Contrast on Valve’s Greenlight – Super Awesomesauce

21 Sep

Obscurity is an indie game’s worst enemy.  An indie studio doesn’t have the marketing resources of the big guys (you won’t be seeing any Contrast tv ads), and deciding on what distribution options and platforms we can use on a limited budget requires us to make some hard choices.  Sometimes, it’s just plain difficult to know where to start.

But, as usual, Valve, the benevolent dictator and pioneer of the PC gaming world, has come up with an answer, shining a light into an otherwise empty void.  As many of you will know, Valve’s Greenlight service went live on the Steam platform on 30 August 2012.  Greenlight allows the public to vote on the games they want to see on Steam.   Developers put their game up on Greenlight, with a bunch of explanation, screenshots and videos, and Steam users vote on which games they would buy if the game was on Steam.   This gives Valve a heap of feedback, and presumably allows them to make more informed decisions about running their marketplace.

For indies like us, Greenlight is a really big deal.  In fact, it’s hard to overstate how important it is.  Steam is a huge platform and accounts for most of the direct download PC game purchases in the western world.  Being on Steam isn’t a right – only some games make it on, which then gives those games access to a huge market and is a great chance  to get a bit of publicity.  But, Greenlight is about more than just sales – it also gives developers an opportunity to begin building a community, and gives feedback on how interesting its game is.

So, naturally, we put Contrast on Greenlight at 2pm on 30 August.  And, we have had an incredible response!

Three weeks later, we have had almost 110,000 views on our Greenlight page, and over 6,000 favourites.   We are currently #6 on Greenlight, and are super excited about it.  We want to say thank you for those people who checked us out, voted, and added us to their favourites.  We love you guys!

But, unfortunately, even with this response we’re not yet guaranteed a place on Greenlight.  So, we would be super mega grateful if you could check out our page, and vote for Contrast if you haven’t already.  You can also check out our Greenlight introduction video, which features Guillaume and his infamous soul patch.

But, more than that, we’d love it if you could ask your Steam friends to check us out too.

We’re focusing on Greenlight at the moment, but we also want to start really engaging with you guys soon.  So, we will be updating the Contrast website with a whole new look, and possibly (if you think it’s a good idea) even some forums to allow people to talk, to ask questions and to give us feedback!   We’ll also be posting more frequently once the new website is up, to let you get to know us more before launch.  You can help us out by coming and checking back with us frequently, and by talking about Contrast to your friends.  Because you’re cool people who already like us (we hope that’s not presumptuous), we want to meet them too!

Until then, thanks for visiting, and watch this space.

– Sam

Stories, Women and Games.

5 Aug

So I spent the entire day with Alex Epstein, our screenwriter this week, to finalize the script and storyline for Contrast. We spent the day at his place shuffling color-coded cards around and discussing the production costs involved in each scene, character development and player motivations until our heads hurt.

Alex Epstein Directing an early Voice Over Session for Contrast

Making a game with a professional voice over cast and a strong narrative can be quite a challenge for a small independent shop (it significantly raises the production costs and stakes), but it’s rewarding to develop a script that doesn’t start with “You are the long lost child of a forgotten prophecy”, or “aliens are abducting women” and tackles more emotionally interesting plotlines.

What’s with stories in games anyways? I can’t help but think that it’s a segment of our industry that is particularly juvenile. When it comes to experimentation and growing our medium’s audience, talking about deeper subjects seems to be a commercial taboo slotting you in the artsy/fringe side of the gaming world. I don’t know about you, but there’s a part of me that yearns for games that aren’t just about “kill things until they’re all dead”.

In Papo & Yo, our friends at Minority Inc used a metaphore to recount the youth of Vander Caballero’s experience dealing with his father’s alcoholism. That’s the kind of story I think the gaming community should get behind and support commercially; so that we get the tools and budgets we need to create emotionaly compelling stories.

We realized early in our focus test sessions on Contrast that although the game had a strong appeal with men because of the nature of the game mechanics, our context and story also appealed to (gasp!) women as well. Yet, while visiting with an unnamed publisher, we were told by a high-profile woman executive that we should keep that fact carefully under wraps.

Really? So if I make a game that women may actually enjoy in the console space, it becomes a sissy game? Wow. I’m sorry – it’s time we revised our script. I forgot to add gun-toting latex nuns. Yeah. Those should fit right into a 1920’s film noir inspired setting.

So what if there were cool games, with cool mechanics, that your significant other (be they man or woman) might actually enjoy sharing with you? What if we made games that didn’t relegate the activity to the allmighty secluded man-cave? Wouldn’t that be great? Break out the popcorn!

Are you Indie enough?

23 Jul

No one will contest there has been a rise in independent game development in recent years. The vanguard of the renaissance that brought us Castle Crashers and World of Goo inspired an entire generation of developers to chuck their employers and make a go at indie game development. We’ve had an explosion in accessible platforms with the introduction of the iPhone and iPad, Facebook and social games, as well as a revolution in project financing with the introduction of crowd funding, and – let us not forget it – an increased level of involvement from traditional publishers interested in getting a piece of the action.

But what has been happening in the living room? With the repeated success stories on consoles over the years, you might think that the world of do-it-yourself development has become a rosy place. What outside observers often fail to see is how increasingly competitive and selective these marketplaces are becoming. With a limited number of release slots in the XBLA & PSN market, we’ve seen a steady increase in production values – from two guys in a cafe (World of GooBraidto small, dedicated teams (LimboBastion), to the ‘not so small’ indies (Journey comes to mind). So the question begs the answer: what’s “Indie?”.

With the uproar around EA’s recent “Indie Bundle” on steam, it’s clear that we’re talking about a subject that the development community feels ticklish about. The truth is that – even within the spirit of being the indie garage developer – making great games does requires some money. The folks at PlayDead got funding through Venture Capital firms (story), many of us get government incentives in the form of tax credits or grants, and some sign publishing deals (something you’re obligated to do if you want to release on XBLA!). So I ask you – why is signing with a publisher viewed like such a cop-out?

I don’t think that Journey deserves any less props than Dear EstherSure, ThatGameCompany was backed by the financial might and marketing machine of a mega-corporation; but does it in any way dilute the creative and commercial risks the team took while shaping their product?


Each story has …

23 Jul

Each story has a beginning.

Ours is about an idea, that originally sparked while I lived in Lyon, France.  We won’t bore you with the whole journey, but by the time Compulsion first moved into a real office, we would move between continents and people from all over the world had already contributed to bringing our project to life: Glenn in Australia, Richard in Taiwan, Colin in France, Cord in Ohio, Paul in Japan, David in North Carolina, Chris in Alberta to name just a few.  Whether you are an industry veteran or a young entrepreneur, starting an innovative game and bringing it to fruition requires a lot of patience and sacrifice. As we are progressing in the production of Contrast, we’ve opened up a blog to share in our experience, opinions and rants.




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