Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Goodbye 2023!

Another trip around the sun and another year to be grateful for the players whose enthusiasm keeps us developing and supporting our games. Despite some shenanigans, 2023 was a particularly productive year for both our upcoming role-playing game Fallen Gods and our past adventure games Primordia and Strangeland.

Fallen Gods

Fallen Gods is by far the largest project we’ve ever undertaken. While I had a lot of cRPG development experience from working on Torment: Tides of Numenera and Dragon Age: Origins, helping on Colony Ship, and attempting to make various cRPGs of my own over the years, I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started Fallen Gods back in May 2014.

Numerical measures of a game’s scale can be deceptive (“lies, damned lies, and statistics!”), but they are a useful starting point.

Fallen Gods has about 250 major events (text adventures) each with numerous possible “paths” and resolutions, a level of choice, reactivity, and non-linearity that goes far beyond our prior games (and entails much more writing). On top of that are hundreds of minor events (things like combat encounters, lore discoveries, dungeon flavor, item or follower interactions, and the like).

Each event requires not only text and design, but also graphics and sound. We now have over 250 illustrations, plus things like enemy formations for combat encounters and environmental scenes for minor events. The “intro” node of every event is voiced, which totals over around seven hours of voice over. And the events (and game in general) are full of music, with over 40 tracks thus far.

And setting aside events, there are obviously the hundreds of animated sprites that compose the exploration and combat aspects of the game.

All these numbers continue to tick inexorably upward!

The massive scope of Fallen Gods has been possible primarily thanks to teamwork and time (a decade of development). While some members have come and gone over the years, and some have joined recently, others have been with me from almost the very start. Fallen Gods has an amazing, international crew (spanning four continents), all of them artists in their disciplines.

All the way back in 2014, Daniel Miller and Maciej Bogucki joined the team. Fallen Gods’ amazing pixel art is thanks to Dan, as are some of its illustrations. Dan’s work will be familiar to Wormwood Studios fans, as he did key animations for the Stranger in Strangeland. Maciej’s role doesn’t have an easy label; he’s the sinew of the project: editor, scripter, sounding board, producer, overseer. He pushes all of us to be our best and leads by tireless example.

In 2016, Jamie Campbell and Anders Hedenholm began creating Fallen Gods’ soundscape. Jamie is an amazing voice actor, and his delivery of the narrator’s voice helped guide my writing as the years went on. Anders—fittingly from Sweden—found a way to compose music that feels authentic to the setting, unique, and beautiful. 

A couple years ago, James Spanos—one of my fellow founders of Wormwood Studios and one of the three core creators of Primordia and Strangeland—took over coding from Connor Brennan, who helped launch the project. Since James joined, the game has leaped forward, which is unsurprising because no commercial Wormwood Studios game has ever been finished without his involvement, and his inexhaustible energy was a dynamo of our past projects as well.

Right now we have four active illustrators: Ivan Ulyanov (whose work has appeared in numerous adventure games, including several released by the publisher of Primordia and Strangeland, Wadjet Eye Games); Jan Pospíšil (one of the illustrators of Six Ages, a sequel to one of Fallen Gods’ inspirations, King of Dragon Pass); Gessony Pawlick; and Cleopatra Motzel. Almost a decade ago, Cleo did the knotwork for the runestone that has been the game’s main menu, and recently she jumped back in to create a logo and enhance her earlier work.

The very long development cycle—and uncertain nature of embarking on RPG development—meant that I took a different approach for Fallen Gods in terms of team structure. Primordia and Strangeland were collaborations where no one got paid during development and the three of us shared in the backend royalties. For Fallen Gods, we’ve actually had a budget, which I’ve funded out of the royalties I earn from Primordia and Strangeland. From 2014 on, almost all of my royalties have gone to the Fallen Gods team as part-time contractors. For those curious about the costs of even a shoestring indie RPG, the development cost has been around $80,000 (another number ticking inexorably upwards!), divided between art (45%), coding (25%), production work like scripting, editing, testing, QC (25%), and audio (5%). (Obviously, I don’t pay myself!) 

It’s been a long road, but the end is now in sight! And there’s no one I would rather have taken that journey with than these comrades in arms. I can’t wait for people to see (and play) what we’ve created together!

When is that release going to happen? I anticipate 2024, but I never like to make promises on release dates. Of course, getting the game out is never the end of the road. As James and I have done with Primordia and Strangeland, I’m sure we’ll continue supporting and refining the game for years to come!

Primordia and Strangeland

Thanks to our players’ support, both games continued to sell well in 2023 (Primordia is nearing 340,000 copies sold, and Strangeland is nearing 40,000 copies sold), and we are grateful for the many lovely Steam reviews that were added, which play a critical role in building our community and attracting new fans.

James updated Primordia to the latest version of Adventure Game Studio (as part of James and my 11-year work to make Primordia as great and as accessible to our fans as possible!), ensuring superior compatibility. We also squashed a number of persistent bugs related to achievements and continue to improve the clunky UI. As for Strangeland, the translation crew at Zone of Gamers released an unofficial Russian translation (which we may be able to integrate into an official one), and I’ve been working with Eduardo Moreno Martín (who translated Primordia) on a Spanish translation that I expect will be our last official translation for a while. We still hold out hopes of a Switch port of Strangeland, but there are some coding snags that are blocking it.

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And that’s it! Happy 2024! We’ll have more to share soon!