By the time we’d reached prototype 5 of Spellirium, i was pretty confident in the concept. We went ahead and prototyped around twenty different puzzles to put them out to players and to see which ones stuck, and which ones were Fit for the Pit.
As the video reveals, the most popular puzzle was “Picture”, so we put it in the current game such that players would be playing it again and again. But our implementation was a bear, and it turned out to be a level of work akin to fighting through a 100-level randomized dungeon in order to power up a single, consumable health potion in Disgaea. We’re going to be less heavy-handed with the Picture puzzle in future revisions of the alpha.
i had never ever seen a word game like Spellirium, in which the Dictionary of fifty thousand-odd words is collectible and exposed to the player, AND collecting those words has some sort of bearing on gameplay – in Spellirium’s case, those words become your currency. To pull that off, the real trick was going to be organizing the UI (user interface) for the Dictionary in an enticing – not overwhelming – way.
Well, Mission Totally Failed during our first attempt, which we outline in the video. Based on that initial UI failure, we made the following critical changes to the Dictionary that you’ll find in the current version of Spellirium:
By default, the Dictionary filters by words you’ve already made. So the first time you open the Dictionary, you see it filled with words that you recognize, because you just finished building them in a challenge.
Instead of only two word states (“got it” and “don’t got it”), there are now four states: unseen, seen, owned, and spent. You can filter the Dictionary using any of those parameters for more or less granularity.
There’s a cheeky % complete counter at the bottom of the current dictionary, which usually says something like “0.0017% complete”. This is almost there to dissuade players from building all fifty thousand words because, come on … get a life.
There are two Cheeves in the game related to collecting words. One of them is called “You’re Almost There”, which rewards you for completing 2% of the Dictionary ;) The other one is for 100% completion, but it implores you NOT to achieve it, offers you no reward, and encourages you to get out and join a community group instead.
Spellirium’s third prototype is nearly identical to the mechanic the game presently uses. But the moment you tell a player not to go somewhere, that’s the first thing a player tries to do. It’s the Garden of Eden all over again. The limits of this prototype became very obvious very quickly.
In the video, i tease a fight i had with a fellow game dev. It’s actually not going to be mentioned in the very next video, but it is upcoming, so watch out for it!
One element of my effort to drive awareness of our Spellirium Pre-Order crowdfunding campaign is a series of video developer diaries called Spellirium Minute. i had always wanted to produce video diary content, but i worried about all the effort involved in shooting and editing the videos together. In this article, i hope to convey that creating the video is the easy part.
i Post This Video Every Day
Robby “the Doogs” Duguay has been a big supporter of the campaign so far. Last week, he sat down with me and we banged out eighteen Spellirium Minute developer diary videos. All of them are short, screencapped vids about two minutes apiece, in which i talk about different design processes during the five long years we’ve been building the game. The videos contain info about our prototype regimen, communication with artists, and the inspiration that led to the project. They make for interesting viewing, and of course i’d like to get them out to as many people as possible.
Hey, hippies! Wanna watch a video?
i have enough content to release one video every day for the duration of the campaign. What i didn’t realize was the enormous chunk of every morning that would be taken up promoting each video. This is the process i follow from the moment i hit that “Upload” button on YouTube:
Prepping the Video on YouTube
Write a video description. Make sure to include a link to Spellirium off the top. If the video references a playable game prototype or a blog article, add a link to it at the bottom of the description.
Write as many tags as my little mind can fathom. This improves searchability.
(my little mind can’t actually fathom very many tags)
Fix the auto-caption track to create an English closed caption track. i have no idea if this improves searchability, but i do it anyway. Even with only two minutes of video, it is an asspain.
Create a custom thumbnail for the video and upload it.
Add an annotation to the end of the video linking to the previous video.
Add an annotation to the end of the previous video linking to this video.
Email the vid to the guys at Evolve PR, who are helping us out with the campaign.
There’s a Spellirium thread on the TIGSource forums that i update regularly. But TIGSource is a rare and precious snowflake that operates differently from many other sites. For example, the forum doesn’t let you embed YouTube videos (PLEASE let me know if i’m wrong about that), and it uses a phpBB/wiki-style markup. Here’s the painful process of posting there:
Screencap the video.
Upload the image to my server, since the TIGSource forums don’t let you upload images (again, if i’m wrong, please let me know.)
Copy/paste the content of the Untold blog post in a new reply to the TIGSource thread
Meticulously go through the post and rewrite the HTML markup as phpBB markup (if anyone knows a handy conversion tool that will do this for me, PLEASE let me know! It’s not quite painful enough to make me write my own convertor, but it’s getting there)
Point to the uploaded image of the YouTube video
Link it to the YouTube video
Change the Reply title
Change the Thread title
Finally, since Twitter is easily our largest referrer, i make sure to schedule or post repeated announcements throughout the day, since Twitter is only effective if people happen to see your link float by in their feed when they’re looking at Twitter.
Comb hair. Brush teeth. Promote video.
(who am i kidding? i don’t have time to comb my hair)
This is the routine i run through every morning, which actually begins the night before at midnight EST when i post the video to YouTube and Twitter only (partly for my Australian friends, and partly for fear that i’ll sleep in the next morning and completely miss my promotional window for the Eastern Standard Time breakfast crowd). Another key repost time is 11:30/12:00 PM EST, which is the double-whammy of lunchtime break for EST people and breakfast for PST people.
We’ve also created some “special” videos which took longer to shoot and required more effort, but they’re there to sort of break away from the sameness of the screencapped vids, and to hopefully enjoy some viral sharing. The last “special” video we posted showed me pointlessly demoing the 2D Spellirium game on the 3D Oculus Rift. Today’s special is a Spellirium-styled parody of the Pokémon Rap:
The punchline is that through all of this, my video strategy is not working. Just take a quick look at the abysmal double-digit views each video is pulling.
Over the past week, with one video going up every single day, and despite a big push from Kotaku that brought over 5000 people to the first vid, YouTube accounts for a whole 27 visits to the Spellirium campaign. However, that’s more eyeballs than articles on certain big press sites have brought us. Our conversion rate is high at 64%, and our lowest-priced and most popular tier is $15. If my i-flunked-high-school-math calculations are correct, the entire week-long YouTube effort has been worth roughly $275 to us so far. But maybe it’s a slow burn?
i’m Taking Requests
You’ll notice that despite all of this hustling, i’m still really only hitting a lot of insular locations. Where’s Google+? Where’s Dailymotion/Metacafe/Vimeo? There are so many more places on the Internatz. My blast radius is still quite close to home, and i haven’t yet discovered many great places to share these videos that draw a potential audience from far and wide. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Maybe then, i’ll have to spend the entire day promoting these videos, instead of “just” the entire morning.
Pokémon has a collectible compendium of creatures. Spellirium has a collectible Dictionary of words. Every original Pokémon teevee show ended with the Pokémon Rap. And what’s better than the Pokémon Rap? Practically everything.
Robby “the Doogs” Duguay is responsible for the bang-on musical homage, while you can thank Jon Remedios for the chorus that’ll stay in your brain far, far longer than you’ll want it to.