Manus Burke's blog

On The Road Again!

This week saw 2/3 of Howling Hamster pack their machines into the car and hit the road to Dublin. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to be the official partners to Student-Talks, a national conference series for students and early career professionals. So we got to show off Sub-Species and Goldbeard’s Quest to about 300 students from all around the country and both games received a great reception. We have been tampering with the movement of the submarine lately, adding drift to its movement when you change direction and were worried about how players would receive the changes but everyone that tried the game really like the way the controls felt. We also got to roll out Goldbeard chest again with everyone at Student talk getting a key to try and open it. Just like Akumakon, it took most of the day before Soraya found the right key and won the bottle of wine locked inside.

 

 

 

Meanwhile back in the Hamster Cage, Trevor spent the week creating a new monster and working on getting the terrain fully polished. With our new aim to have a new demo for you all to try ready next month we are thinking of getting a cot for him to sleep at the office. With a new demo on the horizon we've been talking about how we should go about getting YouTubers to do playthroughs. We will be reaching out to the awesome legends that covered our demo we had last year during our Greenlight campaign OverworldTNTPig, Anxious Cynic, TheHysteriaMan, Kintinue, SDSK and JosNitros to name but a few.

While we’d love to get as many playthroughs as we can we are one again faced with the mystery of how to successfully contact YouTubers. While doing some research on this last week I came across a short, simple and excellent blog by Xavier Sythe:

What You Need To Know About YouTube Coverage - In 30 Seconds

(Definitely worth a look)


So if anyone has any tips, or if you're a YouTuber or know any YouTubers you think might be interested in doing a play through of Sub-Species please feel free to contact us and let us know.

User feedback – Where to get it and when to ignore it

So you're making a game and if you're anything like us that means you spend most of your time locked away in a room plugged directly into a game engine and mainlining coffee, and this is good and how it should be. But we've found that eventually you find yourself looking at your work wondering if it really is a good as you think it is or are you to close to it to judge it objectively, or have you possibly lost it completely and your ideas have now descended into the incoherent rantings of a lunatic.

As I will assume you are all aware, charter 1, page 1 of marketing your indie game is to build a community as you develop and to this end you will need to be posting your new concept art and videos on Facebook and Twitter as often as you can.

Here are a few of our favourite Facebook groups the we like to post about Sub-Species on.

  • Galway Games Development

  • Indie Game Developers

  • Irish Game Dev

  • Indie Game Developers ~Sunshine~

These are excellent avenues to get feedback and help keep you focused, but even these cannot stave of the demons of doubt that lurk at your shoulder eyeing up every new piece of artwork or game play mechanic that you come up with. I'm afraid to say that at this point there is only one thing to do, make a playable build of whatever you have, get out of the room and let people play it.
 

We're really lucky to have a vibrant Game Dev community here in Galway, Goblins and Grottos, Darkside Detective, TerraBoxman Begins, One Last Sunset and Runes Of Aran are just some of the games that are currently being made by local developers, and recently Romero Games has relocated to our little corner of the world. There's a meet up arranged every month for people to show off demos, share ideas and experiences or just have a few drinks and a laugh. This is a great place to start letting people try out your game, in our experience any critical feedback you do get is always constructive. So if you don't know about the local dev meet up in your area get out there and find it and if there isn't one, look for other local devs, they're out there and start one. You are not alone.

For us the next step with Sub-Species was making a working polished looking demo and trailer that to submit to Greenlight. For the first time we are showing your game to people that didn't know or care about us or the game. The players , the future customers and some of them love to let you know just how much they hate your game. It took me a full day to get over the first brutally negative comment that we received about Sub-Species on Greenlight, I was really surprised at how much it upset me. It wasn't until a wise man I know told me, everybody is entitled to their option their just not entitled to be right, that I started cheered up. Our experience with Greenlight was pretty similar to a lot of others we have heard about, great traffic and votes for the first 3 days and then you fall of the first page and its as if your game has been sucked into a blackhole, there is more life on Mars than on the second page of Greenlight.

 

We decided to try and generate traffic by attending gaming nights and conventions. We starting at a local weekly gaming event, The Galway Gaming Tribe, they are mostly about board game but also run Street Fighter and league of Legends nights. This got us used to talking to people about our game, not as easy as it sounds and something that everyone needs to get used to. After that we when to Gaming and Anime conventions around the country, including Brocon and Akumakon, IT fairs like Synapse and the Galway Science and Technology Festival, basically anyone that would have us, getting more and more people to try the game. We found this where we got the best feedback. Also got to see some of the greatest cosplayers ever.

    

It's easy to tell if someone likes the game, they're the ones that don't put the controller down and even come back later for a second go. On the other hand if someone tries the game and leave the control down after a minute and walks away quietly then you can be pretty confident they have not been won over. You will probably be tempted to run after them and asked they what they didn't like but just remember you can't please everyone and you will destroy your game if you try, so as long as you have enough of the players that don't put the controller down you'll be OK. It's the next day when you get back to the room and plug back in that you will have the pleasant and unexpected surprise of finding that you will be working with a completely renewed vigour and enthusiasm. As bad as the negative comments can be, I promise you'll be amazed at how good it feels to see someone smiling as they become completely engrossed in something that you have made. So don't deny yourself this, get your ass out there.

