Art Spotlight: Cutscenes, Part I

For the past few weeks, Jack and I have been working on transitioning from the Demo Version to the Final Version of Where Shadows Slumber. One of the finishing touches I’m committed to adding to our demo is a short cutscene that plays when you beat the game. Our fans are always asking us if the game will have some kind of a story. The answer is yes, it absolutely will! But the nature of mobile entertainment and puzzle games in general dictates that we tell a certain kind of story in a certain kind of way.

 

860e6bef748f96c0bfd4d8d5b79626a4

Screenshot from one of Monument Valley’s cutscenes.

Why Cutscenes?

When we decided we wanted the game to have a story, we looked at other successful mobile games (see Monument Valley, above) as well as the games Jack and I usually like to play. It seemed that short cutscenes, placed directly after the player “achieved” something notable, were the best way to hold people’s attention. Jack loves listening to all of the audio books in Diablo 3, and I loved reading entire libraries in games like Morrowind and Skyrim. However, for a casual gamer, massive amounts of text can seem like an information overload. Not to mention, that creates a lot more work for our translator – which translates into a serious cost for us.

It’s also worth mentioning that mobile gamers don’t often play games with the sound on. Clearly, investing our time in fully voice-acted content wouldn’t be worth it. Who would ever hear it? When you think about it, given these constraints, we didn’t have many options.

  1. Mobile gamers can’t hear your game
  2. Casual gamers want a story, but not an epic saga
  3. Mobile gamers play the game in short bursts
  4. The more voice over work and text we have, the more we need to translate

Since the above four points are a given, we decided to have short cutscenes at the beginning and end of every World in our game to serve as end-caps. The action in each of these animated scenes will be completely wordless and textless, and tell a story through body language alone. Sound will be present, but it won’t be important. The cutscenes themselves each tell a unique piece of the story, and may even seem disconnected. This is all by design!

 

3Ds

3DS Max is used to animate the actors, and the file is then interpreted by Unity.

The Technology Being Used

All of the artwork in Where Shadows Slumber is done in a program called Autodesk 3DS Max. I’ve used many studios in my years as an animator, but this was one of the first I ever tried and something about it called me back.

3DS Max is used to create characters (modelling), paint them (texturing), give them bones and animation handles (rigging), and make them move around (animation).

Then, these animations play in real-time within Unity. So when you’re watching a cutscene, you’re really watching the game – not something that was rendered ahead of time as a series of images and played back like a film. It was important to me that we use Unity to its full potential, and always kept players “in the game world”.

 

regret

Within Unity, the actors are given color and lighting.

Process: The Inverted Cone of Cutscenes

When working on a large project like this cutscene, it’s important to work in stages and have clear checkpoints. And make no mistake, even a cutscene that is 1 minute long is a large project! I have spent close to 30 hours on it so far, and I’m not even finished. The problem with stuff like this is that if you want to change something, usually you have to undo or throw out a ton of work. It’s important to make sure that doesn’t happen, and that you start with a wide range of possibilities but eventually focus in on what the cutscene is going to be.

For some insight into how a cutscene begins wide and then narrows to completion, look at this graph:

CutsceneBlog

The further you go down the inverted cone, the more work you lose if you change something.

See the arrow – I am currently at the end stage of Principal Animation. That means the actors all have their general motions and you can tell what’s going on in the scene. But it still isn’t finished! Look at all of the other stuff that has to be done.

The reason things like cloth motion and sound come last is because, should we decide to change some of the Principal Animation, we would have to throw out all of that “detail work” anyway. So it just makes sense to save it for last and only work on it when the work at the top of the cone has been checked and locked.

 

skirt.PNG

The player’s cassock (the white tunic) is animated using 30 individual bones!

Regrets So Far

You don’t work on a game without having some serious regrets. Every regret I have so far regarding this process has to do with time – something I did, did poorly, or did not do, that cost me precious time and made us push our deadlines back.

Giving the character cloth robes: I love robes. I love cloth. But I foolishly decided to give our main character cloth robes that must be painstakingly controlled via spider-leg-like bone tendrils. This process is maddening, takes forever, and never looks good. I regret not using Cloth simulation, something 3DS Max provides and Unity supports.

His dumb hand bones: This is something you would never know from watching the in-game cutscene, but the main character’s hand Bone (an invisible puppet-string object) is stupid, dumb, too big, and I don’t like it. I should have made them smaller. Also I think his left arm bends the wrong way. Let’s just say I ought to re-do his entire rig.

Link To World broke everything: I used a parent-child relationship to allow the characters in the scene to hold objects (i.e. the lantern, the urn, the chest, the scepter, the bowl). This worked perfectly! Except… for some reason, the first time I set up linking on my character’s IK hand setup, it wigged out and sent his hands flying off screen for every single frame of animation I had done previously. This was clearly some kind of offset error, but I never found a good solution. I ended up reanimating his hands halfway through!

People would rather have more levels anyway: The sad truth is, this is a puzzle game. People want puzzles. (“More levels!” – The Proletariat) As much as they may say they want a story, the truth is we’ll get more mileage out of working hard on puzzles instead. It may be that the cutscene is there for a different purpose. My own ego? Winning artsy indie game awards?

Everything mentioned here made me lose time and work on this far longer than I should have, making us weeks (if not months) behind schedule for a demo that was supposed to be done already. Perfect is the enemy of good enough! Live and learn, right? That’s the beauty of working on a demo first. I now know what not to do for the final game! Let’s just hope the damage hasn’t already been done by now.

 

Next Blog Post

By the time I have to write Part 2 of this blog, I should be finished with the cutscene. I can show it to you in full and we’ll do a bit of a postmortem on it. I can give you the short version of the postmortem now: the cutscene is a lot of work, there’s very little payoff (I assume), and the subject matter is controversial. Nevertheless, here’s a sneak peek at it to tide you over until then…

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Interested in hearing about the game, now that you’ve peeked behind the scenes? You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

Advertisements

3 Things I Learned at GDC 2017

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC), and I have a lot to tell you! Unfortunately, most of what I learned is top secret. You hear a lot at these conventions, so between secret news and talks with undisclosed mobile publishers there isn’t a lot I can disclose. More on that later this year…

But I can certainly reveal my impressions as a first-timer to help you out if you’re planning on going to GDC 2018. Here are three things I learned my first time at GDC!


 

Calendar with pushpins

Lesson 1: Schedule Meetings Months Ahead of Time

My number one priority at GDC 2017 was to talk to someone from the App Store about Where Shadows Slumber. My number two priority was to talk to someone from Google Play. Specifically, I’m looking for the people that make promotions and “features” happen. Being featured on an app marketplace can sometimes be the difference between relative obscurity and worldwide fame. It’s that important.

Certainly it can’t be your only strategy, but it’s at the top of my list. Sadly, I failed! Since I was so late to the game (I only found out about GDC when two people mentioned it at MAGFest 2017 earlier this year) I never scheduled times to meet with them. Naively, I assumed there would be some kind of Apple booth and I could meet them there.

No way. Although the major players (PlayStation, Oculus, Facebook, Microsoft, Unity) had large presences at the show, Apple did not have a booth. They probably assume they would just get inundated by indies and it wouldn’t be worth the expense. If you wanted to talk to them, you had to get on their calendar months in advance. They met with business partners in secret rooms during the show, protected under heavy guard. The same is true for Google – they had a booth, but it was specifically to show off Daydream, their mobile VR peripheral. The Google Play team was nowhere to be found.

I learned the hard way – don’t make my mistake! It’s crucial that you do your homework ahead of time and get on the calendar of a major player like Apple, Google, Nintendo, or whoever you want to meet. Don’t leave this stuff to chance!

 

20170303_101342

GDC talk about Chinese localization pitfalls, given by Jung-Sheng Lin of Taiwan.

 

Lesson 2: The Talks Are Great, But You’ll Get Tossed Out

I went to GDC primarily to make connections in the industry. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the seminars as much as I did. It turns out there are a lot of talks, panels and seminars at GDC and they run the full week. (I arrived on Wednesday, since I was mostly concerned with the Expo – but there are talks and parties beginning on Sunday) The lectures were great! I enjoyed pretty much every one that I went to. The panels weren’t as interesting as the talks because less work went into preparing them. But overall, I was impressed.

One thing bugged me though. I should have seen this coming, but when you buy a pass for GDC you’re effectively selecting what access you’ll have during the show. They have all kinds of “tracks” – Art, Music, VR, All Access, Mega Golden God Status, etc. I got an Expo Pass, which is the cheapest option. This lets you into the Expo and a small smattering of talks.

What this meant was that often I would see a talk advertised (“Nintendo Reveals All About Breath of the Wild!”) and get really excited for it only to be turned away at the door. The paper pocket guide doesn’t warn you about the access required for a talk, it just says where the talk is and who is giving it. To see a filtered view, you need the app. Once I filtered the talks available by the Expo Pass using the GDC app, it become clear that there really wasn’t too much I was interested in. Fortunately I snuck into at least one restricted talk (it was about early access and Ark) and the talks I was able to get into were pretty good. Still, it’s a bad feeling.

So, again, plan ahead! Before you buy a badge, look at the talks available. Filter the list. Ask yourself – are the seminars worth the price jump from $299 to $999? If so, take the plunge. You’ll appreciate getting the access. Otherwise, just deal with the consequences and don’t be surprised when ushers show you the door.

 

20170307_134433

Lesson 3: Don’t Take No For An Answer

The theme of the first two Lessons is quite clear: plan ahead. Having said that, I should also mention that just because you didn’t plan ahead doesn’t mean you shouldn’t muscle your way in anyway.

