Game Studio Spotlight: Klonk Games

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Introduction

Hello everyone!

This is Simon Kratz and in this post I’d like to shed some light on the studio and people responsible for games like our award-winning PC and console couch-coop game Shift Happens (a game I already talked about in this post).

Early steps and Sketchfab

My colleagues and I started studying game development together in Munich, Germany at the local Mediadesign Hochschule in 2010. After three years of creating small student projects together, finding teammates and building some (humble) strategies for a future indie studio we founded Klonk Games in 2013 after graduating together.

Starting was pretty tough as we basically had no budget to keep a company running (let alone create a game). Luckily we made enough money from frequent contract work projects so we could keep our company alive and still have a bit of progress on the prototype that would later become Shift Happens.

At that time I was already starting to take a liking to Sketchfab and its already rich feature set. We were focused on learning Blender on a production-ready level and everyone in my art department built a small scene to learn the tools and do some experimenting with our set style. I decided to put my model on Sketchfab after it was done. It’s still the most-viewed model on my account 😀

That was when I got really hooked on Sketchfab. I started browsing other models for reference, made some happy posts about the technology and feature requests in the forums (requested collections!), uploaded some older work from study since I felt Sketchfab lives up to the visual standard of a proper game engine and I used our low-poly style in subsequent pieces due to the successful first model:

This model was done for a Unity forum challenge, one of the first ones that used Sketchfab for presentation of the final piece. I still feel like the model won first place due to the excellent showcase capabilities Sketchfab had even at that time.

It was pretty cool to see Sketchfab grow with animation support coming later on and with it a great way to give our clumsy characters a proper stage. Those were among the first animations ever published on Sketchfab:

Still, running a business with the founding ten people turned out to be really difficult in the long run with just contract work. After Shift Happens grew more and more to a really complex and high quality title we realized that we couldn’t continue this project without some external funding since contract work to pay our bills kept interrupting the fluid game development process more and more. Fortunately federal state of Bavaria (where Munich is located) offers the biggest public games funding in Germany, the “FilmFörderFond Bayern” (FFF) growing larger each year.

Since we saw this as our best chance to create Shift Happens on the large scale it deserves we decided to put all of our efforts into a convincing vertical slice of our game to pitch it to the officials. This is how we got our first funding. 🙂

We were more than happy to be able to work on the game for several months continuously without having to worry about financial problems.

It gave us a great start and we managed to bring the project a big step ahead. We managed the upcoming years with more contract work but in the end we had to rely on the FFF once more to get Shift Happens to the point where it could be released as a highly polished title.

In July 2016 we finally proudly released Shift Happens and I still feel it was worth our efforts:

We also published a couple of small dioramas on our Sketchfab account since it was a good way to showcase our art style and added some more value and unique appeal to the presentation of our game.

In the same year Shift Happens won in two categories of the German Computer game award and the trophies still proudly reside in our office.

What we learned from our first title

Sounds pretty cool, right? Still our conclusion was: Never again!

Despite our achievements we realized that Shift Happens took way too long and – looking back – the production was way too expensive to continue on this scale with our current economic value. We didn’t have a real follow-up title and even though Shift Happens sold well for the first title of an indie startup with basically no reach, it was far from being able to fund another full project.

We decided to stick to contract work projects for now which were easier to get since we had a very polished title in our portfolio. We even managed to get a partnership with a long-term client with whom we later developed the mobile artillery game Steampumpkins (and we still have some yet-to-tell projects going on here 😉 ).

To the present day

This was the first time since the foundation of our studio that we could really work continuously on a (contract work) game while earning enough to pay our bills. Game development still is very expensive so we still had to stick with modest salaries but it was a good chance for us to once again create a high quality title and advance slowly but steadily.

Then the year 2017 approached and to be honest it was the most difficult year we ever faced. Due to a combination of private reasons and unforeseen circumstances we lost three of our founding members that year and had to cope with the downsized company of seven people, working on yet-to-be-announced titles. This was really tough since we absolutely felt the missing manpower and the personal value of every one of those members who had made Klonk the way it was. On the other hand it took some financial pressure from us and for the rest of the team it was all the more reason to stick together and continue our projects.

Game development seems to be a never ending sequence of ups and downs, and in 2018 some very interesting opportunities suddenly turned up. After some negotiations and a lot of internal talking behind the scenes, our team decided to take the chance and become the newly founded studio Daedalic Entertainment Bavaria, the third studio of big German games developer Daedalic Entertainment. Can’t wait to see what the upcoming years will bring 🙂

My team and I

Now to finish on a personal note: My role in the team right from the start was pretty heavily focused on visual effects and technical art direction. I got intrigued with everything 3D during my studies and it blended nicely with the basic VFX skills I had started to build up during my teenage years. For most of our projects I was heavily focused on getting the most out of the Unity engine and creating the most polished final visuals for our games with the unique styles in mind that we had defined earlier. I also always kept an eye on the workflows and rendering efficiency that me and my department used during production and tried to optimize everything as best as I could. Actually all of our projects so far use a set of custom shaders that define a specific workflow to get our art assets done the way they look best in the respective style of the games. Now as Technical Art Director at Daedalic Entertainment Bavaria I’m still focusing a lot on workflow efficiency and performance but luckily I still get to define quite a big part in the final visuals of our games once all the boring art tech is set up 😉

Finally I want to thank all the amazing teammates that started this journey with me and the new ones that we met on our way. Looking forward to what the future will bring and hope we get to spend lots of more years together creating games that we enjoy developing.

About the author

Michael

Michael

An artist in the pursuit of dopeness.


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