Upcoming Patch: Review Requests

In a patch that will go live later this week, we’re adding a small pop-up window to the game that asks the player if they would take a moment to review the game. I would have put this update through last week (Jack finished this feature a while ago), but my laptop was on the fritz and I just got it back this morning.

I realize it’s a bit odd to talk about a patch before it goes out, but I wanted to explain our thought process behind this addition. This patch will be a bit different than the others. We’ve just been fixing bugs for the past few weeks, but this is an addition that might rub people the wrong way. Read on if you’re an indie developer, because this totally affects your business…

 

No one likes “barriers to fun.”

Why We Didn’t Launch With This

Jack and I spent a long time working on Where Shadows Slumber. During that time, the user interface went through quite a few iterations. The “user experience” was even more important to us than the interface itself. We always asked ourselves what we wanted the player to feel when they first opened the app, or when they opened the app after closing it, or when they returned to the app after not playing Where Shadows Slumber for a few days.

One of our core principles was “don’t annoy the user,” and we took that very seriously. For you old-timers out there, did you ever notice how our free Demo jumps right into the first Level straight from the Splash Screen? Or did you notice how the final version of the game goes right into the Level 0-1 title card after the Splash Screen? We tried to take out as many “barriers to fun” as we could to make the experience as painless as possible. I think we did a great job! So far I’ve only seen one complaint that the game “has no Main Menu,” and that was on a 5-star review. So it wasn’t that big of an issue after all!

Anyway, when the topic of review requests came up, we weren’t enthusiastic about the idea. Sure, every mobile game does it – but we were worried it would annoy people so much, they would give the game a bad review, and say something like “too many pop-ups!!” People are weird. You never know what might set them off.

But it’s a classic Catch-22, because if we don’t ask for reviews, we might not get one at all. Less reviews & ratings mean that our game won’t become popular, which leads to less downloads, and the app goes into a death spiral. Furthermore, right now people who don’t enjoy Where Shadows Slumber have a lot of motivation to leave a bad review. But people who did enjoy the game have no motivation to leave a positive review. Think of it this way – when is the last time you left a great review for a restaurant you love? Have you ever done that? But I bet if you had a terrible experience at a restaurant, you couldn’t wait to go outside and write all about it on Yelp. It’s human nature to ignore the positives in life and let negative experiences motivate our actions.

Our old Demo got a ton of ratings (6,000+) compared to our final production release on Google Play. I realize that version was free, and it’s been out for two years, but I think a review request also had something to do with it. The problem is that the Demo’s review request was at the very end of the experience after the last Level. I don’t really want people to have to beat the entirety of Where Shadows Slumber before they get a message asking them to leave a review. Instead, we’re putting the request towards the middle of the game.

Overall, I’m pretty optimistic. If we get this feature in before the next time Where Shadows Slumber goes on sale, and then drive a lot of downloads / installs with that sale, we might get a nice review bomb to bring us higher up the charts.

In conclusion, we’re hoping this addition:

  • Won’t annoy people too much
  • Will lead to more ratings overall
  • Will increase the rate of positive reviews to negative reviews

Wish us luck! Better yet, wish us 5-stars…

 

Eat an entire megaphone, as shown above. (No chewing!)

Make Your Voice Heard!

Once this launches, you probably won’t even notice it. Jack set a timer that’s pretty lengthy, so it’s rare that you’ll be asked twice or three times to review the app. Besides, if you haven’t done that already, what are you waiting for?

But seriously, if you have any comments or concerns, leave a comment on this post or on Facebook! We want to know what you think. Especially if you have any marketing ideas for us, because we want to do everything we can to get Where Shadows Slumber out to the whole world.

See you next week! A financial update article is in the works, so you won’t want to miss out. Keep your eyes peeled on this blog…

 

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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 Notes: Build 1.0.5

Patch 1.0.5 is out on the App Store right now! Here’s a quick look at what that means, plus an update on our upcoming Android release.

 

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What’s In This Patch

These changes are available right now to anyone who has Where Shadows Slumber on iOS. Go to the App Store and re-download the game if it doesn’t automatically update.

Draggables

We’ve gotten a lot of feedback over the past month about our draggable touch control scheme. For the uninitiated, draggables are those glowing square pieces in the game that you can move by dragging them with your finger. (Hence, the shorthand “draggable”) It wasn’t clear why some people didn’t like the way we had it set up, but it seemed like everyone had a different understanding of how these objects should move under their control.

