Audio Update: Voice Recording

Last week, I visited Alba and Noah at their home studio in Queens to record some vocals for Where Shadows Slumber. (If you have no idea who I’m talking about, read the intro blog they wrote last year right here) They’ve been working hard on the game’s audio since we brought them onto the project in September. There’s just one hangup, though – Obe’s voice, as well as the voices for the game’s other characters, are not in the game yet.

Voices are tough to fake using synthesized instruments. You need to capture the performance of an actor who understands the emotions of the scene before them, especially when you’re scoring animated cutscenes. Fortunately, since I’m the one who made the game’s cutscenes, I know exactly what weird noises Obe is supposed to be making! I also love acting and have been involved in theatre since grammar school. I can’t say I’ve done a lot of voice work though, so this was a new experience.

 

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The Setup

How do you record voices, anyway? Well, I made the trek out to Queens to visit Alba and Noah at their apartment to see their setup. They set me up with a microphone stand and a pop filter, with a few sound shields to block out unnecessary noise from the refrigerator. From where I was standing, I could see the cutscene video as we recorded. My goal was to match the visuals on the screen with the noises from my mouth.

On the software side of things, we recorded in ProTools for a bit until it kept crashing during sessions. Noah and Alba eventually decided to just record everything in Logic since they were going to edit the final sound in Logic anyway. It worked out great!

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Here’s a better shot of the microphone stand, pop filter, and sound dampener:

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The microphone used is a Miktek CV4.

I recorded voices for Obe, the forest guardians, and a few bit characters that are only in one cutscene. Noah showed us a crazy sound synthesizer that takes your voice in and spits out animal sounds, like a growling dog or a roaring lion. That was good, because my impression of a lion sounds nothing like a lion!

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Alba and Noah helped to coach me as we repeated sections of the audio.

We even received aid from the innocent creatures of the forest, as we danced in harmony together:

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Their adorable bunny McFlurry mostly hid under the couch. This was a rare sighting.

The funniest part of the day was when Noah and I teamed up to record chatter sounds for the prison guards, who are chasing Obe from a distance. The game has no recognizable English words – or words in any language, for that matter – to make sure it’s easy to localize in China. (Their government is very strict about the influence of “outside” languages.) So we invented our own nonsense language and shouted like idiots for a few seconds before cracking up!

I’m sure that will sound better in post. LOL!

Here’s a transcript, for those interested in the deep lore of Where Shadows Slumber:

GUARD 1: era adbabalao at babt!!!

GUARD 2: ebbebe ebebebe ebe ebe beyhehehe!!!

GUARD 1: arbababaldlalao ehehr ehe!!!

GUARD 1 and GUARD 2: aanndna hehee!!!!

GUARD 1: wod! wod! wod! ow dow dowmee ndenebedo!!

Shakespeare must weep from the great beyond, mystified that he could never attain such beautiful prose.

 

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Thoughts About Voice-Over Work

Voice acting took a lot out of me. It’s really hard! We were focusing on the cutscenes during this session, and I was determined to do them all in one take. Essentially, for each character in the scene, I recorded their voices from the beginning of the cutscene to the end. That means doing about 90 seconds of voiceover per person per cutscene, and we did multiple takes. Additionally, we would skip around and redo certain segments (a gasp, a scream, a laugh) to make sure they came out right. Between trying to keep up with the video and trying to change my voice to match the character, I don’t know what the most difficult part of this was. All I know is that I have a newfound respect for voice actors!

Now that I think about it, screaming was probably the most challenging thing to get right, because it’s so easy for screams to sound campy. For that reason, it’s a little embarrassing to shout at the top of your lungs in front of other people. It also just really hurts your vocal cords! We should have saved that for the end, so I’ll remember that next time.

Actually wait – the hardest thing was when we recorded breathing because I almost passed out! We wanted to get some audio of Obe breathing as he’s running quickly. This would go in the game’s Levels, not in a cutscene. For some reason when you record yourself breathing it becomes really difficult to actually breathe… I got a little lightheaded as we recorded his idle breathing, running breathing, and struggling breathing. Something about keeping a steady rhythm messed up my actual breathing and I had to take a few breaks. Maybe I’m just terribly out of shape?

As you might have guessed, it’s all very challenging! I encourage you to find your favorite voice actor on Twitter or something and send them an encouraging message for all their hard work.

 

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Support PHÖZ Online!

I really appreciated the opportunity to go out to Queens and hang out with these guys for a day. It was a much-needed distraction from my usual routine (wake up, stare at a computer for 12 hours, sleep). Voice acting is an exhausting endeavor, but it was exhausting in a different way than what I am used to, so I had fun!

You should support their work online by going to www.phozland.com and signing up for all of their various social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter). Also, please listen to the selected songs on their website that come straight from the game! They sound so beautiful in isolation, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for all of the hard work they’ve done so far.

 

 

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

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

State of the Art – April 2018

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

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

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

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Sorry Caroline – no skins!

