Early Dev Notes: Long Gone Days

Camila Gormaz shares her experiences of planning, designing and developing her game, Long Gone Days, with some great tips and advice if you’re starting out on your own indie game.

Before the development of Long Gone Days started, I decided to keep track of the things I did so I could later share what I learn, hopefully to help other devs. This first part is the introduction, but the following parts include: defining the visual aspects, deciding the engine, the marketing phase, releasing the demo, crowdfunding, some fears/surprises, and the reception.

Long Gone Days 8 years ago and today
Left: Long Gone Days 8 years ago using RPG Maker assets. Right: Long Gone Days today.

Part I: Introduction

As a child, I wasn’t too fond of videogames, until I played my first RPGs. The first RPG I played was Threads of Fate, and then some Final Fantasy titles. I remember being in awe at the fact that a game could have a story and cinematics, as well as being playable, and by the time I was a teenager, I was determined I wanted to make something like that.

Threads of Fate
Threads of Fate (Square Soft)

I had no idea how I could actually make my own game, but I started gathering ideas, creating some characters and designing some levels. Those things were terrible of course, but this is how the first designs of the characters of Long Gone Days came to life.

Long Gone Days evolution of sprites
Evolution of the sprites of Long Gone Days through the years

I started developing the first version of the game (after I found out about RPG Maker), committing a bunch of mistakes, like writing the story as I was finishing a map, or leaving tons of quests that were impossible to complete (because I had forgotten about them). There are a lot of failed attempts of Long Gone Days, and during the last few years I decided I’d research and study a lot before I tried it again.

Long Gone Days draft script
An early draft of the script.

By the end of 2015, I had gained experience through commercial and personal projects, while also making a couple of games during gamejams. I finally felt like it was the right time to focus on my own game, so I started redefining the story, and as soon as I had saved enough money to work on it fulltime, the development began.

Long Gone Days Trello board project planning
A very outdated screenshot of our Trello board.

The next step was one of the hardest of the whole process.

Part II: Defining the Visual Aspects of the Game

Long Done Days sprite

I always knew I wanted to have tall sprites in Long Gone Days, but I also knew working with bigger sprites would slow down the development. The image above was one of the first attempts. As I was working on that concept, I noticed that a small character means I would need to make a lot of small objects to make a room not look empty or repetitive.

Long Gone Days sprite walking animation

I made the character as closer to real proportions as my schedule would allow me. I started with 3 frames walking cycles, but with taller characters, the difference between each frame is more notorious. With their 8 frames walking cycle, things started to look a lot better:

Long Gone Days walking animation sprite

To design UI elements, I usually started by making sketches on paper to get a general idea:

Long Gone Days sketches

The next part includes information regarding the engine and some of the prototypes in Unity, Game Maker and RPG Maker.

Part III: Choosing an Engine

After defining the basic visual aspects of the game, I could finally start the development of the demo, but which engine would be better for it?

Long Gone Days development in Unity
Messing around with the camera in Unity (December 2015)

While I had years of experience with RPG Maker, my first choice was Unity, because I would be able to port to a wider variety of platforms.

Since I was working with my life savings (which would only last for 8~10 months), it was important to have a working prototype/demo soon. As weeks passed by, I noticed I’d have to remove a lot of features if I wanted to release a demo in 4 months, and I had to take one of the hardest decisions of the development:

  • If I used Unity, I wouldn’t have enough time to implement a somewhat decent battle system, and the menu would lack a couple of basic functions. All in all, the demo would be pretty much a visual novel, with only dialogues and exploration.
  • If I switched to RPG Maker, I could have all of the basic features I need, but I would only be able to port the demo to Windows and Mac. There’s also the backslash that RPG Maker games get, and I was afraid it could lower my reach (Spoiler: As long as they enjoy the game, most players don’t care about the engine).
  • I could build the prototype on Game Maker, which would allow me to port the demo to Linux, but just like Unity, it would take more time to build a prototype with Game Maker than it would if I used RPG Maker.

All things considered, I decided to switch to RPG Maker MV, and in a week I already had something playable (even though it looked awful):

Long Gone Days development in Unity
The battle system with tons of placeholders.

From then on, I’d only have to take care of creating the assets and implementing the events, while customizing the already existent features.

After I had a couple of screenshots to show, I thought it was time to share what I had been doing with other devs, and see if there was any interest in a non-fantasy modern-day RPG.

Part IV: Building an Audience

Now that I had a couple of screenshots and concepts, it was time to share what I had been doing, and see if there was any interest in a non-fantasy modern-day RPG.

Long Gone Days screenshot
One of the first screenshots I made, though that part of the story ended up being cut from the demo.

The first step was to start a devlog. I decided to use tumblr instead of WordPress or my own domain, so people could easily find those posts and engage with them. It’s important to note that people are less likely to use those Share buttons than to simply like/reblog within the platform.

Starting a Devlog

Long Gone Days gif
This is the very first in-game gif I had, with my first attempt of making a bigger exterior map.

It’s common to hear people wondering when is the best time to start posting about their projects. In my opinion, the earlier you start posting, the more time you’ll have to build up an audience, so the earlier the better. In fact, showing your projects at their early stages will allow you to get feedback at a pertinent time.

The first post I made was an introduction to the story and the characters, with some concepts and really early screenshots. All of the art I posted there ended up being replaced in the end, though, like the bridge scene above and this in-game menu below.

Long Gone Days menu
Everything seen here ended up being replaced.

Now, even though I said you should start as soon as possible, there are still some recommendations. When you start developing, it’s easy to overpromise, but try to make sure you’ll be able to develop the main features you’ll use to promote the game, otherwise you are off to a bad start.

Reception of the First Public Announcement

In all honesty, I had very low expectations, I hoped I would get at least 10 likes and no hate mail. I panicked wondering if I should really publish it as it is. As it was my first post, even if people hated it, I wasn’t risking too much. If anything, I could always make a better post later.

Contrary to my expectations, within the first day people where liking and sharing the post. Within the first 10 days, there were already over a hundred notes, and some people even took the time to leave some really nice comments. Frankly, the game wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t posted those screenshots online back then.

Spreading the Word

After the reception on tumblr, I had enough confidence to post about it on more sites. The ones that made a difference were the following sites:

TIG Source
Some of the indie games that had their own devlog on the TIG Source forums.
  • TIG Source: This is one of the most popular forums for indiedevs. Popular indie games like Papers, Please, Owlboy, Rain World and even FEZ had their own threads there during development. TIG Source also has a Screenshot Thread.
  • RPG Maker forums: As far as I’m aware, every game engine has its own forum, so it’s a good idea to start there. In the case of RPG Maker, they have their own rules about the content required to make your own thread, so it’s easier to write an introduction using that as a guide.
  • IndieDB: As the name suggest, this is a database for indie games. It allows you to create a devlog, upload a presskit, and make announcements that will be displayed on the frontpage for a couple of hours. A lot of journalists (and bots) browse the frontpage, so it’s a good place to post if you hope to appear in the media.
  • Reddit (/r/gamedev & /r/rpgmaker): Both subreddits have their own Screenshot Saturday threads. Posting as early as the thread is up is your best bet, as these threads tend to get crowded. There are also genre specific subreddits that are good for big updates.

Now, while the 4 sites listed above are a good place to start, it’s important to keep in mind most of the people who browse the sites above are developers or people who work/want to work in the industry.

Long Gone Days comments

From all of these sites, TIG Source was the one were Long Gone Days got more reach. Within the next days, composers, sound designers, voice actors and publishers were reaching out to be part of the project. Soon after, the game got its very own first article on Siliconera: “Long Gone Days, An RPG With A Story 12 Years In The Making” by Chris Priestman.

Long Gone Days Siliconera article
I was actually surprised with how nice the comments were.

Reaching Potential Players

Unless your game is targeted towards a really obscure niche, your best bet is to use the most popular social media platforms. I initially used Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook, so these are the ones I’ll be comparing.

1) Tumblr (link)
Long Gone Days on Tumblr
Some of the posts of the first two months. Posts with GIFs are always the most popular ones.

On Tumblr the follower growth was quick. Without much effort, posting once per week, and relying mostly on 3 tags (#gamedev, #pixelart, #rpgmaker), within the first months there were on average 300 new followers monthly, and then it got on an average of 90~150 new followers per month. We also found a lot of loyal fans here, and there’s a big sense of community for story-driven games. By the first semester I was reaching about 1,500 followers here.

I noticed that posting videos or static images on tumblr didn’t go too well. GIFs on the other hand always resulted in at least 100 notes.

2) Twitter (link)

On Twitter, contrary to my expectations, the follower growth was a bit slower. It takes more effort, as you need to tweet more often and you only have 140 characters to get your point across, but there’s a wider audience you can reach. The first months were slow, with a growth of 100~150 new followers per month, and mostly by using tags like #screenshotsaturday, #gamedev and #pixelart. By the first semester I was barely reaching the first thousand followers.

After reaching the first thousand though, the growth was way faster, and nowadays it’s the fastest growing platform Long Gone Days is on. Since numbers on Twitter are public, they affect how people see you.

3) Facebook (link)
Long Gone Days Facebook Likes Graph
Facebook likes during the first half of 2016.

On Facebook, during the first few months, it would have felt like a ghost town if it wasn’t for my friends (thanks ♥!). Checking some Facebook pages of popular indie games in development, things were pretty similar, unless they used the “share+like+comment to win/vote” tactic. By the first semester I was barely reaching the first 800 followers.

Something that really helped me reach more people was to talk about the game on Facebook groups (mostly gamedev or engine oriented groups). I haven’t yet used promoted posts, as those should be saved for big announcements, but I’ll do my best to share the results if we do.

There are of course a lot more things you can do to improve your reach, like taking into consideration the time and day of the week you post, the amount of words you use, using GIFs instead of videos or static images, but I can expand on that on another post if there’s enough interest.

Conclusions

Long Gone Days feedback
A couple of comments we got during the first two months of development.

Before I started releasing info about the project online, I expected to see the worst, but I was overwhelmed with the support that we got. There were a few hateful comments as well, but they unknowingly gave us tons of useful feedback.

This goes without saying, but avoid getting into fights and be open to critiques. You don’t have to do everything the way some people want it to be, but they might be able to tell you the things your friends are afraid to say.

Long Gone Days gif

Releasing something that took you months or even years of effort is really overwhelming, it makes you feel exposed and vulnerable. Showing others your progress as you go really helps to reduce the emotional stress you could have once you release the completed piece.

With all of the feedback I got during the first few month, I had less worries on my mind, and it even motivated me to work even faster so I could share more stuff. Now all I had to worry about was the next big milestone: Releasing the demo.

The next article is about the release of the demo and the things you should do and expect before, during and after this big event.

You can follow @lgdays on Twitter for more updates!

Many thanks to Camila Gormaz! Long Gone Days is available on Steam in Early Access.

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