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Dev Blog (Steamy)
Hey gang! This time we have a whole gaggle of cool stuff. Things I’ve been holding onto because I wanted to make sure everything was ready to go.
Go ahead and check it out. I’ll wait.
Saw it? Well, you might have noticed something special. A new launch date! We still have a few big things we want to implement, but we officially have a road map to completion.
(After consulting with Crow’s assistant, Becky.)
We decided on the date January 23rd. Nefarious has a lot to explore and we couldn’t help but create additional content and even include a few stretch goals. This gives us the time we need to finish up, and some additional time for polishing the entire experience.
And it lines up with the date Pax South usually falls on, and we do love Pax around here.
All in all, I can’t wait for you guys to play it. Thanks to your contributions we’ve managed to put together a game that I love. We’ve met a few backers at various conventions, and so far they’ve also given their seal of approval after playing.
So drop by and give it a follow. Below is a taste of some of the new goodies you’ll come across there.
What’s going on in these shots? I’ll never tell! But feel free to speculate.
The History of Nefarious
Nefarious has been through a lot of iterations dating back from the time the idea was first conceived. It was the late 2000′s. The aughts! 2007 I believe. When a younger me was goofing off at work and playing a fun little flash game about controlling a mouse cursor and making your way through a dungeon.
It was fun! But I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like with better graphics and expanded gameplay. That’s when I cooked up the very first concepts for a cool looking game that combined this medieval aesthetic with modern technology. Originally Crow was the villain. The actual villain, and the player took on the role of Mack. The typical hero.
You can see a lot of elements of Crow 1.0 in this early illustration that make it to the final version. He lost his cape, sword and long black hair along the way.
Also pictured above is the first Becky sketch. It seems in both iterations she was destined to be the players majordomo.
The game was originally going to be 3d, top down. With you controlling various Mack’s as they run around doing their thing. You would be avoiding enemies, pressing buttons, triggering traps and over all just cooperating with your recordings.
These were the very first Crow minions. Back when he primarily employed robots to do his bidding. This was eventually changed when Crow became the villain protagonist. We thought the idea of a human hench force had more potential for humor.
A lot of work went into the early development stages of Nefarious, back when the working title was Macro. 3d models were made, environments crafted. Here you can see an early Becky model. (Back then we used the name Vivi as a place holder.)
As you can see, in comparison to her original illustration, Becky is beginning to show her trademark deadpan personality.
And then I produced this sketch.
It began as a thought exercise. There are games about being a villain, but very few that really effect the gameplay. It’s usually a story device. So what would a game about inverting the rescue the princess trope be like? How does being a villain inform game mechanics? That’s where we arrived at the idea of kidnapping a princess every level as the primary objective and the different ways that the princesses altered the game.
Though we were still finding our footing and playing around with styles. As seen below we have our early check point system. A kindly coffee kiosk (dark roast, of course) That would replenish your health and save your progress.
This is a lot closer to the modern day Nefarious. However, the illustrated style being applied to characters ended up being prohibitively long to produce. Which is what lead us to eventually going to a more Saturday morning cartoon style of toon shaded characters, on illustrated backdrops.
Above we have the last stop. An illustrated backdrop and the last incarnation of Crow before he would go through one more design change.
And finally we arrived at Nefarious as it appears today in 2016.
Well that should wrap this particular chapter of the history of Nefarious. In future updates I may go over the more recent developments such as how we design reverse boss fights or the aesthetic evolution of each princess.
Stay tuned for more!
The Villain Museum
(*Did you know we have a Facebook page? You’ll get to see a lot of screenshots and art that don’t make the updates if you give it a like.)
(If Facebook isn’t your thing. We’re also on Twitter.)
Today’s post comes with a special sneak peak at some additional content. This stage rest outside the games primary levels. I’ve been calling it a “lore level” because it’s less about kidnapping and action, and more about just learning a little more about the world of Nefarious. It features exhibits from each land and goes a little more into the background of some of the princesses and their kingdoms.
