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« Reply #120 on: December 05, 2015, 12:54:02 AM »

DEVLOG: 003

So, let’s talk about design.

I should start by saying that I am in no way telling you that this is how you should approach game design. This is simply how I have approached the design of Mable and I hope is something that you find useful and/or interesting.

When anyone tells you that you “should do something this way”, my advice generally is to ignore them or, if you’re in a particularly amenable mood, just pretend that they said: “this is one way you could approach things, and it’s an approach that has worked for me”.

Well, this is what has worked for me.


Designing The Bits & Pieces

Next week I’ll be going through how I design a level, but we need to start smaller than that. Let’s take a look at the bits and pieces that make up a level. In this post, I’ll take you through how I designed a particular piece of level geometry that I’ll be using in some of Mable’s levels.

When we look at the level of a particular game, we see the objects that make up the shape of the level that the player must traverse.


Click the image to see the full picture at ian-albert.com

The ground, the pipes, the blocks, the enemies; these are all what I will be referring to as ‘objects’. Now, this being Mario, it’s easy to take for granted how these objects work, but they had to be designed by someone; there was once a time when those green pipes didn’t mean anything to players.

So, one thing that you could do is simply look at other games and borrow their objects, reinterpreting how they might work in the context of your game and its mechanics – and I’m pretty sure this is a common approach to level design (I know it's how I was approaching things with Among The Willows) – but, not only is that pretty boring (from the point of view of both designer and player) and likely to result in a derivative feeling experience, it can also prove to be a somewhat hit and miss approach; just because something worked in X game, doesn’t mean it’ll work in YOUR game.

So how do you design objects from scratch that work for your game? Well, that's what I'm going to look at here. And it's pretty fun.

The first thing that I do is to break things down, so that I know how the player can interact with your game – I do this by looking at the verbs of the game and breaking these down into what I call ‘subverbs’. There’s probably already a name for this, but I like making words up and it sounds cool.
 

Verbs & Subverbs

A level, and actually the game as a whole, is made up of moment to moment interactions between the player and the systems in the game. The player presses a button and the game reacts. It's these moments that I want to make as interesting as possible.

This one-to-one mapping of the button press to an action is commonly referred to as a ‘verb’, and this is the terminology I’m going to use here. Going back to Mario as the popular (i.e. overused) example, pressing A on your NES controller causes Mario to jump (so long as he’s on the ground).


Mable’s verbs are pretty basic: move and change form. It’s when you break these down into their subverbs that you really get into the interesting stuff:

  • walk
  • change shape
  • drop sword*
  • leave ground
  • fly
  • fall
  • land

*this actually then creates a new set of subverbs related to the sword itself:

  • fall
  • land
  • fly towards Mable
  • collide with object
  • collide with Mable

It’s when you look at the potential relationships between these subverbs and the kinds of objects you want to have in the game that the interesting stuff start coming out.

Kinds of objects?

Yeah, that’s a bit vague right? Well, what I’m trying to do here is come up with specific objects that present interesting gameplay situations to the player. When I say ‘kinds of objects’ I’m talking about the groups that those objects make up.

For example: things that you can walk/stand on can be grouped together as ‘platforms’. This just makes things easier. Anyway, moving on…
 

Let’s Make Something
 
Take a subverb and an object and what can you come up with? In this case I took a look at what kind of platforms I could have that reacted with the sword's subverbs. Here's a few of the things that I came up with for the interaction between the sword and the platform type object:

  • Platforms that break when the sword hits them
  • Moving platforms that stop moving when the sword lands on them (pins them in place)
  • Platforms that the sword bounces off
  • Platforms that only exist when they are touching the sword

The breakable platform sounded kind of interesting, but didn't really do enough on its own. It was along the right lines though, so I thought - what about the relationship of that object with the other objects around it?


(visually inspired by Sonic clearly)

I ended up settling on a kind of platform that destroyed every other platform of the same time that it was connected to, like a chain reaction from the sword hitting it. In the game this is now a lovely destructible bridge pictured above.

