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Dear Friends and Forgers,

Firstly, you’re beautiful. Yep. You. You’ve made our lives better and brighter. Which, is why this is so hard. But, let’s rip off the band-aid. As of July 1st we’ll be closing down the Forge located at 239 Chestnut Street.

For some of you, you may have just become a member. For others, you may have been here for 5 years. No matter how long, you’ve probably had the chance to make some pretty cool friends. We might be closing the Forge, but those people won’t be going anywhere. We’re all friends and we’d like to urge everyone to keep being awesome and keep supporting each other. This has always just been about the people anyway 🙂

You might be wondering about Dev Night. Who would of imagined a few friends hanging out once a week would turn into a 70+ person event. Dev Night has truly become a fantastic gathering point for all us. Sadly, Dev Night will have to move too. But, there seem to be quite a few places that would love to have our badass community. We’ll have more news soon as it comes.

Please feel free to write us with any questions or concerns. This is also a pretty trying time for us too. So, if you have the time to offer any help–we sure could use it!

Thank you all so much!

To our bold future,
Will and Dain

P.S.
FOR CURRENT MEMBERS:
We will be keeping Slack and moving over to a Patreon with a much cheaper membership fee. This money will be used to keep Dev Night running.

If you have any personal belongings in the Forge, please remove them before the End-Of-Day Monday the 20th or get in touch with us about your items. We’ll be selling things in the next week to help offset the shut down cost of the Forge.

Permission, Dedication, and the art of Game Jams.

For over 3 years now I’ve been hosting a weekly event in Philadelphia called Dev Night. The main purpose of this event is to help grow and centralize the gaming community in Philadelphia. One thing above all others accomplishes this task: our Monthly Game Jams.

What is a Game Jam?

For people in the gaming industry, the term “Game Jam” means a ton of things. But what game jams do very well is bring people into the community. So what is a Game Jam? It’s an event where people come together to make games based around a theme in a very short amount of time. Some times you have 1 hour (Zero Hour Game Jam); sometimes you have 48 hrs (Ludum dare). Other times, you don’t know what the hell you’re going to get (Philly Dev Night).

Why do we Jam?

I run a game studio called Cipher Prime, organize events like the Geek Awards, and manage the Philly Game Forge. My day-to-day is always crazy and involves a lot of disciplines. I also have to be quite resourceful with my use of time. Holding back on experimentation helps me finish my goals faster most of the time. But, experimentation in my craft is what makes me better and sharpens my skills. Game Jams are not just something I want to do, they’re a thing I need to do. If I want to get better, I need to take risks and I need to work under pressure.

Why does it work?

We’ve all heard the saying, “Practice Makes Perfect” and a lot of us have also heard,”Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”. We’ve heard Malcolm Gladwell talk about the 10,000 hour principle in Outliers, and we’ve read inspirational books by Tim Ferriss. But, what really helps motivate me and most of the people I know is *proof*.

Loish is one of my favorite digital painters. But she didn’t start off brilliant. She started off with passion, and became amazing through dedication. I recently did a talk on this concept: Dedication over Motivation. The games industry is rather new, so it’s hard to have 100’s of examples of qualified growth. In the BuzzFeed era, we readers and consumers seem to need everything in quick graphs. So here is the growth chart that Loish did, that chronicles her growth from 2003-2014 .

Yeah, it’s awesome. But guess what: Your games can improve like that too. Here is a screenshot of my first game I made in 2004 called BBO. And here’s the remade version called Intake made in 2013.

@willstall - 10 years of game design

 

Also, Game Jams are about finding the people in your life who are going to inspire you to become better. As you grow, so will those around you. Game Development is a Coop Team Game and you’re going to want those skilled friends once you start tackling some seriously large projects.

Why doesn’t everyone do them?

All the time people come to me and say there is no way they can make a game. It seems like people need permission to even try. For all those people, game jams are my way of saying, “I’m giving you permission to be great.” If you came up to me at Dev Night tonight and told me you couldn’t make a game, I’d ask you if you ever played tag, or checkers, or any other type of game that’s ever existed. Eventually, you’ll say yes. Then, I’d challenge you to make a “house rule” for that game. Most people already have these for their favorite games. Good news folks: you’re already game designers.

The Challenge

For everyone who is interested, I’d like to challenge you to be a better you. Do the thing you love; monthly at the very least. Test yourself regularly and set some goals. If you love making games, I’ll see you at Dev Night. If something else is your poison, I’ll fucking cheer for you. Let’s be awesome together. Let me know how it goes.

Out-of-a-Hat Game Jam!

Hey Dev Nighters, ready for a challenge?

This Thursday’s game jam theme is “Out-of-a-Hat.” We’re going to have three hats, one containing genres, one containing styles, and one containing moods. Your assigned game will be based on whatever combination of words you pull from the hats. We believe in you.

