Weekly Recap - Week of 8/23
As the title implies, we’re switching it up a bit and we’re going to start providing weekly updates on our progress on The Stifling Dark. To be honest, this is just as much for us as it is for you. This will give us a timeline of how the development went leading up to the Kickstarter and beyond, while also keeping you informed of where we’re at. Hello future self!
Anyways, the biggest thing we focused on this week was actually an idea that first arose from some discussions we had during Gen Con. It’s hard to believe that was a month ago, but we’re finally getting serious about bringing it to life. Someone mentioned that we should have a sort of tutorial version for first-time players that simplified the game a bit so that it was easier for beginners.
We had gotten some other feedback that there was a bit of a rules overload at the start of the game, which is definitely a fair point. It probably didn’t help that we were trying to rush through the rules to start playing since we had a limited amount of time, but nonetheless we agreed that a tutorial version was an excellent idea.
After some more discussion between the three of us, we landed on creating a simpler map, a more basic Adversary, and easier objectives. That way the tutorial version would still introduce players to a lot of the core concepts while removing some of the extra rules to decrease the complexity. We’re also limiting how many actions the Investigators have in order to further decrease the initial learning curve. Don’t worry, we’ll still have the flashlight mechanic!
We’re planning on distributing this tutorial version once we’re finished so people who are interested in playtesting the game can get their hands on it (and so we can get some feedback). We want to make sure everyone’s voices are heard, since that will lead to a better experience for both of us. We’ll be sure to make an announcement once that’s ready to roll! See what I did there? I italicized it, so I really hope so.
Aside from the tutorial version, we also spent some time discussing manufacturing, shipping/fulfillment, warehousing, and other fun logistical things. We’re keeping a very close eye on our timelines to ensure we’re staying on track for a Kickstarter early next year, and we have quite a bit to do between now and then.
Lastly, we’re putting the finishing touches on the flashlight revisions that we discussed in last week’s blog post. As surprising as this is, we actually haven’t playtested since Gen Con since we’ve been so busy making changes based on the feedback we received. Once we finish up the flashlight updates we plan on getting back to playtesting so we can test how the changes are working.
That’s about it for this week, but stay tuned since we’ll plan on posting these updates weekly on Fridays going forward. We’ll still sprinkle in some other blog posts about specific aspects of The Stifling Dark or about game design in general, but they won’t be quite as often.
Over and out,
The Evolution of Flashlights
We knew early on that the flashlights were going to be one of the main selling points of our game, so we also knew that we had to make sure they were unique, fun, and comprehensible. It turns out they were also one of the most complicated things to develop. Isn’t it funny how that works out?
The flashlights have been one of the most-changed aspects of the game so far, both in number of times changed and in the magnitude of the changes. If you’ve been a diligent reader of our blog (we see you), you’ll remember that we initially started out with a square grid on our map. We started out sketching our ideas for the flashlights to see how they could work.
There was a lot of debate about the right way to handle line of sight with the flashlights, as well as how many different flashlights we should have and how big each of them should be. After much discussion, we developed our first digital versions of the flashlights. Those bad boys looked something like this:
Despite looking like they belonged in an 8-bit video game, they got the job done. That is, until you wanted to point the flashlight in any direction other than directly up, down, left, or right. Seeing as we didn’t want to limit the direction the flashlights could look, it was back to the drawing board. At first we tried to make alternate versions that worked diagonally, but we decided we also didn’t want to have two different versions of each flashlight.
We eventually realized that a square grid probably wasn’t the best option for what were trying to do. Ignoring the brief stint we had with hexes, we ended up going with circles that were arranged in a hex pattern. Once we landed on the map layout, it was time to start sketching yet again.
Now that we had a map pattern that was conducive to rotation in multiple directions, it made designing the shape of the flashlights a bit easier. A couple triangles later, we had our shapes. That was the easy part, though. Now it was time to figure out line of sight.
As seen in the previous images, we initially had both horizontal and vertical lines drawn on the flashlights to help with line of sight. The horizontal lines were meant to illustrate where your flashlight beam ended based on which section the obstacle intersected, and the vertical lines showed you which spaces would be deemed visible.
The flashlights looked rather busy, so we thought long and hard until we realized the horizontal lines weren’t necessary because the obstacles themselves could act as the horizontal lines. In other words, no spaces after an obstacle were visible. All you had to do was trace one of the flashlight lines back to your character without hitting an obstacle, and you were good!
