Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The time they pretended they were vikings, also we're back!

So... I must apologize for the gap in our writing, I've been waiting on the other two yokels, I mean co-founders, to write their own pieces for 3+ weeks. I guess that's not going to happen.


Now I'm sure many of you have been wondering what the heck we've been up to for all this time. Well let me sum up.

WORK. Sleep. Mentors + Network. Maybe Sleep. WORK + Network. Not enough sleep. WORK + Pitch. Way too much sleep. WORK. Sleep. WORK. SLEEEEP.

And that's Monday to Sunday folks. We've been getting quite a bit of time spent on the game which is good.

I even have great news. There is new art in the game.

I KNOW right? It only took nine weeks, and finally we have new art. Super impressive! And here it is, look at that.

This is where you say to yourself... hmmm this looks like programmer art. Well good job art sleuth. You are correct. Nine weeks in & the updated art came from none-other than myself. (To be fair I will credit Zak with the backgrounds)

So this obviously isn't the final direction, we are just trying something new for Slush.

Side note:
There was a day when both Zak & Tyler were gone. This happened to fall on one of our pitch days. Essentially a pitch day is when each team gets up & practices pitching their team/game to investors or publishers. So while they were gone I had to solo pitch. Turns out I did a good job because I won a ticket to Slush for our team. Yay me :D

What the hell is Slush you ask? Great question avid reader! Slush is a start-up conference in Helsinki Finland. It's all about getting your ideas out there & starting a company. Everyone from GameFounders is going and we've been preparing for weeks. Preparation looks very different depending on which one of us you are.

Tyler: Contacts publishers & investors, setting up meetings. Also practices pitching.
Zak: Keeps tabs on mentors, handles marketing images/direction, probably send 50 emails a day, manages tasks & deadlines. Occasionally pretends to do art.
Brendan: Makes the game. Consults on all of the above.

Everything we do is very iterative. We are actually on the sixth iteration of art, we've made & remade 5 pitches, it's all constantly changing. This process is very fun but can sometimes feel a little slow. We have for sure improved the product a lot, but it's hard to not want more.

I'm going to take a short minute to talk about the game. Right now we're testing & testing, trying to find our place. We want to stand out, we want to be cool BUT we also want everyone to be able to play the game. And yes, to all those who feared the worst, we would like to make money with this. There is a lot to be said about art vs money and you know what? I'm not going to get into it because I'm neither smart nor experienced enough to comment. Kateas is a casual game, we'd like to make it so successful it funds production of several more games. That's the plan folks!

So we're working on the game, we're prepping for Slush, there's some of this elusive networking happening. Anything else exciting?

THOR. We saw a movie in Estonia. It was Thor. It was awesome. Do yourself a favor & go see it.

Oh I guess these other things happened too... Tyler went to Kyiv for Casual Connect, with the Ukrainian team! And Zak had a visitor from America.

Not as cool as Thor though, just saying.

Now what's next. Well. I wrote this blog on a boat, the only way to really blog. We're taking the ferry to Finland where we will be getting Slushed until Friday.

Estonian Culture Update:
Whenever Estonian's travel to Finland, it is customary to bring a body back to Estonia. This is due to their viking heritage (True story, the reason Stockholm is as far inland as it is, is because Estonian vikings raids were so successful). So Kati (GameFounder's super helpful liason, and likely the person who is most fed up with Zak & I), informed us that it was perfectly natural to bring a bag full of hachets & knives on a trip to Helsinki, for you know, pillaging & stuff.

Oh btw. It gets dark around 4pm now. And I haven't seen the sun in weeks, nothing but grey & black... Why do people still live in this part of the world?

After Slush, well. We're almost done. Our time is drawing near. Game Connection, a game conference in Paris, is in 3 weeks. There will be some travel around Europe, some more time spent improving the game, and hopefully a fair bit of networking.

I will post a post Slush update on our return, hopefully with proof of our viking offering.


Meet Bearry the Barbearian who lives at the Bar.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A late blog post. Now with less words!

So. We finally finished, edited, and uploaded the VLAHG.

Honestly that's all you get this week. Enjoy.

Meet Raven, the Hooded Crow ;)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Winter Ist Kommen

I'm sitting here at nearly 4:00am 5:00am 5:15am writing/watching Breaking Bad ( S5E10 S5E11 S5E12...holy [moly], by the way) after deleting the first 600 words that I wrote down for this.  I'm new to blogging.  Not a really big fan of the word -- our team calls it "blahging," so I'll just go with that.

