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 #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 #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!

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #25 - GDC Mega Update

Regretfully, it has been almost two months since our last official update. Well today I am remedying that with a really exciting post about my upcoming trip to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco (actually I'm writing this from the airport on my way there). The team can’t wait to show our work to all the conference attendees, but I wanted to share with you first all the work we have done to prepare for this trip.

We have created a demo that we are calling Lacuna Passage Prologue which will serve as a sneak peek of what players will expect to see in the final game. It has story elements that tie into where the game will start, but the gameplay is more of a linear tutorial to introduce important concepts in a short time span for demonstration purposes. This Prologue content may or may not be incorporated into the final game. It depends a lot on the feedback we receive while at GDC and if we think it is valuable to the experience we want to create. Since a lot may change in the coming months we are not planning to distribute this content to backers prior to release, but we have created a video play through for you all to watch and added a bunch of new screenshots.

We would love to hear what you think of the direction we are taking. If anyone is interested we might do a more in-depth run down of how we built this demo in a future devlog. This is a great opportunity for us to get even more people excited about Lacuna Passage who may never have heard of us before. Feel free to share the video or screenshots with your friends and family.

If anyone will be attending GDC and would like to play a live demonstration of the Prologue content you can email me at <contact [at] randomseedgames.com>. I will also be wearing bright red Lacuna Passage tshirts all week, so if you see me just flag me down!

Wish us luck!
Tyler Owen
Project Lead

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #12 - Soundtrack Preview #2

We are very excited to share another sample of music from the Lacuna Passage soundtrack. All credit goes to our talented composer Clark Aboud.

You will probably notice the new flood lights in the video. This is just one of many new assets that we are beginning to import into the game. These flood lights are interesting visual markers that can help you find your way at night. Some cloth physics are also on display here which we hope to use on things like flags and tarps sparingly throughout the game. We think that bit of movement makes the world feel more alive and reactive.

Lacuna Passage - Devlog #10 - Pre-Alpha Gameplay Teaser

What’s that? In-game footage you say? Yes! We have released our first pre-alpha gameplay footage.

I had considered doing some commentary over the video to explain some of what is going on, but I didn’t want to talk over the awesome music. So instead I will try to break down some of the new stuff here.

The biggest addition to the game in the last couple weeks has been the datapad. This is one of the tools that will be an invaluable resource for you as you explore and document the planet’s surface. We are trying to keep all the HUD and UI elements as immersive as possible, so nearly all the game’s menu screens will be contained within the physical datapad.

Audio playback is one of the datapad’s many functions (some others I’m sure you can gleen from the other menu items). In this video we hear an audio log from a previous crew member who discusses a drilling site where he accidentally left behind some tools. Despite his intentions he never did return to collect them as we find out later in the video (hmm, what happened to him?). Luckily he gives us the exact coordinates of the drilling site. In the final game you will have the option to input these coordinates as a custom marker on your compass, but for the purposes of this example the compass marker is automatically displayed.

On our way to the site we come across a decent sized dust devil which makes for some cool moments with the dynamic soundtrack. Moving on, we trek across the lowest point in the valley, eventually making our way to the drilling site. The music builds as we reach our destination and indeed we find the wayward tools. At several points you will notice a blue outline around the tools. This is an optional feature to help some players find key objects and locations. It can be turned on and off at any time just as is demonstrated in the video.

Finally we look upon the setting sun. We have sped up the passing of time just to show the full range of lighting effects. In the game time will pass quickly, but not quite this quickly. One real-world second will equal about 1 in-game minute. And as you might expect, Mars can be a foreboding place in the dark of night.

Thanks for watching our first gameplay video. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.