I’m not entirely sure what Jack did to rewrite it, but they feel great right now. Give it a shot! I’d say that’s worth buying the game over, if you haven’t already 😉 In particular, those draggable pieces that rotate have been made much smoother. If you gave us a review that mentioned this issue, we ask that you try the game again and reconsider your review.

Language Availability

This “fix” didn’t really address a bug, but rather addressed something I screwed up when I first uploaded Where Shadows Slumber to iTunes Connect before our iOS launch. I assumed that Apple would recognize the language options in our game (we have 11 languages besides English you can play the game in) but that’s not how this works. In Xcode, you need to manually set which language options are in your game. Otherwise, your game will only show customers that “English” is an option.

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I had a feeling this was hurting our sales. Also, it really bugged me. So I changed that too! Now it properly shows the language options on the App Store when you go to see the game’s page. Let’s hope the Germans in Germany and the Japanese in Japan don’t feel left out anymore…

This patch also fixed some small visual errors in a few Levels – the kind of thing we would notice, but players probably never saw. The big thing in this patch was the draggables. No other patches are planned at the moment, but we’ll see if anything else breaks I guess!

 

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Prepare Yourselves For Android!

At this point, Jack has tested the game on dozens of Android devices using a simulator service we got from Amazon Web Services. Along with the positive feedback we got from our free beta, we’re happy to report that the game is ready for prime-time and has received the “green light” – Where Shadows Slumber is launching on Android November 20th! Of course, you can still sign up for the beta right here, as we’ll be updating it on launch day to direct everyone toward the full release. That’s a good way to make sure you don’t miss out on the day 1 insanity!

So far, 3,833 of you have graced our beta with your presence! We hit our cap a few times and had to keep raising it, so it’s at 5,500 now. I doubt we’ll get that many people, but we’ll see…

 

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Supanova Brisbane, Here I Come!

I’m writing this blog post from the rainforests of Mt. Ommaney, Brisbane, Australia. The screeches of exotic birds outside my window was soothing, until a local told me that was actually the sound of two possums fighting each other on the roof. Easy come, easy go I suppose.

The Australians I’ve met on my trip so far keep asking me: why did I choose Adelaide and Brisbane to visit instead of Melbourne and Syndey? The answer is Supanova, of course! Supanova is a comic & gaming convention series native to Australia, and they allow game developers to show off their work in the Artist’s Alley. I just came from Supanova Adelaide this past weekend, and I’m heading to Supanova Brisbane on Friday. Here’s the address:

Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC)
Merivale St, South Brisbane
Queensland 4101

If you’re reading this and you’re coming to the show, the first thing I want to say is “what are the odds of that? Wow!” The next thing I want to say is “come say hi to me!” I’ll be in the Artist’s Alley. You’ll recognize my table because it will have a bunch of mobile devices running Where Shadows Slumber. If you’re in line to get Dean Cain’s autograph, you’ve gone too far.

See you there?

 

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available on the App Store! bit.ly/WSS-iOS

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.

 

Calling All Androids

Greetings, Android fans of Where Shadows Slumber!

I realize many of you were dismayed that our original Sept. 20th launch was only on the App Store, but we have good news. We’re knee-deep in Android testing as we speak, which means you have the opportunity to play Where Shadows Slumber on your Android device before the game launches on Google Play later this year!

Read on for details…

 

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What To Expect

Where Shadows Slumber is now available on Google Play through their BETA program. This free download allows you to play the first seven Levels of our game. We haven’t updated this thing since March, so if you played it back then you’ll definitely want to give the BETA another shot!

Remember that the purpose of this test is to help us with our upcoming Android launch. If you were hoping for more than seven Levels, we’re sorry! The team is more focused on solving hardware problems than providing a fun experience. (You’ll have to buy the full game for that…) There are 2,500 Android devices in current use, across six different functioning operating system versions. A ton of people still use Android 5.0, but Google is already up to version 9.0! There are so many combinations to test, we can’t possibly handle this on our own.

The BETA will allow you to see if the game runs on your old phone, see how well it performs, get a sense of the game’s controls and puzzles, and experience a tiny snippet of the game’s story. That’s all you need right now!

When you complete the BETA (which should only take 10 minutes) be sure to fill out the survey in the app description. For your convenience, here’s the link:

Google Survey

Happy testing, everyone!

 

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What’s The Plan?