This can already be combine with some other objects, a row of enemies for example, to give you an interesting little scene:



The Difficulty Of Context

One of the problems with this approach is that you can end up with cool things to put in your game, but you don't know what metaphor to use for them. The example of the bridge that I gave was not designed to be a bridge – that was just the most obvious metaphor that makes sense. You drop a very heavy sword on a flimsy rope bridge and it all falls down.

But what about something that isn't quite so obvious? Well, here are a few other objects that are currently in the game as different coloured platforms that I've not yet decided on what they're going to be:

  • A platform that becomes deadly when you fly off it, but becomes safe again when you land on another
  • Bouncy platforms that don't recharge your magic
  • Platforms that drop down when you land on them (increased by fall height), then slowly rise back up

I say 'not yet decided' but, to be honest, I haven't even thought about it. I'm hoping that some of the ideas that I have for these objects might suggest different environments that Mable can visit so you're not always in the wood – which might get boring after a while!

Anyway, I hope that was interesting and/or helpful in some way. The next post I want to focus more on the progress of the game overall and what I've got planned over the next couple of months.

I'd be super interested in knowing if this kind of post is useful?

Maybe you can tell me how you come up with the bits and pieces for your games? I'm always interested in hearing about different approaches to design!

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« Reply #121 on: December 05, 2015, 07:41:25 AM »

Like the format a lot. I think its a great approach to try and start thinking about how the sword interacts with the environment around it vs. just the player. Think you will start coming up with some really interesting mechanics like the bridge below. Awesome stuff.
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« Reply #122 on: December 07, 2015, 10:41:58 PM »

The post is very clear and concise  Coffee and +1 for neologisms

I just have some feedback: the sword needs more presence. In the bridge gifs, it's barely noticeable. And (in the old build I have) it only produces any sound cue when you cut through enemies the sword makes any sound but not when it drops to the ground. When Mable holds the sword it's very present but not so much when she let's it go, and I think it will be important to realize all the possible subverbs it can enact.
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« Reply #123 on: December 08, 2015, 10:44:37 AM »

Quote
I'd be super interested in knowing if this kind of post is useful?

I liked it, it's always nice to read behind-the-scenes posts. Making mana refresh on landing sounds like a step in the right direction, btw.
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« Reply #124 on: December 09, 2015, 11:39:32 AM »

The post is very clear and concise  Coffee and +1 for neologisms

I had to look up 'neologisms', it's a whole new word to me...

Also with the sword, I agree it could do with being more visible once it has been dropped. I have no solution for this, but it's something that I'll be adding to the TO DO list!

This week has been a bit of a nightmare (no sleep from the baby means no sleep for the parents), so no development has happened at all really. As I've been up between 5am and 6am every day I have managed to do a little planning and scribbling down ideas for new areas, so I'll do a short update covering some of those ideas and the kind of gameplay that they'll bring.

Also...

...it's Ludum Dare this weekend!

Who else is taking part?
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« Reply #125 on: December 09, 2015, 05:20:37 PM »

I'd be super interested in knowing if this kind of post is useful?

Yes, it's very interesting. I'm working on my first game and I'm getting to the point where the mechanics are pretty much set and it's time to actually start making a game. While I have experience in graphics and sound, design is new to me so it's always nice to hear how people approach it. It seems like one golden rule of design is:
 
Introduce/teach --> then --> Challenge

Properly introduce every element before they're used in a more challenging way. Don't place a death pit in front of a player before they know how to jump. It seems obvious but I find it's always a good place to start. The real meat of designing comes in making the challenges. Sure you could just place random enemies in the way and call it a challenge but good design is where there is a clear purpose to everything. Therefore I usually first try to define what the challenge is. For example let's make a challenge and call it "ONLY LOW JUMPS ALLOWED". The object is to jump from one platform to another using only a low jump. How might one design this? Simple, stick some spikes on the ceiling that hurts the player if they jump too high.   

The most interesting thing for me about the Verb/Subverb-thing is that it can be a tool to break down and define challenges. My made up challenge could be broken down in the verb "jump" and the adjective (because why not) "low".

Even if you don't have a clear idea for a section, just pick a few verbs and say "I want to challenge the player to use these verbs (maybe in a specific order?)", and then find a way to design the section to meet the conditions of the challenge. Very neat!
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« Reply #126 on: December 10, 2015, 03:22:02 AM »

Introduce/teach --> then --> Challenge

Yeah this is pretty much how I try to put a level together. Using the 'only low jumps allowed' example you give, you could introduce it with the spiked ceiling. If you didn't want to teach through death, you could add a couple of steps before that:

1 - a low flat ceiling with enough room for low jumps only. Here, the player can still progress with a high jump but they don't need to use the high jump.

2 - a higher ceiling with lower parts over the gaps. If the player uses a high jump here, they hit the side of the lower ceiling and fall onto the safety of the platform they're meant to jump off.

Then throw them to the spikes obviously.

There's no right or wrong answers to any of this stuff though, it's just about what kind of experience you want the player to have. If you look at 1001 Spikes for example, that 'goes straight to the spikes' - it teaches by killing the player, but it works because it fits the tone (and the levels are pretty short).

Even with the 'only low jumps' example, there are many interesting ways you could set the challenges up. I look forward to seeing what you come up with for your game!
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« Reply #127 on: December 10, 2015, 04:54:20 AM »

If you didn't want to teach through death, you could add a couple of steps before that:

Yeah I went straight to describing the challenge part but it should obviously be introduced in some way first. I'm generally not a fan of teaching through death although as you say, it works for some games and 1001 spikes is a good example.
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« Reply #128 on: December 15, 2015, 03:23:06 AM »

Hey, so I took a break this weekend from working on Mable to do the art for this thing:


It's for Ludum Dare 34 (we picked the theme 'Growing') and was a collaboration between me, @solkar and @Fat_Bard (those should link to the twitters so follow them yeah).

First time I've done a 3 way collaboration and it was really fun! Pretty stressful and no sleep, but that's par for the course when you're doing a game jam (or being a parent it seems...) but happy that we got something in a pretty finished state by jam standards!


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« Reply #129 on: December 15, 2015, 03:33:46 AM »

If you didn't want to teach through death, you could add a couple of steps before that:

Yeah I went straight to describing the challenge part but it should obviously be introduced in some way first. I'm generally not a fan of teaching through death although as you say, it works for some games and 1001 spikes is a good example.

Oh hey also I wanted to say Prolen looks cool!
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« Reply #130 on: December 20, 2015, 01:15:47 PM »

DEVLOG 004

Okay, let's talk a little bit about schedules (exciting huh).

I've mentioned previously that crowdfunding is something I've been considering, and I've finally reached the decision that it's the right way to go for Mable. There are several reasons for this:

  • I work on games in my spare time and I don't have a lot of spare time. What I do have a lot of is game ideas that I want to play around with. Crowdfunding is a good way to find out if there are enough people out there interested enough in this game to keep working on.
  • One of the reasons I don't have a lot of spare time is family, the tiniest member of which is just about ready for her own bedroom. That means I no longer have an office, so crowdfunding would also give me the money I need to invest in portable gamemaking equipment (a laptop).
  • There's always the (pretty small I think with this kind of game) chance that the campaign will really capture people's attention and provide me with a living wage while I work on the game (with enough in reserve to follow it up with a few failures too). I know it's more likely to fail but it's nice to dream Smiley
  • Above mentioned failure isn't a bad thing. I'll be ready to move on and can probably get by with a crappy laptop for making my prototypes and jam games on.
  • It forces me to have a deadline, which I need with this game, and really focus on what is essential and what will make the game move forward.
  • There are probably lots more reasons that I can't think of right now.

So, with all of that in mind I am aiming for a kickstarter campaign launch date of the 22nd February 2016.

That gives me 9 weeks to get this thing ready for public consumption. How the hell am I going to do that!? Well, here's the schedule (these are the latest I hope to have these done by, so some things I'll aim to do earlier):

Week 1

- Sort out player health/damage system
- Improve visiblity of sword (when dropped) and magic use
- Finish off the design of website
- Arrange for production of sound and music
- Formalise level design process
- Recode enemy behaviour


Week 2

- Art for caves area
- New levels design 1st pass
- Reorganise folders in GameMaker
- Diamond bar in top right for levelling up
- Enemies drop diamonds, hearts or nothing
- Collecting diamonds fills up diamond bar
- New water


Week 3

- Art for foggy swamp area
- Press list/youtube list preparation
- Art for castle entrance


Week 4

- Art for mountainous (vertical) level
- Fix the bottom of the wood background
- Set up presskit() on website
- Prepare a press email


Week 5

- Final level design and create levels
- Playtesting!
- Look into getting a trailer/video made
- Plan Kickstarter rewards (how the ffffff do I do that!?)


Week 6

- Prepare screenshots etc for Kickstarter/press
- Contact press
- Plan out ideas for Kickstarter updates
- Prepare art for Kickstarter


Week 7

- Register as a business
- Design and draw some promo art (what do I need?)
- Work out budget/goal and what will be stretch goals or just part of the pitch
- Start creating Kickstarter page


Week 8 - this is now 'nice to have' stuff if everything else slips

- Ensure all of the sound is updated
- Ensure menu system is working properly
- Update effects for sword landing (also Mable landing?)
- Thunder storms
- Level decoration pieces to add variety to levels in same area


Week 9

- Redo art/animation for the enemies that are staying in the demo
- Proper Mable death animation
- Some kind of cloud when changing form
- Art for abandoned mines area
- Art for falling through the sky level
- A boss reveal animation


So, as you can see there's quite a lot to do and I'm not likely to get it all done. My plan is to update here weekly with what the tasks were for the week just gone and how I got on with them, then look at the week ahead and how that fares against the schedule.

If anyone has any advice, I'll take it!


Week 1: The Plan

So, let's have a closer look at what I'll be doing for the week ahead. I'm only in work 2 days, will be having 3 days of solid family time leaving me with 2 evenings and 2 full work days to get this lot done (I'm sure I won't actually get that much time, it's Christmas! All of a sudden I'm not wanting Fallout 4 for Christmas...)


Sort out player health/damage system

Currently Mable dies with one hit, yet she has a health bar. The plan is to make it so you can take several hits before dying. Not only is this more forgiving, it actually allows for more interesting gameplay because you have a gradient of success and a gradient of tension. For example, passing a challenge without losing health feels better than taking a hit. Facing a challenge with only a sliver of health left feels much more tense than that same challenge with full health. Could take a post to go deeper into how this helps with level design but you'd all be more bored than you already are Wink

Improve visiblity of sword (when dropped) and magic use

This is still unclear. It's just something that's been bugging me for a while that I've not really sat down to fix. It's going to be pretty quick to fix but I want to get it in early so I can get feedback and tamper with it.

Finish off the design of website

I've made a start on this. I've got an old site that has not been updated in a long time, generally because it's really faffy to update and I don't like the design. This is probably a couple of hours work just to get finished off.

Arrange for production of sound and music

I'm happy with some of the sounds, but I really need someone to take this off my hands now. It's something I've been thinking about for a while and just put off making a decision on, but I want it to sound as good as it can come the Kickstarter. I know who I want to do this, but I want to make sure they are available to do it in the timescale I've got here and then I'll let you know.

Formalise level design process

This is just for myself really. I want to have a checklist to make sure that I haven't missed out on any of the considerations when I'm designing the levels. It's not very exciting, but I want a living document that I can add to and look at older level designs against too to make sure they fit in with what I'm trying to achieve.

Recode enemy behaviour

This is so that I have more control over their placement and movement in the game. Currently all of the enemies have a very heavy reliance on the random number generator, meaning that it's difficult to code in a specific situation such as a patrolling enemy stepping on a button to make a barrier open and close intermittently, for example. Or enemies arranging themselves helpfully in a line so you can slice through them all at once and feel awesome.

And that's it for week 1. I'll be back in 7 days to give you some excuse as to why that's not all been done! I'll make sure there's some pictures for you Smiley

Until then, then.
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« Reply #131 on: December 27, 2015, 01:28:54 AM »

Nice to see how much thought you've put into the schedule, seems like you've really thought it out.

For the sword issue, have you thought about just making it light up when dropped as though there's another force with it. Makes it stand out and adds that magic element to it visually. Also could look really nice if you got the lighting right.
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« Reply #132 on: December 27, 2015, 01:34:40 PM »

DEVLOG 005

Hope everyone has had a good break/holiday/regular week! My estimate of the amount of time I would have to work on Mable was completely wrong. I got about half that amount of time, but I have had a great week with the family and actually got to spend a lot of time with my little girl while Sarah tried to catch up on some sleep so that was amazing (for me at least - I'm not sure you can catch up on 6 months of sleep deprivation in a week).

This was what I had planned for last week:

- Sort out player health/damage system
- Improve visiblity of sword (when dropped) and magic use
- Finish off the design of website
- Arrange for production of sound and music
- Formalise level design process
- Recode enemy behaviour

The only things that didn't get finished off were the website (because I'm not sure what I'm doing with this - I don't know what I need on the website and didn't have time to look into it) and the sound and music isn't finalised (just because I haven't had time to work out what I need for the Kickstarter demo/video). Otherwise it's all gone pretty well.


Sort Out Player Health/Damage

So I'd estimated in my plan that this would take an hour. It took 2 nights thanks to having to untangle some truly awful code that I must have lazily pasted in from the original Ludum Dare version. That was a demoralising start to the week!

This is what the damage was like before the changes:

Old Collision

As you can see, there is no damage. You just die. I made some simple new animations to show when you've been hit, made you flash and be invincible for a short period with the recoil (which will need testing and tweaking) and added a couple of little things like a red flash and a little heart that pops out of your chest, turns black and crumbles. Might need to make that bigger so it's more obvious or add an outline or something.

This is what that looks like:

New Collision

I realise I cut the gif a bit short so apologies that you can't see the heart crumble to dust. Maybe some other time.


Improve Visibility of Sword & Magic Use

This didn't take long because I'd already been playing with the coloration of the world to show off magic use (although I'll probably add more to make it more obvious in future) so it was just making the sword more visible.

For the sword issue, have you thought about just making it light up when dropped as though there's another force with it. Makes it stand out and adds that magic element to it visually. Also could look really nice if you got the lighting right.

That's pretty much what I've tried to do. It's just a first pass but this is what the dropped sword looks like now:

Nice Sword

I'll add more things to make it look more magical, but it's definitely better than it was.


Website, Sound/Music and Level Design Process

I made a start on the site and arranging sound/music, but there's not a lot to report there. I've made myself a nice checklist to go through when I'm designing the levels but I'm pretty sure that'd just bore you to death so I'll not waste your time covering that here. Just be glad that it's something I can tick off my list.


Recode Enemy Behaviour

The aim of this was to be able to set enemies on a particular route in the level, so that I can have more control over the shape of the challenges that you'll face as a player. It didn't take as long as I expected, but there were some interesting bugs. For example:

Maybe a new enemy (if you ignore the massive framerate hit)

Anyway, that all got sorted out and it's really easy now to drop in an enemy patrol path. I was going to do a nice elaborate gif to showcase this but I'm getting pretty tired now so I'll leave you with this most unimpressive gif of a slothmole sauntering back and forth over a tiny patch of grass.

Seriously - this is way more useful than it looks


What Next?

Week 2, that's what's next! I'm leaving the site on hold until I can find someone to pester to help me work out what I actually need on it. That means I'm cracking ahead with the schedule. Namely:

- Art for caves area
(so scared to start work on a new area because the wood looks so nice)

- New levels design 1st pass
(kind of already started this because a baby fell asleep on me and all I could reach was a pencil and paper)

- Reorganise folders in GameMaker
(seems so pointless apart from when I spend 10 minutes trying to find the right thing)

- Diamond bar in top right for levelling up
(a bar for diamonds? Do diamonds even drink?)

- Enemies drop diamonds, hearts or nothing
(starting to regret making comments in brackets now)

- Collecting diamonds fills up diamond bar
(this needs no elaboration)

- New water
(because Kingdom and Tikotep Adventure have already nailed the pretty reflective water effect so I want to find something unique that fits Mable's silhouette style backdrops (and it gives me an excuse to make a swamp level, which will be fun)

That is a LOT but I'm not back at work until the 4th January, so I'm hopeful that I'll be able to fit it in.

