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!
Last week, we went to Indie Prize which was part of a larger event called Casual Connect in San Francisco. There were about a hundred other indie developers showing their games, and they were all awesome. Coincidentally, we ended up exhibiting right next to the team we were next to during the Sacramento Indie Arcade (one guy, Chris, is in the background with the blue shirt - they actually ended up winning best multiplayer game with their game Mind the Trap)! We also exhibited next to Radu who is making the beautiful Semispheres, who is an amazing and insightful person by the way.
The event itself was interesting to say the least. Indie Prize is held multiple times a year internationally in places like Singapore and Tel Aviv. In the US, they choose to be hosted by Casual Connect. Without considering indie games, Casual Connect seems to be a lot about advertising agencies and ad networks, especially for mobile which didn’t apply for many of the indie developers here. Entry to the event was also expensive so there weren’t tons of people.
Despite this, there were still quite a few people who showed up specifically to see the games (usually sponsored from larger companies like NVIDIA), especially on the second day. We were also able to connect more deeply with a lot of the other indies there, which I found invaluable. We hadn’t gotten much of a chance at previous events to do that.
Casual Connect also seemed to be very well funded. They sponsored a lot of parties, including this one at San Francisco City Hall:
Who knew you could rent out government buildings to party?
On the last day, the Indie Prize Awards were held and some fantastic games won; well deserved! You can check out the list here. At the end of the day, we took a heartwarming picture with some of the remaining indie devs (most had left by this point):
Here’s to hoping the bonds we forged there won’t be broken any time soon!
Now we are gearing up for PAX West. We’re planning to make a lot of visual improvements to the game by then. We’re also planning to launch a Kickstarter campaign at the beginning of September to line up with PAX to hopefully fuel some momentum. Looking forward to a stressful month of preparation!
In a surprise email we received last week, we found out we are going to PAX West in Seattle (September 2-5) to exhibit The Rabbit and the Owl. I couldn’t believe it at first, but it appears we are indeed confirmed! We are going to be part of a program called PAX Rising. Quick Googling doesn’t reveal much about the program except that it just started last year at PAX Australia for small indie developers to showcase their games. I believe this will be the first time PAX West will have it. We will be one of twelve (!!!) developers exhibiting in the middle of the fourth floor. It’s completely unreal how amazing the journey has been so far for our little game and that we would be selected. Along with Indie Prize, we are very much looking forward to this summer and to be back in Seattle. If you’re going to PAX, swing by!
Demo now available!
The demo for The Rabbit and the Owl is now available here, for Windows and Mac. This is still from a mid-development stage, so everything is still subject to changes and improvements.
It consists of twelve levels, which include tutorial levels and a few handpicked levels to showcase some cool puzzle combinations and mechanics. In addition, there are ten story snippets (not finalized, there’s definitely room for improvement) which will hopefully give a taste of the game's narrative.
Check out the second trailer for The Rabbit and the Owl, which showcases a few new things that weren't present in the announcement trailer:
Also here’s some introductory gameplay with commentary from Justin and me:
We've got some big news: we will be showcasing The Rabbit and the Owl in the Indie Prize area at Casual Connect in San Francisco from July 18-20! This is great because this will be the first time we exhibit the game at an event that curates its games. We recently found out that part of the grand prize at the Sacramento Indie Arcade was to be "nominated" for Indie Prize. Casual Connect and Indie Prize looks amazing, and we can't wait to see how people will react to the game!
iFEST and Power of Play quick post-mortem
We were recently in Seattle last month showcasing at two events, iFEST and Power of Play.
At iFEST, it was actually held in the middle of a food court at the Seattle Center Armory. We fortunately had a booth facing inwards at a pretty prime location, so we were busy throughout the day. There was a ton of foot traffic. Many people who checked out all of the games didn’t even know about the event beforehand. Because of this, there were actually a lot of families who came in and tried the game. This was our first time testing local co-op with two controllers, and I think it went very well - the reception was very positive.
