Blog Stats

I am pretty new to blogging, even if this blog is years old. So it might be of interest what a niche blog like mine attracts for an audience:

Most successful posts:

Frequent posting does attract traffic, which is kinda obvious:

The origin of my readers is kind of expected as well:
Finally the device & OS:

Bild, das die beliebtesten Plattformen zeigtBild, das die beliebtesten Browser zeigt


Games Connection - Master Class


I do a Masterclass about f2p nearly every year in Paris at Games Connection. My evaluation this year was the highest I ever got, so my new format doing it seemed to have worked:

Did the Master Class meet your expectations? 
- Exceeded expectations 73%
- Met expectations 27%
- Didn’t really meet expectations 0%
- Didn’t meet expectations at all 0%

Are the lessons you learned applicable to your daily job function?
- Totally 82%
- Partially 18%
- Not really 0%
- Not at all 0%

The Master's technical skills...
- Exceeded my expectations 91%
- Met my expectations 9%
- Did not meet my expectations 0%

The Master's educational methods...
- Were fantastic 91%
- Were average 9%
- Need improvement 0%

Rhythm & pace of the class was...
- Too fast 0%
- Well adapted 100%
- Too slow 0%

Would you recommend this Master Class to others?     
- Yes 100%
- No 

I also did a talk about the monetization of World of Tanks, this is the evaluation:

The following two questions were asked, for which people scored out of 10 - where 1 was the lowest and 10 was the highest.

Average Overall Evaluation (overall session rating): 9.8
Average Speaker Evaluation (speaker relevance for topic): 9.8

For your reference, global averages were 8.246 and 8.617 respectively.


Tony and Friends in Kelloggs Land

You might think wtf. This game was created for promotional use (Advertising) back around 1993 (I forgot the exact date) on Amiga and PC.

The Amiga 3.5" disk version
The business model was adapted by Rauser Advertainment, a follow up company from COMAD. I was Rausers development director back then and single handily produced all his games through remote management using BBS (remember the internet wasn't invented yet).

They basically did create games on all popular formats paid by the ad agency. When finished the company also distributed the game for free, mostly as cover disks or on trade shows. The reach was immense - we could calculate a reach of more than 3 million with the Kelloggs game. Considering how cheap development was back in that time the contact price per customer was much better than any TV commercial - and the user engaged with your product at his free will and much longer!

The game was a jump & run with lots of hidden areas. You played four different characters which were based on the products of Kelloggs and you could switch between them. Each character had specific talents: Tony the Tiger was strong, the Frog could swim and dive, the Toucan could fly and the monkey could climb. Levels where custom designed around those talents.

Of course collecting the cereals enhanced your life which caused a positive relationship between the player and the product. Advertisers loved that kind of games and it caused an entire business to spawn which highlighted in the company Phenomedia and their "Moorhuhn" game. they even went public, betrayed the tax authorities and their CEO's went to jail. Done was the "advertainment" industry.

Link to gameplay vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK4teEOTsFY
Link to the team who created it (now under a different name): http://www.keengames.com/

Thank you to the three awesome talents back then who created it: Peter Thierolf, Jan Jöckel and Anthony Christoolakis.

You want to play it? Germans look here:

Download file


From another source

I am doing my talk at GDC Next today and in relation to this I would love to share this research done by Benedict Evans which clearly supports my point: A change is coming.


What is it with online & RTS

So EA cancelled their Command & Conquer f2p client based online game and closed the Studio Victory Games.


What is it with RTS that makes them so hard to do persistent online? We got online fps, RPG, racing sports, everything but RTS somehow never manages to surface on the online games market. Many have tried and failed and EA just joined them recently. I don't blame them, maybe they just didn't know they tried to create something where everyone else has failed so far.

Don't mix up RTS online game play like Starcraft II has and persistent online gaming. Those two can live together but as I said it hasn't been done before. So either the target audience for RTS loves the twitch game play of Starcraft and that's it, or we totally miss the point when trying to do persistent online games using RTS mechanics.

What is it? Any ideas?

Just as a statement I don't like Starcraft, its too fast for me, I more like the slower paced C&C series which unfortunately died the EA death.


The Story about "M.U.D.S."

Whenever I refer to that game I need to explain that I don't mean muds (as in Multi User Dungeons) but M.U.D.S. which stands for Mean Ugly Dirty Sports. Yeah we were creative with product names these days :)

As mentioned in previous posts we worked with a team called Golden Goblins. Due to restructurings we moved most of the team to our main offices in Düsseldorf including my favorite artist/creative Hartwig Niedergassel (see previous posts). He was the backbone of the design but note that all team members contributed a lot to the design on that project. Holger, Volker, Hartwig and me were the creative section so to say.

During these days a team was small, so having 2 programmers, one designer/artist and further 2 programmers for the conversion (Gisbert Sigmund for Atari ST, Jörg Prenzing for C64) was luxury and made this project one of the most expensive we did: 500.000 DM (about $250.000). Doesn't sound much but compared to the less than 100.000 we payed for Katakis ...

Anyway this project is another story of "if this went well I would be rich & famous" stories - this time a CEO of Lucas Film was the culprit. Uh oh. Yes, Lucas.

So we started the project. The idea was born as Grand Monster Slam had a large fan base and we wanted to expand on that setting - and we didn't have a sports game. So we came up with the genre mix of team manager & action sports part.
Remember: Games had a resolution of 320x200 these days 
The Campaign Map 
60fps scrolling on PC!
We envisioned one city where you buy your team players on the slave market from various races and you competed against other teams in that city or traveling teams.