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

 

 


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


 

 

 

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Mustard River

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

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Level 2-1, “Docks”

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Level 2-2, “Cage”

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Level 2-3, “Guide”

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Level 2-4, “Ebb”

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Level 2-5, “Ferry”

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

 

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Check Out Our Snazzy Level Select Menu

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

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

 

 

 

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Polish: The Home Stretch

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

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

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

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

 

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Last But Not Least – The iPhone X!

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

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

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

See you next month for another update!

 

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

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

Slumber by Southwest (SXSW)

Jack and I have just returned from our first trip to the South By Southwest Music Festival (SXSW), a week-long party that consumes the city of Austin, Texas every year around this time. Although “South By” lasts a full week, we were only in town for the SXSW Gaming part of the festival, which ran from Thursday, March 15th to Saturday, March 17th.

According to pretty much everyone we met, the gaming portion has really grown over the past five years. SXSW didn’t have a gaming section of the show for a long time, but recently it’s gotten so large that they had to put us in the Austin Convention Center just to hold all the video games!

I’ve been to Austin once before, when I went to Unite 2017. I was happy to return! The food is hearty, the locals are friendly, the weather is summery, and seeing hundreds of thousands of people flood into Austin was truly a marvel to behold. But how did it stack up as a gaming convention?

 

 

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High Traffic, High Engagement, No “Crowding”

SXSW might be the best show we’ve been to so far in terms of crowd size and crowd management. Let me explain…

One way a show can go wrong is if there aren’t enough people. When we went to Gameacon 2016 in Atlantic City (back when we launched our free Demo), we encountered this problem. If there aren’t enough people at a show, you end up sitting at a table bored for extended periods of time.

Another way a show can go wrong is if there are too many people! This isn’t really terrible, but it does make things hectic. I remember last year’s PAX East showcase being insane. It becomes a madhouse, trying to hand out iPads to everyone, charge every device, give everyone the pitch in a loud convention hall, and give out business cards. In other words, you want a table full of people playing your game without the excessive crowd traffic.

That’s where SXSW Gaming really excelled. From the time the show opened at noon on a Thursday, there were people in the hall playing our game at the table. Yes, you read that correctly – noon on a Thursday. I’ve never seen a show pull people in right away like that, and I assume it’s because SXSW is such a dominating event that people take off from work and see everything the festival has to offer.

The icing on the cake was that since Jack and I were selected for the Gamer’s Voice portion of SXSW Gaming, they gave us two free 3-day pass wristbands for us to give to our friends. How thoughtful! The staff was wonderful, and the experience of exhibiting at the show was effortless. We thoroughly enjoyed every part of the experience.

 

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Gamer’s Voice at the SXSW Gaming Awards

They did something really unique at SXSW that I haven’t seen at too many other conventions. During the three days of gaming, con-goers could vote for their favorite indie video games on iPads strewn about the show floor. Instead of the way these things usually work, where an academy of faceless judges votes on their favorite games, the idea was to create a “Gamer’s Voice” award for the various categories: mobile, tabletop, VR and PC/console. After three days of voting, the winner was announced at a ritzy award show Saturday evening.

These kinds of events are perfect for us since we don’t have a ton of money for booth fees. We applied to this contest back in December of 2017, and I think the entry fee was $50 or something trivial. Then we were selected to attend the show and given a 10 x 10 space on the show floor, as well as two Platinum badges which run $1,650 a pop. So it’s almost like we won $5,000 if you add together the cash value of all of these things [ 0_0]!

I love the idea of Gamer’s Voice, although Jack and I were a bit unprepared for the voting process. The attendees seemed a bit unprepared too, since most of them didn’t realize there was a competition going on. The whole thing seemed like an odd test of our political “get out the vote” skill rather than a focus on the quality of our game. We tried everything we could, including bribing people and busing in voters from out of town, but we didn’t win! You can watch the recorded stream here.

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Stu and Paulette Denman accepting the award for Gamer’s Voice: Mobile!

At the award show on Saturday night, our friends at Pine Street Codeworks, Stu and Paulette Denman, took home the grand prize! Congratulations to them and their team for their work on Tiny Bubbles. They deserved the award – Tiny Bubbles is a very pretty game, it’s super polished, and the mechanics are very creative! The game launches on iOS in a little over a month, so go check them out and support our indie brethren! This also marks the second time so far that Where Shadows Slumber has lost to Tiny Bubbles in direct competition, so we have a new rival! The results of the award show can be seen here.

 

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Sweet Rave Parties!

As guests of SXSW, we were always invited to their crazy parties. We had to skip out on the Thursday night party they threw for the gaming exhibitors because we were so exhausted from our travels. But we were happy to go to the SXSW Gaming Awards, as well as the afterparty.

It felt so weird being in the audience of the SXSW Gaming Awards. It finally hit me that I was a part of the same award ceremony where they were handing out awards to games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’ve attended these before as an audience member, like when I was at GDC last year and watched the IGF awards. But now Where Shadows Slumber was actually one of the games in the running, so I was a participant rather than a spectator. What a rush!

