KUMOON has been a constant companion on the ShiVa news feed for the last few months, our ShiVa user forum, and a driving power behind the development of the Polyglot, SteamWorks and SteamVR plugins for ShiVa. After KUMOON’s successful release on STEAM earlier this year, it seemed only fitting that we sat down with designer and programmer Tuomas Karmakallio to ask him about his latest game creation.
Hello Tuomas, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Since not everyone might have followed you closely, can you please tell us a little about yourself and introduce everyone to your latest ShiVa project KUMOON?
Hi, I’m Tuomas Karmakallio from Lucky You Studio, which is actually the name of my friend Ricardo Haratani’s tattoo parlor. We’re good friends, having started off in the same school, then the same startup, and we founded a co-op together over the years. We worked together on Kumoon for over a year. I had mostly done mobile games up to this point, and I wanted to get a PC title together. The whole affair was very Indie with a shoestring budget, I was burning my savings from my previous job at Mountain Sheep working on Minigore 2, and my friend was doing tattoos most of the time to keep paying the bills.
The core KUMOON team was just us 2 guys, primarily a graphics guy and a coder. We had to wear all the other hats too of course, marketing, project management, design and so forth. In addition, we got 2 young gamedev students (Mikko Kuitunen and Kalle Olli) to do 4 months of work experience, who were worth their weight in gold. They came in at the point where the core game was basically fleshed out, and they finished up the level design and 3d modelling with us. Coincidentally, they were from the same gamedev school Ricardo and I had went to 10 years before, the first school of its kind in Finland at the time.
KUMOON is based on a simple idea: shoot balls to hit cubes and rack up points with trick shot combos. The game encourages players to use a little bit of math skills to figure out how well they need to do to clear harder levels. The original 2005 game, which our version of KUMOON is based on, had different guns to play with, but we wanted to minimize that aspect, since the game is essentially nonviolent.
I can still remember your first ShiVa forum posts where you showed off the core game mechanics and asked questions about our physics engine. This was over 2 years ago! Please share some of the experiences you had with ShiVa during your development time!
We chose ShiVa at the time for a number of reason including its stable price, we were also keen on trying out an underdog toolkit in favor of other big established engines. It took us a few months to get into the flow of things, but I was impressed enough that we decided to forge ahead with ShiVa.
What really made the whole development process quite enjoyable was the fact that ShiVa has a small, but dedicated and tight group of core users who are not shy to help and share knowledge and code. That was a massive plus, and the engine support was also invaluable, as there were a few new features that were needed to progress on the VR front. For instance, we developed a system that took the 2D GUI created in the editor and converted those into 3D GUIs for VR. Props to Juaxix, Vlad, Shaderman, Fraser, and all the rest of the international crew!
Some of the things we really got right in my mind include the minimalist style and level design. All the levels are actually created from XML files, and all the level geometry is created at runtime from that room data. This kept our 3d modelling budget tight, allowing the modeller to focus on getting the robot player character right, while letting the level designer take total control over the scene building process. Both did a great job with the limited tools given.
Another thing done well was the translation. I joined a crowdsourced localization project called PolyglotGamedev, which I used to support almost all Steam languages.
Your title is one of the first ShiVa games to integrate VR systems from Oculus and Valve. While some developers consider VR the next big leap in immersive technologies, others shy away from the high system and development costs as well as unsolved problems like full body awareness or motion sickness. Please give us a status report from the front lines of the VR revolution!
I am fascinated with VR since the 90s. As we were thinking about porting our 2005 KUMOON game to mobiles in 2015, the Oculus DK1/DK2 hype started kicking in, and we decided to switch over to VR. The game scope was tight, and aiming the KUMOON balls with the head mounted display seemed like a good match for VR. We developed the whole game on a DK2, which took about half a year longer than we initially planned, no thanks to the constantly changing SDK. Then we went with SteamVR to support both Vive and Rift. Both Consumer Versions are great toys, no doubt about that, and it’s a fun ride to do VR despite all the risks and problems involved.
To be honest, we dropped the ball on getting KUMOON to be an Oculus launch title. But the plugin was causing us pain, as the SDK had just changed dramatically again at the same time that the SteamVR plugin started taking shape. So since we were already on Steam for the non-VR version, we decided to shelve the battle for the native Oculus plugin and focus on getting the SteamVR support together. Seeing what a mess both launches have been, to be honest, it did not really make a huge difference.
