Devblog #9: Should I get you guys coffee or..?

Hi. My name’s Matias Bergström, and I’m currently doing some on-the-job learning at Polar Bunny. I don’t really have a specified role or task that I’m here to do, but I’ve been assigned QA for now. Basically I get to play (destroy) Parcel all day and then tell the programmers to fix the bugs that I find. As a token of gratitude for finding so much work for them, they assigned me to write this week’s blog post.

My work as of right now goes something like this: Jani uploads a new version of the game on Steam, I download the update and test out any previously reported bugs to see if they still persist after the programmers fix things, report any new bugs that might have appeared and mark the old reports as either “Fixed” or “Persists in version x.x.xxxx.xxxx”.

Wait, we’re NOT here to make death machines? But I like death machines!

Wait, we’re NOT here to make death machines? But I like death machines!

I’ve only worked here for about a month now and don’t have many work-related experiences (aside from an endless amount of bugs), so here’s some personal history:
I’ve been studying (attending would be more accurate) in a vocational school for 3 years now. There we have these periods where we go to work for 2 months and then return to school with the experience we got from working. Our class happens to have two of these periods consecutively, so I started working here in February and will be leaving late in May.

I live in Jokioinen and go to school in Forssa, and Polar Bunny is located in Joensuu. There was almost 500 kilometers in between where I live and where I work, but I couldn’t let the distance preventing me from an opportunity to work on games. My friend (and now co-worker I suppose) Tomi Toikka told me where I should look for housing in Joensuu, and I happened to get the same room in the same shared apartment that he had lived in during his summer stint in Joensuu.

Long way from home!

Long way from home!

Having lived my entire life at my parents’ house, moving to Joensuu all by myself has caused me some trouble. On some days I forget to eat and go to bed really late despite knowing I have to wake up early for work tomorrow (I’m writing this post at 3 am on a Wednesday). This has caused some absences and being late at work, but the people there are forgiving. I try to do my best to be of use to everyone at work every day.

When I sent Tommi an e-mail asking if I could work at Polar Bunny I said I had a basic understanding of C# and Javascript in Unity, hoping I could maybe help with fixing bugs or something similar. I was being a bit too optimistic about my programming skills and later admitted that I really shouldn’t be let anywhere near the code unless they want everything broken (breaking news: they don’t). Having my work station placed next to the “programmer force trio” I get to learn something new about programming every now and then though, so I’m glad it worked out this way. I hope to get tasks that help me learn more about programming in the future as well.

No, spider-like robots don’t count as bugs. Real spiders wouldn’t, even.

No, spider-like robots don’t count as bugs. Real spiders wouldn’t, even.

I’d like to end this post by saying that I’m really grateful to everyone for letting me help in developing the game and granting me the opportunity to experience the workflow of the development team at first hand.

-Matias

Devblog #8: Parcel History Week II

Hi guys, it’s Pyry again. We’ve been a whole lot busier than usual (and our “usual” is already quite busy), but for the sake of actually making our recently-started tradition an actual tradition, I shall find time to write this second installment of Parcel History Week! If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s what we decided to call blog posts that are released during the first full week of a month. I know that sounds like a very arbitrary rule, but there’s actually a logic behind it: if we were to say “every month’s first Wednesday” or something like that, we’d be obliged to actually make it in time for Wednesday, our designated blog-posting day. As you can see, we don’t make it in time every now and then. Here’s hoping we don’t slip with our actual development deadlines… One promise we couldn’t unfortunately keep was the co-op post thing, because Tommi is at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco at the moment, and we didn’t come to think of this beforehand. We apologize. You’ll have to cope with just my perspective.

Anyways, story time. Continuing from where we left off the last time around: It was the Spring of 2013. Through my studies, I had already secured an internship position at RedLynx, a Helsinki-based Ubisoft studio known for the awesome Trials series (that I was a big fan of), and had every intention to go there at the start of the summer. However, what was then still known as Meatspace Postpeople was at the back of my mind all the time. I knew the game deserved and needed to be made properly. Tommi was working at another games studio located here in Joensuu Science Park, and I was also doing some school-related stuff there, and we came across the Science Park’s business idea competition, “Start Me Up!”. As it was a no-risk competition that rewarded ideas rather than established business plans (that we didn’t, at that point, have), we saw no reason not to enter the competition with the game. It was during this time that I, through some googling and dictionarying, came up with the better name for the game: Parcel. It wasn’t and still isn’t a very good name in terms of search engine optimization (just try competing with all the postal services), but the multiple meanings of the word made it just the perfect, concise name for the game.

The first page of our competition entry PDF. You might notice that we didn’t have the cool logo font yet.

The first page of our competition entry PDF. You might notice that we didn’t have the cool logo font yet.

Taking part in the business idea competition presented us the challenge of making the game sound as neat as we knew that it would be as a finished product. In the commercial world, a vision is worth only the amount of passion that you’re able to convey to other people, be it competition judges, teammates or customers. I certainly don’t think of myself as a “business” type of person (nor will I ever want to), but sometimes you need to get your hands dirty in order to chase your artistic dreams. Making quality video games needs resources, and resources were a luxury we didn’t have. Winning a prize in the competition would open some doors for us, and luckily, it did. By winning a prize in the creative category of the competition, we received some funding and the possibility to develop the business idea further in the Science Park’s own business incubator.

However, my involvement in the advancement of the project was very little for the first half a year or so because of the aforementioned internship at Ubisoft, which I started in the summer of 2013. While I was working as a level designer on Trials Fusion, Parcel was on hiatus, in hibernation, only in the back of people’s minds, at risk of ending up as nothing else than a nice concept that didn’t quite amount to anything. It was a time of much frustration and regret. I felt like I had abandoned something truly promising, as I loved the game I had once created and still had so much determination to develop it further.

Working in Helsinki and under contract, I wasn’t really able to even see how Parcel was doing. It wasn’t doing much, to be honest. There were a lot of good people with good intentions involved in the sporadic development of the concept-phase project, but every time I had the opportunity to see what had been done, I couldn’t help but feel that the project was heading into an entirely wrong direction. I hadn’t been able to foresee how a vision can be truly lost without the vision-bearer being there. This experience taught a lot to us about how things can go wrong if you’re not looking, and I certainly don’t mean to criticize the other people involved for that; I willingly take all the blame for momentarily abandoning a project that meant so much to me. Powerless to turn the tide at the time, I felt depressed and frustrated.

No. Just… no.

No. Just… no.

At work, my anxiety reflected on my ability to be as productive as I had hoped to be, and my absence negatively reflected on the quality of Parcel. As a Ubisoft employee that tried to appreciate the chance given to him, I desperately wanted to redeem myself as someone who can and will also do stuff that isn’t entirely his own properly, but Parcel’s existence and all that it was going to was burning a hole in my brain. After a few months, I admitted to myself that although I had connected with some very awesome people and was in a very safe, supportive working environment, I had bigger fish to fry. As awesome as it was to be involved in the development of a game series I was a big fan of, I had a burning desire to make something of my truly own. That opportunity still existed here, and I’m eternally thankful that we somehow managed to balance it all out. After careful consideration, I left Helsinki in December 2013 to start making Parcel the game it deserved to be.

Returning to Joensuu wasn’t the most uplifting thing to do, especially as we all knew that Parcel hadn’t actually progressed anywhere. To be honest, it had gone back many steps, devolved into something no-one recognized as the game we had originally set out to make. But the most important thing was that after all this, no-one would make the same mistakes again. Yes, much time was wasted in this senseless concept-stage limbo, but it was a fruitful learning experience. Now, it was time to gather the right team and chase the right dream. The best thing about the situation was that it absolutely couldn’t get any worse. There was an uphill slope, and everyone was determined to ice-skate to the top of it!

This was the approximate state of mutation that Parcel was in during the end of year 2013. We are not making this up. It wasn’t nearly as funny back then as it is now.

This was the approximate state of mutation that Parcel was in during the end of year 2013. We are not making this up. It wasn’t nearly as funny back then as it is now.

Needless to say, we rolled up the sleeves and started planning ahead. Penniless and without a proper team, we were still in a bit of a lousy situation, but that was something that we would work ourselves around. More about that in the next part of Parcel History Week next month. Stay tuned for some exciting news in the coming weeks :)

– Pyry

Devblog #7: 99 Little Bugs in the Code

Hi there! I’m Jani Kärkkäinen, the Lead Programmer of Parcel, and with Aino and Niko, we make up the main force of programmers. We are responsible of the base logic, the technical aspect of the project and of course the bugs. In addition to the core team, Ville does some art-related scripting, and our intern, the other Jani (no, not the other “other Jani” Pyry mentioned earlier), fixes bugs we, the core team, introduce on a daily basis. This brief blog post offers a small glimpse of the design principles and workflow we have, as well as a retrospect-of-sorts about things we should improve in future projects.

But first, a little personal history regarding Parcel and myself. Less than two years back, I entered the production of Parcel as an intern. At this point, Parcel had been prototyped and pushed onwards for more development. During this time, I had the notion that we really shouldn’t be developing the prototype further, but design the base logic from scratch and start developing the real game – prototypes are prototypes after all, and there’s no reason to carry the baggage to the finished product. However, being an intern I didn’t really push this subject – I did make sure everyone involved heard me, but as just an intern, I didn’t feel I had the right to push harder than I already did.

Few months pass, and I’m now on the payroll. At this point I’m certain that the road we are in is doomed, and now I had more say on things than me as a mere intern had. So, I pushed. And it was decided that we should do what I suggest: throw the prototype that had mutated into a beast to the bin and start anew – now with the real product, and not just a glorified proto. Don’t get me wrong; prototypes are important – as is the fact that they need to be thrown away to learn from them.

And so, the code redesign began. With lots of help from an awesome guy and an excellent programmer (looking at you, Mr. Matt Bond!), the base logic and class structure started to get fleshed out. The basic structure we came up with was quite simple, and did what we wanted – separate graphics and logic completely on the logic side, so that with the same design we could represent the gamestate and logic in ASCII graphics, if we so chose to. Bear with me, things are going to get a tad bit technical.

Img 1. Logic graph

Img 1. Logic graph

The logic structure we designed comprises a PieceController, a LevelBoard and a Piece. A LevelBoard contains Pieces, and each Piece has a PieceController. A Piece is a representation of a logical game object, and PieceController controls the connected Piece. With this structure, we can basically create any number of type of logic modifiers. Conveyor belts, teleports, NPC’s that walk around randomly, you name it!

…We didn’t create those, though. (Actually I did create that AI that moves around randomly. For testing purposes?) Maybe some day? This kind of structure also means the system is quite extensible in the future as well. That “some day” wouldn’t even be possible, or at least highly more improbable, without the extensibility.

