Case Study: Save Charlie – ShiVa Engine

Case Study: Save Charlie

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (May 3rd), Cazap invites you to discover an intense action game in which you protect the journalist Charlie from the ink monsters. Let’s talk with Jean-Brice Cazenove and ShiVa-veteran Julien Pierron about games and politics, JP plugins in game development, and free-to-play charity games.

Hello Jean-Brice [JB] and Julien [JP]! Thank you for talking with us about your latest title Save Charlie: A game for freedom of the press. Since not everyone might have played it yet, can you please summarize what Save Charlie is all about?

[JB] Save Charlie is a little action game, based on defensive gameplay. You are in the shoes of a cartoonist working on sketches, but ink has spilled on the drawings. Now the drops come to life as little monsters who attack our hero “Charlie”! Charlie is a symbol of journalism, so he is the one you must defend. As a cartoonist, you have 3 tools to interact: an ink eraser to pop the ink bubbles, a rolled newspaper to smash the monsters, and you can shake the drawing board to wipe the table clean when the enemies come in droves. Everything is happening really quickly, and with the fast pace comes the challenge.

savecharlie1

This is a game about freedom of the press, so your objective is to defend a virtual journalist. But above that, Cazap has pledged to give 50% of the game profits to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an NGO defending real journalists around the world. In that way, the player actions in the game can find an echo in the real world.

We all vividly remember the terrible attacks on Charlie Hebdo earlier this year. You are quite adamant on your website that you did not make Save Charlie out of opportunism. If I understand correctly, your game supports a charity? How exactly does that work?

[JB] I believe that the “Charlie Hebdo” effect has passed. We used the name “Charlie” in the game mainly because he is now a symbol that is easily understood. “Charlie Hebdo” has received lots of support already, so this game is not intended to raise money for the newspaper, but instead for all the other journalists in danger. Most of them are not famous, just bloggers or freelancers. They are locals close to the news, under enormous pressure, facing threats for their work. Unfortunately, you only hear about them when it is too late, such as the 3 bloggers killed in Bangladesh in the past 3 months. Those are the kind of people who the CPJ tries to help, by giving them media exposure to influence the authorities and politics.
The game is free to download and play, but you can support the initiative by installing the games from the ads or by purchasing in-game content (Continue Chips, Ad removal). 50% of the game benefits go to the CPJ and the remaining profits will help Cazap make more games for a cause. We are a small studio, so unfortunately we cannot give 100% of our work from the past months away for charity as a big studio with many other profit-oriented side projects could. If our benefits of Save Charlie are above the budget of a second game, we will give all surplus to the CPJ or another NGO supporting press freedom. We will be very happy to make this announcement if that day comes.
I cannot see opportunism in creating anything that highlights a worthwhile NGO initiative and raises funds for a charity. Very few projects of that kind exist in the video game industry. Imagine what a small percent of the benefits from Angry Birds could accomplish!

savecharlie3Video games and television are often portrayed as enemies of traditional entertainment such as books and magazines whose freedom you are fighting for. Do you still think you can reach your target audience through a touchscreen app?

[JB] The media landscape is evolving every day. Studies do show that the time spent on games is usually taken away from television. However, I do not think that the same applies to newspaper and books. In the past years, newspapers have very successfully taken their place in the mobile environment.
So yes, many magazine readers have tablets! But they are not our only audience.

The freedom of the press and speech in general are pillars of a free society. Writing down your opinion, expressing your feelings, making fun of someone or something without the fear of interference or punishment is worth fighting for, but also paints a big target on your back. Attacks on journalists and writers are not rare, and dozens die doing their job every year. As game makers who have picked up the gauntlet to fight for freedom, do you feel the pressure on yourselves?

[JB] After the Charlie Hebdo attack, many people showed their support and expressed their fearlessness by re-publishing images from Charlie Hebdo or by attending the march in Paris on January 11th.

I believe video game makers are not very exposed: The most famous of them are still unknown to the general public, unlike movie directors or book authors. With this game, we are standing up for the protection of journalists – people working in the NGO that support journalists are not subject to those threats, so we should not be either.

But enough with the politics for now. Our readers also want to know from Julien how the game was made. You are a true ShiVa veteran, coding a long list of titles including Babel Rising the ShiVa TechDemo which is still in use today. How long did it take you to make the game, and what challenges did you face?

[JP] The game development took roughly 2 ½ months plus 1 more month for the game to be approved by Apple, as it has been was rejected 2 times for legal reasons.

