Now that the development phase of our product life cycle is behind us, the Where Shadows Slumber team is putting all of its focus behind advertising the game in anticipation of our upcoming launch. Last night, I met with Alba, Noah, and Caroline at Buzzfeed’s NY headquarters to discuss our strategy. (Jack is knee deep in wedding preparation this week, but we sent him our notes afterward) Shout out to Caroline for hosting us and giving us a tour! The Buzzfeed offices are awesome. I made sure to line my pockets with free candy every time I said I was “going to the bathroom.”
We’ve been pretty transparent about our process these past two years. Though I won’t reveal our planned iOS release date in this post, I can share with you everything we discussed at our marketing meeting last night. I hope this give you a sense of how small indie teams try to spread the word about their products. You’ll notice we’re leaning heavily on free / earned advertising, with a smaller focus on paid advertising. You may also notice that this is a ton of work. As we say all the time, marketing is really a full time job! If you can get someone on your team who does that around the clock, go for it. Wearing multiple hats is pretty stressful.
OK, enough whining! Let’s dive into the details…
Teasing With Teasers
The standard formula for movie promotion these days seems to be:
Release a tiny teaser video that builds anticipation for a new product
Release a short video that announces the movie’s release date and builds anticipation for the next trailer
Release a trailer video that hypes up the final product once consumers can take some kind of market action (e.g. buying a movie ticket)
We decided to do something similar with Where Shadows Slumber. Over the next few weeks, you’ll see a few different videos go up on YouTube to announce the launch of the game. Alba composed different musical tracks for each video, and I’m going to film portions of the game to line up with them. (Play the audio file above to hear the rough cut – don’t worry, there isn’t supposed to be a video with it yet!)
Apple has a button on iTunes Connect that allows us to make the game available for pre-order. This wasn’t what we originally planned, but it seems like games that are available for pre-order are featured on a special part of the App Store. (Now that I have a bunch of iPhones lying around, I check the App Store constantly) If we can get on that pre-order list, we may be placed directly in front of a few million people each week. That would be awesome!
I’m not a big fan of pre-ordering games, personally. I tend to wait until games have been out for years before buying them. But I understand there are a lot of fans out there who don’t want to miss our game and want to play it the second it comes out. Also, any chance to get the game in a premium spot on the App Store is one we can’t afford to pass up. Stay tuned to this blog for more information! Teasers, trailers and announcements will all go up here as well as the Game Revenant Facebook Page, Twitter feed, and Instagram feed.
Journalists and Children First!
There’s another standard industry practice we decided to go with: emailing codes to reviewers ahead of time. Apple will give you 100 free promotional codes that allow iPhone users to download your game even if it’s not released to the public. As long as the build is in the iTunes Connect system and has been approved by Apple, they can use the code to get the game for 28 days.
Journalists will get the game ahead of time, and we’re going to insist that they don’t release their reviews before a certain date. (This date will be prior to the full release of the game, but will likely be after pre-orders have begun.) This is usually referred to as an embargo. I used to think it was a dirty word, but my feelings have changed now that I’m a publisher instead of a consumer. The purpose of an embargo is to make sure that smaller outlets don’t get left in the dust by big sites like IGN. You also want to ensure that people play your game thoroughly instead of rushing out a review. By telling people that their review can’t go live before a certain date, you’re giving everyone else time to catch up with the big boys.
We have no way of enforcing this. If Polygon decides to scoop everyone else, there’s nothing we can do against a media giant. I guess I just hold a grudge forever, and don’t send them a code next time? It’s a bit weird. Anyway, if you think an embargo is something only shady game developers do, I think you’re mistaken. If we insisted on a Day 1 embargo, though… that would be a different story. Reviews for the game will definitely come out before the game is playable by the public, have no fear!
The Where Shadows Slumber World Tour!
Ok, not really.
But at our meeting, we tried to list as many local educational institutions we could possibly think of, so we can go on tour giving lectures about the game. That probably doesn’t seem like something that would attract a massive audience, but I think it’s important. First of all, we’re all dying to talk about our game! We’d love to do a talk at the NYU Game Center, Stevens, some NY high schools, and any podcasts that would have us. We have so much knowledge to share!