As I mentioned before, the logic has been designed to be completely graphics-agnostic. Then how does the player (or anyone for that matter) see what is going in the logic? We use events for that. On the graphics side, all Pieces are introduced to the LevelBoard paired with graphics objects and Animators. The Animators subscribe to Piece and PieceController events, and handle them accordingly. And the Pieces or PieceControllers still have no idea what is going on in the graphics side, they just happily update their states and fire events when stuff happens.

As a side effect, we didn’t need any physics. So we chucked them. This, and making sure logic doesn’t know about graphics, came with a small-ish caveat, though: It requires more work to handle logic to animation -mapping than with a “graphics and logic are the same and physics yay” system, but it also gives us a lot of options we wouldn’t have had without it.

I was going to put a picture of the Animator system’s dependency graph here, but when I tried to get a good and representing graph of it, I got huge webs of classes. I could’ve cleaned it up, but then it would’ve not really shown the point of how much work Animators take? As our systems get more complex, the logic gets more complicated along side it (even if the logic isn’t aware of the graphics), which make the codebase more and more messy.

And this is where we are currently at. The logic is built on a good foundation, but in time, many of the additions have hidden the gold under a pile of guano. In this case the guano is all the design flaws and bugs (lots and lots of bugs) that were introduced while implementing the game. A good example of deteriorating design is our use of Manager classes – classes that follow (loosely) a Singleton -pattern, which is generally frowned upon in the programming world. Although many posit that using one or two Singleton -like constructs aren’t a bad thing when programming a game, we are definitely going a bit overboard here, whether they are liked or not.

Img 2. Handlers and Managers (and a Container [with LevelBoard in it for measure {and a LocalUsers class}])

Img 2. Handlers and Managers (and a Container [with LevelBoard in it for measure {and a LocalUsers class}])

This deterioration can also be seen in our menu code. As we started implementing the menus, we hopped right in, with the notion that “Menus are fast and easy to implement, no worries!”. Without a single thought for design for the new menus (oh we had rudimentary menus before this – that’s one of the reasons we thought it would be just plug-in and go – they were just so much simpler) we started on implementing stuff, and lo and behold: we have a veritable crow’s nest on our hands. Don’t get me even started with the level editor… bugs, bugs everywhere! And regressions! Somedays I feel like the “99 bugs in the code” jingle is true. A descriptive picture forthcoming.

4

 

But time for a little optimism here – all things considered, the guano layer isn’t that thick nor does it really smell that bad. We’ve managed to squeeze out the worst offenders, and the most mystifying gamebreakers are gone. There shouldn’t actually be any gamebreakers at this point. We are nearing our goal, and the nearer we get, the more we get that guano out of the way of that gold nugget.

As this is a first commercial project to many of us, including myself, we have learned a lot, and the journey isn’t even over yet! As promised, a retrospect-of-sorts follows:

  • proper programming workflow needs code reviews/audits
  • after base design is complete, and implementation begins, designing process needs to continue and live by the side – less “I’ll fix this fast”, more “I’ll think this through to make sure the design fits the new requirements”
  • unit testing would help immensely
  • more branching

Alright, I admit it! Those were just my notes I had for this retrospective part. They do, however, convey the message clearly – why open them up when it works like this as well? This list of things to remember in future projects mainly concerns the programming team and the workflow behind the design and implementation.

As I am nearly finished with my post, so is Parcel nearing completion. There is stuff still to be done, and bugs to fix, but, at the end of the day, only the rest is left to do.

– Jani

Devblog #6: Enter The Intern

Hello everyone, my name is Juha Tapaninen and as the title suggests, I happen to be doing my internship here at Polar Bunny Ltd. For many other Kajaani UAS game development students, the way to end up with an internship is a quite boring one (“you apply and get in”), but for me it wasn’t all that simple and painless. For a long while, I was amongst those few people from our school that were without an internship. I had sent countless emails in hopes of finding a place to take me in, but my efforts were mostly in vain. Either the places offered were really sucky, offered me a tasks I didn’t want to do or the tasks didn’t match my studies (basically meaning I wouldn’t gain anything out of them, and given how thats the main goal of internship; you can see the dilemma). Needless to say, I was stressed out beyond words. But there was light at the end of the tunnel. Or the light had been there for a while, without me acknowledging it as a tunnel light.

As it happens, I had made a puzzle game during my studies with my classmates that was of the mechanically grid-based, block-pushing type. You probably see where this is going. It was good enough to be recognized by some people, the Parcel development team included. So this one day, I got an email from one of the teachers at my school and he told me that this company called Polar Bunny would be interested in taking me in for internship. After taking a look of Parcel and making sure that my work wouldn’t just revolve around spreadsheets, I knew that this was what I had been looking for. Already having experience on puzzle games and rather similar level design, this was the ideal place for me. So I got to work as a level designer on Parcel; the only full-time one, because Pyry and Ville had and still have their hands full with many things outside of that one domain. I believe that all three of us have a different style of making the levels (you’ll come to know why Ville’s level designs are called “claustrophobic”), and I’d like to think that a fair percentage of Parcel’s levels have a Special Juha Touch. Here’s my philosophy of it and a journey into how one of the many levels of Parcel got made.

