Friday, July 30, 2010

Wearing Multiple Hats, PR, And The Secrets To Success As An Indie

I've written a couple of new articles today targeted at new or aspiring indie developers.

The first about the challenges of wearing multiple hats as well as some PR-related stuff.  Essentially, many indie developers seem to struggle with balancing the business side of their work with the game-development side of their work.  I know I do, and this post breaks down some of why this might be, as well as reasons and goals for overcoming these challenges.

Case in point: by any objective measure, I really messed up the PR for the release of Tidalis.  We had far too little PR, and now that awesome reviews are coming in it's still too late for the actual launch of the game.  This has led to sales being about ten times lower than my minimum expectation for the game, even though the game has still been very successful compared to most indie games in its first two weeks.  It certainly beats the pants off of what AI War did at first, and AI War went on to sell around 30,000 copies of itself and its expansion.

So what does that mean for Tidalis?  Is it to be permanently harmed due to the lack of advanced press before initial release?  Short answer: No.  That certainly wasn't the case for AI War, and the reviews are even more positive for Tidalis than they were for AI War.  Longer answer: I wrote a second article about the secrets of Arcen's success as an indie company, which outlines how we took AI War from a complete unknown to a cult classic.  It's worked for us, I suspect this is what worked for Dwarf Fortress, and I know this is what worked for the likes of Doodle Jump and similar on the iPhone.  And best of all, it's the sort of thing that big companies by and large would never do for their customers.

Happy reading!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Reticule: The Rise of Mac (and Linux) Gaming

Chris Evans from The Reticule recently wrote a rather interesting article about how Mac (and Linux) gaming is on the rise lately.  He interviewed Doug Lombardi from Valve, as well as a number of indie developers, including Chris Park from Arcen.  Particularly interesting is the discrepancy in opinions between long-term Mac-only developers (who seemed rather jaded on the platform), and developers more recently supporting the Mac in addition to their prior platforms (who were really feeling more positive). 

For those interested, the full article: The Rise of Mac (and Linux) Gaming

New System For Arcen News - Update Your Feeds!

For as long as Arcen has had a presence on the web, our site news format has been a little less than stellar.  The main page of the site was something I was maintaining by hand, and then I was posting a second copy of the news items in the News section of the forums, which not everyone even sees (most of the forum regulars hang out in the AI War or Tidalis sections of the forum at this stage).

So there were three big issues with our old way of handling the news, at any rate: 1) only I could do news updates to the front page; 2) visibility was relatively low; 3) to post comments or subscribe to our news you had to join the forums.

The new system of news posts that we're now moving to uses the Blogger platform behind the scenes, and the most recent 15 posts will automatically show up on the main page of the site.  All of our staff will be able to post news from now on, so expect to see more behind-the-scenes posts, more preview information about stuff we're working on, and in general more timely notes about all that sort of thing.  All of our prior news posts have also been ported over into the new platforms.  And there are now handy categories for the news, which makes it even easier to find the sort of news you're looking for.  Nice!

If you're currently subscribed to the News forums to have it send you emails when new posts are made, be warned that this is the last news-alert email you'd get through that mechanism.  If you want to subscribe to our news posts, you can now do so easily via RSS:

Arcen Games News - Atom
Arcen Games News - RSS

We look forward to having a more active relationship with our fanbase and customers outside of just our forums (and we'll still be there as well in the game-specific sections, don't worry -- those aren't going anyway).  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More Tidalis Reviews!

"Having played a variety of games in different genres, I will say it has been awhile since I have found such a great PC puzzle game. Seeing me testing this game for the review, my fiance even gave this game a try, leading to us buying a second copy of the game for its multiplayer capability. If you are looking for a great game that will be enjoyed by your entire family for some time, I recommend downloading Tidalis and giving it a try. You will not regret it."
Sensor, (9.5/10 Score)

"Tidalis is a highly polished, cleverly designed puzzle game that is saturated with content, and detail in a way that even many larger studio developed titles often don't compare to. I'm not typically a fan of puzzle games personally, but I found myself highly entertained, and quickly hooked on this title."
Jordan Rivas

"I will be playing this game years from now and still enjoying every bit of it. It has depth, complexity, beauty and richness beyond many other puzzle games currently available."
KingIsaacLinksr, A Paladin Without A Crusade...

"Tidalis promises to take you to unexplored realms, both through its fantastical storyline and its fresh take on the match-three puzzler. You'll still be matching up some familiar coloured blocks, but the way you do it differs considerably from other games in the genre."
Jon Mundy, GameZebo (4/5 Stars)

"Het maken van lange stromen en combo's is iets waar je je urenlang mee kan vermaken en biedt de vernieuwing die zo vaak afwezig is bij genregenoten. Met de combinatie van vernieuwing en content heeft Arcen Games dan ook bewezen dat dit genre nog verre van verzadigd is. "
Roland van Dorrestein, (9/10 Score)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some of the first Tidalis reviews are in, and the game is getting top marks!

