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Sponsored: How Shopify enables game developers to monetize with merch

Presented by Shopify

Games captivate, inspire and delight us. They also foster connections to their characters, to their worlds, and to the other players that share the experience. When our favorite games captivate and connect us, we naturally become fans in a way that extends beyond our time in-game and out into our daily lives. 

As a developer you have the opportunity to participate in bringing the world of your games into the daily lives of your fans. One of the most powerful ways to seize this opportunity is in the power of merchandise. Through merchandise your fans are given a natural way to identify and evangelize your games and you are given a new way to support your studio and become a better entrepreneur.

At Shopify we are committed to enabling entrepreneurship everywhere. For Shopify’s gaming team this means enabling developers and studios of all sizes to leverage the power of merchandise. Our platform provides access to merchandise production that asks little of you up front, but can rapidly scale. From there, we provide a powerful suite of tools to get your merchandise in front of fans where it matters most: right inside of your game.

Shopify’s roots are in allowing anyone to get started selling online. Having an online store that is all your own is still the core of our cloud-based platform. However, over the past 12 years, we’ve grown to become the world’s largest multi-channel commerce platform.

What is “multi-channel commerce”? It’s making your products available for purchase in all the places audiences go to find those products. For some business that means social networks like Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram. For others it’s marketplaces like eBay. For others still, it’s in-person at maker faires, pop-up shops and retail locations. For some it may be all of the above.

Our powerful and affordable tools allow entrepreneurs to sell across multiple channels from a single platform. Shopify is your products, orders, customers, analytics and marketing in a single command centre across all your channels.

For game developers, the most direct channel to the audience is clear: within the game itself.

Looking at current mobile gaming monetization, we see five different contributions to revenue. The first three are directly tied to the game experience: up-front game purchase, in-app purchases, and advertising. There are also two major streams of revenue that happen outside of the games: merchandise and licensed media such as TV, books, and comics.

On mobile, the direct path represents a $50 billion industry. Breaking that $50B down yields some interesting results. First, a mere 4% of revenue comes from players engaging in the traditional model of paying up front for a game. Over 95% of mobile game revenue comes ads (53%) and in-app purchases (43%) (source). When we take one step further into the numbers, we see that all of that in-app purchase revenue comes from a remarkably small population of the player base, only 5% of players make in-app purchases.

“The power to reach more players is in merchandise. It is one of the fastest growing segments in gaming, already valued at $500 million.”

In other words, for free to play games 95 percent of players are making zero purchases. And they probably don’t want to see ads either. 

We could ask whether it is sustainable for only 5 percent of game players to support a $50 billion industry. However, there is a better question: what new opportunities exist to provide the 95 percent who aren’t spending any money something they find valuable? And how do we make it easy for them to buy?

The power to reach more players is in merchandise. It is one of the fastest growing segments in gaming, already valued at $500 million. Looking at global trends for merchandise shows a global audience hungry for tangible items related to their favorite entertainment.  The Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association estimated the global market for licensed merch based on entertainment/characters was $118 billion world-wide in 2016.

Physical purchases on mobile are also free of 30% revenue split that digital purchases incur. Nearly 100%of the revenue for physical merch sales go to you.  Platform holders like Apple and Google don’t take their standard 30 percent cut. Nor does Shopify; our revenue is based on the monthly subscription fee to use the platform. While sellers have to pay for the cost to manufacture the merchandise, they’re also in total control of margins.

For developers, after working hard to develop a great experience for fans, new revenue from merchandise can help them continue doing what they love. For fans, merchandise provides a way for players to evangelize their favorite games, and in turn, drive more people to your game. And the most exciting part is that giving fans a way to celebrate their favorite games in real life is an easy process for developers. 

The idea of making merchandise and selling it through a game may sound daunting to some, but it’s not. Shopify’s approach to physical in-app purchases completely democratizes game merchandise. It is created on demand and drop-shipped from the point of manufacture to your players. 

This drop-shipping process removes traditional barriers to merchandising. Gone is the huge up-front investment to buy and store inventory. The creation of each merch item is tied to a purchase and is fully automated. With items going direct from manufacturer to consumer there is no tedious shipping processes and endless hours spent managing orders. Game developers go from start to scale very quickly, all while investing their time where it should go: creating games. 

