MAGFest 2018 – The Bomb Cyclone

If you are reading this, you are one of the few survivors of the worst winter storm to hit the east coast since the formation of Earth as a planet. Welcome to the Winter Storm Grayson resistance. We were able to get the Internet uplink working, but only for a few minutes. Just enough time to tell you how MAGFest 2018 was!

 

Setting Up The Bomb

To be honest, I did not encounter anything more than snow flurries and severe cold over the weekend. I drove down on Wednesday afternoon, which was before the storm hit. Also, the beautiful Gaylord Hotel located along the scenic National Harbor was more inland than I realized. We weren’t even close to the the Maryland coastline! Sure, the river froze, but we didn’t get any snow at all.

When I got to the hotel, I was greeted by a bubbly Magfest banner welcoming “Adventurers and Dreamers.” (I’m not sure which one Jack and I count as…) The MIVS banner shown above was proudly displayed in Hall C where all the indies were, and gives you a good idea of what that section is like. I love that they have this. I can’t tell you how much it means to us that we got a free booth at a show like MAGFest!

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By Wednesday evening, the Where Shadows Slumber booth was set up and ready to go. It was pretty painless, and everyone loved the sweet GreatMats foam flooring we had from last year. This post is sponsored by GreatMats. Have you gotten your GreatMats GreatMat today? I stole the idea to include table lamps from the Mushroom 11 team, who used it to great effect a few years back at a Sheep’s Meow event at the NYU Game Center. It wasn’t anything special, but the booth got the job done. Other people had crazy stuff like tents and massive posters. Maybe next year, when the game is for sale, we’ll go to town on the booth. I never really plan this out, I always wing it. But I bet if Jack and I sat down and asked ourselves “what experience do we want people to have with our game at our booth?” we could come up with something really cool.

 

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The Madness Begins!

Wednesday was the calm before the storm. Not Winter Storm Grayson – Winter Storm “Tons of People Dancing In The Gaylord.” By Thursday, the party had officially begun. They put us in the official hotel this year, which meant I had plenty of time to capture the insanity. If there were any normal, well-adjusted people staying in the hotel these past four days, they must have been terribly confused.

The show ran from Thursday to Sunday, with a pretty stable crowd of people all four days. Sunday surprised me actually – I don’t remember the short time-frame of Sunday being quite so busy last year. I had people at the table until after 2 pm on Sunday, which is when everything shuts down.

The build Jack prepared included the game’s first World (The Forest), then World 3 (The Aqueduct) and finally World 5 (The Hills). We wanted to jump around to get some feedback on parts of the game we haven’t shown off as much. I’ve seen tons of people play World 1 (The Jail) and World 2 (The River) at this point. And since I haven’t gone back to polish those yet, it would have been more of the same feedback.

The response to this build was overwhelmingly positive. People loved the new audio, although it was hard to hear in the crowded MAGFest hall. They commented on how beautiful the art style was, and how the game was more challenging than last year’s Demo. The critiques they had were generally about the game chugging along on the Amazon HD 8 devices (one Level has a ton of lights) and other things that were hard to quantify, like the way that draggable objects “feel.” It’s hard to know exactly what players want when they say stuff like that, but that’s what the final months of a project are all about – tweaking the small stuff.

 

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There Was Plenty of Indie Time

I’ve made a conscious effort during these shows to try to spend as much time with other developers as I do with customers. After seeing the same faces show after show, it’s a little embarrassing to not get to know them. I’m pretty shy… and there’s always a ton of stuff to do at these shows. But it’s important to make an effort to join the game industry and treat it like a community.

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SWEET RAVE PARTIES!

The MIVS crew threw a party for all of the game developers and staff on Friday night. We got to see the crazy penthouse nightclub that the Gaylord Hotel has up on the 18th floor. I don’t go to a lot of nightclubs, so I was easily amused at the pretty rainbow lights and stellar view of National Harbor. It was coooool, man!

After meeting up with some NYC-based indie devs, we went to a crazy Power Glove concert. Note to self: keep earplugs on hand for this sort of thing. Power Glove plays heavy death metal renditions of classic video game themes. It was the most MAGFest thing I’ve seen at MAGFest.

 

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Swing and a Miss!

Sadly, although they handed out MIVSy awards to the developers on Saturday evening, Where Shadows Slumber did not receive any accolades. In our defense, we only brought a few in-development Levels from the final game. Other teams brought their final “ready-to-purchase” games and put their best foot forward. Just like last year when we brought our Demo, you can’t expect to win an award for something you haven’t finished yet. It wouldn’t be fair!

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But it still stings a little bit – that’s the downside of the development route I took us on. There’s a ton of time we spend at festivals showing off our flaws and weaknesses, because we want feedback. It’s going to make the final game better, but it can be exhausting listening to the same comments for four days straight. I just hope that once the game “goes gold,” it will receive the recognition it deserves. Do I hear #2018GameOfTheYear?

I’m home now. Sadly, I had to run the table alone this past weekend – Jack was planning on coming, but had to stay home unexpectedly for personal reasons. He’ll explain everything next week in a really important blog post. Sorry to be a tease, but this is something we’ve known about for a while but have not made public. It’s his story to tell, so I won’t go into it. Please stay tuned for next week’s blog for more details.

Thanks again to the wonderful MIVS staff for inviting us to return and providing such a great opportunity! We hope to return for many more years to come, whether it’s to sell Where Shadows Slumber or get some feedback on a future project. Rock on, everybody!

 

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That’s all for MAGFest! Please leave a comment to let us know you’re not a Russian Twitter bot scanning this page for mercenary purposes. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter @GameRevenant or Facebook, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

2017 Year In Review

On this date one year ago, Where Shadows Slumber didn’t even exist.

Hard to believe, right? There was a Demo on the store called Where Shadows Slumber Demo, but the official game project had not even been started yet! We’ve come so far in just one year. Everything you’ve seen online of the final game was started in 2017, from the level design, to the environment, to our new character models.

To ring in the new year, let’s take a look at the big milestones we hit in 2017 while working on Where Shadows Slumber.

 

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January 2017 – Rocked MAGFest!

I had to mention this one first because the timing is hilarious. Tomorrow, we’re heading out to Maryland again for MAGFest 2018! That was exactly how we kicked off 2017, too. This year, just like last year, the organizers of MIVS (the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase) saw something special in our game. So we’re going to be there for all four days of MAGFest in their massive indie game section, showing people a few Levels from Where Shadows Slumber and getting their feedback. Getting into MIVS every year is not a guarantee, so we were glad to be invited back. This year, we even get to stay in the official hotel!

But to be honest, MAGFest is a tough show. It’s the very first thing of the year, which makes it a bit stressful. I’d love to catch my breath and plan out how I’m going to finish a big pile of art, artistic polish, effects, cutscenes, and aesthetic optimizations. Instead, we’re going to be showing the game off to people for 7 hours straight, four days in a row. I remember last year’s show – it was fun, but exhausting. Even so, that’s a good problem to have. We’ll let you know how this year’s MAGFest goes next week, after our return!

 

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March 2017 – The Game Developers Conference

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March was an incredible show. I’ll be bummed if we can’t go again this year. I really enjoyed scoping it out in 2017, and I’d love to pay for Jack to come with me. (And hey, why not Caroline, Alba and Noah while we’re at it?) It may not be in the cards this year because we’ll still be in heads-down production mode by the time the show rolls around. But while I was there, I attended the Independent Games Festival and made a note to submit our Demo to the contest when it opened again. Sometime in the fall of 2017, we sent in our application. We haven’t heard back yet, so cross your fingers!

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The big surprise of my trip to GDC was attending the Big Indie Pitch and scoring third place! It was a totally impromptu thing where I had basically no time to prepare my quick pitch of the game, and deliver it perfectly before five teams of judges. This is where having a polished Demo really came in handy. There’s just no time to fiddle with a development build when you’re under the gun like that. Want to read about that experience? Well, my blog post about GDC 2017 was so good, PocketGamer put it on their website!

That’s probably because it was also a big ad for their contest, but… sometimes you just have to play the game to get noticed, man [ >‿o]

 

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March 2017 – PAX East Indie Showcase (PEIS)

March was busy for us! We didn’t just go to PAX East – Where Shadows Slumber was selected out of a large field of applicants to be a part of their Indie Showcase. This saved us a ton of money, which we really appreciated. It cost $50 to send in our Demo to be reviewed, but considering they gave us a free booth, it’s as if we saved $2,000!

But there’s more to it than that. They gave us a place of honor, along with four other really cool indie teams with awesome games. Being in such a crucial intersection of the main hall meant we got tons of traffic. (We even got a spot on a corner, which meant confused travelers often spotted us and walked over to our table out of sheer interest!)

When I’m feeling down, I worry about what might happen if Where Shadows Slumber isn’t the groundbreaking critical and financial success I know it can be. But then I think of “that time we were in the PAX East Indie Showcase” and I remember that they saw something special in us, long before we even began work on the final project.

Check out the video above and skip to the parts where they recorded Jack talking about our experience, Where Shadows Slumber, and indie development!

 

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June 2017 – AwesomeCon

Because Where Shadows Slumber is so awesome and we went to MAGFest earlier in the year, the organizers of AwesomeCon’s MAGFest room invited us to a show called AwesomeCon. I was very nervous for this show for two big reasons: I was going alone, and I was bringing a build of brand new Levels that had never been tested before. To make things worse, Jack and I agreed that the Levels should not receive an artistic pass until we figured out what everyone thought of them. That was the correct strategic move, but I got sick of telling people “just ignore the art and let me know what you think of the design!”

Customers, gamers, and fans… they don’t see the game as a collection of parts, like we do. It’s one big experience to them. It’s impossible for people not to comment on things you want them to ignore, unless they are also game designers. The good news is that Where Shadows Slumber got a free ride to yet another massive show, and plenty of people gave us super honest feedback about those early Levels.

It may seem weird to ask for all that feedback after having a Demo on the store for so many months, but you can never be too careful. Only one Level from the Demo actually made it over into the final game, so it was necessary to humble ourselves and start from scratch to get everything right.

 

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August 2017 – PLAY NYC

The Playcrafting organization has been nothing but good to us ever since we first darkened their doors for their free game event in the Spring of 2016. When Dan Butchko called to let me know they were working on a bigger show and wanted indies to purchase booth space, I was on board immediately. Normally, Playcrafting events are free. But PLAY NYC was an ambitious step forward for the New York City game industry, so it was worth the money to help make this show happen.

We loved it! We recommend that every tri-state indie reading this seriously considers going to PLAY NYC 2018. Get a booth if you have a game, or just buy a badge and walk the floor on Saturday.

New York City has everything, because it’s a massive metropolis. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, there are better places in the United States to make games. (Texas and California spring to mind) If we want to make Silicon “Alley” a reality, we need to support massive endeavors like PLAY NYC. If the New York City game industry scene actually becomes a “real thing” one day, we’ll have Playcrafting to thank. Plus, the show was packed with awesome people who were super interested in our game. It was probably our best investment of the year. Did I mention it was about 40 minutes from my Hoboken apartment? GO TO THIS SHOW!

