Indies: You Are Your Game

Hello, everyone!

This is Frank DiCola of Game Revenant, here with another post on our blog. Typically we use this space to chronicle the development of Where Shadows Slumber, a mobile puzzle adventure coming to iOS and Android later this year. However, this week things will be different. We’re going to take some time to brag about how great we are, both as game developers and as Renaissance men.

Yes, you read that correctly. This blog is about the personal skills that accompany independent game development, and why we have them and you don’t.

We’ll get a chance to talk about how Jack and I first met, the importance of acting and public speaking classes, and how indies become inseparable from their games.

 

36156_1508785207492_3110837_n

FRANK: “Where are my EGGS???” / JACK: “Here, here are your EGGS!!”

Where It All Began – Off Center

This blog post is a good opportunity to answer some questions that people ask us.

How did you meet? Did you always know you wanted to work on games?

Jack and I both went to Stevens Institute of Technology, graduating just a few years apart. We actually met in the comedy troupe known as “Off Center” (pronounced “off-chenter”) that performed sketch comedy and improv shows. I had just gotten rejected from the main stage fall play Noises Off, which was a new experience for me. Coming from high school, I was used to being the big fish in a small pond. I felt really confused, and Off Center was there for me. I started going to their show planning meetings.

The club focused on running short, free comedy shows twice a semester. They would usually be in the largest lecture hall we could find on campus. It wasn’t exactly a stage, since the seats were raised in an amphitheater style. It was more like a Colosseum.

I remember being really impressed during the meeting where we were casting everyone into the various sketches for the show. Jack took on like, 12 roles or something insane. Just because the show needed him! His stage presence was (and is) undeniable as well. Whenever the director told people they needed to be louder, they would just say “try to be as loud as Jack.”

Of course, we didn’t realize we both wanted to make video games until we found ourselves in an Intro to Game Design class a few years later. By then, we were already friends. But we’re not here to talk about game development. Let’s talk about the skills acting provides and why you, an indie developer, absolutely need them.

 

20171025_140828

The Only Thing You Have To Fear Is Public Speaking

You never know when opportunity is going to strike. Often times, as an indie developer, you’ll be given the rare chance to “pitch” your game to someone important. It could be a potential publisher who doesn’t have time to play your demo but can spare 30 seconds to hear a quick description. Maybe it’s a spur of the moment pitching contest, like the one I got 3rd place in at GDC last year, where you have to come up with a verbal presentation with no prep time and deliver it five times in a crowded bar. Heaven forbid, it could be an actual stage presentation where you need to pitch your game in front of an actual audience with nothing but your own PowerPoint presentation to save you.

Are your palms getting sweaty yet? Now imagine you’re at a booth at a show like PAX East demonstrating your game. About a hundred people will walk by the booth every hour. Do you have what it takes to attract them to your game? Could you handle talking to that many strangers for such a long period of time?

If these “opportunities” feel more like nightmares, you aren’t alone. Public speaking is something that people rarely get to experience for themselves. As a result, when you’re “put on the spot”, you panic. It’s perfectly normal. Public speaking is a skill you have not honed, and now you need to do it for the first time ever in front of a real audience?! No fair!

The skills you need for the examples above are all things that Jack and I exposed ourselves to during the Off Center years. After performing more than 15 shows over the course of a few years, with a few main-stage productions thrown in there, you get the hang of it. You learn how to:

  • Speak slowly, confidently, and audibly
  • Be comfortable making up a script and then deviating from it if necessary
  • Say what you need to say without going over the time allotted
  • Communicate your message non-verbally with your body

It’s normal to be afraid of acting in a play, giving a speech, or improvising a scene. But as independent developers, you are the public face of your game! Like it or not, there’s no one else that can wear this marketing hat for you. You have to do it. And you can’t ignore important opportunities to win prizes or glory just because you neglected to put points into your Speechcraft skill. Should your game really suffer because you never learned how to project your voice? What if the future of your game depended on knowing what to do with your hands while you stand up on stage nervously? (Hint: don’t put them in your pockets)

 

blog-upright-citizens-brigade

We live right near Manhattan, where the UCB has a few teaching theaters.

3 Ways To Level Your Speechcraft Skill

Let’s get nerdy for a moment. Imagine this is nothing more than a role-playing game like Morrowind, and you’re a character with various skills and abilities. You have a Speechcraft skill, but it’s low. Very low. High enough that you can talk to your friends and family, but not much higher than that. You’re super nervous for the first 10 minutes you’re with a stranger, such as on a job interview. As for getting up on a stage and talking to a crowd, you’re level restricted from even trying that. What do you do?

If you were trying to level your Sword skill, you’d take fencing classes. If you wanted to level Lockpicking, you’d probably join a hobbyist group of (ethical) lockpicks who have a passion for locks and love to crack them for fun. To level your Speechcraft in real life, you need to make an actual plan to expose yourself to public speaking. It won’t just happen on its own. This is a skill, after all. Skills don’t just magically level with no effort on your part. Here are three things you can do:

Join the club: If you’re still in high school or college, I really encourage you to try out for the play or join any kind of drama club your school has. Larger schools may have a wide range of acting stuff – the most helpful thing will be improv. Improvisation is a school of comedy where the actors go on stage without a script and make everything up on the spot. You don’t need to learn how to be a hilarious comedian. What you need is the ability to go out on stage without a plan and do more than just survive — thrive!

Join a community theater: If you’re out of school, it would be weird to hang around your school like a weirdo. I would never do that. <_< So instead, see if your town has a local theater that puts on a few plays a year. Don’t worry about the competition, just audition and see what happens. Remember, you’re not training for Broadway. You just need to become a competent enough speaker to feel comfortable in your own skin.

