Thursday, September 21, 2017

WE HAVE LIFTOFF - XING: The Land Beyond releases on Steam and Oculus Store!

The rumors are true! We have launched on Steam and the Oculus Store! Here are some links:

Oculus Store Link 

 And check out the soundtrack on Bandcamp!

We'll probably make a bigger post after things die down around here, as well as continuing our timeline posts! Thanks again everyone!

Monday, September 18, 2017

My Unconventional Path to Becoming an Indie Game Developer [PART 1]

Now this is the story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
So I'd like to take you back to 2012 Spring,
And tell you all about the making of a game I call XING

Seriously though, there are a TON of weird, behind the scenes Fun Facts that nobody knows about our story, so I hope those of you who decide to read through it will laugh, sigh, and appreciate all the ridiculous details of the journey.

For Media People:

If you're a member of the press, I also came up with a few suuuuper classy click-bait phrases, in case you need some inspiration for a title for an article on us (please write about us, k thnx). If nothing else, I hope these make you laugh :D

"3 Game Developers Want to Send You to the Afterlife"
"The Afterlife Magically Discovered by 3 Game Developers, and it Looks Gorgeous" 
"In XING, You are Dead. Indie Team Promises That it Will at Least be Beautiful"
"I Traveled to the Afterlife and it was Puzzling"


~PART 1~

The Very Beginning

February of 2012

John and I both get assigned homework for a Level Design 1 that class we are in together, which is to make a level. The theme that week, I believe, was "atmosphere".

After working on our own separate levels for a day or 2, we combine the maps we've made so far (unbeknownst to our professor), and work together to combine our skills to make a better, single level. We work into the wee hours of the morning to get it to him on time...though it ends up being 8 hours late at 8am. We explain we combined our homework and apologize.
That was the birth of XING
A week later our professor announces that there is in intercollegiate IEEE competition for making a game that will take place in 2 months, and any of his students who make it into the top 10 will get an "A" in the class. Hello new goal.

March-April of 2012

John and I learn the Unreal 3 editor using UDK (Unreal Development Kit), and over the next 2 months (lots of late nights and terrible snack choices) we come out with an early prototype of a game, which we just call "XING".
At that point, the game play was literally: See a button, go to the button, press the button, and voila! This unveils a new path to the next button. Repeat. I actually recently just found this build again.

Fun Fact: This game is made up almost entirely of re-purposed assets that just came with UDK. We didn't know how to make models or materials or anything like that, so we worked with what we had. 
John and I presenting the game. 

We enter it into the competition and win 2nd place. Cool! Then one of the judges recommends that we take it further and actually run a Kickstarter for it. At this point, the game has a completely different story/context than the one you will play in a few days. You can check out the SUPER old trailer here for giggles.

Fun Fact: It wasn't until after we won 2nd place that the judges found out that we hadn't made all of our in-game assets ourselves. Whoops. 

~Also, this video upload got a decent amount of press without us even doing anything, like this article from RPS, so we thought that, in the future, press would be easy to reach to have people report on our little game. Haha. So cute.~

May 2012 - February 2013

John and I work all summer on what we think will be "the game". When school starts again in the fall (yay we are Seniors now), we end up asking James, who is a Sophomore, to join the team.

Fun Fact: This new version of the game we start around October of 2013 is not the same premise, story line or maps as the original "XING" that we created for that competition. 
We decided that the reason you don't have a body is not because we can't animate, but because you are dead. Yep. That was our solution, due to our lack of skills. Because of this, we end up writing a completely NEW story about the afterlife. It ends up being a lot better than the original, which was about crash-landing your spaceship on a mysterious puzzle-world (ok that sounds cool, but we didn't have much depth past that sentence. Seriously.)
Together we all work in John's little apartment, and build one new level that we think will be a hub world. We also start the process of running a Kickstarter.

March 2013: A New Beginning with Kickstarter

Before the Kickstarter

We are still in school, but essentially work on XING and the Kickstarter in all of our spare time. Somewhere in this time a friend suggests that the title "XING" isn't very descriptive, so we add "The Land Beyond". We like it.

The Kickstarter Trailer

John makes the music. James literally builds levels that don't exist, but that we want to exist later, so we add them in for visual variety. I film and edit the trailer. Some smoke and mirrors, and BAM:

We are very proud.

