"Where Shadows Slumber," Created By Two Friends, is Heading to the App Store in Early 2018. Ask Me Anything!

Game Revenant
Dec 20, 2017

Hello, it's Frank DiCola and Jack Kelly, the creators of Where Shadows Slumber. We're two guys who met in college and shared a passion for game development. The classic artist/programmer combo has served us well so far! This is our second game that we're publishing together, and you can try a free Demo on the store today if you want...

App Store Demo: http://bit.ly/WSS-AppleDemo

Google Play Demo: http://bit.ly/WSS-AndroidDemo

We don't have a wealth of experience to share with you. But we HAVE made many mistakes in the past two years that are all fresh in our minds. If you ask us anything, we'll give you a genuine answer about the startup indie game dev life.

We suggest that you play our Demo first, and please make your questions very specific!

Questions will be answered by Frank DiCola, CEO of Game Revenant unless otherwise indicated.


Game Revenant says:

This AMA will end Dec 24, 2017 3PM EST

Conversation (43)

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What led you to initiate the work for "Where Shadows Slumber"?

Dec 20, 11:03PM EST0 Reply

Around the time we finished SkyRunner and I was closing out a Kickstarter for Mr. Game!, Jack and I were wondering what we'd work on next. This was around Spring of 2015. It was actually at the Mr. Game! Kickstarter party that Jack showed me what he had been working on - prototypes of an orthographic puzzle game where objects you couldn't see would change the next time you saw them.

It was trippy and awesome! He had just played Monument Valley too, so we got excited for the idea of a game that eschews the traditional trappings of video games (jumping, shooting) for something more mellow and relaxed. It seemed like a good way to hit a wide audience on the App Store, but mostly we wanted to make something beautiful. This seemed like a good path toward that.

So I would say it was a combination of Jack's ingenuity and our pre-determined agreement to work on another game together. Truth be told, I have no idea what I would have thought of if Jack had not pitched the idea for his "light / shadow game." Life is funny that way!  I guess I'd still be in the tabletop gaming space [<_< ] so thank God for Where Shadows Slumber!

Dec 20, 11:13PM EST0 Reply

Can you share with us who were the people behind your success in this field?

Dec 20, 6:39PM EST0 Reply

Not yet - not until we're successful!

Ok that's kind of a cop out, but really now we are just getting started as indie game developers. I'd like to thank my parents obviously for all of their financial support. Not only did they pay for my education and housing during my life, they put money toward this business venture.

We should probably thank Coray Seifert for "introducing" us during his Game Design class at the Stevens Institute of Technology. The funny thing is, Jack and I knew each other from the comedy club at school (Off Center) but neither of us knew that the other wanted to make video games. Once we saw each other in that class and grouped up, we knew what kind of a team we would make. Thanks, Coray!

Dec 20, 6:55PM EST0 Reply

How do you see yourselves in the future, maybe 10 years from now?

Dec 20, 5:15PM EST0 Reply

JACK: I don't really like to plan too far into the future, if only because it's so hard to get right, and thus so easy to fall short of your own expectations. Suffice it say that I'll still be in the 'technology' space, almost definitely as a programmer. Past that, it really depends on how everything I'm doing now works out - if Where Shadows Slumber does really well, maybe I'll try my hand at another indie game. If it becomes popular enough, I might use it as 'resume-bait' to get a job. If the startup I'm at now takes off, I'll probably see where that goes.I know that seems like a bit of a cop-out answer, but honestly, I haven't really thought that far ahead - I prefer to focus on the shorter-term, where I have a little more control over the outcome. I'd much rather work on making Where Shadows Slumber as good as possible than draw up plans for a future I may never see.


FRANK: My plan for 10 years from now is to own some office space in Hoboken or New Rochelle for Game Revenant, and be working on indie games! I'm determined to keep the indie label even as the company grows, because I've seen what happens to studios that allow large publishers to make their game design decisions. It's not pretty! I don't want to grow the company too large though - maybe 10 max? The employees at Game Revenant will always be hired according to the project they're working on. My goal is a company with 0% waste, and also employees who know exactly what they're working on and what their future is. Obviously the success of Where Shadows Slumber is critical to my plans for the future! I would hate to rely on a large investment from a mysterious donor because I'd be worried I'd be unable to pay it all back. 10 years from now I could see myself working on a truly massive project - until then I'll keep it to successful indie games that can be completed by tiny teams.

