In Vivo

An adventure puzzle game with unlimited planning time, but limited execution time.

I have been hard at working these past few months learning all sorts of new ways to make games. The up side to this is that it’s going to make a big difference in the quality of my next project, the down side is that there hasn’t been any real, sharable progress on the new game yet. That should all change very soon, as I now have all of the skills I need to start putting together playable, animated builds, so thank you for your patience while I’ve silently toiled away, honing my craft.

As a sort of apology for not keeping the website up to date for a while, In Vivo is 50% off through Desura all weekend long. I’m going to start back up with the weekly blog posts starting this Sunday, so remember to check back, or sign up for the newsletter and I’ll send the updates right to your inbox.

It’s finally here, folks. The challenge update brings a whole new game mode, with seven new maps and three challenge modes, there are 20 new ways to experience In Vivo.

What is challenge mode, you ask? For those that haven’t been following along, let me break it down for you. The challenge update introduces a new mode to the game with three challenge types, seven different maps, and twenty ways to test your skill. As you play through the campaign and get upgrades, new challenge maps will unlock that put those upgrades to the test. Use your new powers to solve puzzles as efficiently as possible, sneak past alien guards and reach the end undetected, and find the fastest way to run through the level. Do you think you can earn the gold on all twenty challenges? Download the update for free from wherever you bought the game originally and play it now. If you haven’t already bought it, well then what are you waiting for? With all this new content, you don’t want to miss out, do you?

Since it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written a formal update post, I figured it was about time. A lot has happened in the past two weeks, and there is a lot coming in the very near future. It’s an exciting time for In Vivo, but more so it’s an exciting time for Electric Horse. On with the update!

Viewing…

The first week of April saw In Vivo launched on Desura, and the end of the initial release sale. My sales numbers haven’t exactly been stellar up to this point, but Desura has brought me a fair number of sales so far, and now that the Linux version is up on Desura, hopefully that number will continue to grow. The mac version is on its way, but it might be a little while longer. I’m not really upset or disappointed by these numbers, I know I did a lot wrong, and I’m taking this as a learning experience. Mostly I’m just happy to have it out there. As of right now, In Vivo is available for purchase on four different platforms, and a fifth should be coming shortly pending a bit of paperwork. I’m spreading the good word of In Vivo as far and wide as I can.

It doesn't matter how few copies it sells, I can always point people who mock my indie games to this store front, stick my thumbs in my ears and blow raspberries at them.

It doesn’t matter how few copies it sells, I can always point people who mock my indie games to this store front, stick my thumbs in my ears and blow raspberries at them.

…and reviewing

Other exciting news on the In Vivo release front is that the game was featured on both Indie Love and Gaming On Linux. It’s hard to describe the feeling the first time you are reviewed. It was a roller coaster. For the most part it was very positive. Having done all of the graphics and sound myself, I was worried those aspects would be heavily criticized, but they were not. That elation only lasted a few minutes though, as the gameplay critiques started rolling in. Much of what was said negative about the game, the lack of puzzle diversity and the lack of good atmosphere after the first few minutes, are things I had identified and would have loved to fix, but I ran out of time. I read those lines over and over, thinking to myself “I know! Ugh, it’s not like I wanted it to be like that.”

In the past I have always had the luxury of saying “good point, I’ll get to that in a future patch,” but here I don’t have that luxury. The game is out there, and major changes like that are not on the schedule. It was very refreshing to see someone understand what I was trying to do with the game, though, and Will from Indie Love really got it. For how much I was frustrated by the fair critiques he made, I would much rather have them come from someone who sees the point of the game than someone who just writes it off without taking the time to get to know it. It hurts, but in the best way possible.

Futures near…

Yeah there's this new game mode with 20 levels to try and get gold on, but who cares. Now the game has vertical laser walls. Pretty...