Running the Kickstarter

Anyone who has run a Kickstarter campaign will tell you that it is its own job. That becomes my new job. I make all the graphics (wow I've come a long way, some of those look terrible to me now, haha), answer the emails, reply in the comments, and add the updates. This is A LOT OF WORK. The whole thing is a fun and tiring learning process.
During the last week of the Kickstarter, the 3 of us attend GDC to meet with other developers and promote our game a little. This is when we end up forging our relationship with Epic Games (the company that creates the Unreal Engine). We end up loving pretty much everyone we meet from the company, and all is good. 
Fun Fact: That great relationship probably wouldn't have happened (or at least not happened as quickly) if I wasn't given a free pass to Epic's party one night by an acquaintance. Funny how things sometimes work out.
Haha, $15k. So naive. 

We're Legit now right?

Hey mom and dad, look we made some money ($30k) on Kickstater so now we are legitimate. Cool right? Now it's time to make that game we promised.
We give an initial estimate of launching the game in September of 2013. This is clearly due to lack of experience, or understanding of what it takes to make a game like we envisioned...and with only 3 (underskilled but highly motivated) people.

The Rest of 2013

Time to Make a Company!

So, apparently this is pretty normal, but we end up forming the company "for real" AFTER the Kickstarter (i.e. sending in all the paperwork to the government etc.). Our thought was that it wouldn't be worth it to form the company if we didn't know if we would have a product.

Trying out Virtual Reality

We promised Virtual Reality after the stretch goal was made on our Kickstarter Campaign, and pre-order an Oculus Rift DK1. Unfortunately it would be months before that one could come in.
Luckily, after an announcement to the community, a friendly backer actually ships his to us, and takes our pre-order, so that we can get the headset earlier to start developing for. This is the day we hooked up the DK1 for the first time and play XING:

Even on a DK1, with its low framerate and low resolution, and not even the idea of motion controllers in our heads, we are clearly in love.

Becoming a "Digital" Company

After the summer of 2013, John and I go back to live at our parents' houses, and James goes back to school. We still need to maintain the schedule we had been keeping over the summer (about 8-12 hrs a day, 5-6 days per week), so we set up a server on John's crappy old laptop, and create a schedule to meet on Google Hangouts every morning.
Fun Fact: In the beginning, we met at 9 am every morning on Google Hangouts to start the working day, and kept the video chat on all day long (until around 10 pm). Over the years, that 9 am call time slowly but surely crept forward to 10 am...then 11 am. Most recently we've been meeting at 12 pm every day, because we've been staying up so late every night trying to get things ready for launch! ><

Steam Greenlight

This was a new thing. We make it. It is exciting. This system gets replaced about a year later.

GDC 2014 and Yet Another New Beginning

Showcasing the Game GDC Play

So GDC, the Game Developer's Conference, is something we went to the year previously. This year, we decide to show off the game. We find that it is pretty expensive just to get a 6'x8' booth space, but the experience we gain while doing it helped make us contacts, and prepare us for future shows. Here are some posts I wrote before and after about the whole experience. Lots of pics.

After making that in-depth post about running a booth at GDC play, it became a new tradition to document every show like that afterwards - so you'll see a lot of behind-the-scenes links later on about PAX West. They're cool.

Early VR Fun Times

Did I mention we made this Roller Coaster in VR? Hahahaha. Yeah, this is not in the game anymore.

The Switch to Unreal 4

After GDC, where the announcement that the new Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) was going to be just $20 a month, we decide to make the switch. We made a whole blog post about this at the time, with lots of "before and afters". Let's just say it was both necessary, and worth it. This switch ends up costing us A LOT OF TIME...though because of it, we are able to make a much more modern and beautiful game.

Summer and Fall of 2014: Work Work Work + Conventions Galore

Our First E3: Showcasing with IndieCade

IndieCade invites us to showcase the game at E3, and we have about a month to get a build ready. Oh boy.
Fun Fact: We end up having to buy 780Ti graphics card the day before the show (thanks Mom and Dad) to get my computer up to spec to be allowed to show the game on the HD Oculus (this was the version in between the DK1 and DK2).
The actual show is awesome, and it is our first time attending. Here's the corresponding blog post for that.

During the show we are asked if we want to be featured on a GameSpot interview. Yes. The answer is yes.

Oculus Share Demo

After E3, we also release a demo of the game on the Oculus Share site (before it was replaced by the Oculus Store). Making all these builds is a lot of extra work, but seems necessary for showing that you have, you know, an actual, working game ><

Long work weeks. The usual. 

The rest of the summer is mainly continuing our 50-60 hour per week schedule of working on the game. In-between all of that, I'm prepping for our first PAX Prime show.

Our first PAX Prime: Wow.

