Cryogenic Sleep Mode

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Concept Art Wall from 2011

It has been nearly eight years of making games, and we’ve reached a crossroad. Our search for a sustainable and ethical business model as an indie game studio had it’s up and downs, but never fully blossomed into long-term sustainability.

Making indie games—really any kind of independent creative venture—is hard. Making money from them is harder. Making a decent living is even harder. Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about the sacrifices that are required to keep our business going, but more importantly, if we were willing to continue making these sacrifices (We’ll try to write more about this in the future).

After months—years really—of contemplating this question, we’ve made a decision to take a step back and stop working on our game studio full time.

We don’t, however, see this as the end of the road. We’d love to keep making games, but for now it has to be a hobby, not what we rely on to feed our families.

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Spell Rift – 2011

So, what we are doing is putting our game studio into a sort of cryogenic stasis. You’ll still be able to buy our games, but we won’t be working on anything new. At least full time anyways.

While brain games are super important, there are countless other worthwhile things we’d love to work on that address issues of greater gravity (and projects that not only involve being able to pay rent, but perhaps could consistently afford us health insurance too).

Blockwick 2 - 2014

Blockwick 2 – 2015

We are endlessly grateful to everyone who has played our games and made it possible for us to work for all these years. Thank you forever. We hope to one day cook up more brain food for all of you and the hungry masses.

World Peace,

Kieffer Bros.

aqueduct-screenshot

Aqueduct – 2010

P.S. If you know of the existence of any mobile game publishers who are interested in premium puzzle games, let us know. We still have a bunch of awesome game projects on the back-burner that we’d love to work on full-time.

P.P.S. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay posted on any new game projects we may release.

in News | 398 Words

Cooperative Blokus

We had a fun time playing Blokus this weekend. The object of the game is to place as many pieces on the board as possible, with all your pieces touching by at least one corner and no sides. Rarely are you able to finish with all of your pieces used up, so the winner is usually the the player with the least amount of pieces left. There were four of us playing, and it ended up being a fairly close game, but it got us all wondering, what if the game were played cooperatively? Could everybody use every single piece? Could everybody win?

The board is 20 × 20 (400 squares) and each player has what amounts to 89 squares. So 89 × 4 = 356 squares. That leaves a difference of 44 squares that will not be used up. So mathematically there is enough area.

400 squares with 356 tiles

The trouble is that the pieces are all unique and unwieldy shapes so you can’t just stack them all up like the diagram. Still, it turns out the answer is yes, everybody can win.

We didn’t use any mathematical formula to work it out, we simply worked off the idea that building a tessellation would be the easiest way to succeed. It was strategy mixed with intuition, trying to place pieces that allowed for as much useful area as possible in the negative spaces, and mirroring every play with each color. Here’s a photo of our finished cooperative game.

A finished game of Blokus with every single piece used up

It actually doesn’t look like much of a pattern, but upon close scrutiny notice every shape that is played has it’s counterpart in every other color played in exactly the same way, but rotated ninety degrees. eg: The blue 1 × 5 piece placed in the bottom right corner has its mirrors in the other corners— green in the top right, red in the top left, and yellow on the bottom left. The symmetry is most visible in the very center of the board.

Technically this end game wouldn’t exactly be a a tessellation, but the underlying idea of symmetry is how we succeeded. Read more about tessellations on Wikipedia. Or, for fun check out the work of M.C. Escher, a master of the tessellation.

Thinking About Star Hound

We’ve been thinking about Star Hound a lot lately. In case you’re unfamiliar, Star Hound is an endless runner game, that really never made it past alpha phase. We’ve always wanted to add more to the game, but we’ve had too many other projects going on. Here’s some recent fun concept art.

A stylized, colorful, futuristic skyline

Don’t forget you can download the alpha version for free for iOS or for OS X. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s still really fun, and (did we mention?) it’s free. Go download Star Hound now, and let us know what you think.

Obscura – Insane Puzzles for Blockwick 2

The gloves are off with Blockwick 2’s new puzzle pack, Obscura. It’s $2 for eighty puzzles from medium to insane difficulty. A lot of these puzzles we couldn’t put in the original game because they were too hard. This is for our diehard fans, not for the faint of heart.

Our apologies it took so long to ship Obscura. In truth a big part of the hold up was that the really tough puzzles are very brain intensive, multiplying the amount of time it takes to test them.

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Some of the illuminations may seem flat-out unsolvable. We are fully expecting to get lots of email and tweets, saying “Impossible!”. But rest assured they are all possible; our finest people have worked them all out. 🙂 As always, our advice is when you get stumped on a puzzle, take a break. Come back to it later. If all else fails, check out YouTube — several friendly folks have taken the liberty of doing quite a few walkthroughs.

And if you haven’t gotten Blockwick 2 yet, buy it now for $5 on iOS, Android, or Desktop

Note: Obscura is currently only available in the iOS version. We hope to get to the Android and desktop versions soon.

Blockwick 2 Picked by Apple as “Gorgeous Game”

We are very delighted to report that Blockwick 2 was picked by Apple for a “gorgeous games” promotion. Starting October 1st it will be on an exclusive sale on Apple’s the App Store. This is an amazing opportunity to pick up our premium puzzle game for a ludicrously low price (80% off). We’d normally never discount our game to such a ridiculously low price, but when Apple asks, it’s hard to refuse. Tell your deal-hunting, puzzle-gaming friends to pick it up now while the price is low. The sale ends on the 7th of October. Get Blockwick 2 on the App Store.

in News | 99 Words

Goodbye Basics

We’re terrible at making free-to-play apps. Basically, we take a premium experience and slap some ads on it. Turns out we’re just not that interested in developing arcane monetization mechanics and sideways sales pitches. We especially don’t like designing features that exploit people’s psychological soft spots (think Casinos and a sadly large number of games on the app stores).

With this in mind, we’ve decided to take down Blockwick 2 Basics from the various app stores. The main reason we decided to discontinue Basics: it wasn’t working. We weren’t even making pocket money from the ads and not enough people were upgrading to the full version. The numbers just weren’t adding up.

Another big reason we’re abandoning Basics is we dislike ads and so do most players. So why support something that most people aren’t crazy about? And finally, all the Basics puzzles are available in a free puzzle pack in the full version of Blockwick 2. So, all those easy Basics puzzles will still be available for curious and dedicated Blockwick players.

We’re considering making a free primer version of Blockwick 2 similar to the demo versions of Aqueduct and the original Blockwick, but we’ll see. Aqueduct 101 really helped sell the full version of Aqueduct, but Blockwick 101 didn’t have as good of a conversion rate. Again, we’ll see.

At the moment, we’d like to explore new game ideas. We’ve been working on Blockwick 2 for almost a year and a half now, and it feels like it’s time to move on. We may make a few more puzzle packs and fix bugs when they come up, but probably no more crazy big updates.

Goodbye Basics, hello something new!

A T-Shirt for Blockwick

Yes, it’s official, after seven years of making apps, we’ve finally come out with a t-shirt. The design was a collaboration between Michael and myself and was created in honor of the Blockwick universe.

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You may recall a while ago we were planning on making a Blockwick 2 t-shirt, but because of some rookie mistakes we did not get it printed. Back then we made three designs, and we couldn’t pick our favorite so we ended up doing a poll.

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The design that won the poll was pretty fun, but it turns out that we were using too many colors for the screen printer. So we decided to put the t-shirt project on hold until we had a little more time to work on a design that we were happy with.

