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.

 

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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!

 

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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”.

 

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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:

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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.

 

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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…

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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!

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“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!

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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!

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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?

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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!

 

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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!

 

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“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.

 

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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

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

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

 

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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

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(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!

 

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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.

We’ve Been Selected for the PAX East Indie Showcase!

Game Revenant can now announce that Where Shadows Slumber is one of 5 games selected to be a part of the PAX East Indie Showcase (PEIS) this coming March.

“Each year we showcase a collection of the best indie games you’ve never heard of available on mobile platforms.”

– PAX East Indie Showcase Team

This is fantastic news! The organizers at PAX know how difficult it can be to stand out in today’s saturated mobile market. They’ve decided to highlight our game, as well as four of our peers, in a showcase they refer to as “a collection of the best indie games you’ve never heard of available on mobile platforms.”

We couldn’t agree more. Our game is unknown and the company is obscure (what is a revenant, anyway?) so we really appreciate this chance to shine!

 

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Where Shadows Slumber

Where Shadows Slumber is a brooding puzzle game that takes place in a shadowy, abandoned world. You will aid the main character in his search for redemption – a search that spans numerous worlds and introduces you to a cast of mysterious figures. Who rules this forgotten land? And who will be left once the adventure draws to its inevitable conclusion?

The only tool at your disposal – besides your intellect – is the chaotic nature of the universe. Anything that is not touched by light has the freedom to change. This governing principle will be your guide in the darkness, but also your undoing. After all, if you are not touched by the light, you have the freedom to change as well. What will you become?

The app we’ve released for free online (via the App Store and Google Play) is a short demonstration of the full game’s stunning worlds, mind-bending mechanics, and haunting story. The full game will be released at a later date, to be determined. The game was designed exclusively for mobile phones and tablets.

Stay in touch and receive regular updates from us through the following links:

Website: http://www.WhereShadowsSlumber.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GameRevenant/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GameRevenant

 

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Artist Frank DiCola (left) and developer Jack Kelly (right) talk with fans. Photo credit: Earl Z. Madness / Instagram; studiomadness / Twitter; MadnessEarl / http://www.pixeljournalism.com

Meet The Developers

Where Shadows Slumber is a labor of love created by the two man team of artist Frank DiCola and developer Jack Kelly. The game is being published by DiCola’s studio, Game Revenant.

Frank DiCola is a life-long lover of video games and gamer culture. He credits his love of gaming to spending long hours as a child watching his older brother Paul beat games on the Super Nintendo. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Art & Technology from the Stevens Institute of Technology, as well as a Master’s in Software Engineering. He serves as the lead Sound and Visual developer on Where Shadows Slumber, as well as Chief Marketing Guy.

Jack Kelly is also a video game lover, growing up with computer games like Diablo II and StarCraft: Brood War. He also graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology, with a Bachelor’s in Math and a Master’s in Computer Science. He spends basically all of his free time acting as head (i.e. only) Developer and Designer for Where Shadows Slumber.

Caroline Amaba is a Senior Web Developer, currently hustling at VaynerMedia. She’s a huge nerd, in love with video games, board games, and dungeon-delving. Caroline’s got a B.S. in Computer Science and a B.A. in Art & Technology from Stevens Institute of Technology. She got involved with Where Shadows Slumber when, well, Frank asked. Anything for the games! Follow her on Twitter (@clineamb), Twitch (knilly_line), and Instagram (@clineamb).

 

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PAX East? Never Heard Of It…

The PAX East Indie Showcase is just a part of PAX East, one of many huge shows throughout the year that carries the Penny Arcade brand. PAX East is held in Boston, Massachusetts, which makes it one of the best shows for us to demo at since it’s so close to our native Hoboken in New Jersey. Where Shadows Slumber has not been shown at a PAX event thus far, but I brought Mr. Game! to PAX Prime (now called PAX West) and it was incredible. The PAX shows are always a blast, always packed, and always successful! We’ll be bringing the demo along, as well as some grey-box test levels for you super dedicated fans to try out.

If you have a game that was not accepted, do try again next year. We didn’t give up after Where Shadows Slumber was left out of last year’s IndieCade. (Not to mention all of the times Mr. Game! has been turned down by contests and publishers.) Keep at it, and one day you’ll be writing a press release like this!

Congratulations to the other games that were selected along with Where Shadows Slumber, listed below:

  • Agent A: A Puzzle In Disguise (link)
  • Bulb Boy (link)
  • Ellipsis (link)
  • Tavern Guardians (link)
  • Where Shadows Slumber (link)

Hope to see you at PAX East!

 

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Coming to PAX East 2017? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to meet with you, whether you’re a devoted fan, a member of the press, or a serial killer. Stay tuned for detailed information about where our booth is going to be in the coming weeks.

