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The End of the Journey: One Indie Studio's Tale

November 6, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next
 

Scaling Up, the Sequel: Scarlett and the Spark of Life

Mirroring the jump from the tiny Run Boots Run to the sprawling Pretender, we vaulted from the simplicity of Zoo Lasso to the complexity of a full-blown LucasArts-style adventure game. Build on our existing engines or growing expertise in genres we'd already tackled? Not for us!

Instead, Tim and I followed our hearts: we were both itching to flex our storytelling muscles once again. And after a text message arrived on my phone from Tim saying, "Furious princess builds a horse", I knew we had something fun to sink our teeth into.

Creating Scarlett was deeply satisfying, and it remains the closest I've gotten to the kind of games I want to make. While it too doesn't fully live up to its own potential, it managed to connect with players in a way that none of our other titles have. The Scarlett fan base was small but passionate: they really responded to the characters and story.

But the most gratifying moment -- probably of my entire career to date -- came when a fan sent us a special photo: she had made her own Scarlett costume and cosplayed as the sassy princess at a convention. It was fantastic! We were really happy that a character that had emerged from our brains had inspired this sort of thing.

The game didn't sell well. Once again, marketing was tough -- this time around, at least, we had enlisted the help of the wonderful Emily Morganti, a freelance PR agent who shared our love of adventure games. We got more press coverage than before, especially from writers who had a soft spot for the adventure genre. But again, the vast majority of our sales came from another "New & Noteworthy" spot on the App Store.


The dark days before James came onboard, when I was still drawing the Scarlett graphics.

We initially priced the game at $2.99, again a subject of great debate. (As time passed, we experimented with other price points, eventually finding that $1.99 was the most profitable in the long term.) We were consciously trying to target a premium market instead of entering the 99c lottery, but if you're going for a smaller group, make sure you're accessible to that entire group. By releasing only on iPhone, it felt like we were catering to a niche of a niche, and the sales reflected that.

Also creating pressure for our bank account was our inability to schedule. In a fit of adorably misguided naivety, we thought we could crank out an adventure game in two months. In the end, it took nearly nine months -- hell, Tim had his (lovely) first child during that time, when the plan was to be done well before that particular life-changing event. To keep going, we had to borrow money from our wonderful friends and family, which was an awfully humbling experience.


James' first pass at blocking out every Scarlett location. (Click for larger version)

And for the first seven or so months, I was drawing the graphics. Oh sure, it meant I learned a lot about making Flash animations, but the original Scarlett looked like a mutant. I reached breaking point late in the day, and we started casting around for a great local artist who was looking for work.

Amazingly, through an absurd amount of serendipity, we found James Ellis. He had just quit his job and was looking for freelance work. Though he was busy, we managed to snag him for a brief time to completely do over the Scarlett graphics. The lion's share of the final artwork you can see in the game was done over two Red Bull-fueled weekends. It was very hard work, but at least the sleep-deprived hysteria was fun -- and it felt like our team was finally complete.


A storyboard of the ending sequence. (Click for larger version)

Scarlett and the Spark of Life was released at the end of 2010, and while it attracted some praise, it certainly wasn't producing enough revenue to keep us in business for very long. Nevertheless, the three of us were determined to soldier on with Episode II (persisting for some reason with the idea that episodic gaming was for us) and really realize the potential of what the Scarlett games could be. Art boards were created; world building was begun; hilarious ideas were brainstormed.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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