More importantly though, we need content to post on our various social media channels to keep people engaged. We can’t just post GIFs of the game, or we’ll eventually give every one of our secrets away. So even if Jack and I talk about the game to a small room of 25 high school students, that video can then get posted to Facebook and reach 4,000 people. There’s really no speaking engagement too small or insignificant for us: everything can be spun into a good social media post.
Our list wasn’t very long, sadly. A lot of these institutions would rather see us become a success before booking us, rather than helping us attain success. No problem – I totally understand. We’ll see how the game does at launch, and try to jump from one talk to another. Hopefully we get to the point where people are dying to book us!
Do you have a classroom, podcast, or event that requires a speaker? Email me at contact@GameRevenant.com with details! We’re doing this pro-bono, so there’s no need for speaker fees or anything.
There aren’t too many conventions happening during the remainder of 2018, other than some Playcrafting stuff. So we’re definitely going to whatever Dan Butchko is throwing at the end of September / mid-October! If we put together an actual “tour,” I’ll put some kind of cool map graphic in a future blog post for you to all see. We might try for PAX East 2019, too. Man, it feels weird typing that. Remember PAX East 2017?
A Website Overhaul
Caroline mentioned last night that our current website could use an overhaul – it’s basically just a splash page right now, because that’s all we really needed. Fairly soon, we’ll be ready for the professional website to go live with screenshots from the final game and a few new features. I’m really excited about that! Web design was never my specialty, but it’s so important for putting on a good first impression.
Most people will experience our game for the first and only time through the App Store. But, for those fans who find out about our game via social media or some kind of ad, they’ll probably get sent to the website. What we have up right now is kind of like a demo website – it shows off the team, some awards we won, and our demo screenshots. We’ve also had a presskit up for a year or two, but I don’t know how many journalists availed themselves of that resource.
The new website should hopefully have a separate section for the team (so it doesn’t clog up the main stretch) as well as some sweet parallax effects. We checked out the Firewatch website and got a little jealous. Don’t be surprised if you see us do something similar in the future…
Wait – Are We Spending Any Money?
So far, everything we’ve mentioned has been free advertising. Since we don’t have any paid conventions planned, and the cost of train tickets to Brooklyn doesn’t really count, none of the above counts as “paid advertising.” That’s a good thing, because our tiny indie coffers are a bit empty these days.
However, we’ll be making use of a few sources of paid advertising. These ad networks let you dip your toe in the water with a little bit of money first before going crazy, so we’ll run some test ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Search. If you’ve ever wondered how these companies make money, this is how – from us! I also won a contest last year and was awarded $1,000 in credit for advertising on PocketGamer.com, so we may pick up one of their indie bundles.
Our budget is pretty low here: we’re talking less than $3,000 across ALL of these platforms, for the weeks leading up to launch and then a few weeks afterward. Personally, I would love to see the game make a ton of money before doubling down on these ads. I also need to check the stats on the ads themselves to see if people are really clicking through them to the App Store. If you aren’t careful, internet advertising becomes a dopamine game: put money in, see some orange bars fill up, get happy, and repeat. I want results! We may do an entire blog post about our ads if we get some interesting findings. Stay tuned…
Now that we have this plan in place, we have to actually do all of it! There’s still a few things left to plan, however. I want the team to have a spreadsheet listing every action item we need to do on launch day, with labels for who is responsible and the time this needs to go live. (This is stuff like “when do we post an announcement blog?” and “when do we all change our Facebook header to an advertisement for the game?”)
And of course, I need to plan out a whole series of teaser posts for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our Instagram in particular could use some love… I’m just learning how to use that app, and we barely have any followers. I haven’t really spammed those channels over the past few years, but now is the time to let people know something is coming down the pipe. I always hear that you need to see something about 20 times before you’ll buy it. I’ve heard that at least 20 times, so it finally makes sense to me!
Jack and I first met in a sketch comedy group in college back in 2010. In that group, and in theater troupes around the globe, the week before opening night is usually referred to as “Hell Week.” For big productions, some things can only really be done at the last minute. (Lights, sound, final props, rehearsing on a real stage instead of a temporary space, catering) That means the final week before “showtime” is often spent running around like crazy doing a bunch of little tiny things that have been put off until now.
