I wanted to take a break from the usual Where Shadows Slumber news to talk about an exciting opportunity I discovered through Playcrafting. Verizon and the NFL have teamed up to challenge game developers across the country to create an awesome mobile experience that uses the new 5G Network. I’ll let them do the talking here:
Verizon has partnered with the NFL to re-think mobile gaming in a 5G world. That’s why we’re searching for the next big idea for a football-themed mobile game that leverages the power of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband.
The Winning teams will be awarded $400,000 to develop a game that will debut at Super Bowl LIV events.
5G infrastructure will take gaming to a whole new level. The high bandwidth and low latency of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband will enable technologies like cloud gaming, multiplayer experiences with ultra-low latency, and more.
On Sunday I submitted on behalf of Game Revenant to create a game called NFL Halftime Blitz. In this proposed game, you are a football fan who is trying to push through the Super Bowl crowds in order to get your favorite snacks before halftime ends. Dan Butchko of Playcrafting was kind enough to help me with the submission even though he was also dealing with his massive game convention in New York City this weekend, PLAY NYC. Thanks, Dan!
Sometime by next week, I think I’ll know whether or not this proposal was accepted into the next round. If it’s accepted, Verizon will host Game Revenant (as well as the other finalists) at a paid game jam in the Verizon 5G Lab. From there, I’ll have to prototype the game over the weekend in order to impress the judges. Only the best game prototype can win, receiving $400,000 to develop the game in advance of its launch at the Super Bowl.
Whether or not I make it past the pitching round, I had fun designing something so zany, i with a bunch of really specific constraints. That’s the best way come up with truly awesome ideas, whether you’re talking about games or some other form of art. Good luck to all of my competitors, especially those that make it to the next round!
After PAX East this year, Jack and I spent the entire car ride taking a critical look at our game based on the feedback we received. It may seem weird to continue iteration on a game that’s already been released, but we wanted to make the game as perfect as possible before it heads to new platforms later this year.
Many of these changes are substantial – altering the solutions to puzzles, the artwork, and even the order in which you solve puzzles. Some changes are so small you wouldn’t notice unless I told you, which is precisely the point of this post!
Here’s all the changes you can expect in the latest patch, which we hope will go live sometime early next week:
10 Artistic Changes
Some of the design problems with Where Shadows Slumber are actually just bad artistic cues – which is to say, these are things I made that looked cool to me but ended up communicating the wrong ideas to our players.
Most of these fixes are focused on the beginning of the game, since that’s the “make or break” period for gamers. If players aren’t impressed after the first five minutes, or the game is frustrating, we’re destined for a 1-star review. So here’s a visual walk-through of all of these changes, with the old versions on the left and the new versions on the right.
The Forest Levels
Forest Level 2, “Bridge”
This is the player’s first interaction with the design pattern we use for Draggable objects, but sadly it’s on two Non-Draggable objects that appear Draggable. (The ancient, crumbling bridges in the water) We decided to cover them with moss so they don’t look interactable.
The Jail Levels
Jail Level 1, “Light”
Before we changed this puzzle, it was very difficult for players to tell when the bridge was being repaired by the shadow. Now the bridge is much longer, which gives you more space to explore and see what the shadow is doing to the bridge.
Jail Level 3, “Lock”
This Level badly needed clarity and simplification. My earlier attempt at color-coding the different gaps in the bridge with really dark, indistinguishable colors and incredibly small little gemstones did not work. The new version has bold colors, big pieces that still connect the bridge even when it’s broken, and one fewer draggable light source.
Jail Level 5, “Pressure”
Similar to the puzzle I just mentioned above, 1-5 needed a lot of color to clarify what’s going on with different shadows affecting different objects. I like how it turned out!
The River Levels
River Level 1, “Docks”
The corner of the land mass above is not traversable. As you can see in the old version, it’s not clear that there’s a gap in the walkway. (We put a gap there because we only want players to see this shadow illusion in a specific way) This fix makes the gap more obvious.
This Draggable raft was giving players a lot of trouble, too. The square pieces are halfway into the water, so it’s not obvious that you can drag them. We want to try the new design, where the Draggable squares lie on top of the surface so they’re visible.