Take improv classes: This one will cost money, but if you live near a city (especially a hip cool city where all the people are hip and cool and do hip, cool things) you should be able to find a comedy club that also offers classes. The best part about doing this is that they’ll treat you like a beginner instead of expecting you to already be good. Some of these classes also do shows at the end as a final exam / graduation. It’s a good way to test your skill. After all, if you can make up a bunch of silly jokes, you can certainly talk about something you know very well – your game!

 


 

The next time I see you at a convention, you better look me in the eye and shake my hand! Then, you better beat me for first prize in the game pitching contest.

See you in the Colosseum.

 

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

Get out there and start acting! If you have any other questions about Where Shadows Slumber, feel free to contact us! You can always find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

Drive

If there’s one thing an indie game developer needs, it’s drive. The competition is fierce, the process is difficult, and we even have to deal with our day jobs on top of everything else.

In order to get our games to market successfully, we have to do a lot of stuff right, make a lot of difficult decisions, and put in a lot of hard work. In order to accomplish any of these things, the first thing you need is the urge to make a game, the drive to make your dream become a reality. But what exactly is drive?

Drive
drīv
noun
  1. an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need.

Drive is the internal force you feel that causes you to create something. Drive is forcing yourself out of bed hours before you have to get to work, just for a chance to work on your game. Drive is spending the evening testing the performance of your pathfinding algorithm rather than playing Rocket League. Drive is a lot of things, but I think of it as three core parts:

  • The urge to work on a project, including the confidence that it will succeed – This is where drive starts. It’s impossible to follow any large project through to the end if you don’t care about it and believe in it.
  • The dedication to work on your project, despite any sacrifices you might have to make – This is how drive shows itself, and is the trait most associated with the term. When you want to complete something badly enough, you force yourself to work on it, even (and especially) when you don’t want to.
  • The willingness and ability to make difficult decisions about your project – This is less often associated with drive, but I think it’s perhaps the most important point. Choosing to trim features or making an irreversible development decision is very difficult, but it has to be done. Your project will suffer if you don’t make decisions, and you have to understand and embrace that.

I’ve seen a lot of indie game development projects suffer due to a lack of drive. The most obvious ones are the games that were never finished because development petered out. Slightly less obvious are the games that take over half a decade to develop because the developers aren’t willing to sacrifice parts of their games, or the games that do come out, but are a little lackluster because of prioritization and decision-making issues. I even know quite a few people who are much more qualified to make a game, but simply haven’t felt the drive to do so.

Frank and I, fortunately, do have a good bit of drive, and we’ve been very careful to get as much use out of it as possible. At the beginning of 2017, we had picked an internal target release date of March 15, 2018, and I’m pretty proud to say that, up until about two months ago, we were on target to meet that date.

Unfortunately, no amount of drive can get you through everything.

 


 

So What Happened?

A few months ago, my fiancée, Molly, went to see a doctor about a lump she had felt in her neck. Long story short, she was diagnosed with cancer this past November. I won’t go into all the details here (if you want to find out more, you can read her blog about the experience here), but suffice it to say that it’s really turned our lives upside down.

chemo

“In sickness and in health”

It’s pretty difficult for me to think of myself as “lucky” in any sense right now, but I know that things could have been much worse – we caught it early enough that it’s still curable. She is currently halfway through her four months of chemotherapy, which means she should be cured by the end of March.

While it’s not as bad as it could be, it’s definitely not good. Molly is the most important thing in my life, Where Shadows Slumber included, and I will continue to do everything I can for her. She has been endlessly supportive of the development of WSS, despite how much time I commit to it, and I intend to be just as supportive of her. Unfortunately, on account of my already-busy schedule, that means some things are going to suffer.

 

Development-Hell

Development shot of the first Level of the Jail.

What This Means for Where Shadows Slumber

If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I haven’t been contributing as much as usual – Frank has stepped up and kept the blog posts flowing. However, what you most likely haven’t noticed is how little I’ve been able to contribute to the project itself. This trend will continue through the end of March – I’ll still be working on WSS as much as possible, but that amount will be far less than it has been over the past two years.

gitcontributions

Cancer and Commits are inversely proportional

What this means is that our targeted March 15 release date is no longer feasible, and we’re in a position where we have decided to push the release date back a few months. We still don’t have a public release date, but you should know that we will be releasing in Quarter 2 of this year rather than Quarter 1.

While this is the biggest concrete reason to push back the release date, to be honest, everyone on the team is breathing a sigh of relief. We are all very determined to finish this project in a timely fashion, and we all have the necessary drive to do so, but we also know that the extra time will help us to make Where Shadows Slumber the best that it can be. I know Frank wanted more time to work on polishing up the art, Noah and Alba mentioned that they could implement some cool sound stuff if we had more time, and I could definitely afford to put more work into optimization.

 

Development-Snow

Development shot of one of the Levels in the Summit.

 

Moving Forward

Despite all of this, I still have the drive to finish Where Shadows Slumber. Aside from the shift in timeline, our plans for the game haven’t changed, and our goals seem as achievable as ever. Hopefully, come April, this will all be behind us, and the glorious future of Where Shadows Slumber will be the next thing on the horizon.

 

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

If you have any questions about our timeline and how it has changed, or if you have any other questions about Where Shadows Slumber, feel free to contact us! You can always find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, find us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, join the Game Revenant Discord, and feel free to email us directly with any questions or feedback at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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