Dev Log

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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #15 on: September 06, 2018, 05:13:03 PM »
What fantastic recap of your experiences at PAX West, Ross! Your enthusiasm can be felt in every word you're writing here. I'm super excited to hear it was such a success, and I can only imagine the boost it's given your motivation to carry on. You're living your dream, even if it means fighting through lots of unexpected hardships. A big KUDOS to the great work you're doing and the personal touch you're weaving into every fiber of the game.  :D


P.S.: With these experiences, I guess you're already planning a rename of the game, right? "Squirrel Army's Fate [or how I learned to love that mutant rodent]".  ;D

Wow, thank you so much, Daniel, that's so kind of you to say! Now, we've got to do something about that missing avatar of yours *WAVES MAGIC WAND* and *POOF!* there you are!

Squirrel Army's Fate: How I Learned to Love that Mutant Rodent <- Genius! Have you considered a role in marketing? That's one the press can't look away from. I'll have to find a way to work into a future press release ;)


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #16 on: September 06, 2018, 10:20:12 PM »
We can feel the excitement in every sentence you wrote, Ross.  Thrilling!
It also makes me want to put my hands on that demo. Will you make it available to testers? I'm eager to try it, and to show it around!


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #17 on: September 07, 2018, 08:10:03 AM »
We can feel the excitement in every sentence you wrote, Ross.  Thrilling!
It also makes me want to put my hands on that demo. Will you make it available to testers? I'm eager to try it, and to show it around!

You, bet, Scribe! I'll try and get a build update out as soon as possible with the new intro sequence we showed at PAX. So many of the improvements were the direct result of your feedback, so thanks again for taking time to do such a thorough assessment of our first tutorial and share your thoughts with us.


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #18 on: November 28, 2018, 11:43:18 AM »
Dev Log 8: Highlights & Data of Summoners Fate at Dreamhack 2018

For those following my indie game marketing, this is the third article in that series (see part 1 and part 2 for our experience and data on PAX West). It’s my aim to capture both the subjective highlights and empirical data of our experiences so that myself and others can learn what to expect and how to improve our marketing. In this article, I share our marketing strategy, budget, event highlights and data of our Dreamhack Atlanta 2018 showcase of Summoners Fate.

What is Dreamhack and why did I showcase at their 2018 Atlanta Expo?

Dreamhack hosts several conventions internationally each year focused on eSports and multiplayer gaming. If you’ve ever experienced a LAN party where a group of friends all bring their gaming PC’s to play multiplayer, Dreamhack is like that except with thousands of people.

Dreamhack presented several key opportunities for us:
  • Free 10x10 Ft. Booth as a featured game in their Indie Playground
  • 15 Minutes to present on the Indie Stage streamed live on Twitch
  • Finalist for Best Game Pitch (Potential to win $2500 prize)
  • Additional 15 Minutes stage time for pitch finalists
  • Chance to create fan momentum by handing out our early access keys and getting gamers to play our multiplayer on their own personal PC’s in the LAN gaming party

Our awesome booth setup

My teammate Peter and I made the trip. To maximize our potential, we planned a 4 demo screens booth consisting of a 39” TV main monitor w/laptop, iPad Pro, iPad Air on tripod stand and a Surface Pro. For signage, we leveraged our existing horizontal banner from PAX and purchased a new vertical standing banner. Since the event allowed attendees to bring their own computers with internet access, we brought 300 keys for our early access multiplayer demo and hosted a contest to motivate players to actually play our game on the showfloor with their friends. Additionally, we held a social media contest, asking players to take pictures playing the game together to win one of Peter’s hand-crafted armored squirrel plushies.

