Going Gold

We’ve come to the part of the development cycle that no artist ever enjoys: the gold-stamping process. What is this mysterious “gold-stamping?” Why do artists despise it so? You thought it was just fixing bugs and making small tweaks, didn’t you? Well, read on to find out…

 

You’re reading the development blog for Where Shadows Slumber, a puzzle game coming to iOS and Android later this year. Check out our free Demo here.


 

 

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Gold Stamping: The Point of No Return

Every project must come to an end eventually. In order to make sure your game is ready for the whole world to see, every piece of it must be tested individually. Then, the entire game has to be tested as one unit. Before we can move on to that final testing phase, every Level, Cutscene, and Menu in the game needs to be approved by three teams: Art, Sound, and Development.

The Art team is just me – and the Development team is just Jack. Alba and Noah work on Sound together. That means we need three approvals for each Level, Cutscene and Menu. Approval means “I’m done working on this Level forever – there is absolutely nothing left to do. Put it in the game.” (See the screenshot above for a look at our spreadsheet that has each Level listed as well as the “Gold” stamps)

There’s a specific order we have to do this in, as well. I need to put my “Gold Stamp of Approval” on Levels before Sound does, because I’m in charge of the game’s visuals. If I add a blazing torch to a Level after Sound has “gold-stamped” that Level, they’ll need to come back and give that torch some kind of looping audio. Art and Sound need to gold-stamp the Level before Jack takes over, because he’s duplicating each Level in the game into a separate file and running an optimization process on that Level.

This optimization process takes time, and destroys the editability of the scene. (By way of analogy, consider what happens to a Photoshop file when you Flatten it into a JPG file. The JPG takes up less space on your computer, but you lose the editable Layers from Photoshop) Jack is able to lower the time it takes your phone to render a frame of the game by “crunching” these Levels. If your phone can render a frame faster, the game will feel smoother. Players hate lag more than they hate bad graphics or design, because it interrupts the flow of play. Everything we’re doing now is to make the game run smoothly even on older devices.

But you can see the problem: if Art or Sound has to tell Jack that they made changes to a Level, one of two things happen:

(a) We need to make that change in both the original Scene and the crunched Scene

(b) OR… Jack needs to start the optimization process for that Scene over again

Option A introduces the possibility of human error. Have you ever made a mistake copying something down by hand over to another sheet of paper? Imagine that with a bunch of tiny numbers and sliders in Unity! Unfortunately, Option B wastes time we don’t have. And since “crunching” makes these Levels unable to easily edit, there is no Option C.

In the late stages of the project, we’re in a mad dash to finish each Level and hand them off to Jack. We’re a bit on top of each other at the moment, and tensions are high. Some of our beloved changes won’t make it into the first release of the game and may have to be stealthily added as a patch later on. (Shhhh don’t tell anyone I said that, blog reader)

Those are all the downsides of gold-stamping. Enough complaining: let’s talk about why this process makes the game so much better!

 

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iPhone X Stretching

We began working on this game long before the iPhone X was announced. Since we designed the game in portrait mode, we planned for it to work in 9:16 resolutions as well as 3:4 resolutions. The plan was simple: we would assume you had the tiniest screen there was (9:16) and make sure you could solve the puzzle using everything you saw. And then, if you had a large screen, your screen would show more of the artwork surrounding the puzzle… but not any more key information. (Our demo works this way. Download it for free on a few devices to see what I mean.)

The iPhone X dashed our hopes when it launched, since it has a very thin and tall screen. When we booted it up on an iPhone X earlier this year for the first time, we noticed that key puzzle information was being cut off! Furthermore, there were sections above and below the Scene that I never planned for human eyes to see. We had to fill those sections in with art, or iPhone X users would know the game wasn’t made for them.

Here’s another analogy: imagine if you were designing the set for a Broadway musical. You do all your work, and then a week before opening night your director comes to you and says: “Listen, we’re lowering the stage by 2 feet and extending the ceiling by 2 feet above the stage. Do you think your set will still look good?”

The correct answer is: “yes, but I need to extend the artwork so it doesn’t cut off!” It’s ok if your art bleeds over into a section that human eyes will never see. But you can’t have your screen bleed over into artwork that isn’t finished or cuts off arbitrarily!

Fortunately, Jack solved our width problem by writing a Camera Resizing script that adjusts the Orthographic camera size to the proper width depending on your hardware. (Thank God for Jack, lol. Just that script alone would take me the full 3 years we spent working on this game to complete) I am solving our height problem by extending the shadowy silhouettes on each Level where appropriate, and adding more art where it’s necessary.

 

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Low Poly Means Low Poly

When you set out to make a low-poly game, you aren’t just deciding on an art style. You’re also setting boundaries for how much the game will need to handle. This is why you’ll see a lot of cartoony artwork on mobile games and MMOs. Both of those are situations where you want the game to run on low end devices like old phones (mobile games) or old computers (MMOs). Cartoony graphics let you show what you want without having high-resolution textures or incredibly detailed model topology. It isn’t just an artistic decision – it’s also a marketing, business, and programming decision.

However, just because I said that I would do low-poly art doesn’t mean I kept my promise. There are a lot of Levels that go wildly above our Triangle / Vertex budget. (See the screenshot above, with emphasis on the Tris and Verts) Unity counts the number of Tris and Verts that are displaying on the screen at one time. Jack wants us to be well under 100k of each. That may sound like a high number, but you’d be surprised by how even simple scenes can skyrocket to 150k. When he finds Levels that are egregiously “over-budget,” he sends them over to me so I can make reductions.

Fortunately, Tri / Vert budgets are not like monetary budgets. If Jack told me not to spend $100,000 dollars, and then I bought a yacht, we’d be $100K in the hole. (But, we’d have a boat. Jack, I urge you to reconsider this proposal.) With polygons, as long as I cut down on fatty models before the game launches, no one will ever know. Except for the readers of this blog, of course. But you’re sworn to secrecy! Don’t share this post.

There is one more thing about this I discovered: Unity’s lighting system counts polygons in a very strange way. You can’t always trust their readout. I discovered that multiple lights require Unity to count the same object multiple times. If a cube has 8 Verts and one light is lighting it up, Unity will show 8 Verts. If there are six lights on it, Unity will show 48 Verts. So there’s some Levels that Jack will reduce once he does his big crunch, since he rewrote how our Lights will work to make them all act as one super-Light. (More wizardry, I’m sure.)

We’re doing all we can to make the game run fast on your phone. If it’s still lagging, get a new phone!

 

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File Formats and Compression

This is the kind of boring stuff that puts artists to sleep, but it’s important. Unity imports textures, models, and audio files according to a standard. You can set the standard somewhere, but we never did. Instead, I am going through every file in the game and asking the had question: does this really need to be as large as it is?

The answer is usually “no!” which is good. I’m crunching a lot of textures down from 1024 x 1024 to 32 x 32 pixels, Unity’s smallest maximum size for images. Noah and Alba also did a bunch of audio crunching that I can’t really explain properly. You’ll have to wait for their revealing tell-all novella (Where Shadows Is Grongus: Nightmare Stories From Development Hell) for all the juicy secrets!

One more thing about textures: it might not be super necessary for me to make these textures smaller after all. Jack is actually doing this crazy optimization thing where we have every texture on one big image called a Texture Atlas. This image is as small as I can make it and has every texture in it laid out like a grid. We have one of these for every Scene in the game (Levels and Cutscenes) and when the game wants to render an object that uses a texture, it’s going to go to this image and pick from the proper coordinates.

This is insane and Jack explained it to me once and it’s insane and I’m sure it will make the game run super fast. If I’m remembering correctly, Jack told me that the rendering system needs to pause and switch gears every time it has to render a new Material. (So if the grass is GreenMaterial and the tree is TreeMaterial, the renderer needs to pause and switch) If it never has to switch like that, the rendering process should go way faster. The way to do that is to make one Material with the Level specific Texture Atlas called “Scene-0-2-Atlas” or something and put that on each object with the right coordinates. We’ll have fewer batches to render, and you’ll never even know what’s going on under the hood!

I’m going to stop giving the layman’s explanation here before I embarrass myself by showing my limited knowledge. But look forward to Jack’s upcoming tell-all blogella (Life With Frank: The Man Who Knew Nothing) for all the juicy secrets!

 

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See You In Hell

This is going to be a rough week. This lengthy process is taking longer than I would have liked, and I’ve been pulled away from animating the final cutscenes. I desperately want to get back on track so Alba and Noah have enough time to work on the audio score for the final cutscenes.

Thanks for reading this blog post – I have to get back to gold-stamping!

 

 

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We hope you enjoyed this update about the game’s development. 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.

4 Tools for Recording Your Game

Recently, a friend of ours asked us to provide him some footage of Where Shadows Slumber in action for a highlight reel he’s making. That made me realize we never blogged about the topic of recording your game. I’ve gotten pretty good at recording images and footage of the game over the past few years, so why not share my tricks? It’s just one more thing I never thought I would have to do before I started doing game development, but our experience with SkyRunner taught us a lot.

