What We Learned From Testing At AwesomeCon 2017

Hey everybody, it’s Frank! I just got back from a trip to Washington D.C. for AwesomeCon 2017, a comic convention that’s expanding its selection of gaming exhibits. We were invited by the wonderful team that hosts the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase to take part in their giant indie booth – thanks to Lexi Urell and her team for allowing us to take part in such an awesome con!

 

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Why Did Frank Go To AwesomeCon?

That’s kind of a weird question, right? Is there ever a reason not to go to a convention? Besides, we were invited! Do you even need to ask?

Now that the Game Revenant official coffers are looking a little emptier, it’s important to evaluate every large expense. Travel is certainly one of them. While I’d love to go to every show on planet Earth that’s even remotely related to gaming, we don’t have that kind of cash to spend. Besides that, there’s the time cost involved. If I’m standing at a table showing off Where Shadows Slumber for 3 days straight, that’s 3 days I’m not spending doing animations or environment art for the game. Was it worth it?

We decided that the best way to get a return-on-investment for our time and money was to focus on one very specific thing during AwesomeCon 2017 – testing. Conventions are a great way to show your game to a lot of people. It may seem like this is purely a marketing activity where indies promote their game, but that’s a shallow view of what conventions can do for you. When you’re given the opportunity to sit down with nearly 100 people and focus on your game, that’s a great time to ask them critical questions about your work and get their honest feedback.

So before I left, Jack created a build of our Where Shadows Slumber alpha that had all 17 of our test Levels in it, along with a basic menu for easy navigation. I resolved to show this early alpha to as many people as possible, with a specific focus on these key issues:

  1. If I don’t tell Players how to play the game, what will they do?
  2. What do Players think of the first three Levels, which are meant as a tutorial?
  3. How far will Players go before they get stuck or bored?

 

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My Testing Procedure This Time Around

As you test your game at a convention, you begin to find a consistent testing method that works. Halfway through the first day (Friday), I had a pitch ready to go once people sat down at the Where Shadows Slumber table.

I was really straightforward with people. I told them that I wasn’t going to teach them how to play because I wanted to see how they performed on their own. (No one seemed to mind!) Then I told them that they could ask me questions if they got really stuck. I told them that the game’s artwork was a placeholder. The only information they were allowed to know was that it was a puzzle game called Where Shadows Slumber. With that, I just watched them play through Level 0-1 and noted their progress. This pitch accomplished a few key things.

This Is Only A Test: Setting up expectations right away is key. By telling people that the game is being tested (and not them) it put them in the proper mindset. They weren’t here to be entertained – they were here to break the game if possible, and try to beat it. I think that increased people’s enjoyment actually, and definitely led to finding some serious bugs.

Ask Me Questions: Getting people to talk while they play is really hard, but it’s very important. You can only glean so much from watching people. I didn’t give anyone that much information, but allowing them to ask questions is helpful. After all, if they ask a question, it means they don’t understand something. That “something” is what Jack and I have to go back and add to our tutorial.

Don’t Tell Me The Art Sucks: It’s important that you tell people what you don’t want to hear. Setting up this expectation decreased the amount of people who would complain about the art. Seeing this alpha next to screenshots of our beautiful demo was probably  a bit jarring, but once I explained it to testers it wasn’t an issue anymore. When you’re testing, you don’t have much time with each person so you need to make it count. Make sure that people know what you already know, so they focus on different issues.

 

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The Results

To my surprise, people loved the alpha! I only say I am surprised because this is the first time I’ve seen people play it with my own eyes. And although the artwork is all just placeholders and the Levels are brand new, people gave it glowing reviews:

Thor

Having said that, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. We found a few bugs over the weekend, and there are some Levels that may need to be redesigned or cut from the game entirely. Here are all my notes from AwesomeCon 2017:

 

