Saving ‘The Last Door’

Saving ‘The Last Door’

Hi, dear TLD fan:

I’m Mauricio García, director of The Game Kitchen, and one of the two programmers of this beloved indie game of ours.

Two months ago Daniel and the team were at the office when he suddenly shouted “This is shit!”. We knew he was facing a nasty bug, and honestly Daniel says things like that quite often. But after that we started to chat and we ended up agreeing that he was going to take a leave because the launching of “The Playwright” had left him exhausted.

Actually we were all very happy for the release of ‘The Playwright’ and loved reading your comments and feedback. But after some days after the release we had to face the fact that only 1% of the players that start playing The Last Door end up donating to keep it going. This is what is killing us. And trust me, Daniel’s case is not that special. At this point in The Last Door’s life everybody in the team have already faced a situation like this. We started to think…

Is crowdfunding the best for The Last Door?

You, players, have showed us countless times that you love The Last Door. So we may be doing something right, aren’t we? Then why it’s that we can’t cash our (low) salaries two months in a row?

We have some plans to save The Last Door to be the best it can be. And for that we plan on changing the crowdfunding model. If you are already a Premium member you don’t need to keep reading. It’s not affecting you, we already consider you the loyal fan you really are and you will keep all your current privileges. If you have donated occasionally, please keep reading to learn what you have to do.

We are here thanks to you

Thanks to everyone who has supported ‘The Last Door’ until now! From donating, talking about our game in social networks to sending us feedback to improve the game! Without you it’d have been impossible to reach 85K registered users in our website, and more than 2M plays in Flash free games platforms! ¡Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

If you already know us, you’ll know that our intention was always to make a game that could be enjoyed for the maximum amount of people. That’s why, we made up a business model that allowed us to keep financing the development of new chapters and at the same time, unlocking past chapters so anybody could enjoy them, regardless their purchasing power.

This business model has given us lots of satisfactions. It has enabled ‘The Last Door’ to secure a small but very proud spot in the recent indie videogames history.

The Last Door is kind of broken

Unfortunately though, our actual business model implies some serious issues that risk TLD’s continuity, being these two the most relevant ones:

  • Back when everything went as expected, and crowdfunding campaigns achieved their goals, that would only give us enough for terrible salaries. We were getting very low and unsustainable salaries although we were giving our best. Even worst, if crowdfunding doesn’t perform as expected, we end up missing a couple of paychecks here and there! In addition to that, we have to work under fiscal stance that aren’t designed to support small endeavors like ours, which translates that we have to pay really high direct taxes, regardless if there are enough money for ourselves or not.
  • Progressively longer conversion funnel: In ‘Online Marketing’ there’s this concept that portraits the steps a potential customer has to take to decide to ‘purchase’ the product or service offered. As a general rule, in order to have a good conversion ratio (amount of users that go from playing for free to end donating money) is desirable that the conversion funnel is as short as possible. In our case, each time we develop a new episode, the conversion funnel gets longer. That’s because the time the user is asked to decide if he wants to donate some money, is situated between the second-to-last and last chapter. The ultimate conclusion is that the percentage of users donating is reduced with each new episode we publish.

 

This is far from over

After carefully studying all options, we’ve took the decision to abandon our current business model, based in episodic crowdfunding. From now on, starting with the release of the sixth episode ‘My Dearest Visitor’, we’ll start to sell the game in a slightly more traditional way: episodes will be sold separately, or in season packs.

I know this could be shocking, but don’t panic! If you’ve donated before you’ll maintain all the privileges you had, no action on your part required:

  • If you unlocked an episode or the soundtrack, you’ll still continue to have access to that episode, its soundtrack and all the previous ones, with their soundtracks.
  • If you’re a Premium User, you’ll automatically be able to enjoy all the beta versions, final episodes, soundtracks and features of all the previous and future episodes.
  • ‘Hall Of Fame’ users will continue to be featured in the Hall Of Fame, as planned.

The new pricing plans will be applied simultaneously to the release of the new episode of the second season: ‘My Dearest Visitor’, next April 6th .

Take advantage of the situation before it ends

We want to offer all of you the best and smoothest transition to the new pricing plans. That’s why, as of today, coinciding with the immediate availability of ‘My Dearest Visitor’ beta version, you’ll find a ‘Special Offer’ page in the website.

We’ve carefully designed these three options to accommodate all of your needs:

  • For those who haven’t donated yet, and want to keep all the past episodes: A donation of 2€ will instantly unlock ‘The Playwright’ and it’ll give full access to all previous episodes.
  • For those who want to be a part of the story, now: A donation of 5€ will unlock the beta and final versions of ‘My Dearest Visitor’, it’s soundtrack, plus granted access for live to all previous episodes and their soundtracks.
  • For those who want it all: The ‘Premium’ subscription will be disappearing with the new price plans. You’ll have until April 6th to become a Premium community member, after that only Premiums will be the ones to enjoy a complete lifetime pass to everything ‘The Last Door’. So, if that is what you want, don’t miss this last chance to unlock everything, for ever, for just 10€.

We hope these changes bring us the stability we need to keep developing The Last Door with the attention and caring it deserves. As we usually do, we’re open to your suggestions. There’s still time to detail all of the changes, so once more, we count on you to let us know what you think about them in the comment section.

Thank you very much  for your understanding.

Mauricio Garcia,
in behalf of the entire The Game Kitchen’s team.

EDIT: Some of you have kindly asked for a way to send us a donation. You guys are awesome! If you want to contribute a few bucks to help the game stay alive, use this button:




Designing a new “dialogue” pipeline

With each new episode of The Last Door, programmers find some “spare” time at the beggining of the cycle, while the artist are concentrated in the preproduction of the new episode (writing the script, designing the puzles, and so on). Our goal for this part of the process is to enhance our engine and our production pipeline, to fix those aspects that we found more problematic while crafting the previous episode.

This time around, one of the main objectives was to replace the tool we used to create the dialogue trees of “The Playwright”.  For this episode, we used a Unity plugin called “Dialoguer” which enabled us to have the engine ready in time. In the end,  it turned out to be a bad choice for us: it was not as robust or easy to use (specially everything related to dialogue variables was really tedious). Iterating the conversations of this episodes, in the last weeks of the development cycle was indeed painful.

So, before anything else for the new episode, we knew the dialogue tree editor in our pipeline needed to be replaced. This time around, we knew better what to look for: support for multiple node selection and support for “undo”. We took a closer look at the state of the art in the Asset Store, and finally settled for “Dialogue System” by PixelCrushers.

This awesome plugin is full of features, althouh many of them won’t be needed for our pourposes. After trying a demo version, we were convinced that it met our new requirements, particularly the editor beign really robust and easy to use, and fast to work with.

The strategy to migrate the game engine to the new dialogue pipeline was:

  1. Recreate some of the most complex dialogues tree from ‘The Playwright’ inside Dialogue System, to make sure its does support all the required features.
  2. Use the previous experience to identify customization oportunities in Dialogue System’s functionality. It’s very powerfull an generic, and we’d rather need it to be exactly and only what we need for TLD.
  3. Port the dialogue manager of our game to read dialogues from the new Dialogue System’s data model. Test dialogues made with the new plugin do run ok in the game.
  4. Replace Dialogue Manager own’s localization with our engine-wide one.
  5. Port the rest of dialogues from ‘The Playwright’ using the new and now customized editor.
  6. Remove the previous dialogue tool from our code base.
  7. Simplify Dialogue System by removing everything not explcitly needed in our game, thus making the tool simpler to use, and reducing the overall code base.

This are the features we ended up customizing in Dialogue System:

  • Clasify entries by type, with our stablished set of node types: phrase, group, group choice, variable set, variable check, & event.
  • Integration with our localization system, so you can enter/modify localized text directly from Dialogue System’s inspectors.
  • Customization of the size, color and presentation of entries depending on type. Make the dialogue more readable in the diagram.
  • Limit conections from ‘variable check’ entries to two, one for ‘condition met’, and other ‘condition not met’. Make then green and red to make them easy to discern.
  • Remove from DialogueEntry class all fields that we were no longer of use.
  • Customize the context menu to create new nodes specifying the type. Make ‘group’ types only create children of type ‘group choice’.
  • Simplify the inspector of entries, so only relevant fields are shown depending of entry type.

Conclusions:

First and most importantly, we’d like to recommend Dialogue System to anyone looking for a dialogue and quest editor plugin. It’s simply great, and has plenty of features ready to be used. Additionally, full source code it’s included, so you can customize it to your needs. I’d like to add a very personal note to this: the code is remarkably well written, at least to my standards. It was really easy to undertake customizations even as deep and heavy as the ones we did.

This post describe the work of a whole week for me. The result has been not only a remarkable improvement in the time required to make new dialogues, but also in how easy and affordable is to make iterations in dialogues to improve the gameplay once we’re in playtesting and beta stages. This is specially important for The Last Door, since we really need to make plenty of adjustments iterating the gameplay, looking for the perfect look and feel for the episode.

cheers!

 

Preproduction of the new episode already started

Pre-production of the new episode already started

After a few days of well-deserved rest, we already got our hands dirty with the development of the new episode. In this new stage, considering our new and promising working pipeline, we’ve set ourselves the goal of mastering the production process.

We want to avoid at all costs unnecessary delays in the development of the new episode, like the ones we suffered during the making of “The Playwright”. We always wanted to achieve a 3 month per episode development cycle, but never before had all the ingredients to achieve it. So this time, a big part of the plan is to walk towards this goal.

Production schedule

The first step was to make a deep analysis of the production process of S02E01, identifying major milestones along the way. Each one of these milestones, is basically defined by the ‘outcome’ expected at that particular point of the development process. First, in pre-production, these ‘outcomes’ would be in form of design documents. Soon after, the main ‘outcome’ would become playable builds of the episode, which deliver a particular set of the expected features.

Once we put together the list of milestones, we hang those in the office’s wall in the form a calendar, placing each one in the expected delivery date. From now, if we miss a date, we’ll know something is going on, and would react sooner, adapting whatever is needed to ensure the project as a whole continues on track.

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Wall poster made with post-its, with ‘milestones’ in their expected dates. All these dates are obviously estimations, subject to changes due to production circumstances.

Pre-Production milestones:

  • 7 Nov 2014: Episode Synopsis
  • 22 Nov 2014: List of puzzles, List of scenes, List of scary situations
  • 28 Nov 2014: Map of rooms, Placeholder room’s backgrounds, Second iteration of production lists.
  • 5 Dic 2014: End of pre-production: Screenplay (walkthough) document. Script document. First episode build (#1) (includes all rooms in navigable state, with placeholder backgrounds).

Production milestones:

  • 19 Dic 2014: Build (#2) with first iteration of all puzzles implemented, but still with placeholder art. Must be playable from first to last room.
  • Now come 4 weekly iterations of the episode: planning each Monday, new builds each Friday (builds #3 to #6). Last build (#6) is published as the Episode Beta for Premium users.
  • 23 Jan 2015: Texts for beta are “locked” and sent to reviewers.
  • 30 Jan 2015: Reviewed texts are imported back into the game.
  • 12 Feb 2015: Texts for final version are “locked” and sent to reviewers.
  • 17 Feb 2015: Reviewed final texts are imported back into the game.
  • 20 Feb 2015: Final episode target date. We’d do our best to publish this day, but please note that unexpected events will occur during development 😉

Hope you guys like this insight in our production process, we plan to continue offering you interesting details on how the new episode is being made. Please use the comment section if you want to ask us something, we’ll be happy to answer 😉

cheers.

Such a great week! :)

Hiya mates,

Last fortnight was absolutely crazy for any spanish video games developer. It was very important because in the period of five days, three important appointments were held in Barcelona:

– PAD Congress (spanish professional associated developers summit)
– Gamelab 2014 (the national games and entertainment conference and awards)
– The Burger Developer Central (the spanish Indie developer community meeting and awards)

It was a really important engagement for “The Game Kitchen” and as such, we had to be there. Additionally, we were nominated for some industry awards 😀 .Thus, Mateo and Carlos headed to Barcelona to represent both The Game Kitchen and our flagship game: The Last Door.

1) First stop was on Tuesday, in the PAD congress where more than 36 indie companies exhibited their games. The event took place in a really cool old brewery where our teammates engaged in many networking activities and strengthening relationships with other spanish industry actors.

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2) Gamelab started on Wednesday June 25th, and we took part in the Indie Showcase where we had the chance to show “The Last Door” to everyone involved in the gaming industry (other friend studios, publishers, game platforms and portals, etc.). Additionally, we were nominated in the Gamelab awards as “the best OST” and “best game for PC”. We didn’t win anything but we didn’t mind because while the event was being carried out, a great surprise was waiting for us… Tim Schafer was there! He was holding a conference in the summit and he also took some advantage of his spare time to try some of the latest spanish video games.

So yes, the master creator of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango tried out “The Last Door” and he really enjoyed it! He played our first episode and he got really impressed by our opening sequence and he praised our work, so that was.. amazing. Like a dream come true! 😀

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We were so excited that we barely could say a word, so it’s better you just watch the video…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHiz0mKjGIs

3) Finally, the following day, we attended the Indie Burger Awards, presented by Burger Developer Central, a group of indie game developers and burger lovers, who reward the best independent games on the national scene. And we were all the rage! We won two of the most important prizes (“We want a sequel” and “The most whizzbang game”). And that was our moment and we burst with joy!

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Have a look to the pictures.. it was a memorable moment.. and we wanted to share it with you all. Thanks mates, this great news are also yours..  😀

Cheers,

RD