It’s also something of a ‘intermission’ where your minions and the princesses you’ve kidnapped so far take shore leave from your ship. Of course, Crow is one of the museums many benefactors. So naturally, he has an entire wing dedicated to himself and his evil empire. It just isn’t a proper villain museum without him.
And there are plenty more little secrets to be discovered during this pit stop from the main adventure.
Wanted to also take a moment to give a huge thanks for Cyphacon! First, for inviting me as a guest of your lovely convention. Second, for being extra attentive and making sure the Nefarious booth got everything it needed in order to fully show off the game. We demoed Ariella’s stage during the show and overall I considered it a big hit. I even got to meet a few backers which is always awesome.
We had a real princess manning our booth during the event. My beautiful fiancée Miss Marquin.
A princess kidnapping princesses.
Even lil-Spiderman knows it’s fun to play the bad guy every now and then.
Until next time, stay frosty!
Hey guys! Checking in with our monthly update with some cool stuff. We’ve been collaborating with our poster artist, the wonderfully talented Gashi-Gashi, to put something together that you guys are going to like.
We’ve recently come up with a sketch that we both agree is pretty rocking. Please keep in mind this is not the final poster, it’s a rough draft. It’s a good indication of what the final piece is going to turn out like.
So, Mastermind and Megalomaniac Tier backers have something pretty cool coming their way. For everyone else, we will try to open up a method to buy the poster separately. It’s just a little too cool to keep to ourselves.
We’re happy to report Ariella’s stage is at 95% completion, all that remains in some implementation on the reverse boss fight. Art wise we’ve already moved on to Princess Tephra and her lava kingdom.
The kingdom of Winterdown, Ariella’s lands have been very fun to work on. It’s the first part of Crow’s adventure that doesn’t quite go the way he planned. I also think the music turned out fantastic. Matthew composed something that deviates a little from the normal stage music. It’s our first track that has lyrics in it. Here, give it a listen and let me know what you think.
Fun Fact: The lyrics aren’t just gibberish. They’re actually Princess Ariella’s full name. Princess Alisa Aglaya Anushka Ariella Alena Angelina Avdota Alexandra! Don’t hesitate to call.
A Cold Wind Blows
very appropriate that the level we’ve been hard at work on has been the ice stage, considering how cold it’s been out lately. Ariella is a princess of the north, and the landscapes of her kingdom are covered in ice and snow. But the dwarves of Winterdown have always been a hardy folk. Progress has been well, we are at about 50% completion of this stage and we have a few screenshots to show for it to keep you in the loop.
Ammo shortages in Winterdown have led to unconventional bullets.
You shall not pass.
To wrap this update up, I wanted to mention our composer Matthew Taranto just sent me a rough draft of the music for this stage. It’s not quite ready to be shown yet, but I think you guys are going to like it!
PaxSouth was our first time exhibiting a playable demo of our game, Nefarious, the game where you get to play a bad guy, and your objective on each stage is to kidnap a princess. The booth was graciously provided by our incubator program Level up Labs.
The event was overall immensly positive. I had feared going into the exhibit that the days would be marked with our team sitting around as our game went unplayed. What we weren’t prepared for however, was a queue of people that wanted to play the game that seemed to never end until the expo hall closed.
Here are some of the top mistakes we made and what others can learn from our experience.
1. We weren’t prepared for success.
This was by far the biggest problem. We didn’t know what the turn out would be, though we expected it to be big. What we didn’t expect was that it was going to break the record for the biggest turn out for a first year pax. So there was a combination of large audience, plus a lot of people really liked our game! This was the root of our problem because it branches out to create the other obstacles we faced.
2. There was no limit on play time.
This ended up being a big problem. People didn’t want to put our game down. Throughout Nefarious we have various small goals the player can accomplish before they set out to complete the next. First, reach the princess. Second, escape with her. Third, thwart a hero. It was a basic three act structure that was really keeping people motivated to keep going. Once you couple that with the fact that our game is fairly difficult; it was taking the average player thirty minutes to beat a stage.
This wasn’t working. That meant someone would have to stay in line for an hour if two people were ahead of them. This caused a lot of people to wait and watch, but ultimately leave. We needed to get the average play time down to five to ten minutes tops.
What could we do to fix this?
We discussed adding a timer that gave them an allotted time to beat the level. But then we decided what would work best is a convention only three-life system. That way it would let the player dictate the pace without adding an imposing restriction. If they died, they would feel like it was their own fault instead of being something they had no control over.
3. We only brought one station to play at.
We thought a single station would be enough. But, during the convention I kept thinking how awesome it would be if we could accomodate more than a single player at a time. The math would add up really quickly. If we got our average play time down to five or ten minutes, with two stations; We wouldn’t have had nearly as many people who had to wait in line and ultimately step out due to the length of play time. Simple fix, just set up a second place to play.
4. We didn’t bring water and cough drops.
You should have an elevator pitch for your game but the preparation doesn’t stop there. You need to be ready for the ordeal of giving that pitch to hundreds of people in a loud room with a lot of background noise and what it will do to you. It will take its’ toll on your speaking apparatus. Water at conventions is pricey. (3$ a pop) And you will go through it very quickly. Bring your own twelve pack of water and keep it under the table and nurse it throughout the entire convention and pop cough drops as neccesary.
By the second day your mouth will feel like the Sahara. That’s when we went out and got our own water so we wouldn’t be at the mercy of the nearby concession stand. But we should have had it on day one.
5. We didn’t bring enough business cards.
Foolishly, I thought one hundred cards was enough. That was a mistake. We ran out of cards near the beginning of the second day. We met tons of other exhibitors, press, streamers and even just fans who wanted to stay in touch. And it really bites to meet that exhibitor or streamer you’re a fan of, and you have nothing to give them except a scrap of paper with your email hastily written onto it with a pen.
I now believe the magic number of cards needed is five hundred. With that many cards, we could have some left over when the convention is over. Then when we replenish for the next show, we’ll need to buy a little less. So long as your stock hovers around that number I think you’re well prepared for the convention.
What did we get right?
1. We had a polished game experience.
Nefarious is by no means complete. At the time of this writing we’ve only begun development three and a half months ago. Considering our illustrated backgrounds and classically animated characters, it takes a while to get things done. So Instead of getting a quanity of multiple stages, we focused on the quality of a single stage and tried to ensure the complete experience could be found there. It was our vertical slice, and our goal was to make it appear as though we took a section out of what must be a completed game.
This sometimes meant creating the illusion that a system was completely implemented. When in reality our goal was to simply show what we wanted to do. Such as our grading system for how well someone does in a stage. It kept track of how long it took to get through a level, how many times the player had to respawn. It just didn’t store it anywhere. This is fine for conventions, since these players don’t necessarily care whether their run-time was recorded. They just want to see what the game is all about, what it does and how it plays.
2. Logistically, we were prepared.
Theres a lot of little things that can go wrong with your booth space and we had answers for almost all of it. We had a box that had everything we could possibly need to not only make sure our presentation was up to snuff, but also allowed us to be good neighbors with our boothmates and nearby exhibitors if they needed anything. Suction cup hooks, sharpies, vinyl rope, zip ties, duct tape, bobby pins, scissors, tylenol, and tums. We had all the basics.
If someones sign fell down? Duct tape and zip-tie it back into place. Someone need an impromptu sign? Sharpies, scissors and duct tape. Have a headache from that PAX day one after party? Tylenol.
We also brought ample snacks so we could stay where we wanted to be (at our booth) longer before needing to go to lunch. Though I found there was precious little time to sit down and eat.
3. We had a large banner featuring our art.
This one might seem obvious, but I saw a few exhibitors who didn’t have a banner to give people passing by an impression on their game. They only had a laptop and a controller. We received several comments from people that they saw our banner and liked the art. It created curiosity and gave a very brief impression on what sort of game it was. I think having some kind of banner should be an absolute must-have. It also helps make your booth look less sterile, and more inviting.
Even with all the people who didn’t get to play because of long play-times, they at least got to see our banner. So hopefully when they see it again, they’ll recognize it as a game they wanted to check out at Pax.