"Tidalis is a match-3 game that doesn’t feel tired or repetitive: I actually want to play it, which says something considering how many puzzle games I’ve reviewed. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Tidalis is one of the best puzzle game I’ve ever played. Simply put, if you like puzzle games (and even if you usually don’t), you need to get Tidalis. Right now. Go!"
James Allen, Out of Eight PC Game Reviews (8/8 score)

"Overall, this is the most robust and interesting casual game I have seen in some time. There is so much to do and so many ways to play I don't even know that casual actually suits it. Yes the gameplay is casual but this is a highly developed, well-rounded, offering from Arcen Games that puts many games of higher price to shame. It's got numerous ways to play and very successfully takes an old genre, turns it on its head, and shows you just what can be done when you think outside of the box."
Christophor Rick, Gamers Daily News (GDN Gold Award, 9/10 Score)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Two Articles About Arcen In the Chapel Hill Herald-Sun!

There was an article just yesterday in the Chapel Hill Herald-Sun about the upcoming for-charity micro expansion that we're doing for AI War. I didn't even know that article was going to be coming out!

Charity accesses games for children's hospitals

This is the main article that was in the Chapel Hill Herald-Sun yesterday, discussing Arcen a bit in general but mainly Tidalis. That was pretty exciting to see in the news stands.

A video game for all ages

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tidalis Officially Launches -- and 10% off for a week!

The day that puzzle fans have been waiting for has finally arrived!  After three months in public beta, the official version of Tidalis has finally launched!  The game is now out on Steam, Impulse, Direct2Drive, GamersGate, myGameIQ (who just had their own launch this week, too, by the way),, and our own site store.  In celebration of this event, Tidalis is 10% off of its normal price of $9.99 for this first week.  We've also got a new launch trailer to share:

Not Familiar With Tidalis Yet?
Tidalis is a block-based puzzle game with casual appeal, hardcore depth, and an addictive new "streams" mechanic.   The basic rules of the game are this: blocks fall down into the board and have a color and an arrow direction. If a stack of blocks exceeds the height of the board, you lose.  In order to clear blocks, you must right-click and drag paths through the arrows to set up chain reactions of like-colored blocks.

If this sounds simple, that's because it is -- you'll be lining up lengthy chains within minutes.  But you'll be surprised how much brainpower it takes to set up combos of multiple chains, and the many brainteaser-style puzzles include some real stumpers.  Tidalis has co-op and competitive multiplayer modes (both online and offline); action-oriented modes and timer-less brainteasers; a lengthy, casual-friendly adventure mode; twenty unique game modes providing innumerable twists to the basic gameplay; dozens of special blocks and items; and over fifty minutes of beautiful music to go with the painterly art.

In short, several games' worth of content are built on top of this core mechanic, which you'll quickly find to be as iconic as it is novel.

For Those Who Prefer Bullet Points:
* Puzzle game with casual appeal, hardcore depth, and an addictive new mechanic.
* Two-player co-op and competitive play (both local and networked).
* A wide selection of both action-oriented or brainteaser-like levels.
* Casual-friendly adventure mode, hardcore-focused custom games and vs modes.
* 20+ game styles, and dozens of items and special blocks.
* Rich, painterly art style and beautiful music.
* Players can create and share whole new themes, levels, and adventures.
* Options for colorblind players, players averse to lots of light and motion, and older computers.

For Those Who Prefer Really Long And Over-Detailed Lists:
* Supported Platforms: Mac OSX "Panther" 10.39 or higher, Windows 2000 or later
* Game Styles: Normal, Zen, Sun & Moon, Line Clear, Graviton, Frenzy, Featherweight, Trampoline, Light-Up, Item Survival, Water, Wind, Jumping Bean, Limited Streams, Eater Defense, Solitaire, Speed-Up, Block Swap, Shuffle, Bumpers
* Difficulty ranging from 0-10
* 115 Adventure Levels, 69 Brainteasers, 9 Ranked Boards, 5 Sampler Levels
* Block Sets: Smooth, Faces, Pixel, AI War, Organic, Shapes
* Music/Art Themes: Cavern, Fishing Village, Fishing Village Night, Forest, Forest Night, Night Marsh, Night Marsh Variance, Open Plains, Open Plains Cloudy, Rainy Mud Flats, Tidal Wreckage, Volcano, Windy Mountaintop, Jeweled Palace, River, Snowy Lowlands, Temple, