Making an indie game is like climbing a mountain

The weather is getting better over here, so like all years, this is the period where we can finally start doing some short trips on the mountains nearby. I always loved trekking and walking in middle of the nature in general. While I was in one of those trips I was thinking that in some way, doing indie games is like climbing up a mountain.

When I started working on Cursed Lands, my idea was for it to be a small game ™ – you can laugh obviously – however as time passed, new ideas came to mind and every time it was like “would be a pity to not do this” and “this character should definitely have a scene showing her weaker side” and so on. The result is what you can actually play here: there’s even a free demo! One of the few indies still doing them!

While it might not be necessarily true for all games, in particular small games (for real, not like my 300,000 words / 50h+ long small games!) the process of making a game is really like climbing a mountain.

Whenever I start a new RPG, for example right now I’m working on Planet Stronghold 2, I am super enthusiast. Defining the characters, setting, the general plot, thinking about plot twists, and on the gameplay side the various classes, skills, combat system, items, weapon types, etc etc. It’s great, no doubts.

Then, the climbing starts. And slowly but steadly the initial enthusiasm fades away. It’s normal, happens to everyone. I’ve never seen an indie say “it was great working on this game from first to last day”. If someone says this, he/she is lying! 😉

As time passes, the climbing becomes harder, people find bugs, give you feedback, maybe not the kind of feedback you want to hear (the game is not fun! you should rebalance all the battles! and so on) until the end is on sight. The top of the mountain, you can see it! It’s there. But… you’re tired, very tired. Because you climbed the mountain until now, and you can’t wait to finish, to reach the top and then begin going back downhill.

This is the hardest part. This is where you should stand a few minutes on the top of the mountain and wait, looking around you. Look at the path you did to reach the mountain, think back at the experience. Did you do what you wanted to do? Is the game… yes being fun is important, but even more: it’s the kind of game you wanted to make? Is there still something you could do to improve things, without stumbling on your way down the mountain (spending too much time/money?)

The downhill is when the game is released. For many people it’s a nerve-whacking process, and I’m no exception. It’s when you know if all the efforts you put in climbing up the mountain were worth it or not. Though, in the (rare?) cases where I actually manage do finish a good game, it’s really nice to hear the customer’s feedback, the compliments, and the revenues, knowing that yes, you can still afford another trip. Yes this wasn’t the last one!

If you like something an indie made, spend 2 minutes to let him/her know. Send a short email, post on their social media, write one of those infamous reviews on Steam, spread the word, do what you want, but let them know, because it will make climbing the next mountain easier.

Posted in general, indie life | 12 Comments

Cursed Lands is finally out!

Yes! As the title says, Cursed Lands, my new RPG, is finally out. The game official page is here: http://winterwolves.com/cursedlands.htm

Like my other games, even Cursed Lands will also be available for mobile and Steam: I only need a bit of time to optimize the game (whenever possible) for mobile, and to do the Steam setup (achievements, trading cards, etc). To be honest I also need a small break haha, but you can still expect mobile/Steam to be available shortly.

And now, I asked the game’s lead writer to write a “guest post”, so here it is. You’ll laugh like me reading the part about “a smaller game” 😀

Hey, I’m Justin Kuiper, lead writer on Cursed Lands. It’s been quite a journey, starting way back in 2015. Celso Riva was considering creating another game in the Aravorn fantasy setting, and I happened to have several ideas for a high fantasy story, including the concept for an “alignment” system based on the four temperaments and using social talents to avoid or escape combat. We decided that these ideas would be a good fit for a game in the Aravorn setting, and I began working on Cursed Lands, a story set before the events of Loren: The Amazon Princess.

