With 2017 coming to a wrap up, we thought its a good time to capture our story and do like a retrospect. We have had quite a journey so far, a journey with its fair share of achievements, milestones, pitfalls, mistakes, failures, setback and what not! Being a Indie developer and transforming into a mature studio while facing countless challenges is never a easy thing globally let alone in India. Our focus and commitment to quality and aversion to mediocre content has always helped us stay afloat as otherwise there are very slim chances we could operate with large/global players in the Industry. Part of this has come from our team’s urge and passion to create things that stand out and best in class.
A quick run down at our journey below.
We started off with a great spirit (something that hasn’t died just yet) and everyone got into the groove in no time. The way our core team came together was the best part and it paved way for everything we could imagine producing. All our members came from varying backgrounds having a common interest and desire to build games. Our idea from the beginning was always focusing on building a great team in first place before even attempting to build a game. We never had our members buying in just because we were about to build the coolest game, but we were about to build the coolest studio this part of the country has ever seen.
Its hard to believe that we actually had deliverables lined up day one on a certain project we started off with. It was more of a serious game we were building for a particular client in the US -a fun project involving characters, branching dialogues and player choices. We had to work on lip-sync as we had ton of dialogues in the game. We really enjoyed all the work done there. The art was cool and the team was starting to get a hang of Unity’s light-mapping there.
In-game screens from the conversation games
We already had signed up on a suite of games for a particular client based in the US – they were starting to make betting based games. Those games sort of became our ‘Duke Nukem Forever’ – something that dragged for a whole 3+ years. They are a great client to work with- their platform is still being tweaked as they are getting ready to launch more titles across states where betting is legal. For a plethora of reasons, we couldn’t just wrap those games up – our bandwidth majorly to be blamed while feature creeps/changes would be next for blame. We are still dwelling on those mistakes we made on this game and this game is a classic case study for us when it comes to how important it is schedule a game properly and ship it on time no matter what. We are however we fortunate to have a very understanding client who stuck with us for all these years. No one would do that trust us!
Ingame screen from Shuffle bowling
Day one we were also clear on the path the studio would be taking. We again didnt want to be one of those dime a dozen studios venturing into producing IPs right at the beginning and at the end burning through all the resources and crashing. The idea was to build a very strong external development skill set that obviously become the lifeline of the studio and lay the foundation.
This never stopped us from experimenting on things though. When we had the spare time we were working on a bunch of stuff. We were collaborating with our Design partner Dan in building a game based on the famous Lizzie Borden murders – we still have the gaming rights to those. For the 2015 GDC meeting we wanted to showcase to a prime publisher to see if we could generate some interest and boy putting together that demo turned out to be one hell of a nightmare! We pushed so hard that Unity snapped at that point! Nevertheless it was a great exercise for the team. It proved to ourselves that the team can deliver under pressure and can go the extra mile when needed. It was that was needed to begin the tough journey of building games.
In-game screens from the Lizzie demo
The art team was being built and strengthened in parallel. Our core Art team came from a very solid background with strong art fundamentals and great sense of Aesthetics. They were able to adapt quickly and started to produce a lot of cool stuff on that end.
The first bunch of characters we were producing for global studios
On the 2D front we started to produce some great stylized backgrounds for a large Mobile developer. This pretty much served as a great boot camp for the art team (our current Art Directors and 2D Artists) where they began to produce high quality content for games.
The first bunch of backgrounds we were building (pretty cool aren’t they?)
Some more cool concepts we did back then
We were also prototyping/pitching a game based on a very popular table top game IP called Unspeakable Words which we ultimately didn’t secure since the deal didn’t go through. Lovely concept though!
Concept roughs from Unspeakable Words
By now we were already well into 2015 and were starting to work on a project for a South American university which allows students to simulate their career (more like a virtual career simulator) with some traditional gaming mechanics thrown in. At first it sounded fun, but that was one project which was literally a pain in the a## for us. For starters it was never designed from the clients end, so we had to carry the additional burden of designing it on the fly while developing it (perfect recipe for disaster) and it proved to be a super nightmare. It was another game that we wished we never did or at-least wished it was approached in the right direction. One of those projects we weren’t very fond of! (there we go, we said that!) We ultimately had to end development on the game as it spiraled out of control in terms of scope and feature creeps which ate all our bandwidth affecting our other key projects. While we know its unfair to complain a project which still paid some of our bills, it went to a point where things started to become extremely demanding and unrealistic forcing us to put an end.
