And Yet it Moves is one of the most highly praised indie games of this year, so we took it upon ourselves to find out the history of And Yet it Moves, how it’s currently going and what the developers are planning to do next.
Gamer Limit: First of all, the customary question: can you give us a brief background of Broken Rules how it came to be, and who is involved?
Felix Bohatsch: Broken Rules came to be during the development of And Yet It Moves. Basically it was a necessity to better deal with all the organizational, financial and juridical hassles that are involved when making business. Of course it’s also a commitment of the team to continue making games together and a step further into serious game development.
The company is founded by three of the original four people team: Felix Bohatsch, Peter Vorlaufer, Jan Hackl plus CI Invest which basically is the business expert who has been helping us on the business and marketing front during the development of And Yet It Moves.
GL: And secondly for our readers who haven’t played And Yet it Moves (AYIM) can you give us a brief outline of the game?
Felix: And Yet It Moves is centered around the enhancement of players’ abilities in a 2D platformer. It basically is a jump ‘n’ run game with the added power to turn the world in 90 degrees intervals any time the user chooses to. This has clear implications on the game environment: walls become floors, tunnels may suddenly be used as downward slides and a stone resting on the ground may fall, becoming either a dangerous obstacle or useful object for catapulting.
To successfully progress through a level, a player must apply the physical consequences of rotating the world to the avatar, and to other moving objects, like stones, drops of water and branches, as well as to living things, such as bats, monkeys and much more. Through this we introduce more puzzle like challenges which is why we like to call our game a puzzle-platformer.
Our goal was to cater to players with a reasonably high game literacy, along with newcomers to our domain. We carefully introduce our core mechanism, and slowly build up the challenges, so that one can improve while playing.
GL: Was it a design decision from that the start that AYIM would have no storyline?
Felix: Yes, it was. This is our first game so we wanted to focus on the game design and put all our effort to get this part nice and polished. We are a team of four computer science students, so we had to use our limited resources wisely. We decided to leave a narrative part out because it would have either meant way more work and thus an even longer developing process, or a cheesy story line that just feels tacked on.
We do like the idea of transporting a narrative through gameplay, but we know that it is a hard thing to pull off elegantly and it needs a project that is focused on this from the start. And Yet It Moves was all about exploring the gameplay possibilities of rotating the world and that’s what we decided to focus all our resources on.
Although there is no real story line there is a kind of leitmotiv we though about when arranging the levels. As a player you start in dark caves and then break out of them into the more open jungle and then the snake poisons you and finally dissolves you completely from reality. At last you end up in a blank world of paper, a tabula rasa.
GL: Now that that AYIM is finished what are your plans for the future? Bonus levels, a sequel or perhaps even a totally different game?
Felix: We are currently working on creating a Version of And Yet It Moves for the Wii, on supporting and updating the PC and Mac Versions and on PR and Marketing stuff. We don’t have the money yet to employ external people so all the work has to be done by the four company members and the points above sadly already eat up all our resources.
Bonus Levels are a thing many fans would like to see and although we would like to do some we can’t promise anything yet.
We are soon starting regular competitions though, where players can win some nice prizes in the speed run mode.
As we have been working for 2 1/2 years on And Yet It Moves (half a year on the prototype and two years on the full version) we would love to start working on a totally different game. It’s always nice to start out a new and bring fresh ideas into our heads. For now, though, we still have to focus on And Yet It Moves, but someday we will definitely start working on new projects!
GL: AIYM is quite innovative in its mechanics; do you think for your next project you will try to break new ground again?
Felix: Yes, we will try to keep focusing on innovation, simple yet revised game mechanisms and interesting interaction within a virtual
world. It shouldn’t be innovation for innovations sake but a game that plays, looks and feels fresh as a whole.
GL: So far you have only released AYIM for the desktop market, have you had any thoughts about a console release maybe WiiWare, PSN or an XBLA release?
Felix: Yes, we have always thought about bringing And Yet It Moves to the consoles. Because of that we have also started contacting Microsoft early during our development. Nothing fruitful came out of this though, but after seeing And Yet It Moves in an indiecade 2008 showcase, Nintendo contacted us and asked if we would want to bring And Yet It Moves to WiiWare. We didn’t have to think long about that and are still very enthusiastic about the possibility of playing our game on the Wii. Currently our main focus is on developing the WiiWare version.
GL: If you were to pinpoint the most difficult part of the AYIM development, what would it be?
Felix: Hmm difficult question. There were a few things: mainly trying to reach a good difficulty curve that also lets non-gamers find their way into the game and learn to deal with the difficulties of rotating the world. We usually started coming up with challenges which we then tested on a few users, then we refined them and tried to place them in levels in a way that we come up with a good learning curve.
We also struggled with a lot of technical issues TGB, our engine, has and had to dig deep into it’s source to make it do what we wanted.
What was also very time-consuming was making the levels visually interesting. As we are trying to create an analog look & feel, making all the paper ripped out worlds was a tedious process.