  • People don’t realize they can’t drag something if the Player is in the way. Draggable objects should smack into the protagonist to give them feedback on this matter.
  • Someone suggested a mechanic where torches (lights) are only on for a fixed amount of time before they shut off.
  • Someone requested a Reset button (which our demo has, but the alpha does not – even though you can just re-select the current Level from the menu).
  • MAJOR ISSUE: People didn’t realize they could drag red objects. Many suggested that they “shimmer” when they are dormant to encourage dragging. Perhaps there should be a handle on the Draggable object to indicate that it is interactive, and show the direction it moves. They should glow when they are being dragged as well.
  • Someone suggested a UI indicator that shows how a Draggable moves, since some objects rotate but others slide across the floor.
  • When the Player is following closely behind a Walker, he stutters and stops, producing an awkward floating animation.
  • The protagonist’s light should grow out from him and stop at the predetermined radius needed to solve this Level.
  • MAJOR ISSUE: Every single Player (with few exceptions) dragged-to-move if I didn’t tell them the controls. Our game is tap-to-move, so dragging is not an optimal way to play. People assume the controls are bad, but they’re just doing it wrong. Without a way to correct them, they make it harder on themselves.
  • Someone suggested charting a path (like in StarCraft) when you drag-to-move, a possible solution to those who find that way more comfortable. This would basically be like connecting the dots between every space you dragged over.
  • IDEA FOR A LEVEL: Level 1-3’s “Lock”, but the Light Switches are connected to some of the Rotating Draggable blocks.
  • MAJOR ISSUE: People tried to drag the purple blocks, but couldn’t. This stopped them from trying things in the future.
  • Glyphs are really just buttons that can be pressed infinite times, right?
  • Draggable Light Switches need to be turned off when they’re off. They still appear on, which is impairing people’s understanding of the light mechanic.
  • The age when players seem able to understand the game is 12 – younger children could trudge through it by trial and error, but with limited understanding.
  • MAJOR ISSUE: “Why is there a shadow?” People do not realize the main character has a lantern with a massive radius and it’s the only light in the scene. This is understandable because our game is super weird. We need to find a way to show this constantly, or they’ll think the shadows have a mind of their own.
  • Someone suggested a mechanic where the main character’s lantern is a spotlight, instead of a point light, for a few Levels.
  • Someone suggested a mechanic where the main character can lower their lantern’s light radius and then reset it, for a few Levels.
  • A businesswoman with knowledge of the Indian market suggested that we lower the price from $5 for that particular market. She felt strongly that Indian mobile gamers wanted free games or something much cheaper.

Here are my notes that are specific to each Level in the alpha.

 

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Level 0-1, Fallen

There’s a bug in this level where there bridge (which should fall after you press a trigger) stays exactly where it is. Players who drag-to-move skip right over the trigger, and they never trigger the bridge sequence, so basically they miss the puzzle.

The Draggable box on this level doesn’t have much weight to it. People fling it around like crazy. They also really want to drag it down (onto the dirt path), up (onto the dirt path), or onto the bridge to drop it into the water as a makeshift bridge. None of that is possible but there’s no feedback for that and they don’t know how shadows work yet so it doesn’t register.

Half of the people who play this Level don’t quite understand that the shadow makes the bridge appear.

It’s possible to walk past the Goal Space, and go to a spot on the Level that is beyond the door.

This level is not idiot-proof, like the first Level in our demo.

I think this is our weakest Level. I suggest cutting it and replacing it with a walking tutorial similar to the first Level in the demo. This Level is just throwing way too much at Players all at once.

 

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Level 0-2, Bridge

An excellent Level. This serves as a perfect introduction to 3 key mechanics: walking, shadow revelation, and dragging.

The Rotatable bridges here should probably wobble after a while to indicate they can be dragged. I can also make a circular pivot point in the center, cut into the stone. That would be a good indication that these are on a swivel.

Draggables can also have parts on them that suck in when Players hold them down. Having parts of the stone depress inward is a good sign that you’re controlling the object with your finger.

 

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Level 0-3, Monolith

This Level is perfect teaching. It’s a great gateway – you will never beat this if you do not understand how shadows work in our game.

“The purple box moved!” We need to make sure people don’t think the shadows merely move things. They make things appear and disappear… the visual style of the purple box makes it seem like it’s jumping around.

Why can’t Players make the farthest purple block appear if they are standing all the way at the entrance of the Level?

The Draggable Block here should be on some kind of a flagpole so that the vertical movement appears to be a natural fit to Players. (Many tried to move it horizontally.)

 

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Level 1-1, Recovery

The name of this Level ought to be “Protection” or even just “Light”.