So this blog post will save you some time if you’re looking for tips: here are the programs I recommend for recording images, GIFs, and video of your game!

 


 

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Saad Khawaja’s Instant Screenshot

During the process of marketing your game, people will often ask you for a full-resolution screenshot of the game in action. To fulfill this request, you need to get the dimensions of the screen exactly right. For example, our game is made for phones in Portrait resolution. If we give someone an image that is in Landscape resolution, they’ll think the game is made for computers or game consoles instead. Getting the resolution right was really important to me, and I recognized quickly that the Microsoft Snipping Tool (more on that below) wasn’t going to give me the high quality screenshots I wanted.

After trying out a few plug-ins on the Unity Asset Store, this is the one I came away with: Saad Khawaja’s Instant Screenshot. It’s free and very easy to use. You can adjust the size of the final image, or set it to the current screen size which is super useful. You can take low quality images or blast the pixels up to an insane level. (I could probably make a banner-sized image with this tool!) Once it’s in your project, you’ll see it in the “Tools” window and after you click that it comes up like any other Unity window. Trust me, you will not regret making this tool part of your routine.

 

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Snipping Tool

This one is just for Windows users, but there’s a program installed on every Windows machine called “Snipping Tool” – have you ever used it? Find it in your Search bar and save the shortcut. I keep Snipping Tool on my hotbar! That’s how useful it is.

Above, we discussed how sometimes you really need high-resolution screenshots at the exact size of the screen. However, often I need to record segments of the game for internal use. In these situations, like if I’m logging a bug in GitHub, it’s not helpful to have such a large image. My philosophy is that the image should be short and wide with the bug in the center of the picture. This way it will fit in nicely with the text of the bug report. I generally include some kind of note where I circle the problem, or draw a funny confused face. (This probably annoys Jack, but I’m sort of hoping it softens the blow of finding another bug in some far off corner of the game)

Fortunately, you can do all of this with Snipping Tool and you don’t even need to download it! Simply click the snip button, drag across a corner of your screen, draw on it with your mouse, and copy/paste the image where desired. You don’t even need to save the image to your computer if you like to live dangerously. Make Snipping Tool your go-to for capturing bug report images, and include as many images in your bug reports as you can. It will really help your team!

 

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ScreenToGIF

The image above is a GIF, and it was recorded using ScreenToGIF. The best way to explain the GIF file format is that it’s basically a digital flipbook. I may be dating myself here, but did you ever have those little Disney flipbooks as a kid where you could flip through them with your thumb and see the animation play out across a hundred tiny pages? That’s a GIF. They are all over the place, they’re great for advertising your game in motion, and the Internet loves them.

Before ScreenToGIF, I found it really difficult to make my own GIFs. I forgot what program I was using – who cares, it didn’t get the job done! Download this program for free here, and I promise you that you will not regret it. There’s a ton of settings you can tweak to get the image size, file size, and quality you want. It’s extremely user friendly. You can delete frames after you’re done recording too, which is such a nice feature. I’ve never had a problem posting these animated images to Facebook or Twitter. I’m not being paid off to say this: use ScreenToGIF!

 

Open Broadcaster Software

I wish I had a better option for recording video of our game, to be frank with you. (Note: I am always Frank with you, dear reader.) This program Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) was the main way I streamed on Twitch a while back when I used to do that. I then realized that it didn’t just stream your image to the Internet – you could also just record footage and save it to your computer. Neat!

Download OBS for free here. It’s not bad, but it’s not perfect either. It can record footage and capture audio too, which is helpful for progress updates like the image above. However, getting the screen resolution just right is pretty difficult. According to Alba and Noah’s finely trained ears, it does not do a good job recording sound from the computer either. But I’m willing to admit that could just be my fault… there are a ton of settings to configure, and I have no idea what I’m doing!

It doesn’t do your editing for you either: I recommend Adobe Premiere or Final Cut. Sadly, I know of no good free editing tools! You’re on your own, I’m afraid.

 

That’s all for now, folks. I hope this saves you a few days of frantic searching, downloading, and deleting. Thanks for reading, and happy recording!

 

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What programs do you use? Do you like my suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment below! 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.

Optics

Hey, it’s me, Jack! For those of you who have been following our blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. You’re probably wondering what happened to me. Did Frank kick me to the curb? Did I abandon Where Shadows Slumber?

In all honesty, you probably didn’t even notice. Whatever the case, I haven’t gone anywhere! The reason I haven’t posted anything in a while is that, simply put, the stuff I’m working on isn’t all that interesting. Compared to action-packed cutscenes and beautiful artistic polish, bug-fixing and number-tweaking are pretty dull.

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An enthralling contribution

That’s why, this week, I want to talk about something that isn’t specific to Where Shadows Slumber, and has nothing to do with the work I’ve been doing this past month. Instead, I’m gonna talk about something that applies to everyone – not just in indie game development, but in any business at all!

Optics is an area of business management that is very closely associated with marketing and publicity. However, as its name suggests, it refers less to the way in which you’re introducing people to your product, and more to the way that your product is actually perceived. Optics isn’t an action that you take, it’s more of a general way in which you act about your company and/or product.

Optics – the scientific study of sight and the behavior of light, or the properties of transmission and deflection of other forms of radiation.

That’s not a very useful description, so here’s a quick example:

  • Posting on Facebook, putting up billboards, and going to conventions are all examples of marketing. Note that they’re all specific actions.
  • Deciding to be very transparent about your process, or always being snarky on social media are examples of optics. They’re more like predefined ways to act.

Let’s take a look at how thinking about optics has impacted Where Shadows Slumber.

Warning – as with any conversation about a product’s “image”, this next section may be a little pretentious.

Where Shadows Slumber‘s Optics

So, what are some ways in which we consider the optics of Where Shadows Slumber? Surely, this wouldn’t be a topical blog post if I didn’t discuss our application of the concept!

The answer to this question lies in how we want our users to think about Where Shadows Slumber. Consider the difference between a game like Monument Valley and something like Candy Crush. They’re both great, successful games, but the general public thinks about them differently. Monument Valley is artsy and represents a unique experience, whereas Candy Crush is a well-oiled time-killing machine that you can always open up and play. They’re different, and both successful, in part because they know what they are and how they’re perceived. How do we want Where Shadows Slumber to be perceived?

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Where Shadows Slumber – a beautiful, mysterious, puzzle game

Where Shadows Slumber is, at its core, mysterious. When thinking about Where Shadows Slumber, people find themselves wondering: Who is Obe? What is he running from, or to? What do his journey, his light, and his darkness represent?

Where Shadows Slumber is a puzzle game. When playing it, players aren’t simply following a path, but choosing one. They’re engaged, actively trying to figure out the puzzles. They feel a sense of agency – they are in control of the game.

Where Shadows Slumber is, for lack of a better term, art. When looking at it, people appreciate the colors and the aesthetic. They notice the attention to detail and the smoothness of the gameplay. They recognize immediately the time and effort that has gone into it.

I consider each of these things, and everything else that people think about Where Shadows Slumber, to be a part of our optics. When we’re making design decisions, we ask ourselves – “does this design continue to represent our game as an engaging puzzle game?” When choosing color palettes for a level, we wonder – “will these colors result in an image that someone would hang on a wall?” By continuously working toward our desired image with every decision that we make, we do our best to ensure that the public will view the game just as we want them to.

 

The Team!

Optics doesn’t just apply to the game itself – it applies to anything and everything on which a potential player might judge us. If you find out that a company has unethical business practices, you probably won’t buy their product, even if it’s the best one on the market. The optics of that company, not just the product, has affected your choice when considering it.

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What we want everyone to think about our team

The image that Frank and I portray as a team is just as important as the image that Where Shadows Slumber itself has. Our team optics are very carefully designed – two friends who met in a sketch comedy group in college, who love games so much that they just want to be a part of, and give back to, the indie gaming community? How can you not love that team? They sound like such cool bros! The fact that it’s actually true is just icing on the cake – now our optics include honesty and earnestness!

In fact, there are parts of our image that are purely invented for the sake of optics. Our friendship? It’s a total lie. Frank and I, after working together for nearly 5 years, simply hate each other. Why do you think we want the production of Where Shadows Slumber to be done so much? We don’t want to have to work together anymore!

Note: Sarcasm doesn’t come across very well in a pure-text format – Frank and I are actually very good friends!

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Best Friends!

Another example of optics is that note that I just made! I couldn’t let you leave, knowing the truth of our animosity! The truth is that we do hate each other – but it’s better for us if you think we’re best friends!

Note: Again, the above is sarcasm. Please disregard it!

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Seriously though, best friends! Frank wasn’t plotting his revenge at the moment this was taken!

As yet another example of optics, please direct your attention to that second note I just made! I have sworn a blood oath against Frank’s life! He has sworn vengeance against my family! A thousand-year feud ensues, ending only with the extinction of the human race!

Note: ……………….

This Blog!

