Thursday, February 23, 2012

On the Road (Again)

Hello Players,

If you follow Sara and myself on Twitter you already know that we went to Hamburg, Germany, for the Casual Connect conference two weeks ago. Sara's usually on the away team because she's well traveled, cheerful, good around people and effective at taking notes. In case I never mentioned it I know this because I used to be her teacher back at University. But that was way back when, before Junebud and in another life.

Anyway. Whenever we go off to a games meet we bring a camera along. First stop once we get back is usually a blog post. These past two weeks have been busy at the office (sorry, can't say more than that) but I finally found an opening with enough time to write something cohesive.

Train through Denmark. Sara is a compulsive reader and a news hound.

We took the train from Sweden. Last year we flew down, but this time we figured we'd try something different. I'm usually cautious about trains. I spent 5 hours every day on trains commuting to my previous job. But when push comes to shove it's very relaxing to go by train, and way easier to get work done. I broke out my laptop and worked on a company presentation for new employees. Junebud has been growing lately and it's a challenge to keep everybody up to speed.

On the ferry from Denmark to Germany. I always hit the sun deck when I'm on a ferry.

Once we'd made it through Denmark they loaded the whole train set onto the ferry for Puttgarden. Being on these ferries is nostalgic to me. When I was a kid in the south of Sweden there was no bridge between Sweden and Denmark and we rode the ferry a lot. Sara is from the Åland islands, between Finland and Sweden, so she's seen her fair share of ferries, too.

Finally in Hamburg!

We made it to Hamburg in the late afternoon and because this was our second time (we went to Casual Connect 2011) we decided to use our vast experience and walk to the hotel. This was a little less enjoyable once we found that Germany was just as cold as Sweden! Last year it was warm and spring-like and pretty much a vacation away from the blizzard at home.

View from the 26th floor. That's the highest up I've ever had a room.

Luckily we had booked rooms at a hotel right next to the conference center. Last year we had a 40 minute walk to the convention every morning. It turned out the rooms were at the top of one of the tallest buildings in Hamburg.

Conventions are a lot of work. Besides all the traveling you end up on a tight schedule. There are lectures all day long and social events every evening where there's important networking to be had. Casual Connect is really the best opportunity for Junebud because the other companies here make online games and Free games, too. Now that I think about it, I've never even worked on a single player game. I like people when I play.

After check-in and dinner it was time to get to work.
Meet & greet at Park Café with other game industry peeps.

Former Crew member Irene was in Hamburg, and so was Magnus and Malte from Triolith.
You can follow all these guys on Twitter

Convention time. The Hamburg Convention Center is bright and airy.

Step one: find the lecture halls and plan out what lectures to attend. CEO and founder explaining his views on entrepreneurship.

It was cool to see lectures from classical board game designers.
I started my own career making miniatures war games.

There were a lot of interesting lectures going on. Luckily there were only two lecture halls this year, cut down from three the year before. That meant that between the two of us we could cover all the ground when we needed to. We usually send a two-man team for information gathering conventions. On conventions where Junebud has a booth and we present our work we bring a least three people. That way there's always someone to man the booth while people eat, network or need breaks.

Lunch. Sausage. Germany.

Team Junebud doing the learning thing.

One evening we found this awesome sushi restaurant based around a conveyor belt.

Conveyor sushi – soon in a city near you.

A trend I've noticed lately is that companies like to throw networking parties in adult environments. When I went to industry parties at the turn of the millennium it was usually in something like an old railway station or a night club. These last years companies enjoy using edgier locations like this convention's Gree party in the infamous Reeperbahn district of Hamburg, or the party Big Point party at GDCO 2011 in Austin at the Playboy Mansion. It's less interesting than it sounds. The club owners have always packed away the more daring entertainment you're left with a bunch of game developers walking around with glasses in their hands. Or sitting in the corners with their smart phones, messaging all their friends and followers. Sometimes it's hard to meet new people like this as many become nervous in these environments.

That evening's social event was at Club Halo, in the shadier
part of town.

These chairs were totally metal. Go, German metal music!
(Wait, don't we have these chairs in MilMo... now I'm confused.)

One of my long time heroes, Dr. Richard Bartle, on stage.

Dr. Bartles' been a huge influence in my
theoretical understanding of MMORPGS. Read his work.

All in all it was a nice experience this year. We got to spend a lot of time with Magnus and Malte from Swedish Triolith Entertainment. They make mobile games and are hard working people. Magnus is also a former game design student of mine, but I don't take any credit. I love it when people act on their dreams and start their own companies.

We also got to meet our former co-worker Irene a lot, which was great fun. She's still sharp as a tack and cheerful at every turn and we had a great time talking about the good old days.

On the last day Irene and Sara were busy taking notes. What's the Triolith gang up to? 

After every lecture you get a chance to chat with the speaker.
Sara's swapping business cards with the Google guy.
Ferry back to Denmark. The quest for Tweet worthy pictures continues.

Almost home. Home is good.

Towards the end of the trip we were both well tired. Four days of around the clock activity is a huge creativity boost but it leaves you physically drained. Sara had a cold that kept growing worse with every day. This is becoming a small tradition in it's own right because the same thing happened last year. The next step from here is to compile the notes and run a presentation for the rest of the Junebud Crew. But that's a story for another day.

Take care,


Friday, February 3, 2012

The History of MilMo: 2008

Hello MilMonauts,

Not so long ago we celebrated the happy fact that MilMo BR had been online for one year! Now it's time for a blog series about the history of MilMo, both BR and EN. We're going to look back and see what's happened since the early start in 2008 when MilMo took it's first baby steps towards the beautiful, fun, social MMO it has become today. We have come a long way since the very first beta versions of the game!

Pre-Beta: 2008
First things first. Junebud was formed back in the summer of 2008 when some of the veterans from the traditional PC game industry decided they had grown tired of making war games. The web 3D games were an emerging market and the Unity game engine had just arrived to the scene. The free to play busies model seemed to be working nicely on the Asian market. Junebud wanted to create something truly unique and fresh, so we combined the power of streaming with our very own art direction and the free to play model. This mix was named Million Morning, and eventually got the name "MilMo".

Basic movement tests of the avatars. Do you recognize Lightmill Island?

A lot ideas for current islands were born back then. Some of you might recognize Lightmill Island from these old pictures. The MilMo art direction is a bit rough, but it's there. The hardest part was to make all the basic things work, like the laws of physics, movement and collision. When making a video game you need to construct all these things that naturally exists in the real world.

A early boy avatar. These are some of the first pictures ever taken inside MilMo.

As you can see the sky is still pretty realistic and the landscape is just basic blocks and shapes, but the feeling is there. We knew pretty early this game was going to be about exploring. We wanted to create a mix between Zelda, Super Mario and Maple Story.There should be puzzles, questing, a social aspect, enemies to fight and secrets to unveil.

A screen shot from an early promotional video.

A lot of concept art was created during this time to determine the right look and feel of the game. Concept art is great, it unites the team's perception of how the game should look and feel. It serves as a guide line for the level artists.

Character concepts for avatars.
We experimented with more realistic looking avatars, but soon settled for the cartoony ones. We aimed for a style of old western comics, nor manga or anime. Many members of the Junebud Crew enjoy drawing and reading comics such as X-Men, Spider Man and the old Super Man, which is shown in the crisp art direction. 

During 2008 the Junebud Crew slowly grew and recruited new members, a mix of old game developer veterans and handpicked new talent from the game development program at the University of Skövde in Sweden. We made all the necessary preparations for moving in to our very first office. In the early beginning all meetings were held on phone and by web cam, since the crew members were spread across the country. That required a lot of discipline and good communication. Today we have an open work space at Junebud, which promotes the communication and reduces the necessary paper work.

Next part of the "History of MilMo" will be focusing on 2009, which was the year things really started to fall in to place and we released the closed beta after 1,5 years of hard work.

See you next time,

Sara and Ivan