Budget Breakdown:
  • Airfare: $792.80
  • Hotel: $190.05
  • Car Rental: $136.01
  • Power: $120.00
  • Food: $193.05
  • Parking: $56.00
  • Vertical Banner: $129.80
  • Total: $1617.71

This is how we get you pumped to play Summoners Fate
Event Highlights
  • Stage Time - We rocked our indie stage performance with feverous passion and energy.
  • Fanatical Fans - We made a strong personal connection with players and even inspired a new streamer to choose Summoners Fate as the game for his first-ever live stream.
  • Game Pitch Competition - We made it to the Final 5! Check out the stream here.
  • Comradery - We enjoyed beers and brats with fellow indie developers at Der Biergarten (thanks to Josh Delson for organizing).
  • Friendship - We traveled through underground cities, hordes of Falcon fans, and the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at airport security (among other trials of travel I can’t mention here). I wouldn’t have made it without Peter, and it’s my greatest gift of this experience knowing just how far a true friend will go to support me.

Indie dev comradery at Der Biergarten

Data and Take-Aways

Here’s the summary of the data we collected with our demo analytics. For more information and a comparison to our PAX data, see here.

Foot traffic was half what we expected, so we took a proactive approach of drawing players in by enthusiastically asking them “Would you like to throw a squirrel at your enemies?!” This was effective at turning heads “What?! Did you say throw a squirrel…?” Coupled with a friendly handshake and a personal introduction, we perfected the process of getting players in the demo seats and were among the most effective indie teams at maintaining an audience.

I’m continually seeking to learn how to effectively mobilize our fanbase to action. I think we had the right creative ideas with our multiplayer contest and squirrel giveaways, but we could have done a better job communicating the actionable steps and making it easier for players. This is a recurring lesson for us with all things marketing: continuous, clear and repetitive communication is key. I’ll sometimes think our message is obvious, but the data says: “Hit folks over the head with it!” I think of that Simpsons episode where Bart joins a boy band sponsored by the Navy. You need to use the subliminal, liminal, and superliminal: “Hey, YOU! Join the Navy!”

Peter and Ross are pumped!

All together, Dreamhack was a great stepping stone and learning experience. We succeeded in attracting passionate new fans, gaining valuable experience pitching our game in front of a live audience, and made another milestone towards raising brand awareness amongst the gamer community.


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #19 on: April 04, 2019, 08:02:42 AM »
Dev Log 9: “Go all in” to succeed as an Indie Dev at PAX East 2019

The camaraderie and brotherhood shared among fellow indie devs at events like PAX East never ceases to lift my spirit. Indie game development is the gem of the games industry where your market competitors passionately root for each others success. It’s a badge of honor to share our experiences with each other, openly and honestly, to solve our paramount problem of discoverability: what works and what doesn’t work to capture an audience? Who do we need to be speaking with to secure funding or publishing support? What crazy new ideas haven’t we tried yet?

PAX East 2019 marks my third major event showcase of Summoners Fate, and my second time showcasing as part of the Indie MEGABOOTH. I continue to learn from others with each experience and pay it forward by sharing here. So, here’s three things we did different to stand out as an indie at PAX East this year and the data we have so far on how it compared to our previous showcases:

1. Demo Hydra
A key take-away I learned from showcasing last year at PAX West with the MINIBOOTH is that a single screen demo heavily bottlenecks potential plays. Space at the MINIBOOTH is limited to a single monitor kiosk, but exhibitors are allowed to embellish it with decor provided it respects the space of your fellow miniboothers. So, I expanded on the existing idea of lateral signage by substituting mounts that could support tablets and phones. Each of the devices connects to a 15 foot braided charge cord which allowed us to extend our reach into crowds that would gather to play and simultaneously keep everyone engaged and entertained.

The Summoners Fate “Demo Hydra”. Cut off one head, two grow in its place!

I lovingly named this concept the “Demo Hydra” for its likeness to the mythological beast of many serpent heads. In total, we had 8 screens with us including our personal phones which we handed out as needed to keep the hydra fed. It should be considered a scientific fact that “success breeds success” and likewise “a crowd brings a crowd”. Whereas folks previously breezed past the MINIBOOTH, our perpetual crowd pulled them in, curious to discover what all the fuss was about. By virtue, this had the collective effect of drawing more audience for our fellow indie MINIBOOTH showcasers as well, allowing us all to share in the success.

