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October 24, 2014, 11:42:02 PM
TIGSource ForumsFeedbackPlaytestingSpellirium Minute Episode #10: Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Puzzle
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UntoldEnt
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« Reply #20 on: February 28, 2013, 06:18:16 AM »

Today's sneak peek video clip is a twofer: we're showing off a bit of combat with a creature called a "fnoo", which can only be damaged when you spell words with blue tiles.  Later in the clip, you can see the Companion System in action:


As various characters join your party, you can choose to bring one of them into battle with you.  Your Companion Character hangs out in the corner of the screen and, when clicked, unleashes some cool special power.  In this case, the Hunter blasts individual tiles out of the grid as you click on them.  This helps you set up better in case you get stuck. (See our combos and chains post earlier up the thread.)

The Hunter is unique, because she has TWO different abilities, and this is her back-up one.  We won't reveal her primary ability until later, but just like everything in Spellirium, it's totally cool

What do you think it could be??
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« Reply #21 on: March 05, 2013, 08:05:37 AM »

tl;dr - i continue to make concessions for a non-word-gamer crowd in my latest word puzzle/adventure game Spellirium.  Weigh in with a comment if you think that's a good idea or not.

Here are the FACTS that i've learned about game pricing:

If your game has a broad appeal, you can charge a relatively small amount of money for it and hope to make it up in volume.

If your game appeals to a small group of people - and, i mean, it REALLY appeals to that small group of people - you can charge a higher price, to make up for lost sales to everyone else, and to capitalize on your audience's undying love of whatever

Angry Birds?  99 cents.  Sean O'Brien: Pro Windsurfer?  Ten dollars.



Pay up, bitches.

So here i am developing Spellirium.  It's a graphic adventure game, in the style of those LucasArts/Sierra Online games from the 90's, that have been relegated to a very narrow corner of niche gamedom - nestled in-between train simulators and Japanese child-rearing games. 



Pay up, bitches.

But more than that, Spellirium is an experimental mash-up - a graphic adventure game mixed with a word puzzle game.  It's LOOM meets Boggle. Niche meets niche. Narrow audience carved down to an even more narrow audience.  It's like building a train simulator where you raise your train to be a little lady.



Pay up, b... well, you know the drill by now.


Born 2 Spell

So this game, on paper, is very very niche.  Like many indies do, i'm making the game that i would want to play.  You see, i grew up doing crossword puzzles. At eight years old, when other boys were thumbing through their dads' copies of Oui, i was floundering through PennyPress variety magazines, trying to solve the Fill-Its.  Other boys knew they had come of age when they finally beat up their old man after he lost the family car in a drunken poker game. My big coup was finally beating my mom at Scrabble.



This is all quite possibly a function of growing up without a father.

i ran into a lot of trouble when i presented this game to the Casual crowd in Seattle.  The most common reaction i received was that Spellirium was "too smart" for the middle-aged mom audience that Casual catered to.  This was a huge blow, because the game was originally designed for that exact crowd, with nods to the dark fantasy that nerdy moms love.



Think moms don't like dark fantasy?  Guess again.

i learned quickly that my biggest challenge with Spellirium would not be building the game, but marketing it.  How would i find the niche audience that would adore the game, and pay a little more money for it than usual because it so suited their needs?

My first attempt was to build a web game portal packed with word games, which i called Word Game World (http://www.wordgameworld.com) - the idea being that i could learn from the hundreds of other word games out there, meet and talk to my audience, and most importantly, control the ad inventory so i could push that audience to Spellirium.  My plan failed when marketing Word Game World became as big a marketing challenge as marketing Spellirium ever was. 

(further reading: http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/pimp-my-portal/ )

This all led me to face some tough questions.  Chief among them: did i overestimate the word game market?  Is the group of players who will enjoy my game really too small to support the cost of developing it? 



Players camp out for the midnight launch of Spellirium.

The success of Scrabulous, Words with Friends, Text Twist, and the critical success of indie games SpellTower, PuzzleJuice and Wurdle seem to suggest otherwise.  i was even wrong about Bookworm Adventures, Spellirium's kissing cousin and the game upon which this entire project was predicated.  When the Casual crowd told me that word games didn't "do well", i thought for sure they were pointing to Bookworm Adventures, with its astronomical $700k budget, as a financial failure.

But get this: i learned recently that Bookworm Adventures has had two sequels. Generally, the existence of sequels indicates the financial success of the original, or at least projected financial success of future installments.



Er...

But What If i'm Dumb?

Before Spellirium was playable and i'd describe the game to people, common objections included:

  • What if i don't know what words to make?
  • i'm bad at spelling.
  • i'm slow at making words.
  • How do you (or i) know there are any valid words in the grid?
  • Longest words are best words, right?
  • What if you just can't make a word?

Based on these fears, i've made a LOT of concessions in gameplay to cater to a crowd that wouldn't really consider playing word games, and that doesn't count "word game" as a preferred genre.

Q: What if i don't know what words to make?
A: There are two features - the Dictionary and the Quicklist - that mitigate this.  The Dictionary stores all the words in the game.  You can add words from the Dictionary on to your Quicklist, which hangs off the side of the grid while you're playing.  This way, Spellirium becomes sort of a build-your-own-word-search.  And of all the activities in the Pantheon of Word Games, even the (self-described) dumbest players can complete a word search.


Q: i'm bad at spelling.
A: In an early Spellirum challenge, you have to shear a sheep by spelling words that have to do with cutting: SHEAR, CUT, CHOP, CLIP, TRIM, etc.  i've only completed five playtests, but 2/5 players have spelled "SHEER", a homonym for "SHEAR".  And they were confused when it didn't work.

This led one tester to suggest i modify the game so that when you lasso a group of letters (like "BAED"), the game anagrams it until it finds a valid word in the Dictionary ("BEAD" or "BADE"). So it doesn't matter whether you can spell or not -if you know there's a valid word in the letters you lassoed, the game will accept the letters.



Yes.  Yes, you are.

Q: i'm slow at making words.
A: This was a very early concession i knew i'd have to make.  Many players hated the time pressure in the game, so i modified Spellirium to be turn-based.  The Spellcaster has a "health bar" at the top. Whenever you swap letter tiles, your health goes down.  The farther apart the letter tiles are, the more health you lose when you swap them.  Guessing at bogus words also dings your bar.  This turns Spellirium into a much more methodical, strategic game, and the time pressure has been removed completely.


Q: How do you (or i) know there are any valid words in the grid?
A: Obviously, this is a question that only non-word-game-players would ever ask. A few people have suggested that i run an algorithm in the game to highlight a valid word if a player can't find one, much the same way that Bejeweled highlights a valid match after a few seconds of inactivity have elapsed.

Here's the deal: the grid is 7x7 tiles, and it uses a Scrabble-like distribution, favouring common letters (RSTLNEAIOU etc - all the 1-point tiles in Scrabble).  So essentially, you're starting at a 49-letter anagram puzzle.  If you can't make a single 3-8-letter word given FORTY-NINE TILES, there's really not much i can do for you.  Go play Gears of War, and stop wasting my precious oxygen.



How spell "GRUNT"?


Q: Longest words are best words, right?
A: Here's another classic objection from non-word-game-players. This one is so pervasive that even the creators of PuzzleJuice conceded and make longer words worth more points.  As any proper Scrabble player knows, certain words are more difficult to make than others.  "MUCH" is a higher-value word than "ROOSTER", because the letters "M", "C" and "H" are found in fewer English words than more common letters like the ones that comprise "ROOSTER".



MUCH ROOSTER

But in his GDC 2011 keynote, Sid Meier revealed that if the odds were 60/40 that a player would win a given battle, and the player lost that battle, the player would complain.  "i had more guys", the player would say.  Mathematically, it made sense.  Mathematically, the player should lose 4/10 times.  But it felt unfair to the player.

Likewise, most players don't care a fig for letter distribution and probabilities. To them, it takes more mental effort to make a long word than a short one - Z's and Q's be damned.  Even worse, many players feel that the more obscure a word is, the more points it should be worth.  So PARSONS, which is an odd and somewhat outdated word, should be worth more points than the more common word PUNCH.  But in Scrabble scoring, PARSONS is worth 9 points, while PUNCH is worth 10 points (P3 + A1 + R1 + S1 + O1 + N1 + S1 = 9  vs P3 + U1 + N1 + C3 + H2 = 10). 



PUNCH PARSONS

Logistically, it would be very very difficult to award the player extra points for "obscure" or "clever" words.  "Clever" words, really, are the ones you can spell using as many high-value letters as possible (think "BUZZ", "QUENCH", and "JAVA").  But the people - and i mean the E for Everyone people - want long words to trump challenging letter combination.

Q: What if you just can't make a word?
A: i really bristle at this.  It's like if i were building a first-person shooter, and i had a lot of non-FPS fans asking me "what if i can't shoot a guy?"  There's no such thing as not shooting a guy in an FPS.  You SHOOT GUYS in an FPS.  That's what you do.  That's like asking "what if i can't jump?" in a Mario platformer,
or "what if i can't make car go?" in a racing game.  Spellirium is about MAKING WORDS. You MAKE WORDS.  What if you can't make a word?  There's NO SUCH THING.  That's what you DO in this GAME.


i'm Down On My Niche

(Note: that heading doesn't make a lot of sense if you pronounce it "nitch" .. but if you pronounce it "nitch", living does not make a lot of sense, so please go directly to the nearest suiciditorium and kill yourself. Thanks kindly.)

As of now, i've only ever tested the game with non-word-game-players.  i love them all dearly, and i don't want them to be offended, but for the sake of this article, i'm going to call them the dumb players (in the same way that someone who doesn't know how to strafe in an FPS, or how to handbrake-turn in a racing game, is "dumb"). The dumb players are not the target audience.


i was concerned because the game ground to a halt at the sheep challenge when the "dumb" players played. Many of them couldn't think of enough synonyms for "CUT".  This led me to make the biggest and most controversial gameplay concession of all: you can't lose  If you play the game and can't pass it for lack of ability, your energy eventually runs down and you win anyway.  This is based on something i heard one of the Casual folks say at GDC many years ago, while advocating for women gamers: "If you buy a video game and you can't access ALL of the content on that disc, go ask for your money back."  So in Spellirium, you're never "stuck".  You can always proceed through the game, see all the story bits, and play through all the challenges - even if you fail at them.


A Word From the Wise

i've had one lengthy email conversation with a die-hard word game fan.  In stark contrast to "i can't think of any words that mean 'cut'" and "that's how you spell 'SHEER', right?", here's what the target audience wants:

Quote
if the challenges are a little more difficult than three- and four-letter words for SHEAR, then it could be a new adventure for traditional logophiles (like myself).

Say, something like... "Save the equines by naming all of the varieties"... HORSE, ZEBRA, COLT, DONKEY, ZEBRASS, JACKASS, CAYUSE, EQUID, ZEBRINE, NEDDY, ZEBROID, BRUMBY, ASS, MOKE, BURRO, CUDDY, JENNY, AIVER, FILLY, etc. Or maybe instead of shearing a sheep in a hurry, you can say "Save the sheep from getting sheared by giving up all of its buddies"... BUCK, DAM, EWE, RAM, HOGG, HOGGET, WETHER, LAMB, MULE, TEG, TUP, DOWNS, SLINK, BELL, SHEARLING, etc.

The "dumb" players, after trying Spellirium, have all said to me "gee ... i didn't think i would enjoy that, but it's quite fun, and i don't usually like word games."  So there's a small victory.  But when the game is out in the wild with only its trailer and my under-funded marketing strategy to support it, how am i going to get non-word-game-players to even pick it up and try it?  One glimpse of those letter tiles, and they'll be headed for the hills.

i'm at a crossroads.  Do i:

  • Continue to make concessions to "dumb" players and make Spellirium playable by Everyone, and then risk "dumb" players not even bothering to try the game because it doesn't LOOK like the kind of thing they'd enjoy
  • Go hardcore and court the logophiles, making the game challenging and interesting (as above), and then risk not finding nearly enough hardcore wordies to buy the game and help me break even
  • Strike some kind of balance.  And what IS that balance?

i leave it to you! Please help me figure this one out!
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« Reply #22 on: March 05, 2013, 06:14:29 PM »

Quote
i ran into a lot of trouble when i presented this game to the Casual crowd in Seattle.  The most common reaction i received was that Spellirium was "too smart" for the middle-aged mom audience that Casual catered to.  This was a huge blow, because the game was originally designed for that exact crowd, with nods to the dark fantasy that nerdy moms love.

The problem I see is that if you're targeting the "nerdy mom" audience, your main character should be a proactive young female, I mean that's the very basic of casual games.All have a young archeologist/businesswoman/bookwriter whatever. Or at least an asexual stylized animal.
The seattle people probably thought their audience would feel alienated by your moustachoed medieval guy.
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« Reply #23 on: March 05, 2013, 07:20:33 PM »

Heh.  Too late now!  Smiley
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« Reply #24 on: March 06, 2013, 10:34:00 AM »

Have you ever run across a video game or movie that was wildly mis-marketed?  Many players expressed their frustration after playing recent indie game releases Dear Esther and Proteus because they weren't gamey enough, and countless moviegoers have been lured into theatres to see Kevin James or Adam Sandler movies that the trailers would have them believe are actually funny.



Don't buy into false advertising: Every Adam Sandler "comedy" is actually a tragedy.

While testing Spellirium, our upcoming point n' click graphic adventure / word puzzle mash-up, i started to make many of the same mistakes i made with past games: relying too much on the advice of my game dev friends who weren't interested in the genre to begin with, and telling myself that the game just needs to find its audience to be appreciated.  i'm determined to correct those mistakes with Spellirium. This is the story of how i plan to do it.

List Your Turn-Ons


i faced many challenges testing Interrupting Cow Trivia a few years back (see http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/2010/01/07/whats-wrong-with-this-picture/), and while i learned a few important lessons, a number of things remain a mystery to me.

The most important thing that ICT testing taught me was to weigh testers' feedback according to how "into" the game they are. If you asked a casual puzzle game fan like me to playtest Gears of War, you wouldn't necessarily get the kind of feedback to make a better Gears of War game ... you'd only end up making an unsuitable game slightly more palatable to a casual puzzle audience.



NOW we're talking!

i revised my feedback survey for ICT testers to begin with the question "Do you like trivia games?"  If the tester answered "no", the rest of his feedback would get shuffled to the bottom of the stack.


A 5-Letter Word for DERP

i've been testing Spellirium with people who aren't word game fans. How do i know? There are a number of "tells".  The most obvious is when it takes a player forever to build a word. Spellirium gives you a 49-letter grid, and you can make words from 3-8 letters in length using any of those 49 letters, in any order. When a player struggles to make a 3-letter word, i know something's up.



(i can make a couple of 3-letter words from that first row alone)

If the player has no trouble making words, there's another "tell" that outs the player as somewhat of a non-wordgamer: the player makes a long 6- or 7-letter word using "common" letters, and is disappointed he's not supremely rewarded with Peggle-style fireworks.  i've had a few testers complain (or express surprise) that a word like "TESTERS" scores lower than a word like "POX". Of course, any Scrabble player will tell you that it's more rare/unique/difficult to use high-value letters like P and X in a word, than with common final-round Wheel of Fortune letters like RSTLNE.


The issue of players' reactions to high-value letters was apparent with two iOS word games that were released around the same time last year: Puzzlejuice and Spelltower.  Puzzlejuice creator Asher Vollmer told me he actually bowed to player pressure and changed the game's scoring mechanism to reward longer words instead of words containing high-value letters.  Spelltower, meanwhile,  becomes more difficult as the grid fills up with X's, Z's, Q's and K's, implicitly reinforcing the idea that these letters are tougher to squeeze into a word.



Puzzlejuice and Spelltower: two different approaches to the letter value problem.

So through Spellirium playtesting, i kept telling myself that i just needed to get the game in front of the "right" type of player - that those who would like it, would like it a lot.  Unfortunately, that's not at all how the market works.

To Market, To Market, to Buy a Fat Game

The way the market actually works is that you catch wind of a game through a friend or a website, and you eventually stumble upon its page on a digital distribution site like Steam or Good Old Games.  You watch the trailer, look at the screenshots, maybe double-check its purported quality by reading Metacritic reviews (or just glancing at the game's damnable Metacritic score) ... and you imagine what the game might be like to play, and whether you'll enjoy it.  You create a mental picture of that enjoyment you'll get from the game, and then you compare that to the asking price.  If the asking price is aligned with the enjoyment you predict you'll get from the game (and everyone's equation for this is different), AND you have that money to fart away on entertainment, THEN you may just complete the purchase.



Spellirium: fartworthy.

So if that's how game sales actually work, it makes more sense to me to simulate that environment, gauge potential customers' value equations, and then determine from their testing feedback whether the game delivered on their expectations.  So the approach i'm taking now is to mock up the sales page for Spellirium as if it were currently for sale on Steam (to be absolutely clear: it isn't. Yet.).


i'm going to show potential testers this page, and then ask them a few questions:

  • What's your level of interest in this game?
  • Which aspect(s) or features of the game interest you the most?  The least?
  • How much do you think this game costs / what would you pay for this game?
  • List another game that is like this game. Tick this box if you've played it. Tick this box if you've enjoyed it.

i may A|B test this with an image that shows a price for the game, and one does not.  For the potential testers who see the price, i'll ask:

  • Would you buy the game at this price when it was released, or would you wait a few months for a sale?
  • How many hours of gameplay would you expect to get from this game at that price?
  • How do you feel about the price of the game compared to its description, trailer and screenshots?  Too low/too high/just right?
  • (if respondent answers anything but "just right") How would you price the game?


If i were to approach this exercise completely cynically, i would continue to tweak and refine the page until i got the best potential conversion from my respondents, and then release Spellirium without making any changes to it. Because, speaking absolutely cynically, it doesn't actually matter if the game is good or bad - it only matters that people buy it.  But that's not how Untold Entertainment rolls!



i try not to be that guy.

Of course, i desperately do want to make a good game.  So i'll use the Steam page mock-up and survey as a funnel to decide on my testers. Those respondents who report the highest interest in playing the game, and the highest likelihood of buying it, will test the game.  At that point, it doesn't matter who is a "proper" word gamer and who isn't: what matters is that i have an obligation to the people who are excited about my game and who want to buy it.  If those players struggle to make 3-letters words, and if <em>those</em> players expect long words to be rewarded over tricky words, then i will adjust the game for the sake of those players. Because those players are my paying audience - not some mythical "perfect" players that i've hand-picked to enjoy Spellirium the specific way i've configured it.  The players choose my game - not the other way around.

It's the sale page and my surrounding marketing efforts that attract the player.  i need to make sure that the player i attract is happy with the object of that attraction.

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« Reply #25 on: April 09, 2013, 04:38:34 AM »



Come mothers and fathers, come sons and come daughters,
come graduates sprung from your old alma maters
come lovers of words, come adorers of books,
come peer at these pages, come take a good look

For today at long last, you will finally play
the game we've been building for many a day
(i'm so proud to say it, it's making me teary some)
this is the day that you'll all play Spellirium!

While it's not fully finished, it's come well along
we're ready to let you all play, you big throng
and with your support, it will end perfectly
and we'll make it the game that we meant it to be.



So open your wallets! Un-mattress your cash!
Donate all your savings, and empty your stash!
Dig deep, and find money, and give it all here
And then yell to your friends so that they overhear

And THEY give us their money! And THEIR friends do, too!
and then when it's all over ... just what did we do?
We shut down the banks, and we took all the bucks
and <em>every last dime in the world</em> went to us

The people of Earth will all turn out their pockets
And hope, beyond hopes, that we're gonna rock it
And rock it we will, for the price you did pay
Oh, the game that we'll make. OH, THE GAME THAT YOU'll PLAY!!
« Last Edit: April 09, 2013, 06:41:04 AM by UntoldEnt » Logged
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« Reply #26 on: April 09, 2013, 06:21:23 AM »

"for 10 points, Randall, I'll buy you a W, and add it to the malformed URL"
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« Reply #27 on: April 09, 2013, 06:33:24 AM »

I've been keeping an eye on this on and off for a while. I'll probably put down the $15 sometime soon. Can't wait to give it a shot.

"for 10 points, Randall, I'll buy you a W, and add it to the malformed URL"
Haha. I thought I just ended up at a page that didn't exist and removed "campaign" to find myself at something related to MediaTemple.
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« Reply #28 on: April 09, 2013, 06:41:24 AM »

Fixified!  Thanks for pointing it out!