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This isn’t a photo – it’s the book cover from my upcoming cyberpunk RPG system.

After the show, our indie enclave congratulated the Tiny Bubbles team and decided to all go out for dinner together. Then we went to the last SXSW party of the whole festival, which was a gaming rave they threw in this outdoor club called The Belmont. They had this crazy DJ system called WaveVR where someone was on stage mixing the music in virtual reality.

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Left to right: Frank DiCola, Jack Kelly, Jai Bunnag, Paulette & Stu Denman, Mattis Folkestad

It was fun hanging out with our fellow indies, watching Jack’s sweet dance moves, and chugging refreshing Waterloo™ watermelon sparkling water. 10/10, would go again! We hope to see this crew again sometime soon.

 

 

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Post-Show Slump

I have no idea how Jack had the strength to actually go to work on Monday. I spent most of the day suffering from a post-Austin hangover, sifting through the pictures that went into our Facebook album. Regrouping after these shows is always the hardest part. I’ve been reflecting on a few reasons why that may be the case…

  • We met a bunch of cool indie people, but we have no idea when we will see them again.
  • We’re super pumped from the hype of the show, so going back to drudge work is a bit depressing.
  • Lots of people gave us good feedback on our build, so I’m torn between fixing that stuff or moving on to finishing the rest of the game.
  • We also promised we’d send out this build over TestFlight and Google BETA, but it still has a bunch of the same errors that it had at SXSW.

The worst part is that since PAX East 2018 is right around the corner, I’m going right back into “ramp up for a show!” mode. Hopefully I get some meaningful progress on the art done in the next few weeks! Preparing for shows always makes me anxious.

Feel free to send in your “post-show slump” advice in the comments below or on Twitter! We could use the pick-me-up. Thanks for reading this blog post about our travels to SXSW – if this looks like your idea of a fun time, signups for SXSW 2019 have already opened up to the general public!

Being invited to the show was a great honor, and the traffic at the show was great. This is a show that I hope we can return to one day, once the game is released. If we make enough money from the game to return to Austin for SXSW, I think it would be a good investment. If you are in indie and you can make it to Austin next year, I strongly recommend that you apply for Gamer’s Voice as well.

 

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Thanks for reading our business trip blog! You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

 

 

 

Join The Conversation

Everyone has an opinion on everything. If that’s true, then why is it so hard to get people to talk to us about Where Shadows Slumber?

 


 

My name is Frank DiCola, and along with my friend Jack Kelly we’ve been maintaining this blog and developing our game Where Shadows Slumber together for a while now. The game is launching soon, but we’re not announcing a specific release date to the public yet. Regardless, now is the perfect time to get feedback on our game. We’re “landing the plane,” so to speak.

It’s too late for broad sweeping changes, but now is the perfect time for you to nitpick all of the tiny details in our game. If you tell us to fix it, we’ll fix it before we launch the game on the App Store – and that might save us from getting a negative review from someone else who notices the same problem!

If you tested the game at any point during the last year, you probably heard us wave away from criticism because we’d “handle it later.” Well, now is later! We appreciate your broad feedback then, and we could really use your specific feedback now.

OK, now that I convinced you to join our fan club, let’s talk about how you can join the conversation! This blog post is dedicated to discussing the various channels we’ve setup for feedback. No matter where you make your home on social media, there’s an avenue for you to use to contact us!

 

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The Game Revenant Discord Channel

This one is pretty recent. If you have the app Discord on your computer or phone you can join our public channel. We’re still getting in the habit of posting screenshots, videos, and blog posts in the chat. But we’ll use it more if more people join!

Link to the Game Revenant Discord Channel: (link)

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Discord’s chat system, as we discuss how best to decorate one of the game’s Levels.

I plan to use this Discord for future projects even after Where Shadows Slumber launches, but it’s safe to say that this will be dedicated to this game for at least the next two years or so. Feel free to join or leave anytime, just be sure to introduce yourself when you jump in the chat! Obviously, I retain the right to kick you out if you’re being rude to the other people in the chat. But I promise not to remove anyone for criticizing our game – that’s the whole point! It’s hard to offend me and Jack, so don’t worry about that.

Although Discord supports voice chat, we usually just use the text chat. A voice consultation in a private channel with Frank is available upon request.

 

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Facebook: The Chamber of Judgment

We’ve had this private Facebook group up and running for a while, but it’s difficult to get in the habit of posting to it. We haven’t quite hit the critical mass of people yet needed for this to work. So, join the conversation!

Link to the Chamber of Judgment Facebook Group: (link)

Similar to Discord, this is a space dedicated purely to discussing the game and giving feedback to developers. Anyone with Facebook can join for free! If you live on Facebook, this is the best way to give us feedback.

 

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Cartrdge, an Artistic Community

Our Cartrdge page is one of the online communities where we have the least control over the conversation, but we’d still appreciate it if you check it out! Yes, I spelled that right. Cartrdge is a super cool website for game artists to post their work. You’ll find everything there from super awesome shaders to physics demos to entire voxel cities.