We were pretty much finished with KUMOON by the time Vive devkits started getting more and more accessible. For our VR gameplay design, we went with the early boat called ‘artificial movement’, which sadly causes distress and motion sickness in a lot of people, and brought in a fair share of bad reviews from VR players. I believe there is still room for a lot of different kinds of locomotion in VR, and I know for a fact there are people out there who are happily zooming around freely in VR. It’s an exciting time with new ways to move, and new ways to merge different movement mechanics.
We have played around with ideas of adding tracked controller support to KUMOON, and have come to some conclusion of how it might be doable. But the fact is, our game has a lot of platforming, which does not go well with the now established VR teleportation mechanic, and moving around with the trackpads on the controllers is really hairy. People have also asked why they can’t pick up and throw balls, but it is not really the essence of this game.
It was really good for me to be working with ShiVa on VR in the sense that it forced me open the hood and really get hands on with VR technology. I feel I have a much better understanding now of what is really going on, more so than if the plugin was just given to me by the HMD maker. I had Shaderman’s DK1 and SteamWorks plugins to start, later we worked together with the community and the ShiVa team to bring both the SteamWorks and SteamVR plugins to the Shiva store.
KUMOON joins our last Case Study game “TYLER” and other high profile titles like “Babel Rising 3D” on STEAM. What has your personal experience with the Valve service been like so far?
We warmed up the KUMOON demo at GameJolt, then tried Desura and Itch while we were in the middle of development to gauge the smaller platforms a bit. But clearly Steam was the place to be, despite the fact that it’s getting mighty crowded there as well. Passing Greenlight was pretty easy with solid groundwork, and after establishing that the game is a working solid VR title, therefore getting it on all the lists of VR games early, let us ease off the marketing a bit. Which brings me to the next point: What didn’t go all that well was press and marketing. Granted the game does not look as media-sexy as the AAA competition. But we did hope for a little more recognition. Steam is getting so many new games a day that poking your head out of the crowd is challenging. VR was a strong point for us still, and it continues to attract a steady stream of customers.
Steamworks can be a pretty solid piece of work though. There’s some navigation issues with the web interface, and a little wall to climb to learn the build process, but after that it’s pretty much there.
We priced KUMOON at $5 for the basic game and an additional $5 for the VR expansion DLC. I got some criticism for that in the beginning, with other VR devs calling me out for my freedom of movement in VR. But I regret nothing 🙂 Having the DLC separate allows us to gauge what our userbase for VR really is. Currently we have a ratio of about 1:6 VR to normal users. Even though the game has not been a massive financial success, we did get our foot into the door of the big companies like Oculus and Valve, and I am tightly involved with a VR development hub in Finland called FIVR.
So Steam is definitely going to be a platform we want to distribute on in the future. We are pursuing funding for the next game on the wake of having been able to create and publish a game on our own.
We know you are also porting your game to the Nvidia Shield Android TV console. This suggests your game might also work on other Android-based platforms like cellphones, yet your title is nowhere to be found on Google Play. Has this been a conscious decision on your part, or just a result of hardware limitations?
We soft-launched on Android in a couple of countries, but the game got basically zero organic traction. It runs pretty well on Shield devices, but admittedly the physics engine is a bit on the heavy side, so it needs a fairly powerful phone to run nicely. Mobile is just such a huge mess right now anyway, and the SHIELD devices weren’t really a runaway success either. So a game like KUMOON, which was essentially designed for gamepads, just doesn’t fit the mobile scene all that well. Porting to Android in itself was easy, it runs great, and adding the gamepad plugin was a breeze as well. A mobile VR version is also technically possible, but time is the master and deciding which battles to fight in gamedev is a huge challenge.
Thank you for your time, and good luck with the sales of KUMOON! Please, remind us again where we can get it and how much it costs!
Kumoon is available on STEAM (app/386290) for PC only. It currently costs you $4.99 for the base game, or $8.99 as a VR bundle with the VR DLC. We are currently beginning pre-production for our next game, which be announced later this year. Stay tuned for our announcement and thank you for playing KUMOON!
Fleminginkatu 12 A LH 35