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Designing Characters

Pub scene in “My Dearest Visitor” episode of The Last Door game by The Game Kitchen

Hi people! In this post I’ll talk a bit about our process for designing the game’s characters, from the original idea to their final form in a finished episode.


So this is the first step in every episode: we write whatever comes into our minds. When we like something, we stop and write a bit more about it, then we show it to our mates in the design team. If they don’t see it interesting, we ditch it and keep brainstorming. But if the idea manages to spark something in the others’ imagination, then we know we have something.

Now, this idea will quickly stop being something you could say it’s yours and clearly becomes something with its own entity, something new and exciting.  This is what we are always looking for, because if an idea doesn’t surprise you, how can you expect it will surprise your audience?

At this point, feedback starts to jump from one’s imagination to the other’s. Sometimes the idea fades out –maybe when thought about properly it just sounds stupid, or maybe we can’t give it a proper shape yet and it stays aside, waiting for the time. But sometimes it manages to make perfect sense and then flourishes into something amazing and unexpected. Then we have a nice scene, location or atmosphere. Or a cool character.

Google Images

Women and Fishermen of Hornbaek by Kroyer
In the Store During a Pause from Fishing by Kroyer

This is a very useful technique we use as a help to the brainstorming. We take a topic and google it –just like that, then we pay attention at whatever the images results are. Some very unexpected mental connections can happen this way, and we can discover entirely new interesting topics to include in the game.

When researching for characters, the most useful pictures are nineteenth century photographs, prints and paintings. Photos are tricky, because at the time, most of them were heavily prepared portraits, were attitudes, character and clothing appear quite artificially.  Some more casual (and therefore more accurate for our purposes) can be found though, and they make for great reference.

Sea Beach – Norfolk Fisherman on the Look Out (The Fisherman) by Frederick Bacon Barwell. Source: Published by Day & Son, London, for Passages from Modern English Poets Illustrated by the Junior Etching Club, 1862.

Prints from historical newspapers, and the works of realist artists like Gustave Dore are very helpful to suggest new ideas.

A Couple of Words

When we have a long ideas list, we have to start growing them into developed characters. We have come up with a simple technique for doing this quite fast, and so it is easy to share with our mates. We write a short sentence:

 “A”, who “B”. 

“A” would be a short introduction to the character (for example “a butcher”, “a priest”, “An old woman”).

“B” is a second layer of characterization that must have a noticeable contrast with the first. Think of it as a narrative turn. This is the part of the character that conveys the atmosphere, and expresses why he or she is so interesting.  The contrast must suggest a lot by itself, or this character will not make it to the production phase.

When developing characters, we like them to have their own stories apart to the episode’s main arc. They need to be really interesting by themselves, make you want to know more about them, and they must bring life to the locations where the episode takes place.

Let them talk

Backyard scene in “My Dearest Visitor” episode of The Last Door game by The Game Kitchen

At this point, characters that have not been discarded (only a handful of them) are painted and animated, and the first draft of dialogues is written.

It is important to note that characters are not completely defined when we start writing dialogues. They are just the simple idea we wrote in the previous section, plus they play some role in the high-level gameplay structure we have devised so far (that means the overall progression of the game from the beginning to the end – a character may act as a door to a new area, or give you an item needed to solve a puzzle).

Dialogue is a tool for us to know our characters. By trial and error, we will realize certain aspects of their personalities don’t match with the general atmosphere –or their own, so we will have to discard entire branches of text. We are always discarding big chunks of material, but it is fine, because we want just the best for the game!

Community interaction

Character’s dialogues and personalities are not yet complete until the last part of the narrative development process: beta testing.

When we share the episode’s beta version with our community of players, we gather a huge amount of feedback. And important part of it has to do with how the game’s narrative has worked out, and gives us a good idea of how well the characters are understood by players. That way we can clean up inconsistencies, and modify the game so the focus stays in the most remarkable parts of the experience.

There is another part for this phase that has great importance: the proofreading process. We export all the in-game text and share it with a very dedicated group of fans. They will re-write most of the game, giving it a unique feeling and style, and taking care that the characters’ use of language and tone is appropriate to their personalities. In fact, during this process, new personality traits arise for the characters, as the fans think about them in new and unexpected ways.

Pub scene in “My Dearest Visitor” episode of The Last Door game by The Game Kitchen. Proofread dialogue example.

When putting all this text back in the game, we are always amazed at how the depth and richness of the narrative, and of the whole experience, has improved!

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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: