Patch 1.0.10 Available on Android, Coming to iOS

If you remember last month’s blog post about an upcoming patch to Where Shadows Slumber, and you’ve been eagerly awaiting it since then, I have good news for you. The wait is finally over! Kind of… for some of you!

Android users with access to the Google Play store can access this patch right now. Please leave a comment if you run into any problems with the puzzle redesigns, or saving / progress issues. I’ll respond as soon as I can!

The patch is coming to iOS later this week once it makes it’s way through Apple’s approval process.

While we have no plans to add more puzzles to the game (a frequent request from fans of the game) we’ll obviously continue to support the game via bugfixes and quality of life improvements as we see fit. Thanks for all the helpful feedback over the past few months on that end!

Stay tuned to this page for more announcements regarding Where Shadows Slumber. While we don’t have anything concrete to announce just yet, a cool experiment is in progress…

What’s Where Shadows Slumber?

I always assume that I’m writing these posts for an audience that reads them regularly, but if you just found out about our game because of this post… welcome! Where Shadows Slumber is a mobile puzzle adventure game for iOS and Android. As the name implies, the driving force of the game’s puzzles center on the shadows your character casts from his bright handheld lantern.

Incidentally, this GIF is slightly out of date now that Patch 1.0.10 is out…

As these shadows move across the landscape of the environment, they can cause objects to appear and disappear from reality. These changes can happen to entire sections of the puzzle or tiny pieces of a single pathway. Shadows from two different objects may have two different effects on the level. Your character’s position matters since Obe is holding the light – he’s more than just a passenger meant to be carted from point A to point B. Where Shadows Slumber encourages outside-the-box thinking, exploration, and puzzle solving!

Try the new-and-improved version of the game at the links below:

App Store (iOS)bit.ly/WSS-iOS

Google Play (Android)bit.ly/WSS-Android

If you love it, please leave a 5 star review/rating for us. If you don’t love it… send me an email [0_0 ]

Enjoy the game!

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store!

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, 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.

Patch 1.0.10 Notes

After PAX East this year, Jack and I spent the entire car ride taking a critical look at our game based on the feedback we received. It may seem weird to continue iteration on a game that’s already been released, but we wanted to make the game as perfect as possible before it heads to new platforms later this year.

Many of these changes are substantial – altering the solutions to puzzles, the artwork, and even the order in which you solve puzzles. Some changes are so small you wouldn’t notice unless I told you, which is precisely the point of this post!

Here’s all the changes you can expect in the latest patch, which we hope will go live sometime early next week:


10 Artistic Changes

Some of the design problems with Where Shadows Slumber are actually just bad artistic cues – which is to say, these are things I made that looked cool to me but ended up communicating the wrong ideas to our players.

Most of these fixes are focused on the beginning of the game, since that’s the “make or break” period for gamers. If players aren’t impressed after the first five minutes, or the game is frustrating, we’re destined for a 1-star review. So here’s a visual walk-through of all of these changes, with the old versions on the left and the new versions on the right.

The Forest Levels

Forest Level 2, “Bridge”

This is the player’s first interaction with the design pattern we use for Draggable objects, but sadly it’s on two Non-Draggable objects that appear Draggable. (The ancient, crumbling bridges in the water) We decided to cover them with moss so they don’t look interactable.

The Jail Levels

Jail Level 1, “Light”

Before we changed this puzzle, it was very difficult for players to tell when the bridge was being repaired by the shadow. Now the bridge is much longer, which gives you more space to explore and see what the shadow is doing to the bridge.

Jail Level 3, “Lock”

This Level badly needed clarity and simplification. My earlier attempt at color-coding the different gaps in the bridge with really dark, indistinguishable colors and incredibly small little gemstones did not work. The new version has bold colors, big pieces that still connect the bridge even when it’s broken, and one fewer draggable light source.

Jail Level 5, “Pressure”

Similar to the puzzle I just mentioned above, 1-5 needed a lot of color to clarify what’s going on with different shadows affecting different objects. I like how it turned out!

The River Levels

River Level 1, “Docks”

The corner of the land mass above is not traversable. As you can see in the old version, it’s not clear that there’s a gap in the walkway. (We put a gap there because we only want players to see this shadow illusion in a specific way) This fix makes the gap more obvious.

This Draggable raft was giving players a lot of trouble, too. The square pieces are halfway into the water, so it’s not obvious that you can drag them. We want to try the new design, where the Draggable squares lie on top of the surface so they’re visible.

River Level 3, “Guide”

This Level featured a large tree that had some kind of light inside of it, and you could close the shutter to hide the light. This shadow was used to change the bridge in the center. Ultimately, this puzzle had too many elements going on in it. We can keep the same design without requiring players to figure out what’s going on with the tree.

River Level 4, “Ebb”

The shadow-casting wall in this Level is really big now, because it was awkward how you could shine your light as you walked down the steps here. Some people accidentally solved the puzzle on their way down the staircase!

The Hills Levels

Hills Level 5, “Rest”

This Level received a huge change, as well as numerous small ones. The most noticeable change is that the center island is no longer one big draggable, but instead is a platform with a draggable pillar on it that slides freely. We feel that this will allow players to more easily solve the puzzle, though the solution remains the same. There are also a bunch of small changes to where pillars come up to stop you along your path.

The Summit Levels

Summit Level 2, “Blind”

This one is super subtle. Can you see it? We added some footsteps for the invisible ghostly Knight who is patrolling around inside the shadow realm. (If you’ve never played the game before, I’m sure that made no sense at all.) We hope this helps players determine where he is as they try to solve this difficult puzzle!

Six Design Changes

Not everything we’re changing in this patch has to do with artwork. One of the largest changes is really subtle – you’d only notice it if you played the game a lot. New players would never even realize what we did.

These changes were made based on lots of user feedback with the final product, as well as in preparation for a future version of Where Shadows Slumber that’s free to download and has paywalls interspersed. Here are six non-aesthetic changes happening in Patch 1.0.10…

No More Riding Draggables

The largest change, and one that spawned a whole bunch of other changes, is a clarification to the way draggable objects work. Obe can no longer stand on these while they move, so a few puzzles had to be updated. Now you’ll always see the image above when Obe is standing on a draggable bridge, and we hope this is less confusing.

Forest Level 3, “Monolith”

The draggable pillar now begins raised out of the water instead of submerged. We felt like it was not obvious that it could be dragged, since it was so well hidden by the rock and moss.

World 1 Order of Levels

We’re rearranging this World in order to make the introduced mechanics flow better. (The actual screen won’t look as it does on the right, that’s just a diagram I made to show you how the puzzles are moving around.) The previous section used the old World 1 numbers.

River Level 3, “Guide”

In this Level, you used raised walls to cast shadows on the center bridge. This involved “dipping” the center in shadow briefly either by letting the walls go up and down, or by walking Obe in and out of the corner to see the change. In the end, it was a relic of a way shadows used to work very early on in the game’s history. We eventually changed the walls into pillars you can walk around, to be more consistent with the rest of the game.

Title on Device

We’re changing the build name from Shadows to Where Shadows Slumber. I chose “Shadows” because I knew it would fit nicely on everyone’s phone screens. But it seems like poor branding to have everyone refer to our game as “Shadows” from here to eternity. We also considered “WSS” but that seemed to cryptic. Let me know how it looks on your phone screens!

Paradise Level 5, “Gates”

Last but not least, the most difficult puzzle in the game just got a whole lot less tedious. Now there are doorways to any of the four colors in this puzzle, available from any color area. No need to keep going back to the yellow zone!

Coming Soon To A Phone Near You…

I had hoped to get the patch out already, but there are still some tiny fixes left to do and a lot more testing. But once it’s all ready and this patch is uploaded to the App Store and Google Play, you’ll get a push notification to notify you that it’s been downloaded. Please try it and let us know what you think of the alterations!

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store!

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, 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.

Enjoy These 16 Awesome Blasts From Our Past

Since AwesomeCon 2019 is in just a few days, I wanted to do something different this week for our Tuesday blog post. This isn’t really an article – instead, it’s an awesome gallery of images comparing Where Shadows Slumber 2019 to Where Shadows Slumber 2017. The 2017 images are from the last time we went to AwesomeCon, which you can see in their original form in this ancient blog post.

These pictures are old! This is back when our character was essentially a bald Wii Fit Trainer with a lantern. For each set below, the top image is from 2017 and the bottom is ripped from the game as it is now on the App Store. If you haven’t purchased the game yet, please do so before reading the article. Otherwise, enjoy a trip down memory lane!


The Forest

The AwesomeCon 2019 build had an entirely different first Level, which proved to be just too much for testers. It was replaced with the walking tutorial below, which is now the game’s initial level.

On the other side, the second Level hardly changed. We did shorten the second rotating bridge to add another small puzzle, where players have to rotate the bridge while Obe is standing on it. The previous iteration just had two bridges with three blocks each.

This Level impressed us and didn’t really need that much alteration.

The Jail

I kind of prefer the old model I used for light towers here. It was more obvious what was happening. I regret covering the fireplace inside the tower so much…

This Level is so old, it was in our 2016 demo. We were pretty sure it would get into the game as is, it just needed an artistic makeover.

This Level didn’t change, but it probably should have. Those spinning draggables still give people a lot of trouble. Expect them to change in a future update!

Look at that old button! Circles were too hi-poly. We made this much more symmetrical, to my delight. It’s also now the fifth puzzle in the Jail instead of the fourth, though Jack and I discussed rearranging the order again in a future update. Stay tuned…

As I mentioned above, this is now the fourth Level in the Jail. Notice how the orientation changed entirely! I wasn’t happy with where those doors at the end led. Looking back now, I think the old design made it more obvious what you’re trying to do. Too late now… [<_< ]

The River

The big change in “Docks” is that the goal space was moved much further down the screen so that I could hide it and say that Obe was taking a different exit out of the Level. In the 2017 version, Obe lands on a magical square and the Level just ends, but it isn’t clear where he actually goes or how that gets him to the next Level. An old concept we had for this World was that Obe was trying to get his raft past a series of locks in the River, which we abandoned due to the difficulty of making it work across multiple Levels.

Another Level where we shortened a bridge from two spaces to three in order to prevent unwanted behavior from the Walker.

In this puzzle, the Walker actually used to be on the same pathways as Obe. He eventually ended up getting in your way more often than not, so we put him all the way at the top of the screen in his own private hell.

This Level went through too many changes to show in just this image, but one of them is obvious. The goal space moved higher on the screen and required you to get past yet another timing / Walker / shadow / bridge puzzle.

The Aqueduct

We knew this would be the second puzzle in the Aqueduct, meaning that our first Level was probably still in production and not ready for testing. This Level underwent a big change in orientation, as you can see from the position of Obe and the button below.

This Level lost some unnecessary blocks in Obe’s path as we streamlined it. You can see here that buttons didn’t have the functionality of being pressed down yet, as Obe’s legs are piercing through the ugly button as if it was a huge block of yellow Jell-O.

I need to explain this because it isn’t obvious from the images below, but in the 2017 version of this Level you could drag the torus whenever you wanted! (Hence, why it is slightly askew in the top image but perfectly aligned in the bottom one.) That change was made to make the puzzle more challenging.

I was never a fan of the crazy colors on this Level, but I ended up adding even more to the final version so that players could tell what was going on with the shadows. Note that we added the functionality for draggables to “go dark” when you aren’t allowed to drag them.


See You Soon!

Thanks so much for checking this blog out. It’s awesome to look back in time at how far the game has come now that it’s finished. I hope to see you this weekend for AwesomeCon 2019 [^_^ ]!

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available for purchase on the App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store!

Find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, 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.

AppIcon-Monument-Valley.JPG

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!

AppIcon-Monument-Valley-2

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.

AppIcon-Sneaky.png

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?”

AppIcon-AltosAdventure

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?

AppIcon-AltosOdyssey.JPG

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.

AppIcon-Prune

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!

 

AppIcon-Gallery.png

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.

AppIcon-WSS-2016.JPG

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.

AppIcon-WSS-2017

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.

 

 

State of the Art – April 2018

Welcome to State Of The Art, April 2018 edition! This monthly progress report is written by Frank DiCola and is focused entirely on how the game’s visuals have improved in the past month.

Missed last month’s State of the Art? The March edition is right here.