Link to the Where Shadows Slumber Cartrdge Project Page: (link)

I love scrolling through the home page there just to see what everyone’s working on. It’s one of the best designed portfolio websites I’ve seen, and we’ve been selected by their Editors once or twice so far. You can also leave comments on posts, so make an account with them and be on the lookout for our stuff. Give each one a Like and then share your opinion with us!

 

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Roast My Game

This poor website seems to be on its last legs. But the concept is so genius, I wish it would stick around. It’s a website for indie developers to post their projects, get feedback, and climb the Leaderboard to the top! You should sign up there and give them a morale boost. They explain the concept better than I could:

“One of the biggest problems that a game dev faces as they create a game is gaining a sort of “mothers love” for their game. This prevents them from being able to properly determine its flaws. Friends and family members tend to sugarcoat their feedback to avoid from being discouraging but this actually harms more than it helps. Roast My Game is a site created to help game developers gather ‘sugarfree’ feedback on games they are working on and to inspire other game developers by sharing development progress. [emphasis theirs]

Link to our Roast My Game page: (link)

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A typical comment in response to our Demo, and a reasonable reply in progress.

We posted our Demo to that site last year and got some good feedback. Tragically, there just aren’t enough people using Roast My Game. My suspicion is that everyone on there is like me – they want feedback, but they don’t want to play other people’s indie games. Too bad!

 

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“Ceiling… what are YOU doing here?”

What Did We Miss?

This is super important so I’ll close with this – what have we missed so far? Are you angry that there is no Where Shadows Slumber Subreddit? Perhaps you feel like we’re neglecting TouchArcade, Instagram, Pinterest, or some other online community you love?

I’ll be pretty frank here (ayyy) and just let you know that if there’s a guaranteed community out there, we’ll come to you. I know nothing about Pinterest. But if you know of 1,000 people out there who love indie games and would boost us on Pinterest, I will learn and become the Pinterest master. We don’t care, we just want to promote the game and get honest feedback from you before our game hits the cruel, unforgiving free market.

Leave a Reply under this post with a community you’d like to see us join. We hope to see you on the interwebs!

 

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Hey! Join the conversation using the links above this. What are you doing reading this blurb? 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 – November 2017

Welcome to State Of The Art, November 2017 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.

<Don’t forget to add in some lame excuse about Thanksgiving before you post this>

Without further excuses, let’s explore the major leaps forward we took in November!

 

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The Game’s First Level, “Fallen”

It took me a while to get around to doing this Level, because there’s a bunch of triggers I had to animate and I didn’t feel like doing those. For the longest time, Level 0-2 has been our de facto “first level.”

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But the game really begins here, along this spooky Forest path, where Obe first encounters the Lantern. You can watch the entire Level in the video below, since it’s so short. (Just ignore the missing sound effects and animation polish, all of that comes later.) Jack and I have a rigid philosophical stance when it comes to game design: we don’t like using text to tell players what to do. That’s annoying! So this Level is designed so that people can learn how to walk. It’s impossible to avoid picking up Obe’s lantern because he automatically does that when you walk on the first open space in the clearing.

This Level didn’t take too long once I actually sat down and did it. Since Obe can only walk around the center of the Level, and his light radius is quite small, there’s a lot of art I can intentionally ignore. This may seem lazy, but there have been times in the past where the opposite has occurred! I’ve done beautiful artwork around the edges of the Level only to be dismayed to find the light never reaches there, and players will never see it. But I still see it. In my dreams.

 

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Level 4-3, “Ramparts”

One of the most ambitious Levels we planned for the game has you scaling the ramparts of a city wall as you climb to the palace on top. It’s a transition Level, which makes it super important for the story. The first two Levels in this World take place in the slums, and the final two Levels in this World take place in beautiful palace gardens. We need a bridge in between those two, otherwise the jump from one to the other will be too abrupt for the audience.

Enter Level 4-3, “Ramparts,” a vertical bridge between two different worlds separated by economic class and power. It’s easier to show you than tell you! We begin on the street, with the dogs.*

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*Dogs not included

Then there’s the middle section:

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On top, we can see the palace architecture more clearly:

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This Level took forever for Jack to make and for me to decorate. Even now, it still needs an extra coat of paint! The puzzle isn’t difficult, but the vertical nature of it means we need to cover up a lot of the screen. I want to put more plants closer to the top, which I didn’t really have time to do yet. Plant life would indicate that even in this barren desert, the wealthy King who lives in the castle gets to be surrounded by beautiful foliage.

 

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Paradise Begun

The game’s final World is a beautiful island paradise floating in the sky. This is somewhat of a story spoiler, but we’ve blogged about it before so I’m not too concerned. Read on at your own peril, I guess?

