Keep Calm: A Post Mortem

Keep Calm: A Post Mortem

Wow. It’s been a little over a week since Keep Calm: An Interactive Short Story was released into the world and I couldn’t be happier with how that went! It’s been amazing getting feedback on my baby and interacting with some awesome players!

I decided to do a postmortem because of the amazing response the game got and because it’s a good excuse to write a blogpost.

For those of you just tuning in, welcome! Also, Keep Calm is an interactive short story I developed and published to itch.io. Go play it, read my announcement, and come back. You back? (Thanks for hanging in there people who did play it. Onward we go.)

I’ve been pretty quiet on Twitter and Reddit over the past week regarding Keep Calm because I wanted to see how much “semi-organic” traffic would be directed to the game; which is a weird way to describe web traffic but bear with me. When Keep Calm was published I only did one ‘marketing’ push; a tweet, and two Reddit posts: one on r/gamedev and one on r/Unity2d. That was it. My experiment was to see what traffic would be drawn with little pushing; and I was amazed.

Response:

As of the writing of this post (Aug 2, 2016 1:52pm) the Itch page for Keep Calm was viewed 2,054 times and desktop versions of the game were downloaded 154 times!1

THAT’S AMAZING!!!!!!

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I AM SO AMAZED!!!

I couldn’t have imagined that kind of viewer-ship (player-ship?) for my first project and I’m very thankful all you players took time out of your days to play my little game. After awhile I started receiving some awesome comments on my reddit posts and I found Keep Calm  posted on r/IndieGaming.2 Someone even made a let’s play!!!.

Overall, Reddit and Itch.io were where the largest sources of traffic.

What Went Right:

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Integration of Ink into Unity

Inkle did a really good job of integrating Ink into Unity using the ink-unity integration plugin. This made it easy to create code which would manipulate the player view and ink .json files to move around the story using player input.

With the use of Ink’s external functions feature it was simple to put visual transitions between portions of the story right in the Ink script. This allowed me to streamline the writing process and focus less on code oriented features and more on the narrative design.

Deployment on Itch.io

I had never deployed anything to Itch before and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to upload and deploy an HTML build of a Unity game. Setting up donation and payment methods was also super easy.

In addition to my user experience, Itch.io drove a lot of traffic to my game through their pages; so thanks goes out to the devs at Itch!

Driving user traffic through Reddit

I already talked a bit about the response so I’ll keep this part brief, but the Reddit push went pretty much perfectly.

What Went Wrong:

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QA and Beta Testing

This was by far my biggest problem in this project.

If you played the game early on you may have noticed a few glitches and bugs.3 I had set a deadline for myself to release something by July 21st. I ended up putting myself in a crunch trying to balance the project and personal tasks which resulted in me overlooking some major bugs and issues that caused some players to have a bad experience.

At the same time though, I am really glad some users reached out to me through the Reddit posts and comments on the game page which prompted me to go back and upload patches to fix technical and grammatical issues.

Scope Control

The original scope for this project was HUGE and fairly overwhelming. I wanted to do everything at once which caused me to redo some features, create feature bloat and issues, remove unneeded features, rush some other features, and ultimately extend the development time of Keep Calm. I was eventually able to scope down the game to what it is today, but it would have been better for me to do this prior to working on the project for two weeks.

HTML5 default pages and loaders

When you create a WebGL build in Unity you are given a template index.html which holds the game. Packaging and uploading this to Itch was a breeze. The problem came when I first ran the game: I realized that players were being shown a big white-space area without any sort of feedback before the default Unity splash-screen was displayed. This threw a big ol’ red flag in the webdev part of my brain and I was quickly able to create a pseudo loading view with some CSS animations.

So I upload the new package and then got some feedback about some major bugs which were shipped. I made a patch and uploaded the new package without realizing that the index.html page was overwritten with the blank white page again. Since this was a build the CSS additions I made didn’t get uploaded to my source control. Luckily I was able to find a 1.0 build in my recycling bin and recovered my changes, but had I not been so lucky I would have had to redo a bunch of work.4

What Did I Learn?:

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I learned not to rush. QA is important and I am sure many players who attempted to play Keep Calm and couldn’t did not come back for a second try. A good game released late is better than a bad game released on time. I will be sure to distribute my next project to more beta testers before releasing to the general public.

Admittedly, the response Keep Calm got on Reddit and Itch was incredibly validating. Not only do I feel personally validated and successful but my idea to create a text-adventure was also confirmed as a good idea! I also learned that the communities on Reddit and Itch are amazing sources of feedback, encouragement, and (of course) traffic.

Scoping something back doesn’t necessarily mean your final product will be worse than what you imagined; just different. Scoping back allowed me to set more realistic milestones and goals for myself and, in the end, I ended up with a great game.

Conclusion:

All in all, I am really happy with how Keep Calm turned out. I am now even more pumped to start my next project and I hope you will all walk with me on this journey!

Thanks again for the support.