Dec 20, 5:35PM EST0 Reply

Is there something going on in the conceptualization department, say a new game coming?

Dec 20, 3:55PM EST0 Reply

Jack and I are really into very different styles of games. He loves games like Diablo, StarCraft, and anything with a linear style. I'm the polar opposite - I like open-ended sandbox adventure games and I'd prefer to see through my character's eyes instead of seeing them from a bird's eye view.

After we release Where Shadows Slumber, whether it's successful or not, we'll probably work on separate projects. I don't know what he'll want to work on next, or if he'll have the grit to start this whole process over again. Making a game takes a lot out of you!

As for me and this studio, I don't know what I'd want to work on next. I'm so consumed by making sure this game's launch goes so well, it's hard to imagine when I would step away and say "OK, time for the next thing." We have a lot of fun post-launch things to setup as well, so I'll be super busy.

Right now I have too many good ideas for video games! It's so hard to choose. I want to create them before someone else does. But I also need to analyze the market. One of my ideas may be more suited for the current environment than another. At this point, I could see the company going in one of many directions. But I also need to see how much money this game makes, because that will determine if I work on something "safe and small" or if I set out on a massive pipedream project.Sorry to be so vague. I don't want to do my game pitches a disservice by giving you the short version... [ . _ .] but I hope that answers your question!

Last edited @ Dec 20, 4:45PM EST.
Dec 20, 4:43PM EST0 Reply

Who are you looking up to for any advice?

Dec 20, 12:42PM EST0 Reply

We haven't really looked up to too many people, because we still don't have many connections in the industry. I would say we look up to certain products that have done really well: Monument Valley 1 and 2, Hitman GO, Lara Croft GO and the others in that family.

We'll see what a game has done well and try to replicate it if it fits within our game. More importantly though, we look at critical feedback about where the game failed and then rectify that. That's the benefit of being a follower rather than a pioneer.

Dec 20, 3:20PM EST0 Reply

How much do we need to pay to play Where Shadows Slumber? Or, is it for free?

Dec 20, 8:23AM EST0 Reply

Where Shadows Slumber is a premium game, which means you'll need to pay to download the game. The price will depend on the region, but the App Store tier we decided on was $4.99 if you're in the U.S. If that's too much, you may want to wait for one of those $1.00 sales [^_^ ]

Our Demo is free if you want to try it though! Imagine the final game as a more difficult version of that Demo.

Dec 20, 3:18PM EST0 Reply

Have you met any challenges along the way, especially about conflicting ideas?

Dec 20, 8:05AM EST0 Reply

Of course! Even with a small team of 2 (that eventually grew to 3, then 5, etc) there will be times when people butt heads. Cabin fever sets in and you begin to see the other developer as "the enemy!" It's just human nature. I think I often project a lot onto other people. If I'm being lazy or not working hard, I tend to say "it's their fault, they're the ones stopping me!" when it's really on me. I control my schedule. If I choose to goof off instead of finishing an animation, there's no one to blame but myself.

I would say we clashed viciously over...

The Price: I didn't expect this to be such a point of contention, but since neither of us were business people we didn't really have an authoritative voice in the group to decide this. I won't go into the specifics, but suffice it to say we knew the game would be Premium, but we argued over the price it should be at launch. It was between "are we leaving money on the table for pricing it too low" and "are we scaring people away by pricing it too high" which feels like a pretty regular debate over price in general.

The Story: This isn't so much a challenge but it is kind of funny - we set out to create a narrative that is open to interpretation, but now we both have very firm ideas about what the proper interpretation is. We don't fight about it, but I think it will lead to an interesting discussion once the game is out for the public to judge. I actually am really looking forward to that!

The Schedule: This didn't have to be an ambitious game, but we kind of bit off more than we could chew with the time and resources alotted. Recently we've been wondering if we can release on time, which is why we haven't given out a concrete timeline yet. It's a clash between "getting everything into the game that we planned" and "not killing ourselves working on this game until we are old and have grey hair." I don't think it will come to that, but there's a lot of pressure to release according to the internal schedule we decided on a while ago.

Dec 20, 3:16PM EST0 Reply

Who are your target audiences?

