From A Different Generation

We just realised that we’re from a different planet altogether.

The thing is, both of us founders were born before you amazing millennials walked in.

Our world was ruled by feudal lords, expressing ourselves freely is perceived as a dangerous thing, and the high level of insecurities built into us prevent us from being open and sharing stuff.

BUT…baby steps, we atleast know whats wrong, and we’re learning.

So starting today, we’re going to be changing the way we interact with our community.

Step 1: We’re dropping this belief that you are our fans, that we are these awesome beings who have brought something revolutionary to you, and its your duty to appreciate it and follow us like herds of sheep.

Step 2: We’re going to learn from every interaction with you, on how we can enable you to better experience Xcavate as a puzzle concept, have fun making stuff, sharing it with your friends and have a great time exploring it.

Step 3: We’re going to actively look out for contributions and use these as opportunities to create frameworks of participation & competition.

Based on this, we’re flagging off two initiatives:

  1. The Better Ruleset Initiative -A few people pointed out flaws in our puzzle ruleset, but we’ve always been defensive about it, claiming that what we define Xcavate to be is what it should be. Now, the Xcavate ruleset did not comply with the way chess pieces work in chess. The first ruleset included blank tiles and changed the way the bishop and rook work. Our new ruleset is better, but, it still breaks the rule that pieces block in chess.  There’s also this thought of decoupling Xcavate from chess altogether and using different pieces with different influences for hunting treasures on the board. What is the best ruleset? We don’t know. Hell, we don’t even know if we’ve come up with all possible rulesets yet, so we need your help to come up with different rulesets and explore them, so that we can implement the rules that you like the most in the puzzle and the game.
  2. The DIY Puzzle Initiative – When we started promoting Xcavate in the beginning, some of you started making your own puzzles and we thought we were the only ones who should create the puzzles. But we realise that we’re going about it the wrong way. We felt really happy when some of you contributed to Xcavate but we didn’t know how to work together with you. So pretty soon, we’re going to work on creating an Xcavate puzzle creator which you can use to make puzzles of your own and share with your friends/Facebook groups and communities.

Both these initiatives currently exist as pure thought. We’re currently in the process of arranging funds to continue our efforts, so it may take time to implement it.

But I just wanted to share these thoughts and put them out there, so that you young beings of light can lead us and show us the way.

 

 

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Changing The Rules Of The Game

A quick update from the Xcavate team.

From interactions we’ve had with chess communities, we’re now changing the Xcavate puzzle ruleset to make it more intuitive for chess fans to solve.

In case you’re new to Xcavate, the goal of the Xcavate puzzle is to eliminate positions and find the treasures hidden on the board. Each chess piece can reach the treasure in one move. The number of treasures hidden in the board is given to you.

The new rules for solving Xcavate boards are:

  1. Xcavate boards now contain only bishops, rooks and knights.
  2. All chess pieces can reach the treasure in one move, and behave exactly like chess pieces do, except:
  3. Pieces don’t block each other in Xcavate.

We’re rolling out the new puzzles starting today, and if the community response is good, we’ll reflect these rules in the game too.

We hope the new ruleset is more friendly to chess fans, and helps them enjoy the game without worrying about exceptions to chess.

Cheers!
Team Xcavate

 

Bored Of Candy Crush Clones? Try these original puzzlers!

This is the first of a series of posts on original puzzle games. The idea of the post came from futile searches for original puzzle games on the app store. This made me go to the gamedev forum on reddit and ask if there are original puzzle games out there, and surprisingly out popped a number of them, which I really enjoyed playing.

So here’s the first list of games I’ve played and enjoyed. More coming up in the next article:

Puzzle of Jellies

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Challenging from level 1, Puzzle of Jellies is a 2D platform puzzler where you need to merge all same colored jellies in a level. Each level presents jellies at different locations. Jellies move and fall but cannot jump. Your job is to move each jelly such that all jellies of the same color in the level are merged. This is a challenging puzzler, and every level gives you a high when you finish it.

 

Hex VRFR

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.54.42 pmThink of Hex VRFR as tetris in a hexagon. You get three shapes in each turn, and what you need to do is position shapes to form lines from one edge of the hexagon to the other. What makes the game tricky is that you don’t always get the shapes you need to complete lines, forcing you to plan out piece positions carefully. The game just lets you go on until you reach a point where you can’t place any of the pieces in the hexagon.

