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CEO: Bo Bennekov, 0045 26830483, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lead Designer: Jesper Halfter, email@example.com
Sound Designer: Frederik Keglberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing: Rasmus Stouby, 0045 60690686, email@example.com
All bets are on!
In an old bottle cap factory on the outskirts of Copenhagen an indie VR-game studio was fighting for it's life. Narrowly, disaster was averted, but now, the studio is on the verge of casting the final die on it's biggest bet yet.
Initially they succeeded, but after two good selling video games the small studio almost snapped its neck on the third. However, a dramatic turnaround saved and eventually expanded the company, which is now standing in front of its biggest release ever - this January. “Glyph” a platformer for Nintendo Switch.
Story of growth
The story begins in Copenhagen.
In a miniscule inner city apartment the Bolverk Games (bulwark in english) founders had been working on their first video game, "Kittypocalypse", a tower defense strategy game. Half way through they secured outside funding and quickly hired three programmers, and went full time rather than "full free time". They also left the small apartment and moved into a slightly bigger, but actual, office.
What singles out "Kittypocalypse" is of course the VR-goggles. The founding idea of Bolverk Games was to make computer games for the VR-revolution that was bound to sweep the planet with the emergence of the Oculus Rift (Facebook) and massive companies like Sony, HTC/Valve, and Google developing affordable VR-systems of their own.
Bo had come from a career in various IT-departments in the airline industry. Lasse is a gifted programmer, at the time working as a consultant on complex IT systems, while Jens had proven his algorithmical proficiency creating high performance algorithms for seating airplanes.
"Dick Wilde", the studios second game, was enough of a success that the trio moved again - into nice and spacious offices in a totally refurbished former bottle cap factory on the edge of the city.
Millions and millions of bottle caps have been stamped out in these buildings since the early 1930'ies providing lids for the gigantic brewery Carlsberg that used to be situated just down the road. The brewery eventually moved to bigger and more modern surroundings and so did the bottle cap company.
Now, in the classic factory buildings with large windows, red brick walls and heavy steel girders spanning the ceilings, world famous architects ``BIG", a science news website and of course the Bolverk Games programmers making their keyboards chirp, are taking up the space.
It was happy times: The studio was doing well, with nice offices and hiring more people. Sales were decent and Bolverk Games started looking forward to the next VR-game.
A bad decision!
"Dreadmire", was to be a whole new thing, never seen before: A turn based dungeon crawler for VR. Think Xcom meets Diablo.
It was difficult to find an investor for this project so, instead of letting it go, Bo, Lasse and Jens decided to put the company's surplus into the game.
The game grew in proportion and so did the expenses. While the newly hired programmers were drawing salaries and the spacious office became a liability, Bo frantically tried to find external funding for the game. Having liquidity to go just two more weeks the trio decided to drop the game.
One year of hard work in the garbage, and the barometer was rising - pressure was going up. 10 programmers and staff were looking to lose their livelihoods, Bolverk Games was on the brink of being swept away by a flood too big for the bulwark to hold.
In a life threatening situation, what do you do? You turn to what you know works! A second iteration of the "Dick Wilde" success was commissioned: Luckily, the original publisher was looking for something to do and had loved the first game. Liquidity was secured and Bolverk Games had bought themselves some time.
Then, instead of betting everything on "Dick Wilde 2", the trio expanded the business to include airline personnel training software, training simulations for the pharmaceutical industry and a slew of other "one-off" projects in an effort to spread their eggs into more baskets.
It worked. Peace was restored.
The people at Bolverk Games proceeded to do what they love best: Looking forward to a new game.
In practical terms what they did was to have an internal "game jam". A presentation of video game ideas with short versions of the game programmed to be playable. Everyone plays the games, discusses the aspects of the games and decides on the best ones to proceed with. The winner was a game called "Arm", a factory building game.
This story is a good example of the Bolverk Games management philosophy, heavily based on merits rather than top down decisions: Show what you've got, debate it, convince us and that's what we will go with.
It's a good example because "Arm" never saw the light of day. The team did go full steam on the "Arm"-project, but some of the programmers would sometimes take the time to build a new level in the 3D platformer "Glyph" that had been a runner-up in the game jam.
Management, Bo, Lasse and Jens, would say things like "you are supposed to work on "Arm"!", but then not be able to resist trying this new level. Programmers and management would speedrun the Glyph-levels and compete on the results.
In this way, "Glyph" kept sticking its head up and finally, the decision was made that "Glyph" should be the primary game, not "Arm".
Too early for free games
"Glyph", was to be the first polished, fully professional 3D platformer for virtual reality. Testing out a new pricing strategy, the VR-game was given away for free on Steam (still there, still free), with a price tag on only the DLCs.
Sales were terrible. Virtually non-existent.
But the game is fantastic! Bolverk Games found themselves in the awkward position of having an excellent game, but no audience.
The VR-revolution had turned out to be more of a slow but steady climb. It means that Bolverk Games perhaps appeared a bit too early on the VR playing field with the free game+paid DLC concept.
Time to pivot one more time.
Bolverk Games had a great product, Glyph, a polished and attractive 3D VR platformer, but not enough of an audience to make it a financial success. So, discussions began to take place around the office if the team should try to port the game to another platform: The Nintendo Switch.
After all there's a lot of good match-ups between Glyph and Switch: The aesthetics of the game; simple and graphically tight, the "zen" exploration elements of the game, similar to those found in games like Mario and Zelda and of course the simple fact that Nintendo have a proud history of successful platform games.
Opinions were divided though. The skeptics were worried the 3D feeling from VR would not translate well to a console. Controlling the in-game camera with a thumb rather than with a simple turn of the head, would make movement too complicated for a game with advanced character controls.
Management let the arguments play out and one day a programmer who had resigned from the discussion a few days earlier came back with two playable levels and put it on an office PC.
It was fun.
That tipped the balance and work began to port the game. Of course the project grew much larger than just a re-writing of code. The 10 levels of the original VR-game grew to 80, NPC's were added, the progression through the overarching world binding the levels together changed - in many ways Glyph on Switch is a totally new game.
Now, Glyph is a colourful and atmospheric open-world 3d platforming game for Nintendo Switch. In the game, you have to jump, bounce, glide and tumble your way through a series of levels in order to restore the ancient temple city.
The sound design also changed. In the VR-version the sound design responds to player movement; speeding up when the player accelerates, enters combat like situations and in calmer situations the music mellows out. With 70 new scores needed, though, the in-house composer was busy. The sound design is more conventional for the console version of the game.
A deal with Nintendo
A firm believer in networking, Bo had begun to attend conventions, match-up sessions and industry meetings already in the early days of Bolverk Games. Through that effort he had contacts inside Nintendo and to other Danish game companies that had successfully made it onto their platform.
With the expansion of the game and a deal with Nintendo in place more programmers were needed and hired. A marketing duo of two people was brought in. Expenses grew but so did the expectations. Glyph was more than fun, it was immersive and captivating and though the VR-version had not attracted many, the people that did buy it stuck around on Discord and cheered the process on.
Once again, Bolverk Games find themselves in a high stakes situation. This time the failure or success of the product is not a life or death situation, but a market failure will mean reductions in staff as well as ambitions for 2021. Of course the company is better prepared this time, with a plan B in place, should things not work out as expected with Glyph.
For now things look bright. A recent sale of a new game concept to google creates a strong buffer in the company's coffers and Glyph is raking in rave reviews from testers, developers and Youtubers.
The incredible sceneries of the in-game worlds, the music and the immersive gameplay is making people happy and expectant of the launch in January 2021. Notably, the controls of the character, an all important feature in platform games, is often highlighted as some of the best players have experienced.
It will certainly be exciting to follow the Danish indie company's path in the coming months.
Glyph is available on Nintendo eShop EU and AU regions.
There is also an earlier VR version available for free on Steam
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