We did some cool visuals to that game though
The thing about being in external game development is that you need to get used to the fact that not every game you build is necessarily something that you want to build or play. So the ideal saying ‘ Make something that you want to play‘ doesn’t really work when you work in external development. Client’s vision and directions are always prime and they will always be right.
We also worked on building some pretty detailed characters for an unannounced PS3/ Mobile title based on Aztec warriors. This involved creating many sets of characters some of which shared the base meshes and some unique.
The Aztec warriors!
While some of these projects were being developed, our beloved Shuffle bowling was still being developed!
By now we were already transitioning into a new project – call it another chapter of our mistakes. This time we were off to a good start with this particular client and started to work on a game using the Construct 2 engine. The game already came to us in a badly beaten up state where the previous developer had made the best mess possible. This is when you learn as a developer that never take another developer’s mess – it always ends one way and things would only go south.
So this was a game from the Sara’s cooking class series, pretty famous among teen girls. In this case, we didn’t handle the art (except that we had to polish the whole art) and only dealt the programming. The design was supplied externally. The game was supposed to run on all browsers including all mobile browsers. We thought we could use Unity which could have been a breeze for such a simpler game but the client was hell bent that the game has to run on the IE browsers too ( we know what you would think – IE, seriously ?) Keeping that in mind we chose construct 2 and boy it turned out to be a ride for us. It was a bad decision of ours to have chosen that in first place as it had little control over coding and everything was driven as events. On top of it the demand to meet multi platform browsers was very challenging. The build would never pass QA since it would run into some issue or the other. A project where the wrong choice of tool and poor workflow from our team ended up with a failure and finally the client had to pull the plug on this one. First glimpse of tasting failure and in other words we simply screwed up!
Ah that scene we had to stare for may weeks!
By the end of 2015 we already felt the need to move into a larger space as we added more projects to the plate. We found a great place right within our building and made the move.
We blogged about this too and it can be read here – http://hammerplay.com/2017/07/19/evolving-our-studio-spaces/
On the Art front we handled a couple great projects where we built visuals and levels for a 3D ride based game in theme parks. One of the games involved shooting with water guns at the characters appearing on the screen. The development was handled by a studio based in the Europe while we handled all of the art and level design. The game was called Beach Fun and some glimpses below.
Concepts and ingame screens from Beachfun
While Beachfun was actually fun, the second project, large one actually which started out to be fun ran into pipeline issues that we had to battle and fix and eventually losing a chunk of work. The dev team on the other end was hell bent on having some animations a certain way and they never worked out in the given schedule.
One of the various levels we created for the game- Moon Bunny Rescue
Part of our experimental IP we started to prototype and design a brand new board game IP based on an old design of our design partner Dan. The game in simple terms is Monopoly meeting Grand theft Auto but with a lot of depth and fun factor packaging into a physical board game experience. How often do you see a game developer in India building board games ? We wanted to originally launch on Kickstarter but the design had to take more iterations so we couldn’t simply hold onto it for longer as we had to offer more priority to our external development projects.It is one of those projects where almost everyone in the team had something to build and contribute. Building physical items for games are always fun. All the character and playable pieces were created and 3D printed inhouse! We had to build everything from scratch and send it to Gencon where we had a chance to demo it to a select audience and gather feedback. It is on our back-burner at the moment and we are hoping to dust it off and resume soon enough.
Some of the digital artwork and 3D printed figures for Tabletop Mafia
On the development end we were moving from the wreckage of Sara’s cooking class over to a Retro themed RTS game which eventually sealed its fate with the distant publisher pulling the plug on the funding. The game was fun to work and was mostly based on the classic C&C type gameplay. The original idea that was proposed from the clients end was that they wanted to build the game using the OpenRA framework. Upon evaluation we saw it wasn’t quite possible to build standalone games without using the Red Alert code base and we settled on the idea of developing with Unity. The art came in from a distant team and they actually did do a good job creating the retro looking/pixel art. It had a half cooked design from the publishing client’s end and we had to run into several iterations.
While this was being developed we were constantly going back and forth on the earlier Career project that would only burn more hours and days.
Then came a point where we moved onto development of a new game – this time a game on the lines of Clash Royale built in 3D. Produced/developed by a French gaming company. It started off very well and our playable prototype was up and running in less than 2-3 weeks. We then looked at marching towards first playable which is when the real fun started. This particular client was the exact opposite of the one we dealt earlier. These guys over designed every bit in the game and had almost deconstructed/dissected Clash Royale every inch that they knew every move and mechanic. While it was ok in theory, we just couldn’t please them and they started to complain on our approach and were very demanding- Finicky could be a better word there. Not that we claim we were perfect with the approach but we didn’t suck either. We again reached a point where we had to cease development despite trying to make things work. We later came to know that they had to cancel development on that game and moved onto a new IP. After all a Clash Royale clone isn’t as good as Clash Royale!
