May 2nd: Intel-Sponsored Game Jam!

This Thursday, the Intel Level Up Competition will be sponsoring our game jam! The winner of this very special game jam will receive a 250 GB Solid State Drive!

What’s a game jam?

A game jam is a contest in which people try to create a game in a limited period of time. Once a month, Cipher Prime hosts game jams–we choose a theme, and then challenge Dev Night attendees to make a game based off of that theme. Everyone votes for their favorite project at the next Dev Night, and the winner takes home a sick-nasty prize!

The rules

We’re bending our typical game jam rules for this week’s throw-down:

  • Participants have an entire week to work on their games (starting from 5:00 PM on Thursday, May 2nd)
  • Participants can work on their games from wherever they like
  • Games are due by the beginning of our next Dev Night (5:00 PM on Thursday, May 9th)
  • If you want to participate, let the Dev Night Google Group know!

What’s the theme?

This month’s theme is “Options.” Use it as you will. You could make a game about moral choices, or a game about in-game options menus. Get creative, and start creating!

Out of the Rectangle


In the original Auditorium, the gamespace was just a single black rectangle. Although we’ve always been happy with how Auditorium turned out visually, we also think it would be fun to create a gamespace that gives players more colors, particles, and music!

So one feature that we’ve been prototyping (and we’re feeling pretty good about it so far) is a movable camera that lets Duet players move around a space that’s much more expansive than Auditorium’s gamespace. The GIF above demos this feature: players will be able to pan the camera and see different areas of any particular level.

The extra space will make it easier for two players to share the same level, and it’ll also give us more creative potential for making awesome puzzles and colorscapes. We haven’t yet decided what degree of camera freedom to use in puzzles, although we’re currently leaning towards a “horizontal” gamespace.

Gaming and Neurodiversity: Learn to Play, Play to Learn

When we started making games, we didn’t make them with autism in mind. Yet over the years, we’ve received many emails from the parents of children on the autism spectrum, thanking us for creating experiences that they could share with their children. Messages like these have raised a question in our minds: why do our games resonate with the autistic community?

Last Friday, Cipher Prime partnered with The Philadelphia Science Festival to hold an autism awareness event titled “Gaming as Therapy: A Pathway to Interaction.” At the event, we shared Auditorium, Pulse, and Splice with attendees. We also helped organize a series of speakers for the event, including Craig Newschaffer, the founding director of the Autism Institute at Drexel University, Amanda Almon, scientific and medical illustrator, and our own Dain Saint.

Dain’s talk explored the neurodiversity-friendly aspects of our games, including our approach to rewarding player action and creating accessible experiences.

Without further ado, here’s Dain’s talk!


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Cipher Prime Interviews Brian Provinciano

At our last Dev Night Cipher Prime had the pleasure of interviewing Retro City Rampage designer Brian Provinciano. Together we laughed, learned, and loved. Here’s are some of his awesome thoughts!

Q: What made you think you wanted to do Retro City Rampage, specifically?
A: I didn’t necessarily see Retro City Rampage as the finished product when I started this project. I started it to see what it was like to build my own engine for an open-world game, to figure out how these games (and creating a game for the Nintendo) worked. From there, as I started to come up with funny ideas, my vision became more robust. The game turned into this ultimate microphone for whatever I wanted to do.

Q: Retro City Rampage began as Grand Theftendo, a recreation of Grand Theft Auto III that you built for the Nintendo. Were the hardware limitations of the Nintendo something that stifled you, or that inspired you? 
A: Adhering to NES standards began as an exciting challenge, but I had to go through so many revisions to bypass the technical limitations of the system that frankly I was glad to make the shift to C++ when I did. Still, I’m proud of how I kept the gameplay so NES-esque. For instance, I restricted myself to the NES’s palette, to the number of colors that the NES could display onscreen at a given time. My accurateness adds an extra level of polish.

Q: Do you consider Retro City Rampage a success?
A: I do now. But when it launched, I didn’t feel that it was a success. I had imagined this huge launch date, but it didn’t end up being as massive as I’d hoped. The other thing that I didn’t expect–and I know this will sound naive–was that people wouldn’t like it. Leading up to the game’s release, I would demo the game and hear almost nothing negative from anyone. So when it launched, that’s what I figured it would be like. I’ve realized that it was absurd to think that. When reviews started coming out, I would focus on the negative ones instead of basking in the positive ones, and that’s the biggest mistake I made at launch. I didn’t let myself enjoy the success of completing something I spent years working on. To this date, I haven’t held a release party. When the game initially sold only 20,000 units, I was really bummed. But the good news is that it’s still selling. Actually, it’s sold more this year than it did last year–now it’s sold over 100,000 units.

