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  • Postmortem: Don't Give Up

    [12.17.19]
    - Tristan Barona
  • Quick background, I spent 3 years working on my RPG DON'T GIVE UP: A Cynical Tale, a semi-autobiographical and humorous game about my triumph over depression.

    It's an adventure lite RPG with a focus on storytelling and charm. This postmortem will mostly be about my journey, not so much about the game itself, because I want this to be more personal than technical, and I've already probably written WAY too much.

    Mostly a 2 man team! (music and illustrations were contracted)

    I will talk about 3 things: The history behind the dev, what I did to try to make it a success and reflections on each, and results (release).

    The Beginning

    6 years ago I'd been laid off and decided to try my hand at making games. I've worked in the industry, and had been playing them all my life, so why not give it a shot? I made a couple of small mobile games, and after I felt confident enough, tried my hand at making a full length commercial platformer. Well, long story short, I made the big mistake of trying to outsource a studio of both artists and programmers. I was too trusting, maybe even naive, and things that were quoted to be a certain amount would end up tripling. To make things worse, when it was hinted that I was running out of funds it became apparent to me that there was no intent to at least provide the source code in order to have me pick up where I left off should I ever recover. 

    The game had not been able to be polished enough for me to really be able to find funding but I was in too deep to start a new dev. I couldn't program, and while I actually went to art school, I certainly didn't have the spectrum of experience to animate a platformer. So.

    This in conjunction with many other things led to the beginning of "The Great Slump". Starting to work on DON'T GIVE UP was sort of like learning how to walk again after being knocked down by the world over and over. I'd never done pixel art before and started working through my depression by making some crappy pixel sprites based on Pokemon from the Gameboy days, and some really saturated areas and buildings. Eventually I had confidence in creating the sprites and attempted to do a ¾ view instead of the ugly 2D sidescrolling I'd started with. 

    I did this for months, and I actually had no idea what I was doing, so finally one day I said "Okay. I gotta actually start writing some stuff or I'm gonna have to find a way to fit all of these areas in the story". After working on a script that was I believe around 60 pages, I started reaching out my feelers for talent and eventually connected with an awesome man named Jarnik from Prague and we worked to make the first version of the game Cynical 7. 

    It was an okay game, but it could have been better, it was clear people liked it enough for it to have the potential to be a thing, so I decided not to quit, rework the combat and some of the pacing and we tried again with DON'T GIVE UP. This version was a lot more well received... and well after that, there was just no stopping me.

    Eventually I was able to get a tiny amount of Kickstarter funding and a Humble Original deal to push the dev through. With what I considered to be a solid base game to push forward, it was time to continue finding its community throughout the course of its development.

    More about the game

    The game is basically about the main character's quest to triumph over their inner demons. The storytelling is the real focal point of the game. For most of the game the player is progressing the story in a linear fashion with instanced battles at core plot points for the most part.

    The combat system is simple enough for folks who aren't hardcore gamers to be successful with effort, while New Game + can offer a challenge to those who are. It's real time, and you'll find yourself dodging and blocking enemy attacks while launching your own in an attempt to essentially grant yourself a bonus turn and change the tide of battle.

    The game is stuffed with a variety of charm including being able to trash talk your enemies before battle, over 100 unique NPCs with unique dialogue, over 100 objects you can inspect in the world, mini-dates, a main character who often has inner monologues with himself, and a lot more.

    The game was based on true events so I was able to channel a pretty decent amount of authenticity into it.Things the game had going for it:

    • An authentic and relatable story (for the most part) with lots of laughter to be had
    • 2 Storylines, one that takes place in the mind of the main character
    • Fast paced, real time combat system that's fair but keeps you challenged and on your toes
    • Lots to see an explore with nearly 150 interactable objects and over 100 people to talk to
    • + or - depending on who you are, the Undertalesque / Earthbound vibes really appeal to some folks
    •  Awesome original soundtrack

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