The final thing I want to point out about the optics of Where Shadows Slumber is this blog itself! By being as transparent as possible about our process, and by connecting as much as we can with our fans and potential players, we do our best to present ourselves as a fun, interesting, and relatable team. By discussing the details of the implementation, design, and art of Where Shadows Slumber, we drive home the point that the game itself is an intricate and interesting experience. By offering tips, tricks, and advice for your own games, we give back to the community that we love so much, and establish ourselves as a part of that community.

Optics are an important part of creating any product. Without a part of your team dedicated to putting out a positive image of you and your product, it becomes the responsibility of every person on the team to actively contribute to your product’s optics. The image that you are striving to achieve should inform many of your decisions, whether they be design- or business-related.

Remember, you don’t want to just make a game – you want to look good doing it.

 

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I hope this little foray into the world of optics helps you to better promote your own products. I don’t hope, however, that it causes you to question everything that we’ve ever said about Where Shadows Slumber! Either way, you can always find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

Jack Kelly is the head developer and designer for Where Shadows Slumber.

Summer Tour 2018!

The month of May is nearly 50% complete. Where does the time go? As we’ve been hard at work finishing Where Shadows Slumber for all of our patient fans, I’ve begun planning a summer tour of interesting game conventions. People always ask us if we have any shows coming up, so hopefully this blog post will serve as a good link I can toss at them. Note that none of these shows are confirmed yet – we’re just considering them. (Or, in the case of PAX, they are considering us!)

Maybe we’ll see you at some of these events?

 

 


 

 

 

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Playcrafting’s Demo + Play Showcase (June 12th)

We’re considering signing up for Playcrafting’s free Demo + Play showcase next month as a way of getting some last-minute testing in on the game’s final few Levels. Since this event is free for developers, we wanted to mention it here in case anyone reading this blog is also a game developer. You should come to this! Playcrafting always does a great job with these free events. The fee for customers is really cheap, so you’ll meet a lot of large families and get the chance to test your games with players of all age groups and skill levels.

 

 

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Returning to Play NYC (August 11th – 12th)

Now that submissions are open for PLAY NYC, Jack and I will of course be applying again. I have a call scheduled with Dan Butchko, the CEO of Playcrafting, set for later this week. From his website:

“Play NYC is New York’s premiere dedicated game convention for creators and players alike. Featuring the latest releases from studios large and small, and from developers old and new, Play NYC celebrates every facet of gaming in a way that only the Big Apple can.”

Play NYC was a blast last year! They had their inaugural show at Terminal 5 in the city last August. I liked the trendy look of the space, but it was obvious that they were going to need more room for future shows. Now they’ve moved to the Manhattan Center for the next 3 years, which should give them plenty of room to grow. Jack and I are so excited to see Play NYC doing well. This might even save us money in the long term, because every convention within walking distance of Hoboken saves us an expensive cross-country trip to a place like California or Texas. Everyone in the Tri-State area should support Play NYC!

 

 

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PAX West (August 31st – September 3rd)

This was one of the first PAX events I ever went to, all the way back in 2015 for Mr. Game! PAX West is a super cool show in a really unique convention space in Seattle, WA. I’ve been to Seattle twice now, and I enjoyed it both times, although the city does have its obvious problems.

We’ve submitted our BETA build to the PAX 10. Every year, the PAX crew judges the games that have been submitted and chooses ten that they went to spotlight. (If you remember when we were part of the PAX East Indie Showcase, it’s a similar setup) Those selected get a free booth at the show, which makes the trip way more affordable for struggling young indies. I saw last year’s gallery and recognized a few friendly faces, notably Keyboard Sports and our friends at Tiny Bubbles. We definitely belong in the PAX 10, so I hope the judges like our BETA build! Jack and I would like to thank everyone who helped test it at SXSW and PAX East.

If you also want to be part of the PAX 10, you had better hurry. Submissions end TODAY!

 

 

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PAX Australia 2018 (October 26th – 28th)

Yes, you read that correctly – we’ve thrown our hat in the ring for PAX Rising at PAX Australia (PAX AUS for short) because… well, why not? Submissions for PAX Rising were open, so I decided to fill out the form. The show is held every October in Melbourne, Victoria. Their mission statement:

“PAX Rising showcases engaging digital games developed by smaller teams. The folks at PAX believe these titles have a chance to rise above their modest beginnings, by growing as a company, establishing a fan base or pushing the industry.”

My wager here is that since a trip to Australia is so difficult, there won’t be much competition for the PAX Rising selection, meaning we have a better chance. But who can say for sure? The guidelines for PAX Rising are quite vague, so I have no idea if mobile games are even eligible. Whether or not we can go on this trip will also depend on if our game can generate the money to pay for the trip. So if you want us to go “down under” to PAX AUS, you better buy our game when it launches!