 


  1. These are pageviews and downloads but not necessarily plays or installs. 
  2. Thank you u/pickledseacat. I think the score topped at around 66. 
  3. Like leaving my name off the start screen… 
  4.  I mean this is my bad and I should have known better, but I wish there was a way that Unity would have kept my changes without having to create template files. But that’s just me. 
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Keep Calm Is Out In The Wild!!!

I am so freakin’ excited!!! Why? I’ll tell you why:

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YAAAAAAAA!!!

Today I release my first personal/solo project!

I talked about Keep Calm: An Interactive Short Story yesterday, in my first post in ages, and I am happy and ecstatic to say you can now play/download a game that is 100% all me!!!

Keep Calm is available to play in your browser on itch.io for FREE! You can also download desktop versions for your Windows and Mac computers!

Keep Calm is a short game, and as I said yesterday it was an awesome exercise in writing for me, but also coding and organizing my own projects with deadlines and all that cool stuff.

The story comes from a whole bunch of inspirational sources, but for now I’ll let you experience the experience for yourselves ;)

That link again: https://pyjamabottomstudios.itch.io/keep-calm

Special thanks goes to my very awesome fiancee who encouraged and cheered on this project from start to finish.

I hope you enjoy :)

I Maked This! (Keep Calm: An Interactive Short Story)

UPDATE (Jul 22 2016): Keep Calm is available to play/download NOW on itch.io!!!!!

Hello!!! I have come out of hiding!

Lots of things have been going on with me lately, but that’s not important right now! What I really want to talk about is the new game I am releasing tomorrow!

Keep Calm is an interactive short story I created using Unity and Inkle’s open-sourced scripting language: Ink.

I discovered Ink when I was looking for resources on another project and was really excited to try it out. Keep Calm was an exercise in narrative design and writing in prose; something I was excited to do since I haven’t written a story in far too long.

There are still a few things to clean up and work out today but Keep Calm should be available for all to play tomorrow (July 22nd).

In the meantime I hope you enjoy this little sneak-peek video I made!

Love,
Adam

Gamer Journal: “Xenonauts” or “Why Adam’s Not In Charge Of Military Decisions”

Journal! Hi there!

I just played Xenonauts (Goldhawk Interactive, 2014), one of my favourite games to play when I need a reminder that if the aliens actually invaded I shouldn’t be the one in charge. As you might know I’ve played and written about Xenonauts before. It is one of my go-to games when I am looking for a challenging strategy game that’s quick to start; and its often quick to end (cuz I’m not very good at it)!

Set in 1979 Earth Xenonauts is a faithful successor to X-COM: Enemy Unknown / UFO Defence (Mythos Games, 1994), a turn based strategy game placing the player in control of a worldwide organization charged with fighting against an alien invasion.

I really do like this game, but I am eager to play some of the other titles! So instead of doing a detailed write-up about the game here’s a video entry instead:

 

 

Gamer Journal: “Adam’s Apology to Deus Ex: Human Revolution”

Dear Deus Ex: Human Revolution,

I’m sorry I was a little harsh in my last entry about you. After a total of 31 hours I finally finished you and as it happens you’re pretty good.

Love, Adam.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about what makes a game enjoyable and I think I came up with a pretty okay answer. To me DE:HR, and games like it, are equatable to action movies; you’re not watching it because you want it to change your life, you’re watching because you want to be entertained. DE:HR is certainly entertaining.

I take back what I said about the story being passable. If the story was only ‘meh’ I don’t think I would have invested the 31 hours. Instead I update my opinion on the story to ‘decent’. It’s all very much a conspiracy theory and I still stand by my earlier comment about it being predictable, but it turns out to be divergent enough to be interesting. There were a couple of moments where I rolled my eyes or said things like “called it” but over all the story was good. I must also add (without spoilers) that the voice-overs for the final cut-scenes were well scripted and executed and do a good job of tying things together.

The game-play also held up. When playing a game for 30-40 hours it’s easy to get into some automatic routines and the game-play can become monotonous. The addition of some augments and the level design prevented monotony and kept me wanting to get to my next checkpoint.

There was a moment though that made me pretty upset. When Jensen is woken up from the shipping container and all his gear and stats were taken away. It felt like I was starting again at zero and it wasn’t really clear when my stats were restored. You do find your gear, with no ammo, and only 8 praxis kits; I had spent way more points than 8 building my stats up. For me, as a designer, I would have avoided removing all the stats and skills the player has been working hard to build unless I was giving it back to them right away. However, much later on I discovered that I had 11 points somehow, which might have been me missing the re-reward so I guess it evened out.

In the end Deus Ex: Human Revolution stands up as both an FPS and RPG and really knows how to rock that Bladerunner-Matrix vibe! Thanks for showing me that with a little cybernetic surgery, anyone can perform the sleeper hold.

Now that I am finished DE:HR it’s time for my favorite part of the show: DRAWING FROM THE FISHBOWL!

And the winner is…..

And the next game for my game journal blog is………..

A video posted by Adam Carriere (@adamthegameguy) on Nov 30, 2015 at 9:13pm PST

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Xenonauts (Goldhawk Interactive, 2014)!

See you soon!

