Archive for December, 2016

2016 Review and 2017 Goals

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Blimey, it really doesn’t feel like a year since I posted my 2015 review but somehow that time has passed in a flash!

Summary

Er, I have mostly failed at achieving my goals this year because the primary focus has been working on Shadowhand and it’s taken a lot longer than planned. I know why it’s taken longer (overscoping, complex art requirements, and some slow patches) and that has resulted in me putting a lot of my other goals on hold. Thus I pretty much need to copy paste my 2016 goals as my 2017 goals! :-D

That makes my year sound like a failure, but it’s not because Shadowhand is going very well and it’s enjoyable to work on. I really think it’ll be our best game to date. Our finances are definitely stretched a bit thin as we finish off the game, but we have managed to pay ourselves (Helen and I) a good monthly salary for the 3rd year in a row!

Also despite launching no new titles in 2016, Grey Alien Games turned over in excess of $100,000 from back catalogue titles, investment, tax relief etc. Furthermore, because of Brexit, each of those $USDs are actually worth more £GBP now!

To be honest, the very fact we are still in business a year later and are about to launch a new game is a success in the current climate of indie game development…

2016 Work Goals

1) Ship Shadowhand (sub goals of continue to enjoy working on it, and make it really damn good) (FAILED: It has not shipped but it’s pretty close now. I have enjoyed working on it and I believe it’s my best work, so the sub goals were a success.)

2) Shadowhand makes a healthy profit on top of the investment. Let’s put a number of $100,000 on that. (FAILED: It’s not out yet!)

3) Ship some Shadowhand DLC or start work on a related game (sequel/prequel/game using same engine) (FAILED: Although we have actually done some preliminary planning for a couple of different games using the Regency/Shadowhand engine.)

4) Regency Solitaire gets some kind of IGF and/or BAFTA mention (I have entered into both) (FAILED: Sadly this was not to be, though I have higher hopes for Shadowhand.)

5) Get the British game cultural tax credit thing for Shadowhand. Could be about £10000. (SUCCESS! Phew, one success, even if it was only an accounting success. But business cash flow is important and this helps a lot.)

Success rate = 1/5 = 20%. I guess setting multiple goals based on shipping a game on time isn’t a good idea :-D Also I shouldn’t set goals based on external bodies giving us an award as that is largely out of our control.

Stretch Goals:
1) Make $200,000 net revenue from all my games. (FAILED: Though as I’ve mentioned above, we made over $100,000. If we’d shipped Shadowhand I think this goal would have been in the bag.)

2016 Personal Goals

1) Get my mortgage under £100,000 before I’m 41 in the summer. This should be pretty easy tbh with a small overpayment, but it’ll be a nice milestone. (SUCCESS: Yep, done. Having a five figure mortgage feels like the 1980s except interest rates are *way* lower. For me it’s a nice psychological thing to have a five figure mortgage as it somehow seems more managable to me.)

2) Do a gamejam (can be an online one or an in-person one) (FAILED: Well there’s about 24 hours left in 2016, so I could try, but I think I’ll roll this goal on to 2017 instead. I love gamejams, but I just couldn’t justify spending the time on one this year whilst still working on Shadowhand.)

3) Go on holiday in Scotland with my wife (maybe with the kids but maybe not) (FAILED: This didn’t happen. In fact we didn’t even go on any holidays due to working on the game. I will need to fix this big time in 2017 or I’ll be in deep trouble.)

4) Continue to improve my art skills and make 6 pieces of art from scratch. (SUCCESS: One thing I’ve done this year is a lot of art direction including making mockups, and also a *ton* of art editing, by which I mean getting assets from the artists and tweaking them until I’m happy to plug them into the game. I’ve also made 4 pieces of art from scratch which are in my Flash mini adventure game called Star Seer. I know that’s not 6 as per my goal, but it’s pretty close and the sheer volume of other art-related stuff I’ve done more than makes up for it.)

5) I can’t announce this goal yet, but it’s quite exciting! (SUCCESS: This goal was actually “Do a really great speech at GDC which loads of people tell me was awesome”. Well, I knocked that one out of the park. My talk (originally titled “The No Hit Wonder”) went really well at GDC, and then later in the year was put on youtube where it has amassed an incredible 118,000 views so far. It seems like most days I get a message from someone who found my talk inspiring, which is pretty cool.)

Success rate = 3/5 = 60%. Not stellar, but I’m happy with it.

Stretch Goals:
1) Pay off my mortgage (or be in a position where I could do that, but for tax purposes it may be sensible not to do that in one go…)
2) Go on another holiday with my wife (probably better take the kids on this one too!)
3) Make more art, let’s say 6 more for a total of 12 pieces. The equivalent of one a month.
4) Get back into playing guitar and play at least one song at a public gig.

All FAILED.