[JB] When you develop a game related to a charity, Apple is very sensitive and will do additional reviews. As a matter of fact, charities are not allowed to sell paid apps or use the Apple payment system for in-app purchase. In our case, it was possible only because the game is published by Cazap, and Cazap is making the donation. I hope Apple will change their guidelines some day to allow charities to collect funds from the Appstore. In fact, you can sign a petition on change.org regarding this very issue.

[JP] So it took 2 months of mostly free time (since I have another job as web and iOS developer in the medical field) which is probably equivalent to a single full time month. This was possible thanks to the use of many of the plugins and STK packs I have developed during the past years. As most of you probably know, they are available on http://www.shiva3dstore.com.
I like creating games, not only working on plugins/packs, because I enjoy my products the most when I can use them in real-world situations, see if everything is still OK (or buggy :p), add new features or create new products for needs I have not thought of before.

savecharlie5I understand that you use a lot of your STK packages from the ShiVa Store in the game?

[JP] So as I said, the game uses a lot of plugins. All of them address specific needs. The list is quite long, sorry about that. But it took only one full time month to develop the game thanks to all of these products, it would have taken maybe 4 months without.

JPSprite was a core component of course, as the game is based on animated sprites. Our designer gave me all the sprites and I packed them in several atlases with TexturePacker, which has an export profile dedicated to JPSprite. TexturePacker does not handle animations, but JPSprite does. If the file name ends in an index, JPSprite will detect the animation automatically.
JPAnimation and JPTweener were used for the sheet animation and for the icon animation when a power is loaded. JPButton notifies us when a button state changes, so we can switch the button sprite (pressed or released).
JPEvent pauses, delays or cancels posted events. When a player loses for instance, all posted events are paused and the game asks whether the user wants to continue. In case he decides to continue, all the events are resumed and delayed by 2 seconds to let the user get back into the game. If he chooses to leave the game, all the events are cancelled.
JPExtendedAPI simplifies the search for xml elements with specific attributes, places HUD components in screen space that are not in the full screen container, and scales texts dynamically according to the length of the text and the label size. JPNotification notifies specific AIModels when external processes (like “onStoreReady”) are completed.
JPGesture detects taps, swipes and shakes for triggering the powers. JPSound plays sounds using the name instead of the index. JPPicker managed the introduction slides because it provides a very nice rebound animation and scroll-to-item effect.

Store and Social Media integration was achieved using these plugins:
– jpChartboost (iOS/Android) to display interstitial ads in the game
– jpGameCenter (iOS) to share scores on the Apple Game Center and see the leaderboard
– jpRateMe (iOS/Android), that reminds the user to rate the game 5 stars on the application store
– jpStoreKit (iOS) for in-app purchases on iOS
– jpPlayStore (Android) for in-app purchases on the Google Play Store
– jpAmazon (Android) for in-app purchases on the Amazon Store
– jpShortcut (Android) for creating a shortcut icon on the Android home screen
– jpWebView (iOS/Android) to be able to display an in-app web browser
– jpDeviceInfo (iOS/Android) to detect the screen size of the device and scale the UI accordingly.
– jpVirtualKeyboard (Android) displays the native Android keyboard when a HUD EditText is focussed
– jpSocial (iOS) to share on Facebook and Twitter by using the accounts stored in the iOS settings

And finally, where can we get Save Charlie, how much does it cost, and are you planning on porting the game to other platforms than mobiles?

[JB] As I said earlier, the game is free! For anybody reading these lines, a quick download will already help raising awareness for the CPJ and show you care for this cause. Your download will be much appreciated, even if you do not make any purchase in the game! Thanks to the portability of Shiva, the game is already available on the Apple iOS Appstore, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore:

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/save-charlie
Google Play: https://play.google.com/savecharlie
Amazon: http://www.amazon.fr/Save-Charlie

Thank you very much for the interview! We wish you all the best for Save Charlie as well as your future endeavours!
Thanks to you and the team behind the Shiva Engine. We use the engine for a while now, and it always proves to be efficient!


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CAZAP is a video game studio founded in 2007. The company focuses on the production and publishing of independent games on all digital platforms. Notable previous games include Kung Fu Rabbit, Little Amazon or Abalone. CAZAP also creates high quality applications for professionals.
Visit CAZAP online: http://www.cazap.fr | Game Website: http://www.save-charlie.com


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