Our demo tracks telemetry so that we can learn and improve from our experiences.

All in total, we had 149 sessions and 42 total email registrations for a total budget under $2660 (including booth, hotel, travel, food and marketing materials). By comparison, our PAX West showcase had 76 sessions, 37 email sign-ups, so the hydra had the effect of doubling our total sessions. Our conversions are more similar to our Dreamhack showcase. There we had 142 sessions and 49 sign-ups, but with a 10x10 foot booth over 3 days instead of 2. My theory is that a more crowded booth creates a less intimate experience where folks are less inclined to register their email. However, I prefer to let the game speak for itself. Time spent with us is an investment that raises brand awareness and breeds familiarity and likeness with our game. In aggregate of all three showcases, I believe our data may also suggest our demo is about 2 levels too long and that we could increase completion and conversion by shortening the experience and adjusting the difficulty on the earlier levels.

2. Branded Marketing Theme
Not unlike the vast ocean of games released daily on Steam, the waters of PAX are overloaded with games all competing to get prospective player attention. Showcasing with the Indie MEGABOOTH supports the first step of marketing by putting us in a school of fish strong enough to have a presence from afar and allowing folks to find us. The second step is creating a memorable impression that stands out and will last with players following the conference. Our previous showcases taught us that players respond well to a mix of familiarity and weird, and our signature hook became “Would you like to throw a squirrel at some orcs?”

We don’t want to be typecast as a game just about squirrels, though, so we expanded our marketing with a broader theme of “WE LIKE WEIRD.” and showing how our game connects emotionally to the characters and cool things you can do in the game. Varieties of these messages were looped constantly on a dedicated screen in the hydra. Here’s some examples:


My teammate, Peter, took the concept a step further by devising a way to make an immediate personal connection to passerbys. Honestly, I was hesitant when he first shared his plan… “Hmm, that might be perceived as offensive, no?” but the real shocker was that it was actually extremely effective. Peter casually approached folks walking past the booth and said “Hey, you look weird.” ...pause… “We like weird.” … smile… Players considered it an honor to be recognized for their weirdness, and why not, right? What is PAX if not a celebration of the weirdness in all of us? Bonus tip: Bring a new teammate with you to showcase. Their perspective may lead to the discovery of the most effective way to connect with your audience.

3. Player Testimonial
A key benefit of showcasing with Indie MEGABOOTH is their Mixer event where you get to party and network with key industry folks including reps from Sony, Microsoft, Kongregate and more. One of the most interesting folks I had the pleasure of meeting that night was Alex Engel, a product manager with vast experience releasing AAA games in the industry. Word of advice: If you ever have the opportunity to strike up a conversation with a PM, listen carefully and absorb everything. They are among the most brilliant minds in the industry.

I asked Alex about how to make a wave connecting with our audience and a key piece of advice he shared was to use the convention as an opportunity to give our players a voice: let them communicate what excited them about the experience. That is what will excite new players, and that is what you should focus on. Real simple: Ask them what they enjoyed, then, create a compilation of their responses. So, the next day we did just that:

If you’re using Google Photos, you can create a clip like this in about an hour using your phone. Select the all the clips, then use the auto-assist to make a movie. Then, adjust the clips so they reflect the most interesting parts of the interviews. To improve this in the future, I would bring personal mics to help filter out the background noise of the convention and have the voices be more clear. Even with just basic phone audio capture, though, I think this is a powerful takeaway of our experience.

What unites us all as indies?
Regardless of the tips, tricks and luck we all hope for, one sentiment was constant throughout all the fellow indies I spoke to: we “go all in” giving every ounce of strength and energy we have. Failure never deters us. We never consider the consequence of “What if this game doesn’t succeed?” because we perceive every opportunity we have as a gift from which we can learn and grow. Perseverance is the standout character trait of those who ultimately succeed because every moment of life is lived passionately to its full potential.

