This is going to be a long one, so if you’re looking for a tl;dr, here it is:
- I’m starting a video series to accompany this devlog. The pilot episode is here.
- There’s a new in-dev build available on all platforms here.
Last November, a little over a month after Super Win had launched and well after its initial sales spike had fallen off, I wrote a blog on Gamasutra describing its launch as a failure for which I theorized a number of possible causes. That was months before SteamSpy would emerge, and my closest point of reference was Eldritch, released a year earlier and under somewhat different circumstances. Knowing what I know now, I would say Super Win‘s reception was disappointing, certainly, but not necessarily worse than I could reasonably expect, having seen estimated data for other similar titles. It’s getting harder for any game to thrive in the current market, much less a one-developer pixel art platformer.
Of course, launch isn’t the end of the story; I’ve continued to support Super Win with new content since its release, and it’s had some moderate success during Steam sales. But it hasn’t yet recouped its costs, and it’s unclear whether it will. And that raises the question of how I can help ensure that Gunmetal Arcadia can and will. I’ve pointed to marketing as my biggest failing on Super Win before, and to some extent, I think that’s accurate, but it also wasn’t a game that lent itself well to promotion. It was a good game, and I’m proud of it, but I’d be hard pressed to say why it works in a sentence or two. That’s one of the problems I’m hoping to address with Gunmetal Arcadia. It has a very clear — and hopefully very strong — promise: “Zelda II as a roguelike.” I can dress it up a little more, describe the narrative conceits of conflicting factions uniting (or not) in the face of war, or elaborate on exactly how many -likes I’ve abstracted the design from the Berlin Interpretation, but the crux of it, the thing that’s always been exciting to me, is just that: “Zelda II as a roguelike.”
So that’s one vector along which I hope I’ve improved and can continue to improve. Another is visibility. I was needlessly secretive during the development of Super Win. A few #screenshotsaturdays here and there, some playtest sessions that only a small number of regional gamers could even have had the opportunity to attend, and then I was surprised when the reaction was muted? That’s what prompted me to start maintaining this devlog — that and the fact that I’ve always enjoyed writing about what I do. But I can do more. When I think about what visibility means in this era, it’s about having a wealth of content across a variety of formats, something for everyone to discover and share. So here’s what I’ve been thinking.
Development streaming feels like a decent option for improving visibility; it’s live, it’s personal, it’s sort of interactive, and more than anything I could write on this blog, more than any videos or GIFs I could post, it’s the clearest window into what game development actually entails on a day-to-day basis. The downside, and the reason I’ve been reticent to stream more often, is that I feel like I need to have at least a bit of an outline of a plan for what I’d be streaming, and many days, I simply don’t. I think with a little time and effort, I could make this a part of my normal schedule, but I’m not there yet.
So streaming may have to wait, but something I’m hoping to start doing very soon is producing a weekly video log to accompany or augment this weekly devlog. Sometimes it’s difficult to put into words (or screenshots, or even animated GIFs) some parts of the development process, and I think a video format could be a perfect accompaniment to the written word. Exactly what format these would take remains to be seen, but I would imagine it would fall somewhere on the spectrum between talking at my webcam and a slick documentary-style format. I’ve put together a sample of what this might look like here:
This first pilot episode is mostly focused on the introduction of the video log as an alternate form of development documentation and elaborates on some of my thoughts on where it could go in the future, as well as some of the other concepts I’ve detailed in this blog. I have more video content in the works, but I’d love to hear your feedback on this format and what sort of content you’d like to see. I’ll also be trying to answer questions in the video log, so if there’s anything you’d like to know about Gunmetal Arcadia, Super Win the Game, Minor Key Games, or anything else, please leave a comment on YouTube or get in touch on Twitter or ask.fm!
I’ve been thinking about the “Game Feel” test build I released back in March and how I haven’t done another one since. That void, coupled with the improvements I’ve been making to my Mac and Linux build process, got me thinking about possibly getting into the rhythm of publishing weekly in-dev builds. These wouldn’t necessarily be polished, consumer-ready pieces of software; they would literally be whatever state the game were in at the time, and it’s easy to imagine that week-on-week changes might be miniscule at best, but these builds could be another facet — importantly, a fully interactive one — of this transparent, documented development process that I’m envisioning.
So on that note, here’s the current build of Gunmetal Arcadia:
Weekly builds, June 15, 2015:
Mac OS X: GunArc.dmg
You may notice the game hasn’t changed appreciably since the last build I uploaded. You may also notice there are some obvious bugs — enemies not moving, getting stuck when falling down bottomless pits, and so on. That’s normal. That’s going to be the shape of these builds. These aren’t polished, tested, consumer products; they’re weekly snapshots of the development process, warts and all.
Community involvement in the development process is something that’s probably further off, once I have a more fully realized version of Gunmetal Arcadia and can start soliciting feedback on the complete game experience rather than specific aspects. From very early in this game’s lifecycle, I’ve been thinking that if there were ever a game I made that seemed perfectly suited for Early Access, it’s this one. As I’ve mentioned before, if I were to go down that road, it would only be once the game were believably at a place where it could be shipped — playable start to finish, feature- and content-complete for the current scope, and free of known bugs. That would be the ideal point at which to start involving the community in the process of tuning the game, adding, removing, or altering content as necessary, and shaping it into something better than it could otherwise be.
It’s an exciting vision, for sure. It also might be unfeasible. I already lose about half a day each week to this devlog. Once I start factoring in time spent on video editing, building deliverables on all platforms, planning out work ahead of time that I can cover in a stream, and so on, that’s sounding like a fairly sizable chunk of my week. I’m not sure I can afford to do that, or at least not all of it, or at least not all at once. But I think the benefits could vastly outweight the costs. So my idea is to start with what I can do. Test the waters. Make a video log. Publish an in-dev build. Do a development stream. See whether I can accomplish any of these in a reasonable amount of time and to a reasonable level of quality, and whether they’re effective in raising awareness. See whether this idea is worth pursuing at all. And if it is…well, there’s options.
Don’t worry, this blog doesn’t end with, “…and that’s why I have a Patreon now, so go pledge your support!” But, yeah. That’s one idea.
In the past, I’ve avoided the notion of using Kickstarter to fund the development of either Super Win or Gunmetal Arcadia, and I don’t have any intent or desire to go that way. I’m not in a position where I need those funds, and to be totally honest, I have some doubts as to whether I could run a successful campaign, regardless of whether I asked for the actual cost of remaining development. (And as we’ve seen in recent articles, that rarely happens, thanks to a perpetuating cycle of misleadingly low estimates lowering consumer expectations of costs and vice-versa.)
But a Patreon campaign, not to fund the development of the game itself, but to help mitigate the recurring costs of sustaining what I want to believe could be an unprecedented degree of openness and transparency about the development of the game? That’s something I might be able to get behind. It’s easy to imagine what rewards for a campaign like that could be. Your name in the credits (that’s one I always like as both a player and developer), a free copy of the game when it launches, and so on.
I’m not saying any of this will definitely happen, but these are a few possibilities I’ve been kicking around for where Gunmetal might go in the future. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.