TIMEframe - Development Update

This past month we have been hard at work revisiting our old Ludum Dare entry, TIMEframe, which was recently Greenlit on Steam. Our goal is to have a finished version of the game by the end of the month to put on Steam. Here are a few progress shots showing off some of the new art assets in the game:

You might have noticed some new text elements that were not present in the original prototype. We are introducing a simple history and story to the world of TIMEframe that you will be able to uncover during your exploration.

Much of our focus in these last few weeks however has been on trying to improve upon the atmosphere and lighting of the original version. We really want the game to feel as if you are walking through a painting with all kinds of slow-motion elements.

The soundtrack for the game will be equally stunning. We are currently in the process of recording live string instruments. Here’s a preview of the updated ambient music you will hear as you explore the world of TIMEframe:

The finished game will have nearly 20 minutes of music just like this. 

We really hope this side project demonstrates the level of quality work we intend to uphold. For reference, here is the old web player demo of TIMEframe. We will be sure to update everyone on the release of TIMEframe, and with it our return to Lacuna Passage development next month. As a reminder, all Kickstarter backers of Lacuna Passage will be getting a free copy of TIMEframe as a thank you for your patience and support.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #47 - PAX East 2015 Indie MEGABOOTH Post-mortem

Background

For those of you visiting our blog from an outside source, here’s a little background about Random Seed Games and Lacuna Passage.

We are a small indie company working on a Mars exploration and survival game for PC, Mac, and Linux called Lacuna Passage. We had a successful Kickstarter and Greenlight campaign back in Summer of 2013. Unfortunately we’ve overshot our goal completion date, but we’ve made some amazing progress and development is still going strong.

We have released a small alpha demo for our backers, but earlier this year we decided that it was time to try and get out and gather some feedback from new players with a brand new demo. We submitted Lacuna Passage to the Indie MEGABOOTH for PAX East and were accepted with just over a month before the big show.

Preparation

The problem was that we didn’t really expect to get in. We had shifted a majority of our development time to a smaller side project that we knew we could get to market sooner than Lacuna Passage. When we were accepted into the MEGABOOTH we had not even begun working on the new demo for Lacuna Passage. So, while other MEGABOOTH developers were focusing a majority of their time preparing their marketing materials, we had to produce 15-20 minutes of brand new content in less than a month while working on marketing and promotional materials at the same time.

Amazingly, we pulled it all off. Spencer (my brother and lead artist on the project) and I worked 70 hour weeks until just before we had to leave for Boston. We emailed over 250 press contacts. We designed and printed banners and flyers. We planned travel and hotel arrangements. It was a wild few weeks.

We also didn’t do a great job of anticipating the costs that such a trip would incur. Below you will see a total breakdown (some estimates) of all our costs.

Total expenses were $4,339

This is a lot of money for us. The total cost was roughly 10% of our original Kickstarter funds. We knew that this was a big risk for us to take, but we think it was a good investment.

What we did right...

Contacting the press was a big deal for us. With our communication prior to and during the show we managed to get 9 interviews. Keeping Lacuna Passage relevant throughout development is very important to us and we think the coverage we received at PAX was invaluable.

We also think we succeeded in spreading the word to new potential players. Almost every person we talked to at the show seemed to light up at the mention of using real Mars satellite data for forming our terrain. Our demo was nearly 25 minutes long and if I had to guess I would say roughly 25% of players played through the entire thing. Probably another 50% played for at least 10-15 minutes. Seeing people engrossed in the game and invested in following the story was incredibly rewarding. In all we had over 200 people play the demo on two different machines at our booth and countless more who were watching on a big screen TV we had on a high stand. By the end of the first day we had several people come up to us and say that Lacuna Passage was the coolest thing they had seen there. Those kind of comments kept our energy up for the long, tiring weekend.