Currently, we have 3,275 people enrolled in the Google BETA, which is awesome! There’s just one problem: Google doesn’t let you let people download your BETA for free if your game costs money. Our game will be $4.99 on Google Play, just like it is on the App Store. So the way we handled this issue was by splitting our game across two store pages. It’s not ideal, but it means that when the full game launches on Android, the BETA will still be hanging out and it will still be free. I guess it will serve as a kind of extra demo until we take it down? This is in addition to our current Demo, which has been on the store since 2016. How confusing!

Our hope is that having three different entries on the Google Play store directing people toward the full game will be better than having just one. It’s a shame we can’t bring all the BETA people directly over to the final game later, but we assume that those who care will follow our prompt when the game launches. We’re thinking of updating the BETA one last time with something that says “ok, the game is out, go buy it!” Whether it will still be playable at that point is still up in the air.

Stay tuned for more news about our upcoming Google Play release. I can’t promise a concrete date just yet, but we are certainly striving to get the game on Android before 2018 ends. That’s all I can say right now!

 

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Where Shadows Slumber is now available on the App Store! bit.ly/WSS-iOS

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 Long Climb Ahead

Now that our game Where Shadows Slumber has been on the App Store for nearly two weeks, I’m getting a better sense of how things work on the platform. The team was very excited to see our game near the “big boys and girls” of the App Store during our launch weekend. However, since then, our ranking in the Puzzle section has dropped. Where we were once #3, we are now only #196 as of this writing. It changes every day!

Apple’s algorithm for displaying these games is likely based on sales figures and the app’s rating – a combination of quality and popularity. Our rating is 4.2 out of 5 as of this writing, and it also changes every day as more reviews trickle in. This blog post is about our struggles this past week to keep our rating in the golden zone.

 

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Mark Cuban always says “treat your customers like they own you – because they do.”

I’m Now A Customer Service Agent!

I did not expect this unlikely transition, but I’ve gone from head artist on Where Shadows Slumber to Game Revenant’s sole customer service rep. Between responding to reviews on our app page through App Store Connect, fielding questions over email, chatting with people through the Game Revenant Facebook Page, and even responding to bug-report tweets (!) most of my time is spent communicating with customers.

That’s a lot better than not communicating with customers of course, but I still wish I had more time to dedicate to promotion. For example, I’ve been dragging my feet releasing a full 1 minute long trailer. It still hasn’t gone live! I also planned to sign up for physical events where I can go to hawk our product in front of real customers, but I haven’t prepared as much of that as I would have liked.

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Even so, responding to customers is my number 1 priority. We want our rating (4.2) to be as close to 5.0 as possible. You’ll never get a perfect 5.0, so the question becomes “how do we get our average rating as high as possible?” Most of our friends and family probably already reviewed our game at this point, so we can only get new 5 star reviews from new fans. But my strategy is to be super nice to everyone who left a 1-star review, in the hopes that they change their mind. This has already happened once, so the plan is working! (See above – this user experienced crashes and left a 1-star review. After some compassionate understanding and furious debugging, they changed their mind!)

 

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Furious Debugging and Patching

Speaking of furious debugging, if you read Jack’s post last week, you’re aware that some players have encountered serious bugs with our game. Those problems are gone now, but it’s a shame so much of our launch week was spent focusing on these issues. I’ve learned a valuable lesson about Static Objects and the Memory readout in Xcode – one I shall not soon forget! I had a feeling our first few weeks would be focused on debugging, but I was hoping the errors would not be so widespread.

This caused a delay in responding to customers as well, because I didn’t want to reply to them before the issue was fixed. I’m happy to say that we’re mostly good now, at least on Apple devices from the last three years. If you’ve encountered any serious errors your first time playing our game, please download the most recent version of Where Shadows Slumber from the App Store and you’ll find it good as new!

 

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Help Us Out!

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of Where Shadows Slumber on iOS and leave a 5-star rating. I’m going to ask for that every single time I make a blog post from this point on! It’s super useful and it helps us climb back up to the top of the chart where this game belongs. The higher we are on the chart, the more people will see our game. That means a higher potential for sales, which is money in the pockets of everyone who worked so hard on the game.

And if you’re waiting for Android… just wait longer! We’re ramping up Android testing as we speak. I hope to have more details for you next week.

 

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Where Shadows Slumber is available on the App Store ==> bit.ly/WSS-iOS

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.

BUGS!

What up team?!