The lead format was PC (unusual for those days in Germany) as it was targeted for an US audience. The 2 programmers made wonders happen on PC on the technology side: we were able to do a 60 fps scrolling on the sport action part - on EGA/VGA cards! Awesome during those days. 

When the game was presentable I traveled to the US to show it to partners if we can get a distribution or licensing deal done, the game was designed for an US audience after all. One company loved the game so much they wanted it exclusively - worldwide. The company was Lucas Film Games (now called Lucas Arts, sold to Disney). And let me tell you this: back during the days if Lucas Film wanted you you didn't say no. You simply went for it - all in.

So they assigned a producer to us called Noah Falstein. Yes, that Noah, great guy, creator of Sini Star, Koronos Rift, and the  Indiana Jones adventures! He made really good suggestions and added a campaign to the game: instead of one city we should feature multiple ones, each being a league with the last city being special - the end game, the finals so to say.

That made the product larger than intended and was the primary reason that the game cost 500k in the end. Time was great, working with Lucas was awesome, we even visited the Skywalker Ranch, had a preview of the latest Indiana Jones movie in George Lucas private THX cinema - on the farm. Even saw original light sabers and met Stephen Spielberg. We all were Star Wars fans, so working for the creator took us to new motivation levels we never experienced before.

More screenshots of MUDS: http://hol.abime.net/2528/screenshot

Skywalker Ranch building where the Games department was

All looked well that we, our little German team, were creating the next big hit from Lucas Film Games, worldwide! We would be famous! We could do more games for Lucas! Awesome!
But again fate had a different idea how to proceed in that story.

Lucas Film decided to make their games department a profit center (until then it was not profitable) and changed their name later to Lucas Arts. For that restructuring the CEO at that time cancelled all external projects to save costs - including ours. 

Oh well, shit happens, but we knew that form my prior sales pitch travel to the US we can find another - IF that CEO wasn't keen on saving his image. He was sure MUDS would be a smash hit but was forced to cancel the contract to to economic reasons - so he tried to make sure that no one got the project! He used his connections to tell everyone in the US publishing scene that the title was shit, the team was impossible to work with and the title would never be finished anyway due to technical challenges. I mean, who would touch a title anyway which Lucas Arts cancelled for those reasons?

Yes, he did that. Covered his ass. Made it impossible for us, a German small publisher to sell the title to a major US publisher - by simply spreading lies.

So we only found a minor one (we had Europe covered ourselves). When MUDS shipped on 2 Floppy Disks (1.2 MB total!) in 1990 it sold pretty well, over 86.000 just in Germany. Despite the large budget we proved everyone wrong who claimed MUDS would be a disaster: it was profitable and one of the very profitable games the publisher did - for a long time as it created a huge following and created a wonderful long shelf-life.

MUDS is one of those titles where I still get fan mail today. If you can configure a 32bit DOS Box it still runs today perfectly and the whole game is only a 1.2MB email attachment.

Side Stories: 
We put the whole team and our boss Marc Ullrich as the slave trader into the games slave market where you purchased your team players. Our boss was not amused as this screenshot with his face was very popular in magazines. Btw Teut wasnt that bad of a player in MUDS:

When Lucas switched development leads one of them became a godo friend of mine, Tony Garcia. We still are in contact these days and he had a great career spanning founding Microsoft Games, working at EA and now is Vice President at Unity3d USA.

When we visited SkyWalker Ranch it was forbidden to take any photos  Secretly we took some and were proud to have them with us. But the camera with the film was stolen from our rental car 2 days later :( So no photos exist of our visit :( 

The ceo who told lies about the project had to leave Lucas some time later and vanished into the depth of the industry. I don't even remember his name, but he had a talent selling things.

Thank you Heiko Klinge for remind me: M.U.D.S had digital sound output through the standard speaker. At that times the speaker could do just "beep". MUDS was one of the rare games doing digitized stuff using speaker only as AdLib cards were expensive these days and Sound Blaster not even released.


The GTA V billion

We all read the news of the fastest selling entertainment product of all time: GTA V made a billion on the first weekend. This gets all sorts of media attention and jealousy - and most of them get it wrong.

First: the billion mentioned is retail revenue. That means Rockstar did NOT make a billion as they don't get the full sales price. So what do they get anyway?

First you need to deduct VAT from the price you paid, something around 15-19% depending on country. Your government gets that.

Then retail takes their share, somewhere 10-15% usually, sometimes more, sometimes less. That leaves (very rough calculation!):

$58 -VAT
$49 -15% retail
$46 -5% distributor fees
$33 -$13 MS/Sony license & Production fee, includes BlueRay, Manual & Packaging

So, $33, minus Take2 share as they own Rockstar & paid the hundreds of millions of marketing, so less than half actually arrives at Rockstar.

Considering the game costs somewhere around $200 million they broke even first weekend with that billion - barely. Rest is profit now, but you see that without that record they would have had a harder time to break even. 5 years development time with hundreds of people does cost some serious money (120-200 million depending on country).

So there. Yes they deserve the record, the money, but they don't have a billion yet. For that they need to continue selling strong and maybe ship some add ons (or the PC version!)

So if Sam Houser reads this: great job man, the first GTA since Vice City I enjoy!


The story of "Citadel of the Black Sun"

There was a game - if it would have been finished I would be famous - and rich. Here is the story of 1988.