Why is the Light Switch casting a shadow? Does that shadow do anything? That may be a visual error.

 

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Level 1-2, Detour

This Level can be broken to make both Goal Spaces appear at the same time. Players usually move the Draggable Block back and forth so rapidly that it causes both to be visible. However, the fake Goal Space does not work. If we can’t fix this bug… we should make it work! Why not reward Players for their trickery?

If there was a Light Switch near the space where the Goal Space is revealed, this Level would be a bit harder. You’d have to make sure the Light Switch was off. That may make it more interesting for the Players who figure it out in two seconds – and it keeps the World’s atmosphere consistent, since we use a lot of lights here.

The shadow needs to change more of the Level when it swipes across the screen, to give Players a clue that something weird is going on.

There ought to be two Shadow Eyes on the Draggable Block.

 

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Level 1-3, Lock

Let’s make the sides of the Rotating Blocks sloped here, or at least spiked. People consistently try to walk on the sides of them when they are down, but that would break the Lights. It must appear unwalkable.

 

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Level 1-4, Pressure

Extremely hard Level. That’s a good thing to have at this point in the game.

“I didn’t know I could stand on the box and rotate it.” Are we being consistent with when Players can do this and when they cannot?

How will Shadow Eyes work here? How can we align them with the object they are changing?

Someone found a bug where both buttons were pressed and they beat the Level, but they could not walk on the green path. (This is a soft crash I guess, since the Level is broken but the game still works fine.)

 

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Level 1-5, Wolf

This Level should be renamed to something that indicates how to solve the puzzle, like “Doors” or “Black” or “Pitch”.

People don’t know they can drag these pillars.

The effect of pressing a Button here was not always obvious. I need to make an animation and we ought to have a clear sound attached to it.

On the iPhone, there was a bug where the sliding pillars could not be dragged. We had to reset the Level. I suspect Glyphs have something to do with this.

 

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Level 2-1, Docks

Literally every tester thought the Walkers would hurt them and everyone called them “zombies”. My use of the color green was foolish!

We should start this Level with a Walker coming toward you that you can’t avoid, so people see that they aren’t bad.

People LOVE the reveal with the pillar sweeping across the Level. We should do more.

People tried to reverse the reveal and they couldn’t do that, which upset them. I think they wanted to see it more than once. When we get it set up properly, let’s consider this. It’s about consistency and Players enjoying the game for its toys rather than its puzzles.

 

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Level 2-2, Test

We can call this Level “Elevator” or something. Maybe “Switch”, because you press a switch, but you also need to change places with the Walker.

Walkers flip around when you rotate Draggable Bridges, and this really annoys Players who are trying to guide his path. Also sometimes the Walkers float, breaking immersion.

 

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Level 2-3, Guide

Pressed Buttons really ought to look pressed. I need to redo the art and then I’ll need help setting the states properly. We can also drain them of color once pressed.

For some reason I think buttons should be octagons. Why did I write this?

 

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Level 2-4, Ebb

These Walkers cast a light, but they don’t have an obvious light source. I can make them holding torches, but what happened to their little light bulbs? Did I delete them?

 

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Level 3-2, Tradeoff

The main light in this Level looks like it’s off because it’s so dark. The Player’s lantern doesn’t always need to be the brightest light in the scene! This sliding light is way more important to the mechanics of the Level. We can dim the Player’s light in favor of the other one.

 

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Level 3-3, Anchor

Rectangles can pass through each other.

The right side Button node was briefly unwalkable, due to a multiple reality error.

After leaving a node, the state of a Button was still pressed. This made the Level unbeatable.

 

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Level 3-4, Torus

“Is that it?” Torus looks more intimidating than it is. Can we bring up the difficulty on this one somehow? I think people are disappointed that you don’t need to find a way to navigate back and forth using the rotating segments. It is solved quite easily.

 

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Level 3-5, Island

This Level can be broken by drag-dashing back and forth until the pillars remain upright. Then, walk into the island, the pillars lower, and you beat the puzzle without really solving anything.

 

It’s incredible how much insight you can get from just a few days of testing! These kind of testing moments are hard to come by, so it’s important to make the most of them. I hope you appreciated seeing how your feedback will impact the game, and this gave you an insight into what indie developers are looking for from testers.

We’ve got a lot of work cut out for us this month, so expect to see these changes reflected in my post at the end of June where I update you on the state of the game’s artwork.

 

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We hope you enjoyed this insight into our testing methods. Do you have any feedback for us about the game’s alpha? You can reach out to us at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, tweet at us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), message us on Facebook, leave a comment on itch.io, jump into chat on Twitch, and email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.

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

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3 Things I Learned at GDC 2017

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

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


 

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Lesson 1: Schedule Meetings Months Ahead of Time

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Lesson 3: Don’t Take No For An Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

 

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

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

Heading to GDC 2017 Today!

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

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

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

 

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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.

How To Not Die at Conventions

I’m typing this one day after returning from a productive Mr. Game! trip to San Antonio, Texas for PAX South! My brother Paul and I are terribly ill, exhausted, and jet-lagged. Our reintegration to polite society is moving at a snail’s pace. The snowstorm outside isn’t helping. If I recall, the aftermath of our trip to MAGFest 2017 for Where Shadows Slumber just a few weeks ago was pretty similar.

If you’re an indie developer, independent craftsman, musician, speaker, or entrepreneur, you’re aware that there are many conventions that happen every year around the world related to your trade. But you’ve probably asked yourself an important question before every single one: how do I go to a convention without dying?

Since I already mentioned how sick we got at PAX South, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I don’t always take my own advice. There are best practices, and then there’s real life. Here are four things I would do if I wanted a stress-free convention exhibition where no one dies.

 

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1. Reserve Hotels A Year In Advance

“One entire year in advance! This is madness! I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight!”

~ You

Listen, hotels fill up fast. If you’re traveling to a convention, there’s a good chance you’ll need a hotel. I lucked out with the upcoming New York Toy Fair because I’m in Hoboken – all I need to do is hop on a ferry and I’m at the Javits Center. But this is not common.

If you’re not in the main convention hotel, you’re missing out on the action. This is where people network. It doesn’t even feel awkward – it just feels like a big party. You can hang out in the hotel with everybody even if you don’t have a room there, but you’ll still need to waste a crucial 30 minutes in an Uber going back and forth every day.

Do you think I’m crazy? OK – try to book a hotel for PAX South 2018 right now and see if you have any luck. I bet they’re already full.

 

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2. Prevent Disease At All Costs

When I usually pack for a trip, there are a lot of things on my “short-list” of items to bring. But I think it’s time for some new items to make the coveted must bring list. Those items are:

  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Throat Lozenges / Cough Drops
  • DayQuil (or other day-time cold remedy)
  • NyQuil (or other night-time cold remedy)

I usually end up buying this stuff anyway. Jack and I had to make do with whatever cough drops they had at the hotel convenience store during MAGFest… but in the future, cold remedies should just be part of show preparation. You will always get sick with some kind of “Con Crud” at these things – the human body can only handle being around strange other humans from other parts of the globe for so long. But you can stave off the effects of the cold long enough to survive the convention. Then you can die at home, which is much more convenient!

Also, for you hardcore survivalists, consider wearing gloves and a SARS mask. This can be part of your cosplay to make it seem less weird. When I see someone with a surgical mask at a convention, it’s always a little off-putting, but I have respect for their dedication.

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3. Drive If You Can

Driving is 100 times easier than flying, especially when you have a lot of booth equipment to bring to a convention. Packing your stuff in the trunk of your car and leaving whenever you want is more time consuming than hopping in a plane, but way cheaper. The biggest unexpected cost of these shows is shipping things back in forth.

Fortunately, at PAX South this past weekend, I sold out of my stock of Mr. Game!, so I didn’t have to ship games back. Between you and me, I only brought 4 cases just for this specific reason! I brought 11 to the Chicago Toy and Gaming Fair and had to bring tons of it back.

If your booth setup is super simple, you might get the best of both worlds – flying to a convention with your stuff in a checked bag. For the most part though, I recommend you drive. Figure out parking ahead of time. You’ll be happy you have a car in a strange place, especially if you grew up in an urban area and you aren’t used to everything closing early or having to drive far for basic needs.

