Archive for the ‘Developer Diary’ Category

Ancient Enemy Dev Diary #2

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

We are really delighted to be working with artist Jen Pattison on Ancient Enemy. This week in our dev diary Jen shares a bit about the art development and progress:

A world in tatters
The overall visual design of the characters in Ancient Enemy is intended to follow the theme of the story that the world has seen a lot of conflict and everyone has mostly been left in tatters as a result, one way or another.

That manifests in scruffy or damaged clothes; armour rusted, bloomed, or falling off; fungal growths; and in some cases people just being stitched back together to join the fight again.

Here are a couple of poses for an enemy bandit character:

All the human characters are not quite human anymore, and the bandits are maybe the simplest expression of that by not having faces, just empty dark hoods like wraiths, but otherwise displaying the physically fit body type you might expect from their lifestyle.

Warped nature
The Boarstool, on the other hand, is an example of warped nature, partly grown over and partly altered in fundamentals to be somewhere in the middle of plant and animal.

We did a few iterations to get him a bit meaner and a bit more gross along the way, altering his expression and giving him a rotting leg.

I also tried out a number of palette options for him, as some colours that could read as toxic/poisonous were also quite friendly/cute fantasy in tone.

Ultimately we decided to have different colours of Boarstool in different areas of the game to add to the variety and to fit in with the mood of the zones where they appear.

The aim for the characters’ stances was to create something dynamic and illustrative, within the limitations of the card based UI, which has taken a lot of back and forth to get right but it’s the sort of thing that’s very satisfying to work on as a team when it all finally comes together.

Ancient Enemy Dev Diary #1

Friday, November 16th, 2018

It’s been less than a month since we announced Ancient Enemy, and we’ve been making good progress.

Jen has been finalizing the main character’s various fighting stances. First she drew some sketches, which we tested in-game, and then she spent a while painting them.

Jake plugged them in to the game and made videos of them animating so that the team could check them out and suggest improvements.

Since the announcement we brought Dan Emmerson on board. He made the game logo, which we really loved, so we asked him to design the playing cards, collectible cards and user interface in a similar style to the logo. We hope to have some screenshots we can share next week.

Jim has been working closely with Jen and Dan on art direction and has generated a draft map screen.

Jake has been working on detailed art lists for Dan and producer stuff like updating the schedule and making sure everyone is fully aware of the budget and time constraints. He has also been coding a map node system, which allows us to have non-linear mini maps for each main map location. We’re also going to use this code for a skill tree system later on.

Jake is now finalizing a list of collectible cards that the game will have so that we can code these and make art for them. And Jen is working on some awesome enemies that will take several weeks, we will post some of these soon…

Shadowhand postmortem – Top ten takeaways

Monday, July 16th, 2018

We recently did a detailed postmortem of our RPG card game, Shadowhand. Going over every aspect of the project honestly and in depth generated 23 pages of notes about what we got right, and, importantly, what we got wrong and how we could improve next time.

We have distilled our findings into a checklist of ten points, which we can use for future projects. We are sharing it so that you can avoid making the same mistakes with your indie game project (or, hopefully, reassure yourself that you are on track.)

1 Pitching
Pitch your project to more than one publisher and/or funding body.

Listen to their feedback and think about it carefully. You are entering a long-term business relationship with them. As well as securing funding, your pitch and design document (yes we had one!) are part of the process of clarifying to yourself what you are offering and why players should care.

2 Budget
Pay yourselves and your contractors properly.

Ensure that you genuinely have a big enough budget to do this for the duration of the project. When it comes to contractors, you get what you pay for. But conversely, don’t be tempted to pay more than you need to, or can afford, for assets or services. Be realistic about the scale of your project, and how likely the extra spend is to make a difference to sales in the long run because you could just be wasting money (and time) on unneeded content.

3 Schedule
Make a realistic schedule and try to stick to it.

In our case our schedule was unrealistic and with hindsight, revealed that our project really needed an art director (or a different scope, see below).