So, hey!  Wilkommen und hallo.  I am Zachary Snader, Game Designer at Retora Game Studios.  Such a fancy title!  I feel fancy.  I also feel tired, because I am jet-lagged as all hell from my trip, beginning in the desert metropolis of Phoenix, AZ and ending in the small German town of Schwäbish Gmünd.

I still don't know what this means and I'm not going to look it up because I am a child and this amuses me.

Upon arriving, I almost immediately began drinking with my fellow international students.  My experience so far can more or less be summed up in the amount of hops-based beverages consumed and foosball matches played (I currently sit at two wins and two losses).  Foosball might as well be a national sport here.  I like it.

About "here:" It's nice, a bit cold...but nice.  Schwäbish Gmünd, or Gmünd as it's more aptly referred to, is a village of around 60,000 people and 44 square miles that was founded in the year 1268.  As in, 745 years ago.  It still looks that way in most of the town, which is cool and all, it just kind of sucks that its grey and raining and [dreary] and willbesnowinginaweek at all times.  But, you know, it's pretty awesome that I am in Germany on my own accord.

Also, the coat of arms is amazing.  I mean, just look at this thing:


It looks like a tentacle monster wrestling a horse.  This is supposedly a unicorn.  I assume that is a depiction of the last unicorn on Earth in its final moments as it is being viciously devoured by suction-cupped hell beasts.


Anyways, I'm getting settled into my flat, aka House Tabula, named after the cabaret that is (literally) two doors down the road.  You can see a strip club from our garden!  Now that's living.

 Location, location, location!

As much I'd like to be, I'm not here to just make games and hang out in random European towns.  I've also got to study interaction design.  Good stuff, really.  I'm learning about this stuff at Hochschule für Gestaltung, one of the better schools for design in this region of Europe.  I started classes this week and will be doing a few projects while continuing my role with Retora.

While the semester rolls along I'll post updates regarding what I'm doing, including entries specifically about design, games, our projects (non-NDA, of course), and how they all mesh together.  I will have more pictures as well.

I'm going to finish Breaking Bad now, because seriously...[wow].

Bis bald!

- Zach | Senior Creative Director of Business and Game Management Operations, Vertical Integration and Synergy Division, Retora Sunrise (Deutschland Office)

 *Retora Sunrise is not a real subsidy of Retora Game Studios, LLC.  All references to Retora Sunrise should be taken jokingly.


SUPER IMPORTANT UPDATE: I finished Breaking Bad because I haven't slept yet.  Dude.  It's...yeah.  Yeah.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Blahg, now with more video.


A wild CEO appears!

Yep. Tyler made it. There are now three of us living in Estonia, enjoying the lovely weather… oh that’s right, it’s been raining and near freezing all week. At least the people are nice (except the Russian grocery lady who we’re pretty sure hates our english speaking guts.)

Week 3. Well, yet again a whirlwind of action. The week started off with a slew of new mentors who were all extremely helpful. We got notes about marketing strategies, release plans, App Engine Optimization (S.E.O. for app stores, who knew…), and of course the now broken record, Test Test Test.

Oh. One of the mentors, Sonja Ängeslevä, also set me up to speak at IGDA Finland on October 8th about Unity. I guess that’s kind of cool; if you are into that whole amazing opportunity & awesome experience thing. (You can read about it HERE)

The middle of the week was spent actually making the game! Woo I wrote some code! Starting on Wednesday & finishing Thursday night, I rewrote the game. Yes for what feels like the 19th time, I started again. It’s a process, some of the old code was converted but a lot of it was scrapped. That’s just the way of life. It’s running a lot smoother, it’s a lot cleaner, and most importantly it will do what I want with the new changes coming soon.

Zak made us some temporary art for the playtest, so I’m not going to show it to you. But I promise I’ll lock him in a box, there will be something to show by next week. No matter what, I’ll upload something…

So the playtest. Another mentor brought about 15 high-schoolers out to test the teams games. None of them had done this before & it was an interesting experience for everyone. Our focus was to improve how easy it is for players to understand the game. The idea being, if I hand you the game, how long does it take you to figure it out without any prompting from us. Halfway through the test we made a slight change, just a simple texture swap. We immediately saw a 20% decrease in ‘start-up’ time. This was awesome to see & it has me excited to test new strategies, luckily there are playtests every two weeks!

Mentors & Playtesting, that was most of the week. However on Thursday there was one other very useful event. Pitch Practice. Each of the eight teams got up and basically presented their team. The general idea is you are practicing a pitch you would give to an investor or a publisher, so you have to come off professional & sell your company in about six minutes. We didn’t have any visuals prepared but I think we did fine.

