I hope you are doing well, my friends. It has been almost a year since the last update, and for that I apologize. I will just start with the bad news - Super Dwarf Madness is currently in development hiatus. I'll explain this in detail below, but for those with a short attention span:
tl;dr - SDM is on hiatus due to my new full time job (to pay back my student loans), and I will finalize the game once I'm able to self-fund its production. Soon, I will send you a link to download a pre-alpha build of SDM, with offline play for 1-4 controllers. I will fulfill backer rewards when the game reaches Alpha, Beta, and Production milestones.
So much has happened in the time since my last update - almost a year now. The main question you should be asking is "why so long?" I think it comes down to uncertainty - I was waiting for many things to be resolved, in ways that never materialized.
Additionally, I've been spreading myself very thin! I've been showing SDM at (and trying to shoulder into) conventions, doing contract work (to pay for artists' contract work), developing a few experimental games (like my first VR game), accepting a board position in the IGDA (local D.C. chapter), and cultivating indie dev enthusiast groups in the area (free play testing!).
In November I traded up from unreliable contract work, accepting a full-time position at a local app and game studio. I'm still trying to juggle these other responsibilities, and dedicate at least a few hours each week to getting my indie development back on track.
In late July, I showed Super Dwarf Madness at Otakon for the second year in a row. This time, I shared a double-booth with two good friends, D.C.-area game devs Joshua Jennings (showing Maximum Mustle Hustle: Protein Supreme) and David To (Connecting Hexagons).
SDM normally does well in conventions, and this time was no different. It was very appealing to groups playing in splitscreen co-op mode, yet solo players also had a great time. The different Dwarf customization options are a big hit with pretty much everyone.
The main feedback received about SDM was simply that players wanted more of it. There were six quests prepared for the demo, and most players held on to the controller to beat them all. It was great to see everyone enjoying the quests, but seeing how quickly they tore through them reminded me of how much work still lies ahead.
Otakon was my last big success. Leading up to that showing, I had refined my enemy AI to the point where it kinda looked believable, and got some levels being generated that looked fairly natural.
A month later, I would submit SDM to an indie arcade, run by local IGDA chapters, MAGFest, and American University, held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I wanted to add as much new content as I could before the September 1st submission deadline.
Francis had, at the time, been under increasing pressure from his new full-time job. When I asked about a batch of new work in August, he revealed that he no longer had enough time for this work. With that news, I had our new hired gun, Alex, step in - which he did with a fantastic overhaul of the Dwarf costumes. I cleaned up the presentation best I could, tweaked the demo levels, and submitted it.
But it would seem that my luck with conventions had run dry. Three events I thought would be sure-fire successes all fell through. First was VGU (Video Games United), and it's hard to even type those three letters without feeling strong anger / disappointment. The previously-mentioned Smithsonian Indie Arcade went from an amazing opportunity to a total failure. Finally, my rejection from the MAGFest indie showcase - at my favorite regional convention - still hurts to think about. Being candid, this all hurts to think about, which is yet another reason why a hiatus is necessary.
VGU, or Video Games United, could have been a great follow-up to Otakon. This convention was scheduled for two weeks later, in early August. IGDA was to set up a regional indies' booth, and around two dozen developers signed up to show. We had been in close communication with the organizer, since we were coordinating many devs to share one large booth.
This made it a total shock when, 10 days before the show, he informed us that since a sponsor had pulled out, the event was being rescheduled for October. We were told that our booth would be provided free of charge due to the issues, but the convention never materialized. After once again pushing the event back to a nonspecific December weekend, it was later postponed entirely, and likely forever.
The Smithsonian Indie Arcade was a different beast altogether. IGDA and American University set it up for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, who hosted the event in their beautiful Kogod Courtyard, and attracted thousands of attendees. This year we called it "Indies Coast to Coast" and called for nationwide submissions. I was asked to help on the senior judging panel, with about 10 other organizers, IGDA chapter heads, and game academics. In the end, we selected about 30 games for the show.
