Caromble! is a fresh brick-breaking game in a 3D, physics-based dystopic world with an unique art-style and epic gameplay features you wouldn’t expect in a brick breaker.
It is created by Crimson Owl Studios, a small part time indie team that comes together every Friday to develop their first game. Caromble! will be released in 2015 and will be available on PC, Mac & Linux.

Game Development Blog:

Caromble! happy dance

We have something exciting to share with you! We cannot share it explicitly yet, but let these Caromble! dances by Pascal show you our excitement:

happydance

happydance2


Prepare to be updated very soon!

Next Steps of the Cover Artwork

Taking in the feedback from the team, I worked on new versions of the Cover artwork (of which I posted the first steps last week).

The crew liked the general idea of the zig-zag pattern. But the idea of tumbling objects got a bit lost in the latest sketch. So here I’ve made it central, and removed the enemy – so that the composition stays simple.

Good progress – but I wasn’t quite quite happy. And the team wanted to keep the alien, as it hints at an interesting story. So here is another version… though the composition is narrowing down.
This drawing is cleaner, so I can use it as base for working digitally on it.

Next I made a blockout, so I have a better feeling for the brightness-values that the image will use.

And finally I added some colors. Some things I just keep in mind for now – for example that the explosions will blend better with the background in the final version. But it gives a good preview. The detailing can begin.

Caromble! Cover Art Is Coming

This will be an important part of our Greenlight launch, so I have to get this right. Here are some first sketches I did for the cover art – of which I will use elements for the various images in the Steam store.

Quite a lot of elements to get in there. I have the paddle shooting the ball straight at some objects. Lots of explosions of course. And the nemesis wailing about.

In a second sketch I tried to highlight the specific game elements more: The ball bounces around, and aims finally at the enemy as central figure. The scale comes across a bit better – and I think it’s overall nicer to look at.

More work is to be done on these concepts – I’ll update next week with the progress.

Fun by Metrics

Fun! That’s what most games are meant for. Some people argue it’s the meaning of life. Like in the book Homo Ludens (‘Playing Man’) by Johan Huizing. At least, that’s my over-generalized conclusion of a book that I have yet to read.. It discusses the “importance of the play element of culture and society”. Hence, the importance of playing Caromble!.

Our goal with Caromble! is to create a fun game. One of the aspects of creating a fun game is that it feels immersive. This requires a fine balance between boredom and frustration; or as we like to call it: the ‘Fun Flow’. The zone where you forget about time and yourself while having fun. One of the major slowdowns when creating Caromble! is to debug something and get side-tracked by playing the game. Yes, we as developers think to know the game is fun! Unfortunately, we aren’t important.

Metrico

Metrico – A game where players themselves can have fun with metrics!

We are humble game developers serving the people’s need to have fun. You, the people, are easily bored and/or frustrated. I don’t mean to offend, but that’s the conclusion of many game design books. So, we want to avoid boredom and frustration by doing our very best in balancing the game. One way to balance a game is to collect game metrics, identify unbalanced areas of a game, and… fix them!

How do we identify these unbalanced areas? By asking the right question. However, we are still arguing about what data to collect. But it will certainly contain data like:

  • How much time does it take to finish a level?
  • How many balls are lost?
  • How many times is screen X shown.

How do we collect these metrics? Unfortunately, it seems that the Steam SDK is not designed for this. So, we searched for another, easy way of tracking data and found Craig Timpany’s article from 2009 on how to collect game statics using Google Analytics. (As a sidenote he happens to have been involved with another brick-breaker – Shatter – as stated on his so-called ludography).

Game analytics dashboard

All Work All Play – Google Analytics dashboard with game metrics by Wolfgang Graebner

Another article by Wolfgang Graebner (2014) says this about using Google Analytics:

“It’s reliable, easy to set up, tracks common metrics such as views & hosts, supports custom metrics, and the data can be shared with others. That’s basically everything [you] need from an analytics service.”. It shows a nice example of collected data:

Bingo! That’s what we need. Let’s collect some data and add more fun!

Sweating the Small Stuff

As we’re in the final mile of the project, there are quite a lot of little details that need polishing. Not the most fun work – but gotta be done. Girders and metal bars are used all over the game, and used still some early test textures without final effects like normal maps. So now I redid all of them, fixed all errors – and brushed them up to the style of the other objects. That will also help to make the game look consistent.

girders 3d

Supports and girders

And menu stuff – little navigation arrows and medals for the achievements.

Menu Icons

More Icons – including achievement medals

And the endboss you will meet every chapter got updated – we’re still tweaking the gameplay. Beware: He can now shoot back!

alien mesh

The “alien” – got a new home.. and weapons.

Caromble!: The Playtest

Dear Caromble! followers,

Yesterday we made another big step towards the release of Caromble!. We have held an extensive playtest session. The ingredients were:

  • 13 friends from inner and suburban circles
  • Several story levels
  • A few skill levels
  • 5 PC’s and 2 laptops
  • Coffee, crisps and chocolate
  • Observation and a survey that should help us determine what we want to change, balance or add to the game before the release

The developers, nervous for the playtest.

After 6 hours we collected all data files, had some drinks, played some PES2015 (sorry FIFA fans) and talked with the playtesters about their first encounter with Caromble!; the game with which we aim to create the most epic brick-breaker game in the history of the universe.

We are now analyzing all our notes and processing the surveys, but here are already some of the results:

  • Many playtesters laughed when they catched the Pixelate power-down for the first time
  • 50% of the players destroyed the boss in their first or second attempt
  • No crash of the game occurred all day long (what we are quite proud of, as it is running in our own game-engine)
  • We encountered one gameplay-breaking bug:

    This should NOT happen!

  • Unfortunately 4 playtesters could not come (snowy reasons), one of them being a woman. Now we only had male playtesters
  • 3 bags of crisps were eaten
  • One player wore a Fez shirt, which is very cool:

    Thank you very much playtesters! You were awesome and Caromblecious!

  • One player thought that one of our gameobjects looked like a giant red dildo. Not sure whether we should address this…

We have had a great time and so much useful feedback. We want to thank all playtesters once more. We were very happy with your effort, feedback and joyful faces. Thank you!

Happy developers after a successful playtest day of Caromble!

Creating a living and breathing game world

Charging as a core gameplay mechanic

Caromble! is a brick breaker game. However, I dare to say it is not JUST a brick breaker game. Our aim is to create an interesting and engaging game world, where the core gameplay mechanic is that of a brick breaker.
Gameplay wise, there are several things in Caromble! which you would probably not expect in a brick breaker game. The 3D elements in the game serve an actual purpose and are an integrated part of the level designs and highly influence the gameplay. Our dynamic subareas within the levels add an exploratory factor to the game. Furthermore, the charge mechanic and some special, fresh new powerups add an extra dimension to the brick breaker genre.

Besides these gameplay mechanics, we also focussed a lot on creating an interesting game world. For some players, playing a game is purely about the abstract game mechanic. Other players like to be emerged in a fictional world, where their fantasy can make even bigger and greater stories than the game designers intended. To help you create an interesting game world, it is good to have established a backstory. With this, I do not mean Hideo Kojima-like cutscenes, but a small consistent story in the back of your head. This can be very useful as a game designer. In a next blog I want to tell you more about Caromble!‘s backstory and why I believe it is useful to have one. For now, I just want to say that having only a small hint of a story can already give you many ideas for creating or improving the world your game is ‘living’ in. This can help you think of objects that are within and outside the game world, and can suddenly fill in the gaps if you’re struggling with designing a boss fight. Context leads to ideas.

The world of Caromble! feels alive and I think that the dynamic elements in the game are a big part of how this is achieved. We have 3 kinds of dynamic elements in the game:

– Essential dynamic elements within the gameplay. These can require timing and sometimes bring puzzle elements to the gameplay. A level cannot be completed without using it.

A dynamic ramp that is essential for the gameplay

– Non-essential dynamic elements within the gameplay. These can be moving obstacles that influence the physics world and can have unexpected big impacts. Remember, chain reactions in physics == fun

A none essential car in the level, just for fun

Lastly, and in my opinion a very interesting one:

– Non-essential dynamic elements outside of the gameplay. Often placed in the background or between subareas of a level.

Barrels in the background for an Industrial atmosphere

Moving elements in the menu that are non-interactive

This last one does not influence the gameplay whatsoever, but I believe that these elements are a major ingredient for making a living, breathing game world. I think that when a player sees objects that are somewhat consistent with the created context (made possible by a (small) backstory), they unconsciously make associations and make a (bigger) story in their head. In their self created/associated world, the actions of the player, which in Caromble! is that of a ‘simple’ brick breaker mechanic, can have a bigger meaning in that world. You’re not just jumping on mushrooms. No, you are saving the princess of mushroom kingdom.

A train on the side of a level, which can’t be hit by the ball

All of a sudden the player has a role in a fictive world, and as a game designer you should aim to give as many possibilities for the player to make associations within that world. This in turn makes it a richer and livelier world. I think that dynamic elements, even in the background of the game, helps you achieve that.

