Shadowhand dev diary #3: PC Gamer show and interview/playthrough

March 7th, 2016

We took Shadowhand on the road and shared a demo with folks at the PC Gamer Weekender show in London this weekend.

We had a great response from show visitors, and were also interviewed by PC Gamer’s Chris Thursten. Check out this video, which has lots of game footage as well as backstory on how Shadowhand evolved…

Streamed live on 5 Mar 2016

Shadowhand Dev Diary #2: It’s showtime!

February 29th, 2016

We have been super busy at Grey Alien Games preparing for upcoming events, both in the UK and in the US. Our focus has been on packing as many fun features as possible into our unique card battling game, Shadowhand, so that game show visitors and press can check it out.

Streamers
We’ve had a couple of Twitch streamers check out the game for different reasons.

Earlier in February our good friend Ryan Clark played the Shadowhand demo, and used his wizarding skills of spreadsheet prediction to try to figure out how well it could do on release. This is probably one for the game dev community as it goes into quite a bit of technical and sales stuff. The upshot was that THIS GAME IS SO FAR OUT IT BROKE THE SPREADSHEET! Predictions of success aside, we got some great feedback from Ryan, which we have already begun to implement.

Yesterday we had streamers and game dev couple Robotloveskitty try out both Regency Solitaire and the Shadowhand demo. They packed a lot into half an hour of their Indie Dev Supershow and they immediately grasped the strategy possibilities we are working to build into the new game.

What’s new in the game?
Shadowhand’s gameplay is unique – as far as we know – in that it features turn-based duels between the player and an AI enemy…but rather than rolling a die or dice to determine the outcome of each move, you try to get a good run of cards instead. Each card you play increases the charge on your weapons (which you can only deploy when fully-charged), and a long run of cards increases your attack bonus resulting in a critical hit.

Shadowhand fires on highwayman, Rich Turnpike in a duel

- As you play, you collect or buy a large selection of weapons and clothing items, which you can choose to deploy strategically via the inventory system:

Shadowhand can throw projectiles

- Changes to her outfit offer defense against specific enemies/weapons:

- Our heroine also collects power up cards – active and passive abilities – throughout the game, which confer an advantage to the player via the cards. So this might mean more cards turned up at the start of a turn (passive ability) or blasting one playable card off the tableau (active ability), for example.

Come and see for yourself!
We will be demoing Shadowhand at PC Gamer Weekender this coming weekend (5-6th March) in London.

Jake will then be attending GDC from 14-18th March in San Francisco. He is giving a speech on sustainable game development there – don’t miss it!

We will both be once again donning our tricorns for Rezzed from 7-9th April, where you can play the game and also hear us speak about working together as a couple in the game industry.

Regency Solitaire on sale!
Finally – did you know that on February 29th, which comes around only once every four years, women were allowed to turn tradition on its head and offer a proposal of marriage to their beau? Times may have changed, but since we spend most of our time steeped in British history, we’re offering a romantic discount on Regency Solitaire for a this leap week on Steam starting today from 10AM PST/6PM GMT.

2015 Review and 2016 Goals

January 9th, 2016

Right then, how did I get on with my 2015 goals and what am I planning for 2016?
Here’s last year’s post for reference.

Summary

Overall I’m happy with how the year turned out.

Regency Solitaire has had a great reception and done pretty well financially. We didn’t ship a second casual game in 2015, but we made good progress with Shadowhand (which is more of an “indie” game). Also I did lots of bonus achievements (see list below) and didn’t make any big mistakes (as far as I know).

As for personal goals, I did pretty well there due to keeping them simple and focused.

So yeah, overall good, roll on 2016!

2015 Work Goals

1) Ship second solitaire game before the summer (first one is due out in Jan 2015) (FAILED: Totally didn’t do this. The plan was to make a quick solitaire game for the casual market using the Regency Solitaire engine but instead we are making a bigger game for the “indie” market e.g. Steam and direct sales market.)

