Archive for the 'Status Reports' Category

The Path has been out for 2 weeks

April 2nd, 2009 by Michael

And this is what the sales graph looks like:

The Path sales - first 2 weeks

Nice for skiing!
But not so nice for everything else. Damn, those sale figures dropped quickly. And it’s not for lack of attention in press and such. Curious to see how Steam sales and sales from our own site have gotten close together. I wonder how that will continue.

Oh and for those who are interested in such things:

The Path sales - first 2 weeks - gender

I deduced the gender from the name of the customer. Not a very precise method, especially given the amount of names that I was unsure about. But still, one thing is clear: ladies, you’ve got some more work to do!

(ToT) Store Orders Sent!

April 2nd, 2009 by Auriea

It has begun.

All orders bought on or before April 1st through the Tale of Tales store have been mailed out, just now, by us. And we will be mailing things out weekly from now on.

Big THANK YOU to everyone who ordered! We packaged everything up nice :) . While we were doing it we had a thought… Why don’t we sign the posters? so we did. Hope you like that. Since you didn’t know, we kept it simple.

AND
this got us thinking… “Why don’t we have a Poster Sale?”
So we are!
Every month we will discount 2 of the girl posters and send them to you signed, in silver ink. Trust us, its pretty, i’ll draw a little pictogram on there, just for you. ;)

The entire month of April Robin and Rose can be yours for the lowered cost of €18. :D

ALSO
The USB sticks are going fast! If you have an interest in seeing work in progress outtakes from The Path and the (in)famous early interactive demo with a dance-off between Ruby and Charming Wolf, I suggest you go for it now. ;)

End of beta

February 25th, 2009 by Michael

Just fixed the final bugs. Pity it had to end. Just when I was getting good at it. ;)

Now we have thoroughly check our release candidate.
So it’s not quite over yet…

The Path —— Status Report February 2009

February 6th, 2009 by Michael

When we finished the game by New Year’s eve, we thought the worst was over. We thought we could relax a bit more and get part of our lives back. We promised ourselves not to work after dinner anymore (which already happens late in the evening here), and use that time to chill out. And we managed to keep that rhythm for a week or so. But then the reality of things sunk in. We were not ready yet! There’s a million things waiting to be done. And the deadline is still as immobile as before (as it is defined by a tight budget). Get to work!

It’s a very different kind of stress, though. Production towards the end was a slow and complex process filled with doubts and with an enormous pressure of needing to get a huge amount of work done in a small amount of time. Now the work is easy. Bug fixing is easy. Making websites is easy. Making screenshots is easy. Trailers. Logos. Talking to distributors. Talking to press. Thinking about marketing. Trying to solve technical issues. Organizing a launch event. Two launch events, maybe. Considering retail release. Talking with publishers. Talking with beta-testers. Talking with co-producers. Reading contracts. Designing postcards. Getting offers from the printer. Trying to get funding for that. Trying to get funding for traveling to the Game Developers Conference. Not forgetting to book tickets in time. Talking to people about porting the game to another platform. Etcetera. Etcetera. All extremely easy tasks. But there’s so many of them!

It’s not the pressure anymore of getting things done. It’s more like not knowing where to start. And constantly doubting if you shouldn’t be doing this other thing first. All small things, so it wouldn’t matter. It’s pretty hectic, I assure you. And there is not much time for chilling out. I just hope we find a moment to slow down a bit before we launch. So we’re not shaking like headless chickens when everybody wants to talk to us about our game.

Anyway, this month. What did we do this month? After some holiday down time, we started beta-testing and -fixing. First on our own and then with some carefully selected testers. This process is still going on.
We have also created lots of nice pictures that can be used in press and marketing. We made some videos that we will be releasing one by one.
We even made a rough sketch for the launch trailer. It will be very cool! It’s not what we were planning to do (a traditional narrative trailer) but it’s much more in the style of the game and will neatly divide the audience in people that are interested in what The Path has to offer and people who are not.

We’ve started work on the websites for the game. Yes, plural. We’re crazy like that. We’re keeping the current website as a container for all possible information about the game. But we’re adding two others that we’re calling “box sites”. Since The Path will initially be exclusively distributed digitally, we wanted to make a sort of “digital box” for the game. In the form of a website. I guess the two websites can be seen as two sides of the box. The front will be very simple and straightforward. And the back will be seductive and try to give an impression of the atmosphere of the game, or be complementary to it.