 

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September 2017 – Big TechRaptor Interview

New Jersey-based journalist Robert Adams had met us at a few Playcrafting events before I contacted him about an interview. The article, over on TechRaptor, remains one of the best snapshots of our thinking that exists on the Internet.

Because I was on the phone with Robert instead of typing my replies, I got a chance to rant and ramble a lot. This led to us delving into some deep topics, which I appreciated. Give it a read over on their website!

In it, we discuss the origins of Game Revenant, my tragic corporate backstory, the art direction of Where Shadows Slumber, our progress over the past two years, mobile vs Steam, virtual reality’s prospects, release dates, the game’s price, and why Jack is our hero.

 

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September 2017 – Alba & Noah Join The Team

This is related to PLAY NYC since we met them there, but it’s worth mentioning independently: we hired two awesome audio designers! I had a lot of fun making whistling noises with my mouth as I made the sound effects for the wind in our free Demo… but that wasn’t going to cut it. We needed professionals who love the game, love music, and love adding in detailed sound effects. And we found them!

 

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October 2017 – Crazy Traveling

This month marked the most traveling I’ve ever done in such a short period of time. For some reason, October is designated as “every conference all at once month.” Don’t ask me why…

It seems weird to mention this in our Year In Review because none of these shows were originally intended as “marketing shows.” That means I didn’t go to them expecting to advertise Where Shadows Slumber. Rather, I just wanted to be an anonymous indie developer. That’s why Jack didn’t need to come to these either – we’re trying to minimize the amount of time he takes off from work, so that he can cash those vacation days in for when it really counts. (Or just for actual vacations!)

Anyway, it turns out I suck at being incognito. I won 2nd place at a game pitching contest when I went to Seattle for the last Mobile Games Forum ever, and then got to demo Where Shadows Slumber at IndieCade’s GameTasting event for a few hours in Los Angeles. Whoops! Unite 2017 in Austin, Texas ended up being the best one for networking. I highly recommend that show if you are a Unity developer! Meeting the people who built this game engine is an incredible resource. You can read my recap posts if you’re interested in getting my brutally honest take about what those shows were like.

 

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December 2017 – Ask Me Anything Event

We ended the year by taking your questions on the website AMAfeed. This website simulates the “AMA” threads that are really popular on Reddit. We got way more questions than I expected, and I answered them all – so if you’re dying to know the innermost workings of our hearts, check out our archived post.

This experience was great. It was like a trial run for a Reddit AMA, which I expect would get more traffic, but would be more demanding. We’ve decided to keep a bank of answers to commonly asked questions on hand, to make sure we can answer questions faster next time! We’ll look into setting one of those up on Reddit. If we do, we’ll post any information about it here to this blog.

 


 

As you can see, 2017 was a year marked by both hectic travel and silent, unrecognized work. It’s not flashy to talk about the long nights we spent in front of the computer plodding along, or the snippets of time we found in our lives to work on this game. People usually want to hear about the big stuff (when’s your next show?) but the hour-to-hour details are harder to chronicle. Rest assured that every big show we attended was book-ended by hours upon hours of work, as we strive to finish Where Shadows Slumber as soon as possible.

Whether you’ve been following this blog all throughout 2017 or you just joined us, we hope to have your support in 2018. Please continue to share our free Demo, our website, and this blog with people in your life who enjoy indie games. Our goal in 2018 is to finish what we started and offer the world a beautiful experience they’ve never seen before. Knowing that there’s an audience out there waiting to enjoy it is a powerful motivator! Get in touch with us by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or just by trolling us in the comments [ ^_^]

Happy New Year!

 

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Do you have any interesting resolutions for New Year’s? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Frank DiCola is the founder and CEO of Game Revenant, a game studio in Hoboken, NJ.

Hey, Listen!

Bubbling pools of lava. Rushing water echoing throughout a cavernous aqueduct. An eerie graveyard. A lonely mountaintop buffeted by unrelenting snow.

For the longest time, Jack and I imagined these sounds in our heads as we played the development build of Where Shadows Slumber. Neither of us have any formal audio training, so our game was a silent vacuum waiting to be filled with lively sound. We imagined footsteps clattering on tile, creepy birds in the distance, and the distant growl of mysterious beasts as we dreamed of a day when our game felt complete. Finally, that dream has come true!

To be sure, this game is still very much in development. But we’re finally ready to show off some of the sections of our game that have complete sound. It’s taken many months of recording and composing by Alba S. Torremocha and Noah Kellman, our powerhouse audio team, to get here. All the while, Jack has been diligently programming a complex system of triggers to ensure that their sound plays correctly during the game.

I underestimated the amount of work it would take to set all of this up! But I was right about one thing – our game feels so much more alive now that you can hear things like the crunch of grass under Obe’s feet. Every visual element in the game has taken on a weighty-ness that gives it a sense of place, whereas before everything just seemed to float. If you normally don’t play mobile games with your phone’s sound on, you’re going to want to reconsider when you download Where Shadows Slumber next year.

Without further ado, let’s watch some videos of the game in action accompanied by a brief interview with Alba and Noah.

TURN YOUR SOUND ON! ([ ^_^]);

 

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At a planning meeting, we discuss scene audio transitions.

 

Interview With Alba and Noah

FRANK. What was the name of that event you guys went to?

ALBA & NOAH. The event was a GANG (Game Audio Network Guild) monthly panel and feedback meeting, one of the only venues where us audio nerds can safely enter the outside world and socialize.