It’s taken me a while to return to this beautiful setting. Anything that comes last in a video game usually gets the least attention. It’s regrettable, but understandable. After all, if you see a movie in theatres, you often see 100% of it.  Unless you leave in the middle for some reason, you’ll experience the beginning, middle, and ending. But video games are different. Only a fraction of players make it to the end of the game, but by definition anyone who plays a game experiences the first 5 minutes. That’s why those first 5 minutes are so crucial and get so much special treatment.

I’d like to break the chain, if I can. I want people to feel rewarded for getting to the end of this difficult puzzle experience. Here’s the current progress on World 7, which I just started last week. They’re in rough shape at this stage, but you can get a sense of where I’m going with these.

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Level 7-1, “Ladder” is all about compiling a ladder from a bunch of broken pieces. The ladder comes together using the shadows from that conveniently specific rotating object. It’s harder than it looks! I designed this one and I forgot how to solve it. Good luck!

On the first landing, we get a chance to show off that majestic Bermudian inspired architecture I love so much. If I have time, I’ll even include a cool dude relaxing on a chair just to show how far removed this World is from everything below.

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Level 7-2, “Pond” is due for somewhat of a re-do. The major thing I forgot to include here was a pond in the center where that button is. We want some kind of a sacred grove with a sacred button because that’s how you solve this Level – you need to use the center piece in order to drag boxes around and cast the shadows you need to fix the ending staircase.

This is where design and aesthetics conflict. The pathways we need are very specific and jagged, but the “look and feel” we want is uniform and symmetrical. It’s a tough compromise. I’ll return to this one and remove that weird green rock path (a placeholder) and try to do something closer to my original “Toolkit” Level I posted so long ago:

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(This isn’t a Level in the game, but rather spec work I did a few months ago when I was beginning each World’s “Toolkit.” But that center pond is making a comeback, just wait for it!)

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Level 7-3, “Tower” isn’t very far along, but it’s such a cool design I thought I would tease it here. You need to see a video of it in action to really grasp what’s going on, so no more for you just yet! Be patient [ ^_^]!

 

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User Interface Sketches

Generally I prefer not to show off drawings that are not part of the game. But Jack and I just started on the user interface design, so it can’t hurt to show you a tiny bit of what I’m working on…

 

It may seem late in the game to handle this, but we decided long ago that we don’t want a complicated user interface. Above, you can see that our Levels contain all the features that a Main Menu would normally have. We don’t really like having a separate menu detached from the game, so you can access all the key stuff just by “pausing” the game.

Note: this is just a Photoshop design. We haven’t coded this in yet, and not all of the buckets you see above are necessarily being included in the final game. For example, being able to take a picture of the Level is an important social feature, but it’s not essential for the game’s launch and may fall by the wayside.

Interacting with phone features is a big pain and it’s one of the toughest things about game development. Making your game work on every single tablet, flip-phone, e-reader and seashell Kindle out there is a nightmare. Maybe we’ll write a blog about that topic once we get more into the weeds of cross-platform development…

 

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See You Next Year!

The next time you read this particular blog series, it will be 2018 and I’ll be recapping December. Man, where does the time go? This year has gone blazing by!

This month, I hope to finish World 7 and move on to polishing up each Level. That work is highly specific, which is why it was left until the end.

Polishing the Levels will intersect with working on the game’s cutscenes. That’s because some of these Levels have animated characters in them. I’d like to be sure that the animated characters I create work well in both settings, to save myself time later. So don’t be surprised if next month’s update is a bit of a mixed bag. That’s the way it’s going to be from now until the game launches!

 

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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.

Frank Opinion: Why Our Game Is Premium

Believe it or not, Jack and I don’t spend every waking minute of our lives with our heads buried in our computer screens working on Where Shadows Slumber. Occasionally, we take the time to read up on current events in the game industry!

The big news of last week was Star Wars Battlefront 2’s controversial loot-box system, and how EA and Disney tried desperately to pull up as their starship careened toward the surface in a full nose-dive. I’m not a journalist, so I’ll let you look up the story on your own. Personally I’m a huge fan of this YouTuber YongYea – watch the last 5 or 6 videos on his channel and you’ll get the full story. (Coarse language warning – YongYea gets pretty passionate about this subject.)

Honestly, the headlines of these videos alone are enough to give you the idea. Are you an expert on lootboxes and the EA controversy yet? Yes? Great, let’s dive right in!

 

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Why Are You Blogging About This?

It may seem odd to bring up EA and Star Wars Battlefront 2 in a blog that’s dedicated to following the progress of our mobile puzzle game. However, Jack and I write these blogs for a few reasons. Progress updates are great, but sometimes we like to take the time to spill our guts and let you know exactly what we’re thinking and why we made certain key decisions along the way.

Recently I attended the Mobile Games Forum. As I wrote in my blog post, I felt a bit out of place at that conference. Industry executives are really moving away from premium games! Nearly everyone I met was either a free-to-play developer or an ad network executive trying to sell us their services. Sometimes I felt downright insulted by the comments these guys made towards me and my “ancient” business model. I heard things like “the market is only 7% premium these days” and “game developers are the only ones who miss the premium model.” At the limit, I heard the scariest thing imaginable: The premium market is dead.