Is it procrastination? Is it just how this always goes? Who knows! Jack and I have only ever done this once before, years ago, when we released SkyRunner on Google Play and the App Store. (It has since been removed from the App Store because we let the Jack and Frank’s Magical Cruiseline Developer License lapse. Whoops!) Back then, things were much more relaxed. No one was really anticipating our fledgling student project. And we were fairly certain it was never going to go anywhere – we were just proud to make a game. We built it on a Saturday, hit submit, and never looked back.
This time around, things are different. There are a lot of moving parts to game development. Everything starts off cool and slow when you’re first testing out an idea. Then, international partners become involved, and a real schedule is expected of you. For the past few months, we’ve been emailing Apple saying “don’t worry, it’s coming, we just need more time!” This past week, we made good on the most recent roadmap we sent them.
Early this morning, we submitted Where Shadows Slumber to the App Store for review!
To celebrate, let’s explore what Hell Week looks like for a small team of distributed indies collaborating online to finish a game…
A Week Full of “Do It Later” Tasks
I must admit that I’m a severe procrastinator. My skill is to take something (like, say, a cutscene) and do a really great 80% job on it. Then, because there’s no one watching me to tell me to finish it, I’ll go: “Cool! Looking good. I’ll finish that later.”
As it turns out, the week before you build your game for the last time is what experts commonly refer to as later. This week, the tasks I put off for so long finally fell on me like a ton of bricks. I spent the majority of this week finishing the game’s remaining cutscenes as Jack optimized the game’s final Levels and cutscenes. Because my work wasn’t done, it held up his progress on optimization. For reference, optimized Levels look like the image above – they’re solid black since the lights work totally different in those Levels. That means it’s impossible for me to work in those Levels, so Jack needs to wait for me to finish my work and then duplicate the scene in Unity and optimize that. By Friday, I was finally able to get those done in time to review the text translation sent to us by Logrus IT. Jack put in the new text file and tested the game to make sure the final build worked as a cohesive whole.
Alba and Noah spent Hell Week adding the game’s final missing sounds and improving the cutscene audio. We neglected to put sounds into the game’s UI for a long time, just because there’s an unspoken rule that you do UI last because everyone forgets about it. Whoops! This is also the time to work on the “mix” – which they described to me as the audio volume of every different sound as they work in tandem together. Without this crucial polish step, sounds can crash on top of each other during gameplay. Alba and Noah worked to make them weave together smoothly.
Everything came down to the two build days – two days, Saturday and Sunday, focused entirely on testing and small changes. We were in Jack’s apartment huddled around his desktop as Alba and Noah worked fiendishly from Miami and Queens, respectively. I counted a total of over 18 hours over the course of both days spent just optimizing the game and doing a bunch of final changes! (Shout out to Jack’s fiancée and her sister for bringing us food on Saturday :D)
Like I said, some things have to wait until the end of the project before you can really do them. The weekend was spent putting in Jack’s final optimizations so the game runs smoothly on all phones. Then, those changes had to be tested on all of our iOS devices to make sure they didn’t cause other problems. I didn’t work nearly as hard as Jack did in these final hours, but it was important that I was there to give the artwork a final check. During optimization, a lot of the art rules changed: lights that used to stack on top of each other now blend smoothly together, for example. That looks awesome, but some tiny tweaks to their intensities and colors had to be made before we could ship it. That’s just one example of many little things we did over the weekend.
(Shameless plug: if you want us to come give a talk at your school, organization, or church, email me at contact@GameRevenant.com! We would love to go into more detail about how hard it is to make games!)
I don’t know if Jack knows this, but the main reason I wanted to work on games with him is because of his determination. Going into this Saturday build session, it didn’t look like we’d be able to send the game to Apple. The optimization process caused an unexpected crash on one of the game’s middle Levels, and I was pretty certain we’d need to delay internally again. But Jack never gives up, so we handled that bug, found some more, crushed them, and got everything done in time!
App Store Monday
Monday was another “put it all together” day, and it was technically the day Apple was expecting to receive the game. I spent all day putting our Store Listing together in iTunes Connect as Jack finished some tests and Noah and Alba worked on “mixing” the sound. Since I submitted the game early this morning at around 3:30 am EST, I guess it came in a bit late since that’s 12:30 am in California. Some things never change!
