Dev General ramblings

So long

I’ve been working on the demo for Lucy Dreaming since May 2020 and have a bit of a confession to make. I actually finished it last year.

I managed to get it all designed, voiced, developed and tested all ready to adorn my Kickstarter campaign.

The feedback from everyone was very positive, the humour, styling and gameplay have been well received and I was ready to get started with the next phase of the plan.

Very good. So where’s this bloody demo then?

Ah yes, well…here’s the thing.

I made the mistake of playing the new demo from a friend of mine. Fellow indie developer and all round nice chap Jonas Fisch from Common Colors.

The demo in question was PRIM, and if you haven’t played it yet you need to. It’s a stunning piece of work, and incidentally created using the same Visionaire game engine as Lucy Dreaming.

Image copyright © Common Colors 2021. All rights reserved.

In fact, go and Wishlist it now, then come back.

Have you done that?

Good, you won’t regret it.

So, by now you will have seen the quality of Jonas’ work. The incredible orchestral soundtrack, the gorgeous high-resolution graphics and professional voice overs. It’s really slick.

So, what was it about playing this new demo that put a spanner in my own works? Was I losing confidence in my art-direction? Questioning the narrative? Seething with jealousy? (well obviously, but that’s not why).

It’s all about length.

I’m not blowing my own pointy, clicky trumpet, but I managed to complete the PRIM demo in a very short amount of time.

I’d waited months to play it and it was over so quickly for me.

But what hit me was that I didn’t mind at all. It just made me super-excited to not only play the full game, but also ensure that it happens by becoming a backer on Kickstarter when its campaign launches.

I reflected on my own demo and knew deep down that it was too long. In terms of gameplay, it was bordering on 6-8 times the length of the PRIM demo!

Originally I saw myself as being generous with my demo, and giving players a “proper” taste of the game, but I was beginning to realise that I was probably giving a lot of potential backers too much.

Many would likely assume that they’d have to pay for and replay the same two hours of demo gameplay in the full game (yawn), or feel like their appetite for the game had already been satiated.

If you have been reading this blog since last year, you may remember the poll I conducted asking about the perfect length for a demo.

  • Me: How long should my demo be?
  • You: Half an hour please.
    Months pass.
  • Me: Here you go…it’s two hours.
  • You: You’re an idiot.

I like to think that this wasn’t arrogance on my part – assuming that the people who took the time to answer my survey didn’t know what was good for them – more so, it was a result of inexperience and over-enthusiasm.

When I started planning out the demo it was going to be about four times bigger even than that. I didn’t really know how long my puzzles would take people to complete. It could have been 10 minutes or 10 hours.

So I cut down to about 25% of the size and thought “That looks about right.” whilst still worrying that it might be too short.

I’m also a bugger for adding more stuff in as I think of it, which only serves to make it even longer.

When the test reports started coming back, the average play-time was closer to two hours, but my inexperienced self was still relatively happy with that. I was forgetting a simple clichéd truth about marketing.

Always leave them wanting more.

And the demo?

After this revelation I decided to create a brand new demo which was much shorter and had completely new puzzles. Introducing the characters, style and humour without any spoilers for the full game.

Screenshot from the new demo.

This has the added benefit that I now have around two hours of gameplay for the full game already in the bank.

I am also more experienced in judging puzzles, using the Visionaire game engine and drawing/animating pixel art, plus I already have so many of the time-consuming assets already created (namely the scenes and characters).

Screenshot from the new demo.

This all means that the new demo is practically finished already. It has been tested by a number of people and the play-time is ranging from 30-60 minutes. Much better (although admittedly still bordering on the long side).

The next stages in the process are getting my core marketing tenets sorted and using them to get a proper video trailer produced before releasing the demo on Steam, Itch and GameJolt.

So watch this space!

Tom x

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