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Spilt Milk Devlog 08 - 2020 retrospective

2020 was quite something. It's with a peculiar mix of pride and guilt that, looking back on one of the worst years in memory, Spilt Milk Studios has grown, succeeded, and laid the foundations for a bright future...

Andrew Smith, Blogger

January 22, 2021

11 Min Read

...Coming out of 2020 we've basically become better, stronger and have a more exciting future than we could have hoped. Allow me to indulge as we take a look back at the year, and lay down some teases for the year ahead.


In April we took the plunge and launched our Patreon, and we couldn't be happier with the support so far! It was a big decision for us - there's a certain amount of emotional exposure that comes from a thing like this, so it meant a lot that we instantly got a really great chunk of supporters who've stuck with us throughout 2020. Hopefully, the content we post here is entertaining and informative, and we have plans to expand it as we grow - certainly, as we release our next Spilt Milk Shake game (see below) there's an opportunity to make it an even more rewarding thing to be a part of.  

We launched it with two broad goals in mind. An obvious one would seem to be to secure a small amount of financial support that could help take some amount of pressure off our cashflow. But honestly, that wasn't a goal. Ever careful, we planned for £0, and not just because any backer activity at all would be a nice surprise! It meant we concentrated on the two real aims.  One was to keep looking at what we were doing, on a monthly basis, so that we stay true to our company goals, and the other was to keep building and nurturing our community.

I think the first goal has been an unadulterated success, while the second is a longer-term play and harder to judge. But seeing as we've only had 1 person drop off (and even they promised to be back!) I am cautiously optimistic that we're delivering content here that you want!



We've grown massively this year, and we couldn't be more excited about it! We brought on Jake (concept art & art direction), Steve (art and design), Danielle (production) & Des (production direction) over the course of the year, and already they've had a huge positive impact on the studio and our games. We also worked with a ton of freelancers too, including Jason, Lillian, Courtney, Jason (yes another one!), Will, Juju and Damion. We can't talk about some of the work that's happening in that mix, but you should know it includes FF4K, Peck N Run and more.  To be making hires and paying good money to great people for amazing work always feels really special, but last year... boy did it feel like we were in a really privileged position.

Let's just underline this. At the start of 2020 it was me (Andrew) and Andrew (no, the other one) fulltime, and Nicholas our non-exec director for about a day a month. Right now, we've added 7 people to that! I am actually just staggered even writing that.



2020 was a rollercoaster for Stargrave Reapers, the game we spun out of our dead MMO Lazarus. We'd built an amazing demo, a brilliant pitch document, and had a killer team ready to make it great. But of course, you need to find a partner to fund and launch the game. Self-publishing these days is very hard to we wanted to find a publisher who believed in us and the game to help make it a huge success.





Long story short I took it to PAX East in Boston, mere days before the global Covid-19 lockdown started to hit; and while we did not land a publishing deal for the game and ended up shelving it for now, we impressed a lot of people, made great new contacts in the business and hopefully that will pay off in our not too distant future!



Developing FF4K from scratch and launching it with the help of a great team both internally and outside volunteers was a highlight of the year for sure. Being able to do something (anything!) positive in 2020 was a thing to be savoured, and while I could stop there, I won't ever pass up an opportunity to lavish praise on Lillian Martin and Jason St Paul the two incredible Black developers we hired for the project. Couldn't have done it without them!

It didn't do the numbers we'd hoped, which meant we couldn't donate as much as we'd hoped, but we're still super proud of it and hope it continues to grow!



It all started at a Christmas party in our London office, in 2019. And what began as a 'what if' conversation only slightly influenced by alcohol turned into a fully-fledged project! Helping Robot Squid to launch King of Crabs on Steam Early Access was a complete pleasure.

Such a great game, already a massive success on mobile, and their team were trusting and motivated in taking our advice on what to do (and what not to do) ahead of bringing the game to PC gamers. Having just recently passed 750,000 players on Steam, we could not be more proud of the game to be even a small part of such a big success is an honour. It helps that we genuinely think the game is hilarious and really good fun to play... which may or may not be reflected in our twice-weekly streams!



The game-we-built-inside-another-game, and then launched that on Stadia, came out in 2020 despite development finishing in the Winter of 2019. Super Doom Wall is a madcap PvP arena battler, and we got to work on this with the wonderful Juju who is a bit of a smashing chap, all things considered. The game was a total blast to work on, playtesting was always a joy, and when it came out we saw plenty of people enjoying it, which was just lovely. Plus we'd been allowed to play with brand new tech, which always tickles us pink.

So when EA announced Rocket League we were... gently frustrated. Then kinda vindicated/honoured as it sunk in that someone like EA thinks the game's basic concept is worth pouring millions into, then a tiny bit gutted as Rocket Arena didn't do the biggest numbers. Sad times. It's doing alright just not world-smashingly brilliantly. 

While it's widely accepted that almost no idea is ever wholly original the Gods do like to occasionally make things really weird, nudging the strands of fate so that the same idea gets executed on by more than one group at roughly the same time. It's happened in our past (Bro Force to our Tango Fiesta... let's not talk about that), it happens in Hollywood (Armageddon vs Deep Impact, etc), and so while it was a momentary surprise, it soon became an amusing anecdote.



We've not spoken much about this, but we've been working with teams at the University of Abertay, as well as Anglia Ruskin, on industry briefs. We supply a project design and scope, teams pitch on their take, and then we help guide them over the course of, well, their course. We always commit to taking the prototypes they build and at the very least launching them - fully credited of course - under our Spilt Milk Shake label over on itch. We've got 2 projects which we've lined up for that treatment already, and another brewing... but annoyingly we've just not had the opportunity to release them yet. It's a definite high priority for 2021, and as soon as we can you'll be getting your mitts on them! We want to make sure the students' work is released, they get credits, and hopefully by doing so we legitimise their efforts.

Of course we hope they spark interest from publishers and players too, and each of the projects was carefully chosen to try to test out a theory or two. It's exciting to be able to stretch ourselves with work outside our internal capability, but it's important to make sure we value that work and make good on promises!



We've long been keen to be open about making games, and to do what we can to help people who want to make games achieve their dream! This is hopefully obvious in how we talk and how we act. But what isn't obvious - because we've not been talking about it much - is how we handle internships. We've been incredibly lucky to welcome two cohorts of Interns to the family over the course of 2020, and are already looking to bring in another this year!

The first cohort - Lina, Ashley, and Joan - helped us build the first Project Mercenary prototype from scratch, defining the look and feel as well as gameplay of the game. Crucial, invaluable work that meant they worked with us every day, on a Real Game™. The second cohort was made up of Mason (UX/UI & scripting) and Chris (code & scripting) - though sadly we have no cartoony portraits of them yet! They helped us in converting the existing prototype into a new form (from Playmaker to BOLT) and expand upon the functionality and gameplay. Completely brilliant work from them too, addressing a real 'problem' that in tackling together, both sides learned from each other immensely.  I can't wait to start our next raft of interns!



A natural segue! We started our next game project as an experiment, but one with a very specific question to answer: can we build a fun game that works to our strengths as a new(ish) team (the new additions change the dynamic and our scope up our abilities!) that we believe we can self-fund to completion?  

Those strengths: 

- action gameplay
- worldbuilding, story & character
- art style/aesthetic  

A lot of what we can do is defined by the team of course, and that also means there's a limit   - a list of things we should not try to do. With Steve on board, we can absolutely undertake 3D art, but predominantly environments as opposed to characters, which gives us some interesting ways to think about what we want to achieve. You can always turn a weakness into a strength by reframing the challenge or the goals - what success looks like. We also looked to break free of a restriction of sorts - having one pure programmer in Andrew R - by learning to use Playmaker and Bolt, meaning we could work on gameplay at a faster pace.  We hope to be able to show our progress on this soon, but until then, you'll have to make do with this tease!


Yup! We've made a bunch of hires around a significant project that we've landed some funding for! It's all a bit hush-hush as we want to make sure to announce it only when we're sure you'll fall in love with it. Suffice to say it's a dream project, it's technically challenging, and allows us to stretch ourselves creatively. We see it as the project that we can build the company around, and it even shares a lot with Project Mercenary Landing the funding was a big surprise for many reasons, but doing so really does build the confidence we have in our methods. We have a great reputation, and by doing business the way we do (honesty, integrity, quality) we find ourselves in the fortunate position of being able to... well. You'll see!



- We managed to do some Peck N Run exploration in terms of art style and polish with the wonderful artist Courtney Millman on character duties, Jake on Concept and Steve on Environment.

The concept:


The adorable star of the game!

- We joined the Games London Accelerator which has brought us a business mentor, as well as a raft of amazing experience, talks and resources. Already our pitches are stronger for it!

- Virtual pitches and meetings were the new normal, and while it means we are definitely going to be spending less time travelling in the future, looking back it was interesting to note that at least one third of Andrew S' working time is spent on business dev - meetings and the like - and in 202 Spilt Milk pitched various projects in more than 50 pitch meetings. Kinda mad!

- We had our 10th Birthday right as the UK went into Lockdown the first time, so we replaced it with a really fun Birthday Stream where we played 10 games from our 10 years of releases!



So what can we expect to happen over the next 12 months? Hopefully, even more success, growth, and community fun. We've already got plans for a new set of interns to join us starting in February, we'll likely get to announce the Big Secret Project, and I can pretty much guarantee that we'll be releasing a bunch of prototypes on our Spilt Milk Shake label... so watch this space! We should also be making more hires, and generally just smashing it. Still... best-laid plans and all that.

Until next time, Happy New Year!

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