« Last Edit: April 04, 2019, 08:14:23 AM by RossD20Studios »


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #20 on: April 08, 2019, 01:58:26 PM »
I really appreciate the details as always. I've been trying to do more demos myself, so its great to compare results. At Berlin Talk and Play (, a developer focused twice a month meetup, I get avg. 4 emails for 3 hours of time (and it costs 2 beers on average). I've demoed twice and I expect I will saturate that niche fairly soon but it seems good low hanging fruit due to its locality.

I love the demo hydra, I was concluding a similar thing myself that the bottle neck is the number of devices. I'me getting a chrome cast to send the main device to a HDMI, for the passives, and a few extra devices would help too.

Awesome stuff Ross, thanks for taking us on this journey.


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #21 on: June 14, 2019, 11:53:52 AM »
Dev Log 10: Creating Original and Exciting Single Player Adventures

The path ahead unfolds...

Recently returned from Dreamhack Dallas, it's clear the most important next step we can make is to deliver on our promise of procedurally driven single player campaign adventures. We gained a lot of insight and ideas from our time at Dreamhack listening to player aspirations and learning from fellow indie devs showcasing games of like-minded spirit to Summoners Fate. Shout out to Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mask, Wildermyth, RoundGuard, Rogue Empire: Dungeon Crawler RPG and Bound by Blades for the opportunity to play your games and learn from you.

We've shared our big-picture vision of the single player campaign here in our Kickstarter page and here in our development blog . I'm pleased to say that vision remains consistent with where we envision the path forward. What's changing as a result of our learning are the particulars of how we intend to implement that vision. The games that excited us at Dreamhack were those that exhibited unique and original mechanics. The parts less exciting were those that felt derivative to other titles and implemented to satisfy perceptions of trends in the current market. This gave us pause to question our own design - Why were we implementing systems like our saga-style map, and would players perceive these mechanics as original and exciting or derivative and out of place?

Branching saga maps are trending in the market, but we learned we aren't doing ourselves a favor standing out by making derivatives.

Peter and I discussed the underlying motivations from a player perspective that make us feel compelled to move forward. Making a choice was the most prominent factor - but, not just any choice. It has to be a meaningful choice. It has to be a fair and informed choice. The choice must contribute to sense of progression and development of the ultimate character destiny we aimed to play out in our fantasy. Furthermore, at what starting point can we roll out our single player experience incrementally so that we can start getting player feedback as soon as possible to test our assumption?

Our first breakthrough was questioning why we were using certain mechanics in the first place. When I thought about our over-arching saga map, I reasoned it was there to provide break points and present choices to players - but were these choices meaningful or rudimentary? How informed is the choice I make on the path I take, and what can I do if I don't like the outcome (especially if the outcome is an unfair challenge I cannot overcome)? The saga map also directly conflicts with one of the unique and compelling aspects of Summoners Fate - our ability to tie tactical grid levels together as a seamless world.

What if we cut this feature and put our focus on what makes us unique?

We built an engine that supports seamless transitions between levels. Why aren't we doubling down on this?

It's amazing how an experience followed by some heartfelt discussion can change your perspective. Once we realized our mistake and let go of it, other pieces of our design started falling into place and got us excited about how we can deliver on choice. Here's a quick synopsis:

  • The world is generated procedurally by placing tactical grid maps that connect together to form a continuous landscape. Key objectives such as treasures, new characters to recruit, and bosses to defeat are scattered throughout the world.
  • We assume players desire to explore the entire world - but if they do, their choice on which path to take becomes less meaningful (since they are not choosing to lose something, simply the order in which to see everything). To give weight to player decisions, we add a survival modifier: The longer you explore the world, the more difficult enemies become until they ultimately overwhelm you.
  • You get only one life and your resources (health, cards, number of rest points) are limited, so you have to make careful choices about where you want to explore. Make a wrong turn and stumble on a dragon? That's ok. Retreat and fall back, but remember that the longer you take to find the right path, the more imminent your defeat as the doomsday clock ticks down.
  • Players progress their Summoner by over-coming challenges one room/area at a time. Upon completion, you make a choice about how to develop your character by picking a new card to add to your deck, choosing a new companion to join you, or resting to recover health or used cards.

