Squeaky Wheel's Productivity Tools

As game developers, we can get so focused on the craft of game making that we can sometimes forget that the tools we use outside of actual game development can be just as important to the process. Having the right tools can make the team much more productive, so knowing which tools work best for your team is key. Here I will go over some of the tools we’ve used previously, and what we have replaced them with to better suit our needs.

From Hipchat to Flock

hipChat.png

As a mostly virtual studio, having a good way to communicate online is absolutely necessary for us. When we first started developing Political Animals, company chats were still in their infancy, and Hipchat was one of the early companies providing this service. While Slack was around, Marnel preferred Hipchat because it had a much lighter chat client. Turns out the reason for this was that Hipchat was an incredibly primitive chat client compared to today’s updated products. It became very frustrating to use Hipchat during long chats, when it was unclear to whom we were replying to in conversations. We ended up creating our own systems for this, like copying and pasting the message we were replying to, as if we were on a forum.

 Our Scheduling, aka “Today’s Bowel Movement” channel on Flock.

Our Scheduling, aka “Today’s Bowel Movement” channel on Flock.

So we were kind of amazed when we switched to Flock and all of its functionalities. The ability to reply to specific messages, create reminders and notes, and being able to create custom avatars for people and rooms just blew me away. It felt like the difference between dial-up and broadband internet, or SD vs HD. Once we switched over there was no going back.

Flock over Slack

The leader of company chat clients is Slack. You almost can’t get away from slack advertising when listening to a podcast these days. In some ways this turned me off on Slack (I like rooting for the underdog). However we did try out Slack and some other products for a little bit just to see what it was like, and we still came back to Flock. The reason? Flock offers basically the same service as Slack, with a much more generous free version. They offer double the storage space (10GB) versus Slack (5GB) which means we have a lot more wiggle room when attaching files in chat. I’ll write a more in-depth article in the future, but I highly recommend Flock for small teams.

From Jira to HacknPlan

Jira has long been hailed as the gold standard for agile project management. What they don’t tell you is that for it to actually be useful, you need an actual full time project manager, or someone who is committed to that role. Unfortunately for us, we do not have anyone who is able to fully maximize Jira and all of its integrations. Vanilla Jira is, at least in our experience, painful to use. Basic things like looking up previous sprints consume way more time than necessary. Their strict adherence to the sprint methodology also created some annoying things like not being able to easily delete tasks (something that they added eventually). I was ready to move us off Jira as soon as I found a suitable replacement.

Hacknplan is agile project management created specifically for game development. It’s hard to immediately explain why Hacknplan is better than Jira for our needs. The easiest way to explain it is that while a good project manager could probably create amazing functionality using Jira, HacknPlan lets teams without a dedicated project manager just hit the ground running.

hacknplan.png

My favorite thing about HacknPlan is its GDM, which is essentially a living game design document. Previously, I would often want to write down some game design ideas for future reference. I would put them in Jira’s backlog, and there they would remain for the rest of their lives. HacknPlan’s GDM lets me create a category or folder containing all of these design ideas, and lets me easily access them in the future when we’ve run out of tasks and need something new to work on. The best thing is that you can assign tasks directly from the GDM, meaning there is a direct connection to your daily work tasks and the higher level design, which is something that is lacking in most agile management tools. HacknPlan has some issues (the pricing tier and some limits on the free version can be a little annoying), but the benefits far outweigh them. I’ve become quite an evangelist, and will push HacknPlan onto any developer within earshot. I’m going to write a much more in-depth post about HacknPlan and how we use it in the future, but if you are a small team making a game, I absolutely recommend you use HacknPlan.

From Google Sheets to (Sometimes) Airtable

Google Sheets is a great all around spreadsheet app that you can access from almost anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. It doesn’t do anything special, but in the hands of an expert like our designer Tristan, you can make magic with it.

Airtable.jpg

Airtable is an app that lets you do some of that magic and much more without a lot of effort. It feels a little like Spreadsheets 3.0 (with Spreadsheet 1.0 being the actual paper spreadsheets), adding functionality to spreadsheets that can make them much more easier to parse at a glance. For example, while designing our research items, we decided that they would be arranged like a tree, with some items being unlocked by research a “parent” item. Noting down the parent of a research item in a spreadsheet is easy enough, but hunting down items with the same parent can be a chore, even if you take the time to color coordinate the cells properly (which can be time consuming in itself). With Airtable, it only takes a couple of clicks to instantly rearrange and group the data by “parent”, which is a godsend when we are doing internal QA to make sure that everything is working properly in the game. Even better, you can parse this data by grouping it according to two different fields. So for example I could organize the data by way of parent and research cost, allowing me to know which research items that have the same parent cost the same amount.

Airtable’s complexity is also what makes it annoying to use sometimes. For example, coloring a cell is something that anyone who has used a spreadsheet does on a regular basis. I often do this when I want to indicate that a specific task is done, by highlighting it in green. Airtable’s free version doesn’t let you do this seemingly simple task, meaning if I want to do the same thing, I would have to create a new column, assign it as a “checkmark” type of field, and us this to check off items as I finish them. So while I highly recommend that studios use Airtable and its immense capabilities (of which I feel like I have only scratched the surface), sometimes good old Google Sheets is more practical to use. Luckily Airtable lets you import CVS files so if you start out using Sheets and deciding to move to Airtable, the process is painless.

