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The Incredible Story of BetaDwarf and Forced

Oct. 24, 2013, is not only the release date of indie gem Forced, by Denmark-based developer BetaDwarf; it is also the culmination of an incredible, nearly three-year-long story surrounding the development of the game, featuring overwhelming passion, the amazing power of social media, and a just little bit of trespassing on university property.

BetaDwarf got its start at Aalborg University in Denmark, where Steffen Kabbelgaard and Kenneth Harder worked as teacher’s assistants. Both Kabbelgaard and Harder had delved a bit into game development in the past — working on a game called Armies vs. Champions, which has since been shelved — but they realized that if they truly wanted to get into the industry, they needed a team. Fortunately, their positions as TAs in animation and programming classes gave them the opportunity to know the brightest minds in the curriculum.

So one day, the pair decided to invite some of those students to a secret presentation of the game that would eventually become Forced. A team of nine was formed, and BetaDwarf was born.
Working for the university had another perk as well: During summer vacation, Kabbelgaard realized that the classrooms were completely empty and that no one visited them.

“We slowly moved in bits into a big classroom and before we knew it, we were suddenly living there,” said Kabblegaard. “We literally moved everything we had. We had eight big beds, microwaves, refrigerators. We had no reason not to live there because there were bathrooms and even a gym there.”

The team stayed in the room for seven months, well past the duration of summer vacation. Some teachers were willing to look the other way, but eventually, word got out. This put the university in a bit of a tough situation, Kabblegaard said. On one hand, the university was extremely proud of what the team had accomplished with the game. But of course, on the other hand, trespassing is a serious offense.

“They had a double-edged sword because they wanted to befriend us for the future as well, but they were not that okay with us being there illegally,” Kabblegaard said.

Ultimately, the school offered BetaDwarf a room to work in, but it was too small for the team, and they were forced to pack up and hit the road. This put BetaDwarf in a bit of a crisis. The company had no office, several of its team members had cancelled their housing arrangements and leases in favor of living in the university, and the game was still nowhere near to being ready for release.

But as they say, the night is darkest just before the dawn. BetaDwarf would end up being saved when the Danish Film Institute awarded the company $40,000 in funding for Forced, making its team the first students to ever receive support from the DFI. From there, a quick google search of “The Cheapest Place to Live in Denmark” led the team to move into a three-story house together in Kaarlsunde, on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

“Everybody lived on the first floor, we had a programmers’ basement, and artists and designers in the living room. And that worked well,” Kabblegaard said. “We had an art director who was a girl, and she wanted her own room. So she actually redecorated the sauna and the cellar and moved into the sauna.”

“In the middle of the night, my phone started vibrating insanely on the wooden floor … I got really curious, so I checked it out and realized we were funded overnight”

But the incredible story doesn’t end there. While the $40,000 from the DFI served well in providing the team with a new home and office, they still needed more money to fund the development of their game. So they turned to the place where game developers’ dreams are either made or laid to rest: Kickstarter.

The team set the Kickstarter goal at $40,000 and billed Forced as a cross between Left 4 Dead and Diablo. Interest in the game was relatively high, but with a week left before the closing of the Kickstarter, Forced was still only at 64 percent funding, and things started looking a little grim.

“The odd thing was that we basically couldn’t get through to the normal press because everybody was so tired of writing about Kickstarters, as I’m sure you’ve also noticed,” joked Kabblegaard. “You need a unique angle, which we didn’t have.”

Failure seemed imminent, but before giving up hope, Kabblegaard decided to go for a social media Hail Mary. He created a gallery of images that detailed the story of BetaDwarf and put it on the image sharing site, img.ur.

While the team in Denmark slept, the gallery spread like wildfire on social media channels. Kabblegaard awoke that night to a cellphone that was so excited, it just wouldn’t shut up.

“In the middle of the night, my phone started vibrating insanely on the wooden floor that we have, because every time we get a pledge on Kickstarter, we get an email,” said Kabblegaard. “I got really curious, so I checked it out and realized we were funded overnight. Then I screamed a lot and woke up everyone in the house.”

As the release date draws near, Kabblegaard said it’s a huge relief to have an actual deadline on which the game will be done, rather than it just feeling like it’s an eternity away. But the team is already looking forward to a potential sequel, which Kabblegaard described as Forced, but combined with elements of The Binding of Isaac.

For now though, gamers can look forward to Oct. 24, when BetaDwarf finally reaches the finish line and releases Forced on Steam. To drum up some excitement for the launch, BetaDwarf is also holding a pre-release tournament for the game Oct. 11-13.

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