Incrementally, we believe we can quickly turn-around an initially linear/non-back tracking dungeon with player progression through deck building choices as a first iteration, giving players a chance to provide feedback. Then, we expand the experience by adding a mini-map overlay that allows you to see/choose paths to explore in a non-linear fashion (including backtracking).

What do you think?
We're eager to hear what you think about this design. Feel welcome to share your feedback, questions and concerns here and on our Discord. We love hearing from you!


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #22 on: March 11, 2020, 12:00:40 PM »
Dev Log 11: PAX Rising - Our Data, Experience and Gratitude

PAX East 2020 marks my indie team’s sixth major showcase of Summoners Fate, and each time, we do a write up to help ourselves and others learn how we can improve our marketing skills. This event was our most successful show to date, breaking our previous best show’s record (the SLC Game Con) in the first two days alone. In this article, we’ll explore the data, our experience and my key-takeaway for this show: gratitude.

Our Budget
For our previous two PAX shows (West 2018, East 2019), we showcased as part of the Indie MEGABooth and opted for the 2-day MiniBooth for its lower cost, ease-of-setup, and IMB network event which continues to provide benefits long after the show. We have also done full booth setups in the past (Dreamhacks, SLC Game Con) though these come with added costs and responsibility to populate the 10x10 foot space. This year, we had the honor of being showcased with PAX Rising - and I would describe the experience as the “optimal middle ground” for small teams with prior showcase experience whose goal is to build further brand awareness and get feedback from players.

To get into PAX Rising, you apply via their website about 4 months prior to your target show date. Their staff hand-picks fourteen teams that they believe have the potential to “rise above their modest beginnings, by growing as a company, establishing a fan base or pushing the industry” and provides them a kiosk-style booth setup in a highly foot-trafficked area of the expo at a prorated cost. This setup includes power and creation and installation of artwork that you can see in my setup here:

The PAX Rising booth is a half-circle pod that includes power and artwork. You can bring your own devices or pay extra to have PAX provide them.

Here’s a breakdown on what it costs for a team of two to showcase with Rising at PAX East for four days:

  • Half-Pod Booth Cost: $1440
  • Airfare SLC to Boston x2: $520
  • Lyft Rides to and from Hotel: $200
  • Hotel and Per Diem: $593
  • Marketing Hand-Outs (x500): $66
  • TOTAL: $2819.00
This budget does not include cost of demo devices (we used our personal devices for showcase) as well as other accessories (such as our tablet mounts and cabling) which I purchased and have continued to use from past shows.

Our Data

Here’s what our booth looked like during expo hours.

I’ve been using telemetry to track data on our demos since our first showcase, and this has proved incredibly valuable in helping understand how players experience the game in conjunction with observation and asking them for feedback afterwards. Here’s what our session data looks like:

To count as a session, the time-stamp of the session start had to be during expo hours and had to be at least 60 seconds long (to rule out any setup tests we did on the devices). We had 719 total sessions with PAX Rising 2020, and our best record prior to this was the SLC Game Con (which was a three day show, 12 hour days) at 293 total sessions, and our previous PAX East 2019 was 149 total sessions. We were completely blown away by this number - and you can tell by the fact we gave away all of our hand-outs that we were not expecting this.

Tip: If you find that you are going to run out of hand-outs, keep 1 of them, put it in a display case and ask players to take a photo. This actually works out well and as a bonus the photo won’t get lost.