If you’re reading this blog, then you’re definitely among the people who know about the iOS release of Where Shadows Slumber last week. If you somehow managed to miss that news, then guess what – we released Where Shadows Slumber for iOS last week! If you have an iOS device and you haven’t gotten a chance to download it yet, you should – and if you have downloaded it, make sure you give it a 5-star review!

The whole team has been working really hard on this game for a long time, so it’s a great feeling to finally release it into the wild. On one hand, it’s very freeing – theoretically, the game is done, so I don’t have to spend all of my time working on it. On the other hand, we’re all very anxious to see if the rest of the world likes the game as much as we do. However, there’s one thing that’s on our mind right now above all else.

Bugs.

We’ve put a lot of work into making sure that Where Shadows Slumber is as stable and bug-free as possible, but with such a small team, some things are bound to fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, experiencing a bug, especially a bad one, leaves a terrible first impression. People are justifiably upset when something they’ve paid for doesn’t work – and that’s a perfect recipe for bad reviews and poor sales numbers. We’re spending this week working on addressing many of the bugs that have come to our attention, and, in the interest of transparency, I want to share some of them with all of you!

 

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Unexpected Crashes

The bug: The biggest issue people have been running into so far is that the game will crash unexpectedly. This usually occurs just as a level is starting, or shortly thereafter. For most users, it will happen consistently, although some users might see sporadic crashes.

Cause: We somehow missed some poorly-compressed textures before releasing. This caused the game to consume way more memory than it should have. For older devices, or for people with something else running on the device, the operating system will kill the process to retrieve the memory, thus closing the game.

Fix: Obviously, the fix to this is to update the compression settings on the offending textures! We’re currently going through all of our assets to make sure they have the correct compression settings (along with making a few other tweaks to our memory usage).

Workaround: Until the next patch is published, the best way to play the game is on a device with enough RAM to handle the memory problems. This means either making sure that nothing else is running on your phone, or using a relatively recent device, which has enough RAM that it’s not an issue.

 

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You can tell just by glancing that this level is freezing.

Unexpected Freezing

The bug: During some levels (particularly in the Hills and Summit Worlds), the game will simply freeze. The OS won’t kill the process, so it’ll still be on the screen, but nothing will be moving. Sound will still play, but the only option you have is to kill the game.

Cause: At some point, we thought it might be due to the snow particles (since it only seems to happen on snowy levels), but it seems that’s not the case. Rather, it’s due to Obe’s footprints.

Whenever Obe (or any character) takes a step, he leaves behind a little footprint. These stay around for a bit (usually up to 15 seconds), and then they disappear. This gives us the juiciness of footsteps appearing, without peppering them all over the level.
This bug is caused by some of the footprint objects (specifically the snow-related ones) having bad settings. Rather than disappearing after 15 seconds, they disappear after 150. So, when you walk around the level a lot, wayyyy too many of the footsteps are being created. The overhead of managing so many game objects is causing Unity to freeze up.

Fix: This one’s an easy one – we just updated the number from 150 back to 15. After some testing, we’re unable to reproduce this bug, so it seems like this one is in pretty good shape.

Workaround: You’ll have to beat these Levels in as few steps as possible, to reduce the number of footprints. If you can beat the Level in under two minutes, you may be able to escape the deep freeze.

 

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Go ahead, try to click it. See? It doesn’t work!

Level “Titlecards” Not Working

The bug: A few people have mentioned this bug – apparently, the level titlecards (which let you know which level you’re about to play) will appear, but they won’t disappear when you click on them! This prevents the user from continuing into the level.

Cause: Unfortunately, our team hasn’t yet been able to reproduce this bug. We’re going to continue to try to do so on our somewhat limited range of hardware until we can figure out what’s causing it. Since the titlecards themselves are pretty simple, the cause of the bug is most likely something fairly innocuous.

Fix: Once we’re able to reproduce the bug and know the cause, it should be fairly simple to fix, as the titlecards aren’t incredibly complex.

Workaround: Until we push out a fix to this issue, the only way around it is to close the game and restart it, since you can’t access the menu from the titlecard.

 

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Those who’ve watched the story know that a lot of people ask Obe this question…

Disappearing Blocks

The bug: If you’re savvy enough to fight your way past the other bugs mentioned here, you might get a chance to experience this one. As the final level of the game, World 7’s fifth level is a tricky one which introduces a mechanic not seen anywhere else in the game. It involves “teleporting” blocks from one section of the level to another. Unfortunately (and apparently randomly), the blocks will disappear from one section, but never appear in the other! Obviously, this is pretty bad, since you need all of the blocks in order to complete the level, and some of them just get ejected into the æther!

