The New Look of Soulcaster

Last week, I had the opportunity to show the Soulcaster pre-alpha at a MIX event hosted by Patreon. With my post-GDC recovery complete, it’s time to publish the reveal here on my site.



It’s been over a year since I last posted images or mentioned anything about production, so it’s time to bring everyone up to speed and answer the most frequent questions I’ve gotten so far.

Continue reading The New Look of Soulcaster

A Case for Closed Development: Why I Stopped Blogging about Soulcaster

Seven months. It’s a good interval for a yes-I’m-still-alive-and-making-the-game post. TL;DR: Soulcaster is still happening, and I work on it every day.

So what happened to the dev blogging and tweeting? Why did I go off the radar?

It started (ended) when the game got its first non-placeholder art, and showing screens would reveal our first steps towards the new look of the game. Originally, it was a marketing strategy: wait until we have something dazzling to show before showing anything. This is the first project I have built while thinking about marketing, and it became increasingly unhealthy obsession that built up in the first half of this year. I analyzed new releases, picked apart Kickstarter videos, reached out to successful devs (who were universally, amazingly generous with their time and eagerness to help me). There had to be a secret to what “works” in this exciting and scary post-2012 landscape.

The more I learned, the more unclear things got. It was so frustrating. No pattern emerged–everyone found a unique path to success, sometimes completely stumbling into it. If there was a universal lesson to be learned, it’s that nobody knows what works these days, beyond what has worked for them at a particular time and place.

These were the decisions I woke up every morning thinking about:

  • Do a crowdfunding campaign, which gives us funding and publicity, or use those three months to get the game done sooner?
  • If we run a campaign, do we reveal the project a couple months ahead, to build towards a strong first day–or do we keep everything secret until the campaign starts, when we have something actionable for when the media pays attention?
  • Do we launch in early access, where we can get valuable feedback and start making income sooner, or is it too toxic of an environment to outweigh this benefit?
  • Does blogging and streaming help raise awareness enough to offset the time it takes up? What about the influence the public might have on the game’s design?

It seemed like every time I committed to one decision, some new piece of data would emerge that cast doubt on that plan of action. It was paralyzing. Bottom line, I spent most of this year simply not enjoying working on Soulcaster.

If I were going to see this project through, I had to change my mindset. Here’s how I see thing now:

Nobody knows what works, so I might as well pick what I am best at.

I took a break from my focus on what others might want to see, and spent time figuring out out what it is I do best, what I enjoy the most. What I’ve discovered is that I do my best work when I can focus on making the game I want to play. Wait until the bones have gelled and things are where I want them, when comments people make on the new look or new gameplay won’t make me second guess the game’s fundamentals. This means no dev blogging or streaming, for the time being. If we do a crowdfunding campaign, it won’t be planned until the game is out of this critical prototyping phase.

Going dark like this might be a little foolish, since it’s already easy enough to get lost in the sea of new indie games appearing every day. But it’s what I have to do. Since committing to zero public announcements for the time being, I’m writing the best code of my career. I’m coming up with some of my most creative game design ideas. I wake up in the morning excited to get started, and keep energy well into the afternoon, instead of losing steam around lunchtime. I’m enjoying game development again.

Because of this, I’m confident the new Soulcaster is going to be my masterwork, the game I was born to create. Weirdly, despite all this inward focus, it motivates me to think about sharing it with the world–but only when it’s reached the right point in development. I’m so excited for that day. I’ll see you then.


How To Get Work Composing for Games

Last month, I received four emails from job-seeking game composers–a big jump from my usual one per month. Their pitch letters remind me so much of my own, from back when was hunting for my first gig, 15 years ago. Just like I did, they go about it entirely wrong.  To curb this disturbing trend, I am offering guidance, so that you, the aspiring VGM artist, will have better luck getting that first contract.

First, some background on me. Those of you who know me as an indie developer may not know that I worked as a contract game composer for 8 years, and have over 40 published titles. (Here are some.) If you owned the Nintendo handhelds in the mid-2000’s, you probably played one of the games I scored. I’ve lived all three roles now: aspiring composer, professional, Decider of Audio.

But enough about me. Let’s start with…

What Not To Do

You’ve exhausted your industry contacts, so you scour Google to find leads, and harvest a list of Entities That Make Games. The next step is where most people go wrong: Crafting a long-winded, five paragraph cover letter describing their education, qualifications, and passion, capped off with a portfolio link. This will get you nowhere, because it does not:

  1. Get their attention
  2. Address their concerns

The sobering reality is that there are 10 composers for every 1 gig available. To be part of the 10%, you must handle both of the above. Warning: it’s going to take some effort.

Continue reading How To Get Work Composing for Games

Why Soulcaster 3 Will Not Have Persistence Between Runs

I’m a big fan of generosity in game design. My past games have all had infinite lives and quick respawns. So get ready for a break from tradition:

When you die in Soulcaster 3, you lose everything.

There are no unlockables or upgrades you can take with you to make the next run easier or different.

But why, Ian, WHY…?

I realize how polarizing this is. AAA companies spend a lot of money on market research and focus testing, and they are pretty much all in agreement on game presentation: tell the player exactly what they do next, and if they make a mistake or die in the process, start them about five seconds back.  I have no doubt this is how most people like their game experience. It especially makes sense to cater to this if you’re spending $50 million making the game.

It seems like indies are given a bit more license to be brutally difficult. I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s just that those of us who don’t much like the “Disneyland ride” game experience are happy to get a bone thrown our way. So I’m taking this license and running with it, perhaps to an abusive level. (Generosity is not completely dead, either… more on that at the end.)

Continue reading Why Soulcaster 3 Will Not Have Persistence Between Runs