Only two weeks ago, we have changed the movement of our game’s antagonist, such that it always follows/looks at the paddle. Immediately I experienced more of a threat from our scary red bad guy, and I think the game world has become livelier because of this change, with only little effort. What do you think:

It’s always watching you!

Brick breaker games are often referred to as breakout clones. But just as not every first person shooter is called a wolfenstein clone, perhaps Caromble! can help to establish an actual genre. At least we hope that the world we have created for Caromble! helps in engaging many players to enjoy the brick breaker mechanic.

The barrels actually fall into the level

Level Iterations

In our previous posts we talked a lot about juice. But in those posts, we mainly focused on main gameplay events and objects. As you might know, we more or less have all our levels finished. The gameplay stands, but the levels are all pretty rough around the edges.
We’re currently iterating over the first few levels. With each iteration, the gameplay is tweaked a little more and the graphics and lighting are made more coherent.

To give a few examples, check out the screenshots:

javaw 2014-10-07 21-47-16-07 javaw 2014-10-07 21-24-16-84

javaw 2014-10-07 21-32-11-52 javaw 2014-10-07 22-00-20-32

PS: We know we’ve been a bit silent on the blog lately… but believe me, it’s the calm before the storm!

Interviews – Part 2

Part two of our interview series where the Caromble! developers interview each other. This time our interviewee is Thomas Duindam.

Thomas Duindam drinking a beer at a festival

Thomas drinking beer at a festival

Thomas, when will you release Caromble!?

2014-ish. We release the game when we decide it’s finished.

How many times has this question been asked to you?

It’s a logical question to ask. I wonder about it myself. This year we will at least release something! We will open up and allow for early access to our game.

Let’s ask what should have been the first question: Who are you?

I’m one of the developers of Caromble!. I am a software engineer in the medical field by day, and a game developer by night – and most weekends. Sometimes I drink beer at a music festival.

What is your favourite game?

Monkey Island. I enjoy games with a strong narrative and which are able to immerse me into another world. It impresses me more than abstract skill games.

That sounds a bit like the opposite of Caromble!

Yes it does, but I don’t think that’s a problem. Opposed to my previous anwer, I also game to relax instead of desiring to have a new experience in another world. I relax the most with games that have familiar mechanics. It’s like deciding to watch an important art-house movie or a easy to digest blockbuster. When I want to relax I choose the latter. When I want to relax and play a video game, Caromble! will be a very good choice.

That sounds like fun! I want to play Caromble! How would you describe a day in the life of a Caromble! developer?

Wake up. Drink coffee. Commute to this week’s developer studio / kitchen table. Drink some more coffee.

This is followed by:
– 25% coding, mostly fixing bugs.
– 25% discussions about Caromble! At the time mostly about project management.
– 25% lunch.
– Another 25% coding.

Sometimes the Caromble! workday ends here. Other times the day continues with:
– 25% playing games and drinking beer.
– 25% coding, mostly creating bugs.

You mentioned discussing about the game. What was the most difficult decision during this project?

I remember the infamous ‘Feature Creep Dooms Day’. It was a day’s length discussion about the scope of Caromble!. We slaughtered many feature ideas. At the moment I think the scope is still too big. 25% of the current scope would also suffice for a really nice game. Three lessons learned: limit your scope, limit your scope, limit your scope.

Could you name some ‘slaughtered’ ideas?

Portals, which was the hardest to let go off. Switching gravity’s direction. Zombies. Multiplayer.

Sounds like enough ideas for a Caromble! sequel. You are developing Caromble! for quite some time now. What keeps you going?

I like the game so far and I am very curious about what the final version will be like!

What is the element of Caromble! that you are most proud of?

All technical stuff that’s written in Java. A lot of people said it couldn’t been done! But we did!

Caromble! in Paris

paris_5paris_3It’s been a long time. A very long time indeed. But we are still here, alive and kicking. We’ve had some hectic weeks, busy with holiday trips, finding new houses and unfortunately some hospital visits. But we are well!

I have just returned from a trip to Paris and Caromble! seemed to be a very big thing there, as you can see in the photos throughout this blog post.

monarombleAt the moment, Peter is probably chilling in a pool with a caipirinha and his girlfriend, but the rest is back in Holland to push Caromble! to the next phase. We will not yet go into specifics about what that phase is, but expect something to happen soon; something involving the fact that Caromble! is greenlit on Steam and yourself collapsing some structures in the Caromble! world.

paris_4
Because we are limited in our time to work on the game, as we still have our ‘normal’ jobs 4 days in a week, and writing blog posts steals some of this precious time, we have decided that for the moment we will be writing blogposts every two weeks. We will still do a #screenshotsaturday weekly, so check that out if you want to see more of Caromble!.