PAX East Minibooth 2017

It’s been a month since it happened, but Bleed 2 was shown in the Indie Minibooth at PAX East 2017! It was a ton of fun, so I thought I’d do a write-up about the experience and compare it to showing in the MEGABOOTH! They’re both a blast, but there are of course differences.

First though, I gotta get a huge thanks out of the way — the costs for showing in the Minibooth were heavily reduced by some extremely generous MEGABOOTH alumni. Showing at PAX — even the Minibooth! — can be a large expense, and the generosity of these devs really helped me and all the other Miniboothers get there. I can’t thank them all enough and I wanted to make sure that was front and center.

So! Showing at the Minibooth! For anyone not aware — the Minibooth is a smaller, more simple area you can show at with the MEGABOOTH. Instead of a 10ft x 10ft space with multiple setups and tons of equipment, the Minibooth offers a nice, simple, single kiosk to demo your game at! For reference, here’s a comparison of my MEGABOOTH space from West 2016 and the Minibooth space from East 2017.

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GDC (and, Is It Worth It?)

I’ve wanted to attend GDC for a few years now, but I’ve always been hesitant. I hear many game devs talk about what a great and inspiring time it is, I see all my Twitter dev pals posting about the fun they’re having when they go — it sure sounds incredible, but I always doubted whether it was worth the time and money. Every year I’d spend waffling up until the last moment deciding should-I-shouldn’t-I, but this year I resolved to just go and see for myself whether it was worth it. Maybe this post will help someone else decide the same questions! I’ll start with the cost, weigh that against the various reasons for going, and close out with my final thoughts along with some general tips and observations.

A shot of San Fran from a GDC building!

Let’s start with money: GDC is expensive. It cost me $1,500 to go, and I was being relatively cheap about it. I only stayed for four days (many seem to stay up to five or seven) and I stayed in the “indie hostel” (the HI San Fransisco Downtown hostel, which is full to brim with indie devs during GDC.) I also bought the cheapest pass, the Expo pass, which gets you into the expo hall, the IGF awards, and a very VERY limited number of talks. For reference, if you want the All-Access pass, you can add another $2,000 to the total (no, not a typo.) I could have saved more money by getting connecting flights and skipping the pass altogether (some people do this, focusing on the social aspect) but I wanted to not be too stressed, and to get at least a bit of exposure to every aspect of the experience.

So, with the cost established, what are the reasons to go to GDC as an indie? I’ve seen a few, namely: to meet up with dev friends and party, to go to talks and learn, to get inspired, to network, and to meet with and pitch to developers and publishers. I’ll go one by one and describe my experience with each aspect as best I can!

The park and food court right next to GDC!

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Bleed 2 Has Launched!

Whew! NOW it’s done! Bleed 2 is out. What a trip. It’s got some very kind coverage from places like Hardcore Gamer, Destructoid and Attack of the Fanboy, and overall I’m really happy and relieved at how it’s been received!

The launch certainly went better than the original’s (when I accidentally shipped an .exe that was only playable by like 10% of the user base, and then didn’t find out for hours because I decided to go for a celebratory lunch, oooooops.) People have still found bugs I wish I caught (and every new one found is another knot in my stomach) but I’ve been working hard at fixing them and I think I’ve got all the critical ones now — and so far I’ve managed to keep replays intact, too! Sweet!

If you’re wondering what it’s like to launch a game, it’s seriously overwhelming, in both good and bad ways. My Steam account, Twitter and inbox has been absolutely slammed — I’ve answered (or at least looked at) at least 200 emails alone this week. There were some incredibly kind messages, a couple rather unpleasant ones, and the rest was either people reporting bugs or (the vast majority) requesting copies of the game. It might not sound like much work, but it somehow is! There are a lot of key scammers out there, and you gotta hustle if you want to avoid getting taken advantage of. I fell for a lot of it back in the Bleed 1 days, but I’d like to think I’m a bit more canny now.

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AAAAAHHHHH (3 Days to Release!)

…wow. I did it! Well, almost — Bleed 2 is out in three days, on Feb 8. I’m stressed, I’m excited, I’m really proud!

I discovered a 2.5 year-old version of the game, so please enjoy some comparison shots as I pat myself on the back for all my hard work!

Four years ago, when I was just starting to put the game together, I had a moment where I suddenly realized the scope of what I was planning. It profoundly depressed me — it honestly didn’t seem possible to complete; trying seemed like a waste of time. I literally curled into a ball went to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. I’m not sure why I kept going from that point, but I’m really glad I did. Piece by piece, day by day — my skills have improved, the game has come together, and now it’s all culminated in the game you’ll be able to play in three days!

I’m not giving an Academy Awards speech of anything, but: huge, HUGE shout-outs to Joonas and Jukio for all the amazing work they’ve provided, the game wouldn’t be half of what it is without them. Additional huge thanks to my family and the friends I’ve kept and made along the way. Having their support and enthusiasm and belief really helped keep me going! Finally, a shout-out to the Toronto game dev community at Gamma Space. I’m so glad to have met such awesome, creative people who share my passions. I tend to think of myself as an independent, solo kind of guy, but I’ve learned having a community like that is really special.

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Double Feature: The Clawed Girl, and Greater Difficulty!

With a week and a half left, things are getting tight! Bleed 2 is looking good, but I’m still cramming to make sure everything is as polished as it can be. A ton has happened this week so there’s tons to talk about: first, the Clawed Girl!

Yes! The Clawed Girl from They Bleed Pixels is an unlockable character in Bleed 2 — a huge thank-you to Spooky Squid Games for trusting me with their intellectual property. This was a really exciting opportunity to me, and I hope I’ve done the character proud!

Like in her own game, the Clawed Girl is a melee-focused character. This instantly makes her harder to play in a fast, ranged-combat game like Bleed 2, but she’s got plenty of tricks to help balance her out. Her swipes and stabs do way more damage than Wryn’s pistols, and even her air-dash hurts enemies! She can only air-dash once after a jump, but landing hits refreshes her dash — so if you’re good you can combo like crazy and never even touch the ground! Additionally, not pictured, you can end her air-dash with a flying kick that reflects any attack

(UPDATE: I removed the kick because while it looked cool… it always came out when you didn’t want it to, it was hard to use even when you tried to, and when you did use it slowed you down and ultimately wasn’t worth it — you may as well have used the swipe instead! RIP kick.)

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Almost There…!

This week I was invited on the Escapist Magazine Twitch stream to talk about Bleed 1 and 2! John Markley played through the original, and a demo of the sequel. Here’s the link if you want to check it out, it was a whole bunch of fun!

Anyways — two and a half weeks until the game comes out, yay! Also: yikes!!

I’ve been busy with bugfixing and playtests this week, which is an invaluable but high-pressure (to me) part of the process. Playtest feedback is almost always useful, but fixing problems also tends to create more problems — Bleed 2 is such a giant interconnected machine at this point, it’s hard to fully appreciate the impact of even small changes (until someone tells me I broke something.)

That’s all fine, but to me the pressure comes from when the feedback concerns more than bugs. What if players aren’t sure how to dodge a specific attack, or they don’t find an unlockable character fun to play? That’s when I have to start weighing my own perspective against fresh ones — sometimes many fresh ones! I feel strongly about the design decisions I’ve made, but I also recognize that I’m not objective on this game any more. I have to decide what to stand firm on, and what to change to make the game as fun as possible!

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AGDQ and Speedrunning

Exciting news: Bleed 2 releases on Feb 8!

I announced this a few places earlier in the week, but it just occurred to me that I never said so here. Oops. To try and spread a little hype, I’m putting out mini-trailers each week until release. Here’s a peek at the next one, demonstrating local co-op.

(If you look closely, you can see that the purple player’s bullets are coloured purple now. It only happens in co-op, and I think it helps players keep track of themselves a little better in the chaos!)

Anyways, I spent the last few weeks working on these mini-trailers, as well as about 70(?) semi-personalized emails for games journalists and entertainers to see if they’ll cover the game. I’ll probably have to wait until release to see if many bit, but the game was already mentioned on a Giant Bomb podcast and articles from Hardcore Gamer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun, so I’m feeling encouraged.

As for this week, I spent most of it at AGDQ (which raised over 2 million bucks for cancer prevention!! WOW!!) Bleed got an early-morning speedrun and I really wanted to see it in person — I even ended up getting put on the couch to provide a little commentary! Here’s the video — I can’t bear to see how I look in it, haha, but maybe you’ll enjoy it. Studio blew through the game despite my distracting him with questions, and it was an honour to be a small part of something so awesome.

I got work done despite being at GDQ, mostly polishing things and trying to solve final bugs before release. I was also inspired by the event, and added a few tiny features in the GDQ sprit.

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Defining Financial Success (aka MMOOONNEEEYYY)

The last two weeks I’ve been working non-stop on getting PR stuff together for the announcement of the game’s release date, and trying to raise some hype before launch (you thought I got a vacation, huh? Maybe later!) You’ll see the results of that soon, so let’s talk money instead!