Here’s our take on factors contributing to our success:

  • We had an awesome location (and we are so grateful for that). PAX Rising is right along a major walk-way and we faced that walkway directly.
  • Our signage was appropriately designed thanks to my wife, Kelly, who taught me that “simple and bold is best”. To put in perspective, you can easily spot our humble indie pod from as far as the second floor sky-box thanks to the blue/gold contrast in the sky/logo and that super high-contrast red in the Battle Mage cloak. Numerous folk complimented the signage and told us straight-up that was what initially drew them in.
  • Crowds act like gravity - the greater the mass, the greater the pull - and we designed our booth for maximum crowd. Some folks will argue that a super large screen is paramount, and I was initially concerned about not having one at our booth. However, since my priority was maximum plays - I opted for smaller devices and was able to comfortably fit six demo stations using two laptops and 4 iPads on camera mounts. The artboard did the job of the big TV, and the iPads did the job of ensuring there was always a spot for someone to jump in and play.
  • We mastered our pitch and made players feel comfortable with our invitation to play and our sincere desire for their feedback. A number of folks told us they were hooked the minute they heard us ask someone “Would you like to hurl a squirrel at some orcs?” Others initially told us they didn’t play turn-based games - so I’d say “What games do you play?” and then I would suggest something like “Well, based on your current games, I would be really fascinated to get your feedback in particular, because then we’d know whether our game can successfully introduce this genre to a new player”. Probably one of the most validating moments was having such a player complete the demo, walk up to me afterwards, and then thank me for having the courage to invite him to play - because it turns out that he absolutely loved it and wouldn’t have discovered this otherwise.
  • Shorter demo, but more unique: We reduced our previous average session length from 11-12 minutes down to 8.5 minutes. Our previous level funnel data suggested our demo was about 2 levels two long. Additionally, there was friction that inhibited players from making fluid progress through the demo. This year, we made our first major changes to the demo by changing the flow and incorporating the design feedback we discovered in Dreamhack Dallas: We doubled-down on the mechanics that make us unique and removed the mechanics that made us feel derivative. This demo was our first public unveil of our “open world” system that allows players to seamlessly walk around and explore the world between battles to find cards, treasures, etc. Likewise, we removed all of the stagnant reward models and placed everything to find in the world itself. Player reactions and testimonials reflected these changes: Instead of comparing Summoners Fate to other games they had played and saying how we were like them, players would say things like “I play XYZ, and this is NOTHING like that” or “I’ve never played a tactics game with open-world exploration before”.

With our new open world, exploration is seamless and players loved their herds of squirrels and other animals following them.

Here’s the new level funnel data for our demo. It’s interesting to note that the demo actually has twice as many levels as prior (14 vs 7), but takes less time to play due to the overworld system and elimination of prior friction:

Oaks End Treasure Room is an optional (non-linear) level reached only via exploration and puzzle solving.

And win/loss statistics for the levels containing battles:

Another change we made for this demo was to make it so that players cannot retry the last battle vs. the Liche King. Instead, the demo ends and goes right into registration. Anecdotally, I think this helped us - at least in the case of one particular player who told us the next day that he stayed up thinking about how to beat the Liche King, came back to the booth, beat him then bought the game right at the booth.

Our Experience, Gratitude
Standing on your feet, shouting about squirrels for four days is an intense experience that takes a heavy toll, both physically and mentally - but I was fortunate to have such an incredible support network. Let’s start with our PAX Exhibitor assistance, Emma, who gave each of the indie teams there her personal cell number the first day and a “call-anytime” offer of support. There’s the enforcers - who I continue to maintain are among the best support staff I’ve yet seen at a show of this size and caliber. I thought it was a big deal that Kevin Brady, who heads up PAX Rising organization and selected us for rising personally came by to check on us during the show. Likewise with Krista who coordinated the artboard and Devin who did the printing and who both helped arrange for us to take the art home after the show.

When the days got particularly intense, I was grateful to have the AFK lounge, sponsored by Take This, an organization dedicated to caring for mental health in the game industry. They provide a quiet room to relax and recover from the intensity and stimuli of the expo hall as well as volunteers and clinical aides to talk with.