Thanks for reading. So long and thanks for all the gifs!
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« Reply #133 on: January 01, 2016, 11:30:24 AM »

Quick update: we have collectibles! These floating diamonds can be collected to level up


There'll be some strategically placed through the levels and enemies can drop these, as well as health pickups, when you kill them.

 Coffee

Happy new year!

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« Reply #134 on: January 01, 2016, 03:13:18 PM »

What a neat mechanic! It could be used to interact with the environment as well, opening possibilities for other gameplay stuff like breaking obstacles or activating switches. Not sure if this is enough for a full game but I would love to see that.
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« Reply #135 on: January 02, 2016, 11:22:08 AM »

What a neat mechanic! It could be used to interact with the environment as well, opening possibilities for other gameplay stuff like breaking obstacles or activating switches. Not sure if this is enough for a full game but I would love to see that.

Thanks! Yeah I'm planning in some floating orb things that you can shatter to open up blockages etc as well as things that are controlled by placing the sword in the right place. More on that later (when I've made them look pretty).

Also, I wanted to post a work in progress of the 2nd area I'm working on:

The Caves (apologies for low quality gif)

Working on a couple of new enemies (such as bats and giant cave crickets/worms crossed - some kind of troglophile anyway) for the area and a few environmental hazards (such as falling stalactites and crumbling/breakable platforms), then it's time for a vertical level before I start on the art for the swamp (don't want too many horizontal levels in a row).



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« Reply #136 on: January 03, 2016, 10:25:39 AM »

Adding A Little Polish


In the clip above you can see:

  • Dust for dragging the sword
  • New effect when you change into the fairy (pretty subtle, might turn it up)
  • New effects when things hit the floor
  • Subtle circle to make it clearer how much flight you have left

Had a bit of a busy family weekend so I'll delay my weekly update post on progress until tomorrow, then it gives me a shot at getting a bit more of the todo list ticked off!

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« Reply #137 on: January 04, 2016, 01:46:27 PM »


Few more bits of polish. Only got 2 hours sleep last night so need to sleep now zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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« Reply #138 on: January 04, 2016, 05:08:29 PM »

Late to chime into the schedule update. Think thats great! I'm all about schedules and checklists. They're a huge part of staying focused and on schedule. I want to throw out a few pointers on a couple of your items to think about over the next 8 or 9 weeks:

1. "Look into trailer/video". Just a heads up, the video is the single biggest component of your campaigns success, you will likely need a full week (or weeks) of planning and chipping away at it. Give yourself more time for that or at least allocate time for it over multiple weeks. Especially if you're not a video editor and/or not hiring a video editor. Similarly, I'd periodically work on the KS page itself. Sometimes you need to see things over a period of time to get a better feel for what's working or not. Trying to throw together a KS page in week 7 will be hard. Like all creative things, it's generally an ongoing, iterative process.

2. "Plan Kickstarter rewards". Don't sweat these too much, lots of people here can give you feedback on your rewards and pricing. Plan on sharing links to your Kickstarter page before launch for feedback, it can be invaluable. Sometimes less is more here, you dont need 30 reward tiers to be successful.

3. "Register as a business". Not sure what type you had in mind, but you might want to save this for late KS depending on how things are going with your campaign. This can take a bit of time, usually has expenses related to it (like state filing fees etc.) and if the KS fails and keep continuing this as a hobby (or part time), you now have a business to file paperwork on annually that can be a big time sink.

Just some things to think about. Best of luck over the next few weeks. I'm looking forward to backing!
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« Reply #139 on: January 05, 2016, 04:42:17 AM »

Thanks for the feedback Jon - I have no idea what I'm doing so any advice is welcome!

Regarding point 1 - I was initially planning on hiring a video editor, but after looking into it I think this is likely to be out of budget, which means I'll be doing that myself so I definitely will start planning and thinking about that now. Same with the Kickstarter page, I'd kind of just put it on the schedule and forgotten about it but you're right; it needs to be given a little more love and attention than just being hacked together in the last couple of weeks.

Good points with 2 and 3 too.

Also I look forward to receiving your backing Wink and thanks for the advice  Coffee
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