New box art for the new name

Less than a week to BroCon and there is panic in the dining room

Next weekend we’ll be traveling to Brocon to show off the new and improved Demo of Trench and the panic is starting to set in. The art department's hand has seized up a couple of times already this week trying to get the assets for the Arctic level completed, the IT department's computer has started to make sounds that are, to say the very least not encouraging, to be honest if it was a living creature the humane thing to do would be to put it out of its misery, and in the back of all our mind’s looms the fact that we’re doing a panel at Brocon.

None of us have every taken part in a panel and there is no point in denying that the idea fills us all with dread. We’re worried about everything, will anyone show up, if anyone does show up will they be packing rotten fruit, what in the world will we talk about or what happens when we’re asked a question that we have no idea how to answer. There is just no shaking the feeling that this could turn out to be a train wreck, come to think of it I suppose that might be reason enough for people turn up.

So if you are in the area next weekend please pop in to Brocon and give the new demo a go and anyone with an interest in watching us make complete spanners out of ourselves the panel is on at 5pm on Saturday.

In for repairs

The Sub is in dry dock getting repairs between missions. We have started work on the inventory scene at last laugh

Howling Hamster's first birthday

They say time flies when you're having fun, well I can tell you it also flies when 3 of you are crammed in a tiny room trying to work out things like why your submarine is passing straight through the bloody mesh colliders or why the hell a model that was behaving perfectly well in Blender decide to turn itself inside out when you imported it to Unity.

Anyway suffice to say we were a little surprised when we got the email telling us that our website's domain name was due for its annual renewal. We had always intended on keeping a regular development blog and we certainly have a fair few posts in the blog on the website but to be completely honest that’s just a series of images with a few one line descriptions, so we've decided it is high time we tried to rectify that and we're going to start off by filling you in on what’s gone on, answering some questions that people have asked us and what lessons we have learned in our first year in development.

Where did the name Howling Hamster come from?

We spent 3 days wandering the coffee shops of Galway developing a good strong caffeine addiction and leeching of their free wifi, this was in the days before we found the Hamster’s lair, trying to come up with a name for our game dev enterprise. First we each drew up a list of all the cool names we could think of, checked if the domain names were available, they weren't, and then dumped them. Then there was the list of funny, weird, gothic, Irish and even misspelled names, gone. It was half way through day 3 that the name Howling Hamster popped up, to be honest it wasn't meant to be a serious suggestion , if I recall correctly it came along with the line, “I know it's ridiculous but I bet the domain isn't taken”. A quick domain search, a declaration from the art department that the logo draws itself and Howling Hamster Games was born.

The Development begins.

More days, more coffee shops and of course McSwiggan’s pub, which was fast being our main base for creative development, and we eventually had a working concept for Trench. The previous project we had worked on had been an app game so it seemed natural to us to develop this game as an app. While each of us worked from home on the new app we were also doing as much research as possible on marketing, which we still seem to know nothing about. So after 3 months work we came up with the conclusion that a small dev team like us, working on a zero budget, had little to no chance of successfully marketing an app game. So we decided to bin the 3 months work, start on a PC version and aim for Greenlight on Steam. Sweet God I can't tell you how much that hurt, but just like that development began again.

Here are a few screenshots from the scrapped app.

  

The Plan

Ya got to have a plan. Ours was to make a polished single level alpha demo as quickly as possible, submit for greenlight, if it get a favourable response we continue development, if not we all get job application forms from the local supermarket. At this point we had found the Hamster’s Lair, otherwise known as my nephew’s dining room and were all working together 8 hours a day, how long could it possibly take to knock out a single simple concept level.  As long as we stuck to the deadlines we set we would find out if we had a viable without investing too much time in something that we might have to scrap.

Deadlines

Deadlines are vital in the development process, it is the only way to insure that a project doesn't meander on and on forever. I feel it only fair to point out that we never came within a donkey’s roar of actually hitting a deadline but it was still useful to have something to work towards.

The Game Announcement

As quick as possible turned out to be 6 months and at this point only a group of heavily armed men have a chance at convincing us to drop this project, so we held our breath and submit the game to Greenlight and put the demo online for download everywhere we could. The first few days were great, we got were getting a great yes percentage on Steam, good viewing and download numbers for the demo on GameJolt and lots of positive comments on both sites.

We had put together a list of over 300 Youtubers and press sites and we got down to the joyous task of emailing them all and asking them to take a look at the demo. The response was something I was genuinely not prepared for, the silence was deafening. It really does make you feel a little sick deep down in the pit of your stomach. It took nearly a week and then some articles and let’s play videos started to appear. It’s such an incredible feeling to read a really positive review of your work, it really makes all the work you put in feel like it was worth it. It’s not quite as strong as the murderous rage you feell at the first negative comment you get but it’s best on to dwell on them

Then after 3 days we went to page 2 of the recently added Greenlight games, which as far as Steam Greenlight goes is the same as strapping your game to a rocket and firing it into a black hole. We stopped holding our breath and got back to work. On the upside the views and download continued at a good rate on Gamejolt.

The exact criteria for getting through Steam Greenlight are pretty much like the 3rd secret of Fatima, but what every they are we meet them and after 57 days on Steam  we have been Greenlite. YeeHaw.

So that pretty much brings us up to date with where we are and I promise that we won’t wait another year before updating the blog.

The work continues

Having released the Pre-Alpha demo we are back in the acid mine working on a much more complete demo.

Here is a screenshot of the Arctic Trench we are working on at the moment