We then had a fun interim assignment and this time it was building a simple arcade game that will be played on snapchat as a branding campaign. It was for Unilever’s brand Hellmann’s and it was supposedly well relieved with a millions of sessions. We only handled the programming part on the game which had a bit of snag at the beginning as we started off with cocos and the physics system just didnt work. We then moved quickly over to Phaser which also allowed us to mark our first step toward building HTML5 games that led to a whole new area for us later on as we went on build some more great games that we are yet to announce. You can check out a playable version here.
On Art we jumped onto creating some cool concepts and ingame assets for a client who was looking to go Indie from a large Gaming company he was working with and he was looking for some external help. It wasn’t a big project but fun enough for our guys.
Some of the explorations we did for the external Indie title
Our next assignment was for a very large corporation (cant say who that is) and it was for an emerging tech they were working on in the Europe. The client was cool and super demanding but in a great way. We were asked to build a quick prototype of the classic game Sokoban in the likes of impressing them and we did just that. Its the classic Sokoban game but with a farm theme where you push the haystacks using a bobcat and it was all built in less than 2 weeks. Needless to say the client were very pleased and worked with us for a good few months on a specific project. While we cant reveal what that is, we can probably show some screens from the cool prototype we built.
Sokobarn – like we called it!
On Art projects we were working on building assets for a first person VR runner game – it was a quick one but we did do some cool concepts, characters and environment assets there.
Some of the concepts and in-game characters we created
We were now already making a transition on to yet another ambitious title – but this time it was a publisher from Thailand who wanted to build games for their markets and also covering the whole of south east Asia. We first started off evaluating game ideas similar to the Mobile hit title Lords Mobile and the whole development plan was made around that.
Strategy game prototype
We agreed on the scope and budgets with the publisher and when we were about to get started, the publisher came up with the last minute idea of changing the game idea to something else. He was a big fan of the Mini 4Wd concepts and had originally published a game called Pocket4WD in their markets. We then agreed to build that game instead of the Lords like game. Again things started in a great spirit with the publisher visiting and working with us for a few days to discuss the concepts, mechanics but this time we faced different set of challenges. One being, the publisher himself was so occupied with his other ventures that he couldn’t devote much of a time to the development and thus slowing down things terribly. We tried to stay on our feet all the time on this game but the feedback process and delay simply killed things. When you working on a milestone based development model it is very important for you to stay on your toes all the time as things could start crushing down on you otherwise.
We particularly had a lot of hopes on this game and gave a lot on the initial prototypes. The publisher all of sudden decided to pull the plug for a variety of internal reasons on their end also stating that our development style isn’t working for them and they would prefer a studio who they can acquire on their end and ultimately passed on the IP rights of the game to us. This left us in a lurch and it took a bit for us to recover from the blow- we couldn’t fight back as it never made any sense. We thought we will take the game forward but given the scope and the niche market segment of the game,it didn’t make commercial sense for us to invest and hope it would work as we don’t belong to that market. It's a shame we couldn’t build the full game with the publisher!
Some of the stuff we built for Pocket4WD
We started working on the top mobile hit game Choices – Stories you play by Pixelberry Studios, creating some beautiful visuals – a lot of it can be seen when you play the game. The game is one among the top grossing iOS games and is a massive hit in this genre. We have a great roadmap ahead and are already ramping up production from the new year.
One of the recent scenes from Choices game on Mobile
We recently signed up on a couple of great games that we are in the middle of developing and cant announce them just yet. The later part of the year has particularly been great for us as it also allowed to boost our inhouse IP production and we are very close to announcing a slate of games for a great new emerging platform. We cannot wait to announce them! We are slowly expanding on a variety of areas and doing so across Art and Programming.
We are very fortunate to have been able to commit mistakes of all degree while still being an independent studio and not externally funded. This has allowed us to mature and level up while we strap up for even greater challenges. These mistakes have defined, shaped and built us to who we are today without which we would be sitting ducks. And looking back at the sheer variety of work we have across various genres makes us feel great and adds tremendous reassurance to ourselves that we have indeed built a great team who can handle pretty much anything and everything thrown at their way. Thats how a game development team should work and we are very proud to have accomplished that!
And lets just say we have finally wrapped up Shuffle Bowling and submitted the code to the client for submission!
“Nevertheless we are Hammerplay and we forge fun! Upward and onward!”
Artwork, visuals rights belong to the respective owners.