We're now to the part of our story where your hero (uh, that's me, I guess) valiantly scrambles around to figure out how the heck to release a game. Back when I started this I envisioned having just a Mac and Windows build (and maybe Linux some day if I set up a VM) and that was it. There are lots of things you never think about: a development build with a bunch of debug stuff so you can easily muck about with bugs or tweaks. Then if you distribute the game on Steam having some integration with Steamworks is helpful. Also there's Mac and Windows versions of everything now. There's a reason larger game companies have build engineers to deal with all of this stuff, because if you are even on two or three platforms it becomes confusing. I can't even imagine doing launches on consoles or mobile at the same time.
The least exciting part of making video games?
Add to this that I basically have no idea what I'm doing and I am using my personal computers to do builds and it's all just kind of crazy. Also my poor foresight didn't allow for more than one build per platform, so if I want to upload the Windows version of game to itch.io and Steam I need to build one version, deploy it, then build the next version and deploy that. Then I have to do that all over again on my Macbook for the OSX builds. At some point I'm probably going to push an incorrect build somewhere.
There's also still a fair degree of manual stuff that's sure to ruin my life one day. When uploading to Steam you can push any number of platform builds at once, but since I only build Mac and Windows versions on separate machines and also deploy from those, it's a lot of running around and editing config files. There are ways to make this easier on myself, but I've locked myself into a launch date next month so I don't know how beneficial it would be. Maybe for the next game!
Early next week I'll be releasing the trailer and hopefully getting the Steam page up soon as well. It's the home stretch!
Realm of the Ghost King will be released on January 16th, 2018! The decision was mostly based around the busy-ness of my own life, the holiday season and generally needing a little bit of extra time to put together everything required for release. Also finalizing a release date really helps when you want to show the date in a trailer.
Outside of getting the game's Steam page up and running and figuring out how to do a properly signed Mac build, I've been working on the trailer. It's been fun, with a special shoutout to my wife, who gave me tons of useful input. I don't know if it's perfect, but it's pretty danged good and it mostly satisfies what I wanted out of it. It's also surprisingly difficult to make a turn-based game look exciting in video form. Hopefully I pulled it off.
As for release plans, right now I'm in the "pre-pre-release" phase where I kind of finish up some behind-the-scenes tasks. Putting together assets for various stores (current plans are for it to be on itch.io, Steam and Humble) and at some point I also need to build the 1.0.0 version of the game (exciting!). About a month before release I'll probably fire off a few emails to some sites or post the news to some places. I have no idea what (if any) interest there will be, but this is all an important part of my ultimate plan to sell one copy.
I'll have more news and awesome content soon (like the actual trailer). Exciting times ahead!
I put out beta 0.9.15 yesterday and while it's not quite final, it's pretty close. I've got a couple fixes and changes that need to go in, but otherwise it's close! Exciting times. Here's a new gameplay gif:
My current focus is now on making a trailer, which I'm still in the early stages of, but once that's done and I'm satisfied with the state of the game I'll come up with a release date and we'll be off to the races. I'm probably going to have it up for sale first (as a sort of soft launch) on itch.io with later launches on Steam, the App Store and probably places like Humble and other trustworthy sites. Most of my "marketing" plan involves just emailing a few sites and hoping they post about it, but really I'm most excited about actually launching.
It's been a fun journey, and the main advice I've seen is "just get the thing out there" and "make your own success metrics", which I think are both very wise. The indie games market is pretty flooded these days, and you don't get noticed unless you have something truly unique (and sometimes not even then). Getting a game out and getting just one sale are my goals. Very small goals for sure, but fortunately my livelihood doesn't depend on this. Hopefully I can meet them!
I released beta 0.9.12 a few days ago and I want to briefly talk about two of the changes present in that. First up, bombs.
The change made to bombs is an animation that plays right before a bomb explodes (seen as a brief, quick flashing). Previously bombs would explode immediately once it was their turn to do so, which worked fine, but it confused most (maybe all?) people playing the beta version. I haven't heard back from anyone about this newest change yet, but I'm hopeful that it's going to help the confusion issue since it's a very clear indicator of when a bomb will explode.
The second change was potions requiring an action to work. In older versions they would immediately kick in when you were frozen or slimed (two status effects that can cause you to lose your turn), so you wouldn't even really know what had happened. I didn't want to force the player to press a specific button to use it (especially not at the cost of a turn), but being able to know that you've been affected and then seeing the potion work when you press a button is a big help, visually.
These two issues were part of a larger problem, which happens when you build and design a game without much outside feedback. The systems made perfect sense to me because I wrote them. So while the way they work hasn't changed at all (bombs and potions still work the same way), the player is given more meaningful feedback now as to what's going on. On its face it sounds like a really simple thing, but it's definitely something that caught me by surprise. It's almost as fundamental as having enemies (or the player) animate when they move to a new space. Imagine if they just jumped to their new spot? You could figure out what was happening, but it's still somewhat jarring.
Whenever I wrap this thing up and start on another game this will be at the forefront of my mind for sure. Designing a bunch of systems that interact and make up a game is fun and rewarding, but making those systems intuitive is what really makes a game enjoyable for others to play. That's an important goal, I think.
Getting great, detailed feedback from even a small amount of people was incredibly helpful and (hopefully) helped the game get over the final hump before release. I feel like a lot of polish has been added in the last couple of weeks that makes it feel a lot friendlier to use while still maintaining the difficulty I wanted.
I'm not entirely happy with the balance of some things, but overall I think the game is about as complete as I can make it. I considered rethinking some of the core systems (particularly bombs) but it seems too late in the life of the game to scrap or rework something so fundamental. For future games I'll likely solicit feedback much earlier on if possible and iterate that way. This isn't new advice; plenty of devs have recommended it forever, it's just the first time I've obviously experienced it.
At any rate, if I release the game in the next month or two it won't quite make it to four years of development (March 2018), but it will still be damned close. It's been a fun ride, and now that I have a better idea of how this all works I'll likely not wait ridiculously long next time before actually getting word out about it and getting help. The more you know!