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Making games Universal: How small teams won big

November 16, 2018 in Community | 7 min. read
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The Universal GameDev Challenge was announced at GDC, and during Unity’s keynote at Unite LA on October 23, we revealed the grand prize winner: Andreas Halter with Swiss development team, Gbanga. Their entry, “Voltron: Cubes of Olkarion,” is a puzzle game set in the Voltron universe, which leverages elements of the show to build complex game pieces for strategic combat.

Everything from the artwork, audio, overall game scope and prototype execution resonated with all our challenge play testers. It’s quick and easy to understand the importance of each game piece and how to best plan your battle strategy for multiplayer action. As the grand prize winner, Gbanga is taking home $150,000 in cash prize money, and will also be signed on with the team at Universal for a 1-year consulting agreement to add their creative voice for various Universal game initiatives. In this article, I’ll share how each team, regardless of size, was able to deliver six viable prototypes that delighted and inspired some of the largest IP holders in the world, proving that massive budgets, veteran studios, and Hollywood networking aren’t required to make games universal.

Voltron: Cubes of Olkarion prototype submitted to the Universal GameDev Challenge by Andreas Halter of Gbanga.

How did they get here?

Over 400 entries from over 60 countries were submitted over the course of 90 days. From these entries, six finalists were selected to go on to our VIP Mentorship Summit at Universal Studios, where game industry leaders provided expert guidance on game development best practices from Universal, Unity, Intel and Microsoft.  The team at Universal invited the finalists to a series of roundtable discussions with their legal, marketing, and brand development teams. Each finalist received guidance on their individual submissions and exclusive insights on how Universal approaches game development for their massive library of iconic brands.

Six teams from all over the world attend the VIP Mentorship Summit at Universal Studios, Los Angeles.

Unity’s own evangelist Mike Geig was also on hand to walk through the Entity Component System, highlighting the clear performance gains it provides for real-time rendered projects. Dan Miller, another Unity evangelist, also provided project review support on site with further walkthroughs of Unity’s more complex features.  As key supporters of the contest, Intel presented the benefits of the Intel Game Dev Program, which provides tools for success for PC game developers. Learn more about the Intel Game Dev Program, and how it can help you Get Ready, Get Noticed, and Get Big.

Finally, Microsoft Mixer’s program manager, Mike Blouin, did a live demo showing how to leverage the live streaming technology, which is a core component of all the entries. .

Unity Evangelist Mike Geig presents the Entity Component System at the VIP Mentorship Summit at Universal Studios, Los Angeles.

The goal of the summit was to give all six teams unfettered access to the core of game development technology, resources and more. Each one was able to learn and grow as developers, and their takeaways helped them build prototypes that exceeded our expectations.

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The final showdown

Six finalists — from a one-man-shop in Australia to a twelve-person independent studio in Switzerland — submitted playable prototypes that exceeded all expectations. Each prototype was unique, both in creative design and gameplay mechanics. Each prototype also took a fresh new look at the IP that the finalist chose, expanding the characters, worlds, and even universes of each iconic franchise.

Here is a look at the prototypes submitted:

  • “Backpack to the Future” is a co-op focused third person adventure game, where players aid Marty McFly in a series of story-based missions. Using the backpack time machine, players can experience three different time periods: the past, present and future.
  • “Back to the Future IV: Time Anomalies” is a first-person adventure game, with a drop-in/drop-out co-op function. Players take on the role of Jules or Verne, one of Doc Brown’s sons, who must travel to all the time-jumps made by the DeLorean to destroy the time-anomalies it created.
  • “Battlestar Galactica Deception” is a multiplayer, survival first person shooter where players are stranded on the planet Kobol after an intense space battle with Cylon Raiders. The remaining pilots must survive harsh environmental conditions, Cylons, and each other as one or more impostors are among them.
  • “Turok: Escape from Lost Valley” is a third-person action/adventure game where the player is Turok who, along with Andar, is trying to find the way out of the Lost Valley and get back home. The player must explore the Lost Valley while surviving the environment, creatures, and other humans.
  • “Turok: Legacy of Stone” is a rogue-lite top-down shooter in which the player assumes the role of Turok, engaging in fast-paced firefights and scaling the backs of giant dinosaurs as they uncover a twisting tale of legacy and identity that unfolds over the course of several lifetimes.
  • “Voltron: Cubes of Olkarion” is an action-packed one-on-one real-time-strategy game boiled down to a single side view screen with fighting and puzzle game elements. The player has their base on one side of the screen, while the enemy’s base is on the other. Both sides build single weapon cubes  with different attack and defense abilities. The gameplay is all about keeping a cool head, thinking creatively and making quick decisions during battle, as one mistake can let your whole tower of cubes collapse.

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These prototypes represent the creativity and innovation that Unity developers are known for, and highlight the diverse backgrounds and skills from each team. Every prototype offered a different experience, and each had its own strengths and weaknesses.

From the gorgeously rendered time anomalies in “Back to the  Future IV,” to the adorable animated aesthetics of “Turok: Escape from Lost Valley,” the Unity development skills of each team truly shines. The strategic complexity of “Voltron Cubes of Olkarion” and frenetic action of “Battlestar Galactica Deception” and “Turok: Legacy of Stone” also showcase a breadth of knowledge for gameplay design.

Every single entry highlighted the team’s passion for the brands.

“Backpack to the Future” and “Back to the Future IV: Time Anomalies” teams spend some time with Bob Gale, Oscar-nominated screenwriter-producer-director, best known as co-creator, co-writer and co-producer of the Back to the Future films.

What comes next?

As Gbanga moves on to their consulting role at Universal, each team has built up valuable experience that will last them a lifetime. Developing for world-famous brands doesn’t always require massive studios and staggering marketing budget. What Universal proved, is that they are excited to see passionate fans build creative, fun experiences for beloved franchises.

“Backpack to the Future” Lead Designer Mick Heijkens with Concept Artist Hans Krill.

Whether it’s turning the DeLorean into a backpack, having Turok reborn to build his skills, unknowingly playing as a Cylon sleeper agent, defending the Castle of Lions with the help of Olkarion, or something else no one has thought of yet, your amazing game ideas are just waiting to be discovered by the people behind this contest, who want to help all games become Universal.

If you would like to reach out to the Universal Games team, contact them directly through this page:


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November 16, 2018 in Community | 7 min. read

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