Bonus Tools : Bug Reports with Google Forms

We currently use Google Forms as a bug reporting mechanism. While it’s great and importantly, free, I have been wishing we could switch to a different service that was better at parsing the data we receive. It’s great that Forms links seamlessly with Sheets, but all that data can be overwhelming to comprehend.

I’ve done a little research into alternatives like Surveymonkey, but I’ve yet to see anything that would be exactly what we need, which is an affordable bug report website or app that parses out the bug report data in more understandable chunks. If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments!

Bonus Tool 2 : Rescuetime

We are a small team and we don’t do the typical time tracking expected in a virtual team. This probably won’t scale to a much larger team, but in general we’ve noticed that we tend to work longer hours than usual anyway, so asking people to time in and out just seems insulting.

Instead, we suggest that people download Rescuetime and track their productivity on their own. It’s a great free tool that helps you keep track of your computer time. We’ve found that most people are usually shocked at how little productive time they actually use during the day, and this helps give them an incentive to do better. The free tool lets you set goals (mine are to have at least 4 productive hours a day and to spend less than 30 minutes on social media during work hours) and is more than enough for the average person.

Conclusion

I hope this will be useful for other devs and studios out there to give them an idea of the tools that they can use to help make the process of making games a little bit easier. It’s important to note that these are the tools that work for Squeaky Wheel specifically. The best thing to do is to always try it out for yourself and see what works best for you and your team!

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! If you're interested in Academia: School Simulator, you can buy the game now! If you're not ready to buy, 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!

Lessons Learned From Two Game Launches

A little over a year ago I wrote a rather depressing blog post about Political Animals' launch. You can read it in full if you like, but the bottom line is the launch was a major flop despite the fact that it was featured on Steam's front page. Indiepocalypse aside, a front page feature should still have assured us a enough views to break even. It didn't. Academia : School Simulator, on the other hand, did well enough to ensure that we could continue development into the foreseeable future. In fact, despite not receiving any features from Steam, Academia : School Simulator sold almost 3 times as much as Political Animals in the same time period.

Why was that? Since we're talking about first day sales, I posit that it cannot be the actual quality of the games that mattered. Because if Political Animals was simply a bad game, what we should have seen was a flood of purchases based on that front page feature and then a subsequent amount of bad reviews, returns, and refunds. Instead, what we saw was people finding our steam page and then immediately deciding “nah, I'll pass”.

I realize now it's the months leading up to launch day that matters most.  I'm going to describe and differentiate what we did for Political Animals and Academia : School Simulator with the hopes that you can use the lessons we learned for your own game launches.

Social Media

Political Animals:

This was a social media failure. While we had a Website, Blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts where we would post sporadic updates, we weren't showing anything that the players could engage with. This was our fault. Cliff from Positech would push us to do video devlogs, but we would demur from lack of ability/time. This shot us in the foot at launch, as we had not built up the requisite trust and awareness from our target market for a good launch.

Academia : School Simulator

We did a MUCH better job this time around. We decided from the beginning that we would do youtube devlogs. So as soon as we had a primitive prototype that we could show off, we started doing devlogs. They were really bad at the start, but you can see the improvement in the devlogs and the game as time moved on. We had a very strict once a month devlog rule, even when we had little to show for the month aside from polishing the game for launch. While we didn't get hundreds of thousands of views, we had an active community that was asking questions and sending suggestions, excited for every month's update.

For every devlog, we posted it on Twitter, Youtube, and our Mailing List. There was a great feedback loop where at the end of every month we would see our Mailing List numbers increase.

We've been a bit negligent on the Youtube side since launch, something I'm going to rectify at the end of the month. The honest reason is that these videos are exhausting and take up a huge chunk of time to work on. So at the end of an exhausting dev month, the last thing any of us wanted to do was to make a video of our progress. But they're the touchstone of our outreach to players, so we need to get back on it.

Conclusion

It's important to have a good, consistent media plan and follow through on it. Start as soon as you can, especially if you know you have to build up trust and create a community around your game.

Steam Store Page

This was a fail for both launches. Aside from filling up the requisite store information (which by the way takes a hell of a lot of time) we essentially did not do anything with the store pages before launch. This is a huge mistake. Like it or not, many gamers are treating Steam as a one-stop shop for their gaming information these days. So there will be a lot of people ending up on your Steam Store page that will never have heard of you before or seen your Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube account. So if they end up at your store page and there have been no updates since yo made the store page live, it will look empty, and emptiness breeds mistrust.

This is even more important for Early Access games. Because so many people have been burned by Early Access games before there is a huge hurdle of trust that you have to overcome with skeptical players. In fact, some people on our Steam discussion boards for Academia wrote saying they initially thought we were scammers because of the similarity to Prison Architect and the fact that there were no updates. The worst thing is we only saw this comment days later, making us look even more suspicious! It took us a few days to gain players' trust by sharing all of the devlogs that we had previously made on Youtube and establishing a track record of development.