Full video playthrough of the PAX demo

The demo worked great as a marketing tool, but it was also an invaluable playtesting session for us. The feedback we got from watching people play the game was extremely helpful in identifying what aspects we should focus on improving or adjusting in the future. We never had any horrible, game-breaking bugs, but there are plenty of things that could be changed to match player expectations.

What we did wrong...

This was our first big conference, and there are a few areas where we could have done a better job.

The first thing we kind of already mentioned. Don’t try to make a brand new demo a month before the show… We got very lucky. We didn’t have any major problems, but we did sort of burn ourselves out before the show even started. Going to PAX or any other conference should be exciting, not stressful. We should have gone in with the attitude that we were going to be accepted from the start and we would have had much more time to prepare.

We also should have anticipated our costs a little better. It didn’t break the bank, but it was a heavy blow to us and we will need to be much more conservative with our remaining budget. That means we might not get to another conference anytime soon. But we are okay with that. We think that the result we got out of PAX was equal to what we put in. We are excited to dive back in and finish out the rest of development over the next several months.

Conclusion

If nothing else, we wish we had more time. More time to contact press. More time to commit to decorating the booth. More demo stations for booth visitors. More handouts and swag. More everything. Next time around we will know exactly where we should be dedicating our limited time and funds. This was a huge learning experience for Random Seed Games and we are glad we did it.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #46 - Foundation Base and Ejection Seat Art Update

This past week we had the pleasure of showing off a new demo at PAX East in Boston. This new demo included nearly everything we have been working on for the past few months, including the finalized Foundation Habitat. Here are some in-game shots:

As you approach Foundation Base you notice the Greenhouse and Workshop structures nearby. These are currently inaccessible and incomplete, but eventually all three structures will be connected by a pressurized walkway known as the Bridge.

But before you reach Foundation, you begin your journey from our newly added Ejection Seat. This serves as an emergency landing capsule during a failed landing sequence.

We had tons of positive feedback about the art direction of Lacuna Passage at PAX and we are excited to polish things further. This next month we may take a small hiatus from LP development to finish our old Ludum Dare entry, TimeFrame - but not to worry, we will be back to work on the rest of Foundation Base shortly.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #45 - See you at PAX East!

Random Seed Games is proud to announce that we will be featured in the Indie MEGABOOTH for PAX East! That's the good news. The kinda scary news is that we are still crunching on a brand new demo when the show starts in less than 5 days...

Lacuna Passage still has a ways to go before release, but we thought it was important to stay visible and get early feedback from players in a public forum like PAX East and we are honored to have been accepted into the MEGABOOTH. The new demo we will be showing is not like our old Prologue demo. This is entirely new content that will eventually constitute the introduction sequence of the final game. It is roughly 15 minutes of gameplay that gets you acclimated to the world, game controls, and narrative hooks.

We will try to post some video of the new demo soon, but here are some of things that we have been working on related to this demo:

Open Terrain

Obviously this is something that we have been touting for a long time. The open exploration of Lacuna Passage with accurate Mars terrain has been one of our biggest selling points, but until now we haven't really shown it in a playable form. The original Prologue demo was only a fraction of what we had planned for the total terrain and now with our PAX demo we will be showing off something much more representative of the final game. The total explorable area now is still only about 1/4th of what the full game will be, but this is mostly for narrative reasons in the early game.

Dynamic Music

The old Prologue demo only had small bits of intro and outro music. This time around we are actually scoring the narrative beats during gameplay and it feels great. A lot of credit goes to our amazing composer, Clark Aboud. You can expect to hear more soundtrack previews in the near future. For all of our game music we are now utilizing our Song Seed music plugin for Unity which we will hopefully be putting up on the Unity Asset Store soon after we return from Boston.

Interior Environments

We have been posting screenshot updates of the Foundation Base Habitat for quite some time now and at PAX we will be sharing these playable interior areas for the first time. Our lead artist Spencer Owen has been working insane hours to get everything ready for the show. The most exciting aspect of the Hab though will be the official introduction of IRA, Jessica's AI companion.

