Hey everyone, Ed here, this an update on the production side of where Forest of Sleep is at right now. We’re being particularly candid as we try and navigate a tricky point because 1) we feel it’s the best way to support the team and 2) because we think this kind of honesty is useful in the games development ecosystem. The tl;dr of this post is that for now, the rest of the team are stepping back for 3-6 months while I make some progress on the game almost-solo. This means you should hire our excellent freelancers Chris Butler (C++/C#/Unity Development) and Hannah Nicklin (narrative design, writing and production) in the meantime. They’re looking for work starting January, jump to the end of the post for more on them/how to contact them.
Over to Hannah:
Hello blog reader. In February this year I was brought onto the team working on Forest of Sleep as a Creative Producer. At this point, my role, development, sound and music, and art and animation were being supported by the end of the profits from Ed’s previous game, Proteus. My job has been to work on research, game and narrative design thinking, and to do all the other producery stuff. That includes making sure deadlines and work plans are set, and met (met usefully – which means making those plans and deadlines flexible in the right ways), and particularly to apply for the Spring round of UK Games Fund grants (in which we were successful).
Over the past 5 months (August-December 2016) the development of Forest of Sleep has been supported by a UK Games Fund grant of £25k, a process which has been (and I speak with a real depth of knowledge around public funding in the UK, here) very well run, and very supportive to the actual process of making a thing. We proposed that, over the 5 months of the grant, we would hire an additional developer (Chris Butler, who has been an incredible asset to the team), and that over that time we would produce a prototype of our weird procedural narrative engine, which would put us in a useful position to be able to pitch the game to publishers, and get the remaining support we’d need to finish it.
We are now at the end of the UK Games Fund funded period and what we have is a prototype of our weird procedural narrative engine, complete with a beautiful animation and illustration style, and evocative sound and music (from Martin Kvale, Jonas Turner, and A Hawk and a Hacksaw). What we don’t have is a publisher.
Sometimes you don’t discover how to make a thing until you start making it. Through playing and discussing the current version of the game with peers (shout out, in particular, to Ricky Haggett of the excellent Hollow Ponds), through 2 days of playtesting in London in late November, and through discussion with 2-3 publishers whom we like, trust, and would want to work with, we know that what we have isn’t proof enough for publisher support. It’s perfect for grant support – it’s exactly the kind of thing public money should be supporting – that bridge between a great team and beautiful idea, to a solid proof of concept that investors feel they can stake their cash on. But not enough for a publisher, yet. (Ed might write more in coming months about what playtesting helped us discover, and the specific challenges of working within procedurally generated narrative, but this is a #business post)
So, Twisted Tree doesn’t have the funds to fully support the full development of Forest of Sleep with the current team, but we’re still confident that there is a beautiful game to be found in the project, so we want to continue. That leaves the company with three options:
- Run a Kickstarter.
- Seek further public funding.
- Reduce development costs.
We had some great advice on Kickstarter campaigns (shout out to Greg from Double Fine!), but the reality, Ed felt, was that with the niche appeal of the game, the high risk of sticking such a public deadline on an experimental concept, the relatively high £ ask for a Kickstarter, and the added cost of backer rewards and community support meant that Kickstarter just wasn’t an option for us. The amount we could reasonably raise via a Kickstarter in the current climate would only be about half the money we need to finish the game, running our already very modest team (many of whom are working for reduced wages on a profit share basis). We’ll be continuing to explore further public funding options – but can’t rely on them.
And so, rather than using Twisted Tree’s funds in an unsustainable way on a short burst of full-team development, or on running a Kickstarter, the plan that has been settled on is option 3: reduce development costs. That means Ed will work on the game mostly-solo for 3-6 months, making the changes that (we know from the prototype and playtesting) need to be made for the game to make a strong enough case to publishers. Nicolai will still be involved, and obviously his visual identity for the game is still (and will continue to be) one of its strongest assets. But the rest of the team will pursue other freelance work from the 23rd of December onwards (well, the 1st of January, really, we’re having Christmas off!)
We’re still absolutely aiming to finish the game and to bring the team back together to do so. This is just the way that Making Stuff sometimes rolls, and we thought it was important to be open and clear about this. We haven’t promised a release date yet, so this isn’t a delay announcement, it’s just an earnest explanation of our situation. This, of course, comes with some sadness, but also optimism for 2017, and what we’ll make when we’re able to come back together. We’re still all really excited about the funny, silly, beautiful, meaningful thing we’re on a (sometimes bumpy) journey to make.
In the meantime,
HIRE OUR PEOPLE, THEY’RE GREAT.
Chris Butler is a super friendly and enthusiastic UK-based Freelance Unity Developer. He has over 4 years of experience using Unity. Alongside this, he has 7 years of industry experience using languages such as C++ and C# and has worked with many platforms including desktop, mobile and consoles. He’s recently worked on projects such as Seraph (PC/PS4 [Unity]), Ironcast (PC/Mac/Linux/PS4/Xbox One [Unity]) and Super Exploding Zoo (PS4/PSVita). You can check him out on Unity Connect, drop him a line on Twitter @Avalix, and email chrisbutler [at] polygonhearts.com. He’s looking for work 4-5 days a week, ideally working from home (Milton Keynes).
Hannah Nicklin is a skilled and focussed freelance narrative designer, producer, or creative producer (when you have a hand in game design as well as running things), and specialises in working with small-scale companies, comes from a playwriting background so has a strong sense of plot, story structure, and dialogue, and is very well-versed in public funding structures. She is London-based (although she prefers to work from home) and is looking for 2-3 days a week work to fit around her personal projects. She also has a PhD in games and play in the arts, lectures and runs modules for universities, and writes creative and critical responses to games. You can download her CV, support her on Patreon, or check out some of her projects at hannahnicklin.com/portfolio-items/. Tweet her @hannahnicklin, or email contact [at] hannahnicklin.com