F. How secret was it? Can you tell us anything?

A&N. We can tell you that Tom Salta (Composer for Killer Instinct, Prince of Persia, Halo), Jason Kanter (Audio Lead at Avalanche) and Gina Zdanowicz (Owner of SerialLab Studios, Sound Designer for Best Luck) were all there to give us feedback, and they all had great things to say about the game! They also offered us some really fantastic feedback with good ideas to help us continue to improve the soundscape.

F. What parts of the game did you show off?

A&N. We chose one Level from each of three Worlds (World 0, World 2, and World 6) and demonstrated how the audio interactivity works, as well as our aesthetic sound choices so far.

F. How much audio is done – what have you done so far?

A&N. It’s crazy to say, but we’re almost finished with our first pass of sound for every World except World 7! Whoa. Once that’s done, we’ll head over to the UI sound design and the cutscenes, while continuing to make improvements on the rest.

F. What part of the game are you working on now?

A&N. We’re finishing up music and sound for World 4 and we have some crazy ideas that might hold back the schedule a bit… (oh crap, I hope Frank and Jack aren’t reading this…)

F. What audio features are you most looking forward to creating?”

A&N. We’re really excited to freak out our neighbors with a bunch of strange, deep grunting sounds while we work on Obe’s voice and character sound design. And also, wait, did someone say… string quartet?

 

 

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What Do You Think?

We’re very proud of the work that’s been done on the game so far. That doesn’t mean the game is finished, though! We’re also not above taking criticism or honest feedback. Now is the time to tell us what you really think – don’t wait until the game is on the store, and you’re agonizing over whether to give it four stars or five stars…

Leave a post in the Comments section below and let us know what you think!

 

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Thanks for checking out the game’s audio in this blog post update. Please leave a comment to let us know you’re not a Russian Twitter bot scanning this page for mercenary purposes. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Ask Us Anything on #AMAFeed!

Over the weekend, Mandy from AMAfeed reached out to us via email and invited us to host an AMA using their service. This blog post contains all the details you’ll need to know if you want to participate!

But first, for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym ‘AMA’…

 

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A verification photo of the AMA in progress.

What The Heck Is An ‘AMA’?

The acronym AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything.” It’s a time honored tradition on the web that goes back to the days of AOL and message boards, where users would open themselves up to any line of questioning for a short period of time. The practice has gained recent popularity on the website Reddit, where even Barack Obama hosted one of these events during his tenure as President of the United States.

These tend to be accompanied by some kind of verification photo (see above) to prove that the person is who they say they are. It’s unfortunately very common for people to pretend to be Morgan Freeman when they are in fact not Morgan Freeman. The good thing is, we’re too small to even get copy-catted. It’s definitely us!

We always answer your fan emails and Twitter messages. But the purpose of hosting one of these AMA events is to take questions en masse for a few days and also advertise the game to complete strangers. As the name implies, you can ask us anything – the only questions we will refuse to answer are those that would cause us to break a contractual Non-Disclosure Agreement.

 

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How Does This Work At #AMAfeed?

Our AMA can be found at this link. In order to ask us a question, you’ll either need to make an account with #AMAfeed or connect an existing social media account. Personally, I prefer not to make accounts with websites like this that I may not use too often. I just connected the Game Revenant Twitter account to #AMAfeed and it’s worked just fine so far.

You can ask whatever you want, whenever you want, and I will answer. However, my answers will not appear until Wednesday, December 20th at 3:00 pm when this thing officially launches. It’s cool – they give the hosts a grace period of 48 hours to answer questions so that it’s not overwhelming. When Morgan Freeman did one of these, he was getting at least 100 questions every hour. (But was that truly Morgan Freeman?)

This event will end on December 24th at 3:00 pm since I won’t be available to answer questions during Christmas anyway.

 

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What’s Next?

The Where Shadows Slumber team looks forward to your interesting questions! See you on #AMAfeed…

And stay tuned for our April 1st #AMAfeed post, where we’ll be pretending to be award-winning actor Morgan Freeman!

 

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Don’t read this bottom thing! Ask us a question on #AMAfeed! You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Join The Conversation

Everyone has an opinion on everything. If that’s true, then why is it so hard to get people to talk to us about Where Shadows Slumber?

 


 

My name is Frank DiCola, and along with my friend Jack Kelly we’ve been maintaining this blog and developing our game Where Shadows Slumber together for a while now. The game is launching soon, but we’re not announcing a specific release date to the public yet. Regardless, now is the perfect time to get feedback on our game. We’re “landing the plane,” so to speak.

It’s too late for broad sweeping changes, but now is the perfect time for you to nitpick all of the tiny details in our game. If you tell us to fix it, we’ll fix it before we launch the game on the App Store – and that might save us from getting a negative review from someone else who notices the same problem!

If you tested the game at any point during the last year, you probably heard us wave away from criticism because we’d “handle it later.” Well, now is later! We appreciate your broad feedback then, and we could really use your specific feedback now.

OK, now that I convinced you to join our fan club, let’s talk about how you can join the conversation! This blog post is dedicated to discussing the various channels we’ve setup for feedback. No matter where you make your home on social media, there’s an avenue for you to use to contact us!

 

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The Game Revenant Discord Channel

This one is pretty recent. If you have the app Discord on your computer or phone you can join our public channel. We’re still getting in the habit of posting screenshots, videos, and blog posts in the chat. But we’ll use it more if more people join!

Link to the Game Revenant Discord Channel: (link)

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Discord’s chat system, as we discuss how best to decorate one of the game’s Levels.

I plan to use this Discord for future projects even after Where Shadows Slumber launches, but it’s safe to say that this will be dedicated to this game for at least the next two years or so. Feel free to join or leave anytime, just be sure to introduce yourself when you jump in the chat! Obviously, I retain the right to kick you out if you’re being rude to the other people in the chat. But I promise not to remove anyone for criticizing our game – that’s the whole point! It’s hard to offend me and Jack, so don’t worry about that.

Although Discord supports voice chat, we usually just use the text chat. A voice consultation in a private channel with Frank is available upon request.

 

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Facebook: The Chamber of Judgment

We’ve had this private Facebook group up and running for a while, but it’s difficult to get in the habit of posting to it. We haven’t quite hit the critical mass of people yet needed for this to work. So, join the conversation!

Link to the Chamber of Judgment Facebook Group: (link)

Similar to Discord, this is a space dedicated purely to discussing the game and giving feedback to developers. Anyone with Facebook can join for free! If you live on Facebook, this is the best way to give us feedback.

 

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Cartrdge, an Artistic Community

Our Cartrdge page is one of the online communities where we have the least control over the conversation, but we’d still appreciate it if you check it out! Yes, I spelled that right. Cartrdge is a super cool website for game artists to post their work. You’ll find everything there from super awesome shaders to physics demos to entire voxel cities.

Link to the Where Shadows Slumber Cartrdge Project Page: (link)

I love scrolling through the home page there just to see what everyone’s working on. It’s one of the best designed portfolio websites I’ve seen, and we’ve been selected by their Editors once or twice so far. You can also leave comments on posts, so make an account with them and be on the lookout for our stuff. Give each one a Like and then share your opinion with us!

 

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Roast My Game

This poor website seems to be on its last legs. But the concept is so genius, I wish it would stick around. It’s a website for indie developers to post their projects, get feedback, and climb the Leaderboard to the top! You should sign up there and give them a morale boost. They explain the concept better than I could:

“One of the biggest problems that a game dev faces as they create a game is gaining a sort of “mothers love” for their game. This prevents them from being able to properly determine its flaws. Friends and family members tend to sugarcoat their feedback to avoid from being discouraging but this actually harms more than it helps. Roast My Game is a site created to help game developers gather ‘sugarfree’ feedback on games they are working on and to inspire other game developers by sharing development progress. [emphasis theirs]

Link to our Roast My Game page: (link)

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A typical comment in response to our Demo, and a reasonable reply in progress.

We posted our Demo to that site last year and got some good feedback. Tragically, there just aren’t enough people using Roast My Game. My suspicion is that everyone on there is like me – they want feedback, but they don’t want to play other people’s indie games. Too bad!

 

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“Ceiling… what are YOU doing here?”

What Did We Miss?

This is super important so I’ll close with this – what have we missed so far? Are you angry that there is no Where Shadows Slumber Subreddit? Perhaps you feel like we’re neglecting TouchArcade, Instagram, Pinterest, or some other online community you love?

I’ll be pretty frank here (ayyy) and just let you know that if there’s a guaranteed community out there, we’ll come to you. I know nothing about Pinterest. But if you know of 1,000 people out there who love indie games and would boost us on Pinterest, I will learn and become the Pinterest master. We don’t care, we just want to promote the game and get honest feedback from you before our game hits the cruel, unforgiving free market.

Leave a Reply under this post with a community you’d like to see us join. We hope to see you on the interwebs!

 

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Hey! Join the conversation using the links above this. What are you doing reading this blurb? You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

State of the Art – November 2017

Welcome to State Of The Art, November 2017 edition! This monthly progress report is written by Frank DiCola and is focused entirely on how the game’s visuals have improved in the past month.

<Don’t forget to add in some lame excuse about Thanksgiving before you post this>

Without further excuses, let’s explore the major leaps forward we took in November!

 

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The Game’s First Level, “Fallen”

It took me a while to get around to doing this Level, because there’s a bunch of triggers I had to animate and I didn’t feel like doing those. For the longest time, Level 0-2 has been our de facto “first level.”

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But the game really begins here, along this spooky Forest path, where Obe first encounters the Lantern. You can watch the entire Level in the video below, since it’s so short. (Just ignore the missing sound effects and animation polish, all of that comes later.) Jack and I have a rigid philosophical stance when it comes to game design: we don’t like using text to tell players what to do. That’s annoying! So this Level is designed so that people can learn how to walk. It’s impossible to avoid picking up Obe’s lantern because he automatically does that when you walk on the first open space in the clearing.

This Level didn’t take too long once I actually sat down and did it. Since Obe can only walk around the center of the Level, and his light radius is quite small, there’s a lot of art I can intentionally ignore. This may seem lazy, but there have been times in the past where the opposite has occurred! I’ve done beautiful artwork around the edges of the Level only to be dismayed to find the light never reaches there, and players will never see it. But I still see it. In my dreams.

 

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Level 4-3, “Ramparts”

One of the most ambitious Levels we planned for the game has you scaling the ramparts of a city wall as you climb to the palace on top. It’s a transition Level, which makes it super important for the story. The first two Levels in this World take place in the slums, and the final two Levels in this World take place in beautiful palace gardens. We need a bridge in between those two, otherwise the jump from one to the other will be too abrupt for the audience.