There is something to mention here. The inherent advantage of being a native English speaker is more & more apparent every day. Some of these teams have members that barely speak the language, let alone possess the mastery to perform public speaking. Between Zak, Tyler, & myself we really have a wealth of experience it’s obvious these other teams don’t.

Pitch day happens once a week, every Thursday. So while I’m working on my talk for IGDA Finnland, Tyler & Zak will be preparing to knock everyone's socks off. The practice & feedback received in these sessions is going to be hugely valuable in the long run.

As a bonus this week we have a video! Word on the street was some people wanted to know more about our day to day. So we have tours of the office & flat for you. Enjoy.

WARNING: Zak is in charge of the Vlahg, not me. I am not responsible for the lack of professionalism that follows.

Seriously not my fault... Also for the record, the first 30 seconds of that video are 100% real. They certainly didn't make anything up at all, that would be irresponsible & borderline slander. Anyone who knows Zak could tell you he is the most truthful person on the planet,  nothing but facts & good advice come out of his mouth...

Looking forward, this week is about presentations. We still have mentor meetings & seminars but we’re going to be working our public speaking chops as often as we can. The next blog will feature new art (right Zak?), some thoughts from Tyler (right boss?), and a little bit of my prep for the presentation!



PS: Meet Snappy the Snail. They block the bike path so cars don’t murder children, how cool is that?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

When they finally found good beer, and indulged liberally.


First things first. Chris is out of the hospital, he is recovering at home. However given his current state of health he will not be coming to Estonia. Tyler will be taking his place instead. Chris will help Retora from the states, & hopefully he makes a full recovery soon!

Week two was a hectic start. Day one there was a top secret seminar with Scott Foe. We had actually gone out to watch football with Scott the night before, so we were in on the secret seminar.

And then they moved it up three hours…

So needless to say we were very surprised when we showed up 30 minutes into the talk, thinking we’d have plenty of time to hang out beforehand. It was a really great talk that I actually was sworn to secrecy about, and while I doubt Scott is reading my blog I don’t want to make enemies.

This event really sets the tone, there are so many things going on that you have to check the calendar constantly. Between secret talks, new mentors showing up, & last minute parties you never know what’s coming next. It’s both frustrating and exciting.

Tuesday & Wednesday were filled with mentor meetings and seminars. There were some really smart & helpful mentors this week. We got great feedback from user experience designers, talked monetization & user retention, and learned about publishing with Rovio (they make this thing called Angry Birds).

One of the biggest surprises about this program is what it really is about. We thought there was a little bit of training, some pitch practice, & most of our time would go towards making a game. Well, surprise! I haven’t written a single line of code for Kateas yet. We spend so many hours of the day networking & prepping for new mentors, it’s very unexpected.

On the topic of the game we have been doing a lot of planning. I have shifted from the idea of mobile games as a product towards mobile games as a service. It’s a subtle, but important distinction. You have to think about re-engaging players, providing value over the lifetime of the product, and constantly testing your changes.

Zak has been extremely busy with mentor management & pitch practice, so unfortunately there isn't an art update to show you. However if he can’t make the time this week, I’ll lock him in a box until art comes out. We've generally discussed the direction we want to go, so now it’s just about nailing it down visually. I think it’s going to be very cool and hopefully it surprises a few people.

So let's talk networking. It is done in bars & pubs. You talk to people. It’s all very strange to those introverted types. Thankfully I have Zak. Anyone who has met Zak knows he is, a friendly guy to say the least. Together we are… I think ridiculous is an appropriate term. If you don’t believe me, wait until you see pictures from the photo-shoot (yea, that happened). Using our ridiculous tag-team abilities, and some hilarious stories from our respective pasts (you know who you are) we have no problem making quick friends. This usually involves a fair bit of drinking, and the local favorite pub ‘Must Puudel’ (which means Black Poodle obviously) has been visited numerous times.

Now. The event of utmost importance. We found the best beer in Estonia. Valmiermuiža. It’s actually Latvian, but believe us, it’s the best thing in this country. We found this beer in some local pubs, and we also found it at a small festival we happened upon in Old Town today.

Old Town Tallinn is well, old. Very old. Probably older than my grand-parents even (seriously!). The whole thing is enclosed in the original city walls and it’s a fantastic place to get lost in. From group events to just hanging out with new contacts, we are probably in Old Town 4 nights a week, networking obviously. A quick bus ride & a short walk is all that separates us between 2013 and the 13th century.

