Where Shadows Slumber at PAX 2018’s Indie Minibooth

I’ve just returned from an exhausting trip to Boston for PAX East, where I had the pleasure of demoing Where Shadows Slumber at the Indie Megabooth. In this blog post, I’ll briefly describe what the application process was like, how the show went, and my thoughts on the whole setup.

 


 

 

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Applying to the Indie Minibooth

Those who have followed our development for the past year may remember that we went to PAX East last year, as part of the Indie Showcase for 2017. It was an honor to be included in that amazing contest! Reading that old blog post is funny, because it shows you just how far we’ve come in the past year. At that time, the cutscene in our demo hadn’t even been animated yet! (Which is completely my fault, lol) It’s amazing to think that now, a year later, the game is nearly complete.

Anyway, we knew we wanted to return to Boston because the crowd at PAX East is huge, but we had a predicament. How do you get an affordable spot at the show? We didn’t want to be relegated to the fringes of the expo hall, which is where they usually place you when you buy a booth on your own. We obviously couldn’t be accepted into the Indie Showcase a second time, (although we are totally going to try for PAX West’s competition) so what were our options?

We heard about the Indie Megabooth because of last year’s PAX – they were right near us, and the space was impressive. We decided to apply via their website, and on November 6th, 2017 we submitted our application for their booth at PAX East 2018 and GDC 2018. The application was essentially a pitch for the game, complete with images, video, and a build their judges could play.

Although we were denied for GDC 2018, we got an email on February 1st of this year notifying us that we were accepted and we needed to reply as soon as possible. We paid the $1,200 fee toward the end of the month, which covered everything from booth space, shelving, promotion, and electricity at the show. All of this was very secretive, which is why we didn’t mention it on this blog or on social media. They wanted the roll-out to be all in unison, so they told developers not to spill the beans that they had been accepted.

I decided that since the space around the Minibooth was so limited, it wasn’t worth bringing a ton of stuff in my car. Instead, I took the train up to Boston on Friday and began to set up for the show!

 

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The Setup

The setup for the Minibooth is a vertical kiosk with a table, and a monitor on top. Our setup looked like the image above: just enough room for mobile devices, Where Shadows Slumber pins, and drop cards. The monitor was playing a 10 minute looping video reel I created prior to the show.

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Here we are on Friday night, setting up for the weekend. Minibooth was created to be a more affordable way to attend events, so it’s set up in kind of a strange way. The Minibooth arcade had 10 games on Thursday and Friday, and then we moved in to take their spot on Friday night so we could take over for the weekend shift.

I don’t know how this is decided, but I do remember choosing our preferred days on the application form. Personally, I think the weekend spot is way better and I do sort of feel bad for the Thursday/Friday crew. But I guess the logic is that Thursday and Sunday are both slow, and Friday and Saturday are both crazy, so everyone gets one of each. I feel like we got really solid traffic on both days, but Sunday definitely died out at around 3 pm. Hopefully everyone got their moneys worth!

 

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They Threw Us A Party!

This was a nice perk that I didn’t even expect, but there was an Indie Megabooth mixer just a few blocks from the convention center on Friday night. The timing worked out well, since both Minibooth groups were in town at that point. I still kind of feel like an outsider at these events, so I can’t pretend I did a whole lot of “networking” – still, I appreciate the effort to get a nerd like me out of his shell! There was even free food and an open bar. What more can you ask for? [ ^_^]

 

 

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Let The Show Begin!

The two days of the Minibooth were exhausting, in a good way. Standing on your feet for 8 hours straight two days in a row is not exactly what I’m used to as a nerdy computer artist. But it was for a good purpose! The traffic during these PAX shows is always really consistent. There was never a dull moment, which is exactly what you want. This is probably due to the good reputation of the Indie Megabooth, but it also didn’t hurt that the Megabooth is in the center of the giant convention hall next to two giant avenues. We never felt “out of the way” or like we were in an obscure part of the space.

No one found any errors that we didn’t already encounter at SXSW, since we brought the same build. (The shows were too close together to worry about rebuilding) I also made a point to not really ask for feedback, and instead pitched the demo, our beta, and this blog. It’s good to know going into a show what you’re looking to get out of it. This one was purely about promotion.

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(Chris put a grip tape line down between our booths because the crowd was out of control!)

These shelves were super useful, because the customers couldn’t see them and they made good use of the limited space. I might buy some for Game Revenant to use during future shows. Typically when we go to conventions, Jack is the Charger Master and we’re constantly rotating a few devices between a few limited charging stations. (At SXSW, we actually used the MacBook as just a power brick LOL) I was nervous about handling this show on my own at first. However, having power provided for us – along with my power strip and these shelves – made it a breeze! The devices were always topped off and no one had to be turned away.

 

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It’s Over!

Overall, the Indie Minibooth seemed like a great investment of time and money, and I highly recommend it. (I even recommended it to other developers while I was at the show!) The caveat is that it will cost you a non-trival amount of money to secure the Minibooth spot and get a hotel, so plan accordingly. If you want your indie game to succeed, you need to take a financial risk like this eventually.

If you found out about this blog because you met me at the Indie Minibooth, welcome! Take a journey backward through time and check out all of our other posts. We’ve been posting a blog every week for over a year, so if you’re curious about anything related to this game, chances are good that we’ve covered it in-depth already. It also goes without saying that official announcements about the game’s release date will be posted to this feed, so be sure to smash that follow button if you have a WordPress account.

Hope to see you all next year at PAX 2019!

 

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Thanks for reading this blog! Stay tuned for more updates and announcements related to Where Shadows Slumber. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebookitch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

Slumber by Southwest (SXSW)

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

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

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

 

 

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High Traffic, High Engagement, No “Crowding”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Gamer’s Voice at the SXSW Gaming Awards

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sweet Rave Parties!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Post-Show Slump

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Show Prep!

For those of you who haven’t heard, Frank and I will be trekking down to Austin, Texas tomorrow to represent Where Shadows Slumber in South By Southwest’s Gamer’s Voice Awards! It’s a real honor to have been invited, and we’re super psyched to participate in one of the biggest media conferences in the world.

Of course, attending a show like this isn’t a walk in the park. There’s a lot of stuff we have to do to get ready for it, and that’s not even including the toll the show itself takes on us.

Since we’re going to SXSW tomorrow, last week was prep week. Let’s take a quick look at what that prep involves.

