So, what is REalM?
REalM is a 2D horror puzzle/platformer, where you'll need to find "effects" or powers to access new areas in the open, nightmarish world you'll find.
REalM presents us Iris, a 17 year old girl who, after a harsh sensation of falling in her dreams, wakes up in her room. Yet, something feels out of place, and she feels the need to get out of home. By doing so, Iris discovers that she has woken in a strange place, isolated, with only one tree, her house and a house very similar to hers. Inside she finds a being like her, but like a shadow. It tells her to find the "effects" hidden in the world. On her way out, Iris sees strange portals hanging from the tree. After touching one, she is transported to a new world, radically different from the one she was in. Iris realizes that to know more of this world, she'll have to find the "effects" the shadow was talking about.
REalM has been in development by ArborSheep and Authentic Illusions and was even featured on the Square Enix Collective earlier this year.
Ok, so first, lets go up with the news
It took us a while, but it's finally here, one week ago, we launched the REalM Walk of Soul demo!! And that's not even the most important part, because when releasing the demo we decided to go big, and what better way to do it than to entering the game at Steam Greenlight. Our game is a horror 2D puzzle/platformer, where you'll need to find "effects" or powers to access new areas in the world. So if horror or puzzle games are your thing you should definitely try it out, and if not, why not give it a shot as well?
If you're maybe to busy to download and play the demo, you can view one of many different gameplay videos that are going around Youtube, one of our own and many others done by curious players:
Now, lets go to the actual development we've been through the last week.
One week in since demo release.
We're not going to lie to you, it's been a tough week. Authentic Illusions is a group of Master and Doctorate Degree students, so we have a lot of research and work to do; add a game development to the mix and you can imagine how busy we've been. This week, however, it was all about REalM for us. Since the day we launched the demo version we've been reviewing feedback, looking out for bugs, and then programming whatever necessary to better the gameplay and eliminate any problems the game had. It became extremely useful to watch other people play via Youtube and getting the demo to Steam Greenlight was the cherry on top to make this week even better. We're not going to say we've fixed every single problem in the game, but we believe we finally have a very strong demo of our game.
Some of the major changes, for example, involve the movement of our main character, Iris. Since a big part of this game was to experience it through the art itself, we had focused too much on Iris' movement animation relegating gameplay mechanics completely to make the most fluid possible animations when going from Idle to Walk and back to Idle again. Because of this, it was practically impossible to make her stop exactly where the player wanted, because when slightly pressing the movement buttons (lets say press it for a milisecond) Iris would perform a full step; this made some interactions with objects really annoying. If you look at the images above, you may think the first one looks much better, and it does (it was done with that objecvtive in mind, to look beautiful), but remember, that's what Iris would do if you just pressed Right for split a second, you couldn't move less than a step long.
Also, the jumping was very difficult to time, along with the distance Iris would jump depending on how low she crouched before. This was even made worse by the fact that Iris carried momentum when going from walking to starting a jump, meaning you would "slide" a little before jumping, risking yourself from falling off a platform if not timed right. This was made worse by the fact that sometimes Iris would even refuse to jump, returning to her Idle state. Now Iris has a more accurate movement and the jump is much easier to manage. We took cue from the mechanics of other platformers to make the movement as smooth and great as possible, and if you play the newest version of the demo you'll find that Iris moves perfectly as you command her to. Now, let's move to the puzzles.
At first, we had believed the puzzles to be intuitive on what you should do, visual cues were put in place and the player could "see" the type of puzzle at hand (order things, enter doors in an order, etc). Watching others play and reading comments we found out our belief was far from the truth. This is why it is important to have different people test out the game; as developers, we know how to solve the puzzles and the reasoning behind them, and on paper it looks great, but the end users might find them really frustrating. It is one thing to have a difficult puzzle and it is another if the users don't even understand what to do in a puzzle. Because of this, we added certain elements that would give hints to the players as to what they should do, this taking into consideration some of the roots of REalM, being survival horror games with puzzles like the earlier installments of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series. Now all the puzzles either help you with a riddle or feedback when solving it correctly.