Also, don’t be fooled by our last blog post. The “Easter edition” of our blog was actually just the Where Shadows Slumber April Fool’s gag for the year. We hope it gave you a few laughs! Don’t worry, we aren’t adding any of that stuff to the game.

SOTA-Discord

Sorry Caroline – no skins!

We all had fun making that, but now it’s back to work. Here’s the State of the Art!

 

 


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains screenshots, GIFs and videos of later sections of the game. If you want to experience them in all their majesty for the first time on your mobile device when the game launches, don’t read on!


 

 

 

SOTA-Header.png

Mustard River

The infamous “mustard river” is now complete! These Levels used to be in real rough shape, but now I love the way our ashen rocks contrast with the yellow of the water. This World is home to Walkers, a mechanic we introduce in the first River Level. I won’t drone on too long, because I think these GIFs speak for themselves. Enjoy!

River1.gif

Level 2-1, “Docks”

River2.gif

Level 2-2, “Cage”

River3.gif

Level 2-3, “Guide”

River4.gif

Level 2-4, “Ebb”

River5.gif

Level 2-5, “Ferry”

There are new Walkers, too! For a long time, the denizens of the River were weird copies of Obe in scraggly shorts. As you may have noticed from the GIFs above, I gave them a bit more unique personal features, such as different hats or clothing. Overall, they probably still look too much like generic video game zombies. Regardless, I hope people will realize as they play the game that these Walkers are to be pitied, not feared.

 

SOTA-LevelSelectHeader.png

Check Out Our Snazzy Level Select Menu

I’m really proud of the Level Select menu that Jack and I have been working on together. Rather than just do a few buttons with numbers on them, we really went all out to create a beautiful experience that takes you through the story of the game as you choose what Level you’d like to play. Check them out in action!

LevelSelects.gif

When the full game is done, this menu will be the best place to track your progress. How many Levels have you completed? How many are left? Which ones would you like to return to, to show your friends? During gameplay however, the Player won’t be directed here too often, since Levels flow directly from one into the other.

 

 

 

SOTA-HomeStretch.png

Polish: The Home Stretch

I have begun the process of finishing the game’s final 15 Levels. These puzzles have been finished for a while, and they even have some “first draft” art. However, as I say all the time, my goal for each Level is to make it look like my favorite Level, and make the player say “oh wow, I love the look of this one.” That’s a delicate process that takes a lot of time – many, many hours spent per Level!

CemeteryRain

 

So right now I have just one of the final 15 to show you today, and you can see it above. This is in World 5, The Hills, and it’s called Cemetery. It features tombstones that turn into ghosts when you cover them in shadow. The theme of the World is putting these spirits to rest in their graves.

This Level is nearly complete – there are two tiny touches I’m dying to put in. First, I want to give that Draggable pillar a bit more personality. Right now it’s just a green hyperrectangle (Jack taught me that’s what a 3D rectangle is) but it should feel like it belongs more. Second, I want to add animated blades of grass that bounce and bob along with the rhythm of the falling rain. Personally, I think making convincing rain is more about the effect the raindrops have on the ground rather than seeing actual particles in midair. When it rains in real life, what’s easier to see: the rain in midair as it falls to Earth, or the water collecting in puddles on the ground or forming little rivers? Observe the world around you next time there’s a storm. I’m right!

Anyway, those changes all take a lot of love so I’ll be poring over it more this week before I head off to PAX East!

 

SOTA-iPhoneX

Last But Not Least – The iPhone X!

I finally bit the bullet and purchased the iPhone X so we can test how the game works on its sleeker, thinner, taller (!) screen. The phone is beautiful and feels great, and you can see a proof of life photo above. Jack will probably have to do some programmer-fu to make the camera zoom out a bit on these phones, but that’s fine. I love playing on the iPhone X because of how smooth it is, so a little camera troubles are no problem at all!

That’s about it for this month’s art update. I wish I could have gotten a bit more done, but we had to attend SXSW earlier this month and I spent a lot of time preparing the art for that build. It was a great show, but travel always takes time away from being in the “flow” of creating artwork. Since I’ll be at PAX East this weekend, you can expect the same lame excuse next time!