- Ryan
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« Reply #29 on: April 14, 2013, 10:09:58 AM »

The Powerups system in Spellirium is pretty cool, but it was hastily-built so you might not even know it's there.  Here's how it works:



(click here to read the fine print)

Powerups can add different types of letters to your grid (vowels, and high- and mid-scoring words), the can increase your energy, protect your energy from depleting, and change the colours of the tiles.  They can cure poison tiles (currently, the Graelig at the end of Act II is the only poisonous creature), and they can soften stone tiles (stone tiles are implemented, but none of the creatures create them ... yet). Powerups are super useful if you want to, say, 3-star the errgrd to earn the decorative gourd item for the incense quest in Act II.



The ergrrd: one tough little creature.

Improvements for Future Versions

All these interconnected systems are already kinda complicated to begin with, but in alpha v0.36 and below, there are some extra steps thrown in that make it needlessly difficult to craft one lousy powerup!  Here are the changes we're planning to make:



  • Currently, Powerups can cost up to five items to craft!  We're reducing that number to three ingredients, max. Most Powerups will probably cost one item.
  • At the moment, you have to solve a picture puzzle whenever you cast a Powerup. Some of those puzzles are so difficult, you need Powerups to help you solve them. Holy crap! This isn't Disgaea, for Pete's sake. Smiley  We're scrapping the picture puzzle requirement.  Hopefully picture puzzles will show up somewhere else in the game.
  • Cheeves unlock Spells, and Spells are templates for Powerups. You start the game with a blank Spellbook, but i think you should start off with at least one Spell, so that you a reason to <em>javascript:void(0);want</em> the Spells you see in the Cheeves area.
  • Cheeves are represented by a carrot-on-a-stick. You unlock the feature by talking to the Mystic, but it's currently part of an optional conversation tree that some players miss! We need to do more work to help players discover it ... probably by making it mandatory.



Look familiar? No?  You're not alone.

  • The Cheeve requirements are all completely imbalanced.  How many semordnilaps should you have to build to earn the blue Shield Powerup?  Is 25 too many?  i don't know!  That's why we're playtesting!  (Note: a semordnilap is a word that makes a different, perfectly valid word when read backwards ... like ROOM <-> MOOR)
  • Right now, you don't get any notifications that you've completed a Cheeve.  What's up with that?  Needs fixing.
  • Since a lot of the Cheeves are progress-based ("Build 100 5-letter words!"), i'd like to see a little carrot icon show up whenever you build a word that advances a Cheeve.
  • Item prices in the Merchant's store are WAY too expensive right now!  In a future version, we're going to SLASH PRICES!  Everything must go!

That's the story, and our plan.  If you have other suggestions and you're a Spellirium backer, head over to the Spellirium Backers-Only Message Boards and leave your feedback in SEECRET!!

Not yet a backer?  Pre-order Spellirium and play the alpha today!
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« Reply #30 on: April 19, 2013, 11:09:22 AM »

So i had a hunch it probably wouldn't work, but i had to give it a shot.  This is first footage of Spellirium running on the Oculus Rift:


This is the first in a series of video developer diaries about Spellirium, in which we'll explore the creative process behind the project, and then make fun of a bunch of stuff.  Enjoy!

- Ryan
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« Reply #31 on: April 20, 2013, 01:43:56 PM »

The Spellirium Pre-Order campaign has been running for a week and a half now, so i thought it would be a good time to check in with stats and reportage.

Although we don't have a fundraising target posted, a dream scenario would have us raising $50000, so that we can cover off voice-over comfortably (at ~$20k), and then have enough left over to hire storyboarders and animators to clean up existing cut-scenes, and animate new ones for the third act (~$20k), leaving $10k for the balancing, gameplay testing and polish that the alpha requires. 

Here's how the first ten days of the campaign look, sales-wise:


The campaign launched on a Tuesday, and all kinds of magical, marvellous things happened. The little spike on the following Sunday was courtesy of Tim Schafer, who has generously helped out many crowdfunding campaigns since his own record-shattering Kickstarter campaign last year.  Big thanks to Tim for his generosity!

Moron Math

When i "ran the numbers" for the campaign, this is what i thought: at a dream target of $50k, and an assumed (and extremely conservative) conversion rate of only 1%, we would "only" need to drive five hundred thousand pairs of eyeballs to the campaign site in order to raise that kind of money.  No problem, right?  With a good mix of press attention and word of mouth, it was no small feat, but we were up to the task.

Reality paints a different picture.  Our actual conversion rate is astronomical, at 62.6%.  That means that most people who hear about Spellirium come to the site with wallets in-hand.  That's great news.


The glum news is that if we maintain a daily average of $192.30 (which will only decrease the farther we get from that large Day One sum), it will take almost three quarters of a year to raise the dough.  We've only budgeted one month to drive the campaign really hard, so a dramatic fall-off is imminent if we don't do something to increase traffic.

Something to Increase Traffic

So how do you get a whopping truckload of eyeballs to your website?  Common sense says that you go where the eyeballs are: in this case, press sites that have the attention of a large number of people.  But dig this: the media focus that so many indies strive for may not bring the boom that they expect.


Here is a list of the significant press attention the campaign has received to date:


Now take a look at the traffic sources for the website:


The three t.co links are Twitter traffic. @UntoldEnt has 3600 followers on the social networking site. That network, with considerable help from the likes of Tim Schafer and Tycho from Penny Arcade, accounts for the bulk of our visitors.

The second-biggest referrer is Mojang.com, the studio that created Minecraft (with their own legendarily successful alpha campaign). On Day One, Mojang's Marc Watson tweeted about the project.  The Mojang website features a sidebar where employee tweets roll by.


Marc's tweet couldn't have appeared in that sidebar for more than a few hours, but players clicking on his link have accounted for the second-highest amount of traffic to the campaign.  That's the kind of attention 10 million unit sales of Minecraft gets you!

De-Pressed

Press sources that you would expect to have driven more traffic are suspiciously absent from the Traffic Sources list.  Have you ever dreamed of seeing your game in lights on a site like Joystiq.com?  Their Spellirium article, posted in the apparent traffic Dead Zone last Sunday night, brought a whole 8 visitors to the campaign.  JayIsGames who, six years ago, brought two thousand people to Untold Entertainment in a single day, has only pulled in a tenth of that traffic in a week and a half!

Bizarrely, in other instances the posts i'm putting out seem to be completely traffic repellent.  Look at this weirdness from a post i wrote on the Oculus Rift message boards:


The Skydive post, which went up around noon, has had 230 views. A mere 3 hours later, the Spellirium post has only drawn 14 people.  Bizarre!  (Although in retrospect, i should have just titled the post "Spellirium" ... it looks like any mention of 2D is like a garlic-infused crucifix to the 3D-loving Oculus Rift vampires.)

Big Game Hunting

Now, please don't misunderstand: i am very grateful for all the stories press people have been writing about Spellirium so far.  It's just an interesting cautionary note that the "big score" you're chasing may not pan out. 


Help!  i'm being attacked by bad graphics!

Just this week, i heard an anecdote about someone who busted hump chasing an IGN story which, when it finally dropped, sent only a few dozen people to his website.  i'm placing a lot more hope in the mid-size sites who perhaps post less frequently, have a more intimate relationship with their readers, and can talk about Spellirium through a number of different avenues available to them, including Twitter, Facebook, and their email list. And in certain cases, maybe a trashpunk adventure game just doesn't interest the readership of certain sites?

Will You Give Me a Minute?

Search loves video, or so i hear.  The vlog strategy backfired on me a few years ago when i paid five-dollar increments to have the crazies over at Fiverr.com shoot ZombieGameWorld.com testimonials for me.  This time, i'm taking the vlogs into my own hands. Robby Duguay (AKA "the Doogs"), composer and campaign contributor, helped me bang out no fewer than eighteen developer diary videos, which we kicked off today with the immensely silly Spellirium Minute Episode #0: Tripping the Oculus Rift. We have enough segments to release one a day for the next two and a half weeks. And so we shall!


If you want to catch 'em all, subscribe to the Untold Entertainment YouTube channel.  The videos will appear in our "Spellirium Minute" playlist.  The first few vids talk about the different prototypes we built on our way to finding a fun mechanic for the game.   

