In the early days of Bullshit (as it was then known), I had the opportunity to go to PAX AUS in 2019. I wrote about this in an earlier post here. The game I exhibited then was much less polished. Now I had something much more awesome to show. The exhibition was such a brilliant experience, and I was really keen to go again. But, I was hesitating. I was worried about the budget and if I had time to get my game ready in time to show.
Then, for the second time, I thought: Fuck It! Let’s do it! I filled out a form on the website, and waited for a response. At this stage, I wasn’t sure if it was too late to apply. I was aware there were several deadlines that needed to be met, and they would be due very soon. The website was still accepting applications, so I assumed it was okay. I checked my email regularly, but after a few days, I hadn’t heard anything.
Starting to worry, I found the email address of the organiser from last time, and sent him an email asking about my application. I got an automated response to say that he wasn’t working there anymore. Damn! I then found an email from the website and sent them an enquiry. I got another automated response, but this one said that someone will get in touch.
Another two days later, I had pretty much given up on going. I had gotten so excited about exhibiting at PAX, but now I was getting prepared for disappointment. Then out of nowhere, I got a phone call from one of the organisers of PAX saying: Yes! There are positions still available. Hooray! There was a lot covered in that phone call. Shortly afterwards they emailed me a bunch of forms and deadlines. So my next day or so was consumed by filling out forms.
I found out way too late last time that the Victorian government offered a grant to help independent developers get to PAX. I was ready this time. I had been checking with the government grants website for the past few months, and knew that I was definitely eligible for assistance. So, once I was confirmed for PAX, I got my grant submission in as quick as I could.
Holy shit! There was a lot to do in just 5 weeks! The first important deadline was getting the artwork for the stand ready. I had a template from last time, which I used along with some new stock images. I licensed some of the artwork for the game from Adobe Stock. That provided something much nicer looking than what I had back in 2019.
The next big thing to organise was the merch. Last time around, I gave away stickers and badges. I wanted to do something different this time. I was thinking of giving away decks of cards and mugs in a competition. I also wanted my crew to be wearing bullcrap T-Shirts! Having changed the name from Bullshit to Bullcrap, I couldn’t re-use the same merch from last time.
Getting mugs and decks of cards printed up would take several weeks, so I had to scramble to make sure the artwork for them was ready several weeks before PAX. That involved me sitting up late at night on photoshop working on various print different layouts for each item. Even with my early planning, I still managed to cut the deadline fine. All of the mech deliveries arrived within days of the exhibition.
A Cunning Plan
Next on my list was Bullcrap itself! That always gives me a laugh to see that on my list! Development on the game had been going gangbusters! I have made some amazing progress this year. However, there was so much that I wanted to get done before showing it off once again to the world. One of the things I knew the game was lacking was a story. The single player version of the game didn’t have any motivation other than just getting through the levels. So I planned out a story based around an “Animal Farm” style revolution and started planning out some cutscenes.
Before getting too excited about that, I needed to come up with a plan for what to deliver. Back in 2019, I had a very buggy demo which demonstrated the core game very well, but found that I had nothing to give to people who showed interest, except to add them to a mailing list.
I wanted people to be able to download and play the game themselves. With Steam, this was easy. They have the ability to add a demo version of your game prior to release. The demo version of my game was going to have 4 chapters of 3 levels each.
For iOS and Android, the only option I had was to actually release the game. After talking it over with my mate Daimo, we figured there were plenty of games on mobile platforms which do a partial releases, almost like a Beta. So, the plan for the Mobile version was to just release 2 chapters with 6 levels each. The later chapters would be locked out and released slowly over several months.
The other thing I felt I needed to do was lock down Multiplayer. My concern is that my server just couldn’t handle the traffic. It was a huge unknown, and hadn’t been tested thoroughly with a large group of people. So, I thought that the best thing to do was make it only available to people via password. Multiplayer was scrubbed for this launch!
Doing this took some of the pressure off getting the whole game ready for launch before PAX. So with that as a goal, I started to write a huge list of things to get done.
I needed a team of trusty helpers to assist me in exhibiting my game. I chose Matt and Daimo as they both did a wonderful job back in 2019. At that exhibition, I found it hard with just two of us at the booth all day, so I decided grab an extra exhibitor pass. This would mean that all of us would have a little more time to explore and enjoy PAX without the pressure of constantly manning the booth. With that sorted, I also asked my cousins Jamie and Stevo to help out. They both would bring different types of energy to our booth. I was looking forward to working with them all! I locked in my team early on as I would need to sort out T-Shirt sizes, plus give them plenty of time to get familiar with the game.