When: Thursday, June 6th, 5:00 PM-5:00 AM

Where: Cipher Prime Studios (239 Chestnut Street, Old City)

top hat lighter

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Mike Bithell Talks Thomas Was Alone at Dev Night

At last week’s Dev Night, a gang of nerds had the honor of shooting the breeze with Mike Bithell, creator of Thomas Was Alone. Listen to the brilliant, British ramblings of a living teddy bear.

thomas was alone 720x240 final

Q: Wasn’t Thomas Was Alone your first project with Unity?

A: That’s right. The game was a training project for teaching myself how to use Unity, so the end result was surprising. To this day, its file name is “teachingmyselfunity.proj”. I think it was a good first effort. [Laughing] I am that charming idiot who’s accidentally made something successful.

Q: Did you have any goals in mind while making the game?

A: Two. The big one was that I wanted to make a good jump. And I think there are things that work and don’t work with that jump. It frustrates me that there are still things I want to tweak with it. Second, I wanted to make good characters. So many games have characters that don’t make sense—it really bothers me. I wanted to see if I could make a game where I didn’t ever break character. I chose to set my game in an abstract world, which helped me work out a way to get around that problem. The reviews say I didn’t break character, and I guess that’s the important thing.

Cipher Prime interviews Mike Bithell about Thomas Was Alone

Q: The story and the characters—do you think they say anything about yourself?

A: Definitely. Thomas is who I want to be, but John is who I more typically am. Chris is my self-conceptualization as an artist—completely and utterly angry all of the time. They’re archetypes straight out of comic books, not real characters. Aren’t these characters in all of us? Then again, a lot of the characters’ personalities arose from player storytelling. Thomas and Chris’s personalities were culled from comments on the original Flash game–due to the game’s title, people associated the first rectangle with Thomas. The orange square is small and can’t jump very high, so commenters reasoned he must have a Napoleon complex–I pulled Chris’s personality from players’ feedback.

Q: Who’s your favorite character?

A: Thomas. I like Claire a lot, too, but she’s an easy option. I also like James—he was the most interesting character to write. A lot of people have read their own meaning into James—in my mind, he’s an outcast, or different. I wouldn’t presume to say what sort of group he belongs to, being a massively privileged white heterosexual male in the UK.

Cipher Prime interviews Mike Bithell about Thomas Was Alone

Q: How did the game’s whole aesthetic come about?

A: The game’s original flash prototype was about just getting something done. I knew the only look I could get would be to chuck in some rectangles.When I went more seriously into development, I experimented with other ideas. “Maybe the rectangles are guys in mechanical spacesuits!” These ideas weren’t very good, and took away from the game’s simplistic charm. So I went back to my history in graphic design: if I’m going to do rectangles, I’m going to fucking do rectangles. I did my research, and tried to do the best rectangle thing I could. Another friend helped me develop a color palette. I did massively overlook colorblind people, though, and I get an email about that pretty much every day.

Cipher Prime interviews Mike Bithell about Thomas Was Alone

Q: Can you tell us more about the voice acting in the game?

Originally I was thinking that the story would be told by text overlaying a world, perhaps projections of text on a wall. This turned out to be much harder than I expected, and I realized that I was either editing the text to fit the level, or the level to fit the text. So I decided to do a voice-over instead. I’m a massive fan of Danny Wallace. He’s not exactly a household name, but he’s someone who still identifiable as “that dude off the telly.” I love Danny’s voice, the way he tells a story, so he was my first choice. I tried to find an actor who could imitate him, and couldn’t, and then I got drunk and emailed him. To my surprise, he agreed to do it. He’s won a BAFTA for Thomas, which for a television person in the U.K. is a very big deal.

Cipher Prime interviews Mike Bithell about Thomas Was Alone

Q: Were you a part of the recording process?

A: Yes! I wrote the story, so I had to be there. I was quite light with the direction, though, because I was aware I was working with someone who sells a lot of books and knows how to tell a story. I was just on hand to tell him who a character was, what the context was. Danny used to review video games, so I could talk to him as a gamer, rather than as an actor. He got what I was looking for very quickly. We were only in the booth for about three hours. Nothing, really—just getting it done. It was a fun process.

Q: Do you think having a famous voice actor contributed to the game’s success?

A: I don’t think his fame specifically contributed. What did help was that Danny is famous for a reason: he’s good at what he does. My words on the page aren’t as good as when they’re spoken by Danny Wallace.

Q: The game is quite short. Did you mean for Thomas Was Alone to be played through in one sitting, like a movie?

A: Most people get through the game in two, three hours. I’d imagine that most people play like I play, in hour sessions, day by day. Most people do play through Thomas in one sitting, though. I didn’t really have a major plan for how people should schedule to play the game. I think it works best in one sitting, but honestly, I just made two hours as I would play them, and hoped that people would work around me, because I’m a prick.