We should have built in a lot more contingency time for predicable things, such as attending shows and conferences; and for random curveballs and disasters, such as a runaway moth infestation and a very sick child.

4 Scope
Have you got the scope right?

How long do players expect your game to be for the price? How much content does it really need? Does your team have the skills and capacity to deliver this or do you need to pay contractors who can help? How big is the market for your game?

Speaking as a tiny team who delivered an incredibly rich and complex game that we are extremely proud of, but which is probably twice as long as it needed to be, we suggest you think very carefully about this. Your reasons for making a game, financial and emotional resources, and potential market will vary.

5 Publisher
Find the right publisher for your project.

Try to find a publisher who gives you a fair deal in terms of advance and recoup, and is great at marketing support. It is also worth considering the other products in their portfolio. Are they a good match for your game and therefore likely to drive their existing customers to you?

It also goes without saying that you need a solid contract that covers all eventualities.

6 Testing
Test when ready and allow time to process the results. In-house testing can also be a powerful development tool.

Taking your game to a show early in development and having the public play it is a great way to get feedback and test that the core loop is fun.

Taking the time to code a dedicated testing system may also be worthwhile. In our case, a rapid simulation of thousands of duels proved invaluable for balancing the RPG elements of our game.

Consider the timing of testing carefully. Don’t rush to pay for testing – wait until your game is at the correct stage to make the most of the results and feedback you will get. Conversely, towards the end of the project, make sure you leave enough time after getting results from your beta testers to make full use of them before you ship!

7 PR & Marketing
Know your strengths and plan ahead

If you plan to attend shows, think about timing, and whether the spend is worth it. In our case, a show early on in the development cycle was actually very useful in proving that our concept and core gameplay were fun and marketable. However, we attended too many shows at an early stage, and they were all UK-based. Exhibiting at shows closer to launch or across different continents may have been a better use of that budget.

Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses in PR and marketing, and be prepared to ask for assistance. Our PR reach is good for an indie microstudio and our publisher has considerable expertise in marketing. But there were still things we could have improved upon, such as connecting with streamers and the American press.

8 Launch
Plan this in as much detail as possible.

Launching will probably be a stressful time so keeping a cool head and having good checklists is a must.

Don’t make changes to the build hours or minutes before launch…(yeah, we did this and it screwed up.)

9 Sustaining post-launch momentum
Make yourself available

Remember that if your PR efforts have been successful, you can expect to spend the next few weeks helping various media professionals to discuss your game via podcasts, streams, written interviews and so on. Also you’ll be fending off a huge volume of fake Steam key requests.

Despite the huge effort of getting the game finished and the understandable desire to take a break, this is when sustained promotion and making yourself available pays off.

10 Customer support
Be responsive but also selective

Scheduling time post-launch to keep up with discussions, forums and reviews is important. We have made a number of updates to the game post-launch to fix various minor issues or add things to the game based on player feedback. Go for the changes that give the “biggest bang for your buck” though. The amount of time you invest in this should be proportional to the number of players who will benefit, and the likely effect on future Steam review scores.

A final note on decision-making
Our project took over two years and involved a great deal of decision-making, both at the meta/business level and at the micro/game design level. As we were taking these decisions throughout the project, the majority of them seemed to be logical, sensible business decisions backed up by numbers and facts.

In hindsight, it is much clearer to us how many of those decisions were in fact based on emotions – both positive and negative – that largely fall into two categories: being very excited for our project and putting too much into it; and trying to avoid tasks or situations that we found difficult.

Going forward, we will come up with a stronger logical framework for approaching our decisions, and simultaneously acknowledge that emotion plays a large part in the choices we make and so reframe our discussions accordingly.

A big takeaway for us is to make time to understand the emotions that drive or hinder a project. We hope this will make us a better and more productive team in future.

What key takeaways did you have after completing your last project? Let us know in the comments.

Helen Carmichael @bchezza &
Jake Birkett @greyalien