There was a team called Golden Goblins back in Gütersloh who worked for us. Gütersloh is a village roleplaying a city. It is only famous because two large companies are there: Bertelsmann and Miele, otherwise its like a village. Restaurants close after 2pm until the evening, so no food during that time. Awesome!

Rainbow Arts was founded there along with Magic Bytes, two of the first companies in Germany in the game business. Rainbow Arts moved to Düsseldorf but the team stayed in Gütersloh working on a title called Grand Monster Slam.

This title is important later on for M.U.D.S., but that's a different story. Important is the artist, designer, creative multi-talented Hartwig Niedergassel, who worked on it with his specific style.

Remember also that Rainbow Arts distributed a lot of US companies in Germany as we somehow "invented" localisation, no one was doing it at that time. One of the companies we did was SSI, known for their AD&D RPG's "Gold Box Series" like Pool of Radiance. We had a good relationship and at some point they asked us if we could develop a title for them.

So I started prototyping with Hartwig and Heiko Schröder, a technical programmer (with whom I later founded my own company Wings Simulations). The game was PC only, the first title ever Rainbow Arts did only on PC specifically for the US (as Europe was dominated by Amiga/Atari ST).

The RPG's SSI did were top down but with some nice features: party, not single character like Ultima and turn based group combat. We wanted that but move forward with graphics. Back in that time (remember, year 1988) we needed to support 16 color EGA and 16 color VGA. Yes, sixteen. That's 16 ugly colors with two being black and white. The screenshots you'll see will show this. Hartwig was really an artist to get out those great graphics from those colors.

The special things I put into the RPG we wanted to create were unique and not known at that time:

Barby Doll System: I wanted to change the appearance of the characters depending on their armor and weapons they equipped (yes at that time everyone used static pictures). We talk 1988/89 after all:

Isometric Graphics: Most RPG's were top down due to technical reasons (remember no 3d, that came in 1996) but I knew it was possible to trick this as I wanted the system what Knights Lore did on Spectrum: full isometric view:
True Line of Sight and window/door functions

Line of Sight: But I wanted more: I wanted that you can enter all houses and only look inside if you had line of sight. So the inside of houses should be dark unless you peeked though a window or opened a door. Tactical war-games did this already, but in top down 2D.

Heiko made all this possible, he was very good at this stuff. So our game looked like this on the tactical screens or when you entered villages or dungeons: compare this to other RPG's of 1988/1989!

Cow Tipping
Note the black areas where you didn't have line of sight. Also we supported multiple stories of buildings, so you can walk up and down, or even jump out of the window from the 2nd story. The cows also were important: I believe we were the first game to include cow tipping :)

The right side was the function bar, we reduced all functions to a nice menu usable with the mouse. Oh, did I tell you full optional mouse control? That was unique as at that time most PC's didn't have a mouse as windows shipped much later. Most games were keyboard control only.

We also had nice graphics when changing locations. At that time you usually walked on a world map and only showed above detail when you enter locations. Remember 16 colors!
Location Intro Graphics

World Travel of your party
When we showed this game to SSI they were blown away. They immediately wanted it and put it under the AD&D license. We, a small German team, allowed to use the AD&D license AND work for SSI, a great US publisher. Wow, that was unique, a first for Germany. We loved it!
And it even became better: our producer at SSI Nicholas Beliaeff told us that SSI planned to change all their future RPG's to our engine if we finish. All. All AD&D RPG's with our engine. We would be famous!
One of the first games developed in Germany for an US publisher
But the world had different ideas with us.

First one employee of our daughter companies we acquired called Time Warp moved into our offices as we closed down their offices. That guy wanted my job, always working to criticize mine. He said openly he wanted my job he can do it better, and he hated RPG's. He didn't believe in them.

Second I fell in love with the girl friend of my best friend Bernard. Remember? He was one of the three of us managing Rainbow Arts. She and I came together and she split from Bernard, not good when you think the three of us had to work together on a daily basis.

Story short: I left the company due to private reasons (due to my girl friend, later my wife, we married in 1992, but she died on cancer in 2010) and that one guy took over all my projects.

Within three months he split the development team, made sure SSI hated my and the teams guts and the project was cancelled. Remember, he hated RPG's! The game was 70% finished. I can play through the alpha even today which I still have on my machine (I took the screens above from it). All it took is someone to finish the last steps.
But he cancelled it. Made sure SSI's wrath was on me and not him. What an asshole (name changed).

There it goes, a chance in a life time to write computer games history. One of the greatest games I ever did wasted due to an asshole, but I gained a wife in exchange for this and losing a best friend.

But thats not the only time fate destroyed one of such potential projects. I'll write about the other one soon.

Side stories: our first producer at SSI Todd Porter was such a fan of our game that when he left SSI for Origin he put many ideas and concepts from us into their game Knights of Legends.

The "asshole" from above continued being one: he joined a company which invented advertising games, stole their co-ceo and the companies customers and copied that companies business. Weeks later even that co-ceo was fired. The asshole is still CEO of that company and publishes games. And no, even today after all those years I won't accept your Facebook friend request if you read this.

Hartwig Niedergassel continued his great work with MUDS, my largest project at that time. Story to follow.

Heiko Schröder founded Wings Simulations with me in 1996 and was lead programmer on Panzer Elite and Söldner. He now works for Volkswagen as a programmer near Hannover.

Nicholas Beliaeff meanwhile after a great career is Vice President Development of Trion, the publisher of Rift. We are still frends and see each other on international game conferences about once a year - since 25 years!