Gamer Journal: “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” or ” Bladerunner Has A Lovechild With The Matrix”

Hello Journal!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal, 2011) is a “cyberpunk-themed first-person action role-playing stealth video game” (Wikipedia) set in a run-down 2027 Detroit. The player is placed in the role of Adam Jensen, the augmented security manager for Sarif Industries, who needs to find and stop the people who gone done blowed up his girlfriend. Okay, they also blowed off Jensens arms and legs and some research and stuff too.

As I’ve mentioned before I don’t really get into FPS games all that much but DeHR had enough RPG elements to peak my interest; plus I’ve never really played a stealth game before and I wanted to give it a try. I also admit that having the same name as the main character added a completely unfounded personal connection between me and the game. Also plus the art style reminded me a lot of Bladerunner, except the game seams to be in a perpetual Matrix-esque darkness. Well, that, and Jensen sounds like Neo… And there’s this whole ‘chosen one’ vibe…

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Flippant sarcasm aside, I am actually enjoying DeHR. Having played most of the weekend and in the evenings this week Steam says I have played 16 hours so far and I’ve unlocked 12/59 achievements. Overall, it’s a fun game. This is mostly due to it being greater than the sum of its parts. The story, for starters, is passable; fairly predictable but interesting enough for me to enjoy it. At this point the story has lacked an “OH MY GOD! THAT CAME OUT OF LEFT FIELD!” moment, but makes up for it with enough “hmmm yea okay” moments. The character interactions are good, especially with the social augmentation which you can add with “Praxis Points” (which are basically points you get when you get enough XP points; i.e. leveling up). Speaking of augmentations I thought it was an interesting way of tying in the RPG elements into the narrative.

Augmentations basically serve as a mechanism to apply points to certain skills such as your fancy eyesight, computer hacking ability, or your uncanny ability to carry a crazy number of guns without a backpack. Where other RPGs I’ve played simply go “yay you’re a master lockpicker even though you’ve never picked a lock in your life” DeHR ties these skills into the game’s narrative by turning them into augments that you install in yourself.

The game-play is your standard FPS fare, but balanced in a way that favours stealth and choking out bad guys from behind a washing machine (not sarcasm, that happens in the game). What stood out for me was how you are able to take cover behind walls, poke your head around corners, and make stealthy jumps and somersaults between gaps without being detected.

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I tend to enjoy games that offer multiple styles of play and I think DeHR allows for that. The level design does a really good job of giving Jensen a reason to be stealthy. Of course, you could also Rambo through the levels with guns blazing, but for me the stealthy route was the way to go.

As it stands there’s a good chance I will finish the main storyline (as I said I find the stealth missions fun) but I must admit that I am getting an itch to try something else for some reason; which could be due to the game, or just my mood. Maybe I should table this game and play another, going back to it when I’m more in the mood for Bladerunner: Reloaded.

Gamer Journal: LIMBO

LIMBO is an atmospheric puzzle-platformer developed by Playdead in 2010 which plays with your senses and toys with your fears. With an ambiance reminiscent of a 1932 film the audio and visual work in LIMBO is a demonstration of what it is like to live inside a nightmare. Never quite able to see ahead of you, or behind you, the only clear thing is that you are certainly there; wherever you are. You can never be certain of what awaits ahead; the boy can only walk further into the haze.

From a game design perspective LIMBO is a puzzle-platformer at its core. With simple run-jump-climb controls it’s very easy to get into this game and start playing. What really makes LIMBO stand out from the crowd is the way the designers and artists have created this nightmarish environment. From the beginning it is hard to determine where you are and what you are doing, but you very quickly realize that you cannot trust anything that you are seeing.

Something that stood out for me was the way the game was paced. There was often a long interval between puzzles which created these long periods of anticipation and short intense periods of HOLY SH*T THAT’S A FREAKING SPIDER THAT JUST KILLED ME OUT OF NOWHERE!!!!!! And if you watch the video you will see me nearly jumping out of my chair!

Not only are you being given audio and visual feedback you also get tactile feedback in the rumble of a gamepad; you should totally play this with a controller. By playing with these three senses, in tandem with the game’s pacing, I got this feeling of anticipation mixed with anxiety as I wait to be eviscerated by a spiked bear trap or impaled by a giant spider sent from the deepest depths of hell… I really hate that spider…

Where LIMBO succeeded in a fantastic and well rounded design I failed as a player.

LIMBO is a great game, and if you like puzzles that toy with your fears then this is for you!  LIMBO is full of very clever and well thought out puzzles. Players are given visual queues, foreshadowing, hints; all the things a great puzzle needs to allow players to succeed without hand holding. However, I am the type of player that doesn’t often thrive in this sort of environment. In addition to the jitters I suffer from what I like to call Puzzle Fatigue.

Essentially, puzzle fatigue happens when you have failed a puzzle multiple times and now you are getting frustrated to the point where you start failing faster, and then you get more frustrated. This started fairly early on for me when I encountered the giant spider for the first time. I was able to push through but through too many trials and errors after an hour and a half got frustrated enough to stop playing.

Don’t get me wrong, LIMBO is a well designed, well executed, and all around awesome game. I’m not you, so you might be into this sort of thing.