Enter Level 4-3, “Ramparts,” a vertical bridge between two different worlds separated by economic class and power. It’s easier to show you than tell you! We begin on the street, with the dogs.*

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*Dogs not included

Then there’s the middle section:

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On top, we can see the palace architecture more clearly:

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This Level took forever for Jack to make and for me to decorate. Even now, it still needs an extra coat of paint! The puzzle isn’t difficult, but the vertical nature of it means we need to cover up a lot of the screen. I want to put more plants closer to the top, which I didn’t really have time to do yet. Plant life would indicate that even in this barren desert, the wealthy King who lives in the castle gets to be surrounded by beautiful foliage.

 

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Paradise Begun

The game’s final World is a beautiful island paradise floating in the sky. This is somewhat of a story spoiler, but we’ve blogged about it before so I’m not too concerned. Read on at your own peril, I guess?

It’s taken me a while to return to this beautiful setting. Anything that comes last in a video game usually gets the least attention. It’s regrettable, but understandable. After all, if you see a movie in theatres, you often see 100% of it.  Unless you leave in the middle for some reason, you’ll experience the beginning, middle, and ending. But video games are different. Only a fraction of players make it to the end of the game, but by definition anyone who plays a game experiences the first 5 minutes. That’s why those first 5 minutes are so crucial and get so much special treatment.

I’d like to break the chain, if I can. I want people to feel rewarded for getting to the end of this difficult puzzle experience. Here’s the current progress on World 7, which I just started last week. They’re in rough shape at this stage, but you can get a sense of where I’m going with these.

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Level 7-1, “Ladder” is all about compiling a ladder from a bunch of broken pieces. The ladder comes together using the shadows from that conveniently specific rotating object. It’s harder than it looks! I designed this one and I forgot how to solve it. Good luck!

On the first landing, we get a chance to show off that majestic Bermudian inspired architecture I love so much. If I have time, I’ll even include a cool dude relaxing on a chair just to show how far removed this World is from everything below.

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Level 7-2, “Pond” is due for somewhat of a re-do. The major thing I forgot to include here was a pond in the center where that button is. We want some kind of a sacred grove with a sacred button because that’s how you solve this Level – you need to use the center piece in order to drag boxes around and cast the shadows you need to fix the ending staircase.

This is where design and aesthetics conflict. The pathways we need are very specific and jagged, but the “look and feel” we want is uniform and symmetrical. It’s a tough compromise. I’ll return to this one and remove that weird green rock path (a placeholder) and try to do something closer to my original “Toolkit” Level I posted so long ago:

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(This isn’t a Level in the game, but rather spec work I did a few months ago when I was beginning each World’s “Toolkit.” But that center pond is making a comeback, just wait for it!)

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Level 7-3, “Tower” isn’t very far along, but it’s such a cool design I thought I would tease it here. You need to see a video of it in action to really grasp what’s going on, so no more for you just yet! Be patient [ ^_^]!

 

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User Interface Sketches

Generally I prefer not to show off drawings that are not part of the game. But Jack and I just started on the user interface design, so it can’t hurt to show you a tiny bit of what I’m working on…

 

It may seem late in the game to handle this, but we decided long ago that we don’t want a complicated user interface. Above, you can see that our Levels contain all the features that a Main Menu would normally have. We don’t really like having a separate menu detached from the game, so you can access all the key stuff just by “pausing” the game.

Note: this is just a Photoshop design. We haven’t coded this in yet, and not all of the buckets you see above are necessarily being included in the final game. For example, being able to take a picture of the Level is an important social feature, but it’s not essential for the game’s launch and may fall by the wayside.

Interacting with phone features is a big pain and it’s one of the toughest things about game development. Making your game work on every single tablet, flip-phone, e-reader and seashell Kindle out there is a nightmare. Maybe we’ll write a blog about that topic once we get more into the weeds of cross-platform development…

 

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See You Next Year!

The next time you read this particular blog series, it will be 2018 and I’ll be recapping December. Man, where does the time go? This year has gone blazing by!

This month, I hope to finish World 7 and move on to polishing up each Level. That work is highly specific, which is why it was left until the end.

Polishing the Levels will intersect with working on the game’s cutscenes. That’s because some of these Levels have animated characters in them. I’d like to be sure that the animated characters I create work well in both settings, to save myself time later. So don’t be surprised if next month’s update is a bit of a mixed bag. That’s the way it’s going to be from now until the game launches!

 

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We hope you enjoyed this update about the game’s artwork. Have a question about aesthetics that wasn’t mentioned here? You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.

Frank Opinion: Why Our Game Is Premium

Believe it or not, Jack and I don’t spend every waking minute of our lives with our heads buried in our computer screens working on Where Shadows Slumber. Occasionally, we take the time to read up on current events in the game industry!

The big news of last week was Star Wars Battlefront 2’s controversial loot-box system, and how EA and Disney tried desperately to pull up as their starship careened toward the surface in a full nose-dive. I’m not a journalist, so I’ll let you look up the story on your own. Personally I’m a huge fan of this YouTuber YongYea – watch the last 5 or 6 videos on his channel and you’ll get the full story. (Coarse language warning – YongYea gets pretty passionate about this subject.)

Honestly, the headlines of these videos alone are enough to give you the idea. Are you an expert on lootboxes and the EA controversy yet? Yes? Great, let’s dive right in!

 

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Why Are You Blogging About This?

It may seem odd to bring up EA and Star Wars Battlefront 2 in a blog that’s dedicated to following the progress of our mobile puzzle game. However, Jack and I write these blogs for a few reasons. Progress updates are great, but sometimes we like to take the time to spill our guts and let you know exactly what we’re thinking and why we made certain key decisions along the way.

Recently I attended the Mobile Games Forum. As I wrote in my blog post, I felt a bit out of place at that conference. Industry executives are really moving away from premium games! Nearly everyone I met was either a free-to-play developer or an ad network executive trying to sell us their services. Sometimes I felt downright insulted by the comments these guys made towards me and my “ancient” business model. I heard things like “the market is only 7% premium these days” and “game developers are the only ones who miss the premium model.” At the limit, I heard the scariest thing imaginable: The premium market is dead.

So I’d like to take this week’s blog post as an opportunity to talk about the recent controversy with EA, and relate it to the apparent death of the premium business model. But first, we need to define these terms in case I’m using technical jargon you’ve never heard before. (This is an educational blog, after all…) Then we need to mention some disclaimers so people don’t flame me in the comments section.

 

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Disclaimers and Definitions

Before we dive in – what the heck am I talking about? To someone who doesn’t study the entertainment industry, this blog post is probably a bit confusing so far. Here are the terms I’m going to use, and what I think they mean. Hit me up in the comments if I make a big mistake and I’ll update the blog.

PremiumYou see a game on the App Store. It costs 5 dollars. You pay the money, and download the game. You play it. You never have a reason (or the ability) to spend more money in-game after this point. There are no advertisements or “time-wasters” in the game.

Free, With Ads: You see a game on the App Store. It costs 0 dollars to download! You download it for free and play it. During the game, advertisements for real-world products pop up at regular intervals. These can be images or videos. The developer makes a fraction of a cent for every ad you watch or click. You may also be given the option at times to opt into watching an ad to get some kind of in-game bonus.

Free, With In-App Purchases: You see a game on the App Store. It costs 0 dollars to download! You download it for free and play it. During the game, you notice that certain player abilities, player accessories, or levels are locked. To unlock them, you need to spend either an in-game currency, or a real-world currency like USD. The in-game currency doesn’t go nearly as far as the real-world currency, usually at a conversion rate of something like 100:1. You can do everything in the game without paying money, but it takes a ton of time.

Grind: Known as grinding or “the grind,” this is the process of doing something repetitive in a game in order to earn enough currency to buy something. I assume the name came from the agonizing process of pushing a millstone around in circles in your bare feet.

Lootboxes: Digital grab-bags filled with randomized treasure. Lootboxes are often purchasable in-game with in-game currency, but the grind to get them is time intensive and dull. These lootboxes can always be purchased at a great discount with real money, so the incentive to pony up is always there.


 

Finally, I want to mention that there are plenty of free games I have played and enjoyed.

I used to play League of Legends with my friends when we were all into the game – that one is Free, With In-App Purchases. Because you never were able to buy powerful items in League of Legends, I never spent money on the game or even felt like I needed to. In that game, you only purchased different costumes for your heroes. I felt it was a good way of doing that model, and Riot Games has been quite successful.

Currently I really enjoy the digital card game Hearthstone, which is also Free, With In-App Purchases. That one is dicier because they have lootboxes in the form of card packs. Since you can buy card packs to get good cards and put them in your deck, they’re essentially selling power. I think they get away with it because Blizzard still has a good reputation. Also, this business model is as old as the real-world card game Magic: The Gathering. Perhaps players are used to it by now. However, the pay-to-get-good-cards model is harming their ability to capture new players, so not all is well in the land of Azeroth. The impact of this business model remains to be seen.

Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp just launched today and I’m definitely going to play it no matter how weird it is. I love Nintendo, I love Animal Crossing, and I’m well aware this is probably going to be a free, with in-app purchases minefield. By this point though, I’ve gotten pretty good at playing these games without paying a cent.

Now that you know I don’t hate every single free-to-play game, let’s talk about why this business model can easily be corrupted.

 

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The Right Way and the Wrong Way To Do This

Let me tell you what I like about free games when they are done correctly.

In my view, when a game lets you download it for free and largely ignore the in-app purchases, consumers will enjoy the experience. I get a strange sense of accomplishment knowing that my Hearthstone deck, which I built over time for free, can beat some nerd who paid $100 in card packs. The reason why I don’t play games with ads is because there’s no way to ignore them – they are shoved into your face on purpose.

This is what makes Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s lootbox system so egregious. They’ve gone with the controversial Premium, With In-App Purchases model. Recently, this has only been done successfully by Overwatch, probably due in no small part to Blizzard’s stellar reputation in the industry. More importantly, Overwatch’s lootboxes never contain any items that materially affect gameplay. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your costume is – you’ll still get dunked by a regular player who didn’t pay for lootboxes if they are better at the game than you are.

EA has flipped the script, totally ignoring cosmetic items and focusing instead on selling Star Cards: boring passive abilities that make your character better in unexplained, unrealistic ways. By selling players the random chance to get incredibly powerful abilities and forcing other players to grind their way to these same powers, EA is simply setting free players up to fail. After you’ve paid $60 for Star Wars: Battlefront II, you really haven’t finished paying for the product. What’s worse is that now you don’t even get the option of laying out more money to get what you want – such as the ability to play as Darth Vader – but instead you need to gamble with your time and money. Whatever happened to video games just being fun experiences? Aren’t we in the entertainment industry? One side (developers) is not respecting the other side (players), and the players are largely just accepting this brutal beat-down.

 

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Premium: A Business Model Based on Mutual Respect

Finally, the conversation can return to Where Shadows Slumber, our upcoming premium mobile puzzle game. It took me a while to lay the groundwork for this, but I wanted to show you where my thoughts were coming from.

Jack and I didn’t choose this business model flippantly. It’s not like we had the chance to make a free-with-ads game and then said “eh, what the heck. Make it premium. Who cares?” There were a number of factors at play when we made this decision, back in 2015.