Q: Do you have any words of advice for those who want to go full-time indie?
A: The biggest shocker to me when I went full-time indie was the time I’d end up spending on non-development tasks. Once I went indie, I had to make sure that I made money and that the game succeeded. So I had to start worrying about the business, about office administration, accounting, legal matters, getting licensed by consoles. All of that non-fun stuff. When I quit my full-time job, I figured I’d have another nine hours a day to spend working on my game, but I often ended up spending those nine hours on paperwork and emails. If you’re going to make games, I would recommend working with at least one other person. Doing it all yourself is just way too much of a burden.

Q: Bro, do you even lift?
A: …Yes. Yes I do.


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The Birds and the Bees

Where do Cipher Prime game ideas come from?

What we love most about being a game company is bringing our crazy ideas to life. When we’re not doing our “normal work” (chipping away at our main studio project, dealing with customer support, yelling at each other, etc.) we’re making silly little prototypes for fun.

But every so often we’ve got to knuckle down and make a cool product. So how do we do it? And how has our process changed over the years?


Cipher Prime started out as an interactive media company, doing Flash and other web development work. At that point, games were just a twinkle in Cipher Prime’s eye. Long story short, Auditorium began as a very different experience from what it is today. Young Dain and Young Will explain it all in this video (1:40-2:40):


Our sophomore game, Fractal, was a more “traditional” creative experience, since we tried to design it from the ground up. It began as a competitive multiplayer arcade game, with everything prototyped out on paper, but ended up having something of an identity crisis as each member of the team gravitated toward making their own vision of the game. Fractal’s present-day arcade mode, puzzle mode, and campaign mode were each refined by different team members!

Fractal on paper.

Wanting to unify the creative process, Cipher Prime team members agreed in the future to make a prototype first, then show it to the team. If the team likes it, the team builds on it.


Will drew the concept for Pulse out on a napkin. Nobody else thought it would work as a game. I mean, come on–it was on a napkin. So he built it out in Flash, along with a level editor. By forcing the rest of the team to play by tapping the dots in time to the music, Will convinced Cipher Prime to do its first rhythm game.


In 2011, Cipher Prime attended the Indiecade festival in Culver City, California. While there, Dain ended up coming down with a pretty terrible fever and was stuck in his hotel room the entire weekend. So what do you do when you’re stuck in the middle of a game development convention, having fever dreams about rearranging binary trees? You make the prototype to Splice. Afterward, he pitched it to the rest of Cipher Prime, and we ran with it.

original splice

Feedback and Intake

Our two pre-production games for Auditorium: Duet (Feedback and Intake), were initially based off designs made by Will. For Feedback, Will came up with a radial pong design, Andrei built out the first prototype, and after joining the team, Aaron rebuilt it from the ground up. Intake, likewise, was actually based on the first game that Will ever made! The team took on his game concept and fleshed it out as a Cipher Prime title.

Feedback and intake.


So, what are we doing with Auditorium: Duet? Well, we’ve already got a very basic prototype (the original Auditorium), and we know the feeling that we’re going for: a rewarding, cooperative multiplayer experience. We’re big fans of iterative development, and we like “proving” ideas to each other by building them out and making sure they feel right.

We’re building Duet through feature-based prototyping. We have a bunch of ideas for how we want to extend Auditorium, all of which are varying degrees of crazy: new visual styles, new camera motions, new controls, and new genre-bending experiences. But we’re implementing them slowly, as a team, and making sure that they work.

Show us your Auditorium: Duet Kickstarter shirts!

Attention, Kickstarter donors: we want to see how awesome you look in your new Auditorium: Duet shirts! So post on our Facebook wall, and represent your Cipher Prime swag!

You’re too sexy for your shirt. Too sexy for your shirt. So sexy it hurts.
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Come promote neurodiversity with us!

Upcoming Events at Cipher Prime

“Gaming as Therapy” Autism Event

autism ribbonx150Cipher Prime is excited to announce that on April 19th, we will be partnering with the Academy of Natural Sciences to hold an autism event called “Gaming as Therapy: A Pathway to Interaction“! This event will explore video games as a potential form of therapy for autism, and as a social bridge between autistic and non-autistic people. 

Although we didn’t design our games with autism in mind, over the years, we’ve received many emails from parents of children on the spectrum, thanking us for creating experiences that they could share with their kids. These messages inspired us to further explore the link between gaming and autism, and to work toward promoting neurodiversity.

