Almost 3 years have passed since we've launched this Kickstarter campaign, and it's about time we've had a heart to heart chat about the future of our relationship. In the words of a great Octopus City poet, "Nobody tells me it’s them not me, if it’s anybody it’s me."
We've already talked about our progress in previous updates, including the obstacles we've faced and the things we've tried. Today I'd like to focus on what's done, what needs to be done, and how long it'll take to get there.
Development has been obviously slow, but the good news is that we now understand our own limitations and pacing better, so our expectations are more grounded. Financially we're still within budget thanks to your generous support and also the people who pre-ordered after the campaign. There's still a lot to be done before the simulation is ready, so let's dive into some details.
Octopus City Blues is composed of 9 major chapters or main quests, where each chapter is about the size of the demo we released. Each of them consists of an Octopus City part (e.g. the Professor's mansion) and a number of dream segments (e.g. the beetle war.) About half of these chapters are more or less complete, and the other half should take less time due to shared areas and elements. This includes some of the biggest scenes such as Clock Tower Plaza, in addition to stuff like a large number of animated sprites, tentacles, menus, arcade games, the intro, and all of the major systems.
We've also become quite good at reusing assets, which you can see by watching some of Marina's pixel art videos. Most new scenes start with elements from other scenes, and entire locations such as offices or apartments take little time thanks to the tiles and existing props we've already developed.
In addition to the main story quests, we also have smaller side quests, random events (e.g. a band playing in the park or a giant tentacle exploding,) arcade games, and full screen animations (e.g. Kaf stepping on beetles.) Two of the four planned arcade games are done, but the smaller quests and side events have a less priority at the moment, and will have to wait until we're done with the main content. The way it works is that we have a minimum number of such content planned, so for example the four arcade games are a minimum, but we can have more if we can afford it. Having the minimum number of such content is an essential part of the experience, even if it takes a little more time.
Everyone in our team has a full time job in addition to Octopus City Blues, so unfortunately we can only dedicate so much time to the project every week. I don't like giving estimations because every time I tried to I was flat-out wrong, and unexpected things happen all the time. But we have two plans at the moment: the first is to release a more polished and complete demo to better represent the final product and give us some more feedback. We've been working on this simultaneously with other stuff that's beyond the scope of the demo. We want to do it properly, however, and not rush it out like the previous one. I think it's safe to expect this demo later this year, probably around October or November.
The other plan concerns the full simulation. I think it's clear by now that it's not happening this year. My own current estimation, based on monthly progress since last January, is 9-10 additional months of work. While this estimation does include some buffer time, it has quite a few assumptions that could be optimistic. That's why I want to revisit it early next year and give you a more accurate one.
I know this is a lot of time to wait, and you've heard similar stuff in the past. Everyone has been very patient and we appreciate all the support. We will continue to do our best, and we will keep you updated. If you have any questions, doubts or suggestions then don't hesitate to contact us here, on twitter, or by email email@example.com.
Yours, A molting centipede shredding its fungi infested exoskeleton
I've been trying to tell you for months now. I made the whole thing up: Ghost in a Bottle, centipede trains, tentacle puns. Yes, I realize how crazy I sound right now. I know that Octopus City is important to you—it's also very dear to me, but you can't continue living this delusion. It's just a stupid video game, fictional images and words and ideas inspired by some bad 80s movies.
How many times have I told you this story? And yet you continue to confine me in this small cell, relentlessly asking me the same questions. Sometimes I think about simply giving you the answers you want. It would be easy to admit that the city exists, that it's not some silly game that I, the raving conspiracy theorist, came up with. Doing that would doom Octopus City Blues. I still have to finish it after all; something I've been doing poorly for the last few years.
Look, I am trying my best here. All of my team is. People count on us out there in the real world. We had a lot done recently, but there's still plenty to do. You still don't believe me? In my briefcase you'll find a folder with some work in progress pictures. Here, check out some of the stuff Marina did recently:
I challenge you to find these places in Octopus City. You won't find them because I didn't add them to the game yet. Still not convinced? Recently we got a new addition to the team. He's not a stranger to this project, as he was involved in a very early iteration years ago. Frankie has already started working on several sprites and animations, and you can find a few of his film reels in the briefcase.
What's that? Pictures and films don't prove anything? Well, I was working on something myself. You'll find some pictures showcasing the new font rendering system, which allows us to display text for complex scripts such as Arabic and Japanese.
You never asked yourself why text hovers over your head when you speak? That's not how people talk in the real world! What I'm trying to say is that you don't exist. You're a character in a game, a game I intend to make if you let me out of here. We're slowly getting there, and it will all start with a new demo to be released in the coming months. Now if you're wondering about the full game, the planned release date is the 8th of-
Where are you going? I'm not done talking to you. Huh? Who are these people? Where are you taking me? No! Not room 101... not the spider bots again! Please, anything but that... I will do whatever you want... I will say anything... I lied, I lied.. Octopus City is real, you're real... I'm a liar... please get this thing off me... no, not in my ear... no....
Ohayou! It's been a while since I posted here... gomen ^^;. I was really busy lately. I recently moved to Akihabara which has always been my dream. Now that I'm back on my feet it's time to update your favorite anime review blog! This time I got something special just for you. It's a review of this obscure Nihonese series you probably never heard of. 俺の妹は瓶詰幽霊。マジで! or My Sister is Really a Bottled Ghost! (the name doesn't translate well into an inferior language like English >_<) has easily become my favorite slice of life / magic girl anime, and I'm happy to finally get a chance to review it!
Last Season Recap
Ghost-chan is a chuunibyou high-scholar who recently inherited her family's multinational business empire, Ghost in a Bottle Inc. Ghost-chan struggles to run a successful business while dealing with the ramifications of her newly acquired magical powers. However, it will take more than a heart of gold and a natural aptitude for driving giant mecha to organize a successful cherry blossom festival and put PROJECT OCTO back on track.
Last season Ghost-chan took the initiative of overhauling the project's introductory section. She also oversaw the creation of many new locations within the GiaB-sponsored virtual world OCTOPUS CITY, including a full-fledged game center and playground. She had a lot of help from her best friends, a hikikomori artist and a washed-up composer. With that said, some things didn't go smoothly for Ghost's family business. Distracted by the kaiju invasion and their full-time jobs, Ghost-chan and friends couldn't dedicate enough time to their growing enterprise, and the road to authentic Octosim simulation was a bumpy one.
Season Premiere Review
Since last season, the multi-national zaibatsu has been working on a variety of new locations and content. Most of it is too spoilery to post here, but one cool new virtual environment is the Conman's House of Wonders in the slums of the Robot Graveyard. As you probably remember from last season, the Conman is a sleazy cyber agent who helps Ghost-chan navigate the virtual maze of Octopolis. His so-called House of Wonders is the one-stop shop for all sorts of weird gadgets and contraptions.
This episode highlighted Ghost's struggle with the company's performance -- a recurring theme in this series. Progress is being made, but things take much longer than estimated. Last season she tried a lot of different ideas to improve the process, but things are still difficult with a small team. So Ghost-chan set out to enlist the talent of a master tentacle artist. The name of this wise guru wasn't revealed in this episode. Whenever he showed up, his face was covered in the shadow of his samurai takuhatsugasa (traditional straw hat). Ghost-chan had to fight the enigmatic man in her magic girl form, and while she failed to defeat his dragon transformation, he was still impressed by her effort. I'm sure the next episode will tell us more about this mysterious geezer and his role in the future of the fictional conglomerate.
This season continues some of the ideas from last season, including some big changes to the G.O.S.S.I.P system. Ghost-chan had to rework large parts of the simulation to incorporate the system, but the end result is definitely worth it. The premiere also introduces a new and creepy opening theme. Check it out:
The episode ended with a little chibi animation asking viewers to vote for their favorite horse-Kaf design. Kaf is Ghost-chan's avatar in TENTACLE WORLD, and apparently he will transform into a mutant horse in a future episode. I am posting the proposed designs below, so that followers of this blog could vote on them. Which one do you like the most?
To conclude, I really loved the season premiere, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season. Next episode should air in April, and you can expect another anime review from yours truly, Jason "Girugamesh" Masamune.
This will be a very quick update because the last couple of months weren't very productive. Our programmer/designer moved to another country, and our artist had to help her family's business. These were exceptional circumstances that are now resolved, and we can continue working on our simulation. With that said, we still have a long road ahead of us and a lot of work to do.
There will be a more substantial update next month, and we'll hopefully have some good news. Until then, happy holidays!
[OOC]For this forum RP we're going to explore the idea of an alternative world where Ghost in a Bottle MegaCorp is a much smaller independent team struggling to make a niche and obscure adventure game after a successful crowdfunding campaign. It's certainly an outlandish concept, but with Octopus City merchandise all around us and the ubiquitous presence of Ghost in a Bottle in our lives, it is fun to consider how different (and terrifying) the world would be in the absence of the Octopus City mythos. Check the stickied rules topic and create your character in the appropriate thread.[/OOC]
Kickstarter Update #31
Hey guys! Our little art project is coming along nicely and it's time for another update. Making games is hard if you don't have your own army or underground corporate bunker, but we're going to keep it real and do our best. In a parallel universe we would own a sweatshop or two, with dozens of artists and designers working on the most exquisite tentacles, but here in the real world the best a little indie dev can hope for is to fix their shack's roof before the rainy season.