1. Inspiration from Monument Valley: As we’ve noted many times, the premium smash hit Monument Valley and its successful sequel inspired us to make this game. They offered the game for a premium price, and only charged players more money later when they created more levels. That always seemed more than fair to us. If they made millions, why can’t we?

2. Game design: Similar to the point above, we decided that a linear level-based puzzle game just couldn’t be reconfigured to work with a free-to-play business model. Our entire game was based around the business model: an assumption that this was a relaxing, creepy puzzle experience waiting to unfold before you. Your character can’t die in our game, and there are no enemies. That means we can’t sell lives or power-ups. Since the game is a finite single-player experience, we wouldn’t get much mileage out of selling cosmetic items. Who cares what the character looks like? The game lasts just a few hours and there’s no one to impress. We could put ads in-between levels, but there aren’t even a ton of levels so we wouldn’t make much money per player. We simply never had any desire to mutilate the concept of our game in order to make room for a pigeonholed free-to-play business model.

3. Hedging our bets against free-to-play: Every bubble bursts eventually. Right now, the business executives making these decisions are looking at the success of their competitors and simply copying them. This is often called reactive development. Responding to the environment around them, business executives see that every game is free to play and decide to follow suit. But I think it’s better to be proactive and look toward the future. Next year, when our game launches, what will players think about the game industry? Will they have a negative or a positive reaction to a $0 price tag on a game? Has Star Wars: Battlefront II poisoned the well? Jack and I are taking a gamble by pursuing a business model that makes very little money. But we do so with the confidence that free-to-play’s stock is falling, and an informed group of players are getting tired of seeing good games get ruined by the greedy demands of executives.

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This Industry Needs Mutual Respect

The thing that combines the three points above is the principle of mutual respect. Call me old fashioned, but I’m used to the traditional way of doing things.

As a player with money to spend, you scan the market for interesting video games. Something catches your eye – it’s a beautiful indie puzzle game about a strange priestly-looking dude with a lantern. The puzzles in the game are weird. Objects in the level change with shadows? You’ve never seen that before.

Before you take a leap of faith with your money, you try the free Demo on the store. It’s polished, the puzzles are quirky, and the story ends on a weird cliffhanger. Curiosity overwhelms you and you’ve made up your mind! You’re going to buy “Where Shadows Slumber.”

It may not seem like it, but this is a sign of respect. You’ve trusted us with your money. You respect us enough not to pirate the game or just watch someone playing it on YouTube. You trust us to deliver on what we promised in our Demo. You believe that our screenshots are genuine, and not Photoshopped to make the game look cooler than it is. Even though we’re indies straight out of college, you take a chance on us instead of taking your business elsewhere.

In turn, we as game developers should respect you. We should respect you by delivering on our promise, giving you an entertaining experience that matches or exceeds the value of the money you’ve paid. This is where my disdain for in-game advertisements comes from. It’s impossible for me to see it as anything other than a show of disrespect. When someone entrusts you with their time, how could you shove a commercial in their face and then demand they pay up to prevent their time from being wasted?

Time is the most precious thing we have as human beings. I’d gladly pay any sum of money for more years on this Earth, and more years for the lives of my loved ones. This is impossible, but the urge is always there. That’s what EA is exploiting when they devise a system that requires players to grind for 80 hours just to unlock one character. They’re holding your entertainment hostage and asking you to make a terrible choice: give up your time (precious) or an unknowable sum of money (also precious, in large quantities). By some estimates, you would have to spend close to $2,000 just to guarantee that you’ll unlock all Battlefront II has to offer. You’d never spend that much on a game upfront and they know it. In a sign of disrespect, they’ve devised a system to coerce you into playing their game or paying a ton of money over time without realizing it.

If that’s what the premium business model died for, it died in vain.

 

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Moral Arguments Require a Virtuous Community

It should be obvious by now that I’m not making a business case in favor of the Premium model. It’s dead or dying, and I get that. I don’t have any numbers to back this up. All I’m saying is that there’s a morally right way of delivering entertainment, and a morally wrong way of doing it too. Some publishers like to dance close to the fire, and EA jumped right into the furnace. (There’s a business argument for you – reputation matters.) But since this is a moral argument, it requires a community that cares about right and wrong in order for it to carry any weight.

Jack and I will need your help to pull this off. We want to be able to pay Alba and Noah and give them a good bonus through sales of the game. We want to be able to repay Caroline for her work on the website. I want the sales of Where Shadows Slumber to lay the foundation for Game Revenant’s future so I can be in business on my own. I want this game to make enough money so Jack never has to work another day in his life, especially after the sacrifices he’s made to create this beautiful game.

In order to do all of this, we need your help and we need it now! Now is the time to share this article with a friend, or show them our game’s website. If you haven’t downloaded the game’s Demo, do it today and send the link to a friend. Sign up for our newsletter so you can be there for us on day 1, leaving a good review and boosting our standing in the app charts.

Remember that there are four ways to vote in this marketplace:

  1. With your money – a symbol of what you place value on and what you do not.
  2. With your voice – what games are you talking about and sharing on social media?
  3. With your ratings – a sign of how you think other players should view the game.
  4. With your time – everything is tracked these days, and play time equals support.

 

Premium isn’t dead – but it will die when the gaming community overwhelmingly votes to support disrespectful business models and neglects to support indies. Big publishers like EA are probably beyond saving, but Game Revenant isn’t.

Not yet.

 

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The views expressed in Frank Opinion don’t represent everyone working on Where Shadows Slumber. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.