River Level 3, “Guide”
This Level featured a large tree that had some kind of light inside of it, and you could close the shutter to hide the light. This shadow was used to change the bridge in the center. Ultimately, this puzzle had too many elements going on in it. We can keep the same design without requiring players to figure out what’s going on with the tree.
River Level 4, “Ebb”
The shadow-casting wall in this Level is really big now, because it was awkward how you could shine your light as you walked down the steps here. Some people accidentally solved the puzzle on their way down the staircase!
The Hills Levels
Hills Level 5, “Rest”
This Level received a huge change, as well as numerous small ones. The most noticeable change is that the center island is no longer one big draggable, but instead is a platform with a draggable pillar on it that slides freely. We feel that this will allow players to more easily solve the puzzle, though the solution remains the same. There are also a bunch of small changes to where pillars come up to stop you along your path.
The Summit Levels
Summit Level 2, “Blind”
This one is super subtle. Can you see it? We added some footsteps for the invisible ghostly Knight who is patrolling around inside the shadow realm. (If you’ve never played the game before, I’m sure that made no sense at all.) We hope this helps players determine where he is as they try to solve this difficult puzzle!
Six Design Changes
Not everything we’re changing in this patch has to do with artwork. One of the largest changes is really subtle – you’d only notice it if you played the game a lot. New players would never even realize what we did.
These changes were made based on lots of user feedback with the final product, as well as in preparation for a future version of Where Shadows Slumber that’s free to download and has paywalls interspersed. Here are six non-aesthetic changes happening in Patch 1.0.10…
No More Riding Draggables
The largest change, and one that spawned a whole bunch of other changes, is a clarification to the way draggable objects work. Obe can no longer stand on these while they move, so a few puzzles had to be updated. Now you’ll always see the image above when Obe is standing on a draggable bridge, and we hope this is less confusing.
Forest Level 3, “Monolith”
The draggable pillar now begins raised out of the water instead of submerged. We felt like it was not obvious that it could be dragged, since it was so well hidden by the rock and moss.
World 1 Order of Levels
We’re rearranging this World in order to make the introduced mechanics flow better. (The actual screen won’t look as it does on the right, that’s just a diagram I made to show you how the puzzles are moving around.) The previous section used the old World 1 numbers.
River Level 3, “Guide”
In this Level, you used raised walls to cast shadows on the center bridge. This involved “dipping” the center in shadow briefly either by letting the walls go up and down, or by walking Obe in and out of the corner to see the change. In the end, it was a relic of a way shadows used to work very early on in the game’s history. We eventually changed the walls into pillars you can walk around, to be more consistent with the rest of the game.
Title on Device
We’re changing the build name from Shadows to Where Shadows Slumber. I chose “Shadows” because I knew it would fit nicely on everyone’s phone screens. But it seems like poor branding to have everyone refer to our game as “Shadows” from here to eternity. We also considered “WSS” but that seemed to cryptic. Let me know how it looks on your phone screens!
Paradise Level 5, “Gates”
Last but not least, the most difficult puzzle in the game just got a whole lot less tedious. Now there are doorways to any of the four colors in this puzzle, available from any color area. No need to keep going back to the yellow zone!
Coming Soon To A Phone Near You…
I had hoped to get the patch out already, but there are still some tiny fixes left to do and a lot more testing. But once it’s all ready and this patch is uploaded to the App Store and Google Play, you’ll get a push notification to notify you that it’s been downloaded. Please try it and let us know what you think of the alterations!
I am happy to announce that Where Shadows Slumber has been accepted into the 5th annual Connecticut Festival of Indie Games (CT FIG), which is taking place within ConnectiCon XVII this July! They have an indie showcase of board games and video games that were offered at a discount to those who applied early and submitted the game to their judges. The show is in Hartford, CT next month (July 12th – 14th) at the Connecticut Convention Center.
I’ve never been to ConnectiCon before, but I went to a CT FIG event back in 2016 during the Mr. Game! years and met Jason Miceli of Geek Fever Games. The event was quite small, and very board game focused, but apparently their offerings have expanded to digital games as well! (There’s not many of us, but we’re growing…) I’m glad to hear they have connected with ConnectiCon to reach even more people! I wish Jason the best as they expand the CT FIG brand.