These are the only flashlights we’ve used since we began playtesting publicly, and overall the feedback from the players was pretty good. The people who played the Adversary, however, had a slightly different opinion. It was a bit too easy for the other players to coordinate and cover huge areas with their flashlights, so we very recently decided to trim the flashlights down a bit. Here’s a sneak peek at one option for our new and improved small flashlight:
One additional thing I want to discuss is when players are allowed to use the flashlights. Up until now, flashlight usage was limited by which actions you took. Certain actions, like picking up or using an item, prevented you from using your flashlight.
This forced the player to choose between grabbing a potentially useful item or protecting themselves with their flashlight, which was a choice we really enjoyed. However, it also led to a lot of confusion around when you could or couldn’t use your flashlight, and it was somewhat common for there to be some rounds with no flashlights on the board at all.
After a great suggestion from one of our playtesters at Gen Con, we decided to work on revising flashlight usage to tie it to a new charge system. The core concept is that you can use your flashlight pretty much whenever, but each time you use it you have to spend a charge. This way it’s a simpler concept, allows more flexibility, and is more realistic. We’re excited to see how these changes pan out in future playtests!
Oh, and one last thing before I sign off. I couldn’t leave without acknowledging our favorite flashlight that [n]ever was. I present to you, the 180-degree flashlight:
The picture doesn’t do it justice, but that monstrosity you just saw was one iteration of the square grid flashlights. To be honest, it didn’t take long to rule that one out. If we were having problems with our smaller flashlights covering too much ground, I can only imagine how annoying this beast would’ve been. Good riddance!
See you next time,
PS: Sorry Ethan, I know you really loved your 180-degree flashlight. It’s time to let it go.
Choosing a Board Game Manufacturer
I’m switching things up a bit with this post, as I’m going to be talking about the broader game industry / game design as opposed to our specific game. Well that… and this one is a bit longer and doesn’t have any pictures. Sorry in advance! Anyways, there are two primary things we want to accomplish with our blog – the first is to educate fans about our game, and the second is to educate other developers about the board game industry.
Before I say anything else, I want to share an important disclaimer – I AM NOT AN EXPERT. I’m going to be talking about my personal experiences in these areas, and you should not take my advice as the absolute truth, nor should you go out and spend a bunch of money creating a game without doing additional research. This is intended to be a resource, not an insanely thorough end-to-end guide for designing a board game.
Now that that’s out of the way, if you’ve been following our posts you will have realized the first few posts were all focused on our game. I think it’s about time we give the second category some love. The reason that second category is so important is that we want to give back to the community – we couldn’t have done even half of what we’ve done so far without the amazing resources that are out there.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jamey Stegmaier or James Mathe, who created two of the top resources that we have been referencing throughout our journey. James unfortunately passed away a little over a year ago, but the articles he has written and advice he has shared will live on forever. I can only hope our blog can help even a fraction of the people that James and Jamey have helped.
OK, now it’s time to get down to business. As obvious as it is, it’s worth mentioning that the manufacturer you choose is perhaps one of the most important (and expensive) decisions you will make while designing a board game. If you choose poorly, you could not only lose out on a ton of money but also severely affect your future in the board game industry (if you still have enough money left to give it another shot, that is).
In my mind, a good manufacturer is much more than just the one with the best price. Sure, lower costs are great, but what’s the payoff? Perhaps the most important thing to consider is how they treat their workers. This may be something that is hard to see on the surface, but if you do enough digging or ask enough questions you’ll eventually get some answers. Thankfully it seems like this issue is starting to gain more visibility, but it is unfortunately still an issue in many countries.
Another oft-overlooked attribute is customer service. Responding to emails in a timely manner is one thing, but actually reading your emails (as opposed to “reading” them), answering your questions, and providing advice is an entirely different thing. To some manufacturers, you may just be another overzealous designer whose games will never see the light of day. To others, you may be a valuable customer no matter how big or small your game gets.
You should also consider looking at what games each manufacturer has produced. Many game manufacturers proudly display the games they have manufactured right on their website, so if you are familiar with any of the games you can easily check the quality and use that as a reference point when communicating with the manufacturer.
Other companies have zero mention of what games they’ve produced so you’ll have to do some digging. If you still can’t find anything, you can always contact them and ask. Alternatively, you can grab one of your favorite games and check the box or credits to see who manufactured it!
Make sure you also check the reviews of potential manufacturers. Don’t just go with someone because they’re cheap, the quality looks good, or they made a game you like. Read up on forums and blogs to see what other people’s experiences have been like. A day or two worth of searching can save you months (and possibly years) of headaches later on.
