TooManyProblems at TooManyGames

Back in April, I had the pleasure of showing off our game Where Shadows Slumber at AwesomeCon in Washington D.C. (Click here for the recap.) While I was there, someone mentioned a convention called TooManyGames and asked me if I was going. I had never heard of it before, and the deadline to apply as an indie had passed just a few days earlier. Despite that, I applied anyway because it sounded fun, and it was an even closer drive from Hoboken than Washington D.C. since TooManyGames is in Oaks, Pennsylvania.

I ran into a ton of problems during the weekend, but TooManyGames itself is a blast! This blog post is a recap of the convention, but the short version is this: if you’ve never been before, you should really check it out!


The Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Revenge

I thought I’d save money on my AirBnB costs and drive to TooManyGames on Friday morning (Day 1 of the show) instead of the night before. In theory, this made total sense. Hoboken is two hours from Oaks, the drive isn’t bad at all, and the show didn’t begin until 2 pm. My spartan setup for Where Shadows Slumber takes all of 15 minutes to prepare. I don’t need an entire night to set up beforehand like some people do!

This plan would have worked if not for one thin piece of metal that came loose on a bridge somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. This piece of metal, when it encounters tires moving at 70 mph, rips them to shreds. My car wasn’t the only one that got rekt, either. The moment I heard the loud BOOM and I felt my back-right tire disintegrate on the highway, I looked to my right and noticed that tons of cars had pulled over on the side of the road.

“Uhhh I think it looks fine, why? Is it not supposed to look like that?”

They were all changing their back-right tires. The cops were there, a bunch of mechanics and tow trucks were there, and I had to pull over. The mechanic who helped me out said that so far, 30 cars had gone over the same exact spot on the bridge and got flat tires! The government accidentally set up a drug-cartel style nail-trap across the road. (This is what your toll fee goes to, I suppose – democratic nail-traps) Suffice it to say, we had to throw a spare on there just to get to Oaks and I was 2 hours late for the first day. Not an auspicious start! Pennsylvania is totally paying to fix my tire now that I’m back in Hoboken.

Spare tires are much thinner than I thought they were!

In truth, I’m just glad I’m ok. I didn’t get hurt, I didn’t see anyone else crash, and being a little late is not the worst thing in the world. (But I’m definitely going to remember this the next time I get into an argument with someone about taxes and roads.) Shout-out to Ford Roadside Assistance for offering me free access to a mechanic who came to me on the side of the Turnpike and swapped the spare out! The government mechanic was charging $60.00 and told me to just wait for Ford to come [<_< ]…

The theme of TooManyProblems continued, when on Sunday morning I awoke to see this wonderful push notification:

So Google does this a lot – they randomly check the apps on their store for this one specific thing, and then take your app down without checking with you first. [ /o_o]/

They get annoyed we don’t have a privacy policy on Where Shadows Slumber, but the reason we don’t have one is because we don’t take your data! And we got punished for it, leading to $0.00 in sales on Sunday. The workaround is to just put some kind of URL in the spot where they ask for a privacy policy. The longer solution to make sure this never happens again? Not sure…

We went live again yesterday morning, so hopefully those who liked the game over the weekend were able to find it!

Enough Whining

Sorry, I had to get those stories off my chest. The truth is, I had a great time in Oaks! This show was awesome and I’m definitely going back to TooManyGames next year. How about a look on the bright side? Here’s 8 good things that happened, in absolutely no coherent order:

1.) I conducted 200 personal demos with attendees (yes, I keep track of this stat at conventions!)

2.) About 20 people bought the game right there at the booth, and some left reviews over the weekend. I think this is due to my new policy on pins – no freebies! Cards are always free, but the pins are exclusively for those who have purchased Where Shadows Slumber. (More details on that below…)

3.) Speaking of cards, I got to debut the new slate of Where Shadows Slumber business cards. There are 8 cards, since we have 8 different Worlds in the game. Everyone loved them, and they drew lots of people to the table.

