’s Choice) and also made Top 10. We kept it a closed development by staying silent until it was ready to release with no one testing it. But we sadly watched to fall out of the top 200 after the first week.

Fenix Fire is currently working on an update for Roboto. The game is a side scrolling platformer with virtual controls – 2 buttons on right and a thumbstick on the left. It’s like Mario and Sonic and similar to a Nintendo 3DS game which we couldn’t release it on because Unity is not compatible. A cool platform feature the game has is when the character flips upside down and goes through the level.

Roboto Discoveries through Focus Testing

We took the game back to the same neighbor’s house for focus testing. Here’s what we found:

  • We added exploring the environment for reward
  • We found the players just wanted to get through the level as fast as they could
  • We couldn’t get them to play again once they died
  • Thought about the rules of game design – should we reward or punish?
  • Arcade Game Analogy

Through focus testing we might rethink the platformer genre for this medium since mobile is tough with platformers and possibly release Roboto on the Ouya where the player can play with a controller.

Next Steps with Focus Testing

It’s very important to focus test. Roboto as example could have avoided not playing on some devices and could have prevented some nightmares caused by being released globally on the same day. Friendly advice – Start close then slowly progress out.

Take the Next Step by:

  1. Leveraging the neighborhood – find targeted demographic
  2. Go to GameStop – has gamers willing to help developers
  3. Ask Facebook friends and family – biased opinions
  4. Survey – template rate system
  5. Hidden Focus Testing with analytics – studying and segmenting results


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #004

GDD 003 : Forming an Indie Video Game Studio
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 43:27
GDD 003 : Forming an Indie Video Game Studio

Forming an Indie Game Studio is a BIG decision and often times a scary one. This podcast episode focuses on key points to consider when forming an Indie Video Game Studio and how to gather the best team possible in order to achieve your company’s vision. We share what we look for and how our experiences have worked out for us.

Get ready to listen to the basics of Forming an Indie Video Game Studio, how to find your company focus and who should join you on this journey!

Forming an Indie Video Game Studio

First things first, start small. To rent a store front or having a brick and mortar office would be a mistake for an Indie Developer. Much of the work can be done virtually at the kitchen table. Always try to keep overhead costs as low as possible.

Decide what kind of company you’d like to be? Think of a couple games to make together with your team, making sure you still have life after your first game. Perhaps, take a look at the content, find similarities and gather a body of games everybody likes to shape the kind of company you want to be and then create your company’s mission statement.

Making Games

After making the decision of what direction you’d like your company to go, always have some target to move towards in order to keep on track. Next you have to decide are these games we can do? Here’s some things to ask yourself:

  1. How many people do I need?
  2. Can it be 3, 5, 10 people or a 100 person team?
  3. If I want open worlds, a live and online game – need to multiply staff by 100
  4. If I want a multi-player game – need to think about single player and double the development cost

Fenix Fire and One Room School House

Fenix Fire gives an analogy of the Master Card Logo with the two circles that overlap to describe what works with this Indie Video Game Studio. Brian brings NES game experiences and art styles from Zelda, Metra, and Mario and his partner and wife brings Art focus and Art style. Together they overlap with Art Style.

One Room School House is a company of one with a mission statement to make nutritious games similar to documentaries in film being entertainment you can learn from like the movie Braveheart.

Both agree key points to success:

  • Pair up passion with skills – overlap perfectly
  • Focus – finding the right recipe
  • Direction matches talent – keep realistic

Core Skill Sets Needed for Video Games

There are three basic skill sets needed to make a video game and it is dangerous to move forward without these three basics being covered.

  1. Design
  2. Programming
  3. Art

If you don’t have all these skills yourself, you will need to hire and/or bring into your company. When looking for someone to add to your team you want to evaluate their character to find the right fit. A few things to consider:

  • Played on team (sports, military, has brothers or sisters)
  • Cooperates, interacts, respects others
  • Understands and knows role

Once you have a quality team you can move forward and get everyone on board with obtainable goals for Month 1, Month 2, Month 3 and so on. With milestones in place it’s easier to identify problems earlier and evaluate your timeline.

Making your Indie Video Game Studio Legal

As soon as you know when you’re going to launch the game and know the platforms you’re going to launch it on, it’s recommended (most states) to incorporate ASAP. It would be a good idea to hire a lawyer ($700-$2000) so you have someone who knows what they’re doing and has the best interest for the company to make a tight operating agreement.

It’s important to keep overhead costs as low as possible because the more money you save means the more money you can spend on the game.  Some costs to consider are your hardware or computers and your software or the programs you use.

  • Unity – free version to get started with
  • Open Office – free, similar to Microsoft Word
  • Drop Box – swap files, quick networking
  • Skype – work virtually, no one cares about office space

Your first game is so huge. You want to make it as good as you can since it is the first impression of your company. Remember it’s really important to live within the means of the company. a little discomfort can be a great motivator and it takes moments of being uncomfortable to grow and get better.


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #003

GDD 002 : Self Publishing vs Mobile Publisher Part 2
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 36:13
GDD 002 : Self Publishing vs Mobile Publisher Part 2

Brian and Ike continue to discuss Self Publishing including areas of marketing, user acquisition, and funding.

Self Publishing vs. Mobile Publisher Part 2

In today’s video game market, marketing is essential for your video game’s survival and become successful. The debate continues – should you hire a publisher or perform the necessary work needed yourself?

Marketing is concrete for Indie Game Developers. It’s important to establish a relationship with the press (PR, bloggers) so you can call on them to review your video game and share it with their audiences building awareness for your game.

Challenges of marketing:

  • Hard to tell if working – billboard ex.
  • How do you reach more people?
  • Don’t know what draws people in?
  • Endless activity – tough, double-edged sword
  • Gravity of the charts – end cap ex.

Social Media is huge. Facebook is a great tool to post updates, reach out to fans and build relationships with them and cross promote other games. You can use tools such as Chartboost and PlayHaven.

Business Perspective

The question is should you have someone else handle marketing so you can just use your time to develop? First consider how much time is spent:

  1. Writing blog posts
  2. Emailing press
  3. Marketing on Social Media
  4. Advertising with Chartboost or PlayHaven

Next, consider your personality and what comes naturally to you. If you’re already blogging and are comfortable with social media then be the rock star of your company!

Keep in mind people want people. Customers want to know their developers and publishers have a hard time portraying this. Think of Developers as Rock Stars and unless you’re marketing yourself and your games, you’re going to fail. Great games will find it’s audience, but that’s usually less that 1%. Use great marketing to kick people to the other side of the fence.

Importance of User Acquisition

Publishers will do this and will essentially advertise in a more advanced fashion. You can actually measure how many people saw ad, downloaded, and opened game. Viral growth is like nuclear fusion. Once a reaction is started, it continues to grow.  Start with just enough people to get the game out, then through their word of mouth it starts growing at a greater rate then the people you’re bringing in directly.

#1 Goal

  • Get enough people to buy game
  • Shoot up to #1 in store
  • Because everyone’s looking at it, #1 for 3 months
  • Only had to juice it in the beginning to get people’s eyes on it

#2 Goal

  • Get more money out of the person than what spent to get them
  • Formula examples

Since User Acquisition is an art in itself, it can be a full time job because it’s constantly changing and might be hard to do for developers. Whereas it would be a publishers sole job to work the ad networks and use their big portfolios to get more bang for the buck. They might get a profit that possibly you would not have gotten otherwise. A publisher can help make your game social and provide overall professionalism.

Self Publish or Publisher?

Think about how many hats you’re wearing. To self publish can depend on time, strength, team size and people you can take on to handle some responsibilities. It might be better to outsource your social media and PR.

If you’re going to use a publisher, find one you can trust that can help with marketing and keep you focused on what is important in the game. A publisher should:

  • Utilize User Acquisition
  • Stand by promise by living up to bench marks and goals
  • Have marketing plan following a year

All this and more need to be performed either by yourself or hired out in order to make your video game successful. Take a good look at what is feasible and go from there!


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #002

GDD 001 : Show Introduction and Self Publishing vs Mobile Publisher Part 1
2017-09-22 13:57:30 UTC 34:01
GDD 001 : Show Introduction and Self Publishing vs Mobile Publisher Part 1

Meet hosts Brian and Ike as they introduce themselves, the Game Design Dojo, and dive right into whether or not to self publish a mobile title.

The Game Design Dojo

In game design one never truly masters, but is constantly practicing. Much like in martial arts where one never really achieves full mastery. One can appear as a master, but in reality they are just further down the path that you. Thus the name Dojo.

Topics The Game Design Dojo will discuss:

  • Studio issues – starting a company
  • Platforms and adapting to changes
  • Video game design and development
  • Story development
  • Reward systems in game play
  • All different video game genres – adventure, role-play, first person shooter, puzzle, match 3, etc.
  • Any questions or topics from the fans
  • Any current challenges that come up during our own video game development

The History of Ike and Brian

Ike started in the industry in the year 2000 with a Computer Engineering Degree and primarily had computer programmer jobs with a few different companies. In 2005 he started to work at FlashMan Studios a video game consulting firm that helped find projects by helping companies navigate the waters of the gaming industry. Ike recently founded own Indie Game Studio – One Room School House with a focus to kids education software.

Brian stared with his first memories of playing Atari as a kid that really made an impact. He worked at a  retail store called Funcoland – similar to Gamestop until graduating college with a BS in Art and a Minor in Programming. Worked for High Voltage and Midway then moved from Chicago to California and worked for Blizzard. In 2011 founded Indie Game Studio with wife – Fenix Fire Entertainment. Launched first game – Roboto – in the same year and have gotten lots of ‘work for hire’ projects. Now, looking forward to focusing on own video games.

We’re excited to make this podcast and feel it’s important to give support to the Indie Game Development community. We can talk for hours about video game development and design plus we genuinely enjoy helping people. So, we hope you enjoy!

 Self Publishing vs. Mobile Publisher Part 1

The debate is there is a new style of publishing for mobile that provides services you can potentially do yourself. Publishers offer the benefit of offering to publish under their name and their recognition.

Types of Publishers

  1. Big power houses vs. young up starts
  2. Experience with console and PC games
  3. Experience with casual WEB games – understands simple games

Publishers typically are not offering money so their power has essentially been taken away and have had to change with the times. Can offer to publish yourself but with publisher’s name. (EA example, Monopoly example)

 Cherry Pickers

Publishers create relationships with Indie Developer and want to see what game you’re working on before you make any announcement or awareness and look to see if it has ant mass market appeal. Basically Cherry Pick.

The publisher will tell the developer, “We’ll publish game for you and make it a great hit!” The developer will think, “Great! I have a fan.” This is very tempting so make sure you sort thru what the publisher can really do for you.

Benefits of having a publisher:

  1. Can give developer feedback about game
  2. Provide professional opinion, not just advice because invested in it
  3. Knows and understands the A-Z process
  4. Might need in today’s market for User Acquisition

The debate continues as we take a look and discuss the self publishing argument. Continued on Podcast 2…


Brian’s indie game studio
Ike’s indie game studio


Listen now to Game Design Dojo Episode #001