Dec 20, 6:44AM EST0 Reply

Great question! There are a few...

Monument Valley fans: ustwo's Monument Valley awakened an entire demographic of the industry that realized they liked games - just certain kinds of games. There's a lot of weird stuff on the App Store, but I think if these fans see our game they'll say "hey that looks like that game I really liked, the uhh what's it called? The M- the monu- the... Monument Valley yeah that one!" and they'll download our game.

Train / Bus Commuters: People who commute to work every day spend a lot of time on their phones. However, they won't enjoy any game that requires a constant Internet connection because they will be constantly losing a signal. Once Where Shadows Slumber has been downloaded to your phone, it will not require an Internet connection to play.

Puzzle game fans: Our game can be really challenging, and it breaks a lot of puzzle conventions. I think fans of puzzle games who are looking for something new that maintains the genre but does something really weird will love this game.

Sorry I don't have a more standard answer like Women Ages 25-40, but we didn't really think of it in those terms.

Dec 20, 3:08PM EST0 Reply

When can the game become available in the app stores?

Dec 20, 5:45AM EST0 Reply

We don't have a release date for you yet, sadly! Definitely 2018. That's not saying much though since it's December 20th [ >_<]

Let's say Q2 2018... that's just vague enough to not get me in trouble!

Dec 20, 3:04PM EST0 Reply

Do you think young and adult alike will like it?

Dec 20, 4:48AM EST0 Reply

We're going to suggest that the youngest children who play it are 13 or older. Pretend it has a T rating until we actually get around to rating it. It may end up being rated M. The gameplay is a bit complex for very young kids, and the story has overtones of violence and horror.

I think you're also asking if adults will like it or if it's "kiddie." Don't worry, adults will love this game! I think they'll get the most out of it, actually. We kind of designed it with them in mind, we're picturing older gamers who want some kind of substantive gameplay and narrative from their mobile games.

Dec 20, 3:03PM EST0 Reply

What made you decide to pursue this field of interest?

Dec 20, 3:05AM EST0 Reply

I've always loved games since the time I was a kid. My brother and I still love to play games together and we have since we were really young.

But we also loved to criticize games. And not in a journalist sort of way, like "I give this game a 4 out of 5! Not enough chickens!" but in a childish way. We would say "Nintendo should make a game about Yoshis fighting with swords" or "Nintendo should make a Fire Emblem Smash Brothers" and eventually I got tired of just waiting for other people to make the games of my dreams.

This is what I'm passionate about! I can't stop myself from creating, and there are games that don't exist that I want to exist. I guess I'm driven, at my core, by a desire to play something that isn't out there. If I have to build it so I can play it, so be it!

Dec 20, 3:00PM EST0 Reply

Can you share with us your difficulties, especially during the planning and development stages?

Dec 20, 1:04AM EST0 Reply

Our difficulties mostly come from the fact that I'm a terrible planner. I have a big aversion to writing down a list of things and sticking to it.

I used to fantasize about being some cool kind of artist / project manager hybrid. Now I think it would be prudent going forward if Game Revenant had a full-time producer who is not me.

It's really difficult to work on a game and also work on getting that game out the door. As the artist, I want to put the tiny detailed touches on every single piece of the game. It's hard to put my "production" hat on and say "hey maybe you should just move on to the next thing because you're running out of time!"Another place we've butted heads a lot is on optimization vs. game art. Jack is usually advocating for "the game needs to run faster, remove X and Y" and I'm in the other corner saying "oooh dude let's add A, B and C!" It can get a bit dicey at times. We both want what's best for the game, but we have different internal metrics we're using.

Dec 20, 2:58PM EST0 Reply

Have you collaborated with other experts?

Dec 19, 11:28PM EST0 Reply

One of our biggest challenges has been trying to publish the game globally on our own. We are currently working in an unofficial capacity with experts in the Chinese market to discuss how to get the game there. It's funny though, I don't think of them as "experts" I usually just think of them as "friends" haha.

Other than that, none that I can think of. I spoke to some of the people at Unite 2017 when I was there a few months back, they were really helpful. There's so much information out there online, and on YouTube, that I think you can learn from the experts without necessarily collaborating with them.

Probably the only thing we'd have time for at this point is to show our game to a respected developer pre-launch and get their feedback.

Dec 20, 2:54PM EST0 Reply

What makes this game different from the rest of the thousands in the market?

Dec 19, 11:13PM EST0 Reply

That's a great question, but I want to give you two answers because I think you might be missing something important. Often times, it's not about how a game is different from the others... it's about how a game is similar enough to an existing product, but different enough to be its own entity.

What makes our game different: It's a puzzle adventure game where light and shadow aren't merely decorative - they're integral to the puzzle solving process. This game is about paying attention to your environment and the position of the main character. Things don't change in an obvious way, and the shadow mechanics aren't always clear. It's about exploring, but also having a good memory and remembering how you caused certain objects to appear / disappear. We've shown the game at tons of events and people always say they've never seen shadows done quite this way in a game before. The last thing that makes us stand out is that the story is darker in tone than most games of this nature - but I don't want to give too much away!

What makes our game the same: This is really important because games that are "super unique and crazy!!" don't always bring in the big bucks. It's possible to be so innovative that no one wants to take a chance on your game. Where Shadows Slumber was heavily inspired by Monument Valley and it borrows on gameplay elements like tapping to move and dragging things with your finger to move them. We also rely on forced perspective for our illusions, although they aren't Escher-style optical illusions.

It was really important to us that we take the successful Monument Valley model of mobile game development and perfect it. The common critiques of Monument Valley were that it (a) wasn't challenging enough (b) the story had no impact (c) it was too short. If we can take what's good about their game, but put our own twist on it, and fix their shortcomings, I think that's a game that will stand out from the crowd.

Dec 20, 2:51PM EST0 Reply

Where do you get financial support for the project's ongoing developments?

Dec 19, 3:43PM EST0 Reply

There's a few answers to this question:

Jack works full-time and spends mornings and nights working on this game. It's a hellish schedule I wouldn't wish on anybody - but it means he can pay for the cost of living without needing investor money.

Frank's generous, saintly parents have given him (me!) a business loan to keep Game Revenant in business. This is just for expenses that are 100% necessary for development, like traveling to shows or paying software costs. I'm pretty cheap when it comes to spending money, especially since I need to pay it all back. I'm not taking a salary obviously, and the only people who have actually gotten paid are our musicians. I think often about how Blizzard Entertainment got started with a $15,000 check from Mike Morhaime's grandmother and I hope to have a story like that someday.

Other than that there are no outside investors, publishers or companies funding the development of this game. We are not in talks with any either. We'd really like to self-publish the game across the globe!

Everyone's relying on this game to make serious money because our "payment" is a share of the game's profits. So if you want to support us, make sure to buy the game when it launches [ ^_^]

My parents probably won't break my kneecaps if I don't pay them back, but you can never be too careful...

Dec 20, 2:44PM EST0 Reply

What kept you going through tough times as you try to finish the

Dec 19, 12:19PM EST0 Reply

We're still working on finishing it, but there is one guiding principle that's helped us along the way:

You can do anything badly.

It may seem weird, but that's a really helpful mantra. See, usually we worry about doing something perfect. And that's hard. How can I make a perfect cutscene or a perfect level? What does a "perfect" user interface even look like?

You get so hung up trying to do that, you don't even start. And so you need to take a step beack and say "hey - this task right here? I bet I can take 15 minutes and just make the worst possible version of that thing." That always works, because it's always possible to do a really rough job on something.

Now the dynamic has changed. You're no longer staring at an empty sheet of white paper. Instead, you're looking at a poorly worded essay that isn't long enough. (Go with me here, I use this analogy a lot) It's much better to be in the mindset of proofreading and editing than starting. Starting from scratch is hard. But editing always feels like a final step, even if you could spend months editing.

We applied this to our entire game development process. First, we made a project called The Throwaway Project that was quite literally just a bad version of Where Shadows Slumber. We were super proud of it!

Then we made a project called the Demo which was a big edit of the Throwaway, essentially. We're super proud of that too!

Now the final game, Where Shadows Slumber, is the third iteration on the idea. Everything from the code to the art has been rebuilt a third time, which means we have the benefit of hindsight from those earlier projects.

If you're nervous about working on something, that probably means you haven't started yet. Take a few swings into that block of marble and you'll start feeling a lot better.

Dec 20, 3:30PM EST0 Reply

Any piece of advice to share with aspiring game developers?

Dec 19, 9:23AM EST0 Reply

I love the Unity3D engine and I recommend it to everyone. I'm not a programmer - I'm just an animator and artist. But even before I met Jack and we teamed up, I was able to script some stuff in Unity and make my own little games. Nothing impressive of course, but it's better than sitting around wishing you knew how to make games!

Download Unity (the free version is fine), and do their tutorials:

unity3d.com

unity3d.com/learn

Then what you need to do is discriminate between the projects you're making to become a better developer and the projects you're making to impress other people.

Jack and I did this with SkyRunner, to be totally honest. It was a game we created so we could become better developers. It worked! We know way more now than we used to. It really gave us a good baseline to work on Where Shadows Slumber.

Here's something I see way too often: some young game developer will set out doing a Unity tutorial. "I want to become a good game developer," they say to themselves. "This is just a practice project." Unfortunately, that project grows and grows and spirals out of control until it becomes a massive endeavor. The game design is lacking because it's an afterthought, and the developer is too attached to it to throw it away and start working on something else. They began by just trying to get better at programming, but sentimentality prevents them from moving on to the next project and it morphs into something they want to show off to impress people.

The fallacy of sunk costs comes into play, too. Developers often spend way too much time on these games, then spend even MORE time on them because they spent so much time on them.

That's a lot of advice, so the short version is use Unity to get started and plan your work, don't let the games you make control your life!

Dec 20, 2:37PM EST0 Reply

Can you briefly discuss what this game is all about?

Dec 19, 7:54AM EST0 Reply

In Where Shadows Slumber, you guide Obe through a world that has fallen into complete darkness. The only light comes from his little lantern. The origins of both the lantern and Obe are shrouded in mystery!

It's a puzzle adventure game at heart. We say "puzzle" because the gameplay is all about figuring out how to get from point A to point B. We say "adventure" because it's not an abstract puzzle game like Kami 2. There's nothing wrong with those (I love Kami 2) but it's important to note that this game focuses on the story of the world and its characters.

The gameplay is super unique - in this world, things can change when you aren't looking at them. Since the shadows of our world are 100% black, that means anything in shadow is completely hidden and can change the next time you see it. The puzzle solving is super trippy and intentionally obscure at times. It's a game that's as much about exploration as it is about logic and reasoning.

Dec 20, 2:31PM EST0 Reply

What does each of you have to contribute to making this team stronger and competitive?

Dec 19, 6:00AM EST0 Reply

This is a good chance to break down the team members and our roles:

Jack Kelly created the concept of the game, designed 90% of the Levels (maybe more? That's a guess), and is the game's programmer. It wouldn't exist without him! He's a math major with a Master's in Computer Science and a passion for game development.

Frank DiCola is me. I started my game studio Game Revenant with the dream of one day working for myself and providing good jobs for others in the industry. I'm an animator and 3D artist, so my role on this game has been to bring it to life and make it look beautiful.

As we worked on the game over the past few years, we brought in a few specialists to work on aspects of the game that we just couldn't do.

Caroline Amaba is a good friend of ours from Stevens. She's our webmaster, so check out www.WhereShadowsSlumber.com to see her work! Neither of us are web developers so it was important to give this task to someone we trust.

Alba S. Torremocha and Noah Kellman are a dynamic duo of audio engineering and musical composition. They joined the project at the end of this summer to create gorgeous music and sound effects.

I'm not sure if I can answer what makes us competitive, since no one on the team is a business professional. I think the product makes us competitive - but the people make the product.

Dec 20, 2:26PM EST0 Reply

How long have you been developing game apps?

Dec 19, 2:46AM EST0 Reply

I've been interested in game development for a while, but I don't think I really began making games until my junior year of college. Let's say 2013? I was always really into 3D Modeling and Animation ever since high school, but it took me a while to find my footing when it came to game development. I wouldn't be making games if it wasn't for the Unity 3D engine, they made it super simple!Jack has been making games since the days of Flash and Newgrounds. He really likes Unity too, but he's had way more experience than I have.

We met in college and then worked on some student projects for class, and a mobile endless runner game called SkyRunner which is on Google Play. This is our second game together!

Dec 20, 2:20PM EST0 Reply
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