rAge weekend! As a Joburg-based gamer and long-time member of the games industry in South Africa, to me rAge Expo represents more than just 33,000+ tech and gaming lovers getting together under one roof, it represents progress and growth in this industry – something which I’ve had the privilege to see from all sides.
For that reason, when I started building Among the Innocent: A Stricken Tale, I knew that my first milestone should be showing the game at rAge. That happened this last weekend, and the experience was incredible. It was the first time I’d shown a game that was my own, and it was the first time that more than a handful of people played Among the Innocent. I estimate that the demo received around 120 full play-throughs during the show, and probably as many incomplete games. I want to thank everyone who came through to play the game, chat with us, give feedback and suggestions, or just laugh at us and walk past (yeah I saw you, snide laughing guy). I also want to thank NAG for their assistance in making the home_coded section at rAge a reality, as well as all the other local developers for being awesome expo companions!
Here’s a breakdown of the responses from the playing public, and my thoughts about them:
1) Players loved the amount of detail that we put into the game. I half-joked that most people wouldn’t notice the little biscuit tins and rubbish littering the basement floor, but the opposite was true. They (you!) took far more time than I ever expected playing the demo: what I thought was a 5-15 minute play-through took some people as long as 40 minutes. But…
2) … some of those lengthy play-throughs were caused by obscurity in game design. There were many instances, individually small but collectively significant, where aspects of the game that I thought to be intuitive were anything but. People got stuck in places where I wouldn’t want them to get stuck. Of course some people breezed through those instances. I had a bit of fun over the weekend, subtly changing things each day and watching how people reacted to those altered versions. Being able to watch new people experience these elements for the first time was probably the most valuable thing I got from the whole show. While there’s no intention to make the finished game easy, I don’t want words like obscurity and frustration to be associated with Among the Innocent. A fine balance is in order, and I’m hyper-aware of this now more than ever.
3) The interface needs some work. Not a lot, but certainly some. Tweaking, if you will. I expected this, and spent plenty of time speaking to players about how the game felt to them – movement, interactions, examining their surroundings, and so on. I intend to spend a lot more time doing private play sessions with a mix of players. It also reminded me that some people don’t play first-person games at all. Interestingly enough, those people very often do, or at least did, play adventure games, so at the very least I’ll need to look at some options for those players who don’t want to feel bogged down by the first-person controls, while at the same time giving more experienced players the freedom of movement, and feeling of movement, that first-person revels in. Again, balance.
4) “The horror element”. This gets quotation marks because it’s the part of my weekend that I spent the most time discussing. I really want people to understand that Among the Innocent: A Stricken Tale is an adventure game, and it’s become obvious to me that all marketing efforts I make must be bold and clear in how the game is portrayed. Sure, it’s got spooky stuff. Weird stuff, even (IGN quoted me as saying “it’s creepy and weird and f***ed up”, and I stand by that), but that’s only the aesthetic and the narrative. The gameplay – the stuff you’ll actually do as a player – should feel like an old-school adventure game wrapped up in a first-person perspective. Thankfully, most people got that after a few minutes of playing. Many seemed surprised that the slogan I plastered on the banner, “A first-person adventure game”, wasn’t a lie. I’m happy with that. Thrilled, actually. People get that I’m making an adventure game and that it’s entirely possible for an adventure game to be scary without it being thrown into the bottomless genre pit that is “horror game”. What even is a “horror game”?
5) People like pretty stuff. This is an obvious one, but it was reinforced over the weekend. I received a lot of positive feedback about the overall look and artistic direction of the game. People dig it. That makes me very happy. I’ll keep making it pretty! There was also such a fantastic response to the comic book that we did, so this is definitely something that we’ll keep doing! Not sure on the format yet, but it’ll at least be digital. If the resources and/or demand is there, then expect more physical prints in the future.
6) Expectations have been set. The bar is raised. Promises have begun to creep out. I must admit to feeling a pang of terror when I first realised that the weekend was going well. “Fear of success” is a concept that I’ve had little understanding of or empathy for, but after rAge, I get it. I even experienced it briefly. People dig what we’re doing and they want more of it, so you’ll get more of it! Now that I’ve had a few days to gather my thoughts and decompress, I’ve realised that that’s all there is to it, really. The pre-alpha demo I showed will act as a recipe book for the rest of the game’s development, but of course recipes can be altered somewhat along the way. What I won’t do is sacrifice gameplay and narrative for the sake of scope. There were a number of requests over the weekend for more of this or that, and all feedback will be taken into account, but I want to ensure that everyone who’s on this team produces the best game that we can in the time we have. With that in mind, let’s talk rough timelines moving forward. Please note that these might shift around a little…
November 2015: Public demo and gameplay video(s). This will be a refined version of the rAge pre-alpha, which I should be comfortable enough to call the Alpha Demo by then. It’ll feature the same cabin escape, but with more details, and perhaps a bit more time for you to explore the outside world. Maybe! It’ll also feature more “engine” stuff like customisable options (yes, mouse sensitivity will be there (it’s done already!)), saving/loading, and a more robust main menu. I’d like to have gamepad support by this stage but I’m not yet sure if that’ll happen.
November 2015 – January 2016: Pre-orders open, and Steam Greenlight campaign. I’ve left this time period quite large because I honestly don’t know how long it’ll take to sort out all the money stuff. I’m considering approaching third-party distributors to help me with that, but rest assured that we won’t go the publisher route. Among the Innocent (and all of the Stricken tales) will stay independent. Anyone who pre-orders the game will get a free upgrade to the digital deluxe edition. More details on that and other costs will come as soon as they’re finalised!
November-August 2016: We’ll chase all the marketing, Let’s-Players, previews, etc. We might need your help with this one, so please be sure to sign up for the mailing list if you’re keen on staying up-to-date on things! You’re also welcome to send us an email if you do Let’s-Plays or any sort of games media/journalism. If you just so happen to write for a niche adventure game site, I’d especially love to chat!
January 2016 onwards: Closed beta. This is something that I hadn’t considered before, but judging by the amount of incredibly valuable feedback we received over the weekend, it occurred to me that we’d be stupid to not have a closed beta system. I’m not sure yet how we’ll handle this, but I know that something like Early Access is the wrong approach for a game like Among the Innocent. I don’t believe that a “soft launch” that slowly oozes into its final form is appropriate for narrative-driven games, but I want to give an opportunity to those people who’d like to get involved during development. It’ll most likely be through Steam’s own beta system if that’s possible, or a bespoke system that we’ll run ourselves.
March 2016: rAge Cape Town. I’m not yet sure what we’ll show, but it’ll be something different to the Alpha Demo. Having rAge JHB as a deadline proved to be an excellent source of motivation, and I intend to use rAge CPT in the same way.
August 2016: Launch on PC. That means Steam, and ideally GOG and Humble as well. We intend to release Among the Innocent: A Stricken Tale in August on Steam primarily, but we’ll do whatever it takes to get it onto DRM-free platforms as well. I told a rAge visitor that you could come to my house and I’ll put the game on a flash drive for you. I was only sort of joking. You want this game – let’s make it happen!
Phew, okay, I’m done for now. I’ll have some more details on price and pre-orders and whatnot as soon as possible, and I’ll hopefully be able to refine that timeline as things go on.
Until then, take care!