One of the next tasks on my list was marketing. A dreaded task for solo developers! For me, it is fun, but it takes so much time! Part of me would prefer to be putting all of that time into the game. I had been quiet on social media since 2019. Now, it was time again to make some noise.
I started making content for posts. I re-joined twitter, facebook and signed up for Instagram. I had already started this blog and was slowly writing posts. Then I had to get the website up to scratch. It was still showing the “Bullshit!” branding! So, all new artwork, a new promo video, links to steam, the blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Insta. I had to relearn some html and css to get the formatting right. Looking at other game websites, I found I also needed to write a press kit. Argh! More work! I thankfully found an awesome free template which prompted me for the things to add and handled all the layout and links for me.
My friend Gordo (and Daimo too) suggested a brilliant idea for Bullcrap branded marketing. The idea was to a website you could go to, post a photo, and have Bucky the bull poop on your face. That would then be saved as a video that could be posted online with the Bullcrap branding. If someone then posted their video online, others might be interested too and then follow that to find out more about my game. I called it PoopNU.
I thought that something like this could be done quickly and easily if I took a cutdown version of the code and published it as a WebGL app on my website. I started to work on a prototype, and at first it all seemed possible. After jumping through a few hoops, I got a version of the app up and running on the site. Then, I started to look at adding in a feature to access the webcam to take photos. This wasn’t so easy to do. I also looked at uploading a file and saving a video to download. It was all in the too hard basket, and I already had enough to do in 5 weeks. So, I dropped the project. For now.
Then it was back to development! The first big dev task was signing up for and integrating Steam into the game. I wanted to get this done early because I knew there were heaps of pre-requisites to get sorted.
The other big dev task was the cutscenes. Given plenty of time, I could have set up some wonderful and clever scenes, however given my tight deadline, I had to scramble to set up the characters, the background, the dialogue and the camera. It took a couple of weeks to get the framework in place, and another week to smash out the content.
One final tricky dev task to do was ensuring the game would run on older devices. During Beta testing, there were a few people who couldn’t get the game to run past the title screen. At the time, I found that this could be resolved by adjusting the graphics quality. The problem was, people downloading the game wouldn’t know how to adjust it, so I had to write some code that monitored the performance in the title screen and automatically adjusted the graphics quality as required.
The Final Leg
Those five weeks went very quickly. I would stare at my plan each day and think: How the fuck am I going to get all this done? The good thing is that as the weeks went by, my to do list got smaller. I got rid of things that after some thought weren’t dealbreakers, and other tasks I got through by working late at night.
The final week had arrived, and as per my plan, it was time to launch the Demo on steam, and the production version in the mobile stores. There were a few last minute hurdles with Google play rejecting the word “Bullsh*t” in the write up, and the App Store rejecting my app for having references to “Poop” in the game. This process was nerve-wracking. Then, finally the actual launch for all three was pretty uneventful. No launch party or anything. I’ve decided that will happen a bit further down the track for the Multiplayer and full Steam release.
The game development was done for the moment! I was so excited and nervous that I wasn’t getting much sleep. For the past few weeks I was surviving on about 5 hours of sleep. Having two baby girls waking up at various times of the night didn’t help either.
With the merch all finally delivered, it was time to pack things up and head to the exhibition centre. I managed to pack everything into a large suitcase and my laptop backpack. I caught a train into the city, wheeled my suitcase there.
The exhibition space was a construction site. People in high vis vests everywhere putting stands together. I found my stand in the Indie section, opened my suitcase and started getting my equipment ready. I knew from last time that I couldn’t plug anything in until all of my electrical cables had been tested. This was something I was keen to get done as I still had a bunch of printing done that evening before the girls went to sleep.
I decided to try and find the people who do the cable testing. I asked several staff there, but nobody had any idea what was going on. My stress levels at this point were high, so I left all of my cables on my stand’s table and left to get some lunch. When I came back, they thankfully were all tagged. Thank fuck! After chatting briefly with my fellow Indie exhibitors, I caught the train home.
I worked up late again until around midnight that night, ticking the last few things off my list. I then tried to get some sleep. It was going to be a huge day tomorrow!
To be continued…