We have also managed to get some previews of the game published in some rather large publications (Game Informer, IGN, and soon Edge and Igromania). And judging by the amount of journalists who have requested to see a preview version, many will follow. We’re curious to see what different people will get out of the game.

Our pseudo-viral campaign with teaser videos also seems to be working, judging by the number of hits on our new website for the game. No, I can’t tell you more about it. That would ruin our stats. ;)

We also have decided on a date for launch. But we need a bit more time before we can be absolutely confident that we can do it, to make sure that no serious technical problems show up in the beta. We’ll announce it in two weeks or so. Stay tuned.

The Path —— Status Report January 2009

January 5th, 2009 by Michael

We did it! We achieved beta stage right at the end of the year. What a relief! The game is done! Of course we still need to check it thoroughly on different computers and fix any errors that come up. Hopefully we don’t run into any serious issues.

As expected, December was quite stressful. But it was also a race to the finish. So the end was always in sight -even if at times it seemed like we weren’t going to make it. It was just a matter of doing that last effort to get there.

We had a few more alpha-tests in the beginning of the month. But most of the time was spent on tweaking and polishing interactions and systems and finalizing the assets. The game looks really nice now. Even the final part, inside Grandmother’s House, that nobody has really seen yet in its full splendor.

It’s funny how, when the remaining time becomes really short, cutting features becomes very easy. Simply because a lot of things have become impossible to implement due to the time they require to produce or the risk they pose to the stability of the project. At some point, it felt like for every issue that we would fix, two other things would break. So as time runs out, to some extent you need to stop fixing things. Or at least evaluate and prioritize. Under the pressure of time, it becomes very easy to see which features are important and which are not. And we were lucky that the most important things were done already.

That doesn’t mean that The Path is perfect. Several systems and visual elements could definitely be improved. But this is a low budget production and we simply cannot do everything that a big developer can. We hope that our audience cuts us some slack and that the uniqueness of the experience makes up for the weak points in the game.

I must admit that playing demo’s of triple A games on our Playstation 3 Christmas present has made me feel a lot more confident in this area. There’s a lot of things that The Path simply does better than those multi-million $€£ productions. It could just be me, of course. I guess I don’t exactly like a lot of videogames. If so, I hope there’s many people like me out there.

We took a few days off around the holidays. And crunch time is now officially over. Working after dinner is not allowed anymore. We’re slowly attempting to get our lives back.

I hope the beta-testing does not reveal any annoying situations. Because I’m really looking forward to working with the game rather than on it. Creating marketing materials, figuring out how to advertise, finding partners to distribute the game, etc. It all seems like a vacation after such a long period of hardship! :)

The Path —— Status Report December 2008

December 1st, 2008 by Michael

In November we have focussed on responding to issues that came up during playtests. We found a few major technical problems that have been resolved in the mean time. And tweaked the gameplay here and there in response to different play styles we observed. We were often simply working on things that came up during one test to get them ready for the next. To see if the changes worked. We have added some things to the game that we would not have dreamed of adding when working in isolation. But knowing that people were coming by for testing, gave us an opportunity to experiment.

I’m still in doubt about whether the choices we are making are the right ones. But we’re too close to the game now to decide. So we’re going with the flow and relying on our observation of the testers.

It’s been a very interesting experience. To some extent, I wish we could have tested like this much earlier in the production. But, as some of the still unfinished elements in the game clearly show, this kind of test is only reliable when the game is done. So it’s a Catch-22. One that we could have solved if we had been able to stick to our schedule that included several months for “authoring”, i.e. designing the interaction with all the game’s assets and systems finished.

But now, we’re offially behind on that schedule and this authoring phase is acting as a buffer -because we cannot afford to extend production time. There’s still a lot of assets to be created and tweaked. It never seems to stop. Which is frustrating. At this point, it’s become a matter of just continuing the work until it’s done. There’s no margins anymore. And cancelling the production now would be ridiculous.

The storm in a teacup that surrounded The Graveyard (postmortem) this month did not contribute to a calm working atmosphere. On the one hand, we’re pleased that people care enough to discuss our ideas at length and we’re pleased that our work gets noticed in the little blogosphere. But some of the things that came up during the discussion cast a lot of doubt on the desirability and the feasibility of what we are doing here. The Path will probably be a much easier game to accept (or dismiss) for a lot of the critics of The Graveyard. But we know that they are not our audience. We are working for a much gentler group of people who don’t participate in discussions like this. But they are so silent. We don’t know what they are thinking. Do they even exist? Are we chasing a phantom?

