Solace Crafting

Solace Crafting
Redefining the Crafting RPG

Monday, October 23, 2017

Alternative funding options

   I'm just going to be honest and admit that I'm fine with making money for hard work, but I get a little uneasy asking for funding. I'm 100% interested in making a really fun building and crafting game, and getting paid enough to improve it for years to come. However, a little funding will absolutely help me get there much faster, and I very much appreciate everyone that has expressed their willingness to help out with pre-orders and beyond.

   Truth be told, with a few hundred more hours work Solace Crafting will be able to support itself, I don't doubt that. So the goal is really just to get those hours in. Without funding I can only get somewhere around fifty to one hundred hours in per month. With funding I can get two hundred plus hours in per month (and still go to bed on time).

   One thing to keep in mind is that because I put time into development every day, the remaining time needed to get Solace Crafting into early release gets smaller every day. In other words, the amount of funding that I need to cover expenses gets smaller every day. Somewhere in the near future, the amount of money I have saved, the amount of funding supporters have provided, and the remaining time needed, will reach a point where it is "safe enough" for me to go full time. The $9,000 that Kickstarter reached though did not fulfill would realistically have been "enough," but maybe not considered "safe enough" by all parties.

   For those interested in pushing that date closer to now, I've researched some alternatives and would love to hear what you think.

My top pick: Patreon

   Patreon is actually a subscription platform by nature, something I never want to impose on general players, but it could work well for the current situation. Every dollar earned through Patreon can be displayed as "total amount raised" towards a goal. I can also reduce the goal amount freely as time goes on and I get closer to early release. Patreon also allows rewards so I can still offer the $15 pre-order, etc. I will be posting updates to Patreon most days if this is ends up being the way to go.

   Another possible route would be Equity Crowdfunding through IndieGoGo, but this has a heavy initial, a fair amoun of paperwork, and so forth. I don't think is the best choice for right now, though equity does have its benefits.

   Also with IndieGoGo, a "flexible funding" campaign with inDemand would allow me to keep whatever is earned, and to continue to raise money even after the deadline has passed for players interested in buying higher tiers. I already have a video and graphics, so this too could be a viable option, though I wouldn't be looking to "run it" like I tried with Kickstarter.

   Another possible route is to offer pre-sales through for example the Humble Store, which I've heard is possible, but this makes it difficult to accept different amounts depending on what individuals are capable of/willing to support. Or to simply pre-sell the game myself using PayPal, but this sometimes leads to PayPal freezing accounts, and in general is a lot more tax and paperwork for the developer.

   Personally, I think creating a Patreon page that clearly states the purpose and goal of allowing pledges is the easiest, safest, and perhaps best way to go. Please let me know if you think IndieGoGo has a better chance, or if you are interested in something else and why.

Thank you!

   Since the campaign has ended and I've refocused my attention on developing the game I've got a lot done. Some of the code I wrote over the weekend won't be going in just yet, but solace upgrades, demon wave attacks, and static defense obelisks are all in and working! I just have to make them look better =]

   I also made a lot of improvements to building and added in some more pieces for increased creativity.

   To help potential patrons better understand where Solace Crafting is going I've started a development road map, though it's just text for now. Check it out and let me know if you have any ideas:

Best wishes to you!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What to do when your Kickstarter fails

My Kickstarter has failed!

   Grab a blanket, break out the ice cream and your favorite feel-good movie 😭
   I'm just kidding! It's no big deal, and I'm very happy to explain why.

So, what's the point of Kickstarter?

   For me, the reason for starting a Kickstarter campaign was always to buy me time. Time is the one and only thing keeping me from finishing Solace Crafting.
   Crowdfunding had been on my mind a long time, though I started to actually spend time seriously researching Kickstarter early 2016. I started to write promotion video outlines, catch phrases, todo lists, and timelines. I started working social media, farming Twitter followers, and reading articles about who succeeded or failed. By early 2017 I had started a company, was filing taxes, filling out forms, setting up bank accounts. I was recording and editing video and audio, something that takes a lot of time and effort. What I was doing though, to be blunt, was spending more and more time doing things other than game development.

My goal was defeated by the means.

   In August of 2017, I had a full week off of my day job for the Japanese summer break. I didn't spend it working on marketing, social media, and Kickstarter. I spent five weekdays nine to five developing Solace Crafting. I got so much done, it was in an odd way disheartening. In one week I furthered development more than I had in six months of trying to do seven or eight jobs at once. After that something inside of me started to boil.
   I knew I wasn't spending my time and energy where I wanted to, despite the obvious allure of funding. Still, I had dug so deep into the idea of Kickstarter, that I didn't want to simply abandon it. In mid-September, I threw together a video, and pushed the 'launch' button. I bought the services of an indie focused marketing company known as Black Shell Media, through which over sixteen hundred Steam keys were sent out to YouTubers and gaming related media, millions of Twitter views were achieved, thousands of clicks, as well as my own paid advertising.
   All in all though, Solace Crafting was too underdeveloped, did not attract the media, and Kickstarter lulled from day one.

Now that's all behind me. 

   I am once again focusing 95% of my time on game development, and it feels great.

   Should I never have looked at Kickstarter in the first place? I don't think that's something I or anyone else can say. I learned mountains worth about social media, advertising, business startup, taxes, law, video production, and much more. I met a handful of dedicated supporters that have given me some invaluable insight, and really helped me better understand even what I myself am looking to create. It would be nice to already have the game selling on Steam, but it may never have started down the path it is now had this extra time not been allowed to it. All things said and done tens of thousands of people have now heard the name Solace Crafting that hadn't just 30 days ago.

   My sincere gratitude goes out to those that have backed the Kickstarter campaign. As Kickstarter is all or nothing, some of you have expressed an interest in supporting Solace Crafting outside of Kickstarter. I am considering several ways to go about that, and will post again with my findings asking for your input on the best way to go about that.

   In the meantime I will get back to posting regular updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I can post to them all simultaneously, it's not very time consuming), with less frequent updates here and on Steam. If you'd just like to know when Solace Crafting is ready, joining the mailing list, or adding it to your Steam wishlist is a non-intrusive yet surefire method to get a notification. I only send out mailing list updates for major events.

What I learned preparing and running a Kickstarter

1. Health and relationships
   Mine suffered. I lost a lot of sleep, grew short-tempered, put on weight for the first time in my life, and got sick a lot more often than I usually do. I skipped outings with my wife and family because I was "busy," and even skipped my day job a couple times. Looking back these were all poor choices, and I would encourage indie developers to accept the fact that there is never enough time, and to always put your health and relationships first.

2. Social Media Followers
   I grew over 7,000 Twitter followers across my three accounts over the course of a year. Somewhere around six of them backed me on Kickstarter. This was the biggest let down of all for me. I spent somewhere over 150 hours throughout the year on Twitter, yet the end results were laughable.
   Now, I met some of the kindest, most supportive people on Twitter as well, who continue to help test Solace Crafting and have been a big healp; so I'm not saying Twitter is useless, just understand the term "follower farming," and do not engage in it. Most accounts are just following you because they want their follower count to go up into the millions, as I did, they don't care about you or your game. The people that do care will notice you eventually if you're posting #screenshotsaturday #indiedev #indiegame etc. and don't need to be farmed.
   This applies somewhat to Instagram as well, but Instagram and Facebook are much more organic.
   Facebook does not allow the same sorts of freedom that Twitter does and requires quite a bit more work. I would reccommend working with paid advertising (see #3) more than trying to spend time in social media much yourself.

3. Paid advertising
   The advertising I paid for myself via Facebook, Twitter, and Google ads did far worse than the non-paid posts run by Black Shell Media, a service I also paid for. The difference is that they are posting on accounts they have spent years building up with large audiences, versus paid advertisements that target an extremely diverse audience and are clearly marked as "paid". People that follow content posters like Black Shell Media do so because they are interested in upcoming games, indie developers, and crowdfunding campaigns. No matter how specific you get with paid advertising keywords and targeting via facebook/etc ads you're going to hit a lot of people that don't care about any of these things. I would highly recommend considering a service or two or three ranging from 50$ to 500$ posting to curated audiences over self-managed paid advertising.

4. The demo
   My demo sucked, and that was the end of the story really. Plenty of people are able to see beyond that and are willing to back your project, but streamers and media get stuck. Getting people to back your project is less of a problem than getting people to see your project, and they're not going to see it if streamers and media don't have enough to work with. You also don't need any fancy video production if your demo works, you just record it and your good.

5. The video
   Do not spend any time trying to make your video fancy by mocking up cut-scenes, making new models, recording new voices. If it's not in your game, it's not in your game! This was something I learned early on. Trying to take screenshots and video of stuff that isn't finish takes time. Instead of spending that time you should finish it! Then all you have to do is record.

5. Time 
   If you're building a board game, printing a comic, shooting a movie, you need money, and Kickstarter might be the most awesome thing ever to earn you money. If you're an indie developer, you need time, not money, no matter what people in the industry are used to saying. Consider two alternatives to Kickstarter:
   A: Don't spend your time on anything other than development, and just get the game to an early-access stage. Steam has the most subscribers of any sort of "media outlet" you can imagine times ten thousand. If you're game is going to sell at all (and some games just aren't, no offense) putting it live on Steam will sell it.
   B: Consider IndieGoGo for its investment options. I ultimately stuck with Kickstarter because its got the "biggest audience," but that didn't cover up the problems with the campaign, and it also comes with a lot more rules, and a lot less options. I have people that -want- to give me money to help out, but Kickstarter only offers an all or nothing campaign style. IndieGoGo allows you to offer equity, and to opt to keep what you get, both of which for a goal as small as mine was, may have been a better option. Not in all cases, but it's definitely worth thinking about it.

   I read time and time again that crowdfunding takes a lot of time and work, but I never mentally translated that as "time you could have been developing," until it was too late. Life is, however, experience! I'm not interested in moaning about what's done, and have my eyes back on the true goal: a great game!

   I'm shooting to publish a public build before the year ends, with a big update this Saturday!

   Thank you again to everyone who has backed, commented, and shared their ideas. Your continued participation is important as we move forward with turning Solace Crafting into a financially healthy and well-staffed project, and is very much appreciated by me and everyone looking for better games.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Monday, June 5, 2017

To update or not to update

It was on a night late in May of 2017.
The rain was dumping on all sides of my house.
My right eye had turned red from too much coding.
Still, it was time.
I updated all of my third party tools at once and migrated Solace Crafting into a fresh Unity project. The errors swarmed over me like white on rice. I brewed a cup of coffee, denied my lap to the cats eager to sit on it, and started scanning over 50,000 lines of code.

Not everything about game development is glamorous. Actually none of it is! It's long hard hours squinting your eyes at multiple screens, checking animations, interface events, and cross-script banter. But when things come together, it's something you've created yourself and it feels great.

I started learning game development over five or six years ago (I'm starting to lose track). Solace Crafting finally started taking shape a couple years ago, and I had been dragging some of those scripts and project files around for too long. The move into a new project actually went surprisingly smooth and it did fix a few lingering warnings and errors. What bogged me down was updating all of my third party software.

I wrote not long ago about how great third party software can be for helping broke indie developers like myself get moving rather than trying to code everything yourself. That does at times come with a price. Being able to read shaders, scripts, and animations I'm capable of sorting out just about any problems I come across, but they can come way out of left field and end up taking a few hours to fix.

All is well now, with only a couple requested upgrades/fixes still pending, though the grass system I'm looking forward to is still unfortunately non-functional for my uses. Hopefully that and a couple other minor issues I've found will get sorted out by their developers in the next week or two. It's great getting to give feedback, and get features in return!

As for my own upgrades a big one went into the building system. A fundamental design flaw (my fault) was overlapping parts of buildings, or rather, not recognizing neighbor parts when considering what to offer players to build. I grew up writing voxel engines which do a lot of six-sided interaction. For Solace Crafting's building system though I've moved it to a three-sided system that now treats a North wall as the South side of the northern neighbor, etc. Had to rework a host of rotation and placement scripts, but it's all saving and loading fine now.

With that out of the way I wanted to make a tower, but ran into some collider issues with my stairs. After fixing those I ran into some issues with my player movement physics. After that... There's always something to do =]

I've also fixed a lot of cosmetic bugs that never make amazing tweets, but are still important to good gameplay. I hope to improve the cosmetics as well, like in the screenshot above I don't yet have icons to represent building recipes, and the buildings buttons are pretty cartoony. Getting all of those little details checked off takes a long time believe or not.

At the end of the week I hope to record a quick video going into the building system, and maybe another about the crafting system if I can clean up the enchanting by then. I anyone has 30 grand I can borrow to quit my day job let me know ;p in the meantime I'm still stuck working only at night.

Hope you had a good Spring! We're moving into the monsoon season here in Japan and by the sound of the rain outside the first wave hits right now!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sifting ideas out of destroyed habits

Habits are a serious danger in many industries. In manufacturing it can even lead to death. When a worker gets used to their job they start to feel safe even in extremely dangerous situations. In the industry of game design we don't have to worry about molten steel being poured over us, but habits can be the death of creativity, and very destructive to our profession.

In order to generate new ideas I like to take apart systems we consider normal, especially if there are players that complain about them. Why is it normal? What problem is it trying to remedy? What happens when you burn it to the ground? Going against our habits takes us out of our comfort zone, and that's exactly where new ideas get found.

Here are some habitual features I destroyed in my search for something better:

Destroyed Habit #1: In any RPG I can think of, there is big boss armor, fancy PvP reward armor, and crappy starter gear that can vary extremely in their usefulness. A common complaint being that crafted gear is so much worse than dropped gear that crafting feels pointless, or that only people that grind for months are ever able to get the "best" gear. In order to prioritize crafted equipment some games will remove dropped gear entirely, asking players to seek out powerful recipes and components instead. Both systems are the same mechanism: there is always a "best" recipe, a "best" sword, a "best" bow, and with patches they get pushed higher and higher to keep end game players engaged.

New Idea #1: What I did instead was to give each recipe the potential to be any level, and to be tailored for any class, using fully customizable recipes. Every weapon does the same base damage, and every piece of armor provides the same base protection. What separates one weapon recipe from another is it's visuals, damage or protection type, and how a player chooses to craft it. This let's players choose equipment based on preference rather than trying to get the same "best" equipment thousands of other people are using. Again, the base math for all recipes is the same, sounds crazy right, but the final product is affected by many different player choices, including: level, rank, materials, passive skills, crafting facilities, color, and above all enchants.

Destroyed Habit #2: As a game world gets bigger and bigger, travel often becomes a concern from a design perspective. Commonly this is partially alleviated using ferries between important locations. The next step is almost always to give higher level players super fast mounts that let them whiz back and forth to wherever they're adventuring. Unfortunately a huge amount of danger is instantly lost as players dart past monsters uninterestingly, and the game world no longer gets much attention as we blur from here to there.

New Idea #2: No mounts, no ferries, ever. Instead, players can build and connect their own fast travel network, but only at places they've reached themselves. Building a teleporter requires light, a currency rewarded for the banishing of evil, so we can't built one every ten steps. We can however create our own points of interest when we find a cave entrance we want to explore, a lavafall deep underground we like, or a town with quests that we're interested in completing, providing a permanent connection to our home base or bases. Maybe we started with a cabin in the woods, and now want to build a castle in the mountains. Getting to the mountains will take some time, will no doubt get us into some fights, and will bring us across many smaller points of interest, secret areas, skill locked rewards, area based quests, etc. Once we find a place we like, we can build a teleporter, and travel freely back and forth between our cabin and our castle. We don't lose the fun and rewards of exploration, nor are we forced to walk back and forth between the same locations over and over.

