In The News

Things are crazy over here at Where Shadows Slumber HQ right now. We’ll tell you all about it in a future blog post, because a lot of what’s happening is confidential. For now, here’s a roundup of all of the news organizations that have written about our game so far!

Apologies if you’ve read some of these already – part of the reason we do this is to aggregate them and make sure we don’t lose track of the articles. You may have seen some of these on our social feed throughout the week. If you have, you don’t need to read them again… share them with your friends instead!

Shameless reminder that you can still pre-order the game on iOS if you act now:

bit.ly/WSS-iOS

Okay, on to the articles!

 

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The team nervously reads what everyone thinks about our game. (Dramatization)

 

Pre-Order Reactions

When we launched as a pre-order on the App Store, many in the news media were pleasantly surprised to see our game. Others had been waiting for it patiently. Below, you’ll find some of the coverage people wrote before they got a chance to play our game. (Some had already experienced our free 2016 demo, which they mention in their articles.)

“It’s like someone took the ingenious shadow manipulation of Helsing’s Fire ($0.99) and mixed it with the hypnotizing isometric puzzling of Monument Valley ($3.99), which is a mashup made in heaven if I’ve ever heard one.”

-Jared Nelson, TouchArcade

Stunning Puzzle Adventure ‘Where Shadows Slumber’ Finally Arrives September 20th

 

“Personally, I’m excited to get my hands on the game at last and hope there’s a good chunk of content to dig into.”

-Emily Sowden, PocketGamer

The curious puzzler Where Shadows Slumber is finally up for pre-order on iOS

 

TouchArcade and PocketGamer are two of the biggest and most influential websites in the mobile game industry, so it’s nice to see how interested they are in our game! But it wasn’t just English speaking sites that noticed us, we also got some attention from other countries…

 

Where Doze the Shadows is a colorful puzzle where you have to control the shadows and solve difficult tasks with their help.”

Alexander Yarovoy, App-S.ru

“Where Shadows Slumber”: the Wanderings of a Lonely Old Man [Pre-order]

OK, that one had to be fed through a translator to actually read it. You can’t control shadows in our game, so Google Translate probably messed this one up. But we like the idea of referring to our game as a “colorful puzzle.” Incidentally, “the wanderings of a lonely old man” would be an excellent title for my future autobiography one day.

Finally, here’s an interview I did with Megan Meehan over at Blasting News.

“For as long as the game will run on existing hardware, it will be an enduring cultural artifact that people will enjoy for generations.”

-Frank, the guy writing this blog post

Where Shadows Slumber: Interview with Game Designer Frank DiCola

 

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Our First Review: AppUnwrapper

We sent Lisa of AppUnwrapper a promo code last week once we went live on the App Store. Apparently she knew about our game even before we reached out to her, but I never directly asked her how. (The demo, probably) That in itself is cool enough, but she also decided to review it and posted the article today! I don’t want to give away her reaction, because then you won’t click the link. So go read it!

‘Where Shadows Slumber’ Review: One Lantern to Rule Them All

It’s so strange to read reviews of our work. The feeling hasn’t really sunk in yet. I wonder when it will?

One more thing: our Metacritic page has been automatically generated by their system, but it’s looking a little empty right about now. Let’s hope it gets filled up with 5 and 10 star reviews in the coming weeks!

 

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Want a promo code? Email us with proof that you create content for a website or YouTube channel and we’ll send it right over! For everyone else, 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.

Pre-order Where Shadows Slumber on the App Store Today!

Starting today, Where Shadows Slumber is available for pre-order on the App Store! This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Click here to be taken to our App Store Page!

And share the shortened link with your friends: bit.ly/WSS-iOS

If you’re not sure what “pre-ordering” means, read on…

 

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What Is A Pre-Order?

When a game is available for pre-order, it’s very close to launching on the App Store. So close in fact, that you can tell Apple you want to download the game the instant it becomes available on the App Store! Because Apple knows our game is launching so soon, they may place Where Shadows Slumber on a special “Coming Soon” section of the App Store to advertise it to their customers.

You can’t play it until the game is really available on September 20th, but you can share it with all of your friends! If you pre-order the game, you’ll be charged $4.99 USD on September 20th and the game will load on your device that day.

Tired of waiting for the game to launch? Sorry… we couldn’t pass up this marketing opportunity. Getting the game on App Store’s “Coming Soon” list is a huge boost for a small studio like ours! Besides, it ensures that we can spend the next two weeks marketing and talking to journalists before players get their hands on the game. When people start playing, I’m sure I’ll have to be glued to Twitter and Gmail answering people’s questions and giving them cryptic hints. It’s nice to have a reprieve… this is the calm before the storm.

 

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Do I Have To Buy The Game Right Now?

Yes, you do.

Ok, not really. You can wait until the game launches for real on September 20th before committing to a purchase. Some people like to wait until reviews come out from other customers or game journalists – that’s fine with us. (I do that, too) Chances are that if you follow this blog, you’ve already decided that you’re buying the game. If that’s not the case, just wait a few weeks! We’re confident that Where Shadows Slumber will be a critical success. We’ve put years of work into this game, and we know you’ll be impressed with the final product.

 

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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.

Our Marketing Plan

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…

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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?

 

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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…

 

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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…

 

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What’s Next?

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!

 

 

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Thanks for reading this marketing update! If you’re new to this blog, you can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

Join Us At Play NYC 2018!

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.

 

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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:

We got a shout-out in TechRaptor’s promotional Play NYC article.

The New York Times wrote an article about the difficulties game developers face in NYC.

The New York Times also created a list of 12 cool games made in NYC.

Variety wrote about Play NYC’s efforts to highlight immigrant developers.

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.

 

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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!

Of course, if you can’t make it to the event, you can always watch the Twitch stream!

 

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We hope to see you at PLAY NYC 2018! If you’re new to this blog, 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.

All About App Icons

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.

 


 

 

Inspiring Icons

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.

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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!

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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.

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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?”

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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?

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

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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:

  1. This image is very detailed, so the intricacies are hard to make out at small sizes
  2. This icon requires pre-existing knowledge about what Obe looks like
  3. The lantern looked weirder back then, so it’s not immediately recognizable
  4. This looks like an icon for a horror game, almost like Amnesia for mobile phones
  5. This doesn’t really look like the art in the game at all
  6. This doesn’t really look like an app icon for a mobile puzzle game
  7. 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.

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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!

 

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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), 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.

 

 

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.