One memorable moment was a father and his young son (maybe 6 years old) playing the game. In the game, most of the time the two characters have to constantly help each other to get to where they want to go. The father, trying to rush ahead and leaving his son behind said, “I’m trying to get myself up here!” The mother, watching from behind, scolded him and said, “What are you doing? You have to wait!” while she playfully hit him on the arm. It was a sweet interaction that reflected the dynamics of the game onto the players, and made me feel really happy to see the game providing a fun moment like that.
Power of Play was a bit more of a professional setting, being held in a convention hall called the Meydenbauer Center. The first day was mostly seminars which were very useful. The second day was just showcasing all day, and we received a lot of valuable feedback from there as well. Many people looking to get into business with game developers were also there, so the event was a nice mix of exhibiting and networking.
While there, we were also able to show the game to representatives from both ID@Xbox and Nintendo, who all said The Rabbit and the Owl was definitely in a good spot to apply to get onto Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo eShop. I did plan to want to release the game on consoles, so I will be applying to those soon when I’m ready! It’s very exciting knowing that the game is far enough along to be considered on consoles.
Update on game features
Based on extensive playtesting and feedback from iFEST and Power of Play, We’ve decided to cut yellow blocks from the game (being able to attach blocks to boundary edges). You might’ve seen those in the original announcement trailer. They were at the root of causing a lot of tedium in certain parts of some levels, and wasn’t used enough throughout the other levels to justify keeping in. Overall, we’ve found a lot of little things that were causing unnecessary, annoying movements in the game. I’m happy to say the game feels a lot smoother after about 15 hours of playtesting at those Seattle events.
We’ve also added a few environmental effects to the game: rain, snow, wind, leaves, and birds. They look pretty awesome (check out Trailer 2 above to see the effects in action)!
Finally, we’ve started to add some contextual UI to remind players how to do certain actions, like pulling blocks for example:
Fingers crossed for getting into IndieCade, PAX 10, Indie Megabooth, and/or the Seattle Indies Expo! Still waiting on results for those events. We unfortunately did not make it into the Media Indie Exchange @ E3, but there’s always next time!
The core functionality has been implemented for Xbox 360 controllers, and it feels great! The configurations I have are:
You'll be able to play the game with a friend if you only have one controller. For solo play, you can play it with either Keyboard + Mouse or a controller.
So far, I only plan to support Xbox 360/One controllers and Steam controllers.
For game programmers out there, I'd like to share a word of warning to those creating a game in Unity 4 with multiple controllers: I've found that for Xbox 360 controllers on a Windows platform, using Axis 9 and 10 to register Left and Right triggers will not work if you have multiple controllers plugged in. It will require ALL controllers to press down their triggers to register a trigger. Use Axis 3 instead. I'm using Unity 4.7; I don't know if this bug has been fixed in Unity 5.
Input.GetJoystickNames() also returns blank controllers sometimes, so make sure you check for those as well! These two bugs have caused some unnecessary trouble. Unity is still an amazing engine though!
This will be the first blog post to start to document what we’re working on directly for the game.
First on the list is local co-op. This has always been on my mind, but I’ve received enough feedback to really give it a serious go. The game can still be played solo (it was designed that way so it won’t feel like it’s a wonky tack-on), but now two players will be able to enjoy the game together (one plays Rabbit and the other plays Owl), which I imagine would be great for discussing the puzzles with a friend!
Second is the story. The outline and mythology of the story was completed last month, and I’m quite excited to share it soon! Right now, I’m still deciding how much and how we should share it. A few friends and I are currently fleshing out the stories that will be presented in the game as storybooks, which are easily reachable objects in each level that can be activated to reveal a story. These stories can be anything ranging from journal entries and newspaper clippings to poems and myths. They won’t necessarily be connected to each other or even be from the same time period. It will be up to the player to put the pieces together and draw conclusions. It’s very exciting building this world - I can’t wait to hear other people’s thoughts!
Third, I’ve finally hired a sound designer - Topher Pirkl, whom I actually met at GDC. He has sent in a few sounds already which are great, and we should have the majority of the placeholder sounds I’ve used from free sound websites replaced by mid May just in time for the IndieCade submission.
Finally, I’m becoming comfortable enough with the game that we’re aiming to release a public demo soon. It will not include the story and will still be a bit rough around the edges but hopefully it will give people a great impression of the game and perhaps net some useful feedback as well. As the game’s development continues to progress, the demo will be updated accordingly.
Other than that, I’m of course continuously bug-fixing, adding fresh levels, and polishing up the game. Until next time!
It’s been about a month since the last blog post, so from here on out I’m aiming for more consistency.
As we’re trying to get our name and game out there, we’ve begun to try to find and apply for as many exhibitions and competitions as we can.
On April 9, we were fortunate to be given the opportunity to participate in our first exhibit of The Rabbit and the Owl thanks to the wonderful Briana Aea of IGDA Sacramento and Gabriel Gutierrez of Nascent Games who both ran the Sacramento Indie Arcade, an event celebrating all aspects of game development in and around the Sacramento area.
It was 8 hours of bliss. Hundreds of people showed up at the event, and every booth had people lining up. The energy was high all day, and it was amazing seeing so many people enjoy the game and offer feedback. I also didn’t even think that so many families would come, so there were children aged 5-12 playing the game. What a different perspective! To be among those who can create the games I would’ve loved as a child and actually see children play the game was priceless.
There was a hugely positive reception towards the game. This has definitely inspired me to work even harder at the game and boost my confidence in the game. What really took the cake was what happened at the end of the event. Unbeknownst to us, there were 2 secret judges going through all the games and checking them all out. Out of around 35-40 developer teams, The Rabbit and the Owl was named as winner of that contest. We were awarded an all-access pass to Casual Connect, so we’ll be attending that on July 18-20 in San Francisco!
Now I’m working in preparation for a wave of events coming up. We plan to submit to IndieCade and IndiePrize which are due on May 15 and May 31, respectively. Also, we are set to exhibit again at two separate events in Seattle - iFEST and Power of Play. It still feels unreal we’ve finally reached the point of actually showing the game to people. The Seattle Indie Game Competition is also at Power of Play which we’ve already applied for. Fingers crossed for becoming a finalist for that!
That’s it for now in terms of upcoming events. As a side note, we’re working on T-shirts which I hope will come out awesome. We will definitely order enough to give away as prizes and whatnot. Hopefully things will continue to look up!
I submitted The Rabbit and the Owl on Steam Greenlight on March 11 at 2:03 pm, and it was greenlit today, March 24 at 8:29 am! In just under 2 weeks, there has been an outpouring of encouraging comments on the Greenlight page. I am overwhelmed at the response and feel even more inspired that the game is going in the right direction and that it will be something that people will really enjoy. My team and I will do our best to deliver an amazing game. Special thanks to Andrew Chen, the one and only artist on the game, and David Huff who solo composed the song on the trailer. They brought the game's vision to life in an audiovisual bliss!
Before going to sleep last night, I checked that we were #24 in the top 100 of games trying to be greenlit. That ranking seems to no longer show up after the game has been greenlit.
Here are the game's stats:
The "Avg. Top 50" stats surprised me. Even though we were #24, we couldn't meet the average on visitors or votes. My take is that this is the average over all games ever on Greenlight, which includes viewership that was much higher in Greenlight's past - and of course outliers and games which already had a sizable following before launching their campaign. The average top 50 stats feel misleading to state of the campaign - I feel that games are only compared to other games currently or recently on Greenlight otherwise we would not have had this rank.
Here are the views and votes over time:
As you can see, there is a major spike at the beginning of a campaign. In order to keep Greenlight fair, there are only 2 lists: recent submissions and your voting queue.
Games in recent submissions are listed in the order they were posted so that there is roughly equal exposure at any given time to games. I'm sure there's an optimal time during the week to post a game with the least amount of new games being posted so yours would stay on page 1 for the longest amount of time before inevitably being swept away to the later pages. This is probably where the majority of votes happen.
The voting queue recommends games based on what you've voted on or categories that you want to see, so this is the only way people on Steam will likely see your campaign as time goes on (excluding external sources). Maybe the game's campaign performance will affect how likely it will show up on someone's voting queue?
I think we got no more than 300 votes (being very optimistic on that) from friends and family and their friends and family. Since we had no presence or following before, I can only conclude that the vast majority of visitors and votes came from Steam itself.
That's it for now, time to do the Greenlight paperwork and continue hammering away at the game!
This is it. I'm just about ready with all of the materials needed to publicly announce my game. I don't know exactly how I'm feeling right now - I've had a twisted feeling in my stomach the entire week. I'm extremely anxious.
I've spent the better part of a year working on the game under wraps. Much of the reward has been intrinsic - the feeling of creating something with the complete freedom of how to create it. However, I also want others to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I've had a little taste of that with close friends and family, and it's always a great feeling when they respond with glee and positivity.
All I can do is do my best in spreading the word and hope for the best. I know there are a lot of other indie devs out there with the same predicament. Good luck to you all. It's about time I crawl out of my development shell and start to be part of the indie community. I'll be heading over to the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco next week to try to meet some people and check out the Independent Games Festival!
When was the last time I wrote a blog entry? Probably back when Xanga was the coolest thing among youngsters everywhere.
This is the first official entry into my blog as Formal Sheep about my upcoming game, The Rabbit and the Owl - and hopefully future titles as well.
Naughty Dog. Concerned Ape. Exploding Rabbit. Formal Sheep. I didn't realize how common adjective + animal schema was in naming game companies until after I decided on this name (basically when I found it was ripe for SEO, it was very available on knowem.com, and it was remotely related to me - I was born in the year of the sheep). It feels like the whole -ly startup company naming pattern.
It's been quite a journey since I first started going down the indie game dev path. After graduating college in December 2013, I figured I would spend a year trying to make a game. I've always wanted to be a game developer and have full control over the design as well. Many programmers for games at large companies just implement what they're given, while the design is left to people with marine biology degrees and such. I could've tried to find a startup company or a group of people who were trying to make a game, but total freedom was too enticing.
And so I spent almost a year and a half trying to make games that never saw the light of day. I've probably started, worked on, and abandoned at least 8 different game ideas (and wasted a lot of time as well).
The idea for TRATO first came about in April 2015 when I was messing around with trying to make some really cool (i.e. I thought it was cool) action platformer game about pirates and a pirate lord named Bootydamus (a Google search shows 1 result for that name - is it really that unique?). As I'm sure many other prototypes go, I was using programmer art, also known as black squares. I had a white background, and was creating rudimentary terrain and and characters with just the black squares. At some point, I inadvertently created a silhouette-like profile of a face (it looked kind of like Jay Leno), which made me think of a Rubin's vase.
Okay, so I thought what if we control two characters - one in black and one in white? And what if the environment could be manipulated? I looked this up on to see if the concept had been done. I found that it was relatively unexplored, so I had an opportunity here.
Now I had this cool idea that I didn't really dedicate myself fully to for months because at this point I was a bit burned out, and it felt like a daunting amount of work to start over again for a very uncertain future. I was considering just finding a nice job and move out of my parents' basement.
After a few demotivating months of tinkering on the game here and there, I watched Indie Game: The Movie. Watching the trials and tribulations of the makers of Super Meat Boy, Fez, and Braid inspired me to come back to this idea. It was then that I decided to apply for the Independent Games Festival as a goal and see where I stood by then to decide if I wanted to keep pursuing the dream. It was already the beginning of August at this point and the deadline was just under 3 months away.
I was fortunately able to find friends who were willing to help me make this something resembling a real game. After intensely hammering away at the game, I made the submission date. It felt so good. Then not so good when I found out I wasn't selected... but I think I always knew it wasn't going to make it, not in that early state.
I knew I had something though, and the dream was more alive than ever. Early play testing with friends and family was very positive. And so more months of working on the game. I've made a surprising amount of progress since then. I've reached a point where I'm now comfortable with trying to get myself and the game known out there. Now I'm doing what many other indie devs do these days - writing developer's blogs. Since I haven't written a blog since I was 13, I had no idea how I'd feel about this, but in fact, it's very therapeutic. Knowing that someone, somewhere might see this makes me feel a bit validated. It's a bit scary putting my thoughts out there. I have to admit I don't really know what I'm doing. Well, I suppose everything's an experience.