Q-con!

With slightly twitchy fingers we showcased the Wailing Heights Demo at its first convention this past weekend.

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Stephen Downey, our co-director and lead artist had attended Q-con before, though from a comic artist and guest POV. The comic audience at Q-con is a small but growing section of the crowd, which focuses heavily on gaming and anime, so attending as indie developers, we weren’t sure what reaction to expect for a indie, comic-inspired, 2D adventure game.

And it was brilliant!

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The body-hopping, musical, adventure game seemed to pique the interest of gamers at the con, with even a couple of players dancing along to the tracks!

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We had steady stream of players, and at one point even had a queue forming. The indie dev indoor marques, set up in the gaming console room, had a nice open feel to them, and the perfect audience to pitch a game demo.

Over the weekend Stephen had the Belfast-based Wailing Heights team of John Mcfarlane and Rodney McConnell man the table, with lots of support from New Jersey artist Tara O’Connor, who graciously spent her first weekend in Belfast helping us out. It’s a long weekend, so support and shifts from the team was absolutely essential.

Thankfully Q-con also supply snacks and drinks for anyone showcasing at a table, and Friday’s #IndieDevsGetFreePizza is one of the best indie-encouraging schemes I’ve heard of!

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We had bit of a technical nightmare setting up. Regretfully not testing a single-monitor setup in the studio, AND packing the wrong wireless mouse, we were unable to access the game on setup. We borrowed an 2nd monitor and mouse from one of the con organisers, and were able to quickly reconfigure the set-up, but it made for a nervous first half hour. Next time, we’ll be taking all our packed gear and setting it up in a different room within our studio, to make certain we’ve packed everything we need to run the demo smoothly.

Showcasing the demo was a great opportunity to test the control mechanics, which we’d had a lot of discussion and experimenting with in-house. We expected to have to talk players thought each button, but for the most part, they worked the controller effortlessly. One change we will be making immediately to the game, is a control mechanism that prevents players accidentally skipped over dialogue choices by continually hitting ‘A’ in an effort to fast-forward the dialogue, but inadvertently auto-selecting the first dialogue choice. Rodney also had his notepad on hand to note any other bugs that popped up, and has a small list of collider gaps and camera twitches to fix.

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The demo seem to to take players between 5-10 minutes to complete depending on which characters they chose to talk to first, and of course, initial dialogue choices. This seemed to be the perfect amount of time to hold players attention at the con, and we only had a few people who didn’t finish the demo. We had the odd ‘I’m more of a Fallout kind of guy’, and while obviously not our target audience, we’re grateful for those con-goers trying new genres and giving our demo a play!

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Having a physical sketchbook (and promise of an early-access demo) to give away in exchange for an email sign-up sheet was a great idea in retrospect, as we ended up with about 70 new email addresses to add to our newsletter, with a lot of players anticipating a more polished version of the demo later in the year.

There were also a few YouTube content creators browsing the show floor, and we took part in a few interviews, so hopefully the PR aspect of the show will continue over the next few weeks, and we’ll post them here as they pop up.

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Q-con is local to our studio, so it’s pretty easily to recommend the short trip, but as a gamer-centric convention, the feedback from player-testing alone was invaluable. With an expanded email list, and postitive feedback over the weekend, I think we’ve also picked up a couple of fans along the way.

Big thanks to everyone who played the demo over the weekend. If you didn’t get a chance to play, or pick up one of the sketchbooks, you can still sign up for the email list and we’ll send them digitally later in the year.

Demo Deadline Day

We’ve been working towards a demo of Wailing Heights, and today is our self-imposed deadline (well, self-imposed in that it needs to be finished today, with final testing tomorrow if we want to show it at Q-con this weekend).

There have been some long days (stretching into nights, stretching into early mornings), but yesterday was a but of a milestone in having something that’s pretty playable.

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In some ways the demo, which forms a chunk of story Act 1, is the hardest hurdle to leap, as we need most of the game mechanics functional. With the core engine and UI in place, we’ll be expanding on the demo with level artwork, character design. and animation. Some would call this milestone a ‘vertical slice’, I’d call it ‘something playable’, but in my experience, they tend to go hand-in-hand with game development.

I don’t think we’ll be putting this version of the demo online, as it’s got quite a few temporary assets, but we’ll Twitch out some live in-house testing later today on our TWITCH account.

 

The Possession Wheel UI Design

With Wailing Heights being a body-hopping musical adventure game, the dreaded task of UI design had to look interesting, display the mechanics clearly, and try to fit with the overall aesthetics of the game.

There’s always a lot of team back and forth, and eventual user testing, with user interface, and here are a few sketches we worked through to find something worth taking to the next stage.

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We liked the musical notation and clef at the bottom right, but it didn’t leave a large enough space for the inventory icons to be placed (part of the body-hopping mechanic). Incorporating lyrics  is something we’re playing with (ignore the random text examples here), but we need to be careful not to have tiny or hard-to-read text on screen. Sentence structure can also play havoc with placement of text within shapes.

Here’s were we are now, taking the 3rd icon from the middle row in the concept stage.

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It’s still all up in the air though, and we’ll be playing about with colour, shapes, and alternatives, so check back to see how the UI aesthetic changes through production.

 

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