We are very close to finishing the game. On our schedule December and January are defined as “Finalizing Stage”. And I guess that is correct. In our idealist dreams, we wanted to have a real beta-version of the game now. But it looks like that will take another month. The things that remain to be done are fairly simple and don’t require a lot of testing. There’s just a very long list of them. So December will be another very busy month for us.

But it should be the last month of crunching! Which is very exciting. I still love working on The Path, but I would also like my life back at some point. If only for a little while. ;)

The Path —— Status Report November 2008

November 2nd, 2008 by Michael

Where did October go? It flew by! Looking back, though, I feel like we have made the transition from a game under construction to a game that is nearly finished.

The overall structure was cleaned up and the last remaining design issues were resolved, completing the gameplay aspects of The Path. We tend to design a game in broad strokes and some of the details are only filled in at the last moment. Which was now. It feels good.

Halfway through the month we put together a super-tight schedule for asset creation of all the remaining things. It’s amazing how quickly you can fill up a month with things that all seem relatively simple by themselves. But it helped us feel more certain about our ability to achieve our production deadline. As long as we stick to the schedule, we’ll be fine.

We also finished the remaining Red Girls this month and published pictures of them. That was an important milestone. There’s still some work to do on the other characters in the game but at least the avatars are finished. And they look lovely! We’re very proud of them. Auriea, Laura and Hans did an excellent job! Thanks to the pictures -and the girls’ Livejournals- they already seem to have started a life of their own in the imaginations of the public.

Towards the end of the month, we invited people to come and test the game. We would sit them in front of a computer and observe how they play, slowly giving more guidance as they get deeper into the game. The results of the tests had significant impact on the priorities of our to do list. Especially on the “process” side of things, the schedule got rearranged quite a bit. We wanted to fix problems that came up in one test and then see if our solution worked in the next test. So responding to the test results suddenly became my priority.

As a result some of the things I had planned to do in October, remain unfinished as they were moved to next month. The tests made us realize that our game was indeed nearing completion, as the testers really did look they were playing a game, and not just testing some interactive processes, like Auriea and I tend to do all the time. A lot of very interesting things came up during the tests. Some serious bugs. But also issues relating to gameplay, interface and communication within the game. I believe that our response to these issues will greatly increase the enjoyment of many players. So we should all be very grateful to the testers!

We had scheduled three months of what we call “authoring”, to fine-tune the game after all assets and systems are created. But it looks like we won’t have such a clearly defined period. On the one hand, there simply is no time. But on the other, it feels a lot more efficient to coordinate this authoring effort with observing and talking to people who test the game. Rather than simply following our own artistic instincts. At this point, we may be too close to the game and unable to tell the important things apart from the less important ones. Seeing how other people play with our game really helps to put these things in perspective.

We have also discovered some annoying technical problems. Installing software on Vista is apparently not the same as on XP. For some reason, a newly installed game is able to access saved data that I thought was uninstalled. We will need to look into this. And then there’s some serious issues with the game either taking a long time or plain crashing on exit. Luckily the game engine‘s main programmer is helping us to resolve the issue.

We want to have The Path done by the end of the year. So that there is sufficient time for the creation of marketing graphics, a trailer, perhaps a demo, for communicating with publishers and distributors and organizing a launch event. It’s going to be tough. We’re probably in what is called a crunch period now. And while we do make tangible progress and it’s really nice to see the game flower, I think this period is too long. We’ve been crunching for two, perhaps three months now and there’s another two months to go. We’re going to need a serious vacation after this!

The Path —— Status Report October 2008

October 1st, 2008 by Michael

We’ve worked so hard in September! We get up in the morning, do some work, have brunch, do some work, have tea, do some work, have dinner, watch Star Trek, do some work. Day in day out. From 8-9 am to 1-2 am. Apart from the weekends when we force ourselves to rest. And despite of the stress and the routine, it’s fun! In an ideal world, we’d probably want to spend much longer on the game and add all the elements that we imagine while playtesting. But it’s probably a good thing that practical circumstances forbid this. Otherwise The Path would never get done.

I’ve been able to do most things on my to do list for September. Only a few things have been cut, or pushed down to the “desirable features” list. For me, the door is now closed on adding new features, and now I’m shifting my attention to tweaking and fixing everything that is in the game. There’s a lot of work still to be done!

In the asset creation area, Grandmother’s House is starting to look very very nice! But there’s still some work to do. So we didn’t quite make the asset creation deadline -again. And after the Grandmother assets are done, we still need to work on animations and visual effects. So that will be an important part of the October workload. After which Auriea can get back to the forest and finalize the graphic elements there.

