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.
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.
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.
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.