Rules only matter if they’re enforced, right? Once they stop being enforced they might as well not even apply. Although I don’t believe this is true when it comes to objective morality (don’t go burning down houses because you think you’ll get away with it), it certainly works when it comes to event admissions.

For example, I went to the Big Indie Pitch at GDC 2017 after some urging by Craig Barnes (I owe you one, man!). This is a pitching contest where you show your mobile game to publishers and industry professionals. You get 4 minutes with 5 different groups each, and they judge your game based on its aesthetics, mechanics, marketability, and overall quality. But I never formally applied for the contest because I missed the submission cut-off by one day. Feeling dejected, I almost didn’t even attend! It was 3 pm on a Thursday, I was already exhausted, the event wasn’t close to the convention center, and I very nearly bailed to go to other events instead.

Something told me I’d regret it if I didn’t at least show up, so I took an Uber over. As the event began, I begged the event coordinator Simon Drake of Steel Media to put me on a Waitlist. If people didn’t show up, I could take their slot! There were four others like me so Simon agreed, and to our surprise the Waitlisters were given a chance at the tail end of the contest to make our case to the judges. (OK, this isn’t really “muscling”, more like “pleading”… but you get the point!)

To my utter shock, Where Shadows Slumber received third place at the Big Indie Pitch! Jack and I now have $1,000 in marketing money to use on any of Steel Media’s owned platforms, and we’ll put it to good use. Another awesome thing: the second place winner, Louard of Suzy Cube, was also on the Waitlist! The moral of the story? Plan ahead, and plan for everything.

Then, expect your plans to go wrong, and don’t give up when they do!

 


 

I’m going back to GDC next year for sure. We may exhibit at the show, or just walk the show floor. I definitely want Jack to see this, because it’s an awesome experience. Where Shadows Slumber will hopefully be commercially available by GDC 2018 so the timing should be perfect… but you know what they say about plans.

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Were you at GDC 2017? Tell us about your experience in the comments below! You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

Heading to GDC 2017 Today!

As I type this, I’m packing to go to GDC 2017 – The Game Developers Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. The convention actually already started, believe it or not. Monday and Tuesday are incredibly expensive lectures and talks, with an expo that runs Wednesday through Friday.

Since I’ve never been to this before, I didn’t want to break the bank. Transportation to San Francisco was expensive enough, especially when you consider I’m staying in a hotel near the convention center. So I’m just going to the expo, where indie devs will be showing off their games and large companies will be holding meetings with business partners.

I have three main goals in mind for GDC 2017: scope out the convention for 2018, meet publishers and distributors, and plan the future of my company.

 

gdc

Case The Joint for 2018

This is a huge show, and it always happens right around this time of the year. I predict Where Shadows Slumber will be released at some point next year during this time, so it’s highly likely we’ll be attending GDC 2018 as exhibitors.

I want to ask these indie devs if they feel like it was worth the price, the trip, the time, and other costs. You never know which shows are going to give a return on your investment. This also gives me a convenient excuse to actually have fun at a trade show!

I’m so used to going to these things as an exhibitor, I forgot what it was like to be able to freely move about the show floor and talk to people. What a treat!

Also I need to make sure I get details on how to sign up for contests. GDC has a few award shows that run (two, I think?) and I know next to nothing about them. But I know that I want Where Shadows Slumber to win everything forever, so it’s time to get some information. I’ll return next week with contact people!

 

idreamsky

 

Meet Publishers and Distributors

 

It can be difficult to make a connection to someone completely online. But Jack and I need people to distribute our game in China, Japan, Korea, Russia, India, and other foreign countries. We don’t speak the language or understand the market. For a cut of the proceeds, these publishers can make our game a hit in their region.

I’m not looking to promise these people anything just yet. Mostly I want them to take a look at the game and get a conversation going. If the game is “on their radar”, then my follow up email over the summer might get noticed.

But first they need to see it. I’ll shove my iPad in their face if I have to! (I swear to God I will do this once before the show ends) I already have a hit list on my phone of who I need to hunt down at GDC, and I won’t rest until I find them!

This took a violent turn… so let’s go to the final section!

 

maxresdefault

Plan For The Future

I already talked about GDC 2018, so why do I need to plan for the future? Well, you can’t work on one game forever. Even Blizzard will need to say goodbye to its beloved properties one day. Where Shadows Slumber is a beautiful game, but I have a lot more game ideas in the pipeline. Planning for what comes next is important. We may be talking as far as 2019 or 2025 here, but I plan to build this company into something great. That takes foresight.

I want to make a good first impression with some big-wigs at the largest game companies and bluntly ask them what it takes to make third-party games. There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening around VR (which I am still skeptical of), Nintendo’s Switch, and the growing PC gaming market. Now is the time to forge some professional bonds to be used at a later date. There are some technology companies in particular that I want to visit, so I can ask them some “is this possible with your tech?” questions.