In September I was able to implement a few nice and fun things that will definitely add to the enjoyment of the game. For the first time, I’m also really starting to see (and feel) its artistic potential and emotional effect. I must admit that I was a little bit disturbed. It’s one thing to say that you’re making a game in which you lead your six avatars to their deaths. It’s kind of funny and provocative to say such things. But to actually do this, and see the effect. Is chilling. Even for me.

It made me think that the developers of all those violent games must have a real talent of transforming that pain and death into lighthearted entertainment. If you show these things in their plain and dry state then I imagine the emotional effect can be devastating. I think politicians who complain about violence in games now haven’t seen anything yet. I think all those developers are holding back!

I was actually worried that The Path would be too extreme. Not in terms of blood and gore, but in terms of psychological and emotional tension. But then I reminded myself of the fairy tale aspect of the story. And that everything in The Path is a metaphor. Maybe there’s even a reason why you would want these girls to die…

Anyway, October will be a lot less fun. Now is the time to make sure that the most essential elements of the game work properly. Ranging from controls and game flow to the user interface and the save system. It all needs to work well and be clear to the player. After that, hopefully, finally, we well get to play a bit with our doll house and author the more artistic aspects of the game.

Almost all collaboration with other people has stopped. Laura has finished all animations. Marian is making some final versions of the new logo. Jarboe & Kris are adding some extra elements to an existing composition. And Hans has helped a bit with Grandmother’s House. Soon it will just be Auriea and I, tweaking this bag of feature into a lovely experience.

We hope to squeeze in some play-testing too, this month. But we can only really do that when the game works reasonably well, technically. And that’s not entirely the case yet. Too many unwanted weird things are still happening. But I feel quite confident about fixing them. A lot more confident than I felt last month. I think the biggest issues were taken care of in September. The rest is easy. ;)

The Path —— Status Report September 2008

September 1st, 2008 by Michael

It’s the first of September. A crucial date in our schedule. 1 September was the deadline for asset creation, the day when all elements (3D assets, textures and sounds, as well as software systems and interfaces) should be in the game, in some form or other. I’m afraid to say that we did not make this deadline. There’s still a whole month of work to get the remaining assets made and put into the game. Laura continued to create animations through August and Jarboe and Kris made some wonderful music for the game. But the animations are still being tweaked and we need some more music as well. So that process continues as well as our own. Auriea has finally found the time to start working on the interior of Grandmother’s House (the one big remaining asset creation job) and after months of spending most of my time in tools, I am pleased to finally return to the game and work on the actual game code. Tweaking the rotation speed of the characters feels so much more like making progress than importing hundreds of animations.

There’s still a lot to be done before we can really start authoring. Even though we’re already starting with some of that in between the other work. Sadly, our budget is so limited that we cannot add extra time to our schedule. We briefly considered selling a distribution license to a publisher, to raise extra cash from advances on sales, so we could add a few more months to the schedule. But we’ve decided against that and do it the punk way instead. It’s not just the money anyway. As much as we love working on The Path, we also want it to be done one day and to show it to an audience. So we’ll just have to work extra hard and extra efficient. And be smart about what we put in the game: carefully consider the balance between creation effort and experience impact of each element.

The good news is that we’ve been very frugal. For the first time in the history of the project, the balance figure at the bottom of our budget spreadsheet is not red. Meaning we will actually have enough money to make it to the end of production.

We’ve also been thinking about marketing (sales are a constant worry since we have this Sword-of-Damocles-loan that we need to start paying back as soon as we’re done). And even though we’re eager to show our work to the world, we think it will be best that we take our time to prepare said world. And also to give ourselves a break, I guess. We want to finish the game completely and then not release it. But instead take the time to create nice renders, screenshots and videograbs and publish those instead. Maybe have some journalists preview the game, to get a better idea of how to approach marketing. Show it to friends. Just decorate the kid’s room before the baby comes. We’re aiming for birth in Spring.

But first there’s a lot of hard labour to be done!

All characters are modelled.

July 18th, 2008 by Michael

All 14 characters have been modelled and are at the rigger’s to get their skeleton fitted in, and then we’ll give them skin. This is quite a monumental milestone for us because it’s been an extremely tedious and long winded process to get all those characters modelled. Especially because we were hoping to hire a professional expert for this job but all the people we tested with disappointed in one way or another. It would appear to be impossible to find somebody who combines technical skills with an artistic style that matches our work.

We really had not scheduled any time for Auriea to model all these characters but she ended up doing it anyway. And they look great! :)