But even with all the stress, I can’t help but be astonished by what we’ve created. Look at the pictures up there, from our iTunes Connect submission. Seeing these beautiful images lined up like candies gave me a feeling of pride and accomplishment that I haven’t felt in a while! I’d totally buy this game if I saw it on the store… wouldn’t you?
At this point, our app is In Review,which means that the App Store employees are checking it for egregious errors or incompleteness. They’re strict about what they allow onto the store, but I have no worries that our app will be approved. Whether it will get promoted by Apple, or even the vaunted Editor’s Choice tag, is another story. We’re not releasing the game on iOS anytime soon, so they have plenty of time to look it over and decide amongst themselves. But the hard part is over – our game is fantastic, it’s uploaded to the App Store, and I’ve never worked so frantically before in my entire life!
This is also a long-winded way of saying you shouldn’t expect the game on Android anytime soon. Testing and perfecting for iOS took longer than we thought it would. (What else is new? LOL!) How long do you think it would take to test the game on Android while simultaneously not breaking anything we already did for iOS?
Please be patient with us! One of the coolest things about Where Shadows Slumber is that it is a labor of love created by hardworking indie developers collaborating remotely across the greater NYC area. That also means everything’s going to take a bit longer than you expect. You can send us nasty comments on Facebook about how Android owners are being treated like second class citizens, but that won’t help us make the game faster! (Besides, Jack and I both have Android phones, and we’d like the game on our devices one day too. Lighten up!)
Now, we enter an exciting new project phase. Jack and I are going down different paths now: I can only help him so much with the Android release. While he’s testing the game on tons of Android devices, I’ll help however I can with all-night testing sessions and really detailed QA reports.
But my job now is to coordinate our team’s marketing efforts and make the most of that iOS launch “bump.” We’re going to meet as a team to brainstorm ways to make the most of our upcoming release. We’re also working on a launch trailer that will make die-hard fans proud, and newcomers interested. It’s going to be epic! And yes, when the trailer launches, you will finally know our release date! Thank you for waiting so patiently.
This is the progress update I’ve been dying to write, and it’s finally here. The whole team is eager to show off the final game when it comes to iOS, and we’ll be working hard to make the Android version really awesome.
Next week, we’ll dive into our marketing efforts and the plans for our trailer. Or is it… trailers? Find out next week!
Welcome to the State Of The Art, August 2018 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.
Missed last month’s State of the Art? The July edition is right here.
For Our Eyes Only
A quick note, before we dive in… since this is the final State of the Art, it’s going to be a little bit underwhelming. Sorry about that! The game is so close to being finished that Jack and I don’t really want to release any more images or footage until Where Shadows Slumber is uploaded onto the App Store. In the past, journalists have accidentally used our old images of previous builds (including our 2016 Demo!) in their articles instead of new stuff. For that reason, we’re trying to put some distance between our progress related uploads and the launch of the game.
If you were lucky enough to visit us this past weekend at Play NYC, you got a chance to play the final pre-release build of the game! As you would have seen, all of the art is totally done with the exception of a few cutscenes that need some polish. We brought a build that had every Level and Cutscene in the game, so we got a chance to see people play every part of the finished build. Two brave souls even dedicated a few hours (across both days) to finishing the entire game! So even though there are no new images in this article, rest assured that this is a good sign of progress, and not a bad sign that I’ve been sitting on my hands the past 6 weeks!
Thank you so much for following this blog, and I apologize for the lack of juicy spoiler images. You’ll have to wait until the game launches on iOS and Android later this year to feast your eyes on the beauty that is Where Shadows Slumber. Until then, enjoy these sweet black rectangles!
Art, Then and Now
The last State of the Art was written on July 3rd. At the time, the only pieces of art left to do were the game’s last four cutscenes – World 5, World 6, World 7, and an animated Credits sequence. Small artistic touch-ups were needed across the game’s many Levels, as well as a few art related bugs.
Those last four cutscenes are all nearly complete. I say nearly because, since time is of the essence, I animated them just far enough so that our wonderful audio team could take over and begin creating sound effects. Today, in an effort to finally finish the game, I’ll put the last little details into these scenes. These details include things like snowy footprints or rustling trees – background information that isn’t necessary, but helps to paint a better picture of the scene. I know Jack is eager to crunch every Level and Cutscene so we can have a fully 100% optimized game, so right now it’s more important to call these scenes done than to obsess over the details. I shall spend not one more day on them!
Other than that, there are some release prep things I still need to do. I try to focus on tasks that involve other people first, which means I put off some solo projects like the game’s app icon, app preview video, press kit, and our release date announcement trailer. We’re not announcing our release date yet, but [spoiler] when we do it will be in the form of a cool trailer! We’ve heard that’s the best way to generate buzz for the game. Hopefully our efforts these past 2 years to “pre-market” the game mean that when the trailer hits YouTube there is a large group of fans eager to share it around social media.
Thoughts on The Ending
Soon, I will stop being the artist on Where Shadows Slumber and become Mr. Bug Finder. Then, in the weeks before the game hits the App Store, I’ll be Mr. Marketer. After that, I’ll be Mr. Salesman as I go on the Extremely Real and Actually Real Where Shadows Slumber World Tour! (Buy our game so we can do this)
It’s so strange to think that in just a few days, I won’t be modeling environments or animating these characters ever again. Saying goodbye is a bit of a relief, but it’s also disturbing. It feels a bit like leaving a job at a company without having another one lined up. And I’m not talking about the financial success of the game (we have no idea what to expect… $500? $500,000?) but rather my own personal sense of purpose. I never thought I would feel totally lost right at the moment our three year passion project is about to hit prime-time. Is this normal? How am I supposed to feel?
Anyway, this is the State of the Art blog, not the State of Frank’s Mind blog. Let me save my goopy tell-all for a podcast appearance with Jack sometime. (Speaking of which, even if you have the tiniest, most insignificant YouTube channel or podcast, invite one of us on! We love to talk! Contact info in the signature below) All you need to know right now is that the art is 98% finished and we’re heading into our final Quality Assurance (QA) stretch.
Stay tuned to this blog for mega updates about the game, tales from QA hell, and maybe even a comedic play-by-play of our upcoming Xcode struggle. Thanks to Jack for giving me a good name for this blog, and thanks to everyone who has been keeping tabs on us. I may resurrect this monthly recap if we have new art updates, such as when we port the game to Amazon’s Alexa, but right now I’m looking forward to wearing a different hat for a while.
The team behind Where Shadows Slumber is thrilled to announce that we’ll be returning to Play NYC this weekend (Saturday August 11th and Sunday August 12th) for its second year in operation. Play NYC is a massive game convention that takes place right in the heart of Manhattan, and welcomes game developers from all around the Tri-State area to show off their work.
Play NYC has grown a lot over the past year – the event will now be held at The Manhattan Center, and over 100 exhibitors are expected to showcase 140+ games over the course of the weekend. However, one thing has not changed: though Play NYC 2018 is only in its sophomore year, it has quickly become New York City’s premiere indie game event. We can’t wait to meet more fans and show you how far the game has come!
If you haven’t purchased tickets yet, hurry up and buy them! Note that you can only pick up tickets for a portion of each day, not an entire day. Since Play NYC isn’t a 4-day event like PAX East, Playcrafting decided to split each day into 5-hour chunks of time to simulate the 4-day experience.
As developers, we love that. There probably won’t be any slumps during this weekend at all. Generally at these conventions, there are periods where the attendees have seen everything they are interested in, and you have a good hour or two with no foot traffic. I don’t think that will be a problem! I’m not sure how the public will react to this setup, but I hope attendees enjoy the show regardless. Personally, I think 5 hours should be plenty of time if you are coming to Play NYC for the first time and you just want to see what it’s all about.
Play NYC In The News
Many prominent journalists are covering Play NYC, which is another thing Jack and I find so appealing about the show. The event itself is a big deal, which means it should attract even more journalists who want to write about underground games made by independent teams.
Here’s a few links to some articles about the event:
I hope those articles whetted your appetite, and you’re looking for more. (Too bad we didn’t get into that list of 12 cool games… I guess Hoboken doesn’t count as NYC!) If you came to Play NYC last year, you already know how awesome it is going to be. We hope to see you there.
Come See Us!
If you take a look at the image above, you’ll find us on the top-right in teal. Booth 22 (Game Revenant) is us! If you read this blog regularly, please come visit us and say hi [^_^] We may even whisper the release date in your ear and force you to swear a vow of silence…
This will likely be our final event before the game launches to the wider public on iOS globally, so it’s going to be our swan song to development. This is the calm before the storm. That also means that if you want to show Where Shadows Slumber to a friend before it releases so you can score cool friend who knows about indie stuff points, you better bring them to our booth!