When it comes to ways to approach level design in these types of games, I can’t really say that one way is better than the other, there really isn’t “right” way that triumphs over others if you ask me. In the end, the end goal is the same, you’re creating a puzzle for others to solve, a mystery with some subtle hints to guide them.

One way of doing this by making a shape, say a box or a triangle, and starting to form something out of that. This way isn’t really reliable, but sometimes it can work surprisingly well, so it’s always at least worth a shot if nothing else.

Another approach is by limiting your characters, say you want level to have a Block, Hackman and Magna, then you make a promise to keep just those characters, much like playing with say Lego blocks, it’s fun being creative with limited assets at hand as it truly puts one’s creativity to the test. Though even this method isn’t always right (I’ve broken that rule many times when I’ve realized that with the addition of just one character I can make the level that much more enjoyable), but the overall philosophy remains the same: Limit yourself, it helps you to truly be creative.

A third method that I’ve used is basically just doing… something: you throw stuff around and see what sticks. This method is the equivalent of just doodling when figuring out something to draw: you just do things and perhaps out of that chaotic mess something worthy of finishing comes up! Who knows, right?

Sometimes, you also have certain fancy trick in your mind that hasn’t been used before and make a level around it. There are some levels in the game that are made with just that in mind. “Hey, that’s a neat trick, but isn’t that level already sorta complete? You could move it onto something else” and that turns out to be a good idea.

One of the best levels I’ve got to create is a “virtual reality” level that contains two Blocks and Hackman, seemingly very simple but in actuality it’s really far from it. The original inspiration for this level came to me after I discovered that there can be multiple instances of the same character in the VR-themed levels of the game. That gave me the idea for having two Blocks shielding a third character with their cubes and using that trick to guide the whole group into safety.  Originally the level was a lot bigger, but you can probably see that the first half of the level was utterly pointless, as it didn’t really offer any challenge at all.

...and the row of three guys facing a wall looks like a cultural reference unfit for Parcel.

…and the row of three guys facing a wall looks like a cultural reference unfit for Parcel.

This starting point was a very rough, unfinishable sketch: you can see that there are no teleportation beams out (meaning it was still being tested, a prototype to see if it works on idea level). But the main problem is clear: the first half is pointless, so how do we make the level better? More often than not, Parcel levels tend to be more challenging when you limit their size.

Keep it simple, stupid!

Keep it simple, stupid!

As you can see from this picture, the level is a lot smaller and visually appealing, yet it still keeps almost all of the puzzles from the original one (or the ones I wanted it to have, at least). By making the level smaller, it’s easier for players to get a hang of it, you jump straight into the action without having to first go through something mindless that doesn’t challenge you intellectually at all. No one enjoys when their time is wasted, especially in video games.

In the end, the level looks pretty much like this:

Dodge this.

Dodge this.

Pretty big changes from the original formula, but in the end what started off as an idea where you use two Blocks to shield a character (Hackman in this case) ended up becoming one of my personal favorites.

To wrap this up, I can say that even though I had to go through a lot of trouble to find a place like this, it was definitely worth it. Unlike some other students, I got to work exactly on what I wanted and let alone be a part of making a great game that I will be playing as well. This has truly been one of the best experiences of my life and I hope that even a fraction of my love and passion for this project can be seen from the levels I’ve made. Here’s to those “Eureka!” moments when you manage to complete seemingly impossible levels. Cheers!

– Juha

Devblog #5: Marketing in the Meatspace

Hello guys! My name is Tomi Toikka, and I am the acting Marketing Manager of Polar Bunny Ltd. My duties consist of making marketing materials, handling press relations, social media and the upkeep of the company websites while the game development team focuses on making a great game for everybody. I’m not like one of the infamous boring ‘suits’ that hate fun and love analytics, statistics and marketing data. I’m more of the “making lovable content for the community and informing you of the game” kind of guy. So don’t be scared – let’s dive right in, this might be fun.

Hello world!

Hello world!

As one of the more junior members of the company I’d say some background information is in order. The story so far goes that Pyry Takkunen and I met way back in the summer of 2013 on a programming course. From there, a little bit of radio silence later (and lots of personal entrepreneurship from my part in designing media) we met again a year later in an Aalto “In the Game” career event, where I was recruited in a jiffy over to Joensuu to work on Parcel. What turned out to be a “heck, I’ll give it a shot” moment in going to a fun convention turned into a full-fledged job offer. Neat!

I’ll admit to a bit of a culture shock. When I decided to take my rusty old car over to Joensuu I faced a city that was just so vast and alien to me. After a few interesting days and nights studying my new work city and its (truly lovely!) people I settled in to a cozy little student apartment and started my duties properly.

It’s this pretty out there! Well, in the summer anyway.

It’s this pretty out there! Well, in the summer anyway.

We’re located in a huge complex called the Joensuu Science Park – a building focused on entrepreneurship and built for housing great ideas. The problem was being from a city that is, let’s just say it, as insignificant as Forssa, I wasn’t accustomed to having a gigantic meeting area and kitchen in a workplace. Nor a sauna. Or a view that showed literally half the city from way top. Needless to say, there were no qualms about the environment at all. The studio had all the bells and whistles I’d need to get the job done – I just needed the right kind of ‘flow’ to really jumpstart my developing. You can’t just jump into a company and say “we’re doing this”. It was time for a meeting.

Joensuu Science Park! Exclamation marks!

Joensuu Science Park! Exclamation marks!