Yeah there’s this new game mode with 20 levels to try and get gold on, but who cares. Now the game has vertical laser walls. Pretty…

Challenge mode is still on the horizon, and it’s getting very close to being done. All that’s left now is putting together three more maps and then playtesting them. Everything is coming together quite nicely on that front, I’m really kind of sad I didn’t include this mode in the initial release. While these maps don’t really add to the narrative of the campaign mode, they do reinforce the gameplay in new and interesting ways, and having them in there now makes the game feel complete. It’s not that it felt incomplete before, but seeing them in there makes going back to the old version really feel like it isn’t done. I guess this is a good thing, it means the new game mode fits, but I’m eager to get it into your hands.

…and far

If everything lines up right, the challenge mode update should release just in time for me to catch my breath before diving into the Ludum Dare 29 48-hour competition. Right on the heels of that I will start work on the next Electric Horse game, though what that game will be is still up in the air. In Vivo was created from my last Ludum Dare entry, and if the theme and my take on it are as compelling this time as I felt they were last time, that may trump my current plan. Either way, the goal is to do another short-term project, hopefully taking it from concept to release in about four months. In Vivo took about six and a half months, but right in the middle there I moved across an ocean, and this time I’m planning on putting a bit of money into buying art assets so I don’t have to spend time creating them. Four months seems about right, so I’m gearing up for a September release. More info on all of that coming soon though. For now, go play In Vivo. It may not be the best game out there, but if you take the to give it a chance, I’m sure you’ll find that it’s actually kinda fun.

I took a week off from posting, or doing much of anything, really, after In Vivo was officially released. It was much needed, and I’m glad I had it, but it’s time to get back to work. I haven’t started my marketing campaign yet for this game due to some bank-related issues, and so far I’ve only had one bug reported that has already been patched. What this means is that I have had some time to work on the challenge mode update, and that I now have information about that to share with you all. First, though, I would like to give you all an update on the status of game post-release.

So is it out or what?

In order to maximize exposure and offer my potential players the most options for purchasing the game, I submitted it to several different stores. I had no idea what to expect; I’m a one-man indie studio with no other titles shipped, I don’t have a very large presence in the indie community, and my introverted nature makes me nervous to put anything I’ve done out in public. I was worried that the stores wouldn’t accept my game, or that there would be game-breaking day-1 bugs, or I would be flooded with negative reviews. Due to these fears, I hesitated on contacting the stores before the game was 100% complete. Some of them got back to me faster than others, and I wanted to get the game out there, so I put it up right away wherever I could, and now the release status is different depending on where you look.

This captures how I feel about the process of releasing a game about 90% of the time.

This captures how I feel about the process of releasing a game about 90% of the time.

As of right now, you can buy the game from the In Vivo page on my website. It’s also available for pre-order on Desura, with a release date fo the 7th. Initially I had planned to keep the game on sale for 40% off as a release sale, but I’ve extended that to the 7th to coincide with the Desura release. If Desura is your go-to platform but you don’t want to wait, I totally understand, and honestly I feel like you shouldn’t have to buy the same game on each different store, so if you have pre-ordered the game on Desura, or would like to, contact me using the form on my site or on twitter (@EmpyrealHell) and I will get you a download key for one of the other stores where you can download it now.

What makes a challenge

I’ve talked about this a bit on my twitter, and it has been referenced in a few previous posts, but I haven’t really explained what challenge mode is in detail yet. Essentially it is a series of maps that take the existing game mechanics and treat it more like a level-based game. Each map has two or three modes it can be played in that slightly alter the way the map is presented, and each offers a unique challenge to be overcome for that map. The maps unlock as you play through the normal campaign, and offer stand-alone challenges that test your understanding and proficiency with each of the game’s upgrades. These can provide you with more content to play through after beating the normal game, or offer you a consistent environment in which to practice each new upgrade as you acquire it. The levels stand on their own and are entirely optional, but it gives me a way to create more challenging puzzles for each mechanic without making the campaign map insanely complicated.

Safely tucked away from the main campaign. No matter how egregiously complicated I make these levels, you can safely ignore them and not feel bad.

Safely tucked away from the main campaign. No matter how egregiously complicated I make these levels, you can safely ignore them and not feel bad.