In order to figure out what I was gonna write about this week, I took a quick scroll through the past few posts we’ve written, and I noticed something about the general tone of our blogs of late. Thanks to the pressure to get Where Shadows Slumber done, and the fact that we’ve entirely run out of new ideas for blog posts, everything we’ve written recently seems to have fallen into one of two camps:
A half-hearted explanation of a part of the game no one really wants to hear about, because we can’t afford to waste time writing blogs when we have work to do.
A frantic excuse for why the game hasn’t been released yet, which generally boils down to “working on this game is sucking out my soul”.
Even those descriptions fall into one of those categories! (Hint: it’s the second one). That fact aside, I’ve decided to take it in a different, more positive direction this week! Instead of talking about how much game development sucks, let’s talk about all the good that’s come from working on Where Shadows Slumber.
The first and most obvious positive result of working on Where Shadows Slumber would have to be the things that I’ve learned. Creating an entire game from the ground up in a game engine that I didn’t have much experience with has been incredibly challenging, but it has also left me with a lot of new knowledge and valuable experience.
I’m still not the best coder on the team. That honor goes to Obe.
Unity itself. Unity is a very powerful, and professional, game engine. It may not have all of the depth of something like Unreal, or all of the customization of writing your own engine from the ground up, but there’s really no arguing that it’s not a “real” game engine. In fact, there is now a certification for programming in Unity.
C#. As a programmer, you get pretty used to picking up new languages, and, for the most part, it gets easier with every one you learn. The fact that I was able to learn C# isn’t the takeaway here – the fact that I was motivated to learn C# is. Without Where Shadows Slumber, I simply wouldn’t have had any reason to extend my programming repertoire.
Shaders. One of the most difficult technical challenges this project has posed has been the shaders. For the most part, the programming required for the actual game logic was similar to code I’ve written before. Shaders, however, delve into a very different type of programming. I now know far more about how Unity renders a frame than I ever thought I would, and I’m pretty happy to have that knowledge. Even if I don’t have to do any rendering work again, I’m glad to know what’s happening under the hood.
Project management. To continue a running theme throughout our blog posts, I’ll mention that this was the one that took me by surprise. When this project started, I was well aware of (most of) the technical challenges that lay ahead. What I didn’t anticipate was handling the vast array of tasks involved with actually managing a project. Where Shadows Slumber has helped me advance from a quintessential disorganized coder all the way to a slightly-less-disorganized coder!
There are a million other, small things that I learned throughout the production of the game, but these are the big ones. Throughout its development, Where Shadows Slumber has had a lot to teach me!
Another important (and perhaps more poignant) side-effect of working on Where Shadows Slumber is the personal relationships that it has helped cultivate.
Frank and I were friends in college, but just barely. We were in the same sketch comedy group, but outside of that, we didn’t really hang out. I guarantee that if it weren’t for Where Shadows Slumber, we wouldn’t be in contact at this point, and it probably would have been several years since we’d seen each other. Now, however, we’re definitely friends, and close friends at that. Frank and I are in nearly constant contact, which, annoying as it can be, keeps us pretty close. I don’t want to bore you by getting too gushy, so let’s just say that we do a good job of tolerating each other.
In addition to bolstering an existing friendship, this project has also created new friendships – with Alba and Noah, our sound engineers! They’re totally awesome, and I look forward to spending more time with them, hopefully even after we’re done with Where Shadows Slumber!
We may not be as close, but the other people that we’ve gotten to know are all of you! As an indie game, we have to do a lot of work to make sure people hear about the game. Throughout the past few years, we’ve been to over a dozen conventions, showcasing and pitching the game, making a name for ourselves, and, most importantly, meeting a bunch of really cool people! Seriously, all of the people we’ve met throughout this process, whether they be other game developers, fans, or just normal con-goers, are great. No matter if I’m annoyed with the game or frustrated with the drudge of development, going to a convention and seeing new people playing the game, or old fans coming back to check in, is always incredible. There are a lot of aspects of Where Shadows Slumber that I love, but that’s definitely the best part.