Misc Improvements

There are countless other minor improvements that we have made in the last month or so. We have added a new wind system that dynamically affects all blowing dust and our weather monitoring station instruments. We have a new night sky map that has more accurate star placement and an impressive visible milkyway.  There's really too much stuff to go over in one blog post.

If you want to check out the new demo you will have to come visit us in booth 6181 in the Indie MEGABOOTH next weekend!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #44 - Designing the Hab Part 3

Check out how the Hab has progressed by viewing Part 1 and Part 2

This past month we have made great progress on the Hab with almost everything necessary to place the Hab in-game.  Most of our previous work focused on the interior components so we are excited to show you how the Hab should look on the surface of Mars.  Here are a few shots of the unfinished exterior:

When you open the hatch door and enter the Hab, you step into the airlock.  One of our artists has been hard at work on that as well, and we hope to see it integrated with the rest of the Hab by the end of the month.  Here are a few early work-in-progress shots from the airlock interior:

In case you missed it in past development updates, here are some interior shots of the living quarters in the Hab as well (take note of the newly textured and complete IRA model):

When we have a working version in the game we will begin adding more unique sections and variation to the interior.  Next up we will be working on connecting the Hab, Greenhouse, and Workshop with an exterior pressurized walkway known as the Bridge.  All the elements are finally coming together and we are really pleased with the result.  Let us know what you think!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #43 - New Terrain Data and Story Flowchart System

Last month we mentioned that we would be switching primarily to TIMEframe development for about a month. Well, soon after we announced that we got some news that required us to switch priorities once again. We are now focused on Lacuna Passage in preparation for an important deadline that we can't talk about just yet. As soon as that deadline is met we will jump straight back to TIMEframe so that we can have that finished and up on Steam, hopefully by the end of March. This is a Lacuna Passage devlog however, so let's get to the stuff you are here to see!

Gathering More Mars Terrain Data

It should be no surprise to you by now that the Martian landscape is a huge focus for us. We have established a base level of detail for the full-scale terrain of the game, but now we are slowly starting to fill in more fine details using patchwork combinations of additional Mars data renders. We recently received a new batch of renders that you can see below.

We actually use a different image format than the above example renders for our heightmaps, but this method helps you to see the details of the terrain better from a top-down perspective.

Story Flowcharts

A big change for us this month is the addition of a new story flowchart system. This might look complicated, but it's actually a huge improvement over our previous method.

A while ago we discussed how we transitioned away from using the Playmaker visual scripting system in favor of using C#. Well, a few areas of development have actually suffered because of that transition. Using a state machine is hugely beneficial for something as complex as a branching storyline, so we have begun using Playmaker again for defining story progress and save points. This visual reference for player progress is much easier for us to manage than a complex series of C# scripts. Of course, most of the execution of story events is happening via code, but state machines are now the driver behind that code. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of time it takes us to add new story content to the game.

New Song Seed Demo Video

We finally have a good video demonstration of how Song Seed will work in both Lacuna Passage and TIMEframe. There's not much to say here that I don't discuss in better detail in the video, so if you are interested in how our dynamic music will work mechanically you can just check out the video above.

If you have any questions this month let us know in the comments!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #42 - IRA, Hab externals, and the EVA Suit

We have spent some time this month working on the updated version of TIMEframe, but we are still making progress with Lacuna Passage too. In December we gave everyone a look at the early designs of IRA, our Intelligent Remote Assistant computer system.  We now have the design and layout complete for IRA’s entire section of the Habitat.

Click to enlarge

Besides IRA’s multi-purpose robotic camera arm the unit is equipped with a docking station for the datapad, a 3D scanning platform, and multiple server and maintenance racks.