Driving lets you set your schedule and gives you important freedom abroad. You may think it takes longer, but let me ask you this – what takes more time? A 4-hour car trip, or a 2-hour flight? When you consider the time you need to be at an airport and the time it takes to leave and get to your hotel, flying sometimes take longer. Save it for really long journeys, and maybe plan to do only local conventions before you have more money to burn.

 

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4. Don’t Let Anyone Kill You

Self-explanatory.

I hope this advice was helpful! Like I said before, this isn’t stuff I do – it’s stuff I wish I did. It takes a full year of jet-setting before some of these lessons sink in. To date, the only thing on this list I’ve done consistently is #4. But the year is young… perhaps my assassin is just around the corner?

 

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Follow this advice and you won’t die at conventions. I might have missed something, though – so if you’re looking for more sage wisdom, message Game Revenant on Facebook or Twitter. I also have a Twitch game development stream and an email for you email types (contact@GameRevenant.com).

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

Chicago Toy and Game Fair 2016

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to Chicago for the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. Below, I’ve posted my thoughts about the Fair, as well as a bit of a cost-benefit analysis.

Never Been To ChiTAG? I’ll Explain…

When I told some colleagues of mine that I was going to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG), they told me they had never attended this show and asked me to let them know what it was like. I suppose they are considering attending in the future. Here’s my recap!

ChiTAG begins with a conference during the week that I did not attend (the cost was quite high). The conference was designed as a way to network with big-wig industry professionals. I regret not doing this conference. In fact, if I could turn back time, I would have paid for the conference and not the booth. I found it hard to make industry connections on the show floor as many of these people were busy dealing with the general public. Anyway, I can’t comment on the Inventor Conference except to say that I shall go to my grave always wondering what might have been. (Just kidding. That’s a bit extreme.)

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My final setup at the show. This is a 10 x 10 with a round table, four chairs, a long table, and two banners that I shipped in to Chicago.

The setup day was Friday, November 18th. There was ample time to set up, from noon until 6 pm. We were allowed to stay past 6 pm but the doors were locked, so if you weren’t in the convention hall you got locked out. That night there were two events that I also didn’t attend because of the cost – PlayCHIC (a fashion show…<_<) and the TAGIEs, an award show. The TAGIEs cost $250 per plate! I decided to opt out due to the exorbitant cost and my general exhaustion.

This recap is off to a pretty bad start. I missed a ton of stuff! No wonder it sometimes felt like I didn’t get my money’s worth! I suppose I should have… spent more money?

Last thing about setup – the convention services people seemed professional, but swamped. They were in a bit over their head, and partially screwed up my order. I put in an order for two tables, four chairs, a carpet, 1 tablecloth, and a table skirt. I got most of that, except for the tablecloth. Also the table skirt was the wrong color. Not the end of the world – I brought my own tablecloths, because the Boy Scouts trained me well. But it was a bit annoying. Their offerings were quite expensive! I expected better service. They were nice people, though.

Before the show opened on Saturday morning, there was a breakfast with bloggers and influencers from 8 am to 9 am. I didn’t go to that either – that was reserved for event sponsors. Another paywall! I didn’t quite realize how many things I was prevented from doing at this conference until I started writing them all down. I can’t tell you much about this breakfast, because I didn’t see it. One blogger told me that it was mostly “people pitching their games to us” while they ate. Is that what “continental” means…?

On Saturday morning, the show opened to the public. On Saturday, the show went from 9 am to 6 pm, and on Sunday it went from 9 am to 5 pm.

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The Reception of Mr. Game!

I had 66 games shipped in, which is 11 cases. This number is quite high, but the warehouse team charges for a minimum of 200 lbs of product no matter how much you ship in. So, I thought it made sense to bring just enough in (198 lbs) so the value matched what I paid for it. In retrospect, this was an error in judgment. I also don’t like this system of charging for minimums, and will not do any shows in the future that have this policy.

Regarding sales, I was able to sell 10 games directly to customers, and 20 to a retailer named C&C Games. C&C Games appears to be a reseller that specializes in Rio Grande products. It was cool seeing my game on a shelf with modern classics like Power Grid and Dominion.

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Yes, that’s Mr. Game! on the C&C shelf next to all those Rio Grande games. No, I didn’t sneak it up there!

I gave 6 games (1 case) away to various influencers who approached the booth. Some were educators, and others were bloggers. I hope to reach more online now that the show is over – there were a few who expressed interest but never returned to the booth.

As planned, some of the excess product was donated to local charities to avoid the cost of shipping them back to my apartment. 11 games in all were donated to two different Chicago charities. The other 18 games were shipped back to me. So, the chart looks something like this:

  • 10 customer sales
  • 20 wholesale sales
  • 6 giveaways
  • 11 donations
  • 18 shipped back to me

I expected to sell more on the show floor to customers. It helps to have a third day, usually Friday, to absorb more of the show’s traffic. But we only had Saturday and Sunday to work with. ChiTAG felt like it was ending the moment the show opened on Saturday morning. That’s kind of a sickening feeling – after spending thousands of dollars on a booth, shipping, transportation and hospitality, I felt like I had barely enough time with the customers attending the Fair.

Traffic wasn’t dead, but it was definitely slow at times. It’s also worth mentioning that the buying habits of the attendees seemed rather frugal – I heard a lot of parents discussing the “one game” rule. That’s probably excellent parenting, but hearing that during the show got pretty annoying. I wanted them to buy all the games! Including Mr. Game!, of course…

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I was shocked (and overjoyed!) to see children as young as 8 years old grasping the game and enjoying it. This little girl was Ms. Game and she had no trouble bossing us around!

My sales technique was essentially to run demos at the booth and hope people would return to buy the game. Very rarely (never?) did someone buy it right after playing. Typically, they resolved to come back once they saw everything at the show. I lost a lot of people this way. I’m not sure what I could do to change this customer behavior.

I left the booth a few times to try to show the game to the larger players at the conference (Target, Pressman, North Star, Goliath) but they were too busy with customers to have time for me. I don’t blame them in the slightest – there are other shows (NY Toy Fair, GAMA) that are probably better for doing this kind of behind the scenes business.

Am I Returning Next Year?

At this point, I’m really not sure. It’s always fun to imagine what my schedule would be like if I was making millions of dollars and money was no object. Going to these events is always fun, and you’re guaranteed to meet new people.

But a trip with a $4,000 price tag is hard to justify. I’ll try anything once, but from that point onward I need to see some kind of obvious return if I’m going to become a repeat customer. This number is no exaggeration, by the way. See my costs below:

  • 10 x 10 booth – $1,800
  • Plane tickets – $325
  • Hotel, 2 nights – $360
  • Booth furnishings and game shipments – $915
  • Banner shipping and handout printing – $100
  • Various transportation costs – $135
  • Various food costs – $200
  • Return shipment of games – $125

I was surprised to hear that this show has been around for over a decade. It seemed a bit too small for a show with that kind of tenure. For a long running show in one of the largest cities in America, you’d expect a bit more traffic by your booth. Sadly, that was not the case. I expect that many people cancelled due to the weather, or the difficulty in getting to the show floor itself. (We were on the tail end of the Navy Pier, which itself is on the shore of Lake Michigan and might be a bit out of the way) Before the show, I heard anywhere from 7,000 to 30,000 people were going to attend. Now I see that the lower estimate was a better guess.

At this time, I’m not planning next year’s trip back to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. There were too may paywalls and not enough people to justify the considerable time and effort I spent on this show. We’ll see if the residual business connections I made at the show pay off. Maybe in the next week or two, people who neglected to buy in person will buy the game online. One can only hope.

My plan for the future is to focus on shows that do one thing well. GAMA is a trade show – you go there to get business deals done. PAX is a customer show – you go there to sell product to customers eager to buy impulsively. Blending the two efforts together may seem like a good idea, but there simply isn’t enough time to do either one effectively and you end up in no man’s land.

For now, this was my first and last ChiTAG. Let’s hope the New York Toy Fair is 100 times better!

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I’d like to hear from you. What did you think of ChiTAG? Where you there? Did I see you? Did you watch me as I slept? O_O!! Leave your feedback in the comments below, and be sure to check out the official Mr. Game! website, where you can purchase the game.

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

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Like a building under construction, ChiTAG is worth exploring – but not yet stable.