The Game Itself
I guess the actual most obvious result from Where Shadows Slumber would be the piles and piles of money we’re going to make from it. That, however, is not the point – as much as I would love for Where Shadows Slumber to make some money, that’s really ancillary to the whole ethos of the project.
Frank and I are avid gamers, and always have been. We set out not to make a lot of money or make the most popular game ever. We wanted to create something beautiful, something we could be proud of – and in that sense, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. When I look back on this project, I’m not going to look at my net profit – I’m going to look at Where Shadows Slumber itself, and I think I’ll always be happy with it.
I think we’ve got a chance at this one!
Of course, Where Shadows Slumber will serve as more than just an ephemeral trophy to put on my emotional mantle. The game itself is the end goal here, and there are some tangible benefits to that:
Money. Even though this isn’t the goal of the project, Frank and I are both hoping to make a little something for our efforts.
“Resume bait”. At some point in the future, I expect that I’ll be looking for a job. When that time comes, I’ll be handing out my resume, hoping to catch the eye of some company. But I may be just one of hundreds of applicants, all with similar experience and qualifications. How can I stand out? By having something awesome on my resume, something that other people won’t have, something that shows that I can set a goal and reach it, that I can meet technical challenges, and that I can manage a development process.
Experience. Working on Where Shadows Slumber has given me an incredible cache of experience to draw on. Pretty much any technical problem I run into, I can find a parallel with some part of the development of Where Shadows Slumber. The end result is a game that’s more than a game; every part of that game represents a different challenge and a different piece of knowledge that I can now look back on.
A trophy. I know I said that Where Shadows Slumber was more than just a trophy, but it is also that. From conception to completion, Frank and I have worked tirelessly to bring this idea to life. This is something we’ve built ourselves, from the ground up, and it always will be. It’s something we can be proud of, and something we can always look back on.
A Fond Farewell
Thanks for listening to me ramble on for a little bit. Anyone who has ever worked on a software development project (or pretty much any long project) knows just how stressful life can start to become when you reach the dreaded “crunch time”. We all end up hating our games as they come out, and I don’t want that to be the way that Where Shadows Slumber is released. So I’m glad I got a chance to take the time and share with you all the good things Where Shadows Slumber has done for me!
As the completion date of Where Shadows Slumber draws near, Jack and I are coming to terms with just how much work it takes to finish a game. This means we’re revisiting old tasks that we didn’t have to deal with for a while, including the game’s app icon.
It may seem like a small detail, but your game’s icon is very important. It isn’t exactly the same as your game’s logo, but in certain contexts it plays the same role. The app icon is the rounded square button on your customer’s phone menu that they have to press to start playing your game. More importantly, this icon is on prominent display on marketplaces like the App Store and is often a potential customer’s first impression of your game.
Viewed through that lens, the app icon is immensely important and I regret not working on it sooner. It’s just a small graphic, though… how difficult could it be?
Fortunately, I’ve been researching this topic for a little while now. Below, I’ve compiled a gallery of some of my favorite app icons. We’ll also discuss in this blog post my personal “do’s and don’ts” for these graphics, inspired by both previous iterations of the Where Shadows Slumber app icon.
I played a lot of mobile games during the creation of Where Shadows Slumber. That’s not because I’m lazy! I wanted to see what successful mobile games did. I spent a long time looking at their store listings, reading reviews, poring over their descriptions, and – of course – checking out app icons. It wouldn’t be a Where Shadows Slumber blog post if we didn’t gush over Monument Valley, so let’s start there.
The app icon for Monument Valley is really beautiful and shows off what the in-game art looks like. When you look at the icon on your device, the scale of Ida here probably matches her scale in the game. That makes this graphic one of the most honest app icons in the business! From a distance, you can clearly make out her shape because her white body contrasts starkly with the green backdrop. I also love that this picture shows the isometric angle and color shading that they use in the game. Sadly, this image does not communicate the game’s M.C. Escher inspired puzzles… but how the heck could you even show that? Maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about showing “shadow puzzles” in a tiny square image. It would just never fit!
The app icon for Monument Valley 2 was constrained somewhat by the first. The artist likely felt the need to match the style of the previous icon. Now that they’ve got a pattern established, expect to see something like this if they ever make Monument Valley 3. Still, the fact that this icon communicates the relationship between a mother and daughter tells you a lot about the game’s story and mechanics.