So I’d like to take this week’s blog post as an opportunity to talk about the recent controversy with EA, and relate it to the apparent death of the premium business model. But first, we need to define these terms in case I’m using technical jargon you’ve never heard before. (This is an educational blog, after all…) Then we need to mention some disclaimers so people don’t flame me in the comments section.

 

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Disclaimers and Definitions

Before we dive in – what the heck am I talking about? To someone who doesn’t study the entertainment industry, this blog post is probably a bit confusing so far. Here are the terms I’m going to use, and what I think they mean. Hit me up in the comments if I make a big mistake and I’ll update the blog.

PremiumYou see a game on the App Store. It costs 5 dollars. You pay the money, and download the game. You play it. You never have a reason (or the ability) to spend more money in-game after this point. There are no advertisements or “time-wasters” in the game.

Free, With Ads: You see a game on the App Store. It costs 0 dollars to download! You download it for free and play it. During the game, advertisements for real-world products pop up at regular intervals. These can be images or videos. The developer makes a fraction of a cent for every ad you watch or click. You may also be given the option at times to opt into watching an ad to get some kind of in-game bonus.

Free, With In-App Purchases: You see a game on the App Store. It costs 0 dollars to download! You download it for free and play it. During the game, you notice that certain player abilities, player accessories, or levels are locked. To unlock them, you need to spend either an in-game currency, or a real-world currency like USD. The in-game currency doesn’t go nearly as far as the real-world currency, usually at a conversion rate of something like 100:1. You can do everything in the game without paying money, but it takes a ton of time.

Grind: Known as grinding or “the grind,” this is the process of doing something repetitive in a game in order to earn enough currency to buy something. I assume the name came from the agonizing process of pushing a millstone around in circles in your bare feet.

Lootboxes: Digital grab-bags filled with randomized treasure. Lootboxes are often purchasable in-game with in-game currency, but the grind to get them is time intensive and dull. These lootboxes can always be purchased at a great discount with real money, so the incentive to pony up is always there.


 

Finally, I want to mention that there are plenty of free games I have played and enjoyed.

I used to play League of Legends with my friends when we were all into the game – that one is Free, With In-App Purchases. Because you never were able to buy powerful items in League of Legends, I never spent money on the game or even felt like I needed to. In that game, you only purchased different costumes for your heroes. I felt it was a good way of doing that model, and Riot Games has been quite successful.

Currently I really enjoy the digital card game Hearthstone, which is also Free, With In-App Purchases. That one is dicier because they have lootboxes in the form of card packs. Since you can buy card packs to get good cards and put them in your deck, they’re essentially selling power. I think they get away with it because Blizzard still has a good reputation. Also, this business model is as old as the real-world card game Magic: The Gathering. Perhaps players are used to it by now. However, the pay-to-get-good-cards model is harming their ability to capture new players, so not all is well in the land of Azeroth. The impact of this business model remains to be seen.

Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp just launched today and I’m definitely going to play it no matter how weird it is. I love Nintendo, I love Animal Crossing, and I’m well aware this is probably going to be a free, with in-app purchases minefield. By this point though, I’ve gotten pretty good at playing these games without paying a cent.

Now that you know I don’t hate every single free-to-play game, let’s talk about why this business model can easily be corrupted.

 

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The Right Way and the Wrong Way To Do This

Let me tell you what I like about free games when they are done correctly.

In my view, when a game lets you download it for free and largely ignore the in-app purchases, consumers will enjoy the experience. I get a strange sense of accomplishment knowing that my Hearthstone deck, which I built over time for free, can beat some nerd who paid $100 in card packs. The reason why I don’t play games with ads is because there’s no way to ignore them – they are shoved into your face on purpose.

This is what makes Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s lootbox system so egregious. They’ve gone with the controversial Premium, With In-App Purchases model. Recently, this has only been done successfully by Overwatch, probably due in no small part to Blizzard’s stellar reputation in the industry. More importantly, Overwatch’s lootboxes never contain any items that materially affect gameplay. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your costume is – you’ll still get dunked by a regular player who didn’t pay for lootboxes if they are better at the game than you are.

EA has flipped the script, totally ignoring cosmetic items and focusing instead on selling Star Cards: boring passive abilities that make your character better in unexplained, unrealistic ways. By selling players the random chance to get incredibly powerful abilities and forcing other players to grind their way to these same powers, EA is simply setting free players up to fail. After you’ve paid $60 for Star Wars: Battlefront II, you really haven’t finished paying for the product. What’s worse is that now you don’t even get the option of laying out more money to get what you want – such as the ability to play as Darth Vader – but instead you need to gamble with your time and money. Whatever happened to video games just being fun experiences? Aren’t we in the entertainment industry? One side (developers) is not respecting the other side (players), and the players are largely just accepting this brutal beat-down.

 

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Premium: A Business Model Based on Mutual Respect

Finally, the conversation can return to Where Shadows Slumber, our upcoming premium mobile puzzle game. It took me a while to lay the groundwork for this, but I wanted to show you where my thoughts were coming from.