Through powerful apps that embed into the Shopify interface, companies like Printful allow anyone to start creating a line of drop-shipped merch in minutes.  A rich variety of products can be created for an on-demand merch line and can later be augmented with items requiring the traditional design and manufacture process like plushies or collectable figures. Even with traditional inventory, warehousing and fulfillment services in the Shopify eco-system can remove the order management and shipping process from your workload, often in the same locations as on-demand merch.

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The most important part of the merchandising process is making it easy and natural for game players to buy.  This new form of direct, in-game revenue doesn’t require redesigning the gameplay or overall experience in service of this new monetization strategy. Whether it’s a collectible figure, apparel, or uniquely creative way to bring the game’s world to life there are organic opportunities to present these options to players with Shopify’s Buy SDKs. From the simple experience of providing a merch store off the title screen to rewarding exclusive merchandise for completing in game challenges, developers are in control of presenting purchasing opportunities that make sense for their fans and their game design.

The Shopify Buy SDK for Unity enables developers to power immersive commerce experiences inside their titles. The SDK is well-documented and lightweight.  A simple integration can take less than an hour. It’s also totally customizable, ensuring the buy experience in every game feels like the game. Game developers have full control over the UI and where and when the purchasing opportunity appears.

The SDK also uses native checkout technologies to make checkout seamless. Shopify uses technologies such as Apple Pay and Android Pay to present a quick and trusted experience for purchasers without leaving the game. That makes it easy for gamers to say yes to making that purchase. This combination of on-demand merch and the Shopify Buy SDK for Unity means there’s a low barrier to entry and an ability to scale with ease.

The Shopify Buy SDK for Unity contains three layers of content, allowing game developers to start integrating products on their stores at the technical level that makes sense for them. 

The core of the SDK makes it easy to access Shopify’s Storefront API. Easy to use classes allow for operations such as querying the available products on a store, creating and managing a user’s cart and completing the checkout.  

Built on top of this foundation is the UI Toolkit. This toolkit provides patterns to guide and simplify implementation of common user flows. We provide patterns for two specific user flows. The first, is a single-product experience that presents a single purchase option and express, cart-free checkout. The second is a multi-product experience that mirrors a tradition online store handling multiple products and variants, such as shirt sizes, as well as a shopping cart for the user.

The single and multi-product storefront patterns included in the UI toolkit for the Shopify Buy SDK aren’t mutually exclusive. A title can have a number of single-product presentations, say for different achievements or milestones, as well as a main multi-product storefront.

Finally, the SDK includes an end-to-end example implementation. The example includes everything from the fetching of products from a live Shopify store to handling final payment and everything in-between.

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For some developers, dropping in the reference implementation and theming the UI to better fit their game will be a quick route to adding in-game merchandise.  For games that want to present a customized visual design for their store, but follow traditional purchasing flows, the classes of the UI toolkit will be ideal. And finally, for developers that want to be involved at the lowest level, the SDK allows easy and direct access to our storefront API.

All three levels of content are contained in our single Unity asset bundle and source code is available for all of it.

Shopify started with the mobile gaming market, taking advantage of its huge size and simple ecosystem. However, Shopify Gaming’s goal is to make every game easily shoppable.

Shopify has additional Buy SDKs for those not using Unity. Already available are platform level Buy SDKs for iOS (Swift), Android (Java), and the Web (Javascript). All contain native checkout experiences. Coming soon is a C++ SDK aimed at game makers using Unreal or writing their own engines.

One success story is that of Eli Cymet, the lead producer behind Alto’s Adventure. Shopify had the wonderful experience of working with Eli and the Snowman team to add a store into Alto’s Adventure. 

For Eli and his team, it was extremely important for the buy experience to be an extension of the game and its world. It needed to feel incredibly organic and non-invasive for the player. And it worked. Shopify helped Alto’s Adventure crack the code on that 95 percent of players, tackling the free-to-play challenges that many mobile developers face. 

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Just two months after the in-game store launched, Alto’s Adventure doubled its merch revenue from the previous year. More than 60 percent of net new sales came through the game, and the average cart size was $38. These are amazing results when you consider that Alto’s Adventure is a three-year-old game, selling for around $5.

Shopify exists to help creators and makers start with everything they need to launch their brand. Then, we help them scale and grow that business. We want to make it easy for anyone to turn any platform into a digital storefront. We want to make it easy for anyone to be an entrepreneur. 