So we made plans. We needed to make a brand identity for both the game and the company. We had a logo and a name for both the game and the company – but that was about it. Instead of basic contact info, we had a simple website showing the company logo. Not a word about the game! So I started cracking on a summary for the game, some descriptions of the characters…and answering basic questions like who we are and what we do. It sounds simple on paper but it’s really all about the company image and how it fits into all the nooks and crannies. But yes, a proper marketing strategy was the way to go.

We focused on three core tenets.

Informative and useful websites. Designing and maintaining a website isn’t rocket science, but we had to have that. How can we market a product if there’s no information available about it for the public? We solved this problem utilizing my duties as a designer: I applied my web design and marketing knowledge and slapped a WordPress installation on the company’s web server. After doing a proper wireframe for the website and designing it in Photoshop, we met up and decided what people really wanted to know about the company and the game. Having drafted that, we went on to design the website and its visual presence around what people needed to know: about the company, about the game, what information would be useful to the press and what we wanted to showcase on the front page.

Accessible and extensive presskit. We laid down a framework for a great presskit and planted all our logos and marketing material into it. This was a great idea, as press were pleased and appreciative we had went through the pain – all branded screenshots and the company logo were presented in a clear and concise manner for use in articles. We built one for both our company and the game. A company presskit meant bringing in a camera…and this turned in to hilarious hijinks with the development team snapping photos of everyone and everything – the results speaking for themselves. The press had all the materials they needed and wanted. We got plenty of articles out of the ordeal during the Greenlight campaign, and all our marketing materials were up to date and carefully curated, resulting in a great branding and marketing campaign throughout! Hooray for presskits! Vlambeer and presskit(), we owe you one.

Strong social marketing push. A strong social marketing presence was a really important thing to nail down. We’re living in a new global age of social information – so at least a Facebook was a must! We set up social presences in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Steam Community and IndieDB. Building the materials for these profiles were actually a really big pain in the rearside as each service had their own sizes and specifications to adhere to – an unusual hassle considering my adeptry in Photoshop. Turns out, having your logo in a corner might turn “Parcel” into “Arce” in mobile view. Lessons learned! But I’m digressing – branding material being coherent was essential to the marketing push as the game’s Greenlight campaign visibility depended on it. A strong social marketing push through multiple channels made sure people got the news on time and in a natural flow through their normal reading habits on each service.

 

polarbunny_meeting

Planning the marketing campaign…just kidding, I stole this one from the presskit.

In a few weeks we had made a new website for both Polar Bunny Ltd. and Parcel. Later on we started assembling presskits and tackled on the game’s massive Greenlight campaign (of which a postmortem will be available a bit later). Now I’ve been working on Parcel’s marketing campaign ahead of its impending release (release date still being under the wraps). Additionally, anything from press releases to development blogs go through me – I’ll check and see everything is fine and dandy before pressing the fancy ‘Publish’ button. This is mostly a tug-of-war between me and Pyry clashing our impressive vocabulary against each other and tearing our hairs out while at it – comes with the job!

Parcel’s website, with cool art to boot.

Parcel’s website, with cool art to boot.

As with every great job there’s responsibilities and goals that range from easy-peasy to very challenging. Everything from simple documentation to website visual overhauls are commonplace when you’re handling indie game marketing. Being called a “pint-sized ball of energy” by the team, I’ve often faced questions about just how I manage all of it. The thing that gives motivation to me is a simple loving passion for video games – something I’ve accrued over years of PC gaming since my youth days spent hunched over an old DOS machine. When I’m not marketing videogames, my hobby includes aggressive amounts of DOTA 2 and designing small videogame projects with my buddies in my hometown. And when it’s not that, I’ve been making websites in my own little company. There’s a lesson about doing what you love, but I think I’ve went to the “dangerously addictive” area of also doing that on my off time. See you at the burnout clinic!

A screenshot of Parcel - exciting neon colors combined with gloominess is my kind of thing.

A screenshot of Parcel – exciting neon colors combined with gloominess is my kind of thing.

But really, I can’t think of a better place for me to be at the moment – I get to see an amazing game develop and I get to tell everybody how great it’s gonna be. Parcel is a lovely, lovely puzzler that made me fall in love with it from the get-go. The entire development team is full of great people who love their craft – something really motivating and fun to experience. The thing about this all is, I stuck my foot to a door that goes into something beautiful and I don’t want to go back. So instead of yanking it around I’m building a house around that door. We’ll laugh about this once the game gets released, but let’s hope with my little marketing help Parcel turns out to be the smash hit it deserves to be. And if not, see you in the game’s release postmortem blog with me whining about it afterwards!

Hope you enjoyed reading my rambling. There’s more to come – we’ll be doing weekly(ish) blog posts until the release of the game and beyond. Let me know if you liked what I was blabbing about by shooting an email to tomi@polarbunny.net – the whole team appreciates your comments and criticism. And we like not only marketing to dummy accounts so knowing some of our consumer base is not robotic is also a great thing to find out!

Until next time,
Tomi Toikka
Marketing Manager
Polar Bunny Ltd.

One last photo of me at the Joensuu Science Park to mark the occasion. See ya!

One last photo of me at the Joensuu Science Park to mark the occasion. See ya!