Pimpin' Comes Easy

Having an entire month to devote to grassroots PR makes me wonder if i've missed my calling?  It's very, very difficult, and it means humbling myself and shaming myself and extolling myself all at the same time.  It's frenetic and exhausting and it sometimes feels like i'm in the middle of a Rube Goldberg machine, and have been tasked with making sure it runs properly.  But because of its intricate and challenging network of interconnected puzzles, <em>promoting Spellirium</em> is one of the most fun and exciting adventure games i've ever played!

If you have any hints for how i can achieve a complete score of 50000 by the time i finish the game, let me know with a reply!  Spoilers are encouraged.
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« Reply #32 on: April 20, 2013, 01:51:15 PM »

Spellirium has been in development for five long years.  This is a video about the very first prototype we built for the game.

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« Reply #33 on: April 21, 2013, 10:08:57 AM »

The second Spellirium prototype was interesting, but too many clicks meant too little fun.  And the time limit was universally despised:

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« Reply #34 on: April 22, 2013, 06:41:18 AM »

We kept playing around with the Spellirium prototype. This time we reversed the control scheme we'd been using in the previous prototype, but it still wasn't working:

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« Reply #35 on: April 23, 2013, 06:12:09 AM »

One of the biggest gameplay innovations in Spellirium is that beyond including a certain word puzzle mechanic, each challenge and battle is actually a unique and distinct puzzle-within-a-puzzle.  By "reading" the player's actions in the puzzle grid, we end up with a number of data points including word length, colour, quality and direction. There are many more of course, but those are the basics.


The prototype i cover in this video represents our first proof-of-concept for Spellirium, where we actually give this puzzle-within-a-puzzle idea a whirl and see if players find it compelling.  Thankfully, the game passed that test - which means we've got many more videos about the ensuing five years of game development to share with you!

Always Be Subscribing

Check out the growing Spellirium Minute playlist, and subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don't miss a thing!




Word.
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« Reply #36 on: April 24, 2013, 06:39:28 AM »

When i say that Spellirium is a cross between Loom and Boggle, i ain't just whistling Dixie. Brian Moriarty's adventure game masterpiece, which was so classy with its use of a Tchaikovsky soundtrack, remains one of my favourite games of all time.


It turns out, as i reveal in the video, that i didn't rip off Loom as badly as i'd thought.  And Lloyd Alexander, who looks in person every bit like Quentin Blake's drawing of Roald Dahl's The BFG (due to his other-worldly schnozz), liberally borrowed from Welsh mythology for his Prydain Chronicles.

Great artists steal.
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« Reply #37 on: April 25, 2013, 05:16:16 AM »

Just to illustrate the diversity and divergent thinking of the puzzles in <b><a href="http://www.spellirium.com" title="Spellirium">Spellirium</a></b>, we prototyped a battle with a creature called a "flobbert":


This challenge is interesting because it implores the player to <em>not</em> excel, by word game standards. By making longer, more difficult words, the player gets into more trouble with a harder-hitting monster. 

The flobbert hasn't made it into the current game, but if it does, it will probably be based on this slimy design:


The creature's name will have to be changed, though, because it's eight letters long. i'd like all the creatures' names to be spellable in the game grid, because reasons.
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« Reply #38 on: April 26, 2013, 05:05:27 AM »

Pokémon has a collectible compendium of creatures. Spellirium has a collectible Dictionary of words. Every original Pokémon teevee show ended with the Pokémon Rap.  And what's better than the Pokémon Rap?  Practically everything.


Robby "the Doogs" Duguay is responsible for the bang-on musical homage, while you can thank Jon Remedios for the chorus that'll stay in your brain far, far longer than you'll want it to.

Spell all the words!
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« Reply #39 on: April 29, 2013, 05:19:19 AM »

Spellirium's third prototype is nearly identical to the mechanic the game presently uses. But the moment you tell a player not to go somewhere, that's the first thing a player tries to do.  It's the Garden of Eden all over again. The limits of this prototype became very obvious very quickly.


In the video, i tease a fight i had with a fellow game dev.  It's actually <em>not</em> going to be mentioned in the very next video, but it is upcoming, so watch out for it!
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