Check out a video of 2017’s PAX Rising stars on their YouTube channel here.

 

 

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We hope to see you on the road! Let us know in the comments if you will be attending any of these events. 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.

 

The Triangle of Truth

Hello again, everyone! It’s Frank again. I know you are all eagerly reading our weekly updates to find out when the game will be finished, but this week you may be disappointed. Rather than announcing a launch date, I’m going to explain to everyone the project management principles behind why Where Shadows Slumber has had such a long development cycle. We’re going to discuss the Triangle of Truth!

 

 


 

 

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The Triangle, Explained

The “Triangle” refers to a project management principle that has gone by many names, visualized in the image above. This diagram has been used to describe everything from project strategies and economic models to government healthcare systems and construction projects. It’s one of those mantras that just always seems to hold true, no matter the circumstances. When you are creating something, such as a mobile video game, you’d ideally like for it to be as good as possible for the cheapest cost and have a fast development cycle. Sadly, the edicts of being demand that you must sacrifice one side of the triangle to achieve the other two. As the desired two metrics increase, the sacrificed metric must decrease. Let’s define these bolded terms first, and then talk about Where Shadows Slumber.

Good: The product stands out among the crowd as something special. We want quality to be as high as possible.

Cheap: The cost incurred creating the product. (Not to be confused with the price a consumer pays for the final product) We want our cost to be as low as possible.

Fast: Time is money, so the sooner the project is done, the better. Life is short! We want our development cycle to be as short as possible.

When you see how Where Shadows Slumber lands on this diagram, everything will start to make sense.

 

We Chose “Good” and “Cheap”

Jack and I are two recent college graduates who teamed up together to make video games. The development of Where Shadows Slumber is not too dissimilar from the development of SkyRunner, our previous mobile game. We decided not to spend a truckload of money on the game, so that it could be as good as we can muster at the lowest personal cost. Essentially, we decided to spend time on the game rather than cash. This is because we have no money, so it was an easy decision.

That’s not to say that I’ve spent $0 on this game! It’s fair to say tens of thousands of dollars have gone toward the development of Where Shadows Slumber, easily. But our budget is a pittance compared to large indie studios and AAA development houses. The sides of the triangle have been chosen: we want a good game, and we can’t spend a lot of money, so we’ll just have to spend as long as it takes to get the job done.

What would Where Shadows Slumber look like if we sacrificed a different portion of the triangle? Let’s analyze where we are now, and then look at the others. Right now, we’re sacrificing time.

 

SACRIFICE: TIME  / /  GET: QUALITY, LOW COST

Time: We’ve been working on the game since the spring of 2015, and we’ll continue to work on it over the next few months. That’s a 3 year development cycle!

Cost: Game Revenant has spent ~$25,000 to pay our audio engineers, travel to conventions, and equipment. We work from our apartments and meet in coffee houses, so we don’t spend money on rent or utilities. Jack has a full-time job and I mooch off my generous, loving and forgiving family.

Quality: The game is superb, beautiful, and time-tested. We even created a free Demo that went through extensive user testing and has stood the test of time. This informed our approach to the final game, but it took a while to get to this point.

 

SACRIFICE: QUALITY  / /  GET: TIME, LOW COST

Quality: We always knew we wanted Where Shadows Slumber to be an awesome, premium mobile game. But if for some reason we decided to release a poorer quality version, we’d be done by now. What would happen if we sacrificed quality by having fewer puzzles, no meaningful story, and low-quality audio produced by Frank making noises with his mouth?

Time: We already created a rudimentary throwaway version back in 2015 when we first begun work on the game. We could have cut it off right there! Also, our Demo has been available for download since November 2016, so that gives you an idea of how much time we could have saved.

Cost: Obviously you don’t need to spend a lot of money if you don’t care about the final result. Jack and I could have just created a shorter, worse game and it only would have cost us a few app store developer fees (Apple, Google Play) and the cost of buying development devices for building and testing.