Cause: When the blocks are teleported, their parent gameObjects change in Unity. I’m expecting there’s some error in the code which is causing the gameObject to inherit the wrong parent, so it doesn’t appear where it’s supposed to be. This bug has also given us some trouble in terms of reproducing. Since it’s likely an error in the code, it’s only useful to reproduce on a device where we can do some amount of development, but we have never successfully reproduced it in the Unity editor. We’re going to keep trying to do so, but do so on a variety of devices until we find the root cause.

Fix: This one is pretty straightforward, if not easy in the traditional sense. Once we determine why the blocks are disappearing, we simply have to determine how to update the logic of the mechanic to ensure that it no longer happens. Obviously, it’s more complex than that, but I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of it here (especially since I don’t know what the exact fix would be).

Workaround: Aside from the bug that literally prevents you from playing the game, this is the workaround that I’m least happy with – the only way to fix this issue is to reset the entire level through the menu. Since it’s such a long level, that means losing a good bit of work. We’re working on all of these bugs, but this one in particular I want to fix. Since it’s the last level of the game, and you lose so much progress when you restart it, the user ends up with a bitter taste in their mouth, which is exactly how we don’t want players to finish Where Shadows Slumber.

 

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Other Issues?

Of course, these aren’t all of the bugs. That’s one of the first things you realize when you let someone else use a piece of software you’ve created – there’s always a fresh horror just around the corner. This list is just the biggest offenders we’ve discovered so far. I can personally guarantee that there are others, and I’m tasking each and every one of you with finding them!

If you do happen to stumble across a bug that I haven’t discussed here, there are a few things you can do for us:

  • Tell us about it! We’re active on Facebook and Twitter, and you can always shoot us an email at contact@GameRevenant.com or join our Discord Channel. If you do, make sure you include details about your device. We want to make Where Shadows Slumber as awesome as possible, but we can’t fix bugs we don’t know about!
  • See if it happens repeatedly, and if there’s some pattern to when and how it’s happening. This helps us immensely when we’re trying to reproduce the bugs. After all, it’s a lot harder for us to fix a bug that we can’t reproduce. Screenshots are great too!
  • Don’t leave a disparaging review. All too often, we see people giving us a poor rating and review because of a bug. In a lot of these cases, it definitely makes sense – you paid for a product, and it’s broken. One out of five! The problem with this is that reviews and ratings are our best way to get other people to start playing the game. If our ratings start to tank, nobody is going to download the game! It’s definitely better to tell us about a bug and help us fix it than to simply hurt us by leaving a bad review (and then not updating it when we fix the bug, thus leaving us with a permanent scar on our rating).
  • Share app analytics with the developers. I think that this is a setting somewhere in iOS that will share data and statistics about app crashes. A detailed email from you is usually better (because not all bugs count as “crashes”), but checking this allows Apple to send the crash logs straight to us.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read about some of the bugs we’ve experienced. Putting something that we’ve worked so hard on out into the wild is always a big question mark. We’re happy with the amount of publicity we’ve managed to stir up, but we’re also a little annoyed by these bugs, as I’m sure many of our players are. We want to make sure that you all know that we know about these issues, and we’re doing everything we can to fix them as fast as possible.

If you are experiencing these bugs, never fear! We’re fixing the major ones, so you can keep your eyes peeled for a new version of Where Shadows Slumber later this week! Once it comes out and you update the app on your phone, some of these bugs (and maybe some others) should be taken care of.

Next week we’ll share more details about how our iOS launch is going!

 

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You can always find out more about our game (and tell us about bugs) at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

State of the Art – June 2018

Welcome to State Of The Art, June 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.

I’m going to try something new this month. Before we hit the spoiler part of the article, I’ll give you a brief update about the state of the art, and how much work is remaining on the aesthetic side of things. There will be no pictures, GIFs, videos, or bulleted lists, so don’t worry about seeing spoilers! (Just don’t scroll down too fast. You’ve been warned!)

