The Art of Floe

This is a short article about how we arrived at the basic look of Floe, a beautiful sliding block puzzle game, developed by Otterly.

We’ll start at the prototype stage and work our way to the final product. Graphically the prototype looked like this:


This is what we might describe as “visually functional”. It’s a playable game at this stage, with the elements of the game rendered as very basic shapes with very basic textures. If you look carefully, you can see that certain visual problems have been overcome, such as how the walls and blocks and avatar stand out against the colour of the floor.

What follows are the steps we took to arrive at our final look for Floe.

We needed to find an art style for the game, and one way to begin is by visually enhancing the existing elements of the prototype.


In art-design there can be simple as well as complex relationships between forms, but we’re still at the “throw paint at the canvas” stage and experimentation is the way forward.


This is where the concepts and the game prototype start interacting. concepts are interesting, but the real rock ‘n’ roll happens when you see concepts brought to life in the actual game. For the first time, we see Flo. Flo is a blue bear caught in a maze of blue cubes. Flo doesn’t yet realise that she’s a Polar Bear, and she doesn’t realise where she is or what that green arrow means.


Some of the concept ideas, such as white cubes, are finding their way into the playable version of the game and its starting to change things.


Things, such as blocks, stop being just ‘coloured’ and start to gain some texture. This is clearly a blue bear in some kind of environment, possibly related to ice or coldness.


If you opened your fridge and saw a blue bear inside, just run. But honestly, you never know how you’ll react if faced with a real bear in your fridge so its best to just fall back on your training.

White cubes often float in a white void, but not everyone has experienced that. People on Earth will buy your game. Its important to realise this, so here is a blue bear on some kind of snowy floaty toast-like slab of pervasive blueness. Those white cube things can only be one thing. White Cubes.


This is the playable version of the game at a crucial moment in development, because the game’s camera angle has changed. It makes the game more readable as a 3D environment and that affects the gameplay in terms of difficulty.


We are getting close to the final look.

The floor colour needs to visually support the brightly coloured blocks. the blocks can become frozen, which also means that they turn whitish and would need to stand out against the floor. That means that the game floor can’t be white any more. To avoid this clash, the floor must be darker, which in turn becomes the catalyst for changing the colour of the Bear. The Bear still needs to stand out against the floor, right?


You can see how the look of the main gameplay elements can be just as important as the look of the avatar. When the visual look of every element starts working together, its echoes the harmony of nature, which some humans find pleasing.


We have a polar bear, and it’s possessed with an overly enlarged cranium so that on an iPhone, you can actually see its face without using two fingers to enlarge it and then dropping your phone in the bath, and then having to face the shame of getting it mended by a “genius”.

We’re very near the end now. Your patience is amazing, have you ever thought of becoming a videogame artist?

We have a baby female polar bear. That explains the giant head. Well, babies have heads that are in proportion to the rest of their body, although when I was born I also had a giant body. I weighed 11 pounds. People had to take turns carrying me. Anyway, studies indicate that female baby polar bears are awesome. This is Flo, she has an entire continent to cross and needs your help!


We start testing the game with a few close friends and family, and someone complains that artistically, it’s all a bit ‘blue’. We tend to agree, but instead of making the sea green or the floor pink or changing the bear into a monkey or introducing a mission based open-world and a first-person camera, we decided to make the buttons white. And it worked.

Floe_ConceptArt14_OtterlyThis is Flo at the start of one of her journeys through a complex, frozen puzzle-land. What do you mean, “I prefer the prototype”?

So that’s the basic look of Floe, and it looks lovely on the iPhone and iPad, especially on some of the later levels when lots of brightly coloured blocks stand between Flo and complete triumph!

I hope you enjoyed our little article on The Art of Floe.

Please subscribe or follow @otterlygames for updates.

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We jammed and it was good

GameCity Jam logo

In OpenGameCity in Review, Lee writes:

Richard Brooksby of Otterly hosted two game jams, one lasting 3 hours and another lasting a whole 24 hours. At game jams, people get together and make video games in a limited time, with a surprise theme. Attendees were challenged to make complete, playable games, working individually, or in small groups, starting from scratch. The results can be found over at CambridgeIndies with entries for Strawberry Jam and Blackcurrant Jam.

We’re very pleased to have helped make GameCity5 such a wonderful festival. Please enjoy some of the games, subscribe to GameCity, join in with ongoing events, and be ready for GameCity6!

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Come to the GameCity Jam

GameCity Jam logoGameCity5 Jam
Come and make games!

At game jams, people get together and make video games in a limited time, with a surprise theme.  We make complete, playable games, working individually, or in small groups, starting from scratch.  The results are shown round and shared on the Internet.

It’s enormous fun and a great way to learn and gain skills!

Otterly is organising game jams for this year’s GameCity festival (26th-30th October 2010 in Nottingham).

Everyone is welcome! We’d especially like to introduce jamming to people who haven’t jammed before, so come along and have a go.  If you’re an experienced jammer or game maker, please come along too.  Perhaps consider teaming up with a newbie.

Please see the full announcement for details and sign-up.  Tell your friends!

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Audio Production for iPhone: Size Matters

Hello Otterly Fans!

I recently wrote an article detailing the production of audio for iPhone apps, covering the various issues and details unique to the iPhone and other mobile gaming devices.

Games on handheld devices in recent years, as many people will be aware, have been big. With games such as “Angry Birds” and “Peggle” selling like AAA titles, it has been proven that big game playability and looks can be squeezed into a tiny device, but what about the sounds? Audio on handheld devices has produced a whole new set of challenges for the audio producer.

