Con of the North Recap
Don’t worry, we’re still here! We’ve been busy preparing for (and decompressing from) Con of the North over the past few weeks and are happy to say that the convention was a success. We learned from Gen Con that having 12 events was a bit much for an online convention since it’s just the three of us, so we scaled it back a bit and only had 4. For some reason we still decided to have three events on the same day though, so we may never learn.
Anyways, we got to meet a number of cool folks that took a leap of faith to play our game and (thankfully) ended up enjoying it. As with Gen Con, we got some great feedback about the game and actually learned even more about TTS from our players. Some of the feedback we received will help clarify certain components of the game, such as having double-sided tokens for certain things and adding an additional player aid, and other feedback will help make our TTS playthroughs easier by preventing certain unfavorable collisions that have been plaguing us for a while.
Perhaps our favorite feedback of all was something that one of our playtesters, David, said in our post-game survey:
This game replaces Last Friday for me. It does everything I wanted in that game and more.
These are the kinds of things that mean a lot to us as designers, especially since that hit on our core objective for The Stifling Dark. Our goal of creating a horror board game that brings true tension to the table is essential to the experience of the game. The feedback we received about the game creating the feeling of fear and suspense was extremely reassuring to hear. Thank you to all of our players and for the Con of the North staff for providing another great convention experience!
With another convention in the books, we’re looking forward to additional opportunities to get people to play our game this year. We have registered for Shut Up & Sit Down’s AwSHUX online convention that’s taking place from 4/23 to 4/25, and we are actively looking for other conventions to participate in. We’ll definitely be participating in Gen Con again and plan on participating in either the Origins Game Fair or Geekway to the West later in the fall.
In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to refine the game mechanics, working on additional adversaries and maps, and partnering with our artists and manufacturer to ensure things are prepped for our Kickstarter. We’re still hoping to Kickstart sometime this fall, but we’ll have to see if the stars align. We’ll make that call at a later date once we know more, so stay tuned!
As for the blog, I’ll be doing my best to post at least once a month going forward since I’ve been slacking a bit the past couple of months. It may not be on a super-consistent rhythm, but I’ll make sure I’m keeping you updated as we continue to develop the game. Just know this: even if I’m not posting, you can rest assured that we are continuing to refine the game and are moving ever closer to the final version.
2020 Year In Review
Well, it’s finally over. A year that has been described as unprecedented, exhausting, and relentless, among many other things. We at Sophisticated Cerberus were fortunate to have kept our day jobs and stayed safe and healthy (for the most part), although the same can unfortunately not be said for many of our friends, family members, and fellow humans around the globe.
With vaccines starting to be distributed, there is hope on the horizon that we may return to some semblance of normality at some point in 2021. Even though 2020 was a train wreck of a year, we did our best to take advantage of our extra free time and use it to work on our business. This post will walk through some of our accomplishments this year and provide a sneak peek at what we hope to accomplish in 2021.
I suppose we should start at the very beginning, since we officially started our company in January of 2020. We had a number of discussions and working sessions before then, but nothing was official until January. We were working on a space-themed game for the first few months but then switched to The Stifling Dark in March, right around the time that COVID-19 hit our area.
What started off as a simple idea for a horror board game turned into our full-time endeavor, as we spent many weeks developing the core mechanics of the game and performing countless internal playtests to see how the game was progressing. The game looks much different than it did nine months ago, but each change we make moves us one step closer to our final design.
Perhaps our biggest achievement in all of 2020 was our last-minute decision to participate in Gen Con. We had done zero marketing and had only playtested with our friends up until that point, but we figured we’d give it a shot. After all, the worst that could happen would be that nobody would sign up to play our game. Little did we know all of our events would fill up and we’d have the busiest weekend in our company’s (short) history!
The amount of interest that was shown in a prototype game from a no-name company was quite surprising, but was certainly welcome. We had the pleasure of playing with over 30 strangers across 10 different sessions and got a lot of great feedback that we implemented in the months following the convention.
Fast forward two months to the end of October, and we released our official demo version of The Stifling Dark on the TTS Workshop. We’re still working on gaining more exposure and getting more people to play it, but we’re happy we finally got the official demo out there for anyone to play if they happen to stumble upon it.
Throughout this entire time, we’ve been working with our artists and have finalized the Adversary and Investigator artwork. We’re also getting close on the box artwork and will be starting the board artwork soon. As of now we’re planning on creating most of the cards and tokens ourselves, although we might ask for a bit of help from a graphic designer to make sure everything looks good.
As mentioned in the previous blog post, we’re also working towards creating a couple of physical prototypes to try out once it’s safe to do so. COVID-19 has made it a very unique game design process since we’ve been virtual for the entire development of The Stifling Dark, but we’re eagerly awaiting the ability to get together and playtest it in person. There’s just something about playing in-person that can’t be replicated no matter how good the digital platform is.
Looking forward to 2021, we plan on attending more conventions (whether they be physical or virtual), starting out with Con of the North in February. We’ll definitely be participating in Gen Con again, and we are also looking into a number of other conventions.
We’re also expecting to finalize the other map and Adversary in the first half of the year and are hoping to launch our Kickstarter later in the year. We have quite a bit of networking and promoting to do before then, so that will also be a major focus this year.
That about sums it up. It’s crazy to think that we’ve come this far in the past year, but the best is yet to come! We look forward to another great year of game design, and hopefully a much better year outside of work.
We wish you all a healthy, safe, and happy New Year!
It’s been a little while, but don’t worry – we’re still here (whether you like it or not)! We hope everyone had a safe and happy Thanksgiving, despite how different it may have been this year. Our Thanksgivings were filled with lots of Zoom calls, but there was thankfully still plenty of food involved.
Anyways, we have been hard at work on both the digital and physical side of The Stifling Dark since our last update. I’ll cover off more on the development/digital side of things in our next update, but for now I wanted to focus on the process of physical prototyping that we’ve started now that the components for the game are fairly solidified.
To clarify, I’m not talking about the very first prototype most developers do, which usually consists of a combination of Monopoly money, Carcassonne meeples, and various sheets of paper and cardboard. I’m talking about the more refined prototypes that are usually created once you’re farther along in development and have a good idea of what your game is going to look like.
Due to COVID-19 we haven’t had a chance to get together and physically play the game, but we decided it was time to get a physical prototype created to test out the gameplay in real life instead of in Tabletop Simulator. We’re not quite ready to order a prototype from an actual manufacturer, although we are in the process of getting prototypes of the flashlights since those are an integral part of our game and we want to ensure we go with a manufacturer that can do them justice.
The good news is that I have an excessive amount of “toys”, including a 3D printer (a slightly modified Ender 3 for those that are wondering), a Cricut Maker, and a color laser printer among other things. I’m also very thankful that Reddit, the Board Game Geek (BGG) forums, and other online resources have plenty of tutorials on the best way to do this.
As previously mentioned, the flashlights are one of the central components in our game so we wanted to test out the mechanic on a real table (as opposed to the simulated variety). It took a little while to find a relatively well-rated translucent filament, but the one I got ended up working well aside from being very brittle and breaking while just sitting there.
Each small flashlight takes around 45 minutes to print, and each big flashlight takes about an hour and a half. We wanted to create 5 prototypes, so that meant printing 20 of each flashlight. Once they were printed, I had to manually draw the lines on them using a template, a ruler, and a Sharpie. In hindsight, I should’ve just 3D printed a template with the lines cut out, placed it over the top of each flashlight, and spray painted it. Oh well, now I know for next time!
The next step from there was a bit easier (or so I thought). I needed to print out the cards and player boards, so I found a good tutorial on the BGG forums and rolled with it. The short story is that you print the fronts and backs on pieces of 32# cardstock, use spray adhesive to seal them together, and then cut them out with either a Cricut or a good old-fashioned paper cutter. Optionally, you can use thinner paper and put a laminating pouch in the middle to make the cards snap a bit better while shuffling.
Seems simple enough, but a couple issues I ran into included forgetting to mirror the layouts, not lining the front and back up perfectly while adhering them, and failing to cut them out straight on either the Cricut or the guillotine cutter. The first issue was easy to solve by paying more attention, the second one involved creating a jig of sorts to force the paper to line up when adhering, and the third one required some creative workarounds to force Cricut Design Space to do what I wanted it to do.
Of course I saved the “best” part for last – the game board and the tokens. Both of them are bigger than a single sheet of paper, so the plan is to cut the images up into smaller sizes so that I can print them out. The downside of that is I will have that many more things to line up correctly before cutting.
The punch boards are going to be especially daunting, as we have almost 150 tokens in the game at the moment. We’re going to try two approaches to cutting those out – one with the Cricut and one with a 15mm hole punch that Matt recently acquired. Matt’s hole punch will likely end up being more accurate, but it also has a 100% chance of causing sore hands by the end of the process.
Hopefully we’ll have a fully completed prototype ready by the time our next update rolls around, but I’m not going to make any promises because the game board and punch board are going to be quite the undertaking.
Wish me luck!
Well folks, here we are! The demo version of The Stifling Dark is now live in Tabletop Simulator, just in time for Halloween. We made a huge push on Tuesday night to finish up our remaining items and were able to get the demo version published that same night. We made the official announcement on social media yesterday, so we’re hoping to get some new (and old) playtesters in there to try out all of the updates.
“How do I find it” you ask? Simple – either search “The Stifling Dark” in the Steam Workshop for Tabletop Simulator, or just click on this link. The demo is free to play, and we encourage you to share it with your friends and family. While the demo version is really meant for five players, you can make it work with 3 or 4 by having people play multiple Investigators. We’ll come out with official rules for 3 and 4 players prior to Kickstarting next year, don’t worry!
Oh – and if you need a few extra players (or you have a full crew but want to play with the developers) all you have to do is hit us up! We’d be more than happy to play with anyone that’s interested, we’re just an email away.
We’ll be revising the demo version as we make modifications to the core game, so make sure you keep an eye on the change notes in Steam in case there are any major updates! Now that we’ll actually have some free time outside of the demo version, we’ll also be working on replicating the custom rotation values we saw a few weeks back and will implement those once we get them working on the flashlights in our test version.
Coming out of the demo version, we’re turning our focus to developing the next map and Adversary. We already have quite a few details worked out on both of those fronts (and even have multiple ideas for maps and Adversaries beyond that), but we have yet to play a game with either of them. There are still some technicalities and minor details we need to work out with the Adversary, and we haven’t built the demo version of the map yet either.
Now that we’ve been through quite a bit of balancing and have a solid framework for our existing map and Adversary, we’re hoping it will make the development process that much faster for the subsequent maps and Adversaries. Obviously there’s still going to be a ton of playtesting and balancing we need to do, but rather than developing in a void we have some guardrails to bump up against this time.
Getting the demo published was a huge milestone for us, and we’re looking forward to many more milestones to come. Overall, I’d say it was a pretty successful week!
Surprising hopefully nobody, we spent the past two weeks continuing to refine our tutorial version and are almost ready to release it to the world. Keep an eye out for an announcement sometime soon, just in time for Halloween! Who doesn’t love a good horror board game on Halloween?
We have been hard at work creating artwork, updating card templates, and refining the tutorial rulebook. I should clarify that when I say we, I mean Ethan and Matt since I’ve been slacking off a bit lately (with good reason, trust me). The good news is that they haven’t run into many major issues while doing so, and they haven’t had any surprises come up either (aside from running into the occasional card that was five versions behind what we have in the design document).
As mentioned in an earlier post, some of the images in the tutorial version will be placeholders since we’re still working with our artists to get finalized versions of some artwork. The most notable placeholder pieces are for the Adversary and the board. Not to fear though, both of those projects are in flight and we’ve been in touch with both artists to ensure things are moving along smoothly.
Once the tutorial version is out there, we’ll be putting more of an emphasis on assembling a physical version of the game for playtesting purposes. As crazy as this sounds, we have yet to perform a complete physical playtest of the game thanks to coronavirus. Before you freak out, don’t worry – we have 3D printed components and paper/cardboard cards and boards that we have created, measured, and tested. We just haven’t actually used them in a physical game yet!
Reverting back to the digital world, we’ve implemented a number of “quality-of-life” improvements in TTS that our Gen Con playtesters mentioned a few months back. These improvements include things like naming cards and putting them in a deck so the Adversary can’t see them and adding some nifty TTS shortcuts to our TTS Player Aid, among other things.
We’re still working on replicating the custom rotation values that we mentioned in our last post, but we will roll that out as soon as we are able to figure it out. Even though we’ve spent hundreds of hours in TTS we’re still finding new things to improve the experience, so we’re all ears if you have a suggestion!
Lastly, we’re still keeping in close contact with our potential manufacturers to make sure we’re aligned on our vision for the game and are taking steps to cover off on all the big topics now rather than waiting until after the Kickstarter. The more we do now the less we have to do later!
That about wraps it up for the past two weeks, and I’m hoping we’ll have some exciting news to share before I’m back with the next bi-weekly update. Until then, we’ll be hard at work putting the finishing touches on the tutorial version and making sure everything is ready to roll. See what I did there?
Talk to you later,