I’ll try to do a recap of all this when I return, but PAX East is next week so… gah! It’s going to be a busy life, I suppose >:)

 

I have a taxi to the airport to catch, so see you next time! Thanks for reading.

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Don’t miss updates while I’m at GDC. Share our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com with the GDC hashtag, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

Calling All Testers!

I speak now to our legions of adoring fans. *ahem*

Lend us your talents! Your eyes that see microscopic faults, your ears that hear the lies in the truth! Lend us your hands that stumble over screens and fingers that are too large! Lend us your tongue that licks the phone for some reason (??), and most importantly your mind, which is not satisfied until there are 999 levels in the game!

john_f_kennedy-h

“Ask not what Game Revenant can do for you, but rather what you can do for Game Revenant!”

[The crowd goes wild]

The call has gone out to Android Revenants and Apple Revenants alike. Your Supreme Chancellor has need of you!

c4pi-04vyaausr_

Part of a paper concept for the upcoming level “Ramparts”.

Jack and I have been hard at work the past two months designing every level in the game on paper. Now we need Volunteer Revenants who are willing to take 15 minutes out of their day to test these new levels. We’ll be sending you an early, near-prehistoric version of the final game. Levels will be blocky, ugly, and impossibly grey. They will have either no sound, or limited sound. You probably won’t enjoy playing them.

Sold yet? Listen, we need your perspective. We think these levels are perfect. Do you know why we think that? Because we designed them! Of course we think they are perfect. They are not. We need you to download the test version of the game and then tell us via Facebook, Twitter, or private email (contact@GameRevenant.com) what you think. Be honest!

greygrongus

I played the demo available on the App Store. Does that count?

Thanks so much, but no. We’re moving past that now — we’re talking about new levels for the final game. Not many demo levels will make it to the real game.

How do I become an iOS tester?

You’ll need the app “TestFlight” on your modern iOS device (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) and you’ll need to send us your email address to opt into the program. We’ll add you to the list and send out levels in waves, probably one World each month.

How do I become an Android tester?

You must send us your email address so we can figure something out. TestFlight does not work with Android so we need a different solution. We may just email you an .apk file with some levels in it.

What’s the deal with Kindle Fire?

I don’t really know… we aren’t on that store yet, it’s a long process. Hang tight!

I have a Windows Phone…

Windows Phone is kind of a small market and we don’t have one of those devices to use for testing. We will probably not publish on the Windows platform for a while, if at all.

You guys get free quality assurance from this. What do I get out of it?

You get the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping us make a great game! You get to see the game early, before anyone else. You get to tell us what you think and make a real impact on the game. Plus, if you pester us enough and your feedback is helpful (instead of just annoying) we can probably put you in the Credits as one of our “Worldwide Quality Assurance Experts”. Play games in your pajamas and get into the Credits… what’s better than that?

tanuki2b-2bi2bwill2bdo2bit2bi2bwill2btake2bthe2bring2binto2bmordor

OK

OK?

Yes

Great! Send your information to contact@GameRevenant.com. All we need is your email, device operating system, and device version/name. You’ll be sorted and placed in the appropriate email list. Expect a brief from us soon about how you can be a Test Revenant!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Although I don’t recommend it, you can also give us your email through the Game Revenant official Facebook Page or Twitter Handle. I also have a Twitch game development stream, so I guess you could hop into the chat and message me? Don’t do that, though. Spammers are always looking for information in the chat! Email the official address at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

Where Shadows Slumber: Staying Motivated

One of the most difficult parts of game development is staying motivated. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve started, a great idea and achievable goal in mind, only to have those projects fall by the wayside, almost but not quite finished. Last time I talked about dealing with adversity; this week, I’m going to talk about how to stay motivated when working on a game development project.

As game developers, we love games, and we love developing games. When you first come up with a great concept for a game, you’re excited about it. You have so many great ideas, and you just can’t wait to implement them. You have an image of what your game will look like in 2 years, and with that pristine goal in mind, you simply feel driven to work on it.

As you work on your game, however, that drive begins to falter. Where you once looked forward to sitting down for an hour or two of coding, you find yourself shying away from your computer. You look at your game and all the effort you’ve put into it, and you realize how far away you are from the perfect game you had imagined. Rather than tackling cool, big-picture things like core mechanics, you find yourself slogging through your levels, double-checking initialization values.

Basically, there comes a time in the development of a game where the fun parts are over. Your motivation is at its lowest, the work is the least interesting it’s been so far, and your noticeable progress has slowed to a crawl. You find yourself with a solid, but definitely half-finished game, and it feels like it will never be any more than that.

Depressing, huh? Let’s find out how to avoid letting your game succumb to this fate!

 

webcamp-2016-pm-bpa-rd-17-638

“The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.” – Tom Cargill, Bell Labs

The Ninety-Ninety Rule

 

The ninety-ninety rule is a saying that describes a lot of the difficulties associated with software development. It works on two levels, both of which are relevant here.

First, the shrewd reader will notice that the total development time in the quote adds up to 180%. This, of course, cannot be true in a literal sense; rather, this is a reference to the fact that estimates of development time for a project are almost always woefully low. If this is to be believed, then these projects take almost twice as long as estimated! In my experience, this is very accurate.

Secondly, we can look at the values used above. We see that the last ten percent of the code accounts for just as much time as the first ninety percent! While this seems nonsensical, it is perfectly true. Anyone who has made it 90% of the way through a software project can attest that the last 10% always drags on and on. When developing Where Shadows Slumber, for instance, I found myself with a game in which every core game mechanic was completely developed within 10 months of starting! And yet here we are, nearly two years into development, and the game is still not complete (and not just because I’ve been slacking off this whole time).

The ninety-ninety rules helps explain why we start to feel so depressed as we reach what appears to be the 90% mark of our game. We feel like our game is almost done, and it’s taken just as much time as expected – awesome, we should be done in a few more weeks! What we don’t realize is that we’re really only halfway done. Since we don’t realize that fact, we don’t understand why our expected release date has came and gone. We missed our deadline, our project is dragging on, we aren’t really enjoying the work anymore, and we still don’t understand why the last 10% of the work is taking forever. With all of these things weighing down on us, it’s understandable when we start to lose faith in our game.

So, now that we understand some of the reasons behind this phenomenon, lets look at some ways to deal with it.

 

climbing_2651239b

 

Set Realistic Expectations

A big part of the problem is feeling like you’re falling short of what you should be doing. The problem, however, isn’t with your work – it’s with your expectations. While you may be falling behind the schedule you set for yourself, you’re actually right on track – with the actual schedule for the game.

I’ve worked on a lot of software projects, and I would estimate that only around one in a hundred are actually completed by the original deadline. These types of projects are simply hard to estimate, and often take much longer than you would think. That’s why, whenever I have to estimate the time for a task, I always take my best, most realistic guess. And then I double it. Even after all this time, my best guess falls far short of reality, and the doubled timeline is far more accurate.

In addition to schedule expectations, this tip also applies to your game itself. If you start your one-man project, aiming to create the best MMORPG the world has ever seen, of course you’re going to fall short! You have to decide what you can reasonably accomplish, and at what level of quality, and then aim for that. If your game is starting to look like your goal, you’ll be much more motivated than if your goal is a perfect game that you’ll never be able to make.

 

Avoid Distractions

let_go

Credit: xkcd.com

I’ve spent a lot of time doing a lot of fun activities – game jams, NaNoWriMo, Ludum Dares, etc. But, since we started the development of Where Shadows Slumber, I have refrained from participating in any of them. It’s not that I no longer enjoy these things, it’s simply that I want to avoid distractions.

As you work on your game, you feel less and less excited about it – it’s only natural. This loss of excitement can be very dangerous to your game. Other projects are still out there, and they probably still seem very exciting to you. But it’s a slippery slope; it’s all too easy to take a few days off for a game jam, then you take a week off for something else, and before you know it, you’ve put your game on hold so that you can spend a few months working on a prototype for a new game. Betrayal!

I find the best way to avoid letting other things take over is to avoid those other things altogether. Perhaps some of you with stronger willpower or more time might be able to risk it a bit more, but be careful – it really is a slippery slope.

On the other hand, you don’t want to take this too far. Getting burnt out is very easy to do, especially when you’re spending a lot of time on a game. Sometimes I’ll sit down at my computer with the intention to work on Where Shadows Slumber, stare dejectedly at the screen for a few seconds, and then boot up StarCraft instead. If other game jams are your StarCraft, then go for it. As long as you’re continuing to work on your real game, and you don’t spend too much time on other things, it’s healthy to give yourself the night (or the weekend) off every once in a while.

 

Calendar with pushpins

 

Scheduling

This tip is something that I simply stumbled upon, but it has proven very helpful in forcing myself to work on Where Shadows Slumber. A year or so ago, I got a new job. My body still wakes me up by 8 am, but I don’t have to leave for work until 9:30 am! Woe is me!

This was actually an awesome development. Previously, I would work on my game whenever I could find the time – an hour here, twenty minutes there, etc. Now, I have an hour and a half every morning with nothing else to do. That time has become game-time; now I work on Where Shadows Slumber every morning for an hour or so.

One of the hardest parts of game development when you have a ‘day job’ is getting consistent time to work on it. I’m pretty fortunate in that the time I need was basically forced on me, but the principle holds. Find a schedule that works for you, and set that time aside as game-time. Don’t let anything else cut into that scheduled time – after all, it’s already booked! Whether it’s thirty minutes every Saturday morning, or two hours every night, blocking off a chunk of time for game development work will help you make consistent progress on your game.

 

Buckle Down

My last tip is less of an actionable item, and more of a mindset. There will be times when you sit down to work on your game, and you find that you simply do not want to. This happens, is perfectly normal, and is nothing to be worried about. As I mentioned earlier, when this happens to you, it’s absolutely fine for you to just take the night off and do something relaxing.

However… If you take a night off every once in a while, it’s fine. If you find yourself taking off multiple nights every week, you might be in a bit more trouble. Sometimes you don’t want to work on your game, but you have to anyways. You have to sit down, open up your game, and force yourself to work on it. If you never push your game forward, you’ll never get it into a spot where you want to work on it, and it will stagnate. This is an opportunity for your game to die, and you don’t want that to happen.

 


 

There you have it! These are my four biggest tips for staying motivated and continuing your game’s development. There’s obviously a lot more to keep in mind, and a lot of stuff I mentioned that’s hard to do, but I hope you’re able to put some of this to good use, and I wish you all successful, completed games!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

As always, let us know if you have any questions or feedback! You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, 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.

Make Mr. Game! Great Again

Hey everyone — Frank DiCola here, creator and current publisher of Mr. Game! I’m about to get on a plane to head to San Antonio, TX for PAX South and I wanted to jot down a few ideas that were buzzing around in my head.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering two things:

  • How many Donald Trump references will there be in this blog post?
  • What is the plan for Mr. Game! in 2017?

The answer to the first one is easy: 1. One reference, and that’s all. I promise!

The answer to the second one is a bit more complicated, and serves as the subject for this blog post.

 

 

05

Mr. Game! is Already Great, Right?

There are two ways to look at Mr. Game! – optimistically and pessimistically. On the bright side, a completely unknown group of college kids came together in 2013 and created a board game. Through the magic of Kickstarter, we raised over $17,000 in 2015 and manufactured copies of Mr. Game! that could be shared with the world.

That’s pretty awesome… but it isn’t unique. Part of growing up is realizing that although you’re a unique snowflake, it’s also the dead of winter in the middle of a blizzard. You are constantly surrounded by other unique snowflakes, and from far away they all look pretty much the same. There are a ton of board games funded through Kickstarter, and they are just a subset of the approximately 800 tabletop games and expansions that are released every month.

The pessimistic view of Mr. Game! is that our Kickstarter didn’t cover all the expenses related to publishing a game. Because of this, a lot of my own personal money has gone into promoting the game… so much that even if all of the games sold, I wouldn’t make my money back. (Forget about even making a profit!) Running low on money means that I can only go to certain conventions, and I can’t do as many Internet ads. It’s a downward spiral.

Mr. Game! may have started out great, but its less-than-stellar sales record doesn’t make it an appealing target for publishers. Combined with the fact that there is still inventory from the initial Kickstarter run to sell off, the game is in serious need of a great-again strategy.

 

20160917_175500

When EVERYBODY bumps into each other and falls over, it’s less embarrassing.

Two Possible Expansion Packs

 

If you’ve spoken to me in the past few months, or if you’ve been paying attention on social media, you are probably aware that I am designing an expansion pack to Mr. Game!

Two, actually. Since the summer of 2016, I’ve been spinning my wheels about adding a bundle of cards to the game. Tentatively titled “Mr. Trolling!” and “Mr. Strategy!”, these expansions would simply be tiny foil packages of 25 – 40 cards each, designed to be shuffled into the main deck of the base game.

Is your game too chaotic, and players feel like they can’t make any decisions? Add in “Mr. Strategy!”, which has plenty of Badges that you can use to plan your great escape.

Is your game too dull? Figured out all the best interpretations for every rule? Add in “Mr. Trolling!”, which has ridiculous cards and effects that will leave even the best Mr. Games at a loss for words.

That’s the plan, anyway. Two expansions at once is probably a stupid idea, but I just had too many good ideas for cards. If you’ve got a good idea for a card, you should stop reading and submit it to the website, already! If I’m going to consider it for an expansion, I’ll add a prototype version to the official Facebook album.

 

20160611_173124.jpg

Just make sure you don’t lie about the size of your crowd…

Bringing A Crowd To Kickstarter

Before I do any kind of expansion to Mr. Game!, it’s important to first check off a few boxes. I have no interest in running a Kickstarter campaign that just barely scrapes by at the end. That won’t make a profit, and it won’t help the future of the game. It will just create another hole that I need to spend a year digging myself out of.

There’s a good expression when it comes to crowdfunding: You bring your own crowd to Kickstarter. That means that the 30 days of a campaign are not meant to grow your audience, but rather you should mobilize an existing group towards a specific end. Since that’s the case, I intend to hit the following social goals before I even consider launching a second Kickstarter for Mr. Game! See the image below:

GreatAgainSocialGoals-01.png

The status of the Pre-Kickstarter Social Media Goal project as of January 26th, 2017

Pre-Kickstarter Social Media Goals

  1. 1000 ‘Likes’ on the official Facebook Page
  2. 200 individual ratings on Board Game Geek, overall average rating of 7.5
  3. 100 Subscribers to the Game Revenant YouTube channel
  4. 50 Reviews on Steam, overall average Positive rating

Now you might be saying to yourself at this moment “Frank, don’t bother measuring numbers like this on social media – they mean nothing!” I agree, and that’s why the numbers are intentionally pretty high. Achieving these goals would represent a huge departure from the audience Mr. Game! has currently, even if some people end up being ‘duds’ who do not engage on social media. A larger audience means a bigger network of friends and family who will support the game, back the Kickstarter, and ensure the expansion “sells through” at a fast pace.

This is the way to make Mr. Game! great again, but I can’t do it alone! In fact, I can’t do it at all. In order to make these expansions happen, I need people in the community to take a few minutes out of their day and do me a serious favor.

The Facebook Page is the main social media hub of Mr. Game!, so if you haven’t invited your friends and family to Like it yet, do it! Play the game with them first. Show them this blog post. Then ask them to Like it and follow along. (You should Like it too!) Small businesses can’t succeed in a vacuum – it’s essential to have a dedicated fan base!

Board Game Geek is a very strange website, but immensely popular. Navigating it is a pain, but if you review the game on that site you’ll strike a serious blow against the Board Game Establishment. (Well, not really… but if you like to think of it that way then I won’t stop you.) Please make a BGG account, give the game a positive review, and tell people about your experience with the game.

The YouTube Channel is a bit of a new venture and could use a boost. It’s going to be the main hub for every game I create from now on. Gotta start somewhere!

Steam is currently hosting Tabletop Simulator and the Mr. Game! Downloadable Content bundle, but sales could be better. Solid reviews from people who own the game would really help out! Tell people about your experiences with both the digital and physical versions, perhaps highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each.

 

cancer-threat-mobile-phone-use-real_16

If this overlapping mob of early 2000’s phones can do it, so can you.

 

Contact Me Directly

I think that’s enough navel-gazing for one blog post. But there is one more thing – if you have an idea for how I should promote Mr. Game! and my business, reach out! Message me on Facebook. Tweet me @Yoshgunn, the official Mr. Game! account @WhoIsMrGame, and my studio @GameRevenant. Email me using contact@GameRevenant.com if you feel it’s something best discussed in private.

I’m very new at this and I’m taking any and all suggestions into consideration. So, if you’ve ever thought to yourself…

  • Why wasn’t Mr. Game! at [insert show name here]?
  • There should be a video about [topic] on the YouTube channel…
  • Frank should post about [topic] instead of [other topic]!
  • Mr. Game! should be available at [insert store name here], why isn’t it?

That means you should contact me directly and tell me that! I won’t criticize your ideas or call you stupid. In fact, my reaction will probably be “oh man, why didn’t I think of that a year ago!?” and I will be forever grateful for the advice. As my friend Jack Kelly wrote about earlier this week in his blog about adversity, constructive criticism is the key to success.

So get out there, tell the world about Mr. Game!, and let’s get ready to (maybe) do a Kickstarter for this thing at some undisclosed point in the future! Wooo!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

I’m going to need your help if we’re going to make a successful Mr. Game! Expansion Pack Kickstarter happen. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback! The game’s official website is WhoIsMrGame.com, where you can purchase a copy for yourself.

Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the creator of Mr. Game!

Where Shadows Slumber: Adversity

FRIEND. Hey Jack, what’s up? You’re usually up to something interesting – are you working on anything right now?

JACK. Hey man – yeah, we just started working on a mobile puzzle game based on shadows! Basically-

FRIEND. Mobile? People are still doing that? I thought that mobile gaming was over [and anyone who decides to make a mobile game is a complete idiot!]”

 


 

I don’t think I quoted the above conversation exactly right, but I will say that it is exactly what you do hear as a game developer when these types of conversations occur. Deciding to go into indie game development can be a big risk, and while these conversations are important, they really aren’t that much fun.

In this post I’m going to delve into the concept of adversity and how to deal with it. This will be the first in a three-part series of blogs, all about staying focused and productive.

 

Dealing With Criticism

Criticism is one of the most important aspects of game development, especially for indies. You need to know what people don’t like about your game, so that you can fix it. As such, people tend to be very forthcoming with their criticisms.

However, after endless hours of hard work, it’s easy for a developer to have trouble dealing with criticism. And it’s easy for a friend, intending to offer constructive criticism, to end up simply insulting or demotivating a developer.