Devblog #4: Parcel History Week I

Hello, it’s Pyry again. We’ve decided to start a new tradition and make every first full week a month a Parcel History Week! As you might or might not know, Parcel has seen many rather colorful phases in its gradual development from a silly dream into a full-fledged game. These special blog posts will shed some light on those phases that the development of Parcel has went through. In the first Parcel History Week post, I’ll go back a few years and tell you how an idea turned into a school project that was to become something even greater. In the posts to come, other team members will join in on the fun, but this time it’s just me and my overly personal blabbering.

As I am a person who chose games as a career, it probably doesn’t come as a shock to you that I always loved video games. The qualities unique to the medium communicated with me on a level no other form of art or entertainment has been able to. A certain game series that masterfully evoked these feelings in me was The Legend of Zelda. But it wasn’t only the excellence of Zelda games that changed the course of my life forever: it was that and my rather stupid tendency to fill in the blanks with imagination.

Back in 2010, I stumbled on some The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords promo art and, not being familiar with the actual gameplay, I imagined it to be a puzzle-heavy co-op adventure where the characters have different abilities that are used to solve those block puzzles that Zelda games usually have every now and then. Further investigation proved that the game was absolutely nothing like that. Not that it was a bad thing: it’s an excellent game in its own right. I was just torn because I really wanted to play the game I had imagined. There was a game I wanted to play that no-one was making. That was enough justification for me to pack my bags and seek the means to make video games myself. Parcel, or the vague idea that didn’t have that name yet, was thus one of the biggest reasons why I ended up in the games industry in the first place.

North Karelia College in Outokumpu, Finland was where I ended up in my search of other people as enthusiastic about video games as me. In the fall of 2012, Ville and I, alongside a handful of other classmates, reached a point in our studies when we were finally required to make a game in a couple of weeks. This was months after we had already made our first couple failures, so I felt comfortable bringing the idea for Parcel on the table. Although I had thought about the idea for a long time already, it took a surprisingly long time to piece things together in the short timespan we had. For the first time in my life, I actually needed to develop ideas into something that was to become a real game. What this thought process first ended up with was the first four characters that still exist today: the box mover, the magnetizer, the level-changer and the teleporter.

At first, the project was all about the mechanics. The characters were cubes that had special abilities and simple red lines represented lasers. The core game was there, and it was admittedly fun already, but we felt that it deserved to get a little more life breathed into it. Ville and I set out on a course to make that happen. As lasers were such an integral part of the gameplay, it seemed fitting that the game would have a futuristic setting, and once this was decided, the game’s story and feel almost created itself. It was like a continuum of blatantly logical choices that guided the creation of the world of Parcel. Of course the levels are corridors in a robot-guarded building. Of course the characters are postage workers with cybernetic suits. Of course the most fitting graphical style is a stark contrast between the playable area and the background. It was during these hectic times of rather easy design decisions when my very crude illustration skills gave birth to the very first sketches of Block (called “Loota” back then), Magna, Hackman and Porter.

Luckily, I wasn’t seeking a profession in graphic design.

Luckily, I wasn’t seeking a profession in graphic design.

Once the foundation of what was to become Parcel was laid and we got our pipeline rolling, I focused very heavily on level design. That took some serious time. It still does, to be honest. Luckily, Ville and Riku (the other main contributor during those times) took care of almost everything else with a professional-esque attitude, and I found a rather easy way to design levels by pixel-painting them and handing them over to the guys to implement. Certain colors meant certain objects and characters in the levels, so I could both design the mechanism of the puzzle and provide Riku with a fully usable “level design document”. They weren’t pretty by any means, and sometimes outsiders questioned my mental stability when they saw me super focused, struggling to draw a single pixel on a mosaic that didn’t really look like anything.

While I focused on looking like a crazy person and making my skull a little bit narrower by having headphones on day and night, the other guys made sure that the game worked and looked nice and special enough. Today, we can have a laugh at the graphics and the bugs because the game has developed so much further, but back then, the visual style that Ville was able to create, the functionality that Riku managed to build and the nice, wobbly animations that Jani (not the Jani you’ll get to know, another Jani) crafted were way beyond what I imagined we’d be able to pull off in the time given. We were all students back then, sometimes very lazy and often distracted by other things in life, but for this special project, everyone seemed to find the perfect flow immediately and make the most of it.

On the left, a highly sophisticated level design document. Center: our first attempt at, err, trusses. On the right: First gameplay test with characters.

On the left, a highly sophisticated level design document. Center: our first attempt at, err, trusses. On the right: First gameplay test with characters.

After a couple of weeks of the surreality of actually making the game I dreamed so long ago of making, Meatspace Postpeople, a.k.a. the first prototype of Parcel, was done, or as done as a school project can be. For such a tightly scheduled project, it had an amount of content and kind-of-polish that surprised even ourselves once we got a little sleep and realized how good a game it already was. This was when Tommi stepped into the picture by suggesting that we’d develop the game even further, but I guess that’s a story worth saving to Parcel History Week II.

Although it’s been over two years since the project, a lot of the core things that can still be found in Parcel were created already in those days: the core mechanics, the setting, the lighting style, the list goes on. When I look back on those couple of weeks, I can’t help but feel incredibly proud of what we were able to achieve in such a small time with such a small and inexperienced team. I hope to exceed that feeling of pride once Parcel is launched to the world as a full game, but right now, my most treasured memory is the feeling of having made that school project that started it all.

Meatspace Postpeople (2012). The menus had a Western-themed font that fit the setting like a glove fits a shoe.

Meatspace Postpeople (2012). The menus had a Western-themed font that fit the setting like a glove fits a shoe.

