Sunday, March 30, 2014

Of the Story

I've always been interested in games. At first it was merely playing them, but when I was faced with the question of what I wanted to do with my life, the idea of being involved in the making of games popped up. Thus, when I heard about Game Club, I was more than ready to give it a try, and am I glad I did.

The project Back From Afar has seen many changes from the initial plans during the production. Personally, I was mainly involved with story/level design, though I did work with the code as well. All in all, it was a wonderful learning experience in many levels. 

Now, something about the story planning on Back From Afar. The main character was agreed on fairly early on, but the story behind everything took a few more turns before it shaped up. Aside from the bullying concept that made it to the game, there was also a suggestion of the child escaping into the space world due to problems at home.

Oh, better also not to forget the original concept that started it all: A single space rocket escapes a planet that looks just like Earth before it is hit by a meteoroid. After this the player is left in the space, going from planet to planet looking for a new home. However, the player runs into complications planet after planet, not being able to settle down. After going through the planets, the player would then finally make it to the last one, a planet similar to Earth (just like the one shown at the beginning), signaling their homecoming.

During the development, quite a few different planets were thought up, yet due to time restraints, we decided to work on three at first. This means should the project continue in the future, we've already got material to work on. Concerning future material, it is not limited only to new planets either. When we were working on the story, we also came up with few possible continuations to Back From Afar's events. 

Joonas Tiilikainen

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Original game concept: Afar

We've come very far from the initial concept so I decided to tell you guys something about the origins of Back From Afar! It all started from our collective decision to make a simple game design. We split into teams and tossed some ideas around for a week after which we were supposed to tell the others what we've been brewing up. All of us voted for the concept we wished to see in action and Back From Afar became the chosen one among some really great simple game ideas.

The original concept for Back From Afar was named Afar. The idea formed as a synthesis of previous two game ideas: balloon flying and space colonization. As you can probably guess, flying in space became the setting. Me and Roni became a team and begun developing a concept by writing and drawing on the nearest piece of paper I could find - a study grant notification from Kela (The Social Insurance Institution of Finland). So the concept began to form and after about an hour, the paper was already full of Afar stuff.

In our vision, Afar was going to be a casual, atmospheric game with a film-like narrative and minimal amount of dialogue. This is because we didn't want the game to exclude non-English speakers and kids who can't read. This inevitably led to stricter requirements regarding usability, which was not a problem since it's something we're both passionate about anyway. Our platform of choice was Android and the graphics were intended to be made in a silhouette style with a splash of color in the background. Silhouettes seemed like a convenient way to start learning how to do game graphics and I was really into the style of Feist and A Walk in the Dark, both of which I found when I tried to find games similar to Immortall.

The original idea of our game was the player trying to survive and find a place to call home by flying in space and exploring nearby planets. This is because we decided that making the Earth explode and allowing one space module to escape might result in some interesting situations. However weird or intimidating the situations might seem, they weren't supposed to be fatal. Anyway, the lonely space module was going to be manually steered away from the remains of a dead planet.

The module was supposed to run out of fuel to limit the playable area so the player would be forced to land on one of the nearest planets. Finding the edge of the very tiny universe would undoubtedly shatter the illusion of vast nothingness so we decided to use a time limit and fuel as an indicator of flying restrictions. Originally there were going to be two anonymous characters on board, but later the whole team thought it was better to ditch the parent and give the limelight for the kid. The player was supposed to see the silhouettes of the main characters for the first time once they would emerge from their module. The characters would search for a place to stay without any luck because of space bedouins, boars.. you name it! Eventually the player would've come across a very familiar looking planet, run into some loved ones and see a healthy looking Earth.

The interpretation of the story was supposed to be left to the player. Was the first planet Earth after all? Was it all a dream? What would you have thought?

How the game has changed from the first concept is a whole nother story.


// Some of the concept image backgrounds are from Wikimedia Commons. I bet you know which ones!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Dev post: Hybrid's point of view

I had always wanted to try making games, but for some reason I never got started on my own. Studying on my own is so difficult without the pressure of a group. So when I saw the invite for "everyone, even those that have not made games before" on Expa's front page, I decided to go for it. I have never regretted that decision. Expa Game Club's Back from Afar has been a great project with amazing people.

My life has been really busy because of work, school and hobbies, and I have not spent as much time on Back from Afar as I would have liked to. It did become a problem when I was really lacking the required skills to implement everything that I would have liked to, and I simply did not have the time to teach myself all of it. I have always been interested in both code and graphics, so I took the role of a "hybrid"; I was working on graphics, code and animation, as I wanted to learn it all. It has given me a nice overall look to making games. It also made me realize that there is a lot to learn before I can truly give my best to the team. It is true that the more you learn, the more you realize that you have barely started.

Honest feedback and cooperation have been the strong points of this project. Being honest really is important in a game team. When I was working on some of my first graphics for multiple days and got told that it did not follow the game's overall look, I was upset - but in the end, I really appreciated the feedback. I made more suitable graphics and they fit the style much better, and I realized that my earlier work was indeed really off. This was an important lesson and in the process I also learned how graphic makers sometime feel. And when I struggled with my coding tasks, I got help as soon as I asked for it, and learned the programmer's point of view. And most important of all, the whole team was able to report bugs to each other without holding anything back. That is also crucial to achieve good quality.

Apart from technicalities, however, I have had an amazingly fun time. Game Club has been the first place in a long time where I have actually been social. Unlike my usual shy self at work and school, in Game Club I shared my ideas, commented on others' ideas and made (terrible) jokes. It also added to my confidence outside of Game Club. A hobby that gives you confidence to be who you are is the best kind of hobby - and in a way, this is one of the ideas behind Back from Afar's story.

I have genuinely enjoyed being part of this team. I am proud of what we have achieved, and hope that I can help the team even more in the future as I learn more. Beware, game industry! I am definitely here to stay.


Vespera Hiems

Thursday, March 6, 2014


This is the blog of the development team of Back From Afar, an indie mobile game. We will share our thoughts and experiences of the whole process - how did Back From Afar come to be? Was it difficult? Was it easy? What did we learn in the process? What was best about it? Each of us will give their own thoughts about the development phase.

You are welcome to read our background story. And do try out the game! ;) It will be published on 17th of April 2014.

For more information, you can check our Twitter, Facebook and IndieDB pages.