 

SACRIFICE: MONEY  / /  GET: QUALITY, FAST DEVELOPMENT

Cost: It is possible to get investors for indie games, either by getting a loan from the bank or by appealing to groups like Indie-Fund. Jack and I briefly considered this a year ago, but by that point we had put in so much of our own time, we felt like reaping the full benefits. (Remember – investors don’t give out money for free, they want a cut of the sales!) We could conceivably have gotten $500,000 – $1,000,000 to work on this game if we put our own money in and also got some investments. If we did…

Quality: Along with our personal efforts, we could have hired a small team of veteran developers to aid me and Jack. Veteran programmers would help Jack organize his code, and veteran artists would produce work superior to mine. With Jack and I to guide their efforts, we could take a management / visionary role and let the experts do the hard work. I think the quality would be the same it is now, but it would have gotten there faster. Speaking of which…

Time: My work would be cut in half if we paid an Animator / Character Gui* to handle all of the cutscenes and humanoid animation in the game. That would free me up to work purely on environments with Jack. On the development side, we could hire a full-time Quality Assurance Gui to test the game on various devices. A full-time Marketing Gui would handle our social media efforts, press relationships, and business travel. We could have also brought Alba and Noah into the fold a lot earlier, meaning most of their work would be done by now. Every gui we hire is another hat Jack and I don’t have to wear!

*Gui is a gender-neutral version of “guy” that we used to use in Off Center

 

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There Is Always A Drawback

It should be stated that when you sacrifice a portion of the triangle, you don’t get it back. There is always a cost. If you spend money, it’s gone. If you sacrifice quality, your game suffers. And if you spend three years working on a game, you suffer.

I’ve lived in isolation for a period of three years ( ! ), all the while neglecting personal relationships with friends and families, turned down jobs, rejected business opportunities, let my body grow fat, and forgone other personal life goals in order to work on Where Shadows Slumber for as many hours a day as possible. (Imagine my surprise when I discovered that women are not eager to date a man who spends 10 hours every day in front of a computer and rarely leaves the house. Shocker!)

Jack has been working his fingers to the bone every day at not one, but TWO tasks: his full-time work at a startup in NYC and his passion project Where Shadows Slumber. He’s written about this before on our blog, and I encourage you to read his past writing. I was particularly mortified at the mention of how he has to find small scraps of time throughout the day (30 minutes in the morning, 25 on the train, 45 between arriving home from work at night and making dinner) just to work on the game. I have no right to complain – in light of his sacrifice, my life is a breeze. What kind of person would lead their friend into this kind of a life?

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the point of this blog post is that the toll is real. Choose your sides of the triangle carefully, because the side you scorn will stop at nothing to seek revenge.

 

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Where Shadows Slumber: Eventually Good

Miyamoto’s famous quote that “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad” may not be true anymore in a world where games can be patched and DLC can be sold. In a world where software is now a service, rushed games might eventually become good, given time.

However, this is also an industry where you live and die by your first impressions. Users don’t ever return to write a second review, and journalists move from game to game quickly. Jack and I are making a sacrifice of time to ensure that Where Shadows Slumber makes a splash when it hits the market. We can’t spend money we don’t have, but we can always put in just a bit more work.

Are you a game developer, artist, musician, writer, or creator working on a passion project? Feel free to share this blog post with your friends and family, especially if they have ever asked you “gee, when are you going to be done with this darn thing?” Let me know what they say in the comments below!

 

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This has been a project management blog from the creators of Where Shadows Slumber. 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.

Indies: You Are Your Game

Hello, everyone!

This is Frank DiCola of Game Revenant, here with another post on our blog. Typically we use this space to chronicle the development of Where Shadows Slumber, a mobile puzzle adventure coming to iOS and Android later this year. However, this week things will be different. We’re going to take some time to brag about how great we are, both as game developers and as Renaissance men.

Yes, you read that correctly. This blog is about the personal skills that accompany independent game development, and why we have them and you don’t.

We’ll get a chance to talk about how Jack and I first met, the importance of acting and public speaking classes, and how indies become inseparable from their games.

 

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FRANK: “Where are my EGGS???” / JACK: “Here, here are your EGGS!!”

Where It All Began – Off Center

This blog post is a good opportunity to answer some questions that people ask us.

How did you meet? Did you always know you wanted to work on games?

Jack and I both went to Stevens Institute of Technology, graduating just a few years apart. We actually met in the comedy troupe known as “Off Center” (pronounced “off-chenter”) that performed sketch comedy and improv shows. I had just gotten rejected from the main stage fall play Noises Off, which was a new experience for me. Coming from high school, I was used to being the big fish in a small pond. I felt really confused, and Off Center was there for me. I started going to their show planning meetings.

The club focused on running short, free comedy shows twice a semester. They would usually be in the largest lecture hall we could find on campus. It wasn’t exactly a stage, since the seats were raised in an amphitheater style. It was more like a Colosseum.

I remember being really impressed during the meeting where we were casting everyone into the various sketches for the show. Jack took on like, 12 roles or something insane. Just because the show needed him! His stage presence was (and is) undeniable as well. Whenever the director told people they needed to be louder, they would just say “try to be as loud as Jack.”