The real reason I bring up Monument Valley 2 is because of something I noticed when I was in an Apple Store the other day, getting a new iPad for my Dad. On their demo devices, the game is labeled simply as “Monument 2,” because the name is too long. Notice also that the game Alto’s Odyssey is just named “Odyssey.” I’ve wondered what Jack and I should do with our lengthy title Where Shadows Slumber… should it be listed as “Slumber,” “Shadows Slumber,” or “Shadows?”
Speaking of Alto’s Odyssey, both games in the Alto series have very beautiful app icons. However, it seems to me that the original is better because it actually communicates the mechanics of the game. Take a look at the icon above, and then look at Alto’s Odyssey below. Remember that these games have identical gameplay: both are side-scrolling snowboarding simulators. Notice anything?
Alto’s Odyssey doesn’t have an image of a dude flipping over a windmill like the first game did! That’s pretty important because the whole game is about jumping over stuff, getting airtime, and doing tricks. But when I see the icon above for Alto’s Odyssey, I imagine a different game where I can actually go into some of those ruins or fly in that hot air balloon. It doesn’t set up expectations the way you might expect. Even so, the image is gorgeous and communicates the art style faithfully.
Of all the games I researched, my favorite app icon is probably the one for Prune. Look at this beautiful picture! Since I played the game, I happen to know that this app icon is actually a perfect rendition of what every Level looks like, too. Now that’s honesty! Prune is a game where you swipe away branches from a tree to help it grow the right way. I think you wanted to avoid the big red suns because they killed your tree. It’s a beautiful game, and the simple nature of this app icon does it justice.
We’ve looked at a lot of great artwork, but I don’t feel like comparing them to a list of “bad examples” in this blog post. I feel uncomfortable putting down other people’s work besides my own. There is no point in searching the App Store for apps that performed poorly and then ripping their icons apart. Instead, let’s just criticize the two icons I made earlier in the project cycle!
Learning From My Mistakes
If you’ve ever played our free iOS Demo before, or if you are one of our beta testers, or even if you’re just a diehard follower of this blog, you’ve seen one of our app icons before. We aren’t going to use either of these for the final game’s release, so I’d like to write about them in this space.
Our first app icon was created just for the Demo. I whipped this up in Adobe Illustrator over a year ago. The idea was to show a silhouette of Obe in a doorway, with the lantern clearly visible. Looking back on it now, this fails for a variety of reasons:
This image is very detailed, so the intricacies are hard to make out at small sizes
This icon requires pre-existing knowledge about what Obe looks like
The lantern looked weirder back then, so it’s not immediately recognizable
This looks like an icon for a horror game, almost like Amnesia for mobile phones
This doesn’t really look like the art in the game at all
This doesn’t really look like an app icon for a mobile puzzle game
This is misleading because Obe’s body never actually casts shadows
I’m not saying I hate it or I regret making it – it seemed cool at the time! Our Demo drew in over 310,000 free installs on Android alone, so we did something right. But I wouldn’t go for this kind of style for the final game. It’s too much of a departure from the real game’s art, tone, and genre.
Our next app icon was made much faster and was basically an unofficial app icon. I just did this for the beta, and I didn’t put much effort into it. This one fails on two levels – first of all, it’s not very unique or inspiring. It’s just text. Anybody could make this, and it tells customers nothing about our game. Second, it includes English text. That means I’d need to make a different app icon for every language we release the game in! Why bother doing that when I can just create a cool image like ustwo did?
So for the game’s final icon I need one square image that contains no text, but communicates the following to the player:
The game’s reflective tone, with some ominous terror looming in the periphery
The game’s crisp light shading model
The importance of the lantern to the story
The idea that this is a puzzle game and not some other genre
The idea that this is a mobile game
A warning that this game is not for preteen children
Yikes! Wish me luck. I’ll take a shot at this during the week, in between animating the game’s remaining cutscenes and putting out other fires. Jack and I have spoken about our app icon informally in the past, so I have a pretty good idea of what we want. This analysis helped me crystallize my plan going forward.
We’ll have some exciting news to announce in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to this blog and thanks for reading!
We hope you enjoyed this update about the game’s graphic design. 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), Facebook, itch.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.