Conclusion

The lesson here is that once you publish your Steam page you have to start treating it as another social network that you have to manage, if not the most important social network. An active Steam store page assures players that developers are legit and communicating with the playerbase, which gives them more confidence in the game

Conventions

Political Animals

PAXPolitical.jpg

For Political Animals we went to quite a few conventions, the most important of which were PAX West and EGX in the UK. We got some good press out of it, with Eurogamer even giving us a small writeup as one of their “Best of EGX”. We met some cool players who were super into the game, and it gave us hope that we were on the right track. Sadly, it turns out that this was not the case. We spent a lot of time and energy going to conventions around the world, but I think that money was essentially wasted, especially since for Academia we didn't even go to a single one.

Academia : School Simulator

Aside from our disappointment with the results from Political Animals, the easy answer for why we didn't go to any conventions is simply because we had nothing to show yet. We were way too early in the dev process to be showing it off.

We did go to a convention, but only to a local one in the Philippines called ESGS. While ESGS is one of the biggest gaming conventions in the Philippines, it pales in comparison to PAX and ESGS. We also went there post-launch, meaning we already had a game we were selling and could sell to attendees at a significant discount. We also had a free booth courtesy of indiearena, and we wanted to support the local game industry and meet our peers while we were there.

As with Political Animals, it was great to meet the players of our games, and we even picked up some local press. We also found out later on that we'd been nominated for a local industry awards, and even ended up taking home best game! So there's certainly a lot of emotional value to be gained from doing conventions, but don't go there expecting to boost your sales.

Conclusion

There are many reasons to attend conventions. Meeting players and fellow devs, getting feedback from them, and just enjoying the experience of seeing the other games. PAX was a whole lot of fun when we didn't have to man the booth. But our experience is that they are not very good value for money.

For ourselves, I think we will only go to conventions if we can get a subsidized spot, like with the Indie Megabooth, or even a free booth as with ESGS or Busan Indie Connect. We'll only go if we already have something to sell, so that we can subsidize the cost of travel. While some devs may find value in the cons, there are many devs that completely avoid them as a policy (Rimworld's Tynan Sylvester and Zachtronics for example) but are still successful studios. That's the model we want to emulate moving forward.

Streamers and Press

Political Animals

We reached out to streamers and press a week or so (memory fails me) before launch. I think we gave press a headstart just because it takes them a little longer to write an article, but that was the gist of it. We got some pretty big streamers on board, the biggest of which was TotalBiscuit. It was amazing watching him stream the game. Unfortunately I think it was a mistake to share the game a week early. By the time the actual launch rolled around, interest in the game had dissipated. Every second between the initial impression and clicking to buy a game is crucial. Bigger studios can rely on marketing right before the game's launch to help cover for this, but for a small studio it can be the kiss of death.

Academia : School Simulator

This time around we were adamant that we wanted to close the gap between first impression and game purchase. We released keys to press and streamers a few days before launch with a loose NDA that basically said “We are releasing this to you early so you can familiarize yourselves with the game, but please release your content only after the game is available for purchase. Otherwise you will receive a long, heartfelt email full of disappointment from me.” There were one or two outliers, but for the most part people stuck to the NDA.

Just to tie this back to social media, one advantage of doing those early youtube videos and spreading the word early was that we got youtubers emailing us asking for access even after our first devlog. So they were primed and pretty pumped to share the game by the time we finally released the keys.

For Academia we used a combination of both Keymailer and Woovit, so people could choose what they felt most comfortable with. Email or Twitter was a last resort, but we would ask for some verification before we would give out the keys to avoid the inevitable scammers.

Conclusion

I realize now that I didn't really write too much about press. That's because for the most part, press outlets hold much lesser sway now than then used to. I would suggest picking out the most important one for you and sending out a personal email, then crossing your fingers.

Build a marketing strategy that will inevitably attract Streamers and press to your game. Release as close to launch as you can to maximize day one sales. Cross all fingers and toes.

Final Thoughts

We learned from the mistakes we made with Political Animals and applied them to Academia : School Simulator. While it wasn't the best launch in the world and I'm sure we could have done better, we did do well enough to keep the lights on. In these dark days of the Indiepocalypse, that's already quite a feat.

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! If you're interested, you can buy the game now! If you're not ready to buy, 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 Guide to Making Mods for Academia : School Simulator

modAnnouncement.gif

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.

WallExplanation.jpg

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:

CharacterParts.jpg

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:  

StudentCharacterParts.jpg

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

CharacterOrientation.jpg

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

PrisonUniforms.jpg

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

GreenAlien.jpg

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

 
buyPage.jpg

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

Header1BaseGameSmallC.jpg

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

Header2PoliticalAnimalsSmallB.jpg

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

Header3NameInGameC.jpg

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

Header4CustomSpriteSmallB.jpg

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

keepriding.png

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

storyboard.jpg

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:

TrailerJumpCut.gif

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.

TrailerWipe.gif

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!

powerdirector.jpg

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!