The main square in Old Town

A strange seat

An awesome seat.

A rainy street in Tallinn

Walking in the streets!

A typical Sunday afternoon?

No one said life was only hardships right ;)

Looking forward this next week is a little lighter on mentors (only six as opposed to ten). Hopefully this means we get the new prototype up and running, there are play-testers coming at the end of the week. I might let Zak write next weeks blog, but he also might be locked in a box arting so we’ll see!


PS: Meet Sally. The Australian Cow living in Old Town.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The one where they meet a squirrel & several other nutty characters

Let’s start with the big news first. Zak & I made it to Tallinn, however Chris is still in Phoenix. The night before the flight he got incredibly sick, he had to go to the hospital. We are still waiting on test results to determine what the cause was, so there will be more updates soon. No one wants to get sick and miss a flight, but I think we are all happy it happened at home rather than on the flight to Iceland. Zak & I hope you make a full recovery soon Chris, we can’t wait for you to join us!

 Room for Chris!

So I’m sure many of you are curious as to how we got here. I will explain. No it is too much, I will sum up. We started flying on Friday, there was a joyous reunion in Reykjavik! We got lost in the Helsinki airport. We ate Reindeer for breakfast & then almost missed our ferry to Tallinn. A few bus rides & 1 broken piece of luggage later, we arrived at our flat in J. Sütiste tee.

The flat is small & cozy. We have everything we need & it even came with a squirrel on the balcony who we have named Frank. He likes to spy on me and eat the flowers. Its strange that this is now our home for a while, it will take getting used to for sure.

Now as for what we are doing in Tallinn. A typical day goes like so.

8:30 - Wake up. Shower. Eggs.
9:15 - Walk to the office. Talk about the day ahead, & last nights beer.
10:00 - Mentor Madness
1:00 - Break for Lunch. Talk about meetings, & future beers.
1:30 - Work time or Mentor Seminar.
6:00 - Leave and get dinner nearby.
7:00 - Return to the office with beers & motivation
7:15 - Work. Drink beers.
12:00 - Walk home. Talk about tomorrow.

That’s Monday to Friday. The details change here & there, but looking at the schedule for the next two months, you can safely assume that’s our norm.

Reading all of this I realize some of you probably need some context. Why am I blogging about Europe? Where the hell is Tallinn? And what is Mentor Madness??? So again, it’s a long story but I will sum up as best I can.

In January of this year I started working for Retora Games (you can check us out, you are probably on our site right now…).Tyler, the CEO, applied to a technology accelerator program after meeting someone at a conference. The gist of technology accelerators is, they give you money & training, you give them a piece of your company. And then you go off and do great things. Everyone is happy. Somehow, we got selected by this one. Tyler came to me & asked if I wanted to go live in Estonia for 3 months to make a video game. Anyone who knows me should be able to guess my reaction to this.

Now that brings us to Tallinn. We are going to get training, meet a ton of people, and oh yea. Finally finish Kateas. If you haven’t heard of it, well don’t worry you will.

Lets talk Mentor Madness for a minute shall we. Imagine you are given a list of 5 names and told tomorrow you will have a 20 minute meeting with each of people attached to those names. So you do some research, find out these people are not only interesting but generally really impressive. There have been marketers, veteran game developers, people who have been through the accelerator, & even an advisor to the Prime Minister of Estonia. It’s called Mentor Madness for a reason. You jump from meeting to meeting, asking questions, showing off your game, talking about the team. It never stops, thankfully Zak takes notes very well.

So far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive about the game & about the team. There are loads of things we weren’t prepared for on the business side, and I’m glad we started learning them now. The sheer amount of numbers & acronyms I’ve jammed into my head in the past week makes me think I’m in college again. Using this feedback we have started revamping the game, hopefully by next week we have something cool to show everyone. For now I will say the old kateas you knew & loved will still be there, but it’s going to have a shiny new wrapper.

The people here are fantastic. Our accelerator company is running alongside another tech startup team, & there have been a few collaborative events. One involved cake, and lengthy discussions about how pie is really better. The other involved traveling around nearby Estonia, there may or may not have been a waterfall involved. Afterwards everyone got drinks at some local bars, it’s been nothing but fun.

 Its been ok...

Looking forward. The next week has three mentor days, an indie game developers conference, and possibly a game jam. Hopefully by the next blog post I will unveil something about the new game, and I will do a more focused piece about working in the office, fear not.

We are super excited to be here. Every day has been incredibly busy. All I can say is I love it & I hope you enjoy hearing about our European exploits!


PS: Meet Frank.