The Story of "The great Giana Sisters"

As loyal readers of my blog know I joined Rainbow Arts in 1987 because they wanted me to recruit new projects (at this time it was Sarcophaser and Katakis Amiga). I also took over as development director meaning that I was in control of all development, quite a challenge for someone who never did this.

Remember though that at that time there was no best practice or experience to base this job upon. So that time was basically my education: I was allowed to do everything wrong and learn from it, we all did. We were three people leading the company now: Marc Ullrich, founder and Ceo, Bernard Morell in control of production (physical goods) and distribution, and me in charge of game development. I will get back to that trio soon in another blog post.
The really bad but famous Giana Sisters title screen, maybe one of the first female heroines in games

At the time I joined Giana Sisters was already in full production with Thomas Hertzler as programmer and Manfred Trenz as graphic artist (yes the same Manfred who did Katakis & Turrican on C64 later on). The project had like 3 more months to go, at maximum. The only thing I did was QA & Mastering, which was trivial at that time.

(Note: as Hans Ippisch noted the C64 original was created by Armin Gessert as programmer and Manfred Trenz as artist, the Amiga graphic conversions were done by Lothar I think, see below)

However I screwed up someplace else. There were magazines excited about the game as at that time you did pre-advertising for titles months ahead of launch as otherwise you could not sell into retail or get customers into the shop. Based on those ads we got requests for interviews, previews etc, which basically means the writers visited our studio and did their thing. Remember, no internet, no Skype, no mobile phones, only landlines and travel manually to get screenshots (no digital ones at that time either, they made photos of the monitors).

So ASM, a popular German games magazine but a little on the "yellow press side" interviewed me, which went well. Off the record we spoke a bit about the project and I told them how big of a fan Manfred and Thomas are of Mario Brothers on Nintendo NES. The writer asked "So basically Giana Sisters is a clone of Mario then". "Yeah" I said, "but. ..." it was too late, the writer had his tag line without telling me.

The Issue went into print with a cover of Giana Sisters and their line "Teut Weidemann: Giana Sisters is a clone of Mario!".

Great. I learned for a lifetime not to trust ANY writer in the gaming industry. So we put legal in charge and forced the magazine to stop the printing presses, destroy the issue and reprint. Yes we did that.

It was the first issue of ASM not appearing on time.

Giana Sisters was released on C64, C128, Amstrad, Spectrum, Amiga and Atari ST and was a smashing hit, the fastest selling game Rainbow Arts ever saw. The British distributor (a British company called US Gold) booked ads with a huge screenshot and the tagline "Giana Sisters - moving over Brothers". It created a huge hype and .... caught the attention from Nintendo. Until then they ignored that little game on the little home computer because it didn't harm them, but now the ads attacked their holy grail: the Mario IP.

It took just a few days until an armada (really, like 6 or 7) of lawyers in black suits, suitcases and tie went into our offices and shut the sales down, permanently, worldwide. We never had a chance. Nintendo hired like the best of the best.

Yes we sold games on tapes! Now a rarity.

It had long term consequences as well which we didn't anticipated: Nintendo, being a Japanese company, has a brain of an elephant. They never forget. So when the console market exploded and riches were found on the SNES market Rainbow Arts always was denied to publish games on Nintendo platforms. Only years later they could do this. Once a thief, always a thief.

Giana Sisters was re-released on iOS and Steam just recently and a new version was done by Spellbound, the company of the deceased Armin Gessert, the guy who did the spiritual successor of Giana Sisters "Hard'n Heavy" later on. Please note that the company Reline on the cover an dcredits was owned by Rainbow Arts and they used the label in fear Nintendo would notice. For the same reason Armin never wanted to be in the credits of the game :(

Thomas Hertzler left Rainbow Arts after Giana Sisters and founded blue Byte, the company behind The Settlers, Battle Isle and more. The company was then bought by Ubisoft in 2001 which has released Settlers Online in 2010, the game I have been working on.

That's how small the world still is in the gaming industry.


The Story of Apprentice on Amiga

End of the 80's my ceo Marc Ullrich called me into his office and introduced me to an artist. Marc said this guy owed us money but has none, but he want to compensate us with graphics he did. So here I got a stack of 3.5" discs full of graphics and the order "Make a game out of it, but make it cheap".

I forgot the name of the artist but I assembled a small team of one programmer and one artist to edit them. As the graphics where modular in 16x16 tiles and some neat enemies I decided to go with a platformer as at that time we didn't have one.

The graphics also contained crates which I used as the main element: you should be able to push and pull them, stack them, basically redesign the whole level with them. This element I took from Spherical, another game I did in 1987.

So Axel Hellwig the programmer made it possible to change the levels via crates while Thorsten Rappe edited the graphics to make them usable in the level editor. The production went good, although I need to apologize to Axel now as I had like 15+ projects on my desk besides being designer and producer of Apprentice plus Axel had really bad teeth and bad breath at that time - making it difficult to talk to him for a long time. Now of course he has changed, is married and all, but hey, at that time none of us looked after himself.

As the production had to be cheap we looked for cover art and checked our standard artist Celal Kandemiroglu for it: he promptly did one for a low fee - but it was butt ugly. I think its the worst cover he ever did. Note that Celal made nearly all 8/16bit covers of Germany at that time and made quite some impression.