Destroyed Habit #3
: When leveling up a warrior you are expected to get stronger, when leveling up a wizard you are expected to get smarter. Some wizards use ice, some use fire, but none of them use crossbows. This is because classes are preconceived, built with expectations, and attempt to reward players for their chosen limitations with stronger and stronger attacks. A class may have several paths to choose from, but only a few. In the long run every level fifty character will have thousands if not millions of other characters built exactly the same as they are, destroying uniqueness and any sense of personalization.

New Idea #3: Open classes in Solace Crafting means that you don't choose a class to start out as, but are free to increase the abilities of any or all classes. The more you spend in a class the further it grows. That's not necessarily new, but I've taken this feature further still. For one, each and every skill has no hard level cap. Flame, Fireball, Fire Storm, and Meteor, like recipes, can all be leveled up without end and all use very similar math so that no one spell is the "best," though some are certainly more situational than others. Furthermore, players can mix and enhance their skills with passive abilities such as a chance to stun, or reduced mana cost. This allows players to mix skills from any tree creating the possibility for millions of combinations. It's still a young and evolving system, but I hope more than anything people will have fun with it.

I don't have a staff of hundreds, nor millions of dollars to throw around, yet, so spending my time on fancy AAA graphics just doesn't make sense. I also believe that's not how fun games are made. Looking back at games that have endured the past two decades it's quite obvious that players don't go back to them just to watch the cut scenes for a sixteenth time, they go back because they are fun, because they are engaging. As a solo developer I aim to create a fun and engaging game not through money and manpower, but through ideas.

Sometimes it takes years to work the kinks out, but when a good idea gets noticed, word spreads fast. Here's hoping people outside my head like some of my ideas as much as I do!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Building improvements amidst video production

Hard at work on my promotional video! It's coming along nicely, albeit sort of a rough draft version for now. I'm getting all the scenes built, recorded, and in order so that I can make sure the flow and length of the video is good and get a better impression of the kind of music I want to use with it. Here's a little gif from the video I made with the text removed:
I implement little things every day, regardless of what my overall goal for the day or week is. This past few days I put in a new set of building models, upgraded the camera controls/collision detection, and am working on some physics upgrades to the character controller.
Our building system allows for super fast construction. Where you place buildings in most games is a Select type -> Select location approach, but we go backwards. Once an area is selected you can pick from many different types of buildings categorized first by type (edge, floor, roof, etc) then by recipe, wood wall, stone wall, metal doorway, etc. Then you're free to move the placement around using wasd, qe for up and down, and zc for rotating. By default you're locked to the grid so everything lines up perfectly.
Building a long wall is as simple as hitting space to construct, 'a' to move the selector left, space, a, space, a, space, a, space, a, etc.
The buildings are still mostly square, walls, doorways, as well as stairs and stuff, but I want to get some round stuff in over the weekend, maybe tomorrow night! I really want to be able to make castle turrets freely, maybe with a 2x2 placement option in the future, but as a 1/4(1x1) piece for now. You can rotate everything freely already, so that fits into the system super easy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Third Party Goodies

There is a part of us all that wants to do everything from A to Z, write our name on the cover and marvel at our success. In years past this has turned into me working on a feature for weeks and not getting it to half the quality of a 30$ asset on the open market. More recently I've learned that there is a time and a place for doing everything meticulously by hand, and that time is not now.

There is however often some very nice middle ground.

I recently picked up a new weather package to help improve my clouds, sky, and weather, but am not using it as advertised. I already had a weather system that I liked very much, and so have merged the two into a glorious companionship.