IRA is just a small portion of Foundation Hab, and we are really excited to show the finished product.  Just to give you an idea of the scale, here’s a work-in-progress shot of the exterior of Foundation Hab:

Click to enlarge

As you can tell, the Hab has been a large and complicated part of our art progress with multiple artists contributing to its design.  Once the Hab is complete we will begin work on the Lab and placing all the elements of Foundation Base.

And of course you won’t be able to leave Foundation Base and explore the planet’s surface without your trusty EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) suit!  We are working with our concept artist Luke Kremer right now to nail down a design we are happy with, and we are really pleased with some of the design iterations so far.

Some early concept sketches. Click to enlarge

These designs are closer to the final suit that will be featured in the game. Click to enlarge

We really want this suit to provide mobility and dexterity for anything Mars has to offer.  The player will need to repair equipment, traverse dangerous terrain, and even escape the occasional dust storm while on the planet’s surface, but we think this suit will be up to the task.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #41 - Prologue for Mac, Photo Contest, TIMEframe on Steam...

December was a crazy month for Random Seed Games. Demo releases, holidays, Ludum Dare, Greenlight campaigns, and more. So let’s dive right in.

Lacuna Passage Prologue on Mac

First off, some of you may have noticed already if you tried to access your Lacuna Passage download pages in the last couple days, but we have just added a Mac version of the Prologue demo. If you still haven’t claimed your download page then follow our directions found here. The Mac version is not nearly as well tested on our end as the PC version, so if you find any bugs please report them here. Some of you have contacted us about testing a Linux version eventually. We are compiling a list of Linux testers so email us at contact@randomseedgames.com if you haven’t yet.

Photo Contest

So, now that 95% of our backers have access to the Prologue demo, we would like to announce a small contest. Between now and January 31st at 11:59PM CST we will be accepting submissions of photos you have taken in the demo with the photography mechanic (photos you take during the demo can be found in the “Lacuna Passage Prologue_Data” folder under “Screenshots”).

Pro Tip: Use crouch, jump, or zoom to get more interesting photo angles

Please send your photo submission to info@lacunapassage.com via the email address that is associated with your Humble download page. Only one photo will be accepted per entry. Emails received with more than one photo attached will be disqualified. Our top 3 favorite photos will receive a free “upgrade” to the $75 Kickstarter backer level (if you are already a $75 level backer you will get another Collector’s Edition and poster to give to a friend or family member).

Show us your Mars photography skills!

Song Seed

I feel like we have been saying this for a couple months now, but we are getting closer to a beta test for our dynamic music plugin for Unity. If you are interested in helping us test Song Seed please email us at contact@randomseedgames.com.

TIMEframe on Steam

Recently we reached out to our fans for their support in voting for our side project, TIMEframe, on Steam Greenlight. Well, after less than 2 weeks we have officially been accepted onto Steam! This has really taken us by surprise. We were not expecting to get through this quickly, if at all. We want to thank all of you who voted for us.

As we mentioned in our previous call-to-action, we will be putting a priority on releasing TIMEframe. Our goal is to have it completed and on Steam sometime in early February. We will still be working on Lacuna Passage in the mean time, but just not as much as we are right now. When TIMEframe is released we will hopefully have some extra revenue to help finance the remaining development of Lacuna Passage, which we will return to full-time. And as we mentioned previously, all of our backers will also be receiving a free copy of TIMEframe when it is released! We are very excited for the upcoming releases of both TIMEframe and Song Seed and what they mean for our young studio.

Ludum Dare 31

Earlier this month we took part in 31st Ludum Dare weekend game jam competition. This being our third entry after the original TIMEframe (in Ludum Dare 27) and Dodgy Ball (Ludum Dare 28). The theme this time was “Entire game on one screen” and our entry was SUPER FUN FAMILY PRIMETIME TELEVISION SIMULATOR. The results are in and we placed #41 in the Humor category, #74 in innovation, and #98 in Theme out of 1,270 jam entries. We placed in the 200s and 300s in all other categories. We are very happy with these results for such a bizarre game. If you would like to read more about the game you can check out a post-mortem here and you can play the game in your browser here.