Here is the ugly Cover:

So ready we were, no QA time as we did that ourselves, remember we had to make it cheap ... and shipped. It was a good success, no hit, but solid. But ... it is one of those games where I still get fan mail today.
I have someone on FB who called himself "Mark Apprentice Schneider" (name changed). Fanpages do exist as well: http://www.amiga-apprentice.de/index.html

Here is a video with the great music of Chris Hülsbeck himself:

And its mentioned in many podcasts of the 80's as well and is on Mobygames of course. This is one of the games which still gets a lot of attention, I will write about the other ones soon.

I forgot the small print: 
I have no idea what Axel or Thorsten do these days, but Celal is back in Türkey still doing great graphics an dchris Hülsbeckenjoys the retro fame and still lives in Marin County, California.


Retro Trend

My last blog entry gave me more feedback than any other before. People enjoyed it and are asking for more, so I will write up some stories about Giana Sisters, MUDS, Apprentice, Citadel of the Black Sun, Jinks and my time in Advertainment.

See you soon.


Katakis, Turrican & Co

The recent retro trend dug out many stories of the 80's and 90's computer game development and some people mix up my role and involvement into it. Even official magazines writing about the history of those classic titles like Turrican & Katakis got it wrong on some points.

So let me make a short time travel into 1987, where I started as Development Director of a company called Rainbow Arts. I was hired because I brought cool games to the company. The first was a game from a friend of mine called Sarcophaser, where I also did the graphics & level design.

In order to understand the sequence of events I need to tell the story of that year and the one before. While I did the graphics & levels for Sarcophaser I also had a side project I programmed AND did the graphics: a R-Type clone. R-Type being my favorite arcade I wanted to replicate it on the Amiga. I showed my demo on a cracker meeting (we all id do this in the 80's) and another group was amazed and showed me their demo: while theirs looked worse it ran in 50 frames per second, while mine looked nicer but only worked in 25 fps (this is important for later on, read on).

So when I started my job I contacted that group immediately and wanted to buy their game to publish. That group agreed (I think the price was 25.000 DM, about 13.000 Euros). The name of the group was Lightcircle but they didn't want to use their cracker/demo scene name for a published product, so they called themselves Factor 5 - as there were 5 original members.

Remember the game was on Amiga only. Meanwhile a wonderboy single person game writing machine called Manfred Trenz did a shooter on Commodore C64 called Katakis which was totally overkill for that 8bit machine. Looking for marketing synergies we called Lightcircles Amiga game also Katakis although they didn't have anything in common but being a sidescrolling shooter.

That is how Katakis was born on C64 and Amiga. Then ....

The official R-Type license was bought by Activision (the old UK one, not the new one of today) and they saw our Katakis and got annoyed as their conversion really sucked (as most arcade conversions used slave pens who ported games under 3 months but with bad quality) - so they sued us. A deal was made: we port R-Type to C64 and Amiga in exchange that we can rerelase Katakis, which they pulled off the shelves. We agreed and under 3 months time we worked on our dream arcade license and ported it to C64 and Amiga. The Amiga version was done by Factor 5 and myself as producer. The one important call I made was to leave the game in 25fps but have the players ship in 50fps. This made sure we didn't waste time on technology for 50fps but did finish in time. We did it in 2.5 months.

Again, until that time Factor 5 still consisted of the original members. One of them even now works alongside me at Ubisoft Blue Byte, so we go waaaaay back together :)

Anyway, after the Activision / R-Type adventure and having 2 hit games under the belt we asked what to do next. It was obvious we wanted to go further and so we looked again back at the one man single development superman Manfred Trenz: he meanwhile developed another shooter, this time inspired by Metroid: a 8 way scroller shooting game on C64 called Turrican.

Factor5 should make the conversion to Amiga. The challenge was to develop a technology in 50fps which can support 8 way scrolling. The final idea to make this possible was between Holger Schmidt and me in a Pizza Hut in Köln, we drew the principle on the back of a Pizza Hut paper. Note that 8 way scrolling and many objects was close to impossible on the C64, but Manfred pulled it off.

About half into the project a problem surfaced: Rainbow Arts was so successful that we had too many projects going. I couldn't manage 17+ projects all by myself (I was the only manager in development) so I turned to our business partners in the USA and asked around how they do it. They had someone called "producer", an unknown concept in Germany until then. Yes this sounds funny, but remember these were different times, a development team consisted of less than 5 people compared to todays 50-500. So we started to look for producers and came to the conclusion that game magazine writers would be ideal as they knew many games, right?
So we went down to the most popular magazine Powerplay and hired all their three important writers: Boris Schneider, Heinrich Lenhardt and Martin Gaksch. All but one started working for me - Heinrich being the one who chickened out. Boris was assigned to all Lucas Film Games products and Martin did a game called Rock'n Roll, which still has great memories today (he was a big Rock'n Roll music fan).
So to find a replacement for Heinrich we got lucky as our Partner EA Lucasfilm Games (yes we distributed EA Lucasfilm Games at that time) was calling us to look at a young guy who annoyed them that he wants to work for them but they don't have room for him. So we looked at this guy and he was called Julian Eggebrecht - and we hired him.

As Julian was very in love with action games so we gave him the teams of Turrican, which was more than half finished at that time - that was less risky as he couldn't mess it up right? He did a great job (!) and started Turrican II right afterwards - and finally left us at some point together with the Team Factor 5 to found the company Factor 5 to develop console titles - and later on when success came moved their company to California. He basically stole my team! ;)

So, here it is. I was involved in Katakis, the R-Type conversions and Turrican Amiga, although some people claim I wasn't. You can verify this story with anyone working on these projects, even Manfred Trenz himself. And no, I didn't do much on the C64 versions as Manfred had zero social skills at that time and was a wonder machine with no need of interference.
And yes I was responsible shipping over 75 games in just 3 years time - different times they were.

Factor 5 in the 90's
Boris Schneider meanwhile is married with kids and works since years for his favorite company Microsoft.
Martin Gaksch released a console magazine named Maniac and has enough money now to own the largest classic Nintendo collection of Germany
Heinrich Lenhardt lives in the US and still writes for some German magazines and web pages.
Factor 5 went broke despite having huge success with some of their console games and was split: the German part still exists as a service company for game programming and is led by Achim Moller, the original programmer of R-Type Amiga and Katakis Amiga - and works also for Ubisoft Blue Byte on mobile games.
The US side of Factor 5 is gone and the refounded company with the original founders and Julian Eggebrecht now works on players of TV streaming for your console, so yes, if you watch TV on your console chances are high that the old Factor 5 programmers wrote that piece of software.
The founder of Rainbow Arts Marc Alexander Ullrich later founded Strato, the largest German domain seller and internet provider, which he sold for millions later on. He enjoys his riches now and enjoys his hobby as a photographer.


What you can expect next

I am preparing a new talk "Dissecting the World of Tanks Monetization" for Games Connection.

I also talk on GDC Next in Los Angeles about the mobile games market and what it means for "us games industry".

As free to play also moves to consoles now I might have some thoughts to share there as well. Stay tuned.


The f2p audience and you

If you design a f2p game the formula MAU*Conversion *ARPPU will define your designers live. Whats important is that MAU is also a function of your setting & genre.

In other words if you pick a niche setting your reach will suffer, so will your revenue. If your setting is niche then marketing will have a harder time finding users - which raises acquisition costs which lessens your revenue.

So it is important to know how large your audience can be depending on those two factors. Hardly any marketing research has been done, most picks for those are gut feelings of the developers. Is science fiction niche compared to general topics? Or Fantasy?

If you look back into history you will notice that Fantasy on a world wide level was niche until Lord of the Rings hit the Hollywood blockbuster list. Yes, it was apart from one territory, the USA.

Oh no, you will claim, I read Fantasy all my life! It can't be! Well it was as you aren't the large reach audience, you are the niche. If you are large enough then f2p will work easier for you.

That is the difference between Clash of Clans and its "predecessors" Edgeworld (SciFi). Or why Candy Crush has such a large audience. Or why Call of Duty works better than SciFi shooters.

That is also why IP's seems to make it easier as there is already a defined audience. Note I say "seem" as that IP can also be a bane to your growth if said IP isn't popular enough.

So in order to lessen the risk, increasing revenue and lowering costs of user acquisition you should make sure your setting is cool - worldwide.

And I haven't even touched genre yet ...


The gaming industry and you

I am kinda famous in Germany, but not because I shipped top 10 hits, simply because I do this job since a long time and shipped 100+ games, some of them I won't even tell - those are my skeletons in the closet .

So therefore I got a lot of "friends" on Facebook who either read or ignore whatever troll post I publish. I know who my close friends in the industry are, and I also know that many don't like me simply because I polarize a lot. This is basically part of my self promotion: instead objectively publishing analyses about theories I do talks which are a little bit more - lets say - demagogue.

Why? Simply because it gets people to think than to get bored about numbers and careful statements. That's all I want.

Recently I went into fights with 2 industry colleges on Facebook on 2 different occasions. On one case he simply attacked the f2p business model aggressively in a way which I don't even know from him.

The other case I simply posted that the writers of magazines & blogs should at some point return the favor when they find newsworthy things on my wall (which happens more than I thought it was). One of them attacked that post in a way which I never have seen him - emotionally, aggressively - even damaging to both of us.

On Gamescom I met them both. The journalist surprised me as we simply talked about other hobbies and we both realized that we are pretty much nerds alike. He was building tank models like I did - something which I never thought of him doing. This somehow gave us common ground and a better understanding of each other.

The other one was totally changed and we talked about one of his upcoming titles which gets excellent previews so far and he simply said "email me, I send you one". Maybe a peace gift, but I see it simply as "maybe we both went too far - lets get over with it".

All I want to say is "I am sorry" - next time we should simply clarify things one on one instead publicly fighting about the small things. There are more important things than to fight each other.

Thanks to you two, you know who you are.


My GDC Europe 2013 talk is online

GDC 2013 vault opened today and my talk "Getting past pay to win" is among the free content. Check it out here:

http://www.gdcvault.com/free/gdc-europe-13 for a list of all talks



for mine. Enjoy!

Gamescom is behind us

Gamescom is exciting for me as I meet all industry friends easily within one location. I rarely go to that show to check out new games as websites do a much better job giving me all information I need (check out HD Titanfall trailers, or Watchdogs, even better, awesome!)

But some players need to wait for hours to peek at a new game for 5 minutes. Wtf. People. Why does Gamescom use that system to filter people (I know age rating). There were 340.000 visitors this year. Awesome record!

But less than 5000 can be jiggled through your lanes waiting for the games presentation, assuming you can get 50 people per 30 minute presentation all day long.

That is a huge price you pay for your booth to get only a fraction of the audience. 1.7%. One point seven! It is time to rethink the game show concept I believe.

Source: http://www.gamezone.de


The Tigers of Asia

When I started in online games 1997 I realized this is going to be big. I had no idea how big, but I felt it as I was already hooked to online gaming.

When I experienced free to play the first time and learned it came from Asia I knew they were ahead of us. Luckily the Asian developers and publishers didn't know how to tackle our gamers at that time. There seemed to be a vast difference in play style and game style. I even made a talk about it on KGC, the Korean Game Developer Conference.