We’re nearing the final days of working on Where Shadows Slumberwhich is a really weird thing to think about. I suppose we’ll still be doing a lot of post-launch stuff, but I’m not sure what I’ll do all day, every day once the game is done. Anyway, I know what I’ll be doing all day, every day in April… [ o_o] ART!

See you next month for another update!

 

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

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

State of the Art – March 2018

Welcome to State Of The Art, March 2018 edition! This monthly progress report is written by Frank DiCola and is focused entirely on how the game’s visuals have improved in the past month.

Missed last month’s State of the Art? The February edition is right here: click me!

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains screenshots, GIFs and videos of later sections of the game. If you want to experience them in all their majesty for the first time on your mobile device when the game launches, don’t read on!

 


 

 

3-1-Noria

A Whole New Aqueduct

Like the other unfinished Worlds in Where Shadows Slumber, the Aqueduct used to look pretty dumpy. It was passable, but the colors were lifeless and the geometry was too perfectly straight. There was nothing about it that made me love it. As the game’s artist, that’s a pretty bad feeling. I never want any section of the game to make me recoil in disgust. My goal, as I’ve said before, is to make every Level my favorite Level. When it comes time to add screenshots of this game to the App Store, I should think to myself: “How can I possibly choose!? All thirty-eight Levels are so perfect and photogenic!”

If you read last week’s piece, titled Creating a Level: From Concept to Finished Product, the GIF above will look familiar. I chronicled the entire development of this Level (called Noria), from the time it was just a pencil sketch in Jack’s notebook all the way to our finished awesome Level. Here’s a look at the rest of the Levels in World 3, the Aqueduct.

 

 

 

3-2-Tradeoff.gif

Level 3-2, “Tradeoff”

3-3-Anchor.gif

Level 3-3, “Anchor”

3-4-Torus.gif

Level 3-4, “Torus”

3-5-Island.gif

Level 3-5, “Island”

I won’t return to the Aqueduct before launching the game, but if you really have a critique that’s valid and you absolutely must make your voice heard, comment below this post and I will read it! Who knows – you may change how the final game comes out!

 

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The Dust Storm Is Here!

They say you should never have a favorite child, and I think that’s probably good life advice. But I think I do have a favorite World, and it’s the City. I really wanted to include something like this in the game, and I put a lot of love into these Levels. It’s a crazy World where we go through a ton of locales in just five Levels, from the “bad part of town”, to a military tower, to a luxurious palace. And this is all during a sandstorm!

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Level 4-1, “Slum”

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Level 4-2, “Alley”

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Level 4-3, “Tower”

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Level 4-4, “Fountain”

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Level 4-5, “Labyrinth”

What do you think of these Levels? We are bringing these Levels to SXSW, so your advice is more than welcome! Slam that comment section with your sweet, sweet critiques. I need them to survive o_o

 

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Hell Revisited

I’ve just begun polishing World 2, the River. We aren’t bringing this one to SXSW next week, so I won’t get a chance to keep working on it for a little while. But so far I think it’s really cool! It needed a modest redesign in order to make the aesthetic work and I believe I finally nailed it.

The biggest change is that the ugly Lincoln Log wall setup I had is now going away. I was never really in love with it to begin with. There was something too neat and orderly about it. This is a swampy river that leads right back to the hell-jail you just escaped from! It should feel gross, a bit disordered, and disorderly. To achieve that, I’m working with a toolkit of gnarly trees, rickety boardwalks, and custom ashen rocks.

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Here’s a sneak peek! What do you think… too much vignette, or not enough?

Still to do: redesign the Walkers to look like swamp denizens, add more motion to the clutter and plant life, and finish the remaining four River Levels. Expect that and more next time, in the April edition of State of the Art.

Thanks for reading!

 

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

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

Creating a Level: From Concept to Finished Product

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a post about how we make Levels when working on Where Shadows Slumber. The only problem was a lack of documentation. I forgot to take screenshots of the early stages of the Levels we’ve completed so far. What I really wanted to do was show our audience the growth of a Level, from it’s earliest conception and then show the various stages of the design process along the way.

When I thought of this idea, I tabled the blog and decided to wait until I started on a new batch of Levels… and here we are! We’re going to take an inside look at Level 3-1, Noria, the first Level of the Aqueduct World.

 

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Step 1: Draw The Level

Every Level has a reason for being in the game. Noria is the first Level in the Aqueduct World, which makes it extra special. Whenever we design the first Level of a World, we like to communicate to the Player:

  • Why the World is going to feel different from the other Worlds in the game
  • What mechanics you’ll be dealing with in this World – especially new ideas

For the Aqueduct, we wanted to make it all about mechanical devices, switches, rotating things and whirring machines. Our game doesn’t exactly have a precise historical setting, but it’s fair to say it isn’t modern day. This gives us some leeway with technology. It has to work, but it can look really old.

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Jack’s notebook!

The Aqueduct World is all about Buttons. Buttons are Nodes that do something when you step onto them. There are all kinds of Buttons, but the most basic Button does a thing every time you step on it, no matter how many times you step on it.

To show that off, Jack designed a Level (above) where the only way to cast shadows and move the light was with a single Button. In addition to that, there are Buttons near each light in the Level to turn them on and off. The proximity of the light to the Button it’s attached to is an intuitive connection. These Buttons work like regular domestic light switches too, so it’s a cheap way of using existing Player knowledge about the real world and transmuting it into knowledge of our game.

When a Level exists in this form, the only thing we can really do is discuss it. Jack will attempt to guide a very confused Frank through the mechanics of the Level. I’ll try to poke holes in it (literally, with my pencil) and find problems with the design. We’ve never shown these sketches to testers because it’s too high-level for them to understand. If we like the idea of the Level, Jack makes a grey box prototype of it in Unity for us to test.

 

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This Level doesn’t look too special yet, huh? Just wait!

Step 2: Make A Grey-Box Prototype Level

With a design solidified, now we’re ready to make a version of the Level that can be played and tested. It doesn’t need to look pretty yet, so we use basic template cubes to represent walkable space. Affectionately called grey box prototypes, this technique is how we prototype every Level in the game. Watch a video of me beating the Level below:

As you can see, it’s playable in this stage, and everything works. You can solve the puzzle, which means testers can assess the strength of our design. (We just tell them to ignore the visuals.) We brought this Level, in this format, to AwesomeCon 2017 looking for feedback from players. When we show grey box prototypes to people, we want to make sure they can complete the puzzle. More than that, we want to make sure that they solved it on purpose instead of just by brute force. If we get good feedback, we proceed to Step 3.

 

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Step 3: Draw Some Concept Art

This might seem backward, but this is the time when I draw a concept image of the Level. Why do I do this after the Level has been prototyped, and not before? It’s because Jack knows best which Nodes need to go where, and I don’t. I need to take cues from him about where everything must be, which often includes the actual length and width of shadow casting objects.

This is actually beneficial. It gives me good constraints to work with. I draw a paper sketch and say, “OK, if everything absolutely has to be in this location, what can I do with it? What makes sense for the setting [Aqueduct] whether it’s man-made or organic?” As you can see in the drawing, the following ideas have been spawned:

  • Obe should enter from a pipe (bottom right) to match the cutscene that plays directly before this Level.
  • The pillar now looks like it belongs – it’s a crumbling structural element of the Aqueduct, a man-made structure in disrepair.
  • The mechanism by which the lamp moves left to right is not just a magical back-and-forth switch. Now it’s a waterwheel! Why a wheel? Google “Noria”…
  • The lights need to look like actual man-made lights since they are powered by Buttons on the ground. Why not lamps?
  • There are stone pathways going horizontally that have crumbled over time. Those need to be repaired by shadows.
  • The bridges going vertically are metal grates that allow water to pass under them. This is an Aqueduct, we can’t just have standing water blocked in!
  • There’s a back wall with a door. I like to give the Player as many visual cues as possible that the finish line is an actual exit.

The concept art phase is another chance for us to critique the design. If we know the puzzle is good, but it produces an awkward-looking Level, we have the opportunity to reconfigure things. Perhaps the exit needs to be in a different place? Maybe objects should be closer or further apart? Now is the time to match the design to the intended context, the Aqueduct. Once I have good concept art to work from, I proceed to Step 4!

 

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Step 4: First Aesthetic Pass

Now it’s time to take that ugly grey box prototype (sorry Jack) and make it look and sound beautiful! I’m ready to apply my toolkit of Aqueduct paths, walls and bridges to the design. Once the art is laid down, Alba and Noah have their first chance to put some audio effects into the Level and set the mood. It makes a huge difference: now the Level doesn’t sound like it takes place in a silent death vacuum! Creepy chimes and rushing water converge to give the Level a sense of place. Here’s a video of it all in action:

The Level doesn’t look grey anymore! That’s awesome. But… it also doesn’t look finished, does it? This kind of art would pass for a student game or something in a game jam, but we want to be an App Store Editor’s Pick and win a ton of awards. That means the art needs to be worth the price people paid to download the game. It needs to be extraordinary! It needs to be… polished.

 

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Step 5: Aesthetic Polish

Polish is a game design term for taking your finished product and finishing it again so it’s even better – much like shining a shoe with shoe polish. You want to make your Level shine! If you’re making an island paradise, it needs to be the most relaxing paradise the player has ever experienced. If it’s a scummy slum in a city, you need to make that slum as dirty as possible. Everything needs to be pushed to the extreme.

My personal philosophy is that I want to turn every Level in the game into my favorite one. Obviously, I know that can’t happen. But at least while I’m working on it, I can take something boring and give it life. Speaking of which, this is usually where animation enters the picture.

animate (verb)

1530s, “to fill with boldness or courage,” from Latin animatus past participle of animare “give breath to,” also “to endow with a particular spirit, to give courage to, enliven,” from anima “life, breath”

Animation is the most time-consuming part of aesthetic design, and it requires a lot of setup as well. It makes sense for this to come last. But it’s definitely the most important artistic layer. Bad video games tend to feel frozen and stale: great games are always in motion, even when everything appears still. I think our modern brains are conditioned to assume that a screen containing no motion is frozen, as if the app crashed. If you look at games with a high level of polish (Blizzard’s Hearthstone comes to mind), there’s always something moving around to give the player the illusion of life. The goal of polish is to make your game appear to crackle with the spark of life. See for yourself:

Pretty different, huh? Our water shader adds some much needed liveliness to the water, and makes it feel like a rushing stream. Buttons now move and bounce under Obe’s weight. An animated glyph on the ground lets you know where you’ve just clicked. The lamp posts are now chains dangling from the ceiling, which lets them sway gently on a loop.

The other perk of animation is that it allows you to add a third sense to the game: touch (or, feel). In a very real sense, players can only experience your game using their eyes and ears. But if you do your job right as a game designer, certain elements in your game will make the player feel things. Have you ever gotten hit in a video game and exclaimed out loud “ow!” after seeing what happened to your avatar? You didn’t actually feel pain, but something about the experience was immersive enough that it made you connect with your character. That’s what polish is for. That’s how games rise to the top!

 

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forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever

Step 6: You Never Finish, This Goes On Forever

Here’s the dirty little secret about my strategy for artistic polish: I’ll never be finished. I will never finish this game. I will work on this game every day until I am dead. It doesn’t even matter if I’m improving the artwork, even if I’m actively making everything worse I will never finish anything in this game.

Whoops! That’s not what I meant to say. Where was I?

Eventually, you need to stop working on a Level so you can move on. This is always a heartbreaking moment in game development. If I could choose any superpower, I would choose a very specific one – the ability to do things on my computer without time slipping through my fingers like grains of sand into an endless void.

[  . _ . ]

You have to move on so you can finish the rest of your game, so when do you do that? It’s at the point where your hours of input are only reaping very marginal gains. People won’t spend an eternity looking at your Levels, so you shouldn’t spend an eternity working on them either. If anything looks truly awful at launch, you can always sneakily patch in fixes that you missed. Just say you’re fixing bugs. and blame the programmer!

Besides, I can always improve the artwork again when we remaster Where Shadows Slumber for BlackBerry…

 


 

I’ve been working on this blog post for too long, and now my hours of writing input are reaping only marginal gains. Time to end this post. Thanks for looking at this inside scoop into our process! If you’re wondering why game development takes so long, imagine doing this for all 38 Levels in the game. That’s not even including the cutscenes…

Say, that gives me an idea for another blog post!

 

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We hope you enjoyed this deep dive into our development process. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter directly using the handle @GameRevenant, find us on 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.