I recently went back and read the initial email exchange, and noticed that one of his messages contained this sentence:

“I’d like this to be a smaller game (the others are huge, over 180k words of texts)”

I had to chuckle when reading this message with hindsight, because at over 300k words, Cursed Lands is the LONGEST Winter Wolves game to date! So much for this being a “smaller game,” a game that I originally expected to be done in under a year ended up taking three years to complete. That being said, I’m really glad that we took the time to include all of the story and content that got added, and despite the fact that this game is over 300k words, I don’t feel like there is any “filler:” everything that’s included in the game is there because it serves an important purpose to the story or the characters.

The story of Cursed Lands takes place across several lunar cycles, and the player is tasked with defeating undead that can only be confronted at night, with major story events coinciding with the full moon. The fact that the game’s major story events consist of investigating a castle and battling vampires and various ghouls gives the story a distinct gothic horror feel, but I’d say that Cursed Lands treats gothic horror more as an aesthetic than a genre. Cursed Lands is, at its core, a high fantasy story about traveling the continent and forming a group of allies to do battle against a powerful evil. The characters you recruit and the relationships that you form what I consider to be the real heart of Cursed Lands, whether that means romance or just forming bonds with your companions through conversation and shared experiences. Of course, there’s no better test of friendship than going on a vampire-slaying mission together.

One of the things we decided early on was that Cursed Lands would be a cast of mostly original characters. Karen and Apolimesho appear in the story (along with a cameo appearance by a young Princess Loren and a few other familiar faces along the way), but all of the party members are new original characters. This gave me a lot of freedom to write the story without having to worry about how the personalities and experiences of the characters would affect the Aravorn canon. For example, it wouldn’t make sense if a certain character had visited Castle N’Mar during the events of Cursed Lands, then later appeared in Loren: The Amazon Princess and had no memory of the events from the prequel; creating a new cast allowed us to avoid these potential issues, and also provided me with a lot of latitude in writing the game’s various endings. Having a fresh cast of characters also gave me a lot of freedom to come up with original backstories and personalities for each of the characters, which allowed me to try out lots of different ideas and give each cast member their own little quirks and unique traits.

At the same time, one of the fun parts of working on Cursed Lands was getting to familiarize myself with the lore of Aravorn. While the characters are new, many of the places you meet them are locations you might already be familiar with from other games in the Aravorn universe. You can travel to Hammerhands and do business with the dwarves, or go to the Great Forest and consort with the elves. Having an original cast of characters also made it possible to explore new facets of those areas, moving away from the populated areas of the Great Forest and traveling off the beaten path to discover where the outcasts live, and to explore some of the corrupt aristocrats that form the ruling class of Hammerhands. I think each of the game’s settings represents a mix of familiar and new, taking fresh ideas and enmeshing them with the rich lore of the series.

If you’ve never played a game set in Aravorn, welcome! I think you’ll find Cursed Lands to be a good entry point into the franchise. And if you’re a long-time fan of the series, I hope you enjoy this fresh take on the setting you already know and love.

Happy gaming,

Justin Kuiper

Posted in Cursed lands, general, roleplay games | 13 Comments

Corona Borealis: Noah

Noah originally started as a secodary character but then evolved into a proper otome romance 🙂 I’m sure that Jill looked at him and thought “aww the classic shy guy with glasses, should be a romance option”. Yes, I’m 100% sure that this is what happened! This is also the last character introduction for this game.

Noah’s introduction

Lacey’s introverted and awkward twin brother. Unlike his sister, he is rather pessimistic and reserved. Sometimes it seems like there’s something amiss between the two, but it’s difficult to know for sure. He spends most of his free time inside writing and sketching in his notebook.

Very good news guys!

People following me on social media already know it, but just in case you missed it: Love Bites beta has started! More info in my forums: https://www.winterwolves.net/viewforum.php?f=47

As always the beta version might still have bugs, however in this case since it’s a dating sim, all the game content is ready. You can play and reach all the endings, unlock all achievements, etc! 🙂

Cursed Lands should also be officially released shortly, the theme song was made but I also wanted to do the video trailer and the person who usually does them couldn’t work, so I had to find a replacement and this added a bit of delay.

And regarding the next title I hope to finish this year, Volleyball Heaven, the romance CGs are being made right now (the lineart is basically ready but they need to be colored) and the game writer is doing a final review/polish of the story. Starting next month the scripting will begin, and as usual I’ll post screenshots during the development on twitter/tumblr so if you’re interested remember to follow me there.

Of course I’ll still keep working on Planet Stronghold 2 as well but honestly I expect to be able to release at best an alpha demo this year.

This week was my birthday, and I realized once again how lucky I am to be able to do what I do for a living. Thank to you all for your support!

Posted in beta demo, corona borealis, dating sims, love bites | 6 Comments

Corona Borealis: Logan

Logan is the “main otome romance”. There’s also Noah (who we’ll see next) but he was sort of added in a second moment. Here’s the writer’s introduction:

The barista and dishwasher at the café. He is a hardworking and dependable employee that sets high standards for himself and places those same expectations on others. His interest in engineering proves to be a useful skill, as it gives him an uncanny ability to fix anything that breaks in the café. He plans on moving at the end of the summer to attend an out-of-state university.

Releasing games on Steam and mobile

Since Cursed Lands is in a very advanced beta status, some people started to ask when it will be on Steam and/or mobile. In this particular case, the game got finished MUCH faster than I thought (I originally set the estimated release date for Fall 2018!!) so I really didn’t expect to be in this situation now. I also had planned a theme song, but of course early this year I told the musician “ah, no hurry, the game won’t be in beta for sure before Summer”… last famous words! (even if in positive this time).

So, in this case I need to wait anyway for the theme song, and for possible last minute minor bugfixing, but in general I am always going to release my games direct for a small period, before making them available on Steam/mobile.

I wanted to explain a bit my philosophy behind this: first of all, selling direct (in this case with itch.io) gets me more money each sale. Steam/mobile take 30-35% of gross price, while directly the cut is more around 10% so, for example, every $1000 in sales that’s $900 instead of $650. For small indies like me that’s a big difference already!

But taking that aspect aside (some indies suggest releasing on Steam only helps with the algorithm etc etc so that’s honestly not my main reason) I prefer to do the playtesting/debugging directly. For mobile, for obvious reasons (updating games on mobile is a big pain!), and for Steam, I really don’t want to use Early Access. I think it make sense for bigger games with YEARS of expected development, but not for my smaller games 🙂

In summary always remember that the games on Steam/mobile are usually available 2-3 months AFTER the game is officially released on my site. Sometimes can be faster depending how the whole process goes (adding achievements, Steam page setup, mobile port, and so on).

Posted in corona borealis, dating sims | Leave a comment

Corona Borealis: Lacey

This is my favorite character of the game… no particular reason 😉 Haha, once again Deji skills impressed me, I really like both the look and the outfits (because seriously, they’re just incredibly cute!)

In case you forgot, this game is more “tame” compared to my most recent titles, to be clear you can expect a yuri route similar to the “secret” one of C14 Dating, more on the cute/friendship/romantic side.

And now here’s Lacey character’s introduction directly from the writer:

The overly friendly cashier and dining room attendant. Incredibly optimistic, it seems nothing can put a damper on her good mood. She immediately takes an interest in June and goes out of her way to make her feel welcome. She loves to talk about her fiancé, Mason.

Update on other games

Good news: the Cursed Lands beta testing is proceeding very well, so much that I decided to put the game in “soft release mode”. It means that it’s feature complete, all the content of the final game it’s there, and I feel it’s reasonably stable! While there might be some bugs left, they’re very well hidden (this usually is when I get max 1-2 bug reports a week, instead of 10/day! lol).

Regarding Love Bites, the story is 99% done, the writer just finished both Nadia paths, so once the scripter sends the files to me, I’ll proceed with testing myself the final romance route of this game and then begin the public beta. I think should be towards end of month or early next month! 🙂

Posted in corona borealis, Cursed lands, dating sims, love bites, roleplay games | 8 Comments