Are you going to be in Washington D.C. next weekend? The Where Shadows Slumber Global Tour™ continues with a trip to AwesomeCon 2019. The lovely organizers of MAGFest’s Indie Videogame Showcase were nice enough to invite us to AwesomeCon once again. Why is it a triumphant return, you ask?
The last time I went to AwesomeCon, our game was still in development. Returning again reminds me of a few blast-from-the-past AwesomeCon moments, like this dorky video I took at the show:
Look at those screenshots! The game was so early in development just two years ago, I can hardly believe it. We were still testing a lot of those designs and none of the art looked good yet.
I hope you enjoy that quick trip down memory lane. If you’re new to the blog, keep reading – our archive is full of embarrassing Where Shadows Slumber history like that.
Most importantly, if you’re going to be in Washington D.C. next weekend, we can’t hang out because you need a badge to get into AwesomeCon. But if you’re at AwesomeCon next weekend, stop by the table and say hello! We have the full version of Where Shadows Slumber for you to play, and you can ask me war stories about the game’s development.
The show was a full week ago, but PAX East seems like yesterday! Jack and I are still exhausted from our travels to Boston, but I didn’t want to let too much time pass without recording our thoughts on the trip.
Day 0: The PREGAMER Show
This year’s PAX began differently than in recent years. I’ve never made it up to Boston a day early for Playcrafting’s PREGAMER party, but I’m glad I went for it this year. (The regular fee was included with our booth) Dan got a bar at the convention center hotel and covered the whole room in indie games! It was a nice way to start the show – essentially like a Spring Play esque Playcrafting event in a different city, the night before PAX East!
Your setup is pretty simple – two bar tables pushed together with a chair for each one, and a power strip behind you. I was next to an adult party card game (similar to Cards Against Humanity) so I don’t think the games are sorted into categories, it’s kind of a free for all. The event had a lot of people in it, but not too much traffic – meaning that I didn’t see too many people at the table as the night went on. Maybe that’s my fault for not bringing my cool Where Shadows Slumber banner? In any event, the people that played it really enjoyed it. One dude even bought it in front of me!
I got to chat with some young developers who are basically where Jack and I were at two years ago – they just graduated college and have a beautiful demo of a promising indie game, with a lot of work ahead of them.
Next year, if you’re going to be in town for PAX anyway, you ought to at least show up to the party before the real convention begins! Also, if you happen to be at PAX but you couldn’t get a booth, this is a nice way to still represent your game and maybe get some media attention before the news storm hits.
Days 1 and 2: Showtime!
When the show began in earnest, I was shocked at how busy the event was from the moment it started. In recent years, Thursday has been a terribly slow day. Almost one of those days that makes you say “man, why does PAX even start on a Thursday anyway?” But this year Thursday felt more like a Friday, which was great!
It’s hard to quantify crowd sizes. Every year, Where Shadows Slumber has been at different spots on the show floor. (PAX East Indie Showcase in 2017, Indie MiniBooth in 2018, now Playcrafting in 2019) You don’t just want “a lot of people at the show”, but rather “a lot of people who come to your table excited about your game, eager to engage.” It would do us no good if 1,000,000 people came to PAX East but only cared about Roblox.
I can’t put it into hard numbers, but we felt busy all through the show. Tons of people remembered the game from last year’s spot at the Indie MiniBooth. A few diehards remembered the demo days, which is always heartening. And we bumped into some old friends from Stevens, too! There’s a suprising amount of them that either live in Boston or make the journey north just for PAX. The more of these shows I do, the more I look forward to just making connections with devs, industry people, journalists and old pals.
Our placement at the Playcrafting booth was perfect, too! We were facing out toward the aisle near a corner, with nothing in front of us. And since we were next to the Bose AR-cade (also run by Dan) we got a lot of spillover traffic from them, too. Jack joined the fun Thursday night, which was just in time, because I was already feeling tired. PAX East is a marathon, not a sprint!
Day 3: How Our Panel Went
Before we even had a booth at PAX East, I took the liberty of submitting a few panel ideas to the show just so we could talk about Where Shadows Slumber. This would be a special PAX, since it’s the first time our game is available on the market for sale instead of just as a demo or beta download. Some of my more selfish ideas didn’t fly, such as an entire 1 hour lecture on the greatness of our game, how beautiful it is, and how handsome the developers are. However, our panel “How Much Do Premium Games Make” was accepted!
It was scheduled for 1:30 pm on Day 3, Saturday. We didn’t get to pick the time, and I wouldn’t normally miss the busiest time of the show to do a panel, but we ended up getting a great crowd! Here’s a shot I took from the podium of them coming in:
The panel was a fantastic success! Jack and I were joined by Dan Butchko of Playcrafting, Kati Nawrocki of Dots, and Adriano Valle of OrcPunk. (Though, to be honest, I know all of them through Playcrafting!) It was a frank and honest conversation about how difficult it is to be a premium indie game in a crowded marketplace. We talked about changes in consumer patterns, and new business models that can appeal to today’s phone gamer. The short version is that free-to-play isn’t just a “good idea” – it’s a requirement on mobile. Or… don’t focus so much on your game making money!
I want to thank our fellow panelists, everyone who came to the panel, those who asked questions, and Matt our theater manager for making the event so successful! We’ve all leveled up and become “game devs who do panels sometimes” which I’m sure is just a few steps from “game devs who are incredibly successful and happy.” So close!
BONUS: I think Night 3 was when we got to try an awesome party bluffing game called Pluck Off! that is still in development. It’s a card game, so don’t expect to see it at too many video game events in the future, but if you can get a print & play it’s totally worth it. (Warning: don’t play with Jack, he’ll destroy your face)
Day 4: An Exhausted Success!
By the time Day 4 rolled around, I had basically checked out and spent most of the day collapsed in a chair in the back of the booth. This ended up being a mistake, as I actually missed a lot of people who planned to stop by the table but hadn’t scheduled a time. (Sorry people!)
We can call the weekend a success though, because we nudged so many people to buy & review our game that it brought our Apple rating up from a 4.4 to a 4.5! This may seem insignificant, but it brings us past the threshold that Apple uses when deciding which games to feature. Some games, like our muse Monument Valley, are featured at least once a week. If we climb the ranks, Apple might give us at least a feature every month. Bring on the Today tab, boys!
I don’t know about Jack, but I’m still recuperating from the weekend. I have no idea how some devs did three shows back to back in March… (This is the SXSW / GDC / PAX East Trifecta, sometimes called March Madness or dying.) I’m hoping to get back on the wagon soon though, because we have a lot of little changes to make to the build in response to your wonderful feedback. Jack and I spent the entirety of our 4 hour drive back to Hoboken planning what we can do in the short & long term to improve Where Shadows Slumber. I’m excited to put the plan into action!
Thank you to everyone who visited our table, bought our game, gave us a review, or attended our panel! You helped make a good PAX great. Wish us luck finding the energy to keep going!
We just teased this at PAX East over the weekend, but now it’s time to make a formal announcement: the Where Shadows Slumber team has been hard at work on an exciting new mobile game, and it’s available as a free download today! Read on for details…
Life Simulators Are All The Rage
Jack and I can be stubborn in our own ways, but everyone has to adapt eventually. We can see the writing on the wall – puzzle games are out, life simulators are in. Why solve cerebral brain puzzles when you could live vicariously through a digital avatar? Why go on a daring adventure when you could play as a character that eats, sleeps, showers, goes to work, and dies of old age?
That’s why our next game is SlumberLife™ – a life simulator based on the deep, specific lore that lies at the heart of Where Shadows Slumber. Starting today, you can embark on your own journey through the eternal nightlands seen in Where Shadows Slumber.
It all begins by customizing your very own character. Choose your biological sex, age, ethnicity, and vague religious affiliation. We hope that choices like the one between “Old” and “Geezer” are compelling decisions for the player!
Since the game is still in development, some options are limited. Check back later for more exciting paths!
Live The Life Of Your Dreams
In SlumberLife™, you can live the life you’ve imagined. But nothing in life is free, so nothing in life simulators should be free either. Whereas most life simulators use money or “gold”, we have Lantern Fuel. Use your hard-earned fuel to pimp out your ponchos, lanterns, and hats!
You collect fuel by working at various jobs. Then, if you work hard enough, you might get an exciting promotion!
Prison Guard (promotes into Prison Warden)
Thief (promotes into Kidnapper)
Ferryman (promotes into Murdered)
Knight (promotes into Corpse)
Walker (promotes into Torch Walker)
Rebel (promotes into King)
Lumberjack (promotes into Tombstone)
…and “many” more!
Everyone needs a place to live. But your character begins as a homeless wanderer, lost in the woods or whatever. Spend that fuel to give him an awesome new home to live in while he wastes away!
Choices include squalor, a swamp cage, a desert hovel, an “abandoned” mountain cottage, a desert palace, a winter fortress, a floating Bermuda house, and more!
Some of the better dwellings cost lots of fuel. Get ready to grind! This isn’t a premium game – it’s going to cost a lot of your time if you want to really get the most of it.
It’s not a life simulator if you can’t make difficult choices as you navigate your strange old person through a shadowy, unforgiving world. Our thrilling menu-based gameplay lets you choose between living a stable life, or doing something funny.
From the menu, select Crimes to make your character do something unhinged. If you weren’t worried about the mental state of the game developers before, you certainly will be once you choose one of these options!
After you play long enough, your character eventually dies!
Our Development Partners
Everyone is thrilled to be working on this game! Just listen to these real testimonials from the crew:
“When Frank told me about this game, I said ‘what?'”
Jack is the lead developer and designer of the original Where Shadows Slumber.
Me too, Jack. Me too!
“This is a real game we’re working on, and this is a real quote.”
Noah is one half of PHÖZ, along with Alba S. Torremocha. They created the beautiful audio of the original Where Shadows Slumber.
Classic Noah right there.
We’re also bringing SlumberLife to the newly announced Apple Arcade! Here’s a confirmation email I can share with you, straight from the source:
But we haven’t even told you the best part yet…
There’s no need to wait before jumping into your new life as a strange old man. You can download the open beta for SlumberLife™right now! (You’ll need to be approved for the TestFlight build if you’re on iOS) Links below:
Even though Where Shadows Slumber launched on iOS nearly six months ago, we’re still making slight improvements and catching small bugs. Did you notice that your game got updated over the past week? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the important changes we made. Jack did all the work here, so this is mostly me just copying things over from GitHub commits…
Level 1-3, “Lock” – Removed Rotatable Casing
This Level caused a lot of players to stop in their tracks, because they didn’t realize the two draggables at the bottom-left of the screen were actually draggable. Those are super weird because they rotate like big airplane propellers – plus, they were encased in rock because I was too lazy to make them come in and out of the lava with a cool effect.
Now you can see them more clearly! I’m still not in love with the look, mostly because of the weird way the shadows interact with the lava. I have some ideas of how to change this Level, but we’ll see if this works for now.
Level 1-4, “Ascent” – Visible Shadowy Doors
Players have always struggled to figure out what’s going on in this Level. I think we even got some bad reviews of the game because of this one! In particular, what’s confusing people here is that we’re using a mechanic for this puzzle that isn’t reintroduced for 21 more Levels! It was too cool to pass up, though. And it’s not exactly the same mechanic.
Anyway, as you can see in the before and after above, the doors in this Level will now glow in shadow to show off that they’ve changed. This fix really improves the Level while still maintaining what we love about it.
Level 2-1, “Docks” – Raft Draggable Size
Players were having trouble recognizing the raft at the bottom of the screen as a draggable, so Jack added a second drag-square to it.
Under The Hood
Here’s some non-visual changes you wouldn’t notice unless you have a keen eye for bugs:
Click Detection – Fixed a bug where if you click on a space, but your movement is interrupted, clicking on that same space will not cause Obe to start walking there.
Disappearing Draggables – If a draggable disappears (due to a shadow) while you are dragging it, it never “stops dragging”. This means that the player’s input would be disabled, if you dragged another draggable, the first one would continue to move, etc.
Walker Pause Time – Walkers will pause for a bit longer on buttons to make puzzle solving easier in select Levels. (2-1, 2-2, 2-5, and 3-2)
As always, let us know if you encounter issues with the game! We’ve got cool news about new platforms coming up in the next few weeks, so stay tuned…