Jack and I didn’t choose this business model flippantly. It’s not like we had the chance to make a free-with-ads game and then said “eh, what the heck. Make it premium. Who cares?” There were a number of factors at play when we made this decision, back in 2015.

1. Inspiration from Monument Valley: As we’ve noted many times, the premium smash hit Monument Valley and its successful sequel inspired us to make this game. They offered the game for a premium price, and only charged players more money later when they created more levels. That always seemed more than fair to us. If they made millions, why can’t we?

2. Game design: Similar to the point above, we decided that a linear level-based puzzle game just couldn’t be reconfigured to work with a free-to-play business model. Our entire game was based around the business model: an assumption that this was a relaxing, creepy puzzle experience waiting to unfold before you. Your character can’t die in our game, and there are no enemies. That means we can’t sell lives or power-ups. Since the game is a finite single-player experience, we wouldn’t get much mileage out of selling cosmetic items. Who cares what the character looks like? The game lasts just a few hours and there’s no one to impress. We could put ads in-between levels, but there aren’t even a ton of levels so we wouldn’t make much money per player. We simply never had any desire to mutilate the concept of our game in order to make room for a pigeonholed free-to-play business model.

3. Hedging our bets against free-to-play: Every bubble bursts eventually. Right now, the business executives making these decisions are looking at the success of their competitors and simply copying them. This is often called reactive development. Responding to the environment around them, business executives see that every game is free to play and decide to follow suit. But I think it’s better to be proactive and look toward the future. Next year, when our game launches, what will players think about the game industry? Will they have a negative or a positive reaction to a $0 price tag on a game? Has Star Wars: Battlefront II poisoned the well? Jack and I are taking a gamble by pursuing a business model that makes very little money. But we do so with the confidence that free-to-play’s stock is falling, and an informed group of players are getting tired of seeing good games get ruined by the greedy demands of executives.

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This Industry Needs Mutual Respect

The thing that combines the three points above is the principle of mutual respect. Call me old fashioned, but I’m used to the traditional way of doing things.

As a player with money to spend, you scan the market for interesting video games. Something catches your eye – it’s a beautiful indie puzzle game about a strange priestly-looking dude with a lantern. The puzzles in the game are weird. Objects in the level change with shadows? You’ve never seen that before.

Before you take a leap of faith with your money, you try the free Demo on the store. It’s polished, the puzzles are quirky, and the story ends on a weird cliffhanger. Curiosity overwhelms you and you’ve made up your mind! You’re going to buy “Where Shadows Slumber.”

It may not seem like it, but this is a sign of respect. You’ve trusted us with your money. You respect us enough not to pirate the game or just watch someone playing it on YouTube. You trust us to deliver on what we promised in our Demo. You believe that our screenshots are genuine, and not Photoshopped to make the game look cooler than it is. Even though we’re indies straight out of college, you take a chance on us instead of taking your business elsewhere.

In turn, we as game developers should respect you. We should respect you by delivering on our promise, giving you an entertaining experience that matches or exceeds the value of the money you’ve paid. This is where my disdain for in-game advertisements comes from. It’s impossible for me to see it as anything other than a show of disrespect. When someone entrusts you with their time, how could you shove a commercial in their face and then demand they pay up to prevent their time from being wasted?

Time is the most precious thing we have as human beings. I’d gladly pay any sum of money for more years on this Earth, and more years for the lives of my loved ones. This is impossible, but the urge is always there. That’s what EA is exploiting when they devise a system that requires players to grind for 80 hours just to unlock one character. They’re holding your entertainment hostage and asking you to make a terrible choice: give up your time (precious) or an unknowable sum of money (also precious, in large quantities). By some estimates, you would have to spend close to $2,000 just to guarantee that you’ll unlock all Battlefront II has to offer. You’d never spend that much on a game upfront and they know it. In a sign of disrespect, they’ve devised a system to coerce you into playing their game or paying a ton of money over time without realizing it.

If that’s what the premium business model died for, it died in vain.

 

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Moral Arguments Require a Virtuous Community

It should be obvious by now that I’m not making a business case in favor of the Premium model. It’s dead or dying, and I get that. I don’t have any numbers to back this up. All I’m saying is that there’s a morally right way of delivering entertainment, and a morally wrong way of doing it too. Some publishers like to dance close to the fire, and EA jumped right into the furnace. (There’s a business argument for you – reputation matters.) But since this is a moral argument, it requires a community that cares about right and wrong in order for it to carry any weight.

Jack and I will need your help to pull this off. We want to be able to pay Alba and Noah and give them a good bonus through sales of the game. We want to be able to repay Caroline for her work on the website. I want the sales of Where Shadows Slumber to lay the foundation for Game Revenant’s future so I can be in business on my own. I want this game to make enough money so Jack never has to work another day in his life, especially after the sacrifices he’s made to create this beautiful game.