I'm using my own cloud maps with more layers than are supported out of the box, spreading the different layers into different short range and long range rendering schemes, some overlapping terrain with others not. I have taken full control of each cloud layers coverage individually, the different layers of rain and their animation sheets, multiple layers of fog, atmospheric scattering colors, and more. It would have taken me months to write all of the helper functions and shaders that I'm using just for the weather.

My budget and free time are non-existent, so it's not easy to pick something and go with, but it certainly beats trying to do everything by hand. Many of the assets available to indie developers such as myself are built by passionate indie developers that spend months or even years perfecting their products... just like me! It's just a different target customer base.

I'm currently hard at work on a promotional video as I finish the last bits of company registration fuss with some help from my family. With Steam's Greenlight getting the axe... I'm not sure how that will all play out, but Kickstarter is getting closer and closer. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Law and Armor

We now have an official legal body to call our studio! Introducing: Big Kitty Games LLC. It's a pretty simple website for now, but the reality of creating and managing a legal body is a little less simple.  I'm still in the middle of setting up a business account (tough living overseas), and a couple more things to file, but the ball is most definitely rolling.

As a legal body there are now a new set laws I have to be careful of with pretty much everything. For example when I buy an asset on Unity's Asset Store am I paying with company money as a company expense? Right now we're still a one man show with zero income, so I don't have to worry about too much yet, but salary, spending, taxes, and more can all end up costing you unforeseen money if handled improperly.

Despite all of that eating up a lot of my time, it's been a very fruitful month in terms of actual game development. I've added some global settings so that players can turn up and down the quality of the game world. I've also incorporated a simple day and night cycle, am working on some weather improvements.

The biggest change of late is by far my new avatar system. At long last I've got armor pieces swapping individually per slot. Cloth gloves, leather shirt, metal leggings, totally possible, and absolutely necessary for a proper RPG. This system also allows extensive avatar modifications and though not yet fully implemented, I hope to add tons of player customization the point of trolls, ogres, elves, human, blue skin, pink hair, and more. I really believe that players should be allowed to experiment as much as they want, and be given ways to correct things when they conclude that pink hair on their Paladin was a mistake.

I've also got spell and ability effects in and working well, though I still need a lot more.

The game story has also developed quite a bit from the quite random "You exist! Have fun" sort of introduction I had up until now. It's going to require some new artwork so I won't be updating the website just yet, but it really blends nicely into letting players be whoever they want to be!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Runtime marketing, er generation

I've spent a fair amount of time over the past few weeks upgrading the real-time (runtime) terrain generation. For starters I switched from using multiples of 10 to using powers of 2. This has solved more than a couple issues I was having because a lot of the base code in Unity and some of the plugins I am using are built to only work with powers of 2. So instead of 1000 meter terrains we now have 1024 meter terrains, but ultimately the end user isn't bothered as a meter is still a meter.

I also doubled the long distance quality which makes for a longer initial load, but it looks a lot better and doesn't affect performance that much.
The way that the runtime generation is setup allows players to easily specify the long distance draw distance from 16km up to 64km, which runs fine on my not-so-awesome computer. The above picture is 48km though and should be more than enough 99/100 cases. Once the rain kicks up you can't see anything anyway ;p

I've also spent a fair amount of time working on my marketing skills. It's not something I personally like to do, but it's widely recognized as perhaps the most important step for a solo no-name dev like myself. If you don't know how to tell anyone about your campaign for awesome, it just flops its arms in the mud.

I plan to spruce up the UI, loading screens, and the opening screen a bit, and then start digging my heels in the dirt as I prepare for the biggest plea for help in my life, Kickstarter! There are of course alternatives I've been studying, so who knows. Ah for the day when I can call such a glorious profession my own! Until them, I'm here on my lunch break working for a completely unrelated company thinking up new angles to approach my remaining gamedev challenges with =]

Best wishes to you and yours in 2017!
It's going to be a wild ride for me!
Stay tuned!