GL: It’s seem to be quite common for the Torque engine to be used by indie game developers, was this your first choice as an engine, and did you ever consider the possibility of making this a flash game as many devs seem to do with unique ideas?
Felix: The choice was actually made by our supervisors at university during the course where we build the prototype. Because we have learned quite a lot about the inner workings of the engine during developing the prototype and because we have been in close talks about a distribution collaboration with garagegames we decided to stick with it.
Looking back we do see a lot of flaws in Torque Game Builder and often had a hard time dealing with it. But on the positive side we also saved some time because we didn’t have to implement the whole code base from scratch and TGB also has a WiiWare version – which was not as independently priced anymore though – that could make getting And Yet It Moves to run on Wii a bit faster. We still have to see if that is really true…
We never though about making And Yet It Moves with Flash and it probably would have been even harder optimizing it and getting it to do what we wanted.
GL: A lot of indie game studios complain about how piracy is ruining their games, and it’s often amazing the ratio of legit copies sold versus pirated downloads. How are you going on this front? As you seem to have an unrestricted online component, surely the pirates must be hitting your servers hard.
Felix: Yes, piracy – which we rather call bootlegging, because it is a more appropriate term – is an issue on the PC side and it also is one with And Yet It Moves. We currently have a bootlegging rate from approximately 95.5% which basically means for every game we sell there are 22 cracked version being played.
Bootlegging is a reality on the PC and we definitely know that not every game cracked means a lost sale, there’s no easy 1:1 conversion here. We are also of the strong believe that any game will be cracked, no matter how we try to protect it, so our philosophy is that adding DRM or anything similar only annoys the people who actually pay for it. We don’t want to do this so we sell our game DRM free on our site to make the process of buying And Yet It Moves as easy as downloading a bootleg. The interesting bit is also that the current crack that circulates on bittorrent trackers etc. is actually a cracked greenhouse version and not the DRM free game we sell via our site.
Still our bootlegging rate is really very bad and worse than we expected. We think that this is mainly because of the price point.
GL: AYIM appears to be totally self funded, were their times when financial pressure was crushing the development or did the freedom of not having a publishers allow you to make the game you wanted?
Felix: Although we never actually tried, I think it would have been really hard for us, as a young team with no prior experience, to get a publisher to fund the whole development. Most publishers would see that as too risky as we had no references of prior work. The digital download portals we work with usually don’t fund development ahead but provide a very fair royalty share when selling the game. Of course this puts the financial risk at our side but it also means more freedom and less pressure during development.
Our approach was to get subsidies to pay for our financial needs. We got quite a nice subsidy for startups in the creative industries which we could use to pay for hardware, external contractors, etc. Our own working hours were mostly unpaid though.
We were all still studying next to working on And Yet It Moves so we mainly worked in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. We went full time only in the last half year. Financially we were all still students and didn’t really need that much money. Because of this we never really had a big financial pressure. Of course that’s also because we are still living a student life: renting cheap flats, no family to support, etc.
GL: If we may ask, how are sales going, are they up to level you were expecting?
Felix: Sadly, they are not at a level we expected. We got great reviews and general good feedback from people who bought our game but sales are quite mediocre. I mean, they’re alright, there’s some money coming in, but the problem is that the way it is now, we would need additional fundings for future projects. We also have no idea how sales will continue: will they drop some more, will we be able to get better sales through marketing activities/sales/price drops etc.
One of the reason for the bad sales might be that we didn’t choose the right levels for the demo. Our conversion rate from demo to full version is bad so now we think that maybe it is focused too much on platforming and shows too little of the interesting puzzles.
We will definitely be able to support our work until the WiiWare version is finished and hopefully that version is financially more successful, otherwise we will have to find other ways to generate money.
GL: To conclude would you say And Yet it Moves is art or tech?
Felix: I would say it’s more art than tech. Or maybe in other words: the technology behind it doesn’t matter, it’s the experience the player gets that’s important for us. That’s where our focus is: making great gameplay that’s enjoyable for the player and wrapping that in a look & feel that is interesting to experience without being in the way of playing.
GL: And if you were to suggest anything to indie devs trying to break into the market what would it be?
Felix: To get noticed you need a good concept and a prototype that can transport your ideas. Use festivals like IGF or indiecade or competitions on TIGSource, etc. to test if people like it and to get feedback from peers. If you get in one of those, that usually generates lots of press awareness. Once you have that and you have a good team to work with it’s time to decide if the idea is good enough to be fleshed out into a full version. If it is, be ready to work hard and to start talking to distributors or publishers. Be sure to always have a prototype to show and to have some media reference, be it a little blog post, a festival or a mention in some magazine.
Generally I think it’s a bad idea for young teams to just start working on a full version of one concept without ever putting it out into the public. You need to see if the concept really is good enough.
Oh, and one more thing, be public during your development and tell people early what you are working on. Use all that Web 2.0 stuff that’s out there.
Thank you for your time, and I wish you all the best for your future projects.
[Editor]: Be sure to buy a copy, support the indies!