Thanks for following our blog and we will be back with another art progress post on the 15th.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #40 - More Greenhouse Props and "IRA"

We left off our art devlog last month with the addition of the plant racks in the Greenhouse. Our newest addition to the Greenhouse is the Pressurized Isolation Unit, or PIU, that is used for isolated experiments on particular groups of plants. Four PIU’s will be located in the center of the Greenhouse and can be interacted with.

Next up we head back to the Habitat module of Foundation Base to finish up some of the more detailed sections of its interior. Near the center of the Hab will be a station devoted to our Intelligent Remote Assistance unit, IRA. IRA will be a computerized assistant, similar to SIRI on iPhones, that is linked to every module in Foundation Base, as well as your datapad and EVA suit.

For the most part, IRA will serve as a source of dialogue to help progress the story, but you will occasionally be tasked with bringing things back to the IRA module within Foundation Hab that houses IRA’s on-site computer and 3D scanning system. We want IRA to feel like more than just a digital voice in the game, so he will have a physical camera arm to interact with for scanning and analyzing objects you find during your excursions. Below are some early low-poly models for IRA's camera arm.

We'd be lying if we said that HAL 9000 wasn't at least a partial inspiration for IRA, though we do want to avoid some of the sinister undertones that come with that comparison.

We plan on delving more into IRA and the Foundation Hab in the coming weeks, so check back for updates!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #39 - Happy Holidays from Random Seed!

The holiday season is here, which means a hectic development period for Random Seed and some fun announcements. Kickstarter backers, make sure to read all the way through ;)

First is a quick heads up that we will once again be participating in the upcoming Ludum Dare game jam competition on December 5th through the 8th (this coming weekend).

We've participated in previous Ludum Dares and had a ton of fun creating entries like TIMEframe and Dodgy Ball. This time around we are hoping for a competition theme that will be a good fit for us to utilize our Unity music plugin, Song Seed. We would love to be able to produce a game that demonstrates the flexibility and quality of the system and then release the plugin on the Unity Asset Store soon after.

In other news, we are also planning on attending PAX East 2015 in Boston on March 6th through the 8th. However, much of our presence there is dependent on whether or not we are accepted into the Indie Megabooth. If you are unfamiliar, PAX is a huge convention for gamers and the Indie Megabooth is a space on the show floor where notable indie games can get exposure amongst the ranks of AAA developers and publishers.

In preparation for our Indie Megabooth submission we revamped the Prologue content that was originally built for GDC 2014. The Prologue has been our main testing ground for introducing new features over the last several months and a lot has notably improved since its original incarnation. To get a small taste of what has changed you can check out our updated "trailer" video of the Prologue content.

There is some stiff competition to get a spot in the Megabooth, but we are hopeful. If we do not get in then it is uncertain if we will have any other option to demo the Lacuna Passage Prologue for attendees, but we will worry about that if it happens.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

Thankfully, even if we don't get into the Megabooth, all of our Kickstarter backers will soon get to play the Prologue demo right at home. That's right, we will be releasing a build of the demo exclusively to backers and pre-orderers before Christmas! We know it can't make up for the lack of a finished game, but we want all of our supporters to get an early taste of what is to come and hopefully we will get some great feedback in the process.

We announced a while back that Random Seed is teaming up with the Humble Bundle folks to get all of our digital backer rewards distributed, and now that will start with the Prologue demo. Another update will go out to everyone when we are ready to link your Humble accounts with the email you used to back Lacuna Passage on Kickstarter.

We will also be opening up requests for access to the Prologue demo from journalists and Youtubers, so if you are not a backer but would like to feature Lacuna Passage on your site or channel just contact us via our form and include links to your credentials. Not all requests will be honored, but don't hesitate to ask.

Thanks for your support and enjoy your holiday season!

That's it for this month's dev update, but check back for our next art update on the 15th!