For example, in the area with the platforms puzzle, people thought they had solved the puzzle correctly, while they were actually exploiting a bug, so reaching the last platform was hard but not impossible even though the puzzle wasn't solved correctly. Now the puzzle has indicators that will tell the players when they put the platforms in their correct position and the area they must access is blocked until they achieve this. Also, there was no reset lever for the platforms, the user had to get out of the area and in again if they wanted to reset the puzzle. Finally, the camera used to pan to the platforms each time the user pulled a lever, now the camera moves away while the user is on the puzzle area.
With all these new changes, we also made a brand new game trailer, which includes more gameplay footage than the last one, so if you don't want to download and play the demo, at least check out how the game looks:
Being Indie is not easy, specially when you've made big mistakes
It's been a hell of a ride, we've been through a lot as a small studio and as developers of REalM. Back in January, we were working on 3 games: Crushing Darkness, an Augmented Reality TCG; Experimental Exodus, a rogue-like game with Zelda elements born with the help of ArborSheep in a Ludum Dare and REalM. Why and how did we manage 3 projects?
Well, first of all, jumping between projects offered some kind of relief. It is not uncommon that during programming, you encounter buge and errors that take up a lot of time to fix, and spending much time in the project, without advancing in a game is a real letdowner as a developer. And that only translates to more and more headaches as bugs pile up. Jumping from project to project cleared our heads a lot and kept us always at our best.
Not only that, but back then, our small studio was really growing. We had some support to get an office with lots of space. Help from our University, in which we are being incubated as a startup was huge, we had art interns, music interns, etc. We were doing great. All the interns were focused on Exodus, ArborSheep was doing wonders with REalM and we were prototyping Crushing thanks to the help of the Unity Asset Store. We were doing all the coding and Game Design of the projects, and had lots of help from different fronts for the art of the games.
On went the months and we decided to throw a Kickstarter for Crushing, with heads high and after months of research about how to succeed at KS. And that was our turning point, when we launched the KS was when all started plumeting down.
Soon after we launched the KS our support was gone, apparently disenchanted by an Indie studio that takes more than 3 months to finish a game of Fez caliber. Our KS campaign was very poorly handled by us, and fell flat in our faces. After that, all had gone to hell. We tried to sustain the office for the benefits it gave us (interns), but it quickly burned through our pockets, so, we obviously lost the office. So, we moved all our stuff into the house were me and my wife live, and where now 5 people live to cut costs.
No office ment no space, and no space ment no interns so, eventhough our University still give us their support, we couldn't afford to take it so, decisions had to be made. Crushing was the obvious choice, it will cost too much to keep developing it for us, so we quickly dropped it. So we were left with Exodus and REalM. For the first, although ArborSheep made the initial art for the LudumDare when we entered it back in 2013, they were not actively working on it, all their time was spent on REalM, a project completely born by Audio, the Lead Artist at ArborSheep and that ment a lot, really a lot to him. It was obvious we couldn't do Exodus ourselves nor could we ask them to change projects. So the decision was obvious, if we wanted to keep developing one of those games, we could only go with REalM. Given our circumstances, maybe it would have been better to just ditch the 3 projects altogether and start a much smaller one, or maybe to just give up, we had already lost a lot of money thanks to starting a studio believing only in word of mouth, we were very young doing bussiness and were virtually done already. But we were very fond of all those projects to just give up.
Not because of the many hours spent on them, but because every single one of those 3 projects held dream games of the entire team. So, we took a choice with our heart in hand and decided to keep developing, if only one game at a time.
It all happen very quickly enventhough right now look that a lot of time passed between the events, but right after this happened, Square Enix announced the open stage of the SE Collective, so we made our submission immediately after they made the announcement, REalM was submitted, and was the first game to appear in the Collective. After we've been so broken, this revitalized us and gave us again the hope that was stolen from us before. From this point onwards, we just kept developing, and here we are. I would like to tell you more on our time as indie developers, but to do so would really increase the size of this entry which is already long enough.
If you got here, thank you a lot for reading this, and I hope you have an awesome day.
By the way, if you can cast your vote on Greenlight, we'll really appreciate it :D.