The current plan is to have 20 different levels spread across seven distinct maps. Upon creating a save game, the first challenge map will unlock, which tests some of the more advanced concepts you can perform without any upgrades. This map is based on the path to get to the Xenobiology upgrade that was present in the beta version of the game. It was deemed too difficult to be the first puzzle in the game, but as a stand-alone level without any distractions it becomes much easier to understand what is expected. In addition to trying to solve the puzzle within the time limit, you can also play the same map as a stealth challenge. In the stealth challenge, the map layout remains the same, but the timer is removed, a number of aliens are added to the map, and the goal is changed to solving the puzzle without setting off the alarm. Each upgrade that you acquire through the main campaign will unlock one new map, with both the time attack and stealth modes described above, as well as a puzzle mode, focusing on using that upgrade the fewest time possible to beat the level.

Why all the updates?

First and foremost I want to make it clear that this is a free content update to the game. I don’t like DLC as a concept in general, a game should be released as a complete, finished product, not the core of the product that enables you to buy the rest of the game’s content. I also want to say that this update will be coming out very soon. The gameplay for the challenge maps is already complete, all that remains are a few interface tweaks and then the map creation. Since I already know exactly what skills I want each map to test, how I want them tested, and have a general idea of the size and shape of each map, I should be able to iterate on level designs pretty quickly. So if it’s a free update that will come out shortly after the game’s release, you might be wondering why I didn’t simply include it in the initial release. At least I hope you were wondering that, because I’m going to explain the reasoning behind that decision now.

Ok, maybe I don't have the best eye for promotional screenshots. Or puzzle solving, that flashlight would have been so much more useful than two knives.

Ok, maybe I don’t have the best eye for promotional screenshots. Or puzzle solving, that flashlight would have been so much more useful than two knives.

The idea for the challenge maps didn’t come until very late in the game’s development. While they don’t add a very large time burden, it would have still delayed the release of the game, or caused it to be rushed out faster and end up being a less polished game. I didn’t want to sacrifice quality, and the game was already well past its initial release estimate, so I decided against the feature. I made a number of mistakes when I released this game. Not all of the business end of things were fully set up, I hadn’t done any concentrated pre-release marketing, and I made the mistake of releasing the week of GDC. The result of these mistakes was a tepid reception to the game’s release. Since I wasted what is usually a game’s highest-earning period, I knew I would need something newsworthy that I could promote to try and recover from those mistakes after the release, and a free content update seemed like just the thing.

To all of you who have been here with me since the beginning, I thank you. I have finally hit the release date for In Vivo. It’s been a bumpy road, and I haven’t been the best of hosts, but here we are. The game is out on itch.io right now for you to purchase, and I’m in the process of getting the game added to Desura and the Humble Store. For those of you just here for some gaming, you can head on over to the In Vivo main page, or use the widget below to buy the game through itch. Here’s the official trailer for the game as well.

What a week

For those of you that have been following along, this is where our journey comes to a close, of sorts. The game is out now, and that means an end to the weekly posts. Sad, I know, but it’s not permanent. I have plans to add one more feature to this game post-release, and I will be talking about that in more detail when I start working on it, but for now it’s time for me to take a break. It’s been a hectic 6 months, and I think I’ve earned it. It’s not really even a break, so much as a change in focus. I will be working on spreading the word of In Vivo, contacting press and trying everything I can think of to bring attention to the game. I will also be free and available on the development side to focus on fixing any bugs that show up in the release.

The past week I spent doing mostly technical things, and I’m glad to be done with that. While making the trailer was a bit of fun, working on press kits, build configurations and business documents was not. After fighting with presskit() for far too long to no avail, I ended up building my own static page manually, and I think it will do the job. We’ll see in the coming weeks if that hold up to scrutiny, but I’m ready to be done with it, so that’s where it is. Most of my time was spent figuring out how to configure everything for the release. I’m sure I’ve messed something up, but making sure every file is in place (and there aren’t that many), and every setting is configured properly was tiring.

In short, a lot of technical, not fun to do or talk about stuff happened last week. Why are you still reading this? The game is out, go grab it now!