Beautifun Games

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The BeautiFun Team Stories - Kevin Cerdà - Game designer and writer - Part III

Kevin: Now focusing on Nihilumbra, I think you have already answered a lot of all the possible questions a person can imagine about the game. So, there is only one thing I can ask you. What is left for you to tell about the game?

Jesús: As I already told you, before Nihilumbra I was developing a AAA title in which I had put a lot of hope. When the project was discontinued I felt like really bad, thinking all my work would never be seen, so I felt like everything I did became nothing, my work was suddenly erased from the world. Those sort of emotions influenced me a lot to craft the story and design of Nihilumbra, its story, the dark aesthetics and all the sadness surrounding Born when he starts the adventure.

What's the less expected feedback you got from the players? and also, what got lost in translation from your head to what they receive when playing the game?

I was ready for the backslash that a few people throwed against the game, claiming it was pretentious rubbish and made use of cheap philosophy. I don’t know, it hurts, but you kinda expect that kind of reaction in the Internet. But I wasn't really prepared for some of the good comments, many people appreciated the game a lot, especially how it treats many topics that every human being has during life. Fear to death, the arrogance that sometimes happens when you get an achievement, it's a game that communicate things very few games accomplish to do successfully. I have to admit I wasn't ready for that kind of good feedback, but I have to outline I really appreciate those players who write us telling how much the game connected with them. As a player, you don't have to try to get all the underlying messages hidden in the game, but if you do, then you will have a much better understanding (and in consequence I think it will be more enjoyable).

Nihilumbra means a lot for me, it's my first commercial title and that carries a lot of responsibility. Even now, almost two years after we released the game, it's quite hard for me to cope with critics in general, whether they come as a face to face commentary, a journalistic review or a tweet. I fight everyday to be the best game designer I can, so I have a really high self-exigence.

Now on Megamagic, what do you feel when comparing the birth of Megamagic and the birth of Nihilumbra?

Definitely, Megamagic is having a much more complicated development; if Nihilumbra was a kamikaze project, Megamagic could be considered as suicidal without hesitation. The project is a new adventure, a new challenge, much more extense and with a very innovative gameplay. We are fighting to finish it on time and with the expected quality.

From story and design points of view, what have been your main motivations?

The story is quite deep and elaborated. I built a complex universe, with different factions, beliefs, cultures, individuals with their own stories, personalities and problems. The events that occur amongst the characters have their very particular reasons behind, etc. One of the reasons I'm more enthusiastic about the project is that I believe in those characters, they deserve to come to life and let the players experience their stories.

About the gameplay, I took the main mechanic of a game I played as a child as inspiration and added new elements to improve it as much as possible. Our inspiration is a game very rarely remembered nowadays, but that was one of my favourites PC games as a child. Also, Megamagic is designed in a way the player is suddenly dropped into the world and he will have to discover it step by step. The nonlinear experience we are creating will be quite interesting, as an example, in a fantastic medieval game like Baldurs Gate you know that somewhere in the quest there is a dragon waiting for you that you have to beat, or a princess in distress. But in Megamagic the ambient is really new and the player won't have a clue of what is waiting around the corner, so the game will surely surprise him.

Now, as with the rest of the members of the team, it's your turn to remark a good quality of them and also something that you like and you don't like from yourself.

Aniol: I know him for almost three years now and still surprises me, something I have observed is that he is a really smart guy with a lot of rational thinking. Sometimes he is too rational, up to the point of having difficulties to understand the more emotional members of the team. I have the feeling I understand him better than most people since I have the same problem. He's also very perfectionist, sometimes complaining about the very small details of each proposal I present to him. But I always try to present my favorite idea surrounded by other mediocre ones, in this way he always chooses the right one!

Pol: I have a lot of complicity with him since we were already working together on The Creature. Also we have a very similar sense of humour.

Lourdes: She is very passionate about everything she does, for the good and the bad. She's always taking care of all of us. It's always good to have somebody more human like her around. Artistically I love her watercolor works, also how far she goes looking for references and inspirations, even when I push her to go far from her style, that's more happy and colourful.

Marcos: He is a great guy, super productive, we have the same passion for the 80s culture and since the beginning we get along very well.

Jordi: He is really fast at drawing, as fast that I can sit beside him and watch how he draws things in real time and correct him without having to go back to my place. Incredible. On the other hand he has a very defined style and is hard to take him out of it. His dark humour is something I love, but his jokes aren't suitable for a public audience!

Jesús: I see you are always doing, learning and sharing things, even when you don't need to. That's something very valuable for us to have somebody always tuned up about the last news happening in the industry. I see you're a very proactive member who likes to purpose new alternatives to spread the word on the studio and our games.

Now you gave your impressions on the rest of the team good qualities. Which ones would be your attributes, both good and bad?

Let's start with good points first. As a game designer, I really trust my hunches. I've studied lots of theory about game design, but sometimes I break with all of that and follow my instinct, doing something I've never seen before. Examples of that are The Creature's trailer or Nihilumbra's Void Mode. Once I learn to control such impulses the receive them whenever I want, I’ll become extremely powerful!

About my bad points, sometimes I get too much stressed, I go crazy when things go wrong, but also when everything is running smoothly I get worried about the smallest detail. Also it hurts me too much when somebody don't like my work and criticizes it, that contributes to increase the stress even more. But the worst deficiency I have is that I'm not able to create my own game from scratch, I learned how to code and animate, but would love to create good art. For example, I was amazed when I met Francisco Téllez (Unepic), someday I really aspire to be like him and be able to craft almost every part of a game. This is probably caused because I feel ideas aren't useful without the technical skills needed to create a game from scratch and I feel really vulnerable for this!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The BeautiFun Team Stories - Kevin Cerdà - Game designer and writer - Part II

Welcome to the second part of the interview with our game designer and writer Kevin Cerdà. Today we talk with him about video games from a more professional perspective and see how he evolved as a student, until he co-founded BeautiFun Games.

Jesús: Your first finished project was The Creature. Can you introduce us the circunstances that lead you to create this game?

Kevin: Yes, TheCreature, as Nihilumbra, takes elements from classic games I played as a kid and mix them with new ideas, preferably ones that hasn't been seen before. It was my final project at Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya (UPC) Video game Masters Degree. I remark these studies had no specific game design especialization, so I only had two choices, to focus on art or programming. I chose programming, because I thought that it was my weakest point. One day the teacher told us about how the final project was going to be like: next week we would have to form groups and each of them would develop a small demo of a game. I wanted to use the degree to earn game design experience, so I worked really hard on a design proposal before the day when we had to form the groups arrived. Some people started to talk and grouped themselves by following similar preferences; my case was a bit shocking, since nobody expected to see a guy with tons of design documents and sketches ready to be implemented. For me it was essential to walk that extra mile as I needed to be able to say I had designed a full game once I jumped into the job market after my studies.

How was the experience of coordinating the team for The Creature?

Finally I managed to convince a bunch of people to join (Pol Urós was amongst them), and summarizing pretty much what happened, have to admit I ended up being kind of a dictator. It was hard to organize a team of people that didn’t know each other. There was one guy from our team that left the degree without any explanation! But I think it ended very positively since we made a full game with many levels, high replayability, hidden secrets, final enemies, a great soundtrack. It was crazy compared to the typical 15-20 minutes demo almost every students group use to submit as Masters final project. I think we were able to achieve all of that thanks to having everything specified on a design document, and that also avoided to lose time on the typical arguments that appear when things are too open and there's no clear direction.

In addition to the lead game design role, you also worked as project manager/producer. What did you learned about your experience in this new role?

My goal with The Creature was to create the best product I possibly could, with the crazy goal that, as soon as it got released, I would start receiving calls from big companies, like CAPCOM, to hire me as a Vice-President. In a word, I wanted to get as much recognition as possible with that first project; it is really hard to become a game designer without a team so I couldn’t lose a chance like that one. What I didn't take into account was that not everybody in our group had such high expectations, and here was where we had the toughest conflicts. For me it was vital to polish the game to the maximum, and that resulted in a huge level of critic and exigency to myself and consequently towards most of the team, so some people started to get fed up with me. I really believe that we wouldn’t have finished the game if it wasn’t for that, but it was really stressful for everyone. I've learned a lot since then and now things aren't like that anymore. Nowadays leadership is something I don't specially enjoy, I try to do my best and also give freedom to the team members to do things their way, and at their own pace.

The Creature's core development team. From left to right and top to bottom:
David Gallardo, Andreu Ferré, Kevin Cerdà, Pol Urós and Lluc Romaní.
What do you admire the most from the final result achieved with The Creature and what have you learnt about the development process?

Really admire the soundtrack, by Álvaro Lafuente. I would say it is even better than Nihilumbra's. Also appreciate a lot the mysterious atmosphere permeating the whole game. It tells many things with very simple details, and has also numerous secrets that very very few people discovered.
Learned a lot about how much it costs to finish a game, I have to admit the end of The Creature was especially complex. I also worked on lots of areas other than game design, took care of all the animations, did a lot of rigging and character texturing, sound effects, level designing and building, learned useful stuff about Unreal Engine, like how to create cinematics or edit particles and materials... In general, during the development of The Creature and the whole Master I learnt a lot from books I bought and from conferences I attended. Every time you need to struggle to finish a game you end up learning a lot from it, and the result is that you become a better professional.

Click to listen to some tracks from The Creature OST
Something I'm also very happy about The Creature are the contacts I gathered, from press and also other companies related to game development. I remember for example Mike Rose from Gamasutra and Paolo Giaiero from Indies4indies (a company that later on worked on Nihilumbra translations) contacted me with comments of high praise about the game.

Can you explain us about the transition from The Creature to Nihilumbra?

When we ended The Creature I started a marketing campaign to show it to the world. I sent emails to lots of people, I wrote one post on The Creature’s development blog every day during a whole summer, while we were on the last stage of the development… I barely slept during those months! And I also did this trailer. Seriously, I recommend you to check out its awesome trailer. Everyone loved it.

After the game was launched, some publishers contacted me to make a sequel of The Creature. Why not? I thought. But that ended up being kind of impossible, specially because we hadn't set up as a company, each member took his own road, like Dragon Balls, and it would be really messy to gather them or to do it without them. So I started looking for other projects. Unexpectedly, I found myself involved in a great and really ambitious AAA title where I started to collaborate as a game design assistant and ended being the main designer. I finished all the high level documentation of the game and a huge publisher okayed it, but sadly, in the last moment, it got cancelled. At the same time, I started to meet with a group of classmates to try to see if we could develop a game without a budget.

Two of the first Mockups for Nihilumbra
Those meetings started with around 15 people gathering once a week to share ideas, so we joined and tried to work each one on his side to produce some materials. The meeting started to get less and less crowded, since some of the people found a job or simply lost the motivation, so finally we were only a few folks there left without much hope to achieve something significant in the end, until one day Aniol surprised us with a lot of money he wanted to invest to create a video game studio. That studio needed a flagship game, so I started to illustrate and describe a game that could please all of the team members. The game was going to be self-published on iOS, since it was the best platform for indies, we could have tried to jump to PC first but at that time Steam doors were pretty close to new and unknown games. We decided to take what seemed the safest way: publish a game on iOS, but it was not going to be “an iOS game”, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The BeautiFun Team Stories - Kevin Cerdà - Game designer and writer - Part I

Kevin Cerdà is our writer, game designer and also our spokesman, so you can imagine how many interviews he has already answered about him and our games. We know it will be hard, but in the upcoming weeks we will try to cover some aspects of his life that aren't so well known, today we start talking about his cultural influences, so in the next parts we will focus more on video games, as a gamer and as an industry professional.

Jesús: How did your passion for video games started?

Kevin: I've always loved video games since I was a small child, and I used to think that I wanted to create games as an adult, it was an idea that drove me crazy. But when I was a child I was once told that this dream of mine was far from reality, because becoming part of a game studio was going to be really alienating. I would be an insignificant minion in the middle of a myriad of developers and anything I could say would have a minimal influence on the projects I would work for. That idea ended up demoralizing me and convinced me of forgetting the idea of someday being part of this industry. I wanted to make games! It was really sad to be told that my dream job actually didn’t exist at all. But I always kept my interest in the medium and kept playing more and more games, basically all I could get my hands on.

So if the video game industry didn't appeal to you at the time, on which medium did you put your professional expectations and why?

I always had an innate desire to tell stories, will it be through music, comics, cinema or literature. So once I got to the sad conclusion that video games were not my road I spent most of my youth pretty confused about the future, consuming books, games and movies at a crazy rate. I thought that I could be a movie director, but the film school course was super expensive and I ended up studying Telecommunications engineering, where I learned a bit of programming, 3D modelling and animation, graphic design, audio and video editing... All this knowledge was really useful to work on video games, actually, as a final project I created what could be described as a first person virtual simulator, with a twisted survival horror side.

I see in the end that video games creator in you inevitably emerged somehow, right?

Yeah, in fact I ended my degree at the same time Braid was released and... BOOM! Like a revelation, I discovered everything I was told about the game industry as child was not completely true. There was no need to have a huge team of people to develop a game, in fact that game Braid was mainly done by one man, and what a marvelous game! So thanks to that I got all the encouragement I needed to embark myself into this amazing journey that took me to be a game developer.

So, as you said, you are a passionate storyteller and games was, in a way, your native medium, perhaps the most engaging one for you?

Yes, as I said before I was an absolute video game fanatic as a kid (and nowadays too!). If I would have ended being a film director I'm sure my movies would have a huge influence coming from video games. To help you have an idea of how much passion I poured into playing games, I will tell you I was three years-old when I beated the first Sonic title for Megadrive. To say the truth, my parents were pretty surprised, and wondered if that gaming skill of mine could have any usefulness in my future. It's curious because my family isn’t exactly the gamer type. The only ones that were interested in games in my family when I was a child were my grandmother and my aunt. In fact I bet that my grandmother could hold world records on Dr. Mario and Bejewelled.

Aside of video games, what else did you play in your childhood?

When I was a kid I didn't need many toys to play, I remember I created my own stories so other kids joined my games and we all played in imaginary worlds. I designed sort of live RPGs with my friends, that turned to be really big, specially when we had school trips. Once a year, I remember we traveled to the countryside and spent several days in a masia, a big rural house, then we had a lot of space and freedom to even create our imaginary armies.

Now talking about inspirations, where all those stories came from? Did you enjoy reading many fantasy storybooks back then? Or books in general?

When I was a kid I read a lot, around three books per week. I still remind myself walking in the street with my parents and reading at the same time. They had to guide me in order to not get out of the sidewalk. As one can expect from a very young kid, I like to read fairytales and sci-fi, but also short and entertaining terror stories like the R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series. I also liked Eduardo Mendoza's black humour stories or detective novels.

I read humor comics like “Mortadelo y Filemón” (Clever & Smart) or Super López, a comic starring a hero who plays sort of a Spanish Superman parody (his stories are quite fun and smart even nowadays). I have to admit something about comics and mangas, that one of the more stupid mistakes I made in my life was to believe that they were for kids and books were for adults, associating them to poorly elaborated/only easy entertainment and higher quality/more mature content, respectively. That was a huge and unfair discrimination I discovered a bit late, once I was a teenager. It was all thanks to an incredible manga called Lone Wolf and Cub. From that point on, I saw how comics can be as mature as novels. I read Batman comics and Garth Ennis' The Preacher, which I have to say is my favorite comic from all times. The characters were so well defined and the plot was so immersive that seems like the authors hand is not there, and they are real people with their very own life. I’d also like to mention other comics like Watchmen, 20th Century Boys or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for example.

All that reading was very good for me, not only because I learned lots of vocabulary, also because I got kind of a literary way of thinking that was really useful to write my own stories. If someday I ran out of books to read, I remember my parents took me to the library where I could spend hours trying to decide which book I would like to take home, usually I judged them just by the cover. I fondly remember how hard it was to decide between “The Day of the Triffids” and “The Hobbit”.

And what can you tell me about books?

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