My fellow indies - who came to realize as we did that Boston traffic can be unpredictable and costly to morning setup time - were there and willing to exchange numbers so we could cover each other’s booth should the need arise. Shout outs to our friends at DNA Studios: Tower of Babel, Knight Shift Games: Elsie, Not Dead Design: Kana Quest, and Tripe-I Games: Hindsight 20/20. It was great having a chance to connect at dinner after the show on Sunday.

Peter Jones, Joe Lieberman, and me in the Tiny Build hat that was wrestled off a giant bear.

Our friends and fans - both new and visiting us again - made the show such a memorable and meaningful experience. Loved seeing Justin, Mike and others from the Creator Crew - a community of streamers we’ve been friends with for the past year, Benjamin Glover from Stellar Jockeys, Shane from Evil Villain Games, and of course, my longtime friend and supporter Joe Lieberman from Antlion Audio who I finally got to meet in person. Even those who couldn’t be at the show expressed their support and checked up on me throughout the week - thanks to our awesome player community, and my friends Chris and Ashley who’ve been helping us out.

There’s my friend and teammate Peter, who once again took personal time off work to go on this crazy adventure with me and to teach me what a good person looks and acts like in the way he treats everyone he meets with kindness.

Finally, I thought of my family a lot - my wife, son, daughter and mom put up with a lot of craziness from me in the months leading up to the show. They were always there cheering me on. With a support network like that, it almost feels inappropriate to call myself “indie” because I was never really alone. And that’s why my big take-away from this year’s event is gratitude: a recognition of all that is right, meaningful and important about the relationships I have in my life, how truly wonderful and amazing this is, and that I appreciate everyone so much for being there for me. So, thank you, everyone! And thank you for reading this article. May you take a moment and give thanks to those that have helped you on your journey.


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Re: Dev Log
« Reply #23 on: September 14, 2020, 01:00:31 PM »
Dev Log 12: Fluidity and Seamless Open World

How we're using fluidity to build a better experience

Good day D20Studios fans :) I wanted to thank those of you who've reached out to me personally regarding updates on the game. It's very heartwarming and encouraging to know you're still excited about Summoners Fate. Rest assured, this project remains my top priority, and my communication remains sparse only because I'm so focused on doing everything I can to get the next build out. I don't have a release date for that yet, but what I can say is that it will be significant and hopefully deliver on your expectations. Here's some of the progress I've made to show we're moving in that direction.

In previous updates I've discussed that one of my goals for single player is to create fluidity in the moment-to-moment interactions as I believe this will significantly contribute to a feeling of joy as you explore the open world. To expand more on this concept, I define fluidity as a seamless connection between intent and response. Friction is anything apart from your own input that delays or inhibits your intended response or breaks your connection with the experience of the activity.

Oftentimes, friction is caused by poor controls or bad camera angle. But, the biggest friction culprit is undoubtedly waiting for the thing you intended to happen to happen; or, in the case where you made the wrong input, waiting to try again. Imagine trying to shoot a basketball into a hoop and improve your skill by gradually moving further and further from the goal. Each time you have to chase the ball, that delay causes a loss of focus that inhibits the joy you would otherwise feel in hearing a consistent sound of swishes. Now imagine how much better the experience would be if a ball magically appeared in your hands immediately after you took a shot. A consistent series of swooshes in a row is not only rewarding, but provides a meaningful sense of skill and joy in pure connectivity with the activity itself. And, even if you miss the basket, the removal of any delay provides immediate ability to try again so you can excel and do better. When there is fluidity, even failure can be fun because there is the joy of overcoming challenge and a feeling of growth in doing so.

Zero-Wait Retry
Summoners Fate has zero-wait time whether retrying a battle or undoing a command to try something else. If you fail a battle in the over world, you have the option to try the battle again immediately, or explore another area if you wish. Depending on your chosen game difficulty, retry may also exhaust resources to add further tension and strategy.