 

Shapeout

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.56.29 pmA very addicting game similar to tetris. Pieces come as triangular cutouts which you need to match to create shapes rather than lines. I ended up playing this game for almost half an hour before realizing that I was supposed to finish up the article. Great game overall.

 

 

Mix And FIll

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.58.37 pmMix And Fill is another great game where you need to combine colors and get them to a spot marked by ‘X’. Its starts off simple but quickly gets complicated when you realize that similar colors move together as a group. Of all the games, I loved the way Mix And Fill starts you off nice and easy and slowly builds on the difficulty, making the learning comfortable while playing this game.

 

Hanks Adventures

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.59.59 pmHanks Adventures is an engaging 3D puzzle where the objective in each level is to get Hank to his cat. The 3D nature of this puzzle really adds to the fun while solving each level. You can move and jump to get to the cat. You can also  carry boxes and place them in positions where they get out of the way or help you jump on to ledges. Convenient buttons to rotate the view while solving the puzzle help you handle the 3D part comfortably.

 

This is just a small sampler of some great puzzle games out there. Read our post on reddit to see all of the games. I’ve only had time to review these games for now. I plan to write on more of the  games in that post in the coming days.

 

Help! I Don’t Understand Xcavate!

You’ve been seeing these confusing looking puzzles and wondering what they’re about?

Don’t worry, we’re here to help!

Go through these questions which people have asked us when they had confusions about Xcavate.

How do chess pieces move on the Xcavate board?
They don’t. They only point to treasures which they can reach in a single move.

Why is the board numbered wrong?
This, is our fault. We love chess because its a game we played while growing up, but we aren’t professionals at the game. We didn’t know that the board is numbered starting from the bottom left. We’re working on fixing this. Please bear with us.

Why do I sometimes see two kings, or two bishops on a black tile on the same board? Thats wrong!
Xcavate is based around chess, but its not chess. Since pieces on the board point to the treasure, its perfectly normal to find more than one king, more than two bishops, or bishops on the same tile color in Xcavate.

Some pieces can’t reach the treasure in a single move!
This is probably because in Xcavate, pieces don’t block each other. You may be seeing a piece as blocked and wondering how it can reach the treasure in a single move.

The treasure can sometimes be at two locations, I don’t understand how the solution is always a single location!
Again, Xcavate is just based on chess. Read the rules carefully to understand the subtle differences between Xcavate and chess. For example, in Xcavate, the bishops and rooks don’t point to treasures in adjacent tiles, and sometimes, its the blank tile that helps eliminate positions. Read them carefully, and it will help a lot, we promise!

Now that you have some context, it should help you solve Xcavate puzzles. Head over to the rules section and try out some puzzles yourself.

Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you don’t understand something. Xcavate can be a bit confusing to learn, and your doubts will only help us understand what problems you face and address it better.

Finally, a big thank you to the chess communities out there:

Chess Learning & Diary (Int’l Page)
Chess Puzzles……..
Chess Friends

We’re glad you’re enjoying solving Xcavate puzzles. We’ll try our best to keep you entertained everyday!

 

 

 

Experimenting With Iterative Releases In Gaming

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One of the strategies we learnt while running our startups was to attack a wedge, a problem overlooked by the bigger companies, which was sorely needed by a lot of people, and which, the big company was ignoring because of other problems it was more concerned about.

So what you do is quickly make a piece of software that solves the problem and put it out there in the market to attract people. Then as people walk into your fledgling startup, you start interacting with them improving your software and adding features based on their requests until your product fits your customers just right. Once you do this, you’re ready to scale to millions of people, assuming your market is large enough.

Having been in both the animation industry and startups, I was intrigued by the thought of  applying the same principles to games. So I came up with this strategy for games:

  1. Implement a basic game with just the core mechanic, see if people like it.
  2. If you get a good response, then start interacting with playtesters improving the game.
  3. Start iterating on the released game concept improving it and adding updates to improve things.

I wanted to see if this strategy would work with games too, and this is how things went for us. I looked around if people were doing it, and sure enough, there were some. The most notable one of those, which impressed me a lot was this Gamasutra article, whose title was aptly, “How To Prototype A Game In 7 Days”.

Encouraged by the notes in the article, I set out to apply my ideas to our game development process. This is how it went roughly:

Step 1: Get the game mechanic

That was done first on paper and pen, I racked my brains for a few days before the Xcavate puzzle concept hit me, and I started playtesting the game concept with my wife and family. She gave me the excellent idea of making it challenging by having multiple treasures on the board. After that, we played around 80 boards offline, it felt good, it felt like it could stick.

Step 2. Build a prototype around the game mechanic

We then built a prototype, we bought or downloaded most of the art assets, and we just put them all together with a bunch of code and made it work. Our prototype was loved by many, but they wanted more graphics and more interaction. One of the guys really opened our eyes up by telling us that we’re trying to speed up everything, but instead, slow things down, let players get a great experience on everything they do in the game, rather than just ruthless efficiency and speed in every action.

Step 3: Working game

After the prototype we went on a long cycle of around a month, implementing feedback from the prototype. Our motto for the build was slow every user interaction down and make it fun.

At the end of it, we launched the game again. This time around, we got feedback from friends, reddit and roast my game that the game was really nice.

Step 4: Launch

My friend Saurabh Gupta, who worked with me on the game, once decided to show the game to his wife, Dhrishty Gupta just before we launched. She was kicked! And she told her sister and they decided to promote the game for us. We launched and they went and told every friend of theirs to play the game and got them to install it. They were so persuasive that they actually asked for screenshots to prove installs from their friends.

The result? We have around 280 installs in a week’s time.

Whats Next?

From the 280 installs we have, we did a cohort against levels. We found that 78 players complete level 1, but then we lose two-thirds of them within the next three levels. Anyone who goes past level 3 becomes a committed gamer, and we lose only 5-10% in the subsequent levels.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.43.10 pm

We now know that there’s something wrong with our user onboarding. Maybe its that people don’t get the game, or its that we don’t excite the player enough right at the beginning to stay committed to the game.

With regards to retention, we lose a lot of gamers by day 7, and this we found to be mainly because we don’t have enough levels in the game.

We now plan to iterate weekly on releases. Our primary focus is to add levels, our secondary focus is to improve the tutorials and make the game more rewarding to play.

Conclusion

After 3 months, do I think iterative releases work in gaming? Absolutely. I really think games can benefit a lot from the release-fast-release-often strategy. I feel that player data and analytics can play a vital role in improving gameplay, and benefits derved from this method far outwiegh those of building something big and then going to market.

Is this a surefire route to success? Well, I can’t say yet, but I can say that feels a lot better and easier on me to get continuous feedback while making the game, instead of making something big and then realizing that nobody wants to play what I make.

I doubt I’ll ever go back to the “make something big and go to market” approach again. It doesn’t mean I’m against it, its just that it doesn’t work for me.

Thanks a lot for reading the article, I hope it helps everyone in the indie community make and sell games better.

 

 

 

 

The Xcavate Daily Puzzle

We’re kicking off our social media promotion with a daily puzzle. If you love cracking puzzles and suduko, you’ll love solving Xcavate boards. Follow us on twitterfacebookinstagram , solve puzzles daily, challenge your friends and have fun!

But before that, read the rules!

Objective

Find the tile that contains the treasure. If the puzzle description indicates multiple treasures, find all of them.

Rules

  1. Every Xcavate Board shows a chess board which contain one or more hidden treasures.
  2. Each board contains tiles(white and green) which have been opened, some blank(shown with all chess pieces crossed with a red “X”), some containing chess pieces.
  3. Every chess piece on the Xcavate Board can reach the treasure in a single move.
  4. Unlike in chess, pieces don’t block each other in Xcavate.
  5. Rooks and bishops cannot reach adjacent tiles, unlike in chess.
  6. Every blank tile indicates that no treasure can be reached by any of the chess pieces from its position.

Ways To Find The Treasure

  • Find common tiles between multiple chess pieces
  • Eliminate tiles based on pieces missing from open tiles, e.g. a treasure can never be adjacent to a blank tile, because a treasure in an adjacent tile is always indicated by a king.
  • If a tile has multiple pieces, remember that each piece is always pointing to a different treasure.
  • If there are too many pieces on the board, try to find the relevant ones first.

How To Participlate

Follow us on twitter, facebook, instagram and look for puzzles daily.

Send in a mail with the subject “Xcavate Puzzle Subscribe” to support@greyinteractive.in, no need to write anything in the mail.

We  post one puzzle in the morning and one in the evening.

How to tweet/post your answer

Tweet/post/comment your answer as -, e.g. A-5 or B-3, the row and column names are indicated in the top and left sides of the board. The naming is similar to spreadsheet row and column naming.

How we developed a game without meeting each other

I recently put up a post on reddit about working 100% remote, and the answers from a lot of people seemed to hover around remote working where the office was reachable, where people met up atleast once a week to sync up or were close enough to reach each other.

But when Saurabh and I connected with each other and wanted to explore game development, we found ourselves 3000 km apart geographically. So meeting physically was not an option. What we had going for us was previous work experience with each other and a good sync, but we had never done any kind of development remotely before.

Three months later though, we couldn’t be happier. There’s a game launched, with great feedback and a fast, growing userbase.

I think we were able to pull it off because of a combination of personality traits , work ethics and work methodology, and here’s what I think worked for us.

Personality Traits

1. We’re self-motivated. We both work ourselves to death, and usually, other people around us have to tell us to take it easy.

2. We’re both democratic and unselfish – we listen to each other, weigh options and choose the best way forward. Sometimes a decision is uncomfortable for one of us, but we still move on with what we feel is the best way forward.

3. We both enjoy a good dose of humour, take it easy and talk random stuff all the time. I think its a mistake to be serious all the time, and optimize everything. It kills the journey.

4. If I can’t reach you, I won’t panic, and nothing is ever so earth shattering that 24 hours will ruin it – we never, never panic when we can’t reach the other person.

Work Ethics

1. If someone else can do it I can – in the past three months we’ve both worked outside our comfort zone. The list of stuff we’ve dealt with include Magicavoxel, Voxelshop, Inkscape, Unity, documents, articles, social media and so on. We tackle everything with a child-like curiousity to learn and implement. That means that for neither of us, any role is off hands. This gives us the flexibility of giving any work to each other, whenever one of us stressed or bored about it.

2. Neither of us micro-manage or try to increase productivity – We’re not trying to optimize each other’s work or optimize time consciously,

3.  For both of us, the deadline is always ASAP, which means there’s no timeline, just find whats critical right now, close it and move on.

4. We talk about everything work related to each other, no decisions are ever taken on thier own. We don’t pick roles and assign responsibilities. We discuss everything and each pick what we want to do for the day.

5. We don’t worry much about meeting deadlines.

Work Methodology

1. Our work methodology is really simple. Pick one crucial thing everyday and finish it.

2. We don’t use todo lists at all, except on those few days when we have a lot of things to do and can’t track them.

3. We are constantly online talking to each other on Skype, Google hangouts or facebook messenger – whichever decides to work for the day 😛

4. We decide what we want to do everyday, there’s no work schedule as such, but we do assign broad deadlines. We think very little about them, and are more focussed on doing things. Surprisingly we’re always done before time.

5. When we want to communicate a feaure or idea to each other, we always use sketches. We used to initially attempt expaining things through words. Trust me, it never works, because you’re trying to convey your imagination, and all the other person is getting is your logic.

6. We think a lot before we implement something. If there’s something big that we’re not sure about, we’ll first do mocks of it, or simple implementations, and test it thoroughly before we commit to any serious effort. In fact the game was developed the same way. It started with testing gameplay on paper and pen, then we made a prototype, found that people liked it, then we decided to put some serious effort and come up with a full implementation of the game.

Conclusion

I think we did well for 3 months of effort. I don’t really compare how fast we work with others so I can’t give myself a medal of honour. But I’m extremely happy with what we’ve achieved.

If you have a remote team out there, shout out to me at maha@greyinteractive.in and share your experiences.

If you are an artist and like how we work, send me a mail at maha@greyinteractive.in and join us, we’re always just a skype call away 🙂