4.) Someone asked for my autograph on one of the cards… LOL

5.) I ran into some of my old friends from the Stevens Game Development Club as well as some indies I met a few months ago at AwesomeCon, and tabletop developers I’ve known since the Mr. Game! era.

6.) The AirBnB I stayed at in Phoenixville had a cat.

7.) I got the chance to hang out with Nando and Emily, old friends from Stevens, in Philadelphia on my way back home Sunday night. (Nando is the host of the extremely popular channel NandoVMovies on YouTube. Like and Subscribe!)

8.) Finally, before I left Pennsylvania on Sunday night, I had the distinct honor of walking into a Wawa for the first time in my life. The scales fell from my eyes, I was comforted, I felt accepted, and I experienced true luxury. All other pretenders to the throne (7-Eleven, and other atrocities) revealed themselves to be false gods and I know the truth now.

Two Lessons Learned

During TooManyGames, I spent most of my time trying to learn what drives people to purchase things. For the longest time, Jack and I were been in “marketing mode” – which is to say, we wanted to tell people about our game. But since launch, we’ve transitioned for the first time into “sales mode”, and I’m still not used to that. It’s strange knowing that every new person is a potential $3.00, or a potential 5-star rating. In some ways it was easier before. We could always say “the game is a work in progress!” and be happy with people that thought it was cool and promised to check it out later.

After this weekend I have a new convention strategy, based on these two principles. I strongly encourage you to adopt these ideas as well if you are in “sales mode” like us!

Later Isn’t An Option. Buy It Now!

It’s tempting to use these shows as a chance to hand out as much swag as possible, show the name of your game to as many people as possible, and demo the game as many times as possible. But I’m focusing a lot more on sales and other quantifiable stats, because the truth is that the people at these shows are being bombarded with about a hundred other games at the same time.

If they don’t buy your game in front of your eyes, they probably won’t buy it later when they get home unless they are highly motivated already or were prevented from purchasing it during the show. So I’ve been thinking of ways to ratchet up the pressure and persuade people to pull the trigger while they’re at my booth. I recommend doing some kind of promotion / deal that only lasts while you’re at the con. (Reducing the price doesn’t count, by the way! That will not encourage an impulse purchase.) This is connected to the next piece of advice…

Make It Physical

When selling digital products, you are at a disadvantage. A tangible item like a cup of coffee will always seem more real / justifiable as a purchase than a non-tangible item like music or video games. (This is why free versions of those go further – such as Pandora, Candy Crush, and piracy) If you’re at a convention, you have the ability to do something that Internet ads can’t do – you can make the purchase physical. That’s why I only gave buttons out to people who purchased the game on the store. I needed to make the purchase physical for them to persuade them to buy the game in front of me. I also didn’t feel like selling pins because I’m not in the pin business, I’m in the gaming business! And I know for a fact that this lead to more sales. One guy literally said these words:

“So to get the pin I just buy this?” (And he held up his phone with Where Shadows Slumber’s app page loaded on it)

“That’s right!”, I said. He bought the game and I gave him the pin. It seems so backwards, right? But that’s just how humans are, and you shouldn’t fight our human nature. The next time I do a show like this, I’ll have more physical stuff to sell. Not exactly merchandise (logo tees, plushies, etc) but stuff like Google Play codes printed on cards. I saw one guy selling Steam Codes as physical cards that were about the size of Magic: The Gathering cards. That’s genius!


I hope this advice helps, no matter what you’re selling – I’ll certainly put it into practice when CT FIG rolls around in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Have a great week everyone!

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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 1.0.9 Notes

Even though Where Shadows Slumber launched on iOS nearly six months ago, we’re still making slight improvements and catching small bugs. Did you notice that your game got updated over the past week? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the important changes we made. Jack did all the work here, so this is mostly me just copying things over from GitHub commits…


Level 1-3, “Lock” – Removed Rotatable Casing

This Level caused a lot of players to stop in their tracks, because they didn’t realize the two draggables at the bottom-left of the screen were actually draggable. Those are super weird because they rotate like big airplane propellers – plus, they were encased in rock because I was too lazy to make them come in and out of the lava with a cool effect.

Now you can see them more clearly! I’m still not in love with the look, mostly because of the weird way the shadows interact with the lava. I have some ideas of how to change this Level, but we’ll see if this works for now.

Level 1-4, “Ascent” – Visible Shadowy Doors

Players have always struggled to figure out what’s going on in this Level. I think we even got some bad reviews of the game because of this one! In particular, what’s confusing people here is that we’re using a mechanic for this puzzle that isn’t reintroduced for 21 more Levels! It was too cool to pass up, though. And it’s not exactly the same mechanic.

Anyway, as you can see in the before and after above, the doors in this Level will now glow in shadow to show off that they’ve changed. This fix really improves the Level while still maintaining what we love about it.

Level 2-1, “Docks” – Raft Draggable Size

Players were having trouble recognizing the raft at the bottom of the screen as a draggable, so Jack added a second drag-square to it.

Under The Hood

Here’s some non-visual changes you wouldn’t notice unless you have a keen eye for bugs:

  • Click Detection – Fixed a bug where if you click on a space, but your movement is interrupted, clicking on that same space will not cause Obe to start walking there.
  • Disappearing Draggables – If a draggable disappears (due to a shadow) while you are dragging it, it never “stops dragging”. This means that the player’s input would be disabled, if you dragged another draggable, the first one would continue to move, etc.
  • Walker Pause Time – Walkers will pause for a bit longer on buttons to make puzzle solving easier in select Levels. (2-1, 2-2, 2-5, and 3-2)
  • And more…

As always, let us know if you encounter issues with the game! We’ve got cool news about new platforms coming up in the next few weeks, so stay tuned…

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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.

Where Shadows Slumber, out on Android!

The long(er) wait is over… Where Shadows Slumber is finally out on Android worldwide! Download the game from our Google Play page by clicking the link below:

STORE: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gamerevenant.whereshadowsslumber&hl=en

If you’d like an easier link to share with your friends, try this one:

SHORT LINK: bit.ly/WSS-Android

We want to extend a very hearty “thank you” to all of you Android gamers who patiently waited for our game to launch on your platform. It’s a shame we couldn’t do the App Store and Google play at the same exact time, but this strategy was a bit easier on our small indie team.

Note: If you get a strange message that the game needs to access the storage on your device, you can press “Deny” and the game will still work. We’re looking into why that false alarm is being triggered.

 

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We Need Your Help!

First and foremost, grab a cup of tea and curl up on the couch with Where Shadows Slumber. You’ve waited a long time to play this, and we spent a long time working on it. You deserve to savor the moment.

When you’re done with that, go leave a 5 star review on the game’s store page! Look at it right now. One review?* Get in there, people! Let’s make this as popular as Monument Valley so Jack can retire and fulfill his lifelong dream of replacing author Stephen King and taking over his life without anyone noticing o_o. That’s a secret, but you read these blog posts for inside information, right? We trust you.

Seriously, go leave a review and share this link with your friends:

bit.ly/WSS-Android

 

*One review written by me.

 

Share The Trailer!

It’s always good to share some beautiful artwork of the game with your friends, instead of just shouting at them. Here’s the YouTube link to our promo video. Check it out, and share it on Facebook or Twitter! You can also boost our original post if you want to see how many Shares we can rack up on that bad boy.

 

Amazon Is Happening!

As we speak, our game is chugging along in Amazon’s review process. It’ll be there for another day at least, so if you have a Kindle… just wait longer! You’ve waited all this time, what’s one more day? If you want, you can keep furiously scanning the store page. It may randomly show up sometime during the evening!

Don’t worry – the game is coming to the Amazon App Store. I can’t promise that anyone will actually buy it there, considering it’s the smallest market, but it’s coming! Maybe we should have a stretch goal if we sell 10 units?

 

Thank you for your patience, Androids of the world. Your time to rise up and take your rightful place is finally here! We hope you enjoy the game [ ^_^]

 

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

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.