So this time around to simplify we put one together, and sent it straight over to Cotton Bureau. If you aren’t familiar with this company, we’d like to tell you about them. They are a small screen printing shop based out of Pittsburgh, PA. They focus on small batch, quality product, and have been great to work with. The unique thing is how they decide what to print.

cotton-bureau-home

Anybody can submit a design to their editorial team; they pick the best submissions to put up on the home screen. At any given time there are around 72 designs for customers to choose from. The trick is that out of all the designs, they only print ones that get at least 12 orders. Each design stays up for two weeks, and any that get 11 orders or less get scrapped. The downside is that there are lots of great designs that don’t get printed, and the onus to sell the t-shirt really rests with the designers who make the tees.

We are guessing for an indie company of three people that’s been around for seven years we should be able to sell at least 12 t-shirts, but it’s a bit more difficult than you’d expect, especially for lone designers. Anyways, we’d love it if you picked up a Blockwick t-shirt (we are almost up to twelve, but we need a few more orders). Head over to cottonbureau.com to pre-order now.

Update 9/25/2015: The t-shirt is going to print (yay!), but unfortunately if you did not get an order in before the deadline, you are out of luck. Its a one-run, limited-edition tee afterall. If you missed the train, and really want some KB threads, let us know; we may be exploring less transient methods of selling t-shirts in the future.

Starbucks App Store Pick of the Week

Well, it was a fun week at the end of August. Our latest puzzle game, Blockwick 2, was selected by Starbucks as their “App Store Pick of the Week”. This is a promotion that Starbucks and Apple run in partnership with selected developers to sell more coffee, raise awareness of the App Store, and give a premium app a little moment in the limelight. For Starbucks customers (who also use iOS devices), it means they get a free app, so it’s another reason to stay a loyal Starbucks customer.

pick-of-the-week

After the seven days of the promotion, we gave away over a quarter million copies of Blockwick 2. This is a terrifying number for us— on one hand we just gave away a ridiculous number of copies of our most valuable game, all for zero profit. On the other hand we got access to a huge swath of people who otherwise would have never heard about our game or company. Exposure is something our company sorely needs, but it doesn’t pay the rent. The real question is in the long run will it have been worth it? So far we’ve only seen a very tiny bump is sales. Stay tuned for further conclusions on the program’s efficacy.

PS. The promotion ran from Tuesday the 25th of August to Monday the 1st of September 2015.

Maintenance Mondays

We are a team of three people, and we’ve been cranking out games for almost seven years. We’ve released over a dozen titles spanning multiple platforms and marketplaces. Having such an extensive library of games brings up a difficult issue. How can a team of only three people continue making and publishing new games all the while maintaining previously published titles?

Our solution to this issue is a protocol we have named Maintenance Monday. Every Monday we set aside a portion of time to work on keeping up some of our older games. Sometimes this means something as mundane as updating compatibility for a new operating system; sometimes it means something larger like adding an entire chapter of puzzles or even a graphics overhaul to support the latest super-high-density display. We then keep the rest of the week for moving forward with our main projects— developing and publishing new games.

Maintenance Monday isn’t set entirely in stone and it isn’t always perfect. If we really need to focus on a crucial project or an emergency we obviously can suspend the side projects. Another issue emerges when deciding which of our older games gets attention. At a certain point, when a game gets so old, we simply have to stop supporting it. There are several games which we’ve stopped supporting entirely, not because we don’t like them, but the cost to keeping them up is no longer paying the bills. Our first game, Enso Dot, is a really nice little puzzle game from 2008 that we had to finally put to rest. No one was buying it anymore, and the cost in time to bring it up to ‘modern’ standards with high-res graphics, system compatibility, etc. was much too high.

Our latest side project is working on an update for Monster Soup. This one is gonna be a big one so it’s going to take quite a few Mondays to get there. The game currently supports high-res graphics for the iPhone 4, but since then devices with even higher pixel counts have been released to the public (Read a bit about that process here). We are also taking a look at a weird issue caused by Apple’s later versions of iOS. We are even contemplating fixing how the level completion mechanic works to try and reward players for making longer chains. All this adds up to quite a lot of work, but hopefully with Monday on our side, we’ll keep all these plates spinning.