 

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Pre-Show: Game Prep

The whole point of these conventions is to show off Where Shadows Slumber, so one of the most important parts of preparing for the show is making sure we have a version of the game ready. One of the biggest surprises I’ve found is how much time and effort this takes. Since we’re actively working on making a game, you would think that we would be able to build and deploy it in a matter of minutes. However, this model of game development isn’t quite correct – having a game that’s 90% complete doesn’t mean we have a complete game with 90% as much content. Rather, it means that we have a game where most of its parts are 100% complete, and some of them haven’t even been started; we might even have a bunch of complete pieces that aren’t hooked up together.

Unfortunately, this means that show prep is quite time-consuming. It mostly comes down to the minutiae – we update the game’s build settings from “easy to develop” mode to “ready for production” mode. We have to change some configuration in order to bring only the levels we want. Small bugs or visual glitches are things we often ignore for the time being and revisit after level design and implementation is complete, but they have to be fixed for a show (even if they’re going to be changed again later). If we weren’t planning on implementing something (like menus), we may have to throw together a crude version just for the current show.

These annoying little time-wasters are one of the reasons we made the demo version of the game – no matter where we are in development, we can always simply bring the demo to a show, and know that it will work. However, as development has stretched out, we find that we don’t reap very much reward from showing the demo; people have already seen it, we’ve already heard all of the same feedback on it, and it doesn’t do a great job of showing how far Where Shadows Slumber has come. Especially for a big show like SXSW, we like to have a build of the game that has some recent work and shows off how awesome it can be, even if it does require jumping through a few more hoops.

After all of that, the only thing left is to actually build the game. This process is pretty easy for Android, and a little more complex for iOS, but it’s not too bad in either case. Then we actually test out the build on our devices, to ensure that users will get the best experience they can out of Where Shadows Slumber. If there are any bugs, then we have to go in, fix them, and build again. This is a much more time-consuming debugging process than usual, but, again, it’s usually worth it to get a chance to show off the most recent developments of the game.

 

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Buttons from Herb Ferman, dropcards from Moo, and Alba & Noah’s Phoz cards!

 

Pre-Show: Physical Prep

The most important part of showing off the game is the game itself, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other things that need to be done. First and foremost, we need travel and lodging – a show isn’t much good if we’re not there for it! This is one of the reasons we go to a lot of shows in the northeast, but not too many elsewhere; we can often drive to Boston or Washington D.C., and sometimes we even know someone who lives nearby (and is willing to put up with us).

Another important factor in going to shows is actually being allowed to show Where Shadows Slumber at the show. This involves a lot of emailing back and forth with the convention runners, whether it’s them inviting us and us accepting, or us begging them to let us come.

Once we know where we’re staying and how we’re getting there, we have to figure out what else we’re going to bring. Most of this comes from a pretty stock list – we need devices to showcase on, computers to play videos, our banner, a tablecloth, foam floor padding, etc. On top of that, we like to bring business cards (above), and sometimes Where Shadows Slumber buttons. These can take some time to design, because we like to use very recent content from the game. After that, the only thing left is to coordinate between us when and where we’re going to meet, and it’s off to the show!

I should mention that most of the non-game prep that goes into these shows is done by Frank. He’s the one in charge of Game Revenant’s bankroll, so he ends doing anything that requires actually purchasing something. Which is pretty awesome, because I’m far too scatterbrained to handle organizing any of that stuff.

 

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The Show Itself!

I know this post is about the show prep, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention the show itself! The preparation is a lot of tedious stuff that makes us feel like we’re wasting time, but actually going to the show is the part that really exhausts us. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort making a great game to show people (both in terms of specific show prep and in general), so we end up spending 2-4 days showing it to literally every person we meet. And at a large convention, that usually ends up being several hundred people. We’re on our feet, talking, conversing, explaining, and schmoozing for pretty much the entire convention – it really takes it out of you!

All in all, show prep is a necessary evil. When you’re already spending most of your free time working on something, it’s really galling to have to spend even more time on more tedious parts of that project. But, once we get to the show, it quickly becomes clear that it’s all worth it. Frank and I are pretty used to Where Shadows Slumber at this point, but seeing the look on someone’s face when they realize what’s going on for the first time is a really great feeling. And knowing that we put in the work to bring the best possible version of the game to a show really helps us understand how people are going to react to the final game itself.

I should probably wrap this post up. Honestly, it’s shorter than most of my other posts, and probably not quite as good, but I don’t really have any time to make it better – I have to fix a bunch of bugs before we leave for South by Southwest tomorrow!

 

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I hope you enjoyed a look at our pre-show process – if you have any questions about our con-going habits or anything else, we would love to hear from you (although we probably won’t get back to you until after SXSW). 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. And if you’re in Austin this weekend, make sure you come by our booth!

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

MAGFest 2018 – The Bomb Cyclone

If you are reading this, you are one of the few survivors of the worst winter storm to hit the east coast since the formation of Earth as a planet. Welcome to the Winter Storm Grayson resistance. We were able to get the Internet uplink working, but only for a few minutes. Just enough time to tell you how MAGFest 2018 was!

 

Setting Up The Bomb

To be honest, I did not encounter anything more than snow flurries and severe cold over the weekend. I drove down on Wednesday afternoon, which was before the storm hit. Also, the beautiful Gaylord Hotel located along the scenic National Harbor was more inland than I realized. We weren’t even close to the the Maryland coastline! Sure, the river froze, but we didn’t get any snow at all.

When I got to the hotel, I was greeted by a bubbly Magfest banner welcoming “Adventurers and Dreamers.” (I’m not sure which one Jack and I count as…) The MIVS banner shown above was proudly displayed in Hall C where all the indies were, and gives you a good idea of what that section is like. I love that they have this. I can’t tell you how much it means to us that we got a free booth at a show like MAGFest!

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By Wednesday evening, the Where Shadows Slumber booth was set up and ready to go. It was pretty painless, and everyone loved the sweet GreatMats foam flooring we had from last year. This post is sponsored by GreatMats. Have you gotten your GreatMats GreatMat today? I stole the idea to include table lamps from the Mushroom 11 team, who used it to great effect a few years back at a Sheep’s Meow event at the NYU Game Center. It wasn’t anything special, but the booth got the job done. Other people had crazy stuff like tents and massive posters. Maybe next year, when the game is for sale, we’ll go to town on the booth. I never really plan this out, I always wing it. But I bet if Jack and I sat down and asked ourselves “what experience do we want people to have with our game at our booth?” we could come up with something really cool.

 

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The Madness Begins!

Wednesday was the calm before the storm. Not Winter Storm Grayson – Winter Storm “Tons of People Dancing In The Gaylord.” By Thursday, the party had officially begun. They put us in the official hotel this year, which meant I had plenty of time to capture the insanity. If there were any normal, well-adjusted people staying in the hotel these past four days, they must have been terribly confused.

The show ran from Thursday to Sunday, with a pretty stable crowd of people all four days. Sunday surprised me actually – I don’t remember the short time-frame of Sunday being quite so busy last year. I had people at the table until after 2 pm on Sunday, which is when everything shuts down.

The build Jack prepared included the game’s first World (The Forest), then World 3 (The Aqueduct) and finally World 5 (The Hills). We wanted to jump around to get some feedback on parts of the game we haven’t shown off as much. I’ve seen tons of people play World 1 (The Jail) and World 2 (The River) at this point. And since I haven’t gone back to polish those yet, it would have been more of the same feedback.

The response to this build was overwhelmingly positive. People loved the new audio, although it was hard to hear in the crowded MAGFest hall. They commented on how beautiful the art style was, and how the game was more challenging than last year’s Demo. The critiques they had were generally about the game chugging along on the Amazon HD 8 devices (one Level has a ton of lights) and other things that were hard to quantify, like the way that draggable objects “feel.” It’s hard to know exactly what players want when they say stuff like that, but that’s what the final months of a project are all about – tweaking the small stuff.

 

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There Was Plenty of Indie Time

I’ve made a conscious effort during these shows to try to spend as much time with other developers as I do with customers. After seeing the same faces show after show, it’s a little embarrassing to not get to know them. I’m pretty shy… and there’s always a ton of stuff to do at these shows. But it’s important to make an effort to join the game industry and treat it like a community.

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SWEET RAVE PARTIES!

The MIVS crew threw a party for all of the game developers and staff on Friday night. We got to see the crazy penthouse nightclub that the Gaylord Hotel has up on the 18th floor. I don’t go to a lot of nightclubs, so I was easily amused at the pretty rainbow lights and stellar view of National Harbor. It was coooool, man!

After meeting up with some NYC-based indie devs, we went to a crazy Power Glove concert. Note to self: keep earplugs on hand for this sort of thing. Power Glove plays heavy death metal renditions of classic video game themes. It was the most MAGFest thing I’ve seen at MAGFest.

 

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Swing and a Miss!

Sadly, although they handed out MIVSy awards to the developers on Saturday evening, Where Shadows Slumber did not receive any accolades. In our defense, we only brought a few in-development Levels from the final game. Other teams brought their final “ready-to-purchase” games and put their best foot forward. Just like last year when we brought our Demo, you can’t expect to win an award for something you haven’t finished yet. It wouldn’t be fair!

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But it still stings a little bit – that’s the downside of the development route I took us on. There’s a ton of time we spend at festivals showing off our flaws and weaknesses, because we want feedback. It’s going to make the final game better, but it can be exhausting listening to the same comments for four days straight. I just hope that once the game “goes gold,” it will receive the recognition it deserves. Do I hear #2018GameOfTheYear?

I’m home now. Sadly, I had to run the table alone this past weekend – Jack was planning on coming, but had to stay home unexpectedly for personal reasons. He’ll explain everything next week in a really important blog post. Sorry to be a tease, but this is something we’ve known about for a while but have not made public. It’s his story to tell, so I won’t go into it. Please stay tuned for next week’s blog for more details.

Thanks again to the wonderful MIVS staff for inviting us to return and providing such a great opportunity! We hope to return for many more years to come, whether it’s to sell Where Shadows Slumber or get some feedback on a future project. Rock on, everybody!

 

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That’s all for MAGFest! Please leave a comment to let us know you’re not a Russian Twitter bot scanning this page for mercenary purposes. You can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter @GameRevenant or Facebook, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

2017 Year In Review

On this date one year ago, Where Shadows Slumber didn’t even exist.

Hard to believe, right? There was a Demo on the store called Where Shadows Slumber Demo, but the official game project had not even been started yet! We’ve come so far in just one year. Everything you’ve seen online of the final game was started in 2017, from the level design, to the environment, to our new character models.

To ring in the new year, let’s take a look at the big milestones we hit in 2017 while working on Where Shadows Slumber.

 

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January 2017 – Rocked MAGFest!

I had to mention this one first because the timing is hilarious. Tomorrow, we’re heading out to Maryland again for MAGFest 2018! That was exactly how we kicked off 2017, too. This year, just like last year, the organizers of MIVS (the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase) saw something special in our game. So we’re going to be there for all four days of MAGFest in their massive indie game section, showing people a few Levels from Where Shadows Slumber and getting their feedback. Getting into MIVS every year is not a guarantee, so we were glad to be invited back. This year, we even get to stay in the official hotel!

But to be honest, MAGFest is a tough show. It’s the very first thing of the year, which makes it a bit stressful. I’d love to catch my breath and plan out how I’m going to finish a big pile of art, artistic polish, effects, cutscenes, and aesthetic optimizations. Instead, we’re going to be showing the game off to people for 7 hours straight, four days in a row. I remember last year’s show – it was fun, but exhausting. Even so, that’s a good problem to have. We’ll let you know how this year’s MAGFest goes next week, after our return!

 

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March 2017 – The Game Developers Conference

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) in March was an incredible show. I’ll be bummed if we can’t go again this year. I really enjoyed scoping it out in 2017, and I’d love to pay for Jack to come with me. (And hey, why not Caroline, Alba and Noah while we’re at it?) It may not be in the cards this year because we’ll still be in heads-down production mode by the time the show rolls around. But while I was there, I attended the Independent Games Festival and made a note to submit our Demo to the contest when it opened again. Sometime in the fall of 2017, we sent in our application. We haven’t heard back yet, so cross your fingers!

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The big surprise of my trip to GDC was attending the Big Indie Pitch and scoring third place! It was a totally impromptu thing where I had basically no time to prepare my quick pitch of the game, and deliver it perfectly before five teams of judges. This is where having a polished Demo really came in handy. There’s just no time to fiddle with a development build when you’re under the gun like that. Want to read about that experience? Well, my blog post about GDC 2017 was so good, PocketGamer put it on their website!

That’s probably because it was also a big ad for their contest, but… sometimes you just have to play the game to get noticed, man [ >‿o]

 

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March 2017 – PAX East Indie Showcase (PEIS)

March was busy for us! We didn’t just go to PAX East – Where Shadows Slumber was selected out of a large field of applicants to be a part of their Indie Showcase. This saved us a ton of money, which we really appreciated. It cost $50 to send in our Demo to be reviewed, but considering they gave us a free booth, it’s as if we saved $2,000!