Hell Week

Jack and I first met in a sketch comedy group in college back in 2010. In that group, and in theater troupes around the globe, the week before opening night is usually referred to as “Hell Week.” For big productions, some things can only really be done at the last minute. (Lights, sound, final props, rehearsing on a real stage instead of a temporary space, catering) That means the final week before “showtime” is often spent running around like crazy doing a bunch of little tiny things that have been put off until now.

Is it procrastination? Is it just how this always goes? Who knows! Jack and I have only ever done this once before, years ago, when we released SkyRunner on Google Play and the App Store. (It has since been removed from the App Store because we let the Jack and Frank’s Magical Cruiseline Developer License lapse. Whoops!) Back then, things were much more relaxed. No one was really anticipating our fledgling student project. And we were fairly certain it was never going to go anywhere – we were just proud to make a game. We built it on a Saturday, hit submit, and never looked back.

This time around, things are different. There are a lot of moving parts to game development. Everything starts off cool and slow when you’re first testing out an idea. Then, international partners become involved, and a real schedule is expected of you. For the past few months, we’ve been emailing Apple saying “don’t worry, it’s coming, we just need more time!” This past week, we made good on the most recent roadmap we sent them.

Early this morning, we submitted Where Shadows Slumber to the App Store for review!

To celebrate, let’s explore what Hell Week looks like for a small team of distributed indies collaborating online to finish a game…

 

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A Week Full of “Do It Later” Tasks

I must admit that I’m a severe procrastinator. My skill is to take something (like, say, a cutscene) and do a really great 80% job on it. Then, because there’s no one watching me to tell me to finish it, I’ll go: “Cool! Looking good. I’ll finish that later.”

As it turns out, the week before you build your game for the last time is what experts commonly refer to as later. This week, the tasks I put off for so long finally fell on me like a ton of bricks. I spent the majority of this week finishing the game’s remaining cutscenes as Jack optimized the game’s final Levels and cutscenes. Because my work wasn’t done, it held up his progress on optimization. For reference, optimized Levels look like the image above – they’re solid black since the lights work totally different in those Levels. That means it’s impossible for me to work in those Levels, so Jack needs to wait for me to finish my work and then duplicate the scene in Unity and optimize that. By Friday, I was finally able to get those done in time to review the text translation sent to us by Logrus IT. Jack put in the new text file and tested the game to make sure the final build worked as a cohesive whole.

Alba and Noah spent Hell Week adding the game’s final missing sounds and improving the cutscene audio. We neglected to put sounds into the game’s UI for a long time, just because there’s an unspoken rule that you do UI last because everyone forgets about it. Whoops! This is also the time to work on the “mix” – which they described to me as the audio volume of every different sound as they work in tandem together. Without this crucial polish step, sounds can crash on top of each other during gameplay. Alba and Noah worked to make them weave together smoothly.

 

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Hell Weekend

Everything came down to the two build days – two days, Saturday and Sunday, focused entirely on testing and small changes. We were in Jack’s apartment huddled around his desktop as Alba and Noah worked fiendishly from Miami and Queens, respectively. I counted a total of over 18 hours over the course of both days spent just optimizing the game and doing a bunch of final changes! (Shout out to Jack’s fiancée and her sister for bringing us food on Saturday :D)

Like I said, some things have to wait until the end of the project before you can really do them. The weekend was spent putting in Jack’s final optimizations so the game runs smoothly on all phones. Then, those changes had to be tested on all of our iOS devices to make sure they didn’t cause other problems. I didn’t work nearly as hard as Jack did in these final hours, but it was important that I was there to give the artwork a final check. During optimization, a lot of the art rules changed: lights that used to stack on top of each other now blend smoothly together, for example. That looks awesome, but some tiny tweaks to their intensities and colors had to be made before we could ship it. That’s just one example of many little things we did over the weekend.

(Shameless plug: if you want us to come give a talk at your school, organization, or church, email me at contact@GameRevenant.com! We would love to go into more detail about how hard it is to make games!)