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

 


Spoiler-Free Progress Report

When May began, I had just polished Worlds 5 and 6. However, all of the Levels in the game were in a “toss-up” state. There was no indication as to whether Jack could begin optimizing them. That’s a slow process that he doesn’t want to do twice, so we needed some way of determining which ones I was finished working on. (Optimized Levels are difficult to edit, sacrificing changeability for faster runtimes) As I turned my attention to animation, I realized only 2 of the game’s 10 cutscenes were animated, and none of them had any audio. I tried a weird system of putting audio cues in manually through Unity Events, but that failed miserably. World 7, the game’s final set of Levels, still looked like it did during the prototype phase. My initial artwork on those Levels came across as dated and I really disliked the look. Even worse, the toolkit I established for that World last year didn’t seem like it was going to provide a good foundation. It used way too many polys and didn’t account for the specific nature of many of this World’s puzzles. The outlook was bleak.

As of June 5th, 5 out of the game’s 10 cutscenes have been fully animated. That includes body animations, facial animations, effects, cues, intros, and outros. The SFX for those cutscenes was created independently by our audio dream team (Alba S. Torremocha and Noah Kellman), which means I was able to focus my attention elsewhere during the past four weeks. I greatly improved the World 7 toolkit and reduced the poly count while increasing the quality. That World has a really distinct look to it, one that I think is appropriate for the end of our journey together. I polished 2 of the 5 Levels in World 7, meaning I won’t return to them and I believe they are final game quality. (It also means they are ready for the last coat of audio paint before Jack’s final stamp-of-approval.) Speaking of which, we solved our “toss-up” problem by creating an online doc where I can label a Level “Gold” or “Needs Polish.” If a Level is Gold, it has my stamp of approval. Obviously, I want to get through as many of those as possible because I’ve already done a ton of work on those Levels and I don’t want to neglect the work that remains undone. This month, I “gold-stamped” Worlds 0, 1, and 2.

What’s next: To finish this game, I’ll need to animate five more cutscenes, polish three more Levels, create footprint effects for four more Worlds, and test every Level in the game on multiple iOS devices. That’s a lot of work! I’m going chonologically, so the cutscenes, footprints, and Levels remaining are all in the later half of the game. That will be my goal this month.

You’re all caught up. Now, if you want a sneak peek at some of the artwork I did this month, read on… but beware of game spoilers!

 

 

 


SPOILER WARNING: The rest of this article 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!


 

 

 

 

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Obe Leaves Tiny Footprints Behind Him!

Let’s start with something fun that isn’t even much of a spoiler – Obe leaves tiny footprints behind him when he walks! On certain Worlds, when the terrain calls for it, we generate a tiny mesh and a particle burst where Obe’s foot lands. This mesh disappears over time, giving the illusion that Obe is squashing through mud or snow. If there are other characters in the scene, they leave footprints too. We don’t do it all the time though, because any effect can be taken too far. Footprints appear for the first time chronologically in Level 2-1, “Docks”, which you can see in the GIF above.

I know what you’re probably thinking: “you guys have an entire game to finish and you’re focusing on this insignificant detail!?” However, that is entirely the point of the polish phase! Now is the time to work on tiny details that will charm players and get them Tweeting & Instagramming about our game.

You see, humans are funny creatures. We tend to take a lot for granted, and make a big deal out of the smallest things. There’s so much we expect from games as a baseline that I think our enjoyment purely comes from moments where game developers go “above and beyond.” This is anecdotal, but my Twitter feed is always filled with game developers and fans who find tiny insignificant things in video games and then breathlessly announce “THIS IS WHY <game> IS THE BEST GAME EVER CREATED IN <current year>!!” My personal belief is that players gain a sense of pride and attachment when they find something in a game that they believe no one else has noticed yet. Hence, if you add in a lot of small details, you’ll create a lot of little moments in your game that create a bond between the player and your product.

 

Cutscene-Animation

Five Cutscenes Are Now Complete!

I cannot share all of the full video files of the game’s cutscenes with you yet, since five of them have been animated but none of them have sound. Even if they were done, I don’t think I’d want the solo cutscene videos out on the Internet like that. However, there are some things I can show you just to prove that I haven’t been goofing off all month long.

Let’s begin with a treat! Here is the game’s second cutscene, which happens just three Levels into Where Shadows Slumber. If you played a beta build at an event recently, you probably remember it as the annoying cutscene you couldn’t skip. (I’m working on that!) Obe has been thrown into a jail cell and his lantern has been taken from him. Alba and Noah sent it back to us with a first-draft of the audio dub, and it’s great:

I’m so excited to see what the other cutscenes are like with audio! Tomorrow I’ll be doing a recording session with them to get some voices into the audio mix as well. We’ll never record a word of English dialogue, but our characters can still make funny faux-speech noises and grunts. Since the rest of the cutscenes have no audio, here’s some short GIFs of the animations in action to tide you over:

Cutscene-Short-Wardens.gif

Obe “meets” the Wardens in a bad neighborhood of the Forest…

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He’s trapped! It was a door the whole time!