Since I agreed to help judge, I was told that SDM couldn't be considered for the showcase. Instead, it could appear in an organizers' section with games from other IGDA and American University organizers - or so I was told. Eventually, the organizer declared that only he, and the 3 head of the local IGDA chapters, could be included in the organizer section. He showed four of his "serious games" on one table, while the other three developer shared a second table. Seeing how cramped they were that day, I understand why the head of our chapter told me that there was no room for me.
My love of MAGFest, coupled with previous disappointments, inspired me to put together the best possible SDM submission for MIVS (the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase). Right before submission, I got a night of playtesting done at a local Coder and Designer meetup, where for 3 nonstop hours SDM was being enthusiastically played by about 40 different attendees. In early January, Josh received word that both of his game submissions were accepted, and since one - Bubble Buddies - was very early in development, I became optimistic.
However, I was not accepted, and while a wait-list gave me a sliver of hope to cling to, by now my optimism was gone. I became depressed, and spent a few weeks not doing any game dev aside from my day job. I'm still feeling really bummed out, but I'm trying to look forward, especially now that everything with OUYA is over.
That brings us to OUYA. Or Razer? I think technically, Razer bought the assets, name, and employees from OUYA, but not the company, whatever that means. What it really means is, that the Free The Game Fund (FTGF) contract with OUYA will not be honored by Razer.
If you don't remember, the FTGF stipulated that upon delivery of certain release milestones, OUYA would pay me an amount equal to my Kickstarter goal, in exchange for a period of exclusivity to OUYA's console. In an updated contract OUYA had me sign a couple months before announcing the buyout (they were "re-organizing the paperwork around here"), they inserted a clause that if OUYA "discontinued its business" they wouldn't have to pay anything.
After quick backlash, Razer revised their stance and said they would do something to honor OUYA's commitment to game development. What they proposed was only slightly modified - instead of simply giving the developers the money they were promised, they would pre-purchase copies of your game in a quantity to match the amount of money you were owed (for example, I would get paid $10,000, and Razer would be able to distribute 500 free copies of the $20 game). It sounded good for an online game, which requires a thriving community to succeed. By giving away copies of my game, Razer would seed this community for me.
A draft of this contract came in August, through my contact at OUYA. I never dealt directly with Razer representatives, which seemed odd, and the new contract was about twice as long as OUYA's contract a couple months ago. It included problematic language about being tied to specific online platforms, which was also an issue I had to resolve directly with OUYA in their contract.
There were other red flags for me too. There was troubling language forcing me to, at Razer's request, deliver any updates which exist on another "similar platform" to their platform. The contract also demanded my non-disclosure of anything, to you or anyone else, including the contract terms. They could also take the whole agreement to "assign to any affiliates, without reference to the developer". Of course, if I broke any part of the contract, as judged by the courts of Singapore, Razer would demand their money back.
I really did try to give them the benefit of the doubt despite all my misgivings. Over weeks of emails (with OUYA, who spoke to/for Razer) we made a modified version of the contract. They agreed to at least warn me before assigning the agreement to an "affiliate", to move jurisdiction to California, and clarified the technical aspects. I was asked to sign the final version and I did.
A few weeks passed without word. Then instead of the countersigned agreement sealing the deal, I'm told that the agreement needed to be revised further by Razer. I was told it added "language allowing the transfer of the agreement between Razer and OUYA if need be depending on what sub organization needs to run it." I found that odd, considering how OUYA was "discontinuing business".
The revised contract had also undone all previous changes. It once again asked to be under the rule of Singapore, and curiously added even stronger language that allowed Razer, in its "absolute discretion," to transfer the agreement to any affiliate, and that I "execute all documents necessary" to make it happen. It sounded to me like Razer wanted to have every possible exit strategy, rather than supporting their nascent platform.
In the end, this represented a stressful and bad deal for me, on an unproven platform, under unfavorable terms. I wouldn't even be able to share any of this with you had I signed the contract, as I'd be bound by nondisclosure. However, the consequent loss of $10,000 of expected revenue does hurt the project. Therefore, the main reason for the hiatus is so I may begin saving, to eventually self-fund the remainder of SDM's development.
I think my only real lucky break in the past year was this new job, and it materialized when I had just reached the end of the last deferment I could take out on my student loan debt. Serendipity put me in the same Game Developer's Symposium as my new boss, and the small company was a perfect fit for my work style.
Did you really read all of this? If so, I'm impressed! I hope you now understand the multiple reasons why I'm taking this hiatus. Financially and emotionally, I don't have enough resources right now. Lacking my team, working the "9 to 5", and not knowing the path forward, I need time to regroup, assess, and plan the next steps.
I have an idea for what Super Dwarf Madness will look like in its final form. I've really enjoyed playing the 3DS title Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, and will take a lot of inspiration from its simple drop in / out online play. I would also love to include some of the puzzles that game includes. It will be difficult to pull this off within randomly-generated maps - but not impossible.
Other details, however, like the total size and scope of the world, will depend on what kind of resources I can collect. Besides the remaining enemies, environments, and world features, I'll also need to add character animations for various special abilities and melee attacks. All of this will require a re-estimation of the game's budget, which in turn requires my finances to be in order.
There is one reason I know that I will finish Super Dwarf Madness someday - I love making action shooters! As a fan of the genre, I still want to have this game in its completed form. We have a great foundation upon which the game will be brought to completion. As long as I am developing games, SDM will be the game I need to complete, for myself as much as you.
Finally, I want to reiterate the next steps. Every backer who pledged $10 or higher will receive a link to a pre-alpha build of SDM, for PC, Mac, and Linux. The game works with most USB controllers to provide split-screen play. You will get to explore two different environments, while completing six different Quests. There are also a variety of guns to try, and different armor sets to collect. I'll provide more details in the next backer-only update, which will contain the link to download this pre-alpha build.
I hope you get a bit of enjoyment from this build, and understand that it is still very far from complete. Please wish me luck over the next few months, as I figure out how to proceed. Don't hesitate to ask any questions or share any concerns, and please let me thank you all once more for accompanying me on this journey.
Your humble gamedev,
Hello Backers, this is the longest I've ever gone between updates. What a mistake that was, as now there is so much to catch you up on! Going chronologically...
PAX East & Indies Need Booze
This was over a month ago now, but I feel like I only got over the "pax plague" 2 weeks ago. Big conventions are always very fun, very crowded, and very, very, exhausting! I played lots of cool games, and talked with some cool people.
I went there to show Super Dwarf Madness at Indies Need Booze, Jacob's fast-growing indie party at PAX and other gaming conventions. The party features a collection of up-and-coming indie developers showing their games, and I was glad to be in such good company.
One of the developers there created "Soda Drinker Pro" a first-person soda-drinking simulation, and I was impressed to see their branded sodas for sale at the convention!
I always enjoy playing games in the Indie Megabooth at PAX (even if they haven't let me show S.D.M. there yet!), but I also enjoyed seeing the indie tabletop games and some of the startups making gaming accessories, fan art, and other non-digital goods. I even saw the Kickstarter I backed after meeting some of the creators were testing the game at a bar in DC.
SUPER DWARF MADNESS - One Year In
March 20 marked one year since you, my amazing Backers, brought this project to life. It was supposed to be released already, and the elusive Alpha is still not done. I don't know if the development is harder than I expected, or if I am trying to make the game better than I'd planned.
I think it's a little of both. As a game that heavily relies on multiplayer, I need to get that aspect more polished before I want anyone to play it. I thank you all for the patience so far, and promise to make Super Dwarf Madness worth your time and money.
Also, it looks like S.D.M. got something for its birthday...
SDM is Greenlit!
A week after our 1-year "beginniversary," we got word that Super Dwarf Madness will be allowed to go on the Steam store! Considering that a huge share of PC gamers rely on Steam, it was absolutely critical to get this approval. Plus, this will also allow us to more easily share alpha and beta updates with you.
There is still some red tape to cut through with Valve Corp, but I'll let you know of any major advances. I'm very pleased to know we've been Greenlit, and I thank any of our backers who voted for us. I can't wait to get everyone online to begin exploring, and to save Dwyll!