If the history of commerce has taught us anything, it’s that the closer the point of purchase is to the point of engagement, the more likely people are to buy. Physical products let players bring a piece of their favorite game back with them into the real world. Those products act as a bridge, a badge of honor, and a fond reminder of hours of playtime. 

Games engage our attention like nothing else, so shortening the path to purchase is critical. At Shopify, we’re really excited about the possibilities that this will unlock for every game developer and every game. If you’re interested in learning more about selling in-game merch, check out more here.

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The challenge of making BattleTech’s first two hours matter

Next week, Harebrained Schemes’ BattleTech hits Steam, and while we’re normally happy to play any game that features giant robots doing giant robot-y things (including but not related to stomping on vehicles, smashing buildings, and standing still while pilots scream at each other), we also were excited to check in with a smaller company that’s managed to put out interesting games while running with a smaller team. 

So today on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we checked in with BattleTech director Mike McCain and Harebrained Schemes producer Mitch Gitelman to discuss the game’s design and development, and get some solid takeaways from the process that could help out other game-makers. In particular, we had an exciting conversation about how smaller companies compete in a crowded game market, and the process of adapting tabletop mechanics for a digital game environment. 

If you’ve got the time, you can watch our full conversation up above, but if you’re hopping into a Blackjack right now to make some cash for your mercenary company, here’s some quick takeaways for you to read on the drop down. 

Your game’s first 2 hours will literally impact your game sales

This should be fairly obvious to many developers on Steam right now, but as we chatted with Gitelman and McCain about the learning curve of BattleTech, Gitelman explained that a lot of decisions about the game’s tutorial process orbited the fact that if Steam users didn’t feel attached within 2 hours, they’d be returning the game under Steam’s refund policy. 

That meant a lot of focus for the BattleTech team was on balancing the early story, the tutorialization, and encounters that occur within those first 2 hours (which roughly amounts to 2 to 2.5 missions, by our estimate). It’s not a lot of time, so every minute spent explaining to the player how the game works instead of letting them explore what BattleTech is about will have a cost in some way.

But the obvious trade-off is, as McCain admits, the game doesn’t have the most robust tutorialization in the world, especially for some rather complex systems. It’s a trade-off that definitely impacts how well players will understand concepts like pilot abilities, repairs, and more, but knowing it comes from a focus on early player retention adds a new perspective on what sacrifices developers have to make to preserve that early experience. 

Don’t make knee-jerk playtesting decisions

When you work for a smaller company, as McCain pointed out, you probably don’t have access to 100 players who can test new builds and provide raw data on how your game is working. That meant working with the 25 testers that Harebrained Schemes rounded up, McCain’s job wasn’t just to solve problems that playtesters reported, but respond to them carefully and consider the play experience of the person offering feedback. 

It’s an approach that led to McCain, Gitelman, and company to try and identify “problem feelings” that they could address, rather than making proportional changes to each piece of feedback received. In one notable instance, the game’s Kickstarter backer beta was originally delayed while the team tried to solve feedback about unit movement, and how it was “janky.” The result was a system borrowed from the original tabletop game that encouraged players to move units further in order to make them more evasive and less likely to hit, and providing clearer incentives for staying put versus walking around the map. 

The RNG of BattleTech impacted how far Harebrained Schemes could develop all the promised game features

When Harebrained Schemes put BattleTech on Kickstarter, it used the backer goals to set clear milestones for how far development could proceed with different kinds of content. While it did rocket through those goals, we were curious if the realities of game development impacted the company’s ability to deliver on those promises over time. 

According to Gitelman, there was one key gameplay feature that was scaled back during the development process, and that was the game’s multiplayer. Right now, BattleTech supports 1v1 multiplayer, but unlike a lot of other multiplayer games on the market, there’s no ladder, gameplay modes, or general broad variety of options. Apparently that’s in part due to the fact that the core mechanics of BattleTech rely far more heavily on random number generation than was originally anticipated. 

As Gitelman and McCain explained, making that randomness work for the game’s campaign mode meant it was difficult to create predictable outcomes for a multiplayer system, so rather than trying to bend literal randomness to their will, the BattleTech team opted to scale back their plans for multiplayer and create a more casual mode instead. (It’s also a mode that supports player mods, so if players choose to alter the JSON files in their game, they just need to make sure both players have access to those values to create a compelling, personal multiplayer experience).

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel. 

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Video: The qualities that make for a good producer

While producers come from many different backgrounds, it’s important to understand the qualities that make for a good one. 

In this 2016 GDC session, Gearbox Software’s Aaron Thibault goes over some common mistakes made by new producers, outlining the qualities that make for a good producer by offering observations from 19 years in games and 5 years in music.

Thibault discusses some tools and strategies that will be helpful for producers who are building a team or overlooking a project so that they’re successful. 

Producers interested in seeing how they can incorporate Thibault’s advice into their own work can now watch the talk completely free via the official GDC YouTube channel!

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault and its accompanying YouTube channel offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent Game Developers Conference events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers.

Those who purchased All Access passes to recent events like GDC or VRDC already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription via a GDC Vault subscription page. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company by contacting staff via the GDC Vault group subscription page. Finally, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault technical support.

Gamasutra and GDC are sibling organizations under parent UBM Americas.

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CCP chief: EVE dev’s move to leave VR due to risk, not loss of faith

“People have a lot of enthusiasm in the beginning, then there’s a hype cycle, a tear down cycle, a recuperative cycle, a slow-growing phase, and then it becomes a thing​.”

– Hilmar Veigar Pétursson on his thoughts about the VR marketplace.

CCP Games seemed to be enthusiastic over the promise of virtual reality, with international studios in the US and UK diligently working on VR titles.

EVE Online players were more likely to accept VR early in its development cycle, which prompted the company to invest in its VR teams. However, plans changed.

In an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun, CEO of CCP Games Hilmar Veigar Pétursson explains the company’s decision to halt VR production on its titles six months prior. 

While CCP did go on to publish VR titles, they were all split into facets that explored different areas of the tech. EVE Valkyrie was aimed at seated play with a regular joypad controller, and Sparc was for motion control VR. 

The studio tested each style to try to find the greatest player engagement, but the results were mixed, which would eventually result in the removal of dedicated VR teams at the studio. 

“I’m very much a believer in the long term potential of VR, it’s just right now, where it sits, for a mid-sized company it’s a lot of risk to staff new developments,” Pétursson admits. “This is an environment that’s very hard to make a success for a company our size, and we’d be better served doing something else.”

Advancements are being made in VR though, like the removal of cords keeping players tethered to their desktop. But Pétursson isn’t convinced. 

“It’s very true, the cord is one of the things that need to be addressed, but there is more to it than that,” he says. “The ceremony of putting on a VR headset; I often liken it to putting on scuba gear to go diving. Scuba diving is an amazing experience, but it’s a lot of gear to put on, and when you have it on it’s isolating, disorienting.”

“Your body is self-aware that something isn’t right, and that small discomfort, we have to find some way to address that,” he adds.

Be sure to check out the entire interview over at Rock Paper Shotgun, which provides more insight into Pétursson’s thoughts about VR’s future in CCP titles. 

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Get a job: Sucker Punch Productions is hiring a Lead Lighting Artist

The Gamasutra Job Board is the most diverse, active and established board of its kind for the video game industry!

Here is just one of the many, many positions being advertised right now.

Location: Seattle, Washington

Sucker Punch Productions is looking for a talented Lead Lighting Artist with a solid understanding of current run-time rendering technologies to illuminate the world of Ghost of Tsushima. The ideal candidate will have previous experience as a Senior Lighting Artist in game development, deep understanding of traditional lighting concepts, outstanding communication skills, and an unbridled passion to raise the bar in the visual entertainment industry. Come join us at our Seattle/Bellevue studio and don’t forget your snowboard, rain jacket, and mountain bike so you can explore the beautiful Pacific Northwest!

Responsibilities

  • Collaborate with creative direction, art direction, game direction, and concept art to help design the look and feel of our environment through lighting.
  • Master the proprietary lighting system, tools and systems.
  • Work with the Art Director to ensure visual quality and continuity across the game.
  • Collaborate with rendering engineers and technical artists to provide feedback, improve lighting technology, tools, and workflows.
  • Work with the lighting team to establish, refine and improve pipeline productivity.
  • Make the mood and atmosphere from concept art come alive in the game’s environments.
  • Work with color grading and other post process effects to achieve a game with a rich atmosphere, tone, and depth.
  • Join forces with VFX, surfacing and materials, and the art teams to achieve the highest quality lighting across the entire game.

Qualifications and Skills

  • At least 3 years of Lead Artist experience in console or PC game development including completion of at least one full cycle of art production on a project from concept development through release.
  • Solid understanding of advanced run-time rendering technology deferred lighting, light maps and baked lighting tech.
  • Strong knowledge of physical based lighting and rendering.
  • Strong knowledge of general shading and material behavior.
  • Passion for making and playing great games, with an awareness of current titles and industry trends.
  • Excellent Maya skills.
  • Highly developed eye for color, composition and detail.
  • Problem solver with ability to learn new technologies and software on-the-fly.
  • Effective verbal and written communicator.

Bonus Factors

  • Previous PlayStation game development.
  • Photography or Cinematography skills.

Portfolio and other Requirements

  • A portfolio review is required. 
  • Applicants must be able to work in the USA and willing to relocate to the Seattle, WA area.

Interested? Apply now.

Whether you’re just starting out, looking for something new, or just seeing what’s out there, the Gamasutra Job Board is the place where game developers move ahead in their careers.

Gamasutra’s Job Board is the most diverse, most active, and most established board of its kind in the video game industry, serving companies of all sizes, from indie to triple-A.

Looking for a new job? Get started here. Are you a recruiter looking for talent? Post jobs here.

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The infamous FMV game Night Trap is headed to the Nintendo Switch after all

Screaming Villains has announced that its anniversary edition of the 1992 FMV game Night Trap will be headed to the Nintendo Switch later this year, just one year after it released the remastered game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

The revival of the infamous game itself calls back to early discussions about violent and sexual content in video games since Night Trap was one of the specific games called out in a 1993 Congressional hearing on the subject, alongside titles like Mortal Kombat. 

But devs well versed in the turbulent history of Night Trap will note the ‘never say never’ tagline attached to the announcement trailer as a dig at former Nintendo senior vice president Howard Lincoln’s oath from those very hearings that the once controversial game would never appear on a Nintendo platform.

At the time, Howard criticized the game and its developers in front of a government committee for doing little to prevent children from consuming the controversial violent and sexual content found within the FMV game, saying that Night Trap wouldn’t appear on a Nintendo system since it would not pass Nintendo’s own guidelines. 

Night Trap first released on the Sega CD in 1992 after plans to release the game on Hasbro’s scrapped VHS-powered “Project NEMO” console fell through. The game would go on to appear on other platforms despite the congressional hearing controversy and was the subject of a failed Kickstarter campaign from co-creator Tom Zito for a high-definition remake in 2014.

The big return to the spotlight for Night Trap came in 2016 when Screaming Villains posted a video of a Night Trap Android prototype that attracted the attention of the game’s co-creators Rob Fulop and Tom Zito, eventually resulting in a partnership with Limited Run Games to release PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC versions of Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition. Now, with Limited Run Games at its back once again, the game is headed to Switch both physically and digitally this summer. 

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Hearthstone game director Ben Brode departs Blizzard

Hearthstone game director and longtime Blizzard developer Ben Brode has announced that he is leaving the developer to “take a crazy risk” and help start a game development company of his own.

Brode, who has worked on Hearthstone for 10 of his 15 years at Blizzard, shared all of this in a heartfelt post on the Hearthstone forums, tracing back the path his career has taken and thanking his coworkers and the Hearthstone community for their support.

“I was 20 years old when I started here. My first role was ‘Night Crew Game Tester,” wrote Brode. “Since then, Blizzard has been good to me. I got to cast esports events, announce BlizzCons, play in Rock Bands, write raps, and work with incredible people. But the biggest opportunity came in 2008 when I joined ‘Team 5.’ The Hearthstone Team.”

Brode notes that, while he has enjoyed his time with the Hearthstone team, he is looking forward to stepping out of his current role and getting back to hands-on development like programming, designing, and “actually creating things again” with the studio he is helping to start.

While his post doesn’t mention who will be at the helm of Hearthstone development following his departure, Brode shared that he isn’t worried about the future of the digital card game he helped put on the map. 

“I get too much credit by virtue of being a public face, but the 80+ people on the development team are still there, and they are the ones actually making the cards, brawls, events, missions, and features,” said Brode. “I am confident the game is in the best possible hands, and I’m excited to see where a new generation of leaders takes Hearthstone from here.”

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Blog: How the Rubik’s Cube inspired a laid-back Atari puzzler

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[This is an excerpt from ‘21 Unexpected Games to Love For The Atari VCS’, available in the current game eBook Storybundle, which covers a number of classic VCS games that, untethered from nostalgia, may still be of interest to a player who didn’t grow up with the system. The Atari Video Cube is a laid back kind of puzzle game that’s not nearly as imposing as an actual Rubik’s Cube. It was developed before the Game Crash of 1983, but sold through mail order until Atari revived the VCS/2600 to try to compete with the NES.]

Atari Video Cube

1 player, joystick. 4K in size.

Created by an unknown developer working for GCC. Published via mail order in 1982 by Atari.

Accessibility: 4/5

In a sentence: It’s not a Rubik’s Cube, but instead you swap individual colored squares on the cube with the one you’re carrying and try to get each side all the same hue in this laid-back puzzle game.

Squares In The Mail

In the 80s it seemed like anything could become a fad. You think fidget spinners were big? One of the best-selling toys of the decade was a super-hard puzzle that very few people could complete. Rubik’s Cube was popular enough that it remains well-known today in a way that Cabbage Patch Kids and Beanie Babies are not, partly because it continues to be sold in various formats and sizes, and partly because there’s still a bit of magic about it. Twisting one around in your hands, it’s difficult to conceive how such a thing could even be invented, let alone assembled into a thing you can own for about $12.

Atari was a fad of comparable size right around the same time, so combining the two must have seemed like a paring as salutary as sparkly balls and disco. Atari had a coder from GCC, whose name does not come down to us, work on this interesting puzzle game that despite the name and appearances is actually not a Rubik’s Cube. It’s a great deal easier, and because of it, rather more fun.

Perhaps sensing legal trouble if it appeared on then-Cube-licensee Ideal’s radar, it was not sold at first on store shelves, but instead as a mail order-only product offered in Atari’s newsletter. When the VCS got its shadowy second life as a distant competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System, some units appeared in shops at that point, possibly unsold inventory. atariprotos.com says that it was sold with Rubik’s Cube branding at this time, but I don’t remember seeing it myself. I presume they are accurate.

The Game

It’s quite simple. You have a person, like an elf or an imp and identified by the manual as “Hubie the Cube Master,” who lives on a cube, each face divided into a 3×3 grid, like a Rubik’s Cube. And like a Rubik’s Cube, each face’s sub-squares are colored, and also like a Rubik’s Cube, the colors are scrambled at the start of play, scrambled around the cube. There’s nine of each colored square; your job, like the puzzle, is to get it so that each side of the cube is a single color.

How you do this is how the game diverges from Ernő Rubik’s portable conundrum. Your cube-living gremlin moves between the squares of the cube according to how you press the joystick. You only see one side of the cube, the one the elf is on, at a time. When you move them off the side of the cube, it “rotates,” with a simple 3D effect, to show the next side. Your imp-person has free reign of the cube with one exception; they can change color through the game, but can never stand on a square that matches the color they currently are. You see, they’re shown in relief against the background of the cube color they’re standing on. If they were standing on a spot of the same color, they’d be invisible, and we can’t have that!

How do you change color, then? You can “pick up” the color on a spot when you press the button. Then the imp changes to that color, and the color they previously were is dropped and becomes the color of that square. Then you can move to another space, exchange colors there, and so on, always with the limitation that you can’t cross onto a space that’s your current color.

Slowly, space by space, you construct a “solved” cube in this way. It might sound easy, since at any time five kinds of spaces are walkable out of six, but as you solve spaces you start having to plan your moves a bit. Remember, solving a side requires filling it with the same color, you have to be that color in order to drop more of it into that side, and a side is hidden from your view until you walk into it. The result is that a kind of hidden wall of that color develops as you fill that side with more of the color you want it to have. The effect is even more confounding because of a clever little fact about the cube, that shows its unknown creator’s attention to detail….

Your task is made a little harder, and a little weirder, because of the geometry of cubic shapes. Think about if you had a cube in front of you. Of course, the Atari can only show it orthogonally, its sides parallel to the screen. Now take this cube, imagined in your mind’s eye, and rotate it so the side on its top is now facing you. This means the original side that was facing you, we’ll call it Side One, is facing the floor. This is just how the game does it, with a nifty 3D effect.

Now, turn it left, so the currently-viewed side is on the left. Side One is still on the bottom in this example, but it’s been rotated 90 degrees. Now, if you turned the cube “up,” to bring Side One back into view, it’ll be rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise from your original view of it! My point is, the Atari Video Cube obeys this rule; it’s not like a six-screen flat grid you can scroll around, your perspective on the squares can become rotated based on how you scroll them around.

Imagine if you were playing the game, and your elf-friend was tying to fill Side One with blue squares. You might see that the upper-left space on that side is the only one left to fill, so you leave the blue side looking for a new square. It could be anywhere. When you find it, unless you retrace your steps to get back to the blue side the same way you went away from it, that one space might not be on the top-left; it might be one of the other corners. If you haven’t paid attention to how you rotated the cube, you might have to pace around, trying each of the other corners, until you find the one that allows you entrance.

This may sound confusing, but it’s not that hard to get used to really. It’s nowhere near as difficult as an actual Rubik’s Cube, and the real point of it all is to work on optimizing your solutions. 50 puzzles are included on the cartridge, and you can play each either for lowest moves or fastest time. Note that they’re not selected by the Game Select switch, but by the joystick before the Reset switch is pressed. There are the usual number of game variations, which include modes that have the computer showing you an optimal solution to a cube, modes that “black out” the colors so that they’re only visible when turning the cube, and perhaps the most interesting, a mode that restricts movement to up or right, which requires different strategy to solving.

It’s a shame that the Video Cube didn’t make it to store shelves back in the glory days of the console, as it’s one of the most interesting cartridges available for the VCS. It’s interesting for being quite a “pure” game. There are no enemies, extra rules or needless complications. You’re free to keep playing until you solve a puzzle, and the only barrier to that is that of the colors posing obstacles, which is both more of a problem than you’d think, and still not so harsh that you’ll be stuck for long. It’s a nice unwinding kind of puzzle, something to flip around for a few minutes.

And that’s about all there is to say about Atari Video Cube. Sometimes, simple is best!

Notes

The source for the GCC credit on Atari Video Cube is atariprotos.com. That site also notes that Atari had in development a more accurate version of Rubik’s Cube, presented in perspective. From a technical standpoint it’s interesting, but it’s just not as interesting a game as Atari Video Cube.

Links

AtariAge  Manual

Also try…

Of course, Q*bert!

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Learn the secrets behind reviving BattleTech today at 4PM EDT

One of the game industry’s oldest and most lawsuit-friendly franchises, BattleTech went from being a ’90s staple of game licensing to a forgotten memory, before being resurrected a couple years ago by Shadowrun developer Harebrained Schemes via Kickstarter. Next week, the new BattleTech will launch on Steam to the general public, and we’ve been afforded the rare opportunity to chat with the developers right before the game launches. 

So today at 4PM EDT, we’re going live on Twitch with Mike McCain (who joined us previously during the BattleTech backer beta) and Mitch Gitelman (who’s been working on BattleTech-related games for quite some time), to talk about the launch of BattleTech, what they’ve learned during development, and why managing your mercenary company’s financial spreadsheets is just so satisfying. 

If you’ve got questions for McCain and Gitelman (and you should), be sure to join us at 4PM EDT and ask them in Twitch chat! 

And while you’re at it, be sure to follow the Gamsutra Twitch channel for more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary. 

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Capcom scrapping Puzzle Fighter to focus on Dead Rising

Capcom Vancouver is sunsetting mobile title Puzzle Fighter so it can refocus on the Dead Rising franchise. 

The mobile version of the arcade classic only launched in November last year, but has already been deemed surplus to requirements and will be pulled from app stores on July 1. 

It will remain playable until July 31, at which point the servers will be shut down for good. Capcom is giving all players 10,000 gems (the title’s in-game currency) in an attempt to soften the blow, and will also be releasing any upcoming characters and stages for free.

It’s worth noting that in-app purchases will be disabled on April 23, so active players will want to spend their free gems sooner rather than later (though they can still be used to upgrade characters before the servers are shut down).