Yesterday close-to-midnight, a new art movement was born! We called it Retro Alienism, partly because we needed some fancy way to have an ultimate excuse for our newly defined Heart. Papers. Border. art style, and partly because doing #indiedev till 12 PM almost every evening does strange things to your brain. But I can’t really remember the last time I have been so happy to do stuff, and I do some pretty cool stuff during daytime.
Yet I notice myself failing to do what I preach.
We work on the game every day, but the last Heart. Papers. Border. update was on August 9. And while I am privileged enough to afford to make this game for reasons other than financial, what originally fascinated me is this elusive thing called marketing. I needed a game to test all my theories, to kick my impostor syndrome in the gut, and frankly, that’s how Heart. Papers. Border. came to be.It is a project deeply rooted in our life experiences, it is extremely closed to our heart and quite a serious philosophical statement that we hope to build upon for a very long time, but it was designed so that Sebi and I get to learn what we really, very much want to learn. And I really want to learn how to get a game you truly believe in to sustain a lifestyle that makes you the most productive you can be as a creator.*
Market Early, Market Often
Dream, let go, then turn yourself into a stranger’s friend
Marketing’s ground zero is simple: if you make something for someone other than you, you need to tell that someone about it. Its how we communicate and exist as people. If you don’t tell, you cannot possibly expect people to somehow find out. As a creator, talking about your creation is up to you. And frankly, its my belief that if we ever thought about ourselves as creators, it is our duty to talk about our projects, otherwise we’re kinda wasting our existence.
So that is essentially why frequent development updates work. This recent article on Gamasutra about 86 Kickstarter campaigns demonstrates how teams who update their blogs multiple times a week and also start to speak about their projects months ahead are also the most successful crowdfunders. This can easily be applied to everything, but there is something I feel its important to mention: I think this takes a lot of patience and selflessness. I am not writing this blog post to build a group of potential clients. Instead, I am writing this so that if there is a soul out there who might be curious about Heart. Papers. Border., or our team, or gamedev in general, I do not want to let that soul down. I want to be forthcoming and generous and helpful instead.
I don’t know why that soul would be curious about us or Heart. Papers. Border. but this project really puts a smile on my face, gives me meaning, and truly makes me happy. The subject – the freedom to travel- is something that really fascinates me and I feel it is important to try my take on it, a take that’s not depressing, or journalistic, or politic, or anything else. I just really want to talk about our freedom as people to wander the planet, and I want to do that through an allegoric, optimistic, funny, wacky game project inspired by our adventure as expats across Europe, the current refugee crisis, and NASA’s Visions of the Future posters. If this makes me tick, I ain’t no special snowflake. I KNOW there are people out there who are fascinated by this, just like me.
Besides, people kinda like people who do stuff. That is because we are inspired by doers, especially when it comes to dream professions like the ones that have to do with games and game making. Every gamedev log I read makes me dream about my own project and in what situation would I be when doing it. And I know that every devlog I read is work, it’s time and sweat invested in something that takes effort to finish and has little external satisfaction, especially when compared to actual gamedev. But while its important to understand the impact of what you do, what matters the most is that each blog is a promise to yourself as a creator, a task done, and a log of your work to refresh your memory in the future.
So yep, here is the Heart. Papers. Border. update. I actually have Super Exciting News regarding the progress of the project, and I don’t know how to tell you but…. we are close to a playable version.
The first big news is that Pontus Lunden of 0010/ The Westport Independent fame is our artist and I only tell him 3-5 times a session that I would really like to steal his brain. He is just so talented, it makes me cry. And it makes me cry because I am so grateful he is helping us, so thankful for what he taught me – more in a just few hours than everything i was able to learn about vector graphics, ever – and so inspired by his work. Just look at that dancing astro lady <3
The second big news is: I still can’t believe it, but the absolutely amazingly talented Jeffery and Nick from Easily Embarrassed/ Retro Brothers agreed to make the soundtrack for Heart Papers. Border. I am just so hooked on their music, and I have been listening to them obsessively for the past few months now, but it never occurred to me to just ask them if they might want to make music for a game. Then one night, one of those nights when Pontus and we got together and worked till midnight, I was just DJ’ing for the night, playing Easily Embarassed and we just all thought, wow this music would fit so awesomely with our game. That’s when it hit me. And I sent a mail and then a miracle happened and OMGBOYIMSOHAPPY!
