When Fabian Rastorfer, the founder of a small indie studio in New York called Fabraz, first told us about his work almost half a year ago, they were in the middle of finishing their just recently released plattformer Slime-san. You will read more about it in our upcoming issue 07-08/17 of Making Games – until then enjoy what Fabian has to tell you about Fabraz, its history and they games he and his team have developed so far.

When we were first approached for this article at the end of 2016, we were asked one simple question: What is Fabraz? Fabraz is a video game company, but there’s more to it than that. At its heart, Fabraz is a collection of developers with a passion, but it’s also a collection of stories and worlds to many of our players. Worlds like those of our award-nominated »Cannon Crasha« or »Planet Diver«, enjoyed and explored by thousands worldwide. Most of all, Fabraz is simply fun (Trademark pending?)! To define what Fabraz truly is, we’d like to talk about how we got here and where Fabraz is heading next.

The closest Thing to Magic

At the beginning Fabraz wasn’t any of the above, there was just me, a lil’ kid called Fabian Rastorfer who really enjoyed video games. A kid who’d ride his bike as quickly as he could after school to play some »Super Mario World« or »Pocky & Rocky« with his best friend. There was just something about video games that seemed magical to me. One of my father’s favorite anecdotes is when he asked me whether I wanted to become an artist, noting how much I sketched in my notebook during classes. My answer, apparently, was this: »Drawings are not enough to be entertaining.«

The Tale of Aeria is set in a world occupied by endless sky. Scientifically-minded humans survive as nomads, wandering these endless skies until discovering a new home in the floating island of Aeria. However the island already has residents – the spiritual race of beast-folk called the Amarog. The two races clash in a great war, leaving the Amarog as second-class citizens. The story-proper begins hundreds of years after this conflict, following Fabraz, a unique human able to make use of the Amarog’s shamanistic powers. Fabraz could care less about this distinction however, content with his carefree life with his adoptive family: the Jackal Sky pirates. Yet, all good things must end, and his powers will carry him through tragedy and into adventure.

He asked me what I meant by that after which I followed up with: »Today people want more than just drawings,they want moving images, music and sounds, they want to move in them!« And that’s the key, really. Video games can put you in a space, they allow you to interpret that space but they also invite you into that space. A video game can tell a story like no other. It doesn’t even necessarily need text or voices, the simple fact that a player can interact in an environment allows the player to derive context from it. It’s … the closest to magic, really. Little did I know that this was my first step towards becoming a full time, self-employed video game developer. The next was calling my character in »World of Warcraft« »Fabraz«, a combination of the first three letters of my first and last name. FABian RAStorfer. The S was changed to a Z, ironically, because I created a second character after Fabras.

Hundreds of Practices – and one Team to meet them all

A large poster showcasing the diverse and eccentric cast of Wild Wild Pixel (left) and one ingame screenshot showing a character in the swamp (right).

I continued using Fabraz as a personal alias for all of my artwork up until High School, when the itch to create larger worlds and tell stories became strong enough for me to start my own webcomic called »The Tale of Aeria« in 2010. I wrote an entire manuscript and teamed up with an artist online called Songwut Ouppakarndee to release a page every week. The protagonist? Why, Fabraz of course! Suddenly Fabraz moved on from being my alias to having his own identity, Fabraz was now a character. A character that people started identifying with, who people followed every week to see what happened next. This was a fundamental change in how I, and the outward facing public, perceived the name Fabraz. The Tale of Aeria still runs strong today, with over 2,500 readers every day enjoying Fabraz’ shenanigans. A webcomic was the first channel I needed to create worlds but it wasn’t enough. The next logical step was to finally take the first leap towards proper video game development. I came up with a concept of two castles facing each other with a comically large cannon trying to destroy each other as quickly as possible, which eventually took shape as the game called Cannon Crasha. I wanted to see whether the concept had merit, so I posted some style frames to reddit.

An Idea only truly comes to Live …

… once there is an Audience to appreciate it! It reached the frontpage within two hours, gaining over two hundred thousand views. This was all the confirmation I needed and I started seeking out a partner to work with. I was lucky beyond words to have met Markus Jost online, an established and experienced game developer, who decided to team up with me. During those one and a half years of development, the game grew in scope, and our team grew with the inclusion of the two composers Mischa Perella and Red Ochsenbein.

Screenshots from the game The Silhouetted Sovereign where the character is to encounter the mysterious being of the crown (left) and is looking upon a lost soul (right).

Now Fabraz was no longer my alias, nor was it simply a character. Fabraz now represented a group of people! This was another major change in how Fabraz was perceived and that became particularly clear when we were invited by Pro Helvetia to show off Cannon Crasha at the Tokyo Game Show in 2013. Journalists referred to Fabraz as a group of people, players asked if Fabraz had made any other games together. It was fundamentally exciting to see this shift occur, as it made Fabraz larger than life to all of us. Cannon Crasha released as a one dollar title in 2013. The game has been downloaded over 80k times since then and that number jumps significantly if you include pirated copies. It was nominated by Apple numerous times. It was a huge success!

Finding the right Partner(s) is Key for Success

During the last few months of development, I met Ben Miller in my college classes at Parsons in New York. He joined Cannon Crasha as one of the primary testers, and we quickly noticed how well we work together. In my mind, that was the next stroke of luck when it comes to Fabraz’ history. Finding the right partner to team up on for these huge projects is very rare and Ben brought a new identity and perspective to Fabraz that was both challenging and infinitely rewarding. This was only reaffirmed through a collection of smaller game projects that we worked on together for fun, such as »Wild Wild Pixel« and »Silhouetted Sovereign«, which we show off on our website, and we both decided to file a company together after graduation – the final step.

One is never enough:
When creating Worlds becomes Part of your Life

Planet Diver is about an adventurous daredevil tackling her newest obsession: Interstellar wingsuit diving. With her close robotic companion Buddy she’ll travel across space to seek out the most dangerous planets and their respective chasms to dive in.

Fabraz now represented a group of people across the world, it now was a company that created games. Soon we were joined by Edgar Castro, another classmate turned game developer from Parsons. We moved into an office space and started up our now industry-standard 10 to 12 hours a day schedule. We worked intently on old projects and new large projects or jam games. We were and continue to be excited to create the games we’re passionate about. It was around the time we got settled into our new office when we came up with our next game: Planet Diver – a game about a daredevil addicted to wingsuit diving in space!

This game was meant to be a multi-platform release from the start – a lofty goal, releasing both on mobile and PC at launch. We had to iterate on the core game concept several times to get past many of the hurdles we encountered. For one, we wanted to create a game that can be played with one hand on the subway, yet, remains engaging and challenging on PC. The obvious answer was an endless runner, but the genre was already too well trodden, so how did we differentiate ourselves from others?

Control over how fast you went instead of it being the primary escalation of difficulty. Missions that gave you specific goals with an endless run as a secondary game type. We also had to make sure the game scales well between the two platforms.Difficulty had to be manually tailored for each, unique menus were created for vertical phones versus horizontal computer screens. The closer we got to launch, the more we started to become active with gaming conventions.

Slime-san was minding his own business, sliming around in a peaceful forest when suddenly … a giant worm appeared and gobbled him up! Now deep within the worm’s belly, Slime-san has to face a difficult decision: Be digested by the incoming wall of stomach acid … or jump, slide and slime his way through the worms intestines and back out its mouth.

Learning from Players and Developers – the Importance of Events

I cannot state enough how fundamentally important these events are. We had booths for Planet Diver at Game Developers Conference (GDC), gamescom, Casual Connect, Momocon, Playcrafting and more. It introduced so many people to our games, but it also let us engage with players personally, and see what impact our games had on their lives! We saw which jokes landed, where players excelled or struggled, and take that knowledge back with us. There’s also nothing more satisfying or mind-blowing than people telling us that the humor and positivity found in Planet Diver cheered them up when they felt down. We feel the most fortunate, however, to have met with so many other fellow developers. We’ve made real, valuable friends in this industry, and I have no doubt that we’ll help each other grow even bigger! Planet Diver released as a 5 Dollar title in 2015. The game has been downloaded by over 20k players and sits at a 100 percent approval rating on Steam. It was also nomina­ted as a finalist for the Indie Prize, twice, and the MomoCon Indie Awards. There was even a special collector’s card that was bundled with the IndieBox service and it was part of the official selection at the Indie Arena Booth at gamescom. Another success!

Sometimes all you need is a good Laugh

We began work on the next game one week after the release of Planet Diver. At this point, making games is genetically hardwired in our DNA for everyone at Fabraz. And if you’ve been following us on Twitter, what that game is will be no secret to you: »Slime-san«! We’ve been very open during development; posting gifs every day, engaging with local events like Dan Butchko’s Playcrafting, and attending larger conferences like gamescom. Thanks to that, we’ve already established a large fan base eager to get their hands on the game. We get especially excited when people like »Nitro«, a YouTube speedrunner, replay the first level for half an hour, just trying to perfect their high score! We’ve been told numerous times that people enjoyed the humor in our games and Slime-san’s story is all about that. Slime-san is about a slime that was minding his own business until a giant worm appeared and gobbled him up. The choice is simple, be digested or slime through the worm’s intestines, back out its mouth! This might be one of our most ambitious titles yet, in terms of scope. We’re working with a sound designer, Britt Brady, who’s making phenomenal sounds through the use of such complex tools as mashed bananas. No, really! We’re also working with over 14 composers, including chiptune giants such as Adhesive Wombat, Tiasu and Inverse Phase to create a soundtrack for the ages!

Screenshots from Andari Prime, where an andari, a race of shapeshifting aliens, enjoys the view high atop a skyscraper (left) and where the protagonist is aiding the demolition of a town district (right).

Last but certainly not least, we’ve teamed up with Headup Games as our publisher to get the soundtrack on Vinyl and the game onto the PS4 and Xbox One. Fabraz now encapsulates more people than ever and we’re so excited to release Slime-san in April 2018! It was already part of the phenomenal Indie Arena line-up at gamescom, and was a finalist at the Indie Prize in Tel Aviv.

Passion alone does not guarantee Success

We’re so proud of our past and are incredibly excited to see what awaits us next. While Fabraz developed into what it is today, the video game industry has also fundamentally grown and changed. Kids now grow up surrounded by games, they go to schools that can teach to code. They’re a rising generation interes­ted and eager to release their own games as soon as possible, the creative capacity found in every other Minecraft video being just the tip of the iceberg. The entry point for creating games is lower than ever, with applications like Unity and Game Maker, and the threshold of releasing a title is lower, too, thanks to the App Store and Itch.io. Indie games now compete with AAA titles, for better or worse, and there are game conventions you can attend on a nearly weekly basis. That’s exciting! But also, slightly scary, as there are more games than ever. The market is downright saturated, so how do you stand out? The path that we at Fabraz took might not be replicable anymore. The most important thing is to persevere! Create the game of your dreams, test it with users, and make sure to not neglect marketing and networking as skills! Attend conventions, spread the word on social media, and stick to it no matter what! We have this one philosophy we always like to share with fellow developers: You have to work really hard to get into a position where you can get lucky. What do we mean by that exactly? It’s useless to blame the lack of success on bad luck, but it’s also naive to assume your success didn’t slightly depend on it either. You have to work hard, every day, and try your very best to achieve success. To get into the position, where success could happen and someday it might!

Tool recommendation: Spine2D and 3D animation are often considered to be entirely different sets of practices, but Spine takes inspiration from 3D animation and applies it to 2D very effectively. It’s still the new kid on the block, but it’s already rapidly taking over the indie game industry as a primary tool for 2D animation. It takes the 3D concept of rigging up a character with a skeletal bone structure and allows the creator to then animate that skeleton how ever they please. Combine that approach of animation with efficient mesh warping to deform visual images, as well as sprite swapping to switch out assets mid-movement and you’ve got yourself one hell of an animation tool. Not only does it allow you to create several types of smooth animations, but you can also swap out the skins to reuse the same animations on different models. The fact that it can export to Unity seamlessly through their own APIs is simply the icing on top of an already delicious cake. You can get Spine at http://esotericsoftware.com/

The many Worlds the Future holds

The core team looking tired but satisfied after several successful days at gamescom.

So what’s next for Fabraz? For now, we’re all working hard on finishing up the whacky world of Slime-san to make sure it’s oozing with personality. We’ve gotten incredible feedback from fans of our previous games and we want to make sure Slime-san remains a magical memory for them as well! We want to make sure that the game delivers on its promises and meets the expectations of our eager fans! The number of players we’ve gathered is simply staggering and yet, sometimes the smallest e-mail or video from a player touches us the most. E-mails like the one from a Japanese player named »Tomo«, who wrote us the following: »Planet Diver has caused in my heart fireworks of emotions!«. Or ten-year-old »Logan the Potatoe«, who plays the game on YouTube and giggles at every silly joke we throw at him. Small interactions like that truly make us happy, to have an impact on someone’s life, no matter how insignificant, is just … magical! Video games are just magical!

Next Stop: Fabraz’ first Sequel

We’d like to thank Making Games for the opportunity to tell you a little about Fabraz and to finally answer the deceptively simple question of: What is Fabraz? As a final thank you I’d like to announce something very special: We’re going full circle … our next game after Slime-san will be Cannon Crasha 2! The concept will be turned on its head as this time two pirate fortresses will pit each other to establish who’s the pirate king! I hope you tag along for all the crazy worlds we’ve yet to create!

About the Author:

Fabian Rastorfer
is founder of Fabraz.

Fabian, Swiss by passport, grew up in international environments. He attended primary school in Cologne, continued his education in an International High School in Zurich and then graduated from Parsons in New York. Fabian founded Fabraz and actively works on all projects associated to the company. His primary skills are game design, graphic design and marketing.