By this point, the funds you generously provided are close to gone. The reality of it is, there's possibly up to another year before I produce a sales-ready Beta for early access on Steam and OUYA. My only reliable income is from my (slowly declining) Xbox 360 game sales, and so I follow in the footsteps of many independent artists, writers, and game developers - and take on some side work.
In fact, I had meant to send this weeks ago, but from the 6th until this past week I was on a rapid-development team creating a fun interactive application in Unity 3D (the same software I'm using to make SDM!). I was very grateful for the work, and I hope they have more down the road. With enough contract work, I should be able to keep S.D.M. development afloat all the way through release.
However, I don't want to do that, as it will further delay the game's release. That's why I'm starting to move towards monetizing one of my side projects, a mobile reboot of my classic game, Drinkards.
I always have one side project that I can go to when my main work becomes too frustration, or I hit the programmer's equivalent of writer's block. Drinkards provides me a needed escape, and I like being able to carry it in my pocket on the go to show off. I'm excited to work on it side-by-side with S.D.M. since it is also an online multiplayer game, but a much simpler one that gives me good practice. Drinkards is almost ready for an ad-supported android release, at which point I can stop actively developing it, and go play it at local bars to gather feedback.
Finally, I am proud to have given my first-ever public talk on game development, as part of a local symposium run by my friends at the Coder/Designer Keggers group. Alluding to a panel talk Jacob gave at PAX, I discussed how being an 'indie' developer hardly means you're alone. I talked about the different communities you can choose to engage with, from other developers to the press, but especially your game's community. I mentioned how awesome it is to have a successful Kickstarter, not just for the money, but for the group of supportive fans you gain, rooting you on through the good times and bad.
Thanks for reading through all this! Lots of exciting things have been happening, and I'm glad to finally be sharing it with you. Without your support of Super Dwarf Madness, none of these things could have happened. What will come next? I hope you'll continue to join me as I find out!
My deepest gratitude,
"But wait," no one said, "didn't you call 2014 the Year of the Dwarf?" Shhh... that was a different campaign anyway, so no one read that update.
(When I start using formatting in my Kickstarter updates, you know I'm serious.)
It has been over 6 full weeks since I've updated you on Super Dwarf Madness - I hope you didn't start to think I abandoned you! Instead, work on our game has started accelerating nicely! So please read on to see screenshots, a gameplay video, and our plans for releasing the Alpha around the end of March.
Super Dwarf Status
First, here is a look at the progress we have made. The "start up" progression, the series of screens you see first, is almost fully implemented now. You start at the title screen:
After this is a screen for up to 4 local players to join. Once everyone selects a controller, you move to a log-in flow where you get your profile data - this isn't yet implemented, and instead 4 default profiles are used. After that you choose a Dwarf to play as from your roster. Hopefully it's not hard to understand when looking at the image below:
If you choose "Create New" - your only option the first time you play - you will enter a Dwarf Editor that lets you select a Gender, Hair, Face, Beard, and Name. Check out this Dwarf I was working on:
Once you are done with this "start up" process, you will be thrown into Central Dwyll, the place where you can shop for supplies, edit your looks further, or, most importantly, go find a Quest!
The process for Questing has also been cleaned up a lot, including a loading screen that tells you what the Quest goal is, and a couple screens showing results at the end. Additionally, I finally got the second currency, Gems, into the levels. From the start I had planned to have only Enemies drop Gold (essentially your XP), while the destructible blocks should drop Gems (your spending Cash).
Once you have all some Gold, you can go spend it at the Dwarf HQ to unlock new Guns and Armor. To show you all of this, I put together a short video of my Dwarf clearing out some Zwarmis and using the Gold to buy some Armor - check it out:
I confess that by this point, I'm not sure what you have already seen before or not. However, for me to finally see all these little pieces working together (mostly), it has given me a lot of energy to push through with the Alpha! Oh yeah, speaking of the Alpha...
Now that things are finally 'clicking' like this, I think I can give you a pretty accurate picture of the path from here to the Alpha. I have set up feature Milestones for myself to meet, and they look sort of like this:
- Feb 13 (today) - Start up flow is functional, 2 Quests are playable, 2 Enemies are implemented, the flow from Central Dwyll to a Quest and back is working.
- Feb 25 - Fix up the presentation in the Shops, and fix some bugs there too. Add Status Displays for your stats, and the stats of any guns or armor. Start designing the 3rd Quest.
- Mar 5 - Demo at Indies Need Booze (PAX East) - More on this below, but for the INB demo night, the 3rd Quest is playable and includes a 3rd Enemy, the miniboss Zombrute. Add a checkpoint system so you can have more than one life in a Quest.
- Mar 17 - Implement Level-Up systems and the stat increases associated with them. Truly start stress-testing the network code and fixing bugs there.
- Mar 31 - Implement mockup of Server Sign-On using local files. Get networked gameplay running smoothly. Test test test test, and finally release the Alpha!
I think the most questionable part of it is March, after PAX East, because Networking code is notoriously hard to test and debug. However, I think it's pretty stable already and if testing can confirm that we may see the Alpha in the middle of March. (I can dream right?)
Play S.D.M. @ Indies Need Booze (pre-PAX East party)!
Once again, our own Jacob Clark is hosting his game-convention pre-party, Indies Need Booze. And once again, a Super Dwarf Madness demo will be there for all attendees to try. If you're going to be in Boston that Thursday, March 5, get yourself a ticket and come see the hottest indie games around, plus ours ;) See more info on the eventbrite page.
Looking back at that Mar 5 Milestone, it will be a really fun demo, so I hope to see you all there!
I think that's everything I needed to let you know about. I hope the screenshots and video are getting you more excited for the Alpha. I know I'm excited to take pics and videos of gamers trying out the last pre-Alpha demo next month!
Also be sure to follow @TheUnallied on Twitter, and stay up to date on our day-to-day challenges and triumphs!
Thank you so much backers, I can't wait to show you more!
I'm glad that I managed to get you one more update before 2015, because my running deadline for the Super Dwarf Madness alpha is tomorrow. I'll once again be revising it, but the alpha feels so close now.
So let me update the schedule, as best I can.
Right now I'm finishing up a sort of "gluing together" of many different pieces of SDM - costume and gear shop / editors, interface elements, game elements, transitions between areas and activities, etc. I even spent a few days optimizing the renderer for Central Dwyll, so you won't be waiting for a 20+ second loading screen every time you return from an activity. (I wish Destiny could say the same)
Next, I have to do all that same work again, but also make it work with network code and splitscreen. Why don't I do it all at once? The simple reason is efficiency. Since there are many parts that need this testing, I want to get them all working on a basic level before starting the much slower splitscreen testing process. Network testing is even slower still! While I'm not testing these things yet, I still know where I'm going, and I try to future-proof things well enough to prevent setbacks.
Once testing has gotten out most of the bugs, we will move to our 'internal alpha', where I give the game to the team for them to abuse. They haven't played a new build in over 4 months, so I really want to spend a few days or so incorporating any feedback they give. First impressions mean a lot, and after all this time ours better be damn good!
After I start the internal alpha, the backers alpha will follow as soon as possible. Some of you will finally get to explore the randomized caves of Dwyll and give us all of your unfiltered feedback.
From there we march forward to the beta release. Those playing the alpha will get periodic updates and watch the game grow in front of them. At some point, when a large chunk of our content is done, the evolving alpha will become the beta, and more of you will get to play.
Everyone playing the alpha and beta will be able to contribute feedback and suggestions at dwarfmadness.com, and to a large extent the community will decide when to say Super Dwarf Madness is "ready" for its full release.
Also I do apologize for not including more multimedia In the last few updates. It's very time-consuming to produce, and as I get more nervous about the missed deadlines I feel less freedom to work on these more tangential pieces of the project. Don't worry though, throughout 2015 you'll be getting so many Super Dwarf Madness pics you'll forget all about this winter lull ;)
I wish you all a bright new year filled with Gold and Ale! And a game called Super Dwarf Madness.