But there’s more to it than that. They gave us a place of honor, along with four other really cool indie teams with awesome games. Being in such a crucial intersection of the main hall meant we got tons of traffic. (We even got a spot on a corner, which meant confused travelers often spotted us and walked over to our table out of sheer interest!)

When I’m feeling down, I worry about what might happen if Where Shadows Slumber isn’t the groundbreaking critical and financial success I know it can be. But then I think of “that time we were in the PAX East Indie Showcase” and I remember that they saw something special in us, long before we even began work on the final project.

Check out the video above and skip to the parts where they recorded Jack talking about our experience, Where Shadows Slumber, and indie development!

 

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June 2017 – AwesomeCon

Because Where Shadows Slumber is so awesome and we went to MAGFest earlier in the year, the organizers of AwesomeCon’s MAGFest room invited us to a show called AwesomeCon. I was very nervous for this show for two big reasons: I was going alone, and I was bringing a build of brand new Levels that had never been tested before. To make things worse, Jack and I agreed that the Levels should not receive an artistic pass until we figured out what everyone thought of them. That was the correct strategic move, but I got sick of telling people “just ignore the art and let me know what you think of the design!”

Customers, gamers, and fans… they don’t see the game as a collection of parts, like we do. It’s one big experience to them. It’s impossible for people not to comment on things you want them to ignore, unless they are also game designers. The good news is that Where Shadows Slumber got a free ride to yet another massive show, and plenty of people gave us super honest feedback about those early Levels.

It may seem weird to ask for all that feedback after having a Demo on the store for so many months, but you can never be too careful. Only one Level from the Demo actually made it over into the final game, so it was necessary to humble ourselves and start from scratch to get everything right.

 

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August 2017 – PLAY NYC

The Playcrafting organization has been nothing but good to us ever since we first darkened their doors for their free game event in the Spring of 2016. When Dan Butchko called to let me know they were working on a bigger show and wanted indies to purchase booth space, I was on board immediately. Normally, Playcrafting events are free. But PLAY NYC was an ambitious step forward for the New York City game industry, so it was worth the money to help make this show happen.

We loved it! We recommend that every tri-state indie reading this seriously considers going to PLAY NYC 2018. Get a booth if you have a game, or just buy a badge and walk the floor on Saturday.

New York City has everything, because it’s a massive metropolis. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, there are better places in the United States to make games. (Texas and California spring to mind) If we want to make Silicon “Alley” a reality, we need to support massive endeavors like PLAY NYC. If the New York City game industry scene actually becomes a “real thing” one day, we’ll have Playcrafting to thank. Plus, the show was packed with awesome people who were super interested in our game. It was probably our best investment of the year. Did I mention it was about 40 minutes from my Hoboken apartment? GO TO THIS SHOW!

 

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September 2017 – Big TechRaptor Interview

New Jersey-based journalist Robert Adams had met us at a few Playcrafting events before I contacted him about an interview. The article, over on TechRaptor, remains one of the best snapshots of our thinking that exists on the Internet.

Because I was on the phone with Robert instead of typing my replies, I got a chance to rant and ramble a lot. This led to us delving into some deep topics, which I appreciated. Give it a read over on their website!

In it, we discuss the origins of Game Revenant, my tragic corporate backstory, the art direction of Where Shadows Slumber, our progress over the past two years, mobile vs Steam, virtual reality’s prospects, release dates, the game’s price, and why Jack is our hero.

 

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September 2017 – Alba & Noah Join The Team

This is related to PLAY NYC since we met them there, but it’s worth mentioning independently: we hired two awesome audio designers! I had a lot of fun making whistling noises with my mouth as I made the sound effects for the wind in our free Demo… but that wasn’t going to cut it. We needed professionals who love the game, love music, and love adding in detailed sound effects. And we found them!

 

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October 2017 – Crazy Traveling

This month marked the most traveling I’ve ever done in such a short period of time. For some reason, October is designated as “every conference all at once month.” Don’t ask me why…

It seems weird to mention this in our Year In Review because none of these shows were originally intended as “marketing shows.” That means I didn’t go to them expecting to advertise Where Shadows Slumber. Rather, I just wanted to be an anonymous indie developer. That’s why Jack didn’t need to come to these either – we’re trying to minimize the amount of time he takes off from work, so that he can cash those vacation days in for when it really counts. (Or just for actual vacations!)

Anyway, it turns out I suck at being incognito. I won 2nd place at a game pitching contest when I went to Seattle for the last Mobile Games Forum ever, and then got to demo Where Shadows Slumber at IndieCade’s GameTasting event for a few hours in Los Angeles. Whoops! Unite 2017 in Austin, Texas ended up being the best one for networking. I highly recommend that show if you are a Unity developer! Meeting the people who built this game engine is an incredible resource. You can read my recap posts if you’re interested in getting my brutally honest take about what those shows were like.

 

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December 2017 – Ask Me Anything Event

We ended the year by taking your questions on the website AMAfeed. This website simulates the “AMA” threads that are really popular on Reddit. We got way more questions than I expected, and I answered them all – so if you’re dying to know the innermost workings of our hearts, check out our archived post.

This experience was great. It was like a trial run for a Reddit AMA, which I expect would get more traffic, but would be more demanding. We’ve decided to keep a bank of answers to commonly asked questions on hand, to make sure we can answer questions faster next time! We’ll look into setting one of those up on Reddit. If we do, we’ll post any information about it here to this blog.

 


 

As you can see, 2017 was a year marked by both hectic travel and silent, unrecognized work. It’s not flashy to talk about the long nights we spent in front of the computer plodding along, or the snippets of time we found in our lives to work on this game. People usually want to hear about the big stuff (when’s your next show?) but the hour-to-hour details are harder to chronicle. Rest assured that every big show we attended was book-ended by hours upon hours of work, as we strive to finish Where Shadows Slumber as soon as possible.

Whether you’ve been following this blog all throughout 2017 or you just joined us, we hope to have your support in 2018. Please continue to share our free Demo, our website, and this blog with people in your life who enjoy indie games. Our goal in 2018 is to finish what we started and offer the world a beautiful experience they’ve never seen before. Knowing that there’s an audience out there waiting to enjoy it is a powerful motivator! Get in touch with us by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or just by trolling us in the comments [ ^_^]

Happy New Year!

 

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Do you have any interesting resolutions for New Year’s? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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

The Last Mobile Games Forum Ever!

Last week I went to Seattle for the Global Mobile Games Forum. It was my first time going to the event and I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s also the last MGF ever, but we’ll talk more about that later. Read on!