We tried to be as frugal as we could, and I even listed out our expenses in the big post that I made. We try to be as transparent as we can.
Fun Fact: We had to rebuild the game every morning on the show floor to fix bugs we noticed from the day before. Every. Morning. Talk about stressful!

Also, after having experienced 2 shows, talking to people about the game at booths all day long, I come up with the idea of printing and laminating info pamphlets to hand out to people who crowd around the booth. I believe it will save my voice, and also help people come up with questions that aren't the same 5-6 that everyone asks. It works. I feel like a genius.

Oculus Connect 1

After that busy summer, you'd think we'd just relax and focus solely on development, right? Well, since we are always working, our little trips to conferences end up becoming like mini work-vacations. Basically it gets us away from our computers for a short time, but we are still working for the game - making contacts, spreading the word, learning about technologies to come (and what we will eventually have to support), and more. It's actually all quite exhausting. James and I attend the first Oculus Connect, and it becomes yet another great learning experience.
Oh hey look, it's John Carmack. Didn't he do something important? ;)

IndieCade with Epic Games

Since I live in LA, I decide it's a good idea to say "yes" when Epic invites us to be part of their booth at IndieCade, which takes place in LA every year. I figure it won't be too much of an extra hassle, and we will just use the build we used to Oculus Connect and PAX. That more or less happens. John joins this time, as James is in school.
Fun Fact: The REAL struggle (besides constantly having to haul all of our own computers and such back and forth from the car every day) was actually getting people to be able to see the game on the monitor we brought. The sun is so bright, and the festival is held basically, it becomes tough to see anyone's games, unless they are deep under a special shade tent. Pretty funny. Fortunately we also had a Rift that people could play in, and in VR you aren't worrying about the light outside (much).  Here's the corresponding post
Check out my sweet dragon table that I take to almost every event we show at!

The Rest of 2014

Work Work Work

We spend the rest of the year just working on the game, with no extra events to prep for. This feels like a nice breather - at least from events. We think we will be out in 2015. Still so wrong.

Hello 2015! It's a New Year!

Ok so we are definitely releasing this year, right? 

I mean, we need to stop living at our parents' houses and go live. Well, James is still in college, but John and I are feeling it. We end up asking for questions and then posting responses, interview style, to our thoughts on the current development cycle. Super cool interview about our personal lives in relation to XING. We definitely didn't just make up some of these questions ourselves. Definitely not. Nope. 


Since I'm writing this post, I'm going to post a picture of my work setup around that time, just because I think it's cool. (There are more photos of our rooms in the link above)
Welcome to my world! Can you tell how much I love dragons and fantasy?

GDC Round 3

The Game Developers Conference seems to be a good event to attend annually, if you want to keep up with industry and continue to make contacts. We definitely want to keep up, so we take this time off every year to do just that. It's an important part of staying relevant and in-the-know. Also, we end up meeting new amazing people every time we attend, and this year is no different. 
Fun Fact: This year we end up meeting with some of the people we had been talking to over email from Cyan (they were in the middle of making Obduction), and we talk a lot of shop about our mad strats for using the Unreal 4 Engine to the best of our abilities. We bond through our love making beautiful games :) This friendship between our studios has only grown stronger over the years <3

We always joke about having free advertising everywhere! 

Actual free advertising: We are grateful to Epic Games for asking to have our game's art displayed on their GDC booth. Every time we see something like this, it makes us feel like it's more real.

Also at this GDC, we hear about the new Steam VR HMD, which is intriguing. I wonder if it will actually be fully developed? Also, if it becomes popular, should we support that too? Hmmm. (Yes, this was the HTC Vive.)

$12,000 FREE from Epic Games

Epic starts an Unreal Dev Grant program this year, so we apply for it. We don't make it into their first round of awards, so we are a bit bummed, especially because they are using our pictures as the banners for their Dev Grants webpage at the time. :D In fact, the images of us are still there! In a later round of grants, we hear the news that we've been awarded $12k! Wow. This is seriously amazing, and helps out a ton on our shoestring budget!
It's me!
It's John!

With confidence gained from our newly awarded Developer Grant, and the drive to continue to make our game as close to our vision as we can, we head into the Summer of 2015 with smiles on our faces.

~End of PART 1~

Stay tuned for Part 2!

For all other inquiries, or to set up an interview, please email us at :)

Friday, September 15, 2017


Hey everyone,

Just a heads up. Due to some extra review stuff we didn't factor in, we need to delay our PC and VR launch by 3 days to Thursday the 21st. Sorry for the extra wait!