Next month, Parcel History Week will return with a co-op post by (at least) Tommi and me. Before that, some new faces will introduce themselves and tell you about the part they play in making Parcel the game it deserves to be. Stay tuned & spread the love!

– Pyry

Devblog #3: Tightening Up the Graphics

Hello,

I am Ville Valtiala, also known as the Lead Technical Artist (last time I checked). I am the guy behind “The Parcel Look”. I’ll give you quick look behind the scenes on how Parcel’s shady neon-ish look is made and tell a bit about the journey of trial and error that led to it.

But first a few words about myself: despite the admittedly misleading job title, I have no previous experience of professional work in the games industry. I studied video game art in North Karelia College for two years, and during those studies, Pyry and I, along with some other classmates, made the first prototype of Parcel (something which you’ll hear more about in future blogposts). Thus, my journey with the game started even before I graduated and quite seamlessly continued after that.

And now to Parcel. When I began my work, there was nothing to start with on visual side; all I had was a clean slate. This meant freedom, but it was also a challenge. A challenge worth accepting. With me not being that much of a concept artist, the only thing to do was to open up Unity, Blender and Photoshop and start throwing things to an empty scene until something stuck. Luckily, everything went better than (at least I) expected, and the general look and feel started to shape up very soon.

The look

As shown in our announcement trailer and the various pics on our site, Parcel’s look is very colorful and vivid, perhaps the opposite of what one could expect the inside of a dark and machine-controlled tower to look like. Most of the textures of the game are different shades of gray with dust and bolts. The trick is the lighting.

Lighting is what brings Parcel alive: how with just few lights one can create different themes for the same environments with the same assets and textures and control the “visual flow” of the level; how the vividly lit corridors and piles of machinery and pipes looming above them create little “worlds” and how it all smoothly fades into the surrounding darkness. The lighting also separates the puzzle from the background, enabling players to have a clear view of the puzzle despite all the glowiness.

The tech

At the beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty on whether Parcel was going to be launched on PC, consoles or mobile, and so every option had to be kept open. At first, the criteria was something along the lines of “it has to be able to run on five-year-old mobile platforms”. That was a major restriction. All the nice post-processing effects like bloom, blur or color correction couldn’t even be considered. But the nice, gloomy look was so nice and so central to the being of Parcel that it couldn’t be scrapped either.

So what to do? After some research, consisting mostly of throwing stuff into Unity and poking single lines here and there on shader code, I finally found a solution which was the most effective performance-wise, looked pretty awesome and gave even more control on lighting: just put huge square-shaped polygons all over the scene and give them additive material that fades towards the edges. (Note: “Additive” means that it brightens the colors behind it.)

These quads, or “alpha planes” as we call them in-house, became the base of Parcel’s graphics. Combined with Unity’s normal lights (these planes don’t work alone but need some light which they then brighten) they not only allowed us to achieve a great look on mobile, but also made possible many tricks that couldn’t be done with other methods considered. These tricks include, among others, very precise control on lighting specific areas on levels, ridiculously overdoing the bloom to achieve some specific feel, and having lights that have differently tinted glow than actual light would have.

On the left, a level of the game. On the right, the same level in editor view with effects visualised.

On the left, a level of the game. On the right, the same level in editor view with effects visualised.

So yes, there’s no denying the graphics of Parcel are smoke and mirrors all the way, but after all, that’s what video game graphics are about, have been about, and will be for decades – pushing forward to look at least a bit better than your hardware, experience, team size, deadline or budget allows. And now, or for the past few weeks or so, I’ve really started to believe that we have reached a look we can be happy with. But I’ll let you be the judge! They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s one you haven’t seen yet:

The grass is always greener on the other side of the laser.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the laser.

– Ville

Devblog #2: The Parcel Guy

Greetings,

I am Pyry Takkunen, the creative director of Parcel. Basically, that means that I’m responsible for the game’s existence and for making sure that it reaches its potential. That’s a lot of pressure, but with great power comes great responsibility, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in life than where I’m at right now.

Anyways, I’ve done my best to clear some time from my Parcel-filled schedule to write all of you nice people blog posts that provides you with some relevant info about Parcel, the game I’ve dreamt of making for so long. In this first post of mine, I’ll provide you with a general description of the game and its design ambitions. Bear in mind that I will, at some points, tell things from a very personal perspective. Game development is a team effort and Parcel is certainly no exception, but I have a tendency to consider Parcel such a prominent part of my being that it is inseparable from me. I’ve long since accepted my place in the world as the Parcel guy. Nice to meet you, too. Now, let’s explain the game a little bit.

As probably most of you know already, Parcel is a multi-character puzzle game where your goal is to solve interlocking laser puzzles by using the unique abilities of different characters, featuring a level editor and multiplayer functionality. That is actually the shortest I’ve ever managed to make that description. Words aren’t the best method to convey the idea, so if you haven’t watched the Parcel trailer from half a year ago, please do. The material we’ve published so far give a basic idea of what the game is about, but perhaps it’s time to be a little more specific. In order to make a dramatic entrance into the next paragraph, I shall rhetorically ask myself: what exactly is Parcel?

image1

It’s a video game. If you ended up here searching for postal services, you are not in luck. Unless you like video games, that is.

