Newsletter

Sign up for the Solest Newsletter to get the latest news on our games!

Navigating the Maze Part 2

(In the last blog post, I detailed the origins of Labyrinthine Dreams, the initial development, and our ambition to take it to a commercial level. This blog post will focus on the events leading up to the Steam release and the aftermath.)

We initially projected a November 2013 commercial release which was very naive. Even if production had been on schedule, we still didn’t have a platform to release it on. Steam Greenlight had been introduced the prior year as an alternative way to get onto the Steam platform without having to work with a publisher. You would create a page for your project, and users would upvote it. If the game received enough votes, it would become publishable on Steam.

Before we could even begin the Greenlight process, we had a bigger issue. The artist we had hired wasn’t able to produce the artwork we required. He spent most of the time working on the promo art and then productivity dropped off after that. It was clear we were going to miss our initial deadline. To keep production from grinding to a halt, we’d have to find new artists.

We hired two friends from the RPG Maker community. One artist worked on the cutscene art, and the other on the character and environment art. We also hired a composer, Joel Steudler, who had composed some of the music we were already using in game to create some additional custom tracks. This included the track Beth’s Theme which you can listen to here: https://soundcloud.com/mark-conforti/beths-theme We also hired three voice actors: one for Beth, one for Artie, and one for Beth’s father. They all delivered excellent performances, especially Ashlee Webster as Beth.

One of the cutscenes illustrated by Ronove

My partner’s work was mostly complete at this stage. He spent some time revising the script but most of the game remained the same. The one major change was the ending. The initial ending of the game was much more vague and anti-climatic. I wanted an ending that delivered a stronger message and also was enforced through the gameplay mechanics.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In the original ending, Beth’s path converges with the monster. There is no way to avoid it, and after the monster collides with Beth, the screen fades to white and the credits roll.

In the new ending, Beth would be on a straight path and suddenly the monster would appear behind her. The ruleset remained the same, the monster walking 2 steps for each step Beth took. Just when it seemed like the monster was going to catch up with Beth, she defies the monster and breaks the rules of the game by walking 2 steps. And then 3. Finally she’s so far down the path the monster can no longer be seen. The game ends on an uplifting note, showing that the monster is still in the distance, but for now Beth is safe.

This felt like a much stronger ending. But my work wasn’t complete yet. I went back and refined many of the mazes, completely changing the cloud maze mechanics. I worked with the artists on incorporating their art work into the scenes. The most labor intensive work was taking the maps, and breaking them into layers, so that we could add additional details on top of each map in photoshop. We were able to create a look for the game that wasn’t possible in the editor itself.

Comparison of the base map with a work in-progress map that had additional layer details on top.

During production, one of the artists we hired suggested to the marketing lead at Degica that they publish our title. The marketing lead agreed and suddenly we had a contract with the publisher of RPG Maker. At the time, this seemed like a dream come true. We could now bypass the Greenlight process and would have a publisher to market the title. Now we could focus on completing the title.

Production was moving along but without a fixed release date things still felt lax. I met the marketing lead, our publishing producer, at PAX Eat 2013. He handed off Steam key cards for me to distribute to media. We didn’t talk for long, but we were able to finalize a release date: May 23rd, 2013. Once I shared the release date with our team, everyone got their butts in gear.

We managed to complete the game in time. The last week leading up to release was mostly testing and adding some last minute polish. It should have been exciting, but this week was one of the worst of my life. The stress of completing the game on time aggravated my chronic headaches, and I was in non-stop pain. I also was getting frustrated with Degica who had done little promotion leading up to the release and still hadn’t delivered the release trailer.

The game did release on time, with the trailer being added shortly after release. I was physically and mentally exhausted at this point. I don’t remember the events around the release well. A few of our friends and family left the game positive reviews and did some promotion for it. Degica really dropped the ball when it came to marketing, putting most of the work on us post-release.

I supported the game post-release making some minor fixes but the game has remained mostly unchanged. Initial sales were decent, and the game received a mostly positive reception. It was also played by some prominent Youtubers like ManlyBadassHero.

For the time the game released, it underperformed. It was fortunate that it did release before the Greenlight floodgates opened and the Steam market became flooded with new releases. After a year, I dropped the price of the title from $4.99 to $1.99 and it performed better. Now in 2019 the game’s market lifecycle is mostly over. In all, we net about $10,000 from Steam and bundle sales.

I look back on Labyrinthine Dreams as an encapsulation of where I was in 2013. There are a lot of things I would change about it now. The early no left turn mazes are not very intuitive for new players and some of the later mazes could have used additional mechanics to make them more interesting. I’m still proud of the monster mazes, which are the only reoccurring mazes in the game. Mechanically and thematically they were the strongest.

That wraps up the postmortem for Labyrinthine Dreams. This is still my only commercial release. Health problems have prevented me from working on future commercial projects. The last title I actively worked on was World Remade back in 2014. Since then I’ve barely dabbled in game development. I ended up getting a job at Degica, the company that published my game, and have worked as a publishing producer on many titles, including OneShot. Part of what drives me now is to help other indies get their projects out on the market and find an audience.

I hope this postmortem provided some insight into what it took to make a small commercial game like Labyrinthine Dreams. If you have any questions about the game, please let me now in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *