Hi everyone! It's been a while. Lots of things are new around here, and I thought I'd keep you posted on what our plans are going forward into the new year.
Evaluation and evolution
We learned a lot from the first attempt and got a huge amount of feedback (as well as many new fans to the series!). We've spent the past few months looking at that feedback and seeing how we could incorporate it to improve the game. We've made some pretty big changes to the format, but I'll touch on exactly what they are in a minute, after I've explained the rationale behind the changes.
The biggest thing we learned from the first attempt is how much money we can expect to receive in funding. Chalk it up to bad marketing, or a bad project page, but we only managed to raise around $9,000. Unfortunately, even if we needed no music, or programming, or software licenses, that still wouldn't cover the cost of all the sprites, animations, and tiles that we need (or, at least, not at a level of quality that would be worth showing to the public). Taking this into account, there are two changes we've made to the format of the game:
1) Episodic release schedule
Considering our history, this probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The first thing we decided to do was to break up the game from one huge, monolithic adventure into eight episodes. Each episode is planned to have about as much content as Act III of the original Vacant Sky, along with plenty more optional quests (which comes naturally considering how much more exploration-focused Awakening is).
This change makes sense for a number of reasons. From the perspective of the players, it means they get to experience the game sooner, so that's always a plus! From our perspective, it means we're able to get feedback as we go along and constantly improve the game based on feedback from the released episodes. It also breaks up the burden of art assets, as the cast and size of the explorable world increases throughout the story.
But the biggest reason why this change makes sense is that it means we only need to raise enough funding in the beginning to build episode 1. Theoretically, the revenue we get from episode 1 should fund the development of episode 2, and so on. Therefore, our second try at Kickstarter will be to raise the funds needed to build episode 1. If we breach our goal, any extra money we receive will be used to develop the subsequent episodes. Of course, anyone who pledges to receive the game will receive the whole game as it is available.
2) New exploration format
All right, so what about the game itself? The fact of the matter is, unless we end up with a lot more money than I expect, we just can't afford the huge amount of tiles and sprites we need to make the game. If we do it episodically, we might just barely scrape by, but it's still a big risk.
One of the things we brainstormed about to exhaustion was ways to get around this problem. In designing the gameplay of Awakening, we looked at all of the aspects of RPGs which are taken as givens, whether they benefit the genre or not, and ripped out what we could in order to get closer to the heart of what an RPG is.
Traditionally, the way you navigate an RPG is by walking around fields and dungeons, touching enemies to engage them in combat, and pressing buttons to activate switches or open chests. For the solution to this problem, we looked at other games, specifically tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, which have the player performing the same actions, but in a wildly different format.
That brings me to the results of our brainstorming:
The game board
This is the game board, and it is now the principle form of navigation in Vacant Sky: Awakening. Towns, buildings, fields, dungeons, etc are all handled in the same format. It's a mixture of board games and tabletop RPGs, wherein each space represents some kind of event - a discussion, a battle, a found item, a boss, a story event, and so on. It might not be the most glamorous to look at, but in testing, we've found that players have found it really fun once they get over the initial shock of the unconventional format.
Although the move was at first a cost-saving decision, I've come to prefer this new format over the conventional map exploration format for a number of reasons. Primarily, it gives us greater integration between narrative and gameplay. There's not really any such thing as a "cutscene" anymore because the events they would encompass have been integrated into the game board as event spaces. That might sound like it's just a difference of semantics, but you'll see what I mean when you play the prototype (more on that in a minute).
As a result of the new format, we've made some changes to the team lineup. Kate Holden, who previously was responsible for character design and map sprites, has taken over as illustrator, a job which plays a much greater role in the new format. I would also like you to welcome Anna Fitzpatrick to the team. She will be working as environment illustrator.
Here's a look at their work together in the new format:
Rather than with sprites, events are now illustrated with expressive character portraits, which 1) lets us show off Kate's awesome designs and 2) lets us bring the characters to life by showing their body language and facial expressions.
New format, new engine
One of the other big changes is that rather than releasing on PC alone, we're now committed to making the game cross-platform, supporting not only desktop, but also mobile. In fact, I should be receiving my Ouya dev console in the next couple of weeks, so I'll be hard at work making sure the new engine (which runs on Monogame) will run smoothly on it.
I'd also like to invite you guys to play the prototype of the new format which was made in the old engine (PC only, sorry!). This prototype covers the first dungeon of the game, the Tamillan Highlands. Please note that it uses some placeholder graphics and doesn't yet have any alternate character expressions in. Give it a try here and let us know what you think!
As of now, the plan is to launch the second Kickstarter on or around January 6. Our target goal for episode 1 will be $8,000. I'm confident that we'll be able to easily make our new goal, but I'm going to need all of your help to do it. Once the project goes live, I'll need everyone's help to get the word out and reach as many people as possible. We're only asking for the bare minimum we need to complete episode 1, and every little bit we get over that will be used to build episode 2.
Thanks again for sticking with us for so long. I encourage you all to check out the prototype, let us know what you think, and share any suggestions you have on what we can do to make our second attempt as successful as possible.