Of course, we didn’t realize we both wanted to make video games until we found ourselves in an Intro to Game Design class a few years later. By then, we were already friends. But we’re not here to talk about game development. Let’s talk about the skills acting provides and why you, an indie developer, absolutely need them.

 

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The Only Thing You Have To Fear Is Public Speaking

You never know when opportunity is going to strike. Often times, as an indie developer, you’ll be given the rare chance to “pitch” your game to someone important. It could be a potential publisher who doesn’t have time to play your demo but can spare 30 seconds to hear a quick description. Maybe it’s a spur of the moment pitching contest, like the one I got 3rd place in at GDC last year, where you have to come up with a verbal presentation with no prep time and deliver it five times in a crowded bar. Heaven forbid, it could be an actual stage presentation where you need to pitch your game in front of an actual audience with nothing but your own PowerPoint presentation to save you.

Are your palms getting sweaty yet? Now imagine you’re at a booth at a show like PAX East demonstrating your game. About a hundred people will walk by the booth every hour. Do you have what it takes to attract them to your game? Could you handle talking to that many strangers for such a long period of time?

If these “opportunities” feel more like nightmares, you aren’t alone. Public speaking is something that people rarely get to experience for themselves. As a result, when you’re “put on the spot”, you panic. It’s perfectly normal. Public speaking is a skill you have not honed, and now you need to do it for the first time ever in front of a real audience?! No fair!

The skills you need for the examples above are all things that Jack and I exposed ourselves to during the Off Center years. After performing more than 15 shows over the course of a few years, with a few main-stage productions thrown in there, you get the hang of it. You learn how to:

  • Speak slowly, confidently, and audibly
  • Be comfortable making up a script and then deviating from it if necessary
  • Say what you need to say without going over the time allotted
  • Communicate your message non-verbally with your body

It’s normal to be afraid of acting in a play, giving a speech, or improvising a scene. But as independent developers, you are the public face of your game! Like it or not, there’s no one else that can wear this marketing hat for you. You have to do it. And you can’t ignore important opportunities to win prizes or glory just because you neglected to put points into your Speechcraft skill. Should your game really suffer because you never learned how to project your voice? What if the future of your game depended on knowing what to do with your hands while you stand up on stage nervously? (Hint: don’t put them in your pockets)

 

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We live right near Manhattan, where the UCB has a few teaching theaters.

3 Ways To Level Your Speechcraft Skill

Let’s get nerdy for a moment. Imagine this is nothing more than a role-playing game like Morrowind, and you’re a character with various skills and abilities. You have a Speechcraft skill, but it’s low. Very low. High enough that you can talk to your friends and family, but not much higher than that. You’re super nervous for the first 10 minutes you’re with a stranger, such as on a job interview. As for getting up on a stage and talking to a crowd, you’re level restricted from even trying that. What do you do?

If you were trying to level your Sword skill, you’d take fencing classes. If you wanted to level Lockpicking, you’d probably join a hobbyist group of (ethical) lockpicks who have a passion for locks and love to crack them for fun. To level your Speechcraft in real life, you need to make an actual plan to expose yourself to public speaking. It won’t just happen on its own. This is a skill, after all. Skills don’t just magically level with no effort on your part. Here are three things you can do:

Join the club: If you’re still in high school or college, I really encourage you to try out for the play or join any kind of drama club your school has. Larger schools may have a wide range of acting stuff – the most helpful thing will be improv. Improvisation is a school of comedy where the actors go on stage without a script and make everything up on the spot. You don’t need to learn how to be a hilarious comedian. What you need is the ability to go out on stage without a plan and do more than just survive — thrive!

Join a community theater: If you’re out of school, it would be weird to hang around your school like a weirdo. I would never do that. <_< So instead, see if your town has a local theater that puts on a few plays a year. Don’t worry about the competition, just audition and see what happens. Remember, you’re not training for Broadway. You just need to become a competent enough speaker to feel comfortable in your own skin.

Take improv classes: This one will cost money, but if you live near a city (especially a hip cool city where all the people are hip and cool and do hip, cool things) you should be able to find a comedy club that also offers classes. The best part about doing this is that they’ll treat you like a beginner instead of expecting you to already be good. Some of these classes also do shows at the end as a final exam / graduation. It’s a good way to test your skill. After all, if you can make up a bunch of silly jokes, you can certainly talk about something you know very well – your game!

 


 

The next time I see you at a convention, you better look me in the eye and shake my hand! Then, you better beat me for first prize in the game pitching contest.

See you in the Colosseum.

 

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Get out there and start acting! If you have any other questions about Where Shadows Slumber, feel free to contact us! You can always find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback 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.