I don’t know if Jack knows this, but the main reason I wanted to work on games with him is because of his determination. Going into this Saturday build session, it didn’t look like we’d be able to send the game to Apple. The optimization process caused an unexpected crash on one of the game’s middle Levels, and I was pretty certain we’d need to delay internally again. But Jack never gives up, so we handled that bug, found some more, crushed them, and got everything done in time!

 

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App Store Monday

Monday was another “put it all together” day, and it was technically the day Apple was expecting to receive the game. I spent all day putting our Store Listing together in iTunes Connect as Jack finished some tests and Noah and Alba worked on “mixing” the sound. Since I submitted the game early this morning at around 3:30 am EST, I guess it came in a bit late since that’s 12:30 am in California. Some things never change!

But even with all the stress, I can’t help but be astonished by what we’ve created. Look at the pictures up there, from our iTunes Connect submission. Seeing these beautiful images lined up like candies gave me a feeling of pride and accomplishment that I haven’t felt in a while! I’d totally buy this game if I saw it on the store… wouldn’t you?

At this point, our app is In Review, which means that the App Store employees are checking it for egregious errors or incompleteness. They’re strict about what they allow onto the store, but I have no worries that our app will be approved. Whether it will get promoted by Apple, or even the vaunted Editor’s Choice tag, is another story. We’re not releasing the game on iOS anytime soon, so they have plenty of time to look it over and decide amongst themselves. But the hard part is over – our game is fantastic, it’s uploaded to the App Store, and I’ve never worked so frantically before in my entire life!

This is also a long-winded way of saying you shouldn’t expect the game on Android anytime soon. Testing and perfecting for iOS took longer than we thought it would. (What else is new? LOL!) How long do you think it would take to test the game on Android while simultaneously not breaking anything we already did for iOS?

Please be patient with us! One of the coolest things about Where Shadows Slumber is that it is a labor of love created by hardworking indie developers collaborating remotely across the greater NYC area. That also means everything’s going to take a bit longer than you expect. You can send us nasty comments on Facebook about how Android owners are being treated like second class citizens, but that won’t help us make the game faster! (Besides, Jack and I both have Android phones, and we’d like the game on our devices one day too. Lighten up!)

 

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What’s Next?

Now, we enter an exciting new project phase. Jack and I are going down different paths now: I can only help him so much with the Android release. While he’s testing the game on tons of Android devices, I’ll help however I can with all-night testing sessions and really detailed QA reports.

But my job now is to coordinate our team’s marketing efforts and make the most of that iOS launch “bump.” We’re going to meet as a team to brainstorm ways to make the most of our upcoming release. We’re also working on a launch trailer that will make die-hard fans proud, and newcomers interested. It’s going to be epic! And yes, when the trailer launches, you will finally know our release date! Thank you for waiting so patiently.

This is the progress update I’ve been dying to write, and it’s finally here. The whole team is eager to show off the final game when it comes to iOS, and we’ll be working hard to make the Android version really awesome.

Next week, we’ll dive into our marketing efforts and the plans for our trailer. Or is it… trailers? Find out next week!

 

 

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Thanks for reading this project 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.

State of the Art – August 2018

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

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

 


For Our Eyes Only

A quick note, before we dive in… since this is the final State of the Art, it’s going to be a little bit underwhelming. Sorry about that! The game is so close to being finished that Jack and I don’t really want to release any more images or footage until Where Shadows Slumber is uploaded onto the App Store. In the past, journalists have accidentally used our old images of previous builds (including our 2016 Demo!) in their articles instead of new stuff. For that reason, we’re trying to put some distance between our progress related uploads and the launch of the game.

If you were lucky enough to visit us this past weekend at Play NYC, you got a chance to play the final pre-release build of the game! As you would have seen, all of the art is totally done with the exception of a few cutscenes that need some polish. We brought a build that had every Level and Cutscene in the game, so we got a chance to see people play every part of the finished build. Two brave souls even dedicated a few hours (across both days) to finishing the entire game! So even though there are no new images in this article, rest assured that this is a good sign of progress, and not a bad sign that I’ve been sitting on my hands the past 6 weeks!

Thank you so much for following this blog, and I apologize for the lack of juicy spoiler images. You’ll have to wait until the game launches on iOS and Android later this year to feast your eyes on the beauty that is Where Shadows Slumber. Until then, enjoy these sweet black rectangles!

 

 

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Art, Then and Now

The last State of the Art was written on July 3rd. At the time, the only pieces of art left to do were the game’s last four cutscenes – World 5, World 6, World 7, and an animated Credits sequence. Small artistic touch-ups were needed across the game’s many Levels, as well as a few art related bugs.

Those last four cutscenes are all nearly complete. I say nearly because, since time is of the essence, I animated them just far enough so that our wonderful audio team could take over and begin creating sound effects. Today, in an effort to finally finish the game, I’ll put the last little details into these scenes. These details include things like snowy footprints or rustling trees – background information that isn’t necessary, but helps to paint a better picture of the scene. I know Jack is eager to crunch every Level and Cutscene so we can have a fully 100% optimized game, so right now it’s more important to call these scenes done than to obsess over the details. I shall spend not one more day on them!

Other than that, there are some release prep things I still need to do. I try to focus on tasks that involve other people first, which means I put off some solo projects like the game’s app icon, app preview video, press kit, and our release date announcement trailer. We’re not announcing our release date yet, but [spoiler] when we do it will be in the form of a cool trailer! We’ve heard that’s the best way to generate buzz for the game. Hopefully our efforts these past 2 years to “pre-market” the game mean that when the trailer hits YouTube there is a large group of fans eager to share it around social media.

 

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Thoughts on The Ending

Soon, I will stop being the artist on Where Shadows Slumber and become Mr. Bug Finder. Then, in the weeks before the game hits the App Store, I’ll be Mr. Marketer. After that, I’ll be Mr. Salesman as I go on the Extremely Real and Actually Real Where Shadows Slumber World Tour! (Buy our game so we can do this)

It’s so strange to think that in just a few days, I won’t be modeling environments or animating these characters ever again. Saying goodbye is a bit of a relief, but it’s also disturbing. It feels a bit like leaving a job at a company without having another one lined up. And I’m not talking about the financial success of the game (we have no idea what to expect… $500? $500,000?) but rather my own personal sense of purpose. I never thought I would feel totally lost right at the moment our three year passion project is about to hit prime-time. Is this normal? How am I supposed to feel?

Anyway, this is the State of the Art blog, not the State of Frank’s Mind blog. Let me save my goopy tell-all for a podcast appearance with Jack sometime. (Speaking of which, even if you have the tiniest, most insignificant YouTube channel or podcast, invite one of us on! We love to talk! Contact info in the signature below) All you need to know right now is that the art is 98% finished and we’re heading into our final Quality Assurance (QA) stretch.

Stay tuned to this blog for mega updates about the game, tales from QA hell, and maybe even a comedic play-by-play of our upcoming Xcode struggle. Thanks to Jack for giving me a good name for this blog, and thanks to everyone who has been keeping tabs on us. I may resurrect this monthly recap if we have new art updates, such as when we port the game to Amazon’s Alexa, but right now I’m looking forward to wearing a different hat for a while.

See you next week!

 

 

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Thanks for reading this entirely text-based art 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.

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.

The Triangle of Truth

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

 

 


 

 

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The Triangle, Explained

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

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

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

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

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

 

We Chose “Good” and “Cheap”

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

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

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

 

SACRIFICE: TIME  / /  GET: QUALITY, LOW COST

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

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

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

 

SACRIFICE: QUALITY  / /  GET: TIME, LOW COST

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

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

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

 

SACRIFICE: MONEY  / /  GET: QUALITY, FAST DEVELOPMENT

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

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

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

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

 

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There Is Always A Drawback

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

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

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

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

 

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Where Shadows Slumber: Eventually Good

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

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

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

 

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This has been a project management blog from the creators of Where Shadows Slumber. Have a question about aesthetics that wasn’t mentioned here? You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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