Apologies for the long delay on updating the blog. It kept being pushed back as it was low on the priority list compared to other things that needed to be done! Anyways, let’s start with how PAX went!
PAX West 2016
PAX West was held on September 2-5, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. We were selected as part of PAX Rising, a selection of twelve games that are part of new or very small indie studios. I couldn’t believe we were going to the largest attended game convention in the US. We vigorously prepared for PAX, making sure we had everything we needed – t-shirts, buttons, stickers, designing a display, new artwork, and more. It was going to be four days showing the game in an extremely high traffic area. We were located on one of the main expo floors next to a main pathway. We shared the vicinity with Twitch, Capcom, and Rock Band.
Getting to the convention center to set up was surreal, and it was the real deal. There were hundreds of other booths being set up and it was quite hectic. Here’s what our booth looked like after we finished setting up:
As you can see, we designed a new box art cover for the game that would fit the dimensions of this large mural that the people at PAX printed for us. Along with Justin who usually comes with me to these things was my friend Richard Lopez who is part of a small board/card game company called Sirlin Games, known for their hyper-competitive and balanced games. If you’re a fan of competitive card games like MTG or Hearthstone, I highly recommend you check out Codex!
The four days of the event were grueling but rewarding. Over the four, eight-hour days, we demoed the game to over a thousand people, gained almost five hundred on our mailing list, and probably had a number of impressions in the thousands. Of those who actually tried the game, the majority of people loved it and some even came back to show their friends and families. Couples especially loved it as the game was casual enough and easy enough to control that those who are typically not great at video games were actually able to contribute since it was all about puzzle solving. Many co-op games usually have a worse experience when one person is lacking in mechanical game skills.
One nice technique that Richard started to employ to deal with the large crowds was to use items from our display to denote order in line. Since we had two stations, we started to use a “First Flower” and “Second Stone” which were pulled from our display to give to people to hold onto which showed without a doubt who was going to go on the next available station. There was no doubt about cutting in line, and people had a physical object to tie them to waiting for their turn. It was quite effective as people waited even up to fifteen minutes to play the game with no problems. If you’re exhibiting a game, I’d definitely recommend using some sort of queuing system to incentivize people to stay and make sure everything is fair.
Because we were exhibiting for the whole time, it was nearly impossible to find time to go out into the convention and look at things ourselves. However, I went to at least meet with the other game developers of the PAX 10 and some of the surrounding games. I even got to meet the famed ConcernedApe of Stardew Valley, who said he liked my game (or maybe he was being nice haha).
For PAX, we also decided to try to push our Kickstarter launch to be the same time so we could have a way for people to support us. Overall, PAX was the best experience to date and it was extremely inspiring to see that many gamers consistently like the game! We’ll definitely try to apply for PAX in the future.
Along with preparing for PAX in the months leading up to it, we also simultaneously worked on our Kickstarter campaign, designing rewards and making the page presentable. To help set the stage for the story a bit more, we decided to make an opening cinematic for the game which we also made our main Kickstarter video:
In this cinematic, there is a lot of imagery of the past up until you start to control the Rabbit and the Owl. Throughout the game, we’ll tell a story through text and paintings. We had hoped that a video like this with no words would spark people to want to continue scrolling down to see the rest of the campaign.
Andrew, our artist, made this using Photoshop and After Effects. David and Patrick then wrote music to match the cinematic. I’m so proud of their hard work – I would have never expected anything like this out of our first indie game.
The goal of the Kickstarter was for it to be more of a “kickender.” Up until this point, we had been our own funds plus money from friends and family. Although we’ve been very lean with the funds we had so far, we did need a bit more to finish off the game since we were running out at this point. We set the goal at around $5,000. The Kickstarter launched on September 1, the day before PAX.
Thanks to friends who supported us and those we met at PAX, our campaign catapulted to its initial goal in five days! A special thanks to Anya Combs from Kickstarter who featured The Rabbit and the Owl in the Games category on Kickstarter and in one of the newsletters. As the campaign rolled on, we saw slow but steady pledges as it crept up to $10,000 over the next few weeks. Facebook ads were providing a nearly 2:1 return. Then, in the final few days it spiked up to over $14,228 with a total of 636 backers. The campaign ended on October 1.
One of the major stretch goals we ended up reaching was implementing online co-op play, so we’ll be working on that for initial release as well.
IndieCade was held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on October 14-16. We arrived a day earlier to attend the IndieXchange that was happening on October 13, which was composed of people from the industry having a day to themselves before the masses came in during the main event. During IndieXchange, we had a two hour slot called “Gametasting,” which is analogous to wine tasting in that they were short bite sized sessions for people to try out a game and rotate out game developers every two hours so that people could try many games in a limited amount of time. We didn’t make the Spotlight which featured the best Gametasting games, but we got to meet so many awesome developers, including one who was working on a game that had its Greenlight campaign at the same time we did. That game was a puzzle game called Linelight, and it was as good as it looked in its trailer. Really excited for this one!
We also met with some people from PlayStation, which was promising as they liked the game, and we’re looking to port to the platform on release.
For the main event itself, we actually didn’t show the game but rather just attended to see everything out there. IndieCade is definitely a unique experience. They brand themselves as the “Sundance Festival of Video Games” and that’s certainly true. There are many experimental games that focus on some sort of cerebral/metaphorical experience or sending a message about sexuality, race, feminism, depression, or other issues.
One of my favorite games there was a game called Revisions, about a gay, immigrant Korean growing up in the US. It was one of those meta-games similar to something like The Stanley Parable. Other notable games that I like there were Night in the Woods and Four Sided Fantasy.
I went into IndieCade with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of ingenuity and creativity that was using video games to express a reflection on different societal issues. Of course there were traditional games there as well, so it was a nice mix of everything!
Vampire Ball 2016
Going back to our roots which started with the Sacramento Indie Arcade, we decided to attend something called the Vampire Ball which was co-hosted by IGDA Sacramento. It was the first time they tried a games section for the Vampire Ball, but basically they wanted to create a sort of arcade/boardwalk area for a Halloween costume party that showcased local Sacramento game developers. Although the audience was more geared toward the Halloween party and only a small percentage were actually into games, we still had a blast. Shout out to Jeremy Ingham of Arclight Worlds who is making an awesome exploration-driven dungeon crawler called Venture Forth. He certainly had a better costume than me, and by that I mean I had no costume. I should’ve worn bunny ears.
Indie Game Con 2016
We were accepted to show the game at the third annual Indie Game Con from November 11-13. In previous years, this event was a standalone one-day event, but this time it was held during the Eugene Comic Con in Eugene, Oregon. Each of the indie games selected to show actually had a sizable booth comparable to those you would normally pay several thousand for at a larger event like PAX.
EuCon wasn’t as large as PAX (at least not yet), but we were still busy 90% of the time showing the game continuously to new people with two separate stations. We showed to game to hundreds of people over the three days there. The overall audience was definitely different than what we had been used to before. Whereas most events we went to so far had gamers as its core audience, EuCon’s attendees were mostly comic-book fans and families and their children. Luckily there was still a lot of interest in the games IGC had to offer. There were also many children who tried our game as young as five years old. It was fun seeing which ones were the clever ones who could figure things out and who were just button mashers, and it was adorable seeing some of them come back saying things like “I want to play the rabbit game again!”
Ted Brown, the coordinator of IGC, did a stellar job setting up the event and accommodating everyone with what they needed. I’d like to thank him for his efforts in putting on a great event!
The Road Ahead
Now that the Kickstarter campaign raised ample funds for us to complete the game, we’re buckling down on finishing the game and fully fleshing out all the features. We were able to hire someone to implement a way to procedurally round off and smooth the hard 90-degree angle corners of all the rectangles in the game using shaders:
Although the difference is subtle, it helps immensely with making the game looking amateur to semi-not-amateur. After much testing in recent events, we’re also working on revamping the ordering the levels and adding in new ones to smooth out the difficulty curve and round out the experience. Right now, many of the levels past the demo are all pretty difficult, so we want to ease that in a little better so it’s not as frustrating and daunting every level. After this level rework, we’ll be designing animated background art and continue to work on final designs of the characters, environmental objects, and their animations. Finally, we’ll implement the story. Settling on the way we should tell the story exactly has been difficult, but I’ll be sure to update you as we get closer to a solution.
There aren’t any events we plan to go to for the next few months. The next one we’ll go to is probably GDC, which will take us full circle as it was our first event we ever went to. Fingers crossed for making it into the Independent Games Festival finalists.
That’s all for now - thanks for reading!