Fluid Controls
Eliminating friction may seem counter-intuitive for a turn-based game where "waiting for your turn" is undoubtedly one of the worst-case examples of friction that there is. But I think there is room for innovation to improve that experience. One of the ways I've already done this is by eliminating the waiting within your own turn. It's a very subtle thing - but players noticeably felt it and have commented during our public exhibitions: You don't need to wait for animations to complete to perform your next command. You can issue orders as fast as you want on your turn and the characters/cards will respond immediately (in some cases, jumping past previous animations to catch up) so they always respond in sync with your input.

Parallel Animation
It was among the pieces of the vision I had last year that this same principle could be applied on the opponents turn as well. I recall watching folks at conventions play the build and losing attention while waiting for the AI to move and attack its horde of skeletons one-by-one. Or, take for example a slow moving enemy like these withereds and having to wait for each one to slog its way over and attack before you get to take your turn again:

Sure, you can use the skip button to jump right to your turn, but then you're left trying to piece together what just happened to your team. Wouldn't it be a lot less friction if they just all moved and attacked at the same time? Here's that same scene with a new feature I've developed called "Parallel animations":

What once was a chore of slogging animations becomes a fast-paced onslaught that adds to the excitement of the battle. But what happens when something more complex than a series of move/attacks takes place? Well, the system is programmed with intelligence to automatically detect anything that might make watching the flow of battle confusing (a surprise trigger, multiple units attacking, getting killed on the same tile, etc.) and revert to serial animations on demand as needed. Players can also toggle parallel animations if you still want to see each animation one-at-a-time as they occur (which works great with the replay turn feature for when you want to study your opponents moves more closely).

Descending into a Dungeon
Fluidity is not necessarily about removing all waiting (which could be directly achieved by eliminating animations entirely), but delivering the appropriate amount of feedback to validate a player's input. Take for example descending into a dungeon from the over world. Putting up a loading screen between scenes is an example of the kind of friction I want to avoid. But, instantly jumping to the next scene also feels unsatisfying because it breaks the experience. So, I opted for an animation of the character descending the stairs with black fade to convey the players intended response and maintain the flow of the experience:

Mist of Mayhem
One of the harder design challenges I've had with introducing open world to Summoners Fate has been reconciling the seamless exploration with turn-based combat. The problems lie in when (and how) to communicate the transfer from one control type to the other. Is it the proximity to an enemy that triggers it, or the entering of a new map? And what happens to the enemies when you retreat? Folks who played our PAX East demo got to experience one of my earlier solutions where I utilized a blackout on unexplored maps, with a yellow "portal" ring that served as the entrance to the level. It served its purpose, but it introduced a lot of friction in that the portals diminished your connection to the experience: they looked unnatural with the environment and they restricted your freedom to enter the map where you wanted.

For our latest iteration, we've introduced a "fog of war" style design thats often employed in real-time strategy games. Kelly has more appropriately named this feature the "mist of mayhem" since you're not actually at war and the revealed maps need not contain enemies (they could be more whimsical encounters with a fairy princess or a goblin birthday party).

The basic idea is that the world is shrouded in a mist over all the areas you have yet to explore. When you enter the mist, it disperses to reveal new areas. If there are enemies in the area you reveal, the camera pans to the battle area and tints out the non-playable area outside the battle. When you initiate a retreat, the mist reforms over that area, allowing the enemies to heal and reposition themselves relative to where you re-enter that map.

This improves over our previous solution by providing the player with total freedom to enter a map from any direction and creating an aesthetic that feels natural in the environment. The border of the mist also signals where potential combat transitions could take place.

Keep in Touch
I remain diligently busy with completing single player for our next major build update. In the meantime, feel welcome to reply with any questions you may have. I am also available on Discord. Our verified server is: and my username is RossD20Studios. Hit me up anytime :)