2) Make $200,000 net revenue from my solitaire games. (FAILED: Regency Solitaire did pretty well, but not $200,000 well, and there was no second solitaire game released to help boost the figures.)

3) Successfully get the new cultural tax credit for Regency Solitaire + the new game (so I’ll get back 25% of salaries paid from April 2014-Mar 2015) = £15,000 (~$23K) (SUCCESS (in theory): Our application was approved by the BFI and we’ve sent off all the accounts to HMRC and are waiting for them to send the money. So unless something goes wrong, that’s in the bag. It has taken a lot longer than we expected though.)

4) Do a game jam. (SUCCESS: I took part in One Game a Month again in 2015 so I shipped 12 games, some commercial and some free. I wasn’t sure if the free ones counted as doing a game jam (even though they were often intense projects that lasted for a couple of days), so I asked on Twitter for people to suggest some game jam themes. I chose Ryan Clark‘s theme of “Seer” and made a game called Star Seer.)

Either:
5a) Ship another casual game, either match-3 or solitaire, in late summer/autumn. Got tons of ideas, it’s just a case of getting them out the door.
OR
5b) Mostly complete (75% minimum) a new indie game (9-12 months dev time).
(PART SUCCESS: We didn’t make another casual game but we teamed up with indie publisher, Positech Games, and began work on Shadowhand. It’s progressing well, though I wouldn’t say we are 75% complete, more like 50-60%.)

Stretch goals:
6) if 5a) then ship another casual game in time for Christmas, possibly Holiday Bonus 2.(FAILED: Nope, didn’t happen.)

7) Do another game jam.(NOT SURE: Er, I didn’t do an official game jam, just 12 games as part of #1gam, so I guess that’s probably a fail.)

Success rate = 2.5/5 = 50% (Note that part-successes are counted as 0.5 and I have ignored the optional and stretch goals) This isn’t too bad. We had a good year with Regency Solitaire and Shadowhand is going well, plus I did #1gam, so I’m happy. $200,000 would have been nice though…

2015 Personal Goals

1) Go on a non-UK family holiday for at least a week. If I don’t do this my wife will probably kill me. (SUCCESS: Well actually I think it was for 6 days not a week, but it’s close enough. We went to France and it was nice!)

2) Buy a new guitar that I’ve been hankering after, get back into practicing, and do a blues gig.(FAILED: Aww. Well I had promised myself a fancy guitar for when I finished Regency Solitaire, but when it was done, I just didn’t feel like spending the money! I’ve hardly been practicing this year and didn’t do a gig, so that’s a bit lame.)

3) Do something cool for my 40th birthday.(SUCCESS: Yep! I stayed in a fancy Georgian hotel in Bath with my wife, went shopping for old coins, and had a posh lunch at the Pump Rooms with friends (the bill was :-O). Then we stayed in Thornbury castle (in the gatehouse actually) and had a baronial dinner. On the way home we visited a location that featured in Regency Solitaire, which was pretty cool.)

4) Get at least one of my students through their 2nd Dan Aikido grading. This is, of course, quite a lot dependent on them.(SUCCESS: Yep, he did great in fact. Also another student got 1st Dan.)

Success rate = 3/4 = 75% I’m happy with this. I kept it simple and completed most of them.

Bonus Points

It’s not all about the goals because sometimes cool unexpected things happen. I already made a blog post about Grey Alien Games’ 2015 Achievements, and I’ve listed the non-goal-related achievements here along with some personal achievements:

- The Android port of Titan Attacks which I coded launched in the Humble Bundle and sold 80,000 copies. Pretty neat.
- Regency Solitaire launched on Steam! It got through Greenlight and has done OK on there. This also meant we got some mainstream press which was cool.
- We got a publishing deal with Positech Games for Shadowhand. They are funding it and handling the marketing, which is rad.
- We exhibited Shadowhand at EGX in cosplay as a highwayman and highwaywoman. It was tiring but fun!
- Spooky Bonus launched on Steam! It took nearly a year to get through Greenlight. It’s not a hit on there, like it was on the casual portals, but it’s still nice to be on Steam.
- Regency Solitaire got mentioned in quite a few mainstream GOTY lists, which was really nice. I feel like 2015 was the year we finally received some kind of recognition for what we have been doing all these years.
- I did #1gam and shipped 12 commercial games/demos/free games. I love doing #1gam though at times it can be stressful when there are other deadlines too.
- I paid my wife and I a proper salary all year long for the second year in a row. We haven’t really had any financial worries all year which is fantastic. Long may it continue!
- I helped organise a two day Indie Game Conference in London which had some fantastic speakers.
- I didn’t get distracted with too many low priority game dev/biz dev tasks (er, apart from #1gam, but that’s for personal growth). I was pretty much focused on Regency Solitaire marketing and getting it on Steam, and making Shadowhand.
- I made a German retail deal for Regency Solitaire. I’m looking forward to seeing it in a box!
- I played quite a lot of games on Desktop and console, including Dragon Age Inquisition on PS4, which was very enjoyable and good for research of course! ;-)
- I feel in good health and my Aikido is going well.
- I’ve read some good books about game design and art this year.

Mistakes

Looking back I don’t feel I made any major mistakes this year. Maybe I’m getting the hang of things finally! ;-) But there were some areas of improvement:

- We tried a lot of marketing for Regency Solitaire early in the year but didn’t get very far. Once it came out on Steam people took a lot more notice, as if Steam is some kind of “validation” for indie games, which of course it isn’t. So we did another round of marketing but because we are relative noobs at marketing indie games I don’t think we did a great job (in the casual market, the portals do all the marketing for you to their existing customers, so we never needed to do anything). To be honest, we should have probably hired a PR company to do the legwork and leverage their contacts.
- Regency Solitaire, though much loved, is a bit of niche game, and that’s pretty obvious when I look at it’s sales on Steam (which are low) compared to sales on casual portals (which are a lot higher). That’s why we’ve tried to make Shadowhand have a broader appeal but without losing the unique vibe we think we can bring to games.
- I slacked off a bit at various times during the first half of the year before we started work on Shadowhand, mostly because the next project wasn’t finalised yet, and just because after working on a game for a year you kinda burn out a bit.
- I did a lot of research and pitched a game idea at Positech Games which got turned down. So in theory that was lost time, though I enjoyed the process and learned from it. Luckily, Shadowhand was the second pitch, so it all worked out in the end.
- I got stressed because I found out some other devs had copied various aspects of my games, sometimes really blantantly. However, I don’t want to go into now as it’s best left behind me as I move forward.
- I probably should have tried to go on another family holiday or gone on more days out. You can never really do enough of this but balancing it with work (and sanity) is hard.
- I wanted to pay a small lump sum off our mortgage, but we didn’t make enough money to do that. Hopefully we will be able to do that in 2016 due to Shadowhand!

2016 Work Goals

1) Ship Shadowhand (sub goals of continue to enjoy working on it, and make it really damn good)
2) Shadowhand makes a healthy profit on top of the investment. Let’s put a number of $100,000 on that.
3) Ship some Shadowhand DLC or start work on a related game (sequel/prequel/game using same engine)
4) Regency Solitaire gets some kind of IGF and/or BAFTA mention (I have entered into both)
5) Get the British game cultural tax credit thing for Shadowhand. Could be about £10000.

Stretch Goals:
1) Make $200,000 net revenue from all my games.

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.
2) Do a gamejam (can be an online one or an in-person one)
3) Go on holiday in Scotland with my wife (maybe with the kids but maybe not)
4) Continue to improve my art skills and make 6 pieces of art from scratch.
5) I can’t announce this goal yet, but it’s quite exciting!

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.

How was your 2015? Have a great 2016!