Frank DiCola is the founder and CEO of Game Revenant, a game studio in Hoboken, NJ.

MAGFest 2017 Rocked!

Jack and I have just returned from a wild weekend at MAGFest 2017, and I have nothing but positive things to say about the experience. Back in late September, we applied for MIVS – the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase. After multiple rounds of judging, we ended up making it all the way! We were one of many indie game studios that were invited to demo our game at MAGFest.

By invited, I do mean invited. One of the best parts of this convention was that there was no booth price for indie developers. Ticket sales from the convention were used to pay our way, and it meant a lot. MAGFest ended up being one of the less expensive shows Game Revenant has done so far… by comparison, my dalliance to Chicago for Mr. Game! cost me a number that rhymes with gour-gousand.

The most valuable part of these events is getting feedback from players. It isn’t always easy to hear constructive criticism from your fans, but it is necessary. (Jack is going to be writing about this subject next week!) We specifically asked people at our booth to give us “tough love” as we near completion of the demo and move on to production. Without hearing some negative feedback, you’ll never escape the indie thought bubble.

“My game is the best game that’s ever been created. My game. Me. Haha… everyone else must be stupid for not making it first. Not me though. Hahaha…”

– The Indie Thought Bubble

So just to show you we’re listening, here’s three big lessons we learned about our game’s demo (which you can download) that we’ll keep in mind as we start final production this month.

 

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A blue-haired tester at MAGFest plays Level 3, “Canyon” on our iPhone.

1. Make The Game More Difficult

Right now, the demo is a bit too easy. This was something 90% of our testers told us. People would marvel at our cool idea, beautiful artwork, immersive sound (for those that could actually hear it in the crowded convention hall) but stop short before discussing the puzzles.

The most common feedback was that it felt like we had 5 or 6 tutorial levels instead of the 3 we were aiming for. Players don’t like feeling “led” by puzzle games, whether that leading is overt (tap HERE to move! HERE! Right over HERE!) or subtle. We’ve got a subtle thing going on right now, where there are too many easy levels in a row. Players find that to be boring.

We vow to make the game physically relaxing, but mentally challenging! Just because the game is supposed to give you a “moment of zen” on your daily commute doesn’t mean it can’t really make you think. Harder levels, and more compact tutorials, are on the way!

 

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The booth got so packed we had to use our phones to demo the game as well!

2. More Narrative Elements

This feedback usually came in the form of a question. “Will there be a story?” It was always a hopeful question, like “I really hope you guys have a story planned.” We would tell people that although the demo won’t have too much (we’re working on a final cutscene for it now) the final game definitely will have a cool story.

Our goal is to tell a story without using words. My passion is animation, and I think body language is an incredibly useful tool for communicating ideas. I don’t think we need dialogue bubbles or text to tell the story of a man’s solitary journey through a dark and strange world. The other reason is because avoiding the use of text will make it easier for our game to launch in other regions where English is not the official language.

So, don’t worry! A story is on the way. Once it arrives, maybe the 18+ rating on the game will seem a bit more obvious…

 

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Jack stares off into the distance, permanently scarred by a two syllable word: Grongus.

3. Rename The Game To…

Not all feedback is good. Sometimes, you need to let criticism go. People gave us lots of good ideas, but of course the constant refrain was to rename the game to Where Shadows Grongus. This won’t happen, so I hesitate to even mention it. However it was requested by about 105% of our testers and it seems dishonest not to say something.

The name of the game is final. It performs well on search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing and DuckDuckGo, just to name a few. We have a real ownership of the string Where Shadows Slumber and a new logo has even been created for that title.

Please stop asking us to change the name. Don’t tweet at Game Revenant about it, and leave our Facebook Page alone. This debate is over.

 

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The two of us eagerly awaiting the announcement of awards at the end of MIVS.

Thanks, MIVS!

The MIVS Staff deserves a thank-you for giving us this awesome opportunity. You won’t find this kind of sweet deal at other shows, but MAGFest is a strange animal. Here’s the staff members that worked on this year’s show. Thanks, everybody!

Lexi – layout, hotel & badge handling
Joel – judge coordinating, hotel & badge handling
Nate – map artist, video editor, web content
Kat – MIVSY maker, volunteer scheduler
Marc – Awards spearheader
Kotey – Tournaments
Paige – External entity coordination
Peter – LEDs, new Obelisk lead
Nichole – Press, coordination with internal social media

Tronster – coordinating everything!

 

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Do you have feedback for us? Did you play the demo of Where Shadows Slumber? Please try it on your Apple or Android device and then leave a comment for us below! We’d also love to hear from you on the official Game Revenant Facebook Page, or on our Twitter account.

Frank DiCola is the founder and CEO of Game Revenant, a game studio in Hoboken, NJ.