The other thing is we nailed down the universe and story and background for Heart. Papers. Border., a visual story taking place on an alien planet that may or may not have been colonized by a distant race surprisingly similar to humans. This planet is called Heart and even if in some distant, surreal future, my next paragraphs are Spoiler Alerts, I’ll take this chance. You see, Heart is an anagram of Earth and so is our level design, sort of. Not only is Heart a little backwards Earth-y, but the land mass is also a heart in itself, as well as two kissing heads, kind of. Do the big lakes on both continents look a little familiar? Earth in reverse is a bit of a leitmotif for the project, to which we add this amazing news. Yep, the real life inspiration for Heart is Proxima b
And with the story came the Retro Alienism art style! Yes, I hereby declare it a thing now, and it is a minimalistic art style made whilst admiring our shiny printed NASA Visions of the Future collection, dreaming at Proxima b and Proxima Centauri in general, and debating retro futuristic magazines, movies and cartoons, especially The Jetsons. It really, really helps to nail down the background story and the art style. This instantly accelerated our development. We know where we aim now, so we we know what to do, or what to fake if we can’t do it yet. We went so far as to even buy a domain, and we should have the Heart. Papers. Border. website up and running soon!
Finally, here’s a personal pledge. I give you….
The Preliminary Heart. Papers. Border. Editorial Planning
I WANT to write about these topics. I NEED to write about these topics. I HAVE to write about these topics asap.
Fake it till you make it
No, it is not about you can do now. It’s about generating materials that are good enough to remind you what you want to do in that (hopefully near) future where you are actually skilled and knowledgeable enough to do it. You can use those FAKE materials that you struggle to create now to ask random people aka STRANGERS if your dream project is something they would actually give money so they can play. This way, when your future self IS skilled and knowledgeable and rich and zen enough to actually do that dream game of yours, you’ll already know if you have a market and a solid, truly wonderful game idea. Should your thoughts drift towards silly notions such as shame, or “What will people think if I release this unpolished bit of gamedev”, read this.
How to pay your artist
It’s actually impossible to figure out how much a game artist should be paid, and the whole idea of fair payment is a silly one. It’s not about statistics or market value, it’s about the kind of person you want to be, the kind of company you want to build and what kind of life you wish for your artist – and everyone who provides value for you as a business. The visual art style is probably what will make or break your project. so despite the overwhelming literature regarding business and friendship, I personally believe that aiming for true friendship and synergy with your artist -and everyone in your team! – is what makes gamedev worth living for.
You can always learn something new
All his life, Sebi was told that he sux at math, that he could neverever be a programmer, that, in fact, the whole idea of earning a living by reading stuff and staring at a screen is and forever will be ridiculous. Sebi turns 40 in about 2 weeks and he is rapidly learning to be a game programmer. He started on this road a few months ago, and he faked it: he thought he would take over the easy stuff of Heart. Papers. Border. and just learn a little Unity while doing some menu work. Yet he just finished implementing a time system, which lets us calculate visa processing times and validity. He is the only coder in the project. He loves it, and I just simply could not be more impressed, more in awe and more in love with him. Not only do I fully trust him as our only coder, I actually think he will soon become a better game programmer than most game programmers I know. Because he really, deeply gets it, internalises it, that you can always, ALWAYS learn whatever the f you want, and get enormous satisfaction from that, no matter what life throws at you and especially no matter what other people tell you. I am on a similar path, and loving it.I hope you are on a similar path, too. I really, really want to debunk all those scary, useless myths that it’s impossible to do what you love.
Player updates versus development updates aka should you target your marketing to gamedevs
There is a lot of talk about how powerful and amazingly helpful the indiedev community can be. It’s true. I see it every day, and it is so inspiring. But if you plan to talk about your game only on indiedev channels…. I think you might want to rethink that. Just think about yourself, and how much time you have available to actually play games, and if you really do want to build a game for people in the same situation as you.
I think Heart. Papers. Border. is not a game for developers or even hardcore gamers. You can’t kill anything in HPB, you are not competing with anyone, in fact we hope our players will feel relaxed and intrigued and curious and just travel dreamy when they will play. Monument Valley is a good example for the kind of feeling I hope we can inspire, and I think Monument Valley is a terrible, terrible game to market to game developers. “To design a great video game, don’t be afraid to go against conventional wisdom” – Ken Wong
* I also want to learn how to make art for games, specifically 2D art and specifically vector graphics. Furthermore, ohforf I miss development and I really, Really REALLY want to get more familiar with Unity. Sebi wants to learn how to code, and we both kinda really want to be in a position where we able to make our own small game experiments. We also want to learn how to make money making games, so we can have more options and flexibility and freedom in our lives. And perhaps more than anything, we want to be in a position to truly really help other devs without feeling like frauds, and share everything we know in the hopes that we can inspire others to make great, unconventional, courageous games that change the world. And ofc we ultimately want to take over the Universe mwahaha.