As you can see below, we made sure to make it elevated. So others could see it above the crowd.
4. We had a way to let people know about our game later.
We took down email addresses of everyone who seemed interested in the game. This was invaluable. With such a tight budget (50,000 from our Kickstarter) nearly all of our funds go into development rather than advertising. So it’s very important for us to have a method of directly contacting our fans when we’re a little closer to launching our full title. A lot of people have this belief that they’ll just happen to run across your game when it launches; but since you probably aren’t EA or Valve, they have to count on randomly checking steam on the day you happen to launch and show up under new releases.
That just isn’t likely to happen, so really stress the importance of getting the email, while keeping them at ease that you won’t spam them. (And then follow up by making sure you actually don’t spam them.)
We recorded our emails with old-fashion clipboard and paper. But for future conventions we will mostly certainly get a security cord for a tablet device and let people enter their email digitally. This would have saved us hours of transcribing several hundreds of emails with varying degrees of legibility. Spending money to save time is almost always a worthwhile investment.
5. We networked with other exhibitors.
Pax was unique for us in a few ways. We were excited to hear our Kickstarter mates were also exhibiting. Game projects who ran their Kickstarters at the exact same time as us, that we had some cross-promotion with. We had all achieved our funding, and it was awesome to see each others games and attach faces and names to those projects. We’ve taken to calling ourselves the Kickstarter Graduating Class of 2014. (Much love to Tadpole Treble, Road Redemption, Hive Jump and Adventures of Pip.)
But we also networked with other studios. Many of which who are perfectly willing to share the contact info of their contractors, voice actors, artist, programmers. Therefore increasing the pool of talent you have easy access to. Also it’s just a great way to make like-minded friends.
So there you have our five things we did right and wrong at PaxSouth. We hope that if you are preparing to exhibit your indie game, that our list has been of use to you and perhaps illuminated an aspect of your set up you haven’t considered.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a little about our project for those who stuck it out the entire article.
Nefarious is the game about being a villain. Your goal in each stage is to kidnap a princess, and thwart a hero. Each princess has a different effect on your movement in some way. At the end of each stage we have what we call reverse boss fights. Where instead of being the small hero fighting a big guy who takes up the entire screen. You become the guy who takes up the entire screen trying to squash a little hero.
At its’ core it’s about inverting the ‘rescue the princess’ trope. But at the same time, dissecting it, and really taking a closer look at it.
It was funded on Kickstarter at the beginning of October with a goal of $50,000 and has already been greenlit on steam. Our goal is to have it available for PC, Mac, Linux and Wii U at launch.
Our website can be viewed at www.nefariousgame.com where we have a press-kit, updates and slacker backer options for those who may want to snag our last few Kickstarter exclusive rewards.
Thank you for your time.
Written by Josh Hano
Josh Hano is the project lead, animator and illustrator on Nefarious.
Under normal circumstances, Crow may be out there stealing Christmas, like every good bad guy should. Luckily for us, he’s far too busy trying to escape with Princess Apoidea. As the year wraps up, we are also in the process of wrapping up the Insektia Kingdom level. An important milestone as getting here required implementation of a lot of global systems we can use in other levels.
We also wanted to leave you with this preview gif of this levels reverse boss fight. Before you can away with Apoidea, her kingdoms designated hero shows up to try and stop you. And here we decided, every good villain needs a flying pod. Preferably with a giant wrecking ball attached.
Bad weather just seems to follow villains around, doesn’t it? In this reverse boss fight, the hero ‘Dash’ attempts to bash your pod. Your objective is to knock him off his honey comb pillars and then go full on Wreck-it Crow on him.
PAX South – San Antonio, TX January 23-25, 2015
Are you in the southern United States? Are you gonna make your way to PAX South in San Antonio? Well good news everybody! Nefarious will be at PAX South with a playable level. Nefarious will be at the Level UP lab booth. Come meet the team, and play the game.
In a future update, we’ll try to include a booth map to show where we’ll be. Hope to see you there!