 

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Suddenly, Mobile Games Forum!

Originally, I wasn’t planning on going to the MGF. Usually I know which conventions I’m going to travel to, and I plan it out way in advance. With this show however, I was notified of it by a Mysterious Unnamed Person who was also going. He told me to check it out.

So I looked at their website, which didn’t have a ton of info, but it had a link to download an information packet. I put in my detailed info (email address, phone number, job title) and got the PDF. To my utter shock, I then received this message on LinkedIn from a woman named Louise Gibson-Bolton.

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This is a first – being invited to an expo for downloading a packet?

I assume she was monitoring the downloads and looking for more people for this show. I asked her what the catch was – no catch! They just wanted more people, especially developers, to come to Seattle.

Immediately, I was super suspicious of this. Who does that? Who invites a no-name developer like me to a show? What do the tickets normally cost? Did anyone else get this red carpet treatment?

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My decision – stay at the Belltown Inn. It was quite nice, and just three blocks from the expo.

I couldn’t say no to that offer! In addition to the free pass to the show, I was also going to be in Idaho the weekend before the MGF to attend the wedding of a close family friend. That meant travel was already paid for on the way over – I just needed to get a hotel quickly and then pay for a plane ticket home. Why not stay in Seattle and see what the MGF had to offer?

 

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Louise Gibson-Bolton Vanishes

During the opening keynote on the first day, the crowd got two unexpected pieces of news about the Mobile Games Forum. First, it has a new director named George Osborn (pictured above) who has worked on this show previously and is now in charge. Second, the show is being rebranded as Gamesforum, making this the last true Mobile Games Forum ever. The idea is to branch out into other platforms besides mobile, especially since many games are going multi-platform these days.

Louise, the woman who invited me, was nowhere to be found! I never got the chance to properly thank her. I gather that she must have been fired or forced out of the organization, because I can’t imagine why someone would quit in the weeks leading up to a really important show. Don’t quote me on that, though. The official line is “she’s since moved on.”

The reason I’m harping on all this is because there are some parts of MGF that were really disorganized, and some parts I loved. I choose to believe that the worst parts of this convention were due to team politics and shifts in management. My hope is that the new director can improve on this show and take Gamesforum in a better direction.

 

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Talk About The Convention, Frank

Please don’t assume that these blog posts are narcissistic bragging about my world travels. My goal here is always to give people a warning about what they’re getting into when they buy plane tickets and fly across the country to go to an expo. If you’re not an industry veteran, you’re like Jack and I – we never know what to expect and money does not come easily. Here’s my honest accounting of what the show offers and what needs improvement. I don’t score these shows, I just leave it to you to make a judgment.

 

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Sponsored Talks Are Dry and Fruitless

This might ruffle some feathers, but one thing I hope Gamesforum changes is relying on sponsored talks by companies. Not all of these were bad! I caught the last half of the EA Plants Vs. Zombies talk on the second day, and it had some interesting revelations about how they retain players.

But for the most part, the smaller the company, the more useless the talk. These minor players are clearly just trying to sell you something (“Buy Appodeal!”) and they don’t have enough experience to give you case studies you can apply to your own game. It’s really just a sales pitch disguised as a talk. Pass on these whenever you can. The Appodeal one in particular was just this dude reading from slides, and I still don’t really know what their business does. Because they were the main sponsor, this talk came right after a keynote by a woman from Minecraft. Sadly, MGF had a lot of “Appodeal” talks!

 

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The Panels Were Better

I actually really enjoyed a few of the panels at this show. They sat industry veterans down and just asked them candid questions about their business. The Mobile Games Forum is hyper focused on finance and marketing, so it’s not like the Games Developer’s Conference. You won’t find any info about how to make artwork, or music, or program – but you will get insights into developing business models and doing business overseas.

The panel pictured above was all about doing business in China. I always love hearing about other cultures – especially Chinese culture, because their government has a ton of crazy rules and restrictions keeping you from just putting whatever you want on the App Store. I’ll give you a quick one, it’s the most insane thing revealed by Hu Ning of iDreamSky about publishing games in China. Apparently, when you submit your game to the Chinese government for approval, you don’t send them a digital file. You send them a phone with the game installed on it! The rest of the panel was very illuminating!

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Some panels gave me a wake-up call. There was one panel about cloud-gaming that started with the blunt question: “are premium games dead?” Their conclusion: yes – premium is just 7% of the market at this point, and it’s shrinking. Yikes! Now, this panel was kind of just an advertisement for Hatch, which essentially markets itself as a Netflix for mobile games. But it also had a ton of depressing insights from developers like Ryan Payton, who told the audience a sad tale about how République was a financial failure despite releasing as a premium, episodic title with the full backing of Apple’s marketing team.

We’re not changing the business model of Where Shadows Slumber just because I got frighted at a panel. But we may be more open to experimenting on some platforms, especially Android, where premium doesn’t do well anyway. I never want to do ads or some kind of energy-store though, so don’t worry. (We even made an April Fool’s Day joke about that…)

 

The Food: Excellent

We never wanted for food at this show. Look at that menu! They had breakfast and lunch buffets, and even a snack bar around 4 pm when things were dying down. When I say a snack bar, I mean a literal buffet of candy. If that’s not worth the price of admission, I don’t know what is. This probably has more to do with the choice of venue, but hey – it’s a good choice and it should be noted.

 

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Go Home “Meet The Publishers,” You’re Drunk!

One of the messiest experience was the Meet The Publishers event. If you’ve been to publisher “speed dating,” you know what to expect: the publishers all have their own tables, and developers take turns making their way through the room in an orderly fashion pitching their game. Everyone has 5 minutes with each publisher, a bell rings, and it’s time to hand them your business card and move on.

Meet The Publishers at MGF was not like that at all. The publishers had their own tables, but there was no way of organizing the developers. George told everyone to kind of just find someone to talk to and go up to them. Developers often pitched their game with other developers right there. It wasn’t clear how much time each developer got, and George didn’t have a megaphone or a bell to ring when five minutes were up. Instead, he had to just shout over the din of the crowd when it was time to move on.

Some of the Publishers I talked to afterward were pretty angry about this. They wanted to see games, but since it was so disorganized apparently non-developers were going into the room and pitching to them. (“Buy Appodeal!”) George had to explain to these guys that this wasn’t the purpose of the event, but I can’t quite blame them for taking the opportunity. I kind of felt alienated since most publishers were looking for freemium games, and I got brushed aside by all but one.

