A Guide to Making Mods for Academia : School Simulator

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We recently added Steam Workshop to Academia : School Simulator, and we’re super excited to see what mods our players will create.  We already have an explanation of the actual process of creating and uploading a mod to the game here, but this article will go into more depth on how we manage the art in the game so you have a better understanding of how to create visual mods.

Objects and UI images

Objects are the most straightforward things to change, since they are individual images.  Simply replace the current object image with one of your own, making sure that every rotation of that object is included.  Also make sure that your modded image has the exact same size as the original image.  For example, if you want to mod a chair, which is 128x128, make sure your modded image remains 128x128.

Walls

These are a little bit more difficult.  Each wall image is a 512x512 image divided into 4x4 tiles, with each 128x128 tile being one section of a wall.  Each section of the wall is properly aligned to each other so it’s important to stick to this alignment to make sure that the walls render properly in your mod.  Here is a helpful image to help you better visualize how each section connects with each other.

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Once you are comfortable with how the walls interconnect with each other, you can start making some more radical changes, like maybe making the walls thinner, and seeing how that looks in the game.

Characters


The characters are where you can get really creative with your mods, but it takes some understanding of how we put the characters together in order to get the best results.  
Our characters are separated into four parts (Hair, Head, Body, Hands) as seen in this image:

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We have a few “types” of each part, which we mix and match randomly in the game to create unique characters.  As you can see from the image below, it doesn’t take a lot of art to create quite a bit of variety:  

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You can see we’re severely lacking in variety in terms of skintones and body types, and so we’re planning a substantial update to this in the near future.  We also separate male and female hairstyles, faces, and bodies, so that female type parts will exclusively be combined with each other, and same for male parts.  As with the objects and walls, you cannot create “new” body parts, you can only “replace” them.  So based on this image, you could only create two different male body types by replacing the standard ones.  If you added a third male body type to the image, there is no code as of yet that will extract that image to display it in the game.

Body Orientations

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Another important thing to note is that each body part has 4 orientations: (facing)down,up,right,and closed. It’s important to keep this in mind in case you want to do a full change of all of the images in the character spritesheet.

Prison Uniform mod

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While the current character spritesheet can be fairly limited in terms of modding, there are definitely ways to get creative with it.  The first mod I thought of making was the Prison Uniform mod.  When we were talking about what mods to make I immediately wanted to make this.  It’s both an homage to Prison Architect, and a slight dig at people who insist that Academia is a mod of Prison Architect.  The idea of creating a Prison Architect mod for a “mod of Prison Architect” just tickled my funny bone.

This mod was pretty basic, we can call it a “uniform” mod.  All I did was change the uniforms of the students to prison jumpsuits, and that was it.  This is a great, quick mod with minimal effort.  Our most popular mod so far is a Gryffindor mod which basically uses the same process.

Green Aliens mod

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I wanted to push a little further with this mod because I wanted to show just how creative you can get with it if you spent some time on the images.  For this mod, I basically deleted the faces and bodies of the students, being careful to make sure my new images still kept to generally the same size.  I wanted my students to be “bald”, ie have no hair, so I went and deleted all of the student hair.  In game terms, the game code will still “draw” the hair on the students, but since the image is empty, it will draw empty space, making them look bald.
Why did I do this?  To make our system of matching hair to faces work, we have to be very strict about the positioning and dimensions of our face and hair.  So if I want to make a “taller” face, it would mess with this system.  Deleting the hair means I have a little bit more leeway with the face shapes.  In fact, if you wanted to, you could delete the hairstyles and add hair directly onto the face types.  This would reduce the amount of uniqueness/randomness when generating students, but would allow much more creativity with the designs.

So there you have it!  I hope this blog has been useful to you and made you excited about the prospect of making mods for Academia : School Simulator!

Here are some files to help you out with making mods:

Character texture PSD

Wall texture PSD

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! If you're interested in making your own mods, you can buy the game now! please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!

Academia Launch Pricing and Tiers

 
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Hey everyone, as I write this we're checking out our release build for any bugs that might have slipped past us, and checking to make sure that our launch day goes according to plan. For those of you who want to see where we're at and catch a glimpse of actual gameplay, do check out our latest devlog on Youtube.

But in this blog I wanted to both announce our our launch price and or different pricing tiers. A lot of people have been asking about the price of the game, and it's something that we (and every other game developer) wrestled with. I know that regardless of the price we choose, there will always be someone that thinks the game is too expensive. So this is my effort at least explain the thought process behind our pricing structure. Whether or not you agree with it is up to you, but hopefully it will shed some light on a usually murky process.

Base Game - $20

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We've priced the base game at $20 (or $19.99 on Steam). We came to this decision after researching similar games in the genre. As some may know, I was the artist of Prison Architect and the presumed artist of Rimworld. I am actually not the artist of Rimworld, but essentially I gave Tynan Sylvester the thumbs up when he politely emailed me about using a similar art style. Both Prison Architect and Rimworld's base tiers are set at the price of $30. That could have been deemed a little pricey back then, but in the Indiepocalypse environment of today, launching at that price seems ludicrous, if not suicidal. You could argue that for the amount of content they provide, $30 is an excellent deal for either game. But remember that the games were priced at $30 at launch!

Something both games did was a Kickstarter style tiered system of rewards. I think that tiered rewards like this are a really cool way of letting your players be part of the game, and I'm genuinely surprised that very few people have taken advantage of this. I will admit that it adds some complexity to the process, so that may be one reason why devs shy away from it. For ourselves, we stuck to four tiers for the sake of simplicity. We absolutely did not want to do any physical rewards because we've heard so many horror stories from Kickstarters that actually lost money just because of the logistics and shipping of physical rewards. Given we live in the Philippines, the cost of shipping around the world would be astronomical.

Aside from Prison Architect and Rimworld, we also took a look at two other games, Another Brick in the Mall and SimAirport, both of which launched within the past year. At $12.99, Another Brick represents the lower end of the price spectrum, while SimAirport sits happily in the middle at $19.99.

Taking all the information above into consideration, we were pretty confident that we had enough content to match SimAirport at launch, and so we decided that $20 would be a fair price for the game. We hope you agree!

Base Game + Political Animals - $25

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Political Animals was our first ever game as a studio. While we maintain it's a good game(Waypoint said so!) that was a victim of very poor (though unavoidable) timing, we certainly learned a lot working on it together as a team. It gives us a track record as an indie studio that has every intention of taking a game to the finish line. It says we will not run away with your money.

Political Animals was published by Positech, creator of Democracy 3 and Production Line. Positech aka Cliff is a shrewd businessman who wouldn't have made a deal with anyone that he thought would run off with his cash. Unfortunately the bet he made with us didn't pan out (sorry, Cliff!) so hopefully enough of you buy this tier to help cover the cost of funding Political Animals. :D

This wasn't an easy decision either. Pricing this tier at $25 means we're essentially selling Political Animals at $5, roughly 66% of its current price of $14.99. Devaluing it by that much is a risky move, but the gamble is that it will sell enough to be worth the risk.

Base Game + Political Animals + Name in Game - $35

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We named this as the Best Value tier because we believe it offers the best value for both ourselves and the player. For an addition $10 on top of the previous tier, you get to have your name immortalized in our game, which is pretty cool. It's a great value for the player since Prison Architect charged $50 and Rimworld charged $45 for the same privilege.

And I'll be totally honest, it's a great value for us because it's very little additional work on our end to add your name in the game. So if you buy this tier, think of it as giving us a small tip for the hard work, plus you get your name in the game plus a copy of Political Animals in the deal!

Base Game + Political Animals + Name in Game + Custom Teacher Sprite- $200

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One of the coolest things about the Prison Architect tiers was the chance to get yourself made into a prisoner in the game. We wanted to give the players of Academia : School Simulator a similar opportunity so we came up with the idea of creating custom teacher sprites for the player.

You might notice there's a pretty big jump from $35 to $200 for this tier. We worried that because we had nothing to offer in the middle of these two tiers, the price jump might be a little shocking. But in the end, we decided to stick to it because the $200 accurately reflects the amount of time it takes to make custom sprites and program them into the game.

Prison Architect charged $250 for this tier at launch. I can't say this for sure, but in the long run I think they actually lost money on this because of the time it took me to talk to each player and render out the artwork for their character. We would do revisions on the characters until the player was satisfied (they deserved it for shelling out that much!), and that was time that took away from making art for the actual game. I've streamlined the process somewhat so I think we're okay at this price. I suspect that not many people will actually buy this tier though, so we may end up just making custom sprites for friends and family!

Conclusion

So that's it! A long winded explanation of how we came to our tiers and price points for the game. While ultimately each player will decide for themselves whether or not the game is worth buying, I hope that this blog has shed a little light on the thought process behind it. For folks who are price sensitive, we will be launching at a pretty hefty 20% discount during launch week. Hopefully this encourages people who are on the fence to take a chance on the game by paying the launch price then sitting back and playing the game after its developed some. Less than a week to go folks, it'll be nice to finally get the game in your hands!

Note: Academia will first launch for Windows, then Mac and maybe Linux as we make sure each build is properly executed.

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! Academia : School Simulator is coming out on September 8, 2017!  please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!

 

A Quick Guide to Making Indie Game Trailers

 

Hi guys, Ryan here! Last Week we shared the trailer for Academia : School Simulator. I made this trailed myself, and I'm quite proud of how it came together. Making a trailer may sound like a daunting task to the average indie, but it's not that complicated to make a simple one, and it can be a rewarding creative exercise in itself.

Conceptualization

This part is the easiest, just watch and absorb a bunch of trailers. Since we're working on an Early Access game that has simulation/management aspects, I chose to watch trailers by games like Sim Airport, Another Brick in the Mall, Production Line, and Oxygen Not Included. My main takeaway from these trailers is that they all showed elements of construction and showed the games' complexity. A basic idea for the Academia trailer was now forming in my mind. I envisioned a student dreaming of building their own school, with the music starting quiet and then building up in complexity as the school gets built out. With this in mind, the next step for me was to find some good music.