Lastly, there are the more tactical things to consider: minimum order quantity (MOQ), lead time, and manufacturing country.
MOQs are an important deciding factor depending on how many copies you plan to produce. If you’re planning on producing tens of thousands of games this will be a non-issue for you, but if your game is going to have a limited run or is for a more niche market you’ll need to pay attention to each manufacturer’s MOQ. Note that there can be MOQs both for the total number of games as well as for individual components, so make sure you ask about both.
On the flip-side of MOQs are potential capacity constraints. This is a much less common issue than not being able to hit an MOQ, but there are cases where a given manufacturer either has too many projects going on or can’t support the number of units the designer wants to create. Make sure you’re up front about timing and quantity to avoid any potential issues down the road.
If you are in a time crunch, you’ll need to put much more emphasis on the lead time. There are multiple different lead times to consider, but the manufacturing and shipping processes will be two of the longest. Lead times are the amount of time it will take the manufacturer to sign off on your artwork and files, create a prototype and send it to you, and then manufacture and ship your game (among other things).
The lead time is largely determined by the country where the manufacturer actually does the manufacturing. Just because a manufacturer has an office in the US does not mean that they manufacture their games in the US. If they do, you’ll have significantly lower lead times (assuming you are shipping to the US) but you’ll generally pay a premium as a result.
Before I close it out, I wanted to mention that this post has largely focused on “standard” manufacturers. There are also print on demand (POD) manufacturers, which may be a better option depending on the type of game you are making (especially if it’s a card game). I’m not very well versed in them, but there are plenty of resources available online so I’d recommend checking those out to see if POD is the right way to go for your game.
Hopefully this provided some useful tips for our fellow game developers, and remember that we will continue posting articles like this on a fairly regular basis going forward. If you have any questions feel free to post down in the comments and we’ll be happy to help you out!
Gen Con, Part Two
Gen Con Online was an incredible experience, and we’re extremely thankful we were able to jump in at the last minute and have our game played by over 30 people. In this post I’ll walk through some of the things we learned last weekend, both about our game and about Tabletop Simulator (TTS).
For starters, we were very happy to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback for the game. We know our game is far from finished and nowhere near perfect, but it was reassuring that there weren’t any glaring issues or super negative feedback.
Our playtesters generally said the game was unique, fun, and (perhaps most importantly) tense. Remember that phrase I’ve been saying over and over? No? I’ll say it again: The Stifling Dark is a horror board game designed to bring true tension to the table. Don’t just take it from me though! Here are a few of the comments from our playtesters:
Positive feedback is always great, but negative / constructive feedback is even more important. We heard common themes that we should update the names for both the Victims and the Stalker, which we will be doing. There was also some confusion around the Adversary’s abilities and movement, so we will work to make that more transparent.
It also came through loud and clear that there is a fairly steep learning curve to start the game, which we very well may have lost sight to with how many times we’ve played the game. One fantastic suggestion that we will be implementing is creating a “tutorial” version of the game to try on your first playthrough that limits the rules while still introducing you to the core mechanics and preparing you for the full game.
There were a host of other comments and feedback that we will be reviewing over the coming weeks. Some of the feedback were things we had actually already discussed (like weapons to fight back against the Adversary or additional maps / Adversaries), but many of the comments were things we had not thought of before. Either way, all of the feedback was helpful and will be a huge asset going forward.
The feedback wasn’t just about our game though – we also learned a lot about TTS! We learned about the Search ability within a deck, which means we don’t need to lay all the cards out face-up anymore and try to hide which cards we take from the Adversary. We also learned about the Team Chat, which will give us a way to communicate without the Adversary cheating - I mean listening. PS why is there no strikethrough option on here?
Another great TTS nugget we learned was that you can hit U to force an object underneath other objects, which is super handy for flashlight placement. This is quite useful when you have a bunch of players near each other and you have to place a flashlight on top of them. No more flashlight juggling!
Scripting was also discussed a bit, and we’re honestly still on the fence about that. We fully acknowledge it would make the TTS implementation go much more smoothly, but at the same time it might hide real-world problems. Since we can’t playtest in person at the moment, we want the TTS version to match the real-world version as much as possible. As such, we’re leaning towards leaving scripting out for now but adding it in for the official digital version when that comes out.
All that said, we want to thank the team at Gen Con, the folks at Double Exposure, and all the amazing people that tried out our game. While we wish our company’s first Gen Con experience could’ve been in person, this was the next best thing that could’ve happened and we are thankful for that. We will definitely be back next year, online or not!