We’re not seriously considering getting a publisher (except for China!) but I would have appreciated their feedback. Maybe I should just stop going to publisher speed-dating since we decided we’ll handle the global roll-out on our own…

 

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Adrian had a particularly impressive setup for Meow Wars.

Amazon Developer Showcase

I thought it was great that there were some actual games being featured at the show in the main hall! You could walk right up and play them, or talk with the developers. Or both! At a strictly business conference like this, sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’re publishing games, not virtual slot machines. There weren’t many, though – I think it was just Meow Wars, Cat Date, Tiny Bubbles, Tumblestone, and one other whose name escapes me. This section probably should have been larger.

 

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Marketplace

Nothing really appealed to me in the marketplace, which was a separate room where companies set up tables to sell their products. This would probably be more appealing if there were games here – or if the products were designed for a premium title. But, understandably, there were a lot of ad networks in this section.

PornHub had a table (not pictured) which I find extremely distasteful. There were no kids at this conference, but even so, it’s important to have standards about who you invite. I think the MGF can get by without PornHub’s $2,000 table fee, and I recommend they be more stringent about who is allowed to showcase at their events. If they want, I’ll pay them not to include PornHub and other such companies. This is hardly the place for a preachy article about how sex trafficking thrives on the porn industry, so I’ll move on and let you Google that on your own. Needless to say, I found that disturbing and I didn’t spend much time in this room.

 

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New Friends, and a Virtual Reality Party

Shows like this are great for meeting people! We had a great time going out for drinks and dinner before the official MGF party. This is probably the best reason to go to a conference like this, because you never know who you’ll meet – or where they’ll be working in 3 years. It’s a small industry, and everyone knows each other. So you have to make sure you’re part of “everyone!”

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This was pretty cool, too: the official party of the show had a few VR stations by this company Portal. They were showcasing mini-demos like the Star Wars VR experience, and larger titles like Valve’s The Lab. This is kind of where VR shines, honestly – a fun arcade experience where the expense is handled by someone else, and you have fun while looking goofy in front of your friends.

It was also probably not great that the party happened the night before the game pitching contest. Speaking of which…

 

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The Game Dev Showdown

There was a contest at the MGF to pitch your game in front of 5 industry judges. I knew about the contest beforehand, but I didn’t try to join it before I got to the show. On Tuesday, I just said “screw it” and went for it. They mentioned during the opening ceremony that there were two drop outs and I asked Anna if I could join. She told me I’d need a PowerPoint Presentation and a pitch ready to go by 1 pm the next day. I said “count me in!” and got the very last slot in the contest.

I was up until 2:30 am on Tuesday night, but I got it done! There were six games in all, many of whom were on display in the main hall of the expo center as part of the Amazon Developer Showcase. My pitch went quite well, and I got to use a clicker for the first time in my life. Afterward, people commented on how impressed they were with my polished delivery, especially considering I only had a day to prepare. I don’t mean to sound self-centered, but this is one area where I can claim some significance. I’ve done performing arts since 6th grade, and even some improv in college. It’s not a useless skill. My competitors were nervous, and for many this was their first pitch ever. Jack and I both did a bunch of acting at Stevens, and it’s a skill that stays with you – just watch his impromptu interview for PAX East if you need proof of that!

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Image Credit: Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat

You can see us lined up nervously on stage as we await the announcement. The winner was… Tiny Bubbles! It’s a polished puzzle game by Stu Denman, and it deserved to win. He went first and had a bunch of tech issues that weren’t his fault, so I was hoping they wouldn’t count that against him. Then he wowed the audience with his crazy bubble simulation physics, as well as a touching story of how his grandfather inspired the game’s design. Well done! (Thanks to Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat, one of the judges, for the photo above that was used in his article about Tiny Bubbles) Check out the Unreleased Google Beta for that game here, it’s awesome!

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Where Shadows Slumber won 2nd place (runner-up) in this contest, and they gave me a whole bunch of Amazon goodies! Pictured above is two Fire HD 8’s a Kindle Fire tablet, and an Amazon Fire TV. They also said that both winners would get a feature spot on Amazon’s App Store when we launch!

I was a little stunned when they announced this at the end of the second day. I had done it again – just like when I muscled my way into the Big Indie Pitch at GDC earlier this year – I won a pitching contest just by randomly entering at the last minute! Afterward, George congratulated me on my 2nd place win – not just because he liked the game, but because in his words “you stepped up.” If there’s anything to take from this article, that’s it. So much of success is about showing up, volunteering, and taking risks!

 

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Don’t Give Up On Gamesforum!

The Mobile Games Forum was a bit messy at times – but it’s over now. From here on out, it’s Gamesforum. Under the direction of George Osborn and Anna Bashall, I have confidence in the future of this conference. It seems like previous leaders put them in a horrible spot, where they had to run a conference on their own at the last second. I don’t envy anyone in their position.

With more time to plan and do things their way, I’m sure future expos will be even better. Hopefully they heed my advice about the corporate sponsorship and try to make talks more relevant even if they are disguised sales pitches. (“Buy Appodeal!”)

This team is based in the United Kingdom, so their next show is over there. I can’t make it to London for the first inaugural Gamesforum in January, but when they return to the United States I’ll look them up! Maybe I can persuade them to come to the east coast? (Psst, it’s a shorter flight for you guys!) In any event, I wish them the best of luck and I’d like to thank them for incredible opportunity!

 

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

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

IndieCade 10 Disappoints

Directly after my trip to Unite Austin, I flew straight to Los Angeles for IndieCade. I had never been to the show before, even though I’ve known about it for a few years now.

Ever since the Mr. Game! days, I’ve submitted games to their contest. It was a long-shot to assume that SkyRunner would make it in, but I thought we had a better chance with Where Shadows Slumber this year. I’ve never made it in to the showcase, and this year was no exception, but I’ve always wanted to figure out what kind of games IndieCade is looking for. On the bright side, they allowed me to show off the game during one of their show and tell segments! More on that later.

Jack and I went to IndieCade East a while back and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would do some field research on the main event and get some game testing in at the same time! Unfortunately, as I sit here writing this at my desk back in New Jersey, I’m struck by this awful realization: after 10 years in operation, IndieCade still doesn’t know how to put together a well-run event.

 

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Red Flags From The Start

Friday morning was incredibly stressful, and that feeling lingered on for the rest of the day. When I went to pick up my badge in the morning, I was dismayed to find a long single-file line that lead to a tent where one person was slowly handing out wristbands. As we all burned in the unforgiving Los Angeles sun, I started to freak out. IndieCade scheduled a talk with me and Oculus that morning and it didn’t look like I’d make it in time. Fortunately, Anita swooped in at the last second and just brought me to my meeting.