In order to do all of this, we need your help and we need it now! Now is the time to share this article with a friend, or show them our game’s website. If you haven’t downloaded the game’s Demo, do it today and send the link to a friend. Sign up for our newsletter so you can be there for us on day 1, leaving a good review and boosting our standing in the app charts.

Remember that there are four ways to vote in this marketplace:

  1. With your money – a symbol of what you place value on and what you do not.
  2. With your voice – what games are you talking about and sharing on social media?
  3. With your ratings – a sign of how you think other players should view the game.
  4. With your time – everything is tracked these days, and play time equals support.

 

Premium isn’t dead – but it will die when the gaming community overwhelmingly votes to support disrespectful business models and neglects to support indies. Big publishers like EA are probably beyond saving, but Game Revenant isn’t.

Not yet.

 

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The views expressed in Frank Opinion don’t represent everyone working on Where Shadows Slumber. 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 – October 2017

Welcome to State Of The Art, October 2017 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.

Sadly, I was out of town for most of October on business trips to Texas, Los Angeles, and Seattle. Although I got a lot out of them, I did not get a chance to do as much artwork as I would have liked. Sorry that I don’t have more to show you!

Without further excuses, let’s explore the major leaps forward we took in October!

 

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World 5, The Hills

Cold, abandoned tombstones. Whining wrought iron fences, covered in moss. An abandoned log cabin, now in ruins. Suddenly, a chill in the air – snow begins to fall.

The Hills represents a turning point in our game, which is represented by the change in weather halfway through. I really love this setting and the mood it conveys, and I’m proud of how the artwork for this World came out. Every Level in the game will need to be “polished” before the artwork can be considered finished, and World 5 is no exception. But I think you’ll agree that these Levels are already looking pretty awesome!

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5-1, “Cemetery” – I can’t wait to change the temporary Phantom model [ v_v]

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5-2, “Family” – Not too much changed since last time, since this Level is so solid.

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5-3, “Ray” – I love how the log cabin came out here.

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5-4, “Drop” – This Level should look snowier, that’s coming later!

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5-5, “Rest” – Ignore the large A’s on this Level, they’ll be replaced!

My favorite little aesthetic touch in this World has to be the stone pathways. It took forever to get those right. I started with massive stone slabs, but it felt too video game-y. Then I went with smaller and smaller pieces until I decided to basically do a mosaic of little flat rocks. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Note: I’m going to change 5-4 to make it snowier. It’s odd that we jump directly to snow, and that was never the intention. I’m just not sure what to do to make it seem like it’s only snowing a little bit.

 

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World 6, The Summit

Obe ascends the snow covered steps to the Summit. Darkness falls and his lantern dims in the wintry air. Shivering, he makes his way toward the castle at the peak of the mountain. The journey will be over soon.

I’m so excited to show you World 6, the Summit. Inspired by snowy game-ending mountains like the one in Journey and the recent Tomb Raider reboot, the Summit World is a snowy mountain peak with an abandoned castle at the top. It’s just getting started, so these Levels are a little rougher all around. Essential polish things, like actual snow falling from the sky, are unfortunately still on the back burner! Check out what I have so far:

Level 6-1, “Pass” shows off the unique way World 6 works. There’s a hidden shadow world that occupies the same space as the ‘real’ world! Use your shadows to uncover hidden dudes like this walking guy, who can press Buttons for you. It’s one of the coolest things we do in the game with shadows, in my opinion!

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6-2, “Blind” – This Level is all about the secret World waiting for you in the shadows…

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6-3, “Chains” – I may end up moving the gateway toward the center and rotating it.

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6-4, “Watchman” – Finally, inside the Castle! Snow pours in through decrepit, broken windows…

There’s one more Level I can’t show just yet (6-5), because it’s a super work in progress right now and I don’t think you’d be able to see what’s going on. But this is World 6 so far!

What do you think?

 

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November – Returning To Skipped Levels

Observant readers of this monthly blog will notice that sometimes I skip a Level and never return to it. Those Levels haven’t been cut from the game! They just posed a significant challenge for one reason or another, and I couldn’t find time to dedicate to them.

The theme of November is going to be “returning to skipped Levels.” I won’t spend all month on that of course, but expect to see an assorted, seemingly random collection of Levels in next month’s blog post. It’s all part of putting everything together, which is more important now that we’re getting close to finishing the game.

 

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This is the kind of face that makes you want to say “That guy? That guy kind of sucks.”

Please, Criticize Me In The Comments

I don’t normally do this, but this is a call for comments! WordPress lets you leave a remark under each blog post. Please take a look at this artwork and give me some critical feedback. I always listen to it and it will really help to have a third, fourth and fifth set of eyes on my work.

You can tell me how much you love it if you really feel like it, but I’m mostly looking for ways to improve. Stuff like “this part looks a bit off” or “this color stands out in a bad way” or “this section looks unfinished.” That’s what I need to hear! Constructive criticism is welcome and encouraged.

I look forward to hearing from you below, and I’ll try to respond faster than I normally do. Cheers!

 

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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.