Bonus Points
- We exhibited Shadowhand at the PC Gamer Weekender in London, and also at Rezzed in London, plus I showed it to some journalists at GDC. This resulted in some coverage from PC Gamer, RPS, The Guardian and Eurogamer! All good stuff.
- Helen and I spoke at Rezzed and Develop about working together on Regency Solitaire and Shadowhand. Helen also did a speech at Wordplay London.
- Regency Solitaire was in a Humble Indie Bundle, which was pretty cool. It brought in some cash at a much needed time and many more people got to check out the game which will hopefully mean they might buy Shadowhand when it launches.
- Through a weird fluke I was able to launch Holiday Bonus GOLD on Steam without having to go through Greenlight. It launched on the 27th of December as it was all a bit last minute. This game is technically 10 years old (though the GOLD update was made in 2012), so it really is the gift that keeps on giving!
- I managed to enjoy the sun this summer, went to some great Aikido courses, listened to lots of music, read lots of books, played lots of games, spent time with my family. It’s been a good year!

Mistakes
- Well the major one is overscoping the design for Shadowhand and spending way too long editing/fixing the art. However, this may not prove to be a mistake if the extra work pays off in terms of people recognising and enjoying the effort we have put into it. But generally, if you take too long on a game, you probably won’t see a return on the investment. It’s a common indie mistake. Even with the overscoped design, I think I should have hired some kind of art “fixer” to handle all the art assets so that I could focus on the coding, although I have learned a lot in the process and enjoyed quite a lot of it.
- Not going on holiday with my family. Because we have a publisher for Shadowhand and because it’s late, I feel under constant pressure to get the game done and not do anything else that might delay the launch. At one point we thought we might launch in the autumn so we didn’t go on a summer holiday, but the reality is we probably could have gone because the game has been delayed further anyway.
- I’ve come to the conclusion that events like exhibiting at shows or going to GDC ruin my productivity for a while afterwards. Far from being a “break” from development, they basically interupt development and I find it hard to get going again afterwards. Post GDC jetlag sucks, but even for UK events I feel really knackered afterwards for days. Of course there are plenty of benefits from attending these events, and I still believe they are importantant but I need to factor in recovery to my schedule accordingly.
- Probably we should have done some MORE marketing for Shadowhand in the second half of the year such as go to PAX, or arrange a US press tour for early 2017. However the publisher has a fixed budget and we have already done several shows, so unless we are willing to spend our own cash on more events (which we can’t afford to do), it’s not going to happen. At least we’ve made several developer vlogs and will be making a bunch more in the run up to launch, which is something we can do for no cost and without being exhausted afterwards :-)

2017 Work Goals
1) Ship Shadowhand (sub goals of continue to enjoy working on it, and make it really damn good)
2) Shadowhand makes a $100,000 profit on top of the investment.
3) Ship some Shadowhand DLC or start work on a related game (sequel/prequel/new game using same engine)
4) Get the second part of the Video Game Tax Relief for Shadowhand. This should be quite a lot, more than last year, and will be very helpful for cash flow.
5) Make $150,000 net revenue from all my games/tax relief/investment. I’ve been very close to this before, so I believe it’s achievable if we ship Shadowhand plus one more game.

Stretch Goals:
1) Make $250,000 net revenue.

2017 Personal Goals

1) Make another mortgage lump sum overpayment at some point in the year.
2) Do a gamejam (can be an online one or an in-person one or just an ad-hoc one I do on my own)
3) Go on holiday in Scotland with my wife (maybe with the kids but maybe not)
4) Host a successful Aikido summer school in my town.
5) Make 6 pieces of art from scratch.
6) Get back into playing the guitar.

Stretch Goals:
1) Pay off my mortgage (or be in a position where I could do that)

Worldbuilding with words

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Helen was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in Wordplay London in November at the British Library: a festival of interactive fiction and writerly games organised by the Hand Eye Society.

For those of you who missed it and would like to get some insight from a host of experts about writing in games, the Hand Eye Society has put together a video of some of the panels from the day.

Helen was part of the panel called “Worldbuilding with words,” along with a lovely panel with varied backgrounds ranging from dystopian Twitter fiction (Nate Crowley) to choose-your-own-adventure style game books (Jon Green) with a bit of dating Twine fiction (Hannah Powell-Smith) along the way. Helen spoke about facilitating different levels of depth that work for a range of play styles in both Regency Solitaire and Shadowhand. She also talks about connecting with as many of the player’s senses as possible to build a game world; and how a limited plot scope and richly researched lore can help with effective writing. You can catch this panel at 5:00:00 (5 hours) into the video.

Shadowhand Developer Vlog #7 – Outfits

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Shadowhand is an unique RPG card game for PC/Mac coming to Steam soon.

In our latest developer vlog Jake talks about the huge variety of outfits you can wear in the game, what effect they have on gameplay and how they work in the various animated combat stances.