Some years later the Asian Tigers became giants, so large in fact that they own major shares in western gaming giants. The revenue they pull in just from their local market is so high that they can play money games in the west - exactly when we are shaken up by the console transition year.

I said years ago we should be prepared for the time when Asia understands our gaming market. Are we prepared? I doubt it. Maybe we should prepare for a time where most large and creative companies are owned by Asian online companies.


Largest player battle ever in Eve Online - I was there

So in case your games site hasn't told you yet: Yesterday on July 28th the largest player battle happened in Eve Online with over 4000 players participating.

Coverage of the Verge: http://www.theverge.com/2013/7/28/4565558/eve-online-biggest-space-battle-in-history

And the Mittani report: http://themittani.com/news/live-reports-battle-6vdt-cfc-victorious and an aftermath report of it of the same site: http://themittani.com/features/6vdt-cfc-battle-report.

We won. Our enemy, the TEST alliance, retreated to Delve, another area of the universe. Their retreat basically give us the region "Fountain" under control.

If you ask how it feels to be there let me explain: if you haven't done this kind of mass battle yet you will get frustrated, annoyed even. The reason is that the only way CCP can run such a battle is to slow down time. They call it TiDi which makes all actions slower than real time. In our case TiDi was so bad that all actions took 10x longer than normal. That doesn't sound much but imagine targeting a ship takes 3 minutes ... and shooting it up to 10 minutes. The whole game runs in slow motion in this one sector.

The advantage of such a TiDi is that the game doesn't lag or crash, it only slows down. If you are used to it and learn to cope with it its actually fun. I finished GoT season three while fighting in it. Yes that's how much time you have.

You might argue that this isn't fun but you need to know that Eve is not an action game, everything in Eve is slow so slowing it down even further to fight crash lags is no problem at all. Many players complain about it who never fought in these battles, but they work and you must work them because otherwise you can never defend against .... 3000 players invading your system you worked years for.

There will be a time when server architects know how to run 4000 players in one "arena". But so far there are still physical limits to overcome and Eve sets a record here.

Now that the news is spreading even the BBC covers it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23489293


Codes: Things some developers never learn

I am wondering why obvious best practices get ignored so often.

I am talking for example about serial numbers & codes. Whether it be windows serial numbers, Steam codes, Nintendo Club pins or codes from iTunes some of those are ignoring obvious solutions to common problems.

Lets take a look at a sample code:


Note that a lot of characters can't simply be identified. Is it a one, "L" or "i"? No one knows. The obvious solution? Do not use "L", "I" or 1's in your codes. Its as simple as that. Do not use "O" like in "Order" and zeros. (Feedback from readers: do not use S, Z, 5, and Q either). Even if your printer promises they can be distinguished at some print run its being ignored and your users can't.

And: ignore upper and lower case entries, treat input as identical. PLEASE.

Besides those obvious errors the entry of the codes in your input field can be optimized as well. Why in hell can't I copy/paste some serials with multiple code sections like above into an input field with 5 separate fields? Because it all pastes into the first field, ignoring the other 4. They don't carry over. Its not really hard to do.

Also: the last digits is a check sum. This check sum does NOT check the code server side for validation, it is to check client side if the USER did an error. Server side validation is always against a database so your codes can't be cloned.

It is not hard to do codes correct. So whenever you are involved in a project where codes are either for licensing, installation, or bonus codes please follow the simple rules above. It makes your live easier, less support tickets and less frustrated customers.

p.s.: A co worker pointed out rightly that the statements above might say that the serial number check sum client side is all you need. This is of course wrong, the check has to be made server side all the time. The check sum I meant is the user input check so at least the basic serial is correct and not gibberish. That can be client side. However exposing your check sum method in the client isn't wise either. Maybe we need two.


In Russia, Game Play YOU!

Remember even due to those limits here Russia presents the largest online game audience in Europe:

In Russia, Game Play YOU!


The App Store Problem

Developers complain that their game doesn't sell in the app store or doesn't have enough downloads and thus doesn't make enough revenue through their in app purchases.

There are problems getting visibility on the app store, its key to success. However the main problem I see isn't visibility - its boredom of the users looking at your app.

Let me give you one example: I am looking for good strategy games in my iPad and iPhone since months and can't find a lot. Most so called strategy games are Tower Defense games or variations of games already in the app store since years. There are exceptions like Autumn Dynasty or Ravenmark. But most other strategy titles can be put into 3 or 4 drawers or "me too" or clones of existing concepts. Boring.

The same is happening on many other genres. It seems that developers look whats selling and copy that concept - and then complain their game isn't selling. How lame is that. I can understand that licensed IP's for movies like Despicable Me simply copy a game concept (runners) and be good with it - but long term revenue is not happening on game types which exist in the app store since years.

Developer friends told me they are tired of the App Store. Its not as exiting as it used to be. But that's exactly whats happening. 90% of all games being published already exist.

That's exactly why indies have better success than commercial developers: they despise copying concepts.

So the first step for success on the iOS store is to make a big step away to all mass concepts like runners, tower defenses and match three games.


Game burnout

Its strange often. When you work in the games industry you play a lot of games. I mean a LOT. I think I played like 15.000 games in my life. Yes I mean different ones. The effect on this is that most games I play have similar mechanics or features than a game I played before.