Cipher Prime interviews Mike Bithell about Thomas Was Alone

Q: After playing the game, we talked a lot about its level progression, and how it doesn’t get much harder at any point. Was that intentional?

A: I didn’t want to make a game that was extremely challenging, like Super Meat Boy. I wanted to make something that people would finish, so they could hear the whole story. I was getting so self-conscious about the difficulty that I went back through and made everything easier and easier. For instance, late in the game, I added the squares you jump through that save your progress across levels. At the end of the day, I was left with a game that was very flat. But this seems to have made the game accessible–it’s very popular with six-year-olds.

Q: What was the full development time?

A: I did the flash prototype game two-and-a-half years ago in a twenty-four hour game jam. In terms of actual development total time, it probably took about a year-and-a-half of evenings and weekends; I had no social life, but luckily I have a very forgiving girlfriend. It was just a steady, methodical progress.

Cipher Prime interviews Mike Bithell about Thomas Was Alone

Q: Are you actually as nice as you seem? Hell, are you even British?

A: No, I merely create the illusion of niceness. And I’m not British, I’m German.

Q: We hear you’re working on something new. What can you tell us about it?

A: It’s almost offensively different from Thomas Was Alone. It’s consciously going against the whole rectangles and friendship thing. It’s got motion-captured characters; I’m frantically trying to add a dog to the game, just for sarcasm’s sake. I’ve been designing this game in my head since I was, like, fifteen.

Q: What are you going to do when you’re done with that?

A: Live on an island and whittle ships. So far, I’ve always come up with the next game I want to make during the boring bits of the game I’m working on. But if that doesn’t work out, there’s always living on an island and whittling ships.

Cipher Prime interviews Mike Bithell about Thomas Was Alone_____

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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!

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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Cipher Prime Interviews Dejobaan Games!

At a recent Cipher Prime dev night, a roomful of game-lovers and -makers had the pleasure of sitting down with Ichiro Lambe and Rohit Shenoy of Dejobaan Games for a virtual chat. These dapper gentlemen imparted great wisdoms ranging from their personal experiences making games to their success in marketing (according to Rohit, giving games interesting names “seems to work every time”) to their mastery of the art of seduction (it’s all in the salsa, apparently).

At any rate, even if you weren’t there, you can still watch the interview!

We’re excited to announce a new playlist on Cipher Prime’s YouTube channelDev Night Q&A’s. In our magical journeys through the lands of game studio-being, we have met some pretty remarkable fellow developers who have allowed us to peer into (and occasionally film) the depths of their souls. So come cozy up to your favorite devs: subscribe!

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If you’re interested in receiving more news, promotions, ramblings, and/or snuggles, subscribe to our mailing list. We’ll love you extra. 

Dejobaan Games

Dejobaan Games to Speak at Dev Night!

We’re excited to announce that Ichiro Lambe and Rohit Shenoy, the esteemed ballers of fellow indie developer Dejobaan Games, will be doing a virtual Q&A session at our February 28th Game Dev night. Their studio touts such charming titles as Drunken Robot Pornography and Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby.

Due to our mad fan love for this studio, we’re partnering up for some promotions: the members of Dejobaan’s mailing list just received a discount on Splice, and we will be offering Dejobaan’s games on our mailing list. We hope that these promotions will be the first of many partnerships to come!

If you’re interested in receiving more news, promotions, ramblings, and/or snuggles, subscribe to our mailing list. We’ll love you extra.

Upcoming Dev Nights

Change in schedule folks. Starting next week, Dev Nights will be moving to Thursdays. Same time, same place. Doors open at 5pm. Game jam goes till 1am.

Dev Night Diaries

Looking forward, we’re going to be adding to the Dev Night format a bit. For one, we’re starting to put together Dev Night Diaries with interviews that showcase projects that developers are working on, the tools used, and approaches used to tackle the development process.

Digital Art and Video Games

We’re also opening up to digital artists. Each week we’ll propose an exercise geared toward learning the tools and techniques for creating game art assets and how to integrate them into Unity. Much like a study group, artists will also be encouraged to study a specific aspect of the current tool set, learn it, and present it at the next Dev Night; the current tool being Pixologic’s free to use sculpting software Sculptris. We’ll also spend a little time each week practicing the basics with Paul Richards’ THUMB WAR : Design Iteration Combat Simulation.

Ray Merkler’s Fortress

Special shout out to local Philly dev Ray Merkler and his new iOS game Fortress, which released today! Fortress is a strategy card game designed to be played with a standard deck of 52 cards. Players build a wall of soldiers to attack and destroy their opponent’s King while they try to defend their own. Simple rules belie a mountain of strategic depth!