Parcel is a game about frustration. The right kind of frustration, that is, and the reward you get from challenging your brain. Perhaps “mental development” would be a less intimidating way to express this core value. For the last decade or so, the word “puzzle” in games has mutated into something that I don’t recognize anymore. Every time there’s a so-called puzzle sequence in some AAA game that is pretty much solved by the game itself, I am left disappointed. Even the puzzle game genre has recently been crowded with titles that do not conform to the expectations of those that seek a contemplative, intellectual challenge. Parcel is about that challenge. Parcel is about making you hate the game a little bit, but then learning to love yourself a little more every time you figure a puzzle out. I sincerely hope that Parcel puzzles you. You will be offered tutorials, and no-one is preventing you from seeking help in solving the puzzles, but the fun, the meat, the glory is in the thinking process, the trial and error and those “Eureka!” moments.

Parcel is a game about the future. Perhaps uncharacteristically for a puzzle game, there is a pretty prominent story component in Parcel. Very little of it is in the way of the gameplay itself, but those who seek more than just a mechanics-driven gaming experience are offered a compelling narrative to be experienced and explored. A word we’ve used a lot in our publicity stuff is “cyberpunk”, and the setting of Parcel justifies the use of this word. Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that not all elements of Parcel’s story will be that fictional for many years.

Parcel is a game about charm. There is just something special about video games. The worlds with rules that make no sense in ours, the challenge of self-improvement, the ridiculous characters and stories, all that stuff. Parcel is not only about the art of fun but also about the fun of art. No matter how grim the futuristic message in Parcel is, there’s always room for a middle-aged lady who destroys robots with an industrial magnet that she has attached to her spine. The ridiculousness only video games are able to pull off is a big part of Parcel, so expect to experience a world that makes perfect sense to itself but not that much to those that aren’t in it. Parcel aims to make you if not laugh, at least shake your head in amused disbelief.

Parcel is a game about teamwork. Whether you’re playing Parcel alone or with friends to help you out, Parcel is about using the strengths of everyone you have to achieve things you could never do alone. This is actually something that I didn’t realize until Parcel was already very much in existence, but it’s also an analogy of what our development team is: a team of individuals equipped with different skill sets, working towards a common goal. It’s a beautiful message that I hoped I could say I always had in mind. I didn’t. But most importantly…

Parcel is a game about games (and loving them). This has a lot to do with all the points mentioned earlier. I’m fairly confident you will understand what I’m talking about after playing the game, so I will not over-explain this point. We will all do our best to ensure that Parcel is an experience worth experiencing, and I hope it will successfully reflect the amount of love that has been put into it. A lot of work is still ahead of us, but I’m already fairly proud of my baby.

Pictured: a summary of reasons why I need to consider video games my offspring

Pictured: a summary of reasons why I need to consider video games my offspring

I hope you enjoyed reading this quick rambling and gained something out of it. I’ll return in a few weeks to provide you a brief history of Parcel along with some embarrassing early development images, so remember to check back here! Also, if you feel there is someone that should know about Parcel, please tell them about it. Spread the love! The team and I wish nothing more than to be able to bring more awesome games into this world, and by making us heard, you are making it all the more possible.

Sincerely,
Pyry

Devblog #1: Development Blog Introduction

Hello everyone, and welcome to our development blog,

My name is Tommi Virolainen. I am the Co-Founder and Head of Studio at Polar Bunny and I am also working as a producer on Parcel, our game project that most likely brought you here in the first place.

This time I won’t be focusing so much on Parcel, as the game’s designer Pyry Takkunen will dedicate the next post in this blog to that very thing. Instead, as a brief intro, I will tell you who we are, what we are doing and why this blog exists.

Polar Bunny is a Joensuu, Finland-based game development company with a mission to create truly memorable gaming experiences. Currently there are eleven people (including our tireless interns) working on Parcel, our first announced title, due to be released on Steam this year. Our offices are located in Joensuu Science Park. Our company was founded in the summer of 2013 by three people. In the first year or so, the company had its ups and downs, but after some hard work, we were able to grow our team, and this growth has allowed us to make games the way they deserve to be made.

See? I told you! People.

The weather conditions in this picture might not be up-to-date

So why did we decide to start writing our own development blog? The way I see it, it is important to share our thoughts about developing games, running a company and to tell about our failures and successes. Sometimes everything goes as planned and sometimes not, but still there is always something we can learn from our own actions and from the actions of others. It is both a method of keeping in touch with our ever-growing community of gamers and keeping score of where we are. Someday, we can all look back on this, and it will all seem funny. It’s also important to show that behind every playable game, there are some nice, ordinary and sometimes not-so-ordinary people that just genuinely want to make the best game possible for other people to enjoy.

With this blog, we’ll try to keep you up to date on what is happening here. For now, the posts will almost certainly focus on Parcel, but this blog also serves as a channel for anything related to our company. As far as I know, Pyry is (alongside tirelessly working on Parcel) assembling an extensive post that will explain what Parcel is and what it should be when it’s done. After that, you can expect to see some insightful posts by other teammates, like our graphics artists shedding some light on how the visuals are made, etc. There will also be post mortem of our Greenlight campaign and some announcements at some point, so checking back here often is recommended!

We would love to hear your comments on the game and anything we’ve said or left unsaid. You can reach us from our Steam Community page, via Facebook or Twitter or by just posting on the comments section below. Our team will try to answer your questions as well as we can. Also, if there are some specific things you would like us to write about, feel free to give us suggestions!

 

Cheers,

Tommi