This week I was asked if I had a sales target for Bleed 2, which is a very important consideration (if I don’t have target numbers, how will I know if the game’s a financial success?) I think the person who asked assumed that I approached the making of Bleed 2 with a business mindset — analyzing sales trends of the original, deciding how long and how much I could spend on the sequel based on weighing the numbers and potential purchases, etc etc etc. (If you’re a business person, and that sounds like a child’s cartoon version of what would actually go into planning something like this, it’s because I have no idea, haha.)

So as you can probably tell, the considerations that went into making Bleed 2 were more like this:

  • The first one sold well! Maybe people would like a second one!
  • I’m still REALLY passionate about the game I made, and have lots of ideas how to expand and improve it!

…and then I started working. I’m not saying this is a SMART way to make games (actually it’s super dumb from a business perspective) but it’s what I did. So, to find my target sales numbers, I have to look at what I’ve already spent on the game, and work backwards from there!

So, here are my Bleed 2 expenses so far. The chart represents $42,000 USD. Yikes!!

Obviously the size of the pieces aren’t accurate — sharing how much I’m paying people feels inappropriate. (Why did I make a pie chart, then? It’s for dramatic effect, okay?? Just hold on a second!!) Things that may be unclear include ‘Advertising’ which is how I categorize exhibitions, and ‘Misc’ in which I lump collaborations that didn’t work out (but still had to be paid) and my occasionally paying to work in a collaborative space. It’s a LOT of money already, but thankfully Bleed did pretty well, so I could manage it…

…except for one glaring thing the chart is missing.

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Happy 2017!!

Happy new years!! As always, I’m gonna slack hardcore on this blog post and just pat myself on the back a little. Here’s all the hours I worked in 2016, totaling 1941 actual hours worked!

I kinda hoped that after tracking my worked hours for over three years, I’d start to see interesting patterns emerge (like months or weeks where I’m most or least productive, something like that) but it’s just turning into a mass of squiggly lines. There are a couple trends I think I can spot, but they mostly correlate to deadlines for big events, like the various PAXes.

Anyways, this means I’ve put about 6,000 hours of work into Bleed 2 so far, so yay for me! The game is nearly done, and the major task in front of me (besides continuing to squash bugs and trying to fix replays) is actually promoting and releasing the game! 2017 is looking like it’ll be an exciting year for me personally, and I hope it’s looking that way for you, too.

Be well, be warm, be creative, and have a happy new year!!

Weapon Improvements!

Merry Christmas! Or, happy holidays or whatever you like. Hope you’re enjoying some time off!

Usually I like to fix up and release an old game for free around this time of year, but I’m just too busy for that right now (you can always check out the ones I’ve released in the past!) Since you don’t want to read endless blog posts about me fixing bugs, here’s a post about some of the improvements I’ve made to Bleed 2’s weapons and controls instead! I’ll mention a few of the unlockables after the break, in case you’re worried about spoilers.

First up we have the standalone versions of the pistols and katana! They mostly exist to accommodate Bleed 1 players who don’t like the combo weapon, so I worry they’ll come off like a waste of space to everyone else. I’ve tried to combat this somewhat by giving them interesting or unique properties — for example, the standalone katana’s flurry attack is weak-ish, but I’ve improved its area of effect, and it’s now great at taking out lots of little enemies up close, like the Chaff Spammer’s chaff.

I also recently changed the standalone pistols to have an alternate firing mode, similar to the original Bleed’s “akimbo pistols”. It isn’t super useful, but it is stylish as hell…! It’s also really hard to use, so I added some aim-assist on the pistol Wryn fires behind her. It was a bit more work than I expected to get her hands and body looking good no matter what contortion she was in, but it was a fun challenge while I was supposed to be relaxing.

Additional weapons and air-dashes are unlocked to use in Freestyle (“Freestyle” is Bleed 2’s name for “New Game+”) and once you have them all they’re a lot to keep track of. I just assumed dedicated players would manage it, but after playtesting Freestyle a bunch it’s a really REALLY cumbersome system. Everyone who thought they wanted to hold more than two weapons at once in Bleed, be careful what you wish for!! (You can still hold as many as you want though haha, don’t worry.)

Anyways, good ol’ Noobii had a great suggestion — now the number keys 1-4 correspond to the first four weapons in your loadout, allowing you to easily swap between them! It makes the game a LOT more smooth and fun when you’re going for really technical Freestyle runs.

You can also do the weapon-swapping with a controller — a menu option makes D-pad directions correspond to the four weapons, instead of moving Wryn around. There’s also another controller option to enable what I’m calling “manual fire” — it makes it so the right stick only aims, and a user-set fire button needs to be pressed to actually attack. Some players aren’t comfortable with the flicking motion to reflect, so hopefully this accommodates them… I have very firm opinions on how the game plays best, but I’m trying to allow people to do what works for them.

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