The full article is featured exclusively on and can be read here.

I hope the article is helpful to anyone out there also producing audio for mobile games. If so, please leave a comment and let me know about your discoveries.

Also, anyone out there with any more tips and tricks then please let us know.
I look forward to hearing from you and good luck!

PJ Belcher Pro Audio

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Floe is coming soon from Chillingo/Clickgamer

We’re very pleased to announce that Floe will soon be released by Chillingo on the Clickgamer label. Chillingo publishes excellent titles such as Angry Birds and Helsing’s Fire.  We’re very happy to have Chillingo as our partners on Floe.

You can find out more about Floe, see screenshots, watch the preview video on the Floe page.

Here’s the announcement of Floe from Chillingo’s press release

Floe (Otterly/Clickgamer) – A little bear needs your help!  Help baby polar bear, Flo, across the ice floes to catch up with her mama.  If only these pesky ice blocks weren’t in the way.  A simple yet challenging, cute puzzle game. Coming soon for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

We’ll have more to say here on the blog soon. Please subscribe or follow @otterlygames for updates.

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Audio games to help with hearing loss

How would you make a game of beeps that people will play for the rest of their lives?

On Tuesday 2010-06-22 I visited the National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing (NBRUH) at the invitation of Nicolas Van Labeke. The unit is doing some very interesting work using sound games to help people cope with hearing loss and tinnitus. On the day I was the sole representative of the games industry!

A child playing the hearing training game, Star

A girl using the Star software

They’ve developed a game-like program called “Star” that plays three pure tones and challenges the player to find the odd one out. As the player progresses, the game becomes harder. They’ve gathered evidence that this is helping people.  (Results not yet published, so I can’t give you references yet.) It does not “repair” hearing, but it does improve hearing performance in tests, and users report improvements in their everyday lives. The training is helping people make use of the hearing they have.

The day was mostly about how they can take this kind of training beyond the laboratory and make something that people will use regularly for the rest of their lives. Naturally, it’s not pure entertainment. Unlike a game, the people using the software are not just motivated by the pleasure of using it. They’re gaining a noticeable benefit. But still, people get bored and lazy and stop doing things that are good for them.

This is quite a challenge! How do you make a game that someone will play for a few minutes each day, not just for a week, but forever? And what’s more, its core mechanic is listening to beeps!

A chording keyboard used for transcription for the deaf

Keyboard used for live transcription of the meeting

One of the most interesting points for me was the tension between scientific evidence-based medicine and making something that will actually get used. The academic goal is to produce papers based on solid evidence gathered using proper scientific methods. But of course that means that the design of the “game” is very stark. Intuitively, it seems to me that other, much more fun forms of audio training would help people just as much. We tend to deride Brain Training and Wii Fit for being unscientific, but I bet they do people good. So how far can we stray from the pure, proven beeping exercise and stay ethical? Where do we cross the line in to quackery?

My way out of this dilemma comes from the goals of NBRUH itself, as explained by its executive directory, Dr. Heather Fortnum, at the start of the day. It’s all about alleviating the burden of deafness. Perhaps if people say their burden is lessened, that’s all we need to know. And if our audio games are placebos, does it matter? As long as we reduce the suffering. And if our placebos are based on scientifically proven methods, and therefore have a chance of doing something real as well, then all the better.

But what about the game. Do you have ideas to make spot-the-beep-difference fun and enjoyable? And would they get people to play for years?

I’ll reveal what we came up with in a later post.

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Game music needs more marimba

Game music needs more marimba

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Last chance to try Floe

We’re reaching the end of Floe beta testing. If you’d like to have an influence on the game, you should play it and send your feedback to us by the end of Monday.  We’d be really grateful if you did!

If you haven’t signed up, it’s not too late. Follow the sign-up instructions before midnight GMT on Friday and we’ll do our best to include you.

Many thanks to all of you who’ve sent us your thoughts and statistics already.  It’s really helping us put the final bit of polish on the game.

To the rest of you — have a play this weekend!  And don’t forget to hit that “beta report” button.  (It’s two steps left from the North Pole.)

BETA TESTING IS NOW CLOSED. Thank you all for your help!

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Floe sneak preview

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Flo and her world of sound

Audio is a large part of any game, from sound design to the music, it often goes unnoticed next to the stunning visuals, but would surely be missed if it were non-existent. So who’s the poor person that has to pour out their artistic heart creating the sounds of Flo’s world for little fame, limelight or recognition?

Well, that would be me. So while I’m not labouring over a hot Mac wrestling with Logic, I’d like to take the time to write to you about what goes on behind closed doors in the audio department.

By working in close conjunction with Gareth Rees our lead programmer we have managed to develop fully automated, generative sound elements within the game. These include repeatable actions such as moving Floe around the map, location selection and the general ambience heard throughout gameplay.

Whereas many other games would have audio aspects (such as ambience) created from a single looping sound file, Floe utilises generative code to produce the soundscape heard within the game from a series of individual sound assets.

So what does this mean for the gaming experience?

Well now, a rich soundscape heard as the ambience is composed in real time, giving a completely different, and unique auditory experience every second.

This gives the sound the diverse and dynamic nature that you would hear in reality, helping to immerse the player into Flo’s world.

So come release date look out for our hard work, and spare a thought for the audio guy.

PJ Belcher, Audio Production.

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