This removes an important element of games: surprise & excitement. "This is cool" is missing often which makes me bored about most games. This isn't bad as I can spot the special things inside a game which are great very fast and easy. Generally it takes like 20 minutes and I can tell you how a game is constructed and how it will progress along. That's usually when I stop playing it.

Rarely a game* will bind me for hours, the most recent one was Dishonored. (*I mean single player games, MMO's are different). I started playing Tomb Raider and while it is an excellent game I was bored within minutes. I knew too many things they were doing including their quick time moments (did I tell you I hate the qt moment thingy which seem to be popular?. Don't get me wrong, Tomb Raider is an excellent game, but not for someone who played as much as I did.

So I am on a mission to find that one game which keeps me occupied for hours. Have suggestions? Let me know.

The whole thing is made worse with the fact that I love online games. As soon as I play a single player game I am missing people. Humans - which I can talk to, play with or against. This is so powerful that most single player games have a hard time to compete. I went as far as saying "Single player games will be niche in 5-10 years" in a talk back 2006 I think. Was I right? We'll see.

Btw people suggested Animal Crossing 3DS which I can really recommend to ANY age, in fact most people who I know love that game are beyond 30. So don't get fooled. Play that little gem! My 3DS was stolen by my daughter so I can't play right now :(


The Inner World

So my students (no, rather ex students) of the Film Academy Ludwigsburg achieve a #1 spot on Amazon Germany with their first adventure game "The Inner World".

The project started in a creative camp where the students had to design a universe. One team came up with an unusual setting where creatures lived inside our own existing world, kind of upside down world inside earth depending entirely on light.

The world then was used in my board game design workshop to create a very nice game which was rated pretty good. The students then used the world & board game foundation to create an adventure game concept, which they also used for their diploma.

So that one student came to his diploma review with the papers of his newly founded company Fizzbin, took his diploma and went off creating the adventure "The Inner World" mentioned above.

The game will be released shortly and it seems they get great coverage. Even the most famous youtuber Gronkh will feature it today.

I wish them all the best and many follow up titles!

German quote of the team after this blogpost went online: "WIr wurden ge-gronkhed und geteutet. GOIL."


Randomness in games part II

Guess what: random numbers on computers aren't random. They are generated by algorithms and math tells us that formulas are not random. Proper random number generators also take CPU time - which is negligible unless you need thousands of random numbers per second - as it is in most online games (with combat drawing most random numbers).

The problem with programming is that lazy ones simply use the supplied rand() function supplied by their compiler. But compiler writers rarely spend a lot of time creating great random number generators.

What does random mean anyway. From our viewpoint it means that I get various results for a given action. I read feedback by the game and see some randomness to create variances in the game.

Imagine I would lose due to random numbers 3 times in a row. "That sucks" is the first reaction. But can it be? Sure it can, a random number generator theoretically could create numbers which lets you lose 10 times in a row. Not great, and bad for the game - so we try to prevent it.

Yes, I will now explain how we can make sure this doesn't happen, basically making random less random.
We need to make sure that there is no win or loss streak in the numbers, so we need to distribute them evenly. We also need to make sure that its random, not sorted.

We simply take a table (let's say 10.000 entries) and we fill the table with numbers from 0-99, sequentially until the table is full. Now we start to randomly exchange numbers until the table is totally jumbled and "random". Still streaks can appear so we analyze the table for those and remove them, we make sure there is a rough even distribution of random numbers for every sample we take.

Sounds confusing? Check these links out for some table references:


So these tables guarantee that I get true random numbers but no winning streaks or losing streaks - AND they are much faster for the game as I simply take one number after the other.
AND they can be persistent as I simply save the index (the current random number I took) for each player - so the player doesn't see a repetitive behavior in the game.
So now you know how World of Warcraft generates their randomness. As I knew how they work I could even play with their randomness and increase the likelihood of epic drops. See my 7 year old blog entry which explains this:

Important: Never use these tables for gambling sites like Poker, otherwise some bright MIT students will forecast your 'random' numbers and loot your savings! (it really happened to Poker sites years ago).

So now you know how to generate the numbers - but how do we use randomness? If a game is truly random its actually very boring as random feedback doesn't create a good game.

But this is part of on of my next blog entries - coming soon.


n00b iPhone app mistakes

#1: ignore the sound switch the user set. Blare loud in the office when I start your app although I switched it mute (talking to you Skype!)

#2: save games. That's so last century. Auto save. Also cloud save so I can reuse it with re-installs or across devices. Thank you.

#3 super long intros. You know that most players don't even remember your company name and really don't care about the licenses you used. Stop doing this shit.

#4: make intros not cancellable. Yes. Let the user look through a 1 minute intro before he can play. Most users uninstalled your game faster than your intro finishes.

#5: full animated cinematic and voiced over sequences. Make your game a 1.8 GB download. Thank you. Enough said? Its a mobile device.

#6: make a mandatory registration. Yes, let me register before I can play and your registration either doesn't work or doesn't like m password or even needs a confirmation email click. Sorry. Uninstall is so much quicker and even user friendly!

#7: before I even finish your tutorial you ask me to rate your game. You know. I don't. Let me take a look at your game first. Thank you.

#8: Don't use incremental updates. Let me patch a 1.2 GB update. Thanks. Took an hour.

#9: Don't give me those updates "bug fixes". Give me a list of bug fixes. I know you just want to reset your ratings, ad placement or trackers.

#10 (Feedback from Tino): When I turn off Notifications I mean OFF. Not "maybe I can notify you again - without asking?"

Having more oddities and don#t likes of games on iOS? Let me know!