Music

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There are lots of great composers out there and you can approach one if you want a custom piece of trailer music. But coming up with a great composition takes both time and money, which we had in short supply. Luckily, there's a surplus of good royalty free music out there.

I initially checked out Nash music, which is where we found the background music for our game (which we also use in our devlogs). I couldnt find what I wanted so I did a google search for royalty free music and did a search for “educational” or “education” to see what would turn up. To my surprise, I found the trailer music on Shutterstock, which apparently now also licenses music tracks apart from photos.

When I first heard the track “Keep Riding” my ears instantly perked up and I though “this is it!” I did my due diligence by searching for other tracks. Shutterstock makes this easier by showing the track's waveform, so I could immediately see if any other tracks I was checking out had the similar “building up” phase at the beginning. I couldn't find anything else that called out to me, and after sharing with the team and getting the go signal from them, I bought the track.

Pro tip : before buying ANYTHING online, make sure to do a cursory google search for discount coupons. I do this for everything from booking hotels to buying royalty free music, and in this case I got a sweet 15% discount from a random coupon site.

Storyboard

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Now that I had my music ready, it was time to take my initial concept and prepare some storyboards. Storyboards are basically your trailer in sequential drawings. If it helps you can think of storyboards as like a comic book of your trailer. Storyboards helps you plot out the action of the trailer very quickly allowing you to figure out exactly what assets you'll need to create for the trailer. In our case, it helped me identify that I needed to make a background image, some custom sprite art, and locked down the list of videos that I needed to record. Another thing that's important when making trailers is deciding what kind of transitions to use in the trailers

Transitions

I wanted to detour a little bit into talking about transitions because I think while they're well known to anyone with an interest in film, developers generally aren't aware of them. I certainly didn't have deep knowledge of transitions until I experimented with making an alternate trailer for our game Political Animals. Essentially, transitions exist to smoothen or make more natural the transition from one scene to another.

This video of cuts and transitions 101 is a really great watch, and explains a lot about transitions in just 12 minutes. Depending on the kind of game you're making, only some of these transitions will be very useful to you, but it's important to keep them in mind in case they affect the kind of recordings you want to make. In my case I ended up using wipes, jump cuts, and the generic fade in/out from scene to scene.

I used jump cuts (with a slight fade in) specifically for the section of the trailer where I wanted to show the school being built up:

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And I used wipes (with a little bit of cutting on action) for a section where I showed off closeups of different zones while panning the camera.

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Transitions can give your trailer a sense of movement, something that a game like ours is sorely lacking.  A well placed transition can be the difference between a great trailer and a meh trailer.

Recording Video and Preparing Assets

I needed to prepare some assets for the video, which was simple enough since a lot of our assets are created in vector anyway, and it was easy enough for me to resize them and save them as PNGs for use in the video.

For recording the video, I used FRAPS. While I generally use OBS for our other recordings like for our devlogs, I've had difficulty getting it to record in the best possibly quality. FRAPS' biggest issue is that it records videos with HUGE filesizes. But once that video is encoded in the process of editing it all gets compressed down to a manageable size, based on your parameters.

Editing the Video

If there is interest, I will do a deeper dive into the specifics of the editing process. But for brevity's sake, this is a very condensed version of what goes into the editing process.

Adobe Premiere is the recognized king of video editing software, but there are a lot of alternatives out there. I settled on Power Director because it was a great value while at the same time offering a lot of editing power and customized transitions. Don't let the crappy website design fool you, at $59 for a one time purchase it's quite a good piece of software!

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If you went through the process properly then the first draft of the editing process should be pretty straightforward. The most complicated part of this trailer was the first part, because it involved a lot of timing and movement between the different sprites. But if you're just using recorded video, simply add the recorded media in the proper order by clicking and dragging them to the timeline. Now add the background music. Choose transitions and add them in between the scenes, then click on play to watch the entire trailer.

After watching the first draft I noticed a couple of things. One of the transitions occurred just as a lot of bass was played in the music. This made for very pleasant timing with the transition, so I went in and edited the scenes to transition at the same time as the music. I also felt that there could be a little bit of text to guide the viewer as to what was going on in the scene, so I added some text transitions. I watched the second draft and decided I was satisfied. After that it was a matter of adjusting the parameters of the final video to try to keep the filesize small, mostly because Philippine internet is terrible and it takes forever to upload videos to youtube.

Conclusion

I wrote this blog to encourage indie devs who can't afford a professional video editor to try their hand at making their own trailers. I kept very poor track of time on this but I think it took me about 2-3 days to make the trailer. Other than the fact that I saved us some money, I actually enjoyed the process and learned a new skill that may come in useful somewhere down the line.

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! Academia : School Simulator is coming out on September 8, 2017!  please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!