Oculus’ outreach team wanted to meet developers at IndieCade, and not just the ones presenting. Even though I’m working on a mobile puzzle game, I was able to meet Chris Jurney of Oculus! I tried to meet him at GDC 2017, but he was in meetings all day. But this time, I was the meetings all day >:). We discussed Where Shadows Slumber, and my post-release plans. Although this game can’t really ever come to VR, I do find the virtual reality medium pretty intriguing. They’re going to hook me up with an Oculus headset, which is insane. I’ll take it!

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From there, I went over to Game Tasting. Although Where Shadows Slumber was not an official IndieCade selection, they were nice enough to invite me to show off the game between 12 pm to 2 pm during the Game Testing segment. This is like IndieCade Lite, a quick look at some games that didn’t make it. To be honest, I liked the games near me even more than the ones at the official showcase! But we’ll discuss that more later.

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How can you say “get out, bum” to this face?

Due to some persistence (and my innocent baby face) I was able to get a second Game Tasting slot later that same day between 4 pm to 6 pm. In between, I saw a depressing talk about how Xbox Live Indie Games as a service is going to be shut down. That’s the first time I ever heard of that! It went offline the next day.

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After I fulfilled my obligations to IndieCade, I finally got a chance to grab dinner and explore around 7:30 pm. What I saw did not impress me. Although the Japanese American National Museum is a beautiful building, it makes for an awkward venue. Games seemed to be strewn about haphazardly, taking up space in crowded rooms while other larger halls remained inexplicably empty. Perhaps the most striking visual dissonance I witnessed was the IndieCade banner standing in front of a reproduction of a Japanese Internment shack. The banner screamed Enjoy some unique cool games! while the shack screamed Franklin D. Roosevelt violated the constitutional rights of over 100,000 American citizens and some people still say he’s their favorite president.

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Recreation of Japanese internment shack (left) and IndieCade’s banner (right)

It appears that this is their first year in this new venue, so I’ll cut them some slack on that end. They need to find their footing by next year’s IndieCade though, because this could really sink them. Many times, the exhibits on Japanese-American history were more interesting than the games being shown next to them. I don’t know why IndieCade has chosen to distract attendees from their games by putting them right next to compelling American history displays. Many times I found myself walking away from the dry non-games being exhibited to read more interesting plaques about Japanese immigrants coming to America. Perhaps the choice of a museum is to remind everyone that games are art and not just commercial products, but the venue put unnecessary strain on a show that’s already hanging by a thread.

 

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The Main Showcase

The main showcase of IndieCade had some of the strangest games I’ve ever seen. I believe that is the point of the show – to showcase the odd side of video game innovation. There were role-playing games that used only food and speech as a medium. Some games had unique controllers (like a giant inflatable sphere you played inside) that could never be mass produced and sold, which is why they can really only be displayed at IndieCade. A few games required large spaces to play in, or elaborate setups like a mock office area. As my friend said to me on Saturday, “IndieCade is good, because if they didn’t showcase these games, how would anyone else find out about them?”

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He’s right, of course. However, these games lose their power when stacked on top of each other like this. Although they may stand out at a conference like PAX East, at IndieCade everything blurs together into a politically left-leaning parade of grad-student quality propaganda. It’s hard to stand out when you’re put next to 29 similar games in a room titled LOOK AT ALL THESE THINGS THAT ALL STAND OUT!

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“The Hackers of Resistance (HORs) is a queer transfeminist hacker collective of artists, activists, researchers, cyborgs, witches, and technologists, of color.”

The strangest thing I “played” was an interactive experience called “Hackers of Resistance” that took place in a 10 x 10 area enclosed by pipe and drape. The designers of the experience decorated the room like a makeshift hacker den out of something like Mr. Robot. As we hacked our way to destroying the Trump administration, I couldn’t tell if I was taking part in a delusional liberal fantasy or brilliant conservative parody. (Seriously, read that caption again and tell me that doesn’t sound like something Kat Timpf would write)

Given the setting, I decided it must be the former, but the dreadful acting of the performers kept me guessing until the very end. Since this game is essentially an interactive installation that requires a physical space, you can see why IndieCade is just about the only place it could be setup. That’s fine by me! But I can’t help but think that IndieCade is doing its political messages a disservice by painting them as obscure. Think about it – they’re highlighting the strangest elements of the left-wing game industry and then purposely branding them as “weird” and “strange.” Don’t they want their political beliefs to be seen as mainstream instead? In its desire to seem weird, it makes them seem weird, too.

I’m quite used to blatant political messaging in the game industry these days, so that wasn’t even my biggest problem with IndieCade. What bugged me is that the show seemed dreary. The showcase was supposed to stay open until 10 pm, but by 8:30 many developers had abdicated their booths. I don’t blame them – many said they had been there since 4 pm. Giving people a long shift like that at the end of the day is bad planning on the part of the organizers. I would have liked to play more, but the venue depressed me. Around this time, a show like Unite would just be getting started with fun parties that last until 1 am. IndieCade was like an old man who was up past his bedtime at 9 pm, and went up to bed before his guests went to sleep.

 

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It’s Not All Bad

Before you think that I’m just a mean-spirited wet blanket who flies across the country to have a miserable time on purpose, let’s talk about my favorite three games from the showcase!

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Bit Rat is a cool futuristic puzzle game for PC where you play as a rogue A.I. construct trying to escape your company. I didn’t get a chance to play it because the tables were always packed, but you should check it out! The pixel aesthetic really works for the type of game this is, and the puzzles seemed quite difficult.

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Keyboard Sports: Saving Qwerty is an absolutely hilarious PC game where you use the keyboard to control your character’s position. That may not sound special, but I mean that quite literally: you don’t use keyboard keys to issue commands like “go right” or “go left.” Instead, the keys on your keyboard are mapped to physical locations within the game! See the tutorial level above, for example, where the spacious couch (hehe) is mapped to the space bar. There’s always an overlay on the screen so you can kind of gauge what to do, but it’s constantly changing which adds to the humor.

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Detention is a point-and-click horror puzzle adventure game set during a dark period in Taiwan’s history. I could have used less jump scares, but the overall experience is really tight. The actual mechanic this game uses for its monsters is one of the creepiest I’ve ever seen, but it’s apparently pretty common in China. You hold your breath to avoid being captured by ghosts! I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s very scary and I wish more games would do stuff like this. Incorporating folk tales into games is a great source of inspiration.

These three games showcase what IndieCade should be about, in my opinion. Alternative control schemes like the one found in Keyboard Sports are innovative, but still accessible to a wide audience. Cultural inspiration, as seen in Detention, doesn’t have to be overly preachy. Games can be weird and still be very well-made and polished, like Bit Rat. Too often, games at IndieCade use their “strange” identity as a shield to protect against the criticism that all game developers have to deal with. There’s no excuse for bad artwork, buggy code, or toothless gameplay – the label “indie” does not mean “I get away with delivering a lower quality product.” Anyway, instead of castigating more of IndieCade’s worst offenders, I’d rather show off the ones I enjoyed playing. Best of luck to these three games!

 

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By Sunday, The Nominee Gallery Vanished

By the final day of IndieCade, the Nominee Gallery was closed because an unrelated event was taking place in their room. (It seemed to be a Japanese-American dinner honoring some of the elderly in the community, but I didn’t pry too much.) Standing outside the venue, I heard quite a few people complaining.

“I was going to see the Nominees on Sunday, but they’re gone!”

The only thing more disappointing than not enjoying the official showcase is being robbed of an entire day to experience the official showcase. It’s just another bad choice by the staff – why wouldn’t you make sure your main showcase runs all three days? They were forced to do this because of the previous bad decision to host the event in a busy museum. Fortunately, I saw all I needed to see of the Nominee Gallery. But put yourself in the shoes of someone who bought a Sunday pass!

 

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The Talks Depended on the Room

I stand by the statement above: your experience going to the panels and talks at IndieCade will vary wildly depending on which ones you attended. The deciding factor seemed to be the room you chose.

I quite enjoyed the puzzle talk by Linelight creator Brett Taylor and Semblance creator Ben Myres. There was a talk about how to make “AAA Indie Games” by husband-and-wife team Tristan and Aby Moore. “50 Ways to Fail in VR” was a ton of fun, a great talk by Mike Murdock about hard lessons learned making virtual reality games. What did these games have in common? They took place in small classrooms with a simple projector screen and whiteboard. They also filled up quite fast!

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Brett and Ben tell us a bit about their games before their fireside chat about puzzle design.

The talks that served only to waste my time took place on the main stage; a large theater-styled presentation area with a massive projector, a tech booth, and tons of audio equipment. The IndieCade staff seemed woefully inadequate at operating this room. One talk started fifteen minutes late due to technical difficulties. At one point, ten minutes deep into technical drama, an exasperated technician scolded at the audience:

“Does anyone have an HDMI to VGA cable?! That’s what’s holding us up here!”

…as if I flew across the country and booked a hotel in an expensive area of Los Angeles just to personally hand-deliver you a cable you had months to purchase. Seriously, dude?

 

It Gets Worse Before It Gets Worse

But by far, the worst talk at IndieCade was the final one with Keita Takahashi, of Katamari Damacy fame. This was supposed to close out IndieCade with an intimate chat between the audience and a veteran game developer. Instead, it served to expose more flaws in the organizational structure of IndieCade. Find it online if you want to waste 50 minutes of your life.

I don’t have anything against Mr. Takahashi. He seems like a cool guy, and he has a wonderfully child-like sense of humor. But they evidently didn’t give him an agenda for this talk, because he began by trying to find his childhood home in Google Earth. As he struggled to do this, I realized both he and Brandon Boyer were trying to run the talk via their mobile phones for some inexplicable reason. This would become a recurring feature of the talk – waiting for the screen to slowly load whatever was on their phone.

The decision not to give Mr. Takahashi a translator was also mind-boggling. I felt bad for him – English is not his native language, and he is not fluent by any means. With no talking points or written speech, he spent half the talk fumbling around in Google Maps until that got old and they transitioned to Question and Answer time. It’s a shame they didn’t focus more on the few interesting bits of the talk, like his inspiration from Japanese sculptor Taro Okamoto. Without a solid plan, I can’t blame them for bombing on stage. When it comes to stuff like this, I usually blame whoever is at the top making the decisions that cause people to fail.

 

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Next time, Visit charming Little Tokyo, but skip IndieCade.

The Final Verdict

I’m not going to submit my games to IndieCade anymore, and I can’t see myself returning to the show any time soon. If you’re still interested in it, follow my guidelines below and I can help you avoid disappointment.

Should I attend IndieCade? If you live within walking or brief driving distance, there’s no reason not to go. Don’t spend money on a hotel or air travel, though. This show doesn’t deserve national or international attention in its current state. As a local show, it would be pretty awesome though.

What kind of pass should I get? I can’t see any reason why you would need more than a single day pass, probably Saturday. That had the biggest crowd. The games were all there. Besides, your wristband could probably get you in on Sunday too. They were all the same color.

Should I submit my game to IndieCade? Unless your game is as weird as some of the other stuff they highlight, don’t bother. There are two caveats: If your game is brazenly political and decidedly left-of-center, you’re good. Also, if you can modify your game to be super weird just for this show, go for it.

Will I fit in at IndieCade? Probably not. For a show that brags about its inclusive nature, it operates more like an exclusive club. IndieCade isn’t for everybody, whether its organizers want to admit it or not.

 

IndieCade Isn’t Fun

Before I went to IndieCade, I didn’t think all games had to be “fun.” I assumed that was a corporate label slapped on the industry that only applied to mass market games. “Games don’t need to be fun! It’s enough if they’re just engaging, interesting, or weird” I thought to myself. Oh, Frank-of-Last-Week… you were a fool!

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After playing scores of dull games at IndieCade, I’ve flipped my stance. I think fun is more important than ever, especially when you’re trying to make a game that deals with hard problems. I saw a lot of games that promised to tackle heavy issues (“this is a game about dealing with mental illness,” etc) but the only things the player could do were (a) walk around a 3D environment and (b) look around a 3D environment. That’s not innovative, and it doesn’t keep its promise either. The Spaces exhibit at IndieCade featured at least three of these. We wouldn’t stand for that if a AAA studio did that. Why do we accept this from indies?

What I think they’re missing is that fun is an important numbing device that helps people through painful topics. Without it, your work will just end up stressing people out and repelling them.

That stressful anxiety I felt since Friday morning was still with me by the show’s end. I felt it as I left the museum and passed by the ghostly faces of Japanese-American prisoners one last time. Death seems to haunt IndieCade, and I wonder if the show will be over for good sometime in the next few years. You’re either growing or dying, and IndieCade did not project strength during their 10th year in operation.

 

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Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber. The views expressed in this blog post are his own and do not reflect the opinions of anyone else on the Where Shadows Slumber team.