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Obe is waylaid as Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” plays in the background…

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Waking up on a random beach? We’ve all been there.

That’s enough sneak peeks for you! I can’t show you the full cutscenes just yet, can I? There has to be something left for you once you buy the game…

Next, let’s discuss the World polish I did this month!

 

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Welcome To Paradise

Long-time readers of this blog will recall that over a year ago I expressed an interest in modeling an entire game World after the architecture of Bermuda. I won’t go into the details, since I wrote a whole blog post about it, but you should read that and come back here!

As I mentioned above in the progress report, I wasn’t crazy about how this toolkit looked when I first created it. But now I think it looks fantastic! Check out the before-and-after comparison of Level 7-1, “Ladder”, below. The first image (with the pink background) is how the Level looked up until last week. The sky was loud yet flat, the buttons looked repetitive, the house had no style, and the grass was way too dark. I didn’t even complete the ridges on the ends of this floating island! Speaking of which, why are these islands even floating?!

7-1-Old

The picture below is a polished version created using modular pieces, hyper-specific artwork, and some new cool effects specific to this Level. The gradient background and fun pastel colors pay a nice homage to our muse, Monument Valley, while the window lights seem to pop off the screen. We get a real sense that Obe has come to this place in the dead of night, as he ascends ever higher.

7-1-Ladder

I’m not as sold on the next image, which is from Level 7-2, “Pond.” It’s always tough to tell when I’m being properly restrained, and when I’m just being lazy. Does this Level have enough going on? It seems like there is a lot of dead space. And yet, due to the constraints of the puzzle, this is not a Level I can go totally crazy with. I actually tried that once and I completely broke the Level and Jack had to put it back together. Whoops!

 

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I hope this looks like a peaceful pond, and not a run-down YMCA swimming pool. This is a really cool Level, so I want to do it justice. Please leave a comment below if you want to help me improve the artwork for this Level! I really do check your feedback and I find it helpful to have outside input. After looking at these Levels for so long, I begin to lose perspective. Help me out!

 

Conclusion

This month, I want to put World 7 to bed. I also want to clear the way for Jack to be able to put his golden stamp of approval on every Level. (As an added bonus, I usually find bugs whenever I’m gold-stamping Levels. The more I find now, the less stressful our final testing period will be!) If I can manage that, I’ll officially be done working on the game’s puzzles.

As for the game’s story, I won’t be able to finish every cutscene in just four weeks. I need some time for World 7 polish, and cutscenes tend to take one week each. Progress on those will be slow, because animation is tedious. The good news is, it’s very easy to put in fake cutscenes when we need to do builds. (It’s just a Unity file that says “go to the next Level in 5 seconds, this cutscene isn’t done yet!) That means we can do a lot of testing even as I work on the remaining animations.

But silver linings aside, there is still a mountain of work left to do on this game. The game is nearly complete, but my trek through animation hell is just beginning…

 

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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.

Inside Animation: Face Morphing

When I was showing off Where Shadows Slumber earlier this year at MAGFest 2018, one of my fellow game developers gave me a stellar compliment. As he watched the game’s second cutscene, he said “these animations are so evocative.” What he meant was that the animation was conveying a large amount of emotional detail even though the characters never speak a word. This is especially impressive considering the cutscenes don’t even have sound effects yet!

Sometimes, we only remember the one negative comment we get in a sea of compliments. But for once, a positive remark stuck with me. Evocative. If there’s one thing I can do as the animator for this game, it is to ensure that the player feels a range of emotions when they watch the game’s story unfold. But how can this be accomplished when our character is so small on the screen? More practically, how is this actually achieved using a 3D modeling studio and the Unity 3D engine?

This blog post is a quick glimpse at how I set up the facial animation rigs for the characters in Where Shadows Slumber.