Throughout the development of a game, us developers put a lot of thought and work into creating something we can be proud of. When someone else picks apart our creation, we often wonder – why does everyone make sure that us developers find out everything they dislike about our game?

Game development is a field that lives and dies by the opinions of players. The best way to find out what you need to change about your game is to ask your audience. And the best way for a gamer to ensure that a game ends up being good is to tell the developers what they don’t like. This relationship is a very good one, so don’t take it for granted.

 

Types of Adversity

How can game developers prepare to deal with adversity? By knowing what to expect.

Handling Detractors

 

grongus

This was an early review of the Where Shadows Slumber demo for Android.

This is the most obvious type of adversity, and the type we have come to expect. No matter how awesome your game is, there will always be people who simply do not like it, and you will always hear from them. Something about your game is not good enough for them, whether it’s too short, or the graphics aren’t good enough, or the gameplay is too simple.

“You game is a big ol’ stupid!”

– Some dude who hates your game

The best way to deal with this type of adversity is to learn what you can from it, and then to let it go. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to please everyone. You game may be made for many different people to enjoy, but you still have a target audience, and a lot of people will fall outside of that audience. If you focus too much on trying to please every person who says something bad about your game, you’ll just drive yourself crazy. Just accept that this person will probably never love your game, and continue trying to make it the best it can be for those people who will enjoy playing it.

 

Handling Constructive Criticism

img_2738

(Above) The  incorrect way to respond to constructive criticism.

Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of the indie gaming community, and any developer who really wants to do well is always on the lookout for it. Constructive criticism tells you what parts of your game need improvement, and it comes directly from the mouth of your target audience.

This is a very important point – I can’t tell you how many times we implemented a feature that we thought would be cool, only to find that our fans didn’t like it. Sometimes you make the wrong decision (especially when working in a small team), and constructive criticism helps you find out what things you need to change before it’s too late.

“Tell us what you hate about our game. We have thick skin, we can take it!”

– Frank, at every convention we go to

This is the easiest type of adversity to deal with, since we are constantly seeking it. This person likes your game, and they’re just trying to make it better, so they can enjoy it even more! The most important thing about constructive criticism is to always be ready for it, and to always listen to and learn from it. The player told you exactly what they want – try to give it to them!

 

Handling Friends Who Are Trying To Help

“You can do this, but to be more accurate, you probably can’t.”         – Barney Stinson

The third type of adversity I’ll talk about today is one that I wouldn’t really have expected, when I first went into game development, and is the main reason that I decided to write about this topic. That is the adversity that you receive from your friends.

“But wait, didn’t we just talk about that? Your friends are giving you constructive criticism, right?”

Yes, your friends are often a good source of constructive criticism. Maybe my friends are just the worst, but I’ve also noticed another, more sinister type of criticism.

“I’m only saying this because I care about you – you are literally the worst.”

– Your ‘friends’

Your friends love you, and having them in your life is awesome. However, they don’t always share your passions, specifically about game development. Many of them might think that you’re getting your hopes up and stressing yourself out for no reason. Maybe you don’t spend as much time with them as you used to. Maybe they’re just jealous of how awesome your game is. Whatever the reason, they’ll probably let you know.

I’ve heard a lot of different comments, but most of them begin with some form of “I’m saying this because I care about you…” This is the ultimate way a friend will disguise a negative comment. A lot of times you’ll hear something like “You know your game isn’t going to take off, right? I just don’t want you to get your hopes up,” or “Why are you wasting so much time on that – I mean, it’s just a hobby, right?”

Perhaps they are saying it because they care about you, and perhaps they mean well. Game development requires a lot of motivation and momentum, and hearing these things from the people who most care about you can be very disheartening. Sometimes you need to hear these things, but if you’re simply committed to creating something you can be proud of, you don’t need that kind of demotivation.

So how do we best deal with this type of adversity? To be honest, I wish I knew. The easier strategy is to simply nod along with them – “yeah, I know my game isn’t that great, but it’s a fun hobby.” This doesn’t seem fair to you, as you’ve put a lot of work into your game, but it’ll get them off your back. The other strategy is to explain to them that you’re doing everything you can to make this game a success. You’re putting a lot of work into it, and you would appreciate their support. If they have any constructive feedback, you would love to hear it.

Honestly, I think the second strategy is probably better, but as an introverted developer, I find myself utilizing the first more often. This is something I’m working on, but I think this is the type of adversity that is the most difficult to overcome. If you have any tips or thoughts about this one, we would love to hear from you!

 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Hopefully this post gives you a little bit of insight into some of the types of adversity you will most likely see as a game developer, and how to deal with them. Next time I’m going to discuss another topic that I find plagues me and many other game developers: staying motivated.

Until then, let us know if you have any questions or feedback! As always, you can find out more about the game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, 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.