In the previous update we mentioned our intention to release another demo. It will be much closer to our vision for the final product. In addition to new quests and places to explore, the demo introduces several changes to gameplay mechanics that will be discussed in the rest of this update. [OOC: In this world they don't know what an OctoSim is, so they talk in 'game' terms]
Changes to Gossip
The Knowledge or Gossip system is the most important mechanic in Octopus City Blues. The original idea was to treat gossip or factoids as items which can be used on NPCs and other objects. Not all gossip is equal, and you have to be careful about the things you share with people.
In the old system, as implemented in the last demo, gossip had a hierarchy with similar facts grouped under a topic such as "Beetles" or "Vagrants Guild". You acquired individual facts by talking to people or interacting with the environment. You could then approach people and use the field menu to share gossip. In particular, the Professor's quest allowed approaching the Professor with various beetle facts, and by selecting the right things to tell him, you could earn his trust or animosity.
There are a number of issues with this system:
Outdated information: most of the beetle gossip wouldn't be applicable after the Professor's quest, but it was still accessible in the menu.
Adventure Game's Bane: such a system encourages players to try every type of gossip on every NPC, and that's not particularly fun. Most NPCs had generic responses for gossip categories (e.g. they will give the same response for all beetle facts), but players might try to exhaust their numerous options just in case there's something worthwhile.
Boring design: the design of the Professor quest was lacking, simply using good or bad beetle gossip to manipulate a hidden trust variable becomes very mechanical after a while, and it's not the type of interesting NPC interaction that we wanted to do.
These concerns led to a small but major change in the system. Instead of having to worry about individual "factoids", interactions with NPCs are now based on gossip topics or categories. For example, instead of opening the menu, selecting "Beetles", then selecting a particular fact such as "Die if flipped over", you now simply select the topic ("Beetles" in this case) to initiate an NPC interaction. Most NPCs will have one response for the topic as a whole, but in other interactions the individual facts come into play as additional dialogue choices. An example is in the redesigned Professor quest, where instead of feeding the Professor one fact a time, he now challenges you to answer a series of questions about beetles. This might seem like a trivial change, but the conversation becomes somewhat more interesting and you don't have to manually go through a list of options.
Changes to NPC Schedules
NPC schedules were intended to make the game's world more dynamic by giving most of the city's inhabitants their own daily schedules. You could follow them around town as they go home or to work, and their schedules could change over time. This sounds cool on paper, but there were several problems with the implementation:
A considerable amount of additional animations are needed to have most NPCs walking around the city in 4 directions.
We had to come up with interesting schedules for each NPC, including having them go home at some point. This requires extra planning, and sometimes it requires extra locations and art as well.
Bugs, a lot of bugs. Perhaps we have a lousy programmer, but while the scheduling system works fine for a few NPCs, it introduces a lot of potential for NPCs getting stuck, poor pathfinding and lower performance. All of that could probably be fixed, but...
The value of these detailed schedules was questionable, especially when you consider the alternative discussed below.
We've decided to simplify this system for most NPCs. Some NPCs still keep detailed schedules, particularly if these schedules are relevant in the main story quests. The rest of the characters will have simplified schedules that work on daily basis. For example, you can find the twins digging for dinosaur fossils in the Plaza on odd days, but they will be pickpocketing passengers in the Centipede Station on even ones.
The schedules don't have to be binary, we also have a 5-day week system in place, and we could have NPCs doing something different every day. The main difference is that you won't see the twins physically moving from point A to point B. When a day ends, you get a screen with the new day's name and date, and all NPC locations and animations change afterwards.
This change saves us time and resources, and will help us focus on more important things. [OOC: excuses and more excuses, just like the real GiaB! :P Just kidding, please don't send the spiderbots after me...] We still want to city to feel dynamic and lively. The random dynamic events we talked about in the initial KS pitch will still be around (e.g. giant tentacle randomly exploding or a politician giving a speech in the plaza), and we are still planning to flesh out every NPC through quests and interactions.
The Abandoned Playground
The playground is a new area that will be introduced in the demo. Both the Rednose gang and the Dreamers cult operate in this old and abandoned theme park.