 

3Ds

First: The Old and Stupid Way

Before I show you how I animate the faces in the current build of the game, I should show you the first way I tried it back when we were creating a Demo of the game. The old Obe model, shown above, had a perfect sphere for a head. In the image above, it’s grey. Then, I put in two snowman eyeballs as flat discs (they look teal in the image above) and a mouth plane that wrapped around his ball-head (obscured above). So far, so bad – nothing can be animated here! These objects are static. His face won’t look evocative at all.

My answer was to create little patches of skin that could be moved around to simulate facial animation. Though they look peach in this image above, they would blend in 100% with his skin tone thanks to Jack’s shader. My philosophy was simple – if the skin slabs were out of the way, his eyes were open. If they blocked his eyes partially, that was a facial expression. In the image above, near the bottom-right, you can see that Obe’s unsuspecting opponent has his skin slabs set to angry because they partially block his eyes in a slanted direction. By moving the slabs around in time with the animation, facial expressions were simulated.

This was supposed to be a “quick and dirty” way of doing facial animation, but it ended up being a “takes forever and looks terrible” way of doing facial animation. I’ll never return to an amateur system like this! The silliest part is that 3DS Max has a system perfectly set up for preset facial animations called Morpher.

 

HeadAnimations

The Morpher Method

By spending more time modeling Obe’s head, I was able to create a flexible skull with some textures mapped onto it (black for features, white for skin) and preset animations with Morpher. This skull can be tuned to different emotions, and even combinations of emotions. Above, you can see how Obe can express a range of poses: angry, devastated, confused, joyous, blissful. Now that you’ve seen the final product above, here’s how to set up your own:

Morph-Base

Step 1: Model the base head

Spend some time crafting a base head for your character. Note that you’ll be unable to edit it once you begin Morphing, so take your time. Create flexible eyes, a mouth, a nose and ears (if your character has those) and be sure to add enough loops so they can move around later without looking jagged. This time, I gave Obe detached cartoon eyebrows so I could be more ambitious with his facial expressions.

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Step 2: Duplicate the head as a Copy (not an Instance) and pose it

Now you must copy the base head and move it somewhere else in the scene. (I like to make a Game of Thrones style wall of faces.) Edit the vertices on this model into an extreme pose, such as furious anger or deep sadness. This pose will be what “100%” of this emotion looks like. Note that the vertices from the base head are going to move (morph, if you prefer) into the new positions you give them here, as well as every point in-between. Pay close attention to the topology of your model when you choose new positions for these verts, and your animations will look smooth. Above, you can see I do mouth poses and eye poses separately, so a wide open mouth (agape) can exist separately or simultaneously with wide open eyes and raised eyebrows (shock).

Morph-Combo

Step 3: Connect your pose to the base head in the Morpher modifier

The base head will have the Morpher modifier on it. None of the others need it. From the base head, you can use Pick Object From Scene to slot in certain poses as animation sliders. Then, using the arrows shown next to the poses, you can “morph” these targets from 0 to 100. 0 is going to look like your base head – 100 is going to look like 100% of the pose. If you combine two poses, as I did above, you may get weird results. But in this case, shocked eyes and a mouth agape work well together.

Morph-Gallery.JPG

Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 and 3 for every face pose you’ll need for this character

I made separate poses for Obe’s mouth (left of center) and his eyes (right of center). The yellow shape in the center is his base head. I tried to do every emotion I’d need, as well as building blocks like “shut R” for the right eye being closed. One thing I didn’t need to do is detailed mouth animation for talking, since he never says anything in a real human language. He just wails in terror a lot. But if you were doing this for a regular animated film, you’d want a whole set of mouth animations for the various sounds we make with our mouths (Chuh! Puh! Quah! Teh!) I’m happy I didn’t need that, because I hate doing those.

Morph-Swag.JPG

Step 5: Animate in a Scene when it’s all ready

This massive setup time bears fruit once you begin animating. Having a flexible facial animation system is remarkable. I love this system so much, and I never have to worry about whether Obe is expressing the emotion I want. Everything is correct and his face is super easy to read, even at a distance. Here, he’s giving an “…OK” kind of look as he escapes prison early in the game’s story. Though this look is not programmed in directly, it’s a combination of four Morph Targets: left eye closed, right eye closed, mouth closed, and “serious.” That’s the beauty of working with Morpher!

 

If you’re building your own facial animation system, be warned that it’s a lot of work. However, it will pay off in the end. Good luck making your animations evocative! Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments, over email, or on Twitter. I’m always eager to help. Happy blending, everyone!

 

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We hope you enjoyed this technical look at the systems behind the game’s artwork. 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.