That’s why we’re doing this event. We’ll be sharing our games (including AuditoriumPulse, and Splice) and others’, and Cipher Prime co-founder Dain Saint will be one of three speakers discussing the relationship between gaming and autism. We invite you to spend an evening with us learning, playing games, and forming friendships.

When: Friday, April 19th, at 6:00 P.M.
Where: The Academy of Natural Sciences (1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia)
How: Reserve your ticket today!

Brian Provinciano Q&A Session

In other news, we’ve been on a Retro City Rampage rampage. This satirical open-world action game was the subject of last Dev Night‘s “game club,” and next week we’ll be hosting a virtual Q&A Session with the game’s creator, Brian Provinciano! So haul your tuckus over to Cipher Prime (239 Chestnut Street) next Thursday at 8:00 PM to join the discussion!

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What a cutie!

Employee of the Month: A Punch Clock

Here at Cipher Prime, we do what we can to turn our studio into a brutally efficient nineteenth-century textile factory.

For this reason, we are proud to introduce the newest member of the Cipher Prime family: a clock. More precisely, a sweet-ass retro punch clock that Aaron bought off Etsy for $20.

Though we loved Punch Clock at first sight, we grew even fonder after nursing him back to health. Punch Clock came to us dizzied and strange, insisting that the current time was 2:54 A.M. on November 14th, 1963. But thanks to the finest team of psycho-horologists available, Punch Clock’s wits were soon recovered.

Indeed, Punch Clock earns his keep: he has replaced our previous system of recording workers’ hours, which consisted of drawing smiley faces on a whiteboard. Though we will miss whiteboard’s emotive charms, like Kent Brockman, we welcome our new electromechanical overlord.

No longer will our temporal sins be dry-erased at the end of each week. They will remain for all to see, stamped in red ink, irredeemably damning us.

Have a nice day!


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Welcome to Dev Notes!

Welcome, Bienvenidos, Bienvenue, Willkommen, Witamy Was, Добро пожаловать, 欢迎, ようこそ, Pe’el!


We’ve gotta admit it, Backers, but we’re pretty private people. So this Dev Note Access thing is kind of a big deal for us.

We usually don’t do sneak peeks, because so much can change during the development process and we are never done until we’re done. We’re kind of sensitive to critiques (we’re even harsher on ourselves), so getting to that mythical end point doesn’t happen quickly or easily. It’s more like…what’s the word? Ah yes — painful.

But we really, really appreciate all your help! Like, REALLY appreciate it, so we’re going to suck it up and let you guys in on the process.

Here’s what you should expect:

  • Weekly updates.
    • Every Friday, starting this Friday.
  • A wide variety of media.
    • Sometimes, you’ll get blog posts. Other times, music. Pictures. Moving pictures or even “talkies” (we’re on the bleeding edge). Downloadables. Non-downloadables. Kittens.
  • A wide variety of content.
    • We’re gonna give you tech wizardry. Concept art. Timelapses. Melodies and rhythms. Stories. Fireside game design chats. Pie in the sky feature dreams. Soul crushing game development realities (e.g. ever receding deadlines). Sweet, sweet information. And even more delicious nonsense.

We can’t promise a ton of meaty content every week, because we’ll just be siphoning off precious, precious development time. But you’ll get something, and we hope it’ll pass your muster!

So stay tuned!

Kickstarter Update #16

First, Will and Dain talk about where we are with Duet:

Second, the takeaway:

  • Duet production is in full throttle. We’re partway through several weeks of prototyping. We have a rough recreation of the original game in Unity, and are deciding how to build on that.
  • Our estimate of six months to a year (September 2013 to March 2014) still stands, we’ve just gotten off to a late start.
  • Sorry for the delay! Splice was unexpectedly successful for us, and ports, bundles, and showcasing took up a huge chunk of our time this past year. We ended up with some great business opportunities we just couldn’t pass up.
  • Sorry for the delay, again! We wanted to smooth out all the kinks of having a bigger team, so we focused on two pre-production projects for several months (news on those later). We’re better developers and a better team thanks to the work.
  • Dev note access is live, backer tiers with dev note access will receive a message with more info. Physical rewards are getting mailed out, and/or created, and/or double-checked against the naughty/nice list. (We’re watching!)

P.S.: The song in the video is part of the second movement of Dain’s magnum opus, “La Ballade de la Chatte Grincheuse” (The Ballad of Grumpy Cat).