You can check out a cool video of our artist, Marina, bringing this gloomy place to life:
One of the things we struggle with is coming up with cool locations and scenes. It might take more time to design a location than actually drawing it. Marina has to look up all sorts of references, and we might discuss the location and come up with several mockups and sketches before finalizing it. This is one of the biggest time sinks at the moment, and we want to be more efficient.
Karl Crawford is a talented artist and a longtime friend and supporter of Octopus City Blues. He's already contributed a lot of cool art and designs, and he really "gets" Octopus City's influences and style. Starting from this month we're experimenting with giving Karl a more permanent role where he would come up with concepts for areas before Marina starts her own process. Hopefully this will help us work faster and add some new ideas into the game's world. You can check out some of Karl's art below, and you can follow him on twitter for more. [OOC: They can't hire a proper artist so they're hiring a random hobo to do a job!!]
Saving Your Progress
Saving your progress is something that didn't make it into the last demo, but we've already implemented it for the new one. Octopus City Blues will works with a single save file, and your progress is saved automatically when entering a new location or at certain scripted checkpoints. There is no way to mess up or even die, and we hope that such a system will make your experience more unique and interesting.
Localization and Open Source
One system we implemented since the demo is a way to localize the game's text. It's a simple system based on text files and anyone will be able to easily add new translations. In addition to localization, all our tools will be available to the community, and the game itself is DRM-free. The engine's source code (as of the last demo) is available online, and we will share more tools in the future. [OOC: LOL Imagine if the real Ghost in a Bottle Zaibatsu did that. What would the catch be? xD]
We would like to briefly talk about our rewards and plans for fulfilling them:
#1 OCTOFAN ($1) and CHEATER ($3): No one has claimed these rewards, and Firas remains the undefeated Monopoly champion of the world.
TENTACLE CUTTER ($10): When the game comes out, you'll get access to the DRM-free files. Since we had a successful Greenlight campaign (thanks!), everyone will get a Steam key as well. When is the game coming out? When it's ready, of course...
TESTER ($15): We had people test alpha versions and a beta of the demo on the forums, but aside from a few very helpful people, it understandably didn't get a lot of traction. We will probably have a few more beta versions in the future, and we might consider other options for distribution. (Send them by email? We welcome any ideas)
GROUPIE ($20): Aaron, our composer, is hard at work on the game's soundtrack. This might be available sometime before the game is released.
SR. TENTACLE CUTTER ($25): This is the "Kickstarter Special" version. We are considering having this as a standalone story released after the full version (Remember the Mutant and Conman stretch goal?) It will be available to backers at this level first, and eventually released publicly. There will also be some incidental easter eggs and extra tentacles in the game itself. How does that sound?
OCTOMANIAC ($35): This will be a surprise, and it will be digitally available with the full game.
TENTACLE ARTIST ($50): We have a lot of concept art done by Marina and Karl, and we plan to commission additional artists for a variety of stuff to add to the art book. It might be released with or after the full game.
USELESS NPC ($75): Sabrina, our sprite artist, has finished the base sprites for all the backer NPCS. They'll be used in a specific dream somewhat near the end of the game.
OCTOBLOOD JUNKIE ($100): We have had a lengthy discussion about the physical box, and we want to include all sorts of cool things in there. It will be worth it, but you might have to wait a little after the game is released.
CAPITALIST ($250): We sent out the surveys but haven't started working on this reward yet.
PATRON ($600): Marina already bought some art supplies to create the coolest tentacle sculpture. We hope to have that done in the coming months.
HELPER ($1000): Writing a thank you email takes a lot of time and energy, so this lucky backer will have to wait a little longer.
Someone asked us about Kickstarter updates, and we think it's a good opportunity to discuss some of the reasons for the delay between updates:
We are trying to avoid showing too much content (spoilers).
Most of the updates are similar: we are still working, there is some progress, there are some setbacks, we are doing our best, etc.
It actually takes time to prepare a good update, and that time could be spent on other things.
We’re active on social media and can be reached by email. If anyone has specific questions or concerns then we’d love to answer them.
With that said, we do try to have regular updates. At least one update every couple of months, or more if there’s something noteworthy. We could have monthly updates if people prefer them, but they’d be less interesting.
And that's all for today's lengthy update. Until next time!
OOC: Whew! That was a lot of writing. It's fun though, the naïveté and passion of this random small team making a dumb art game. With that said, I bet they'd still do a better job than the real deal. You can buy artists and coders, but you can't buy a soul! Anyway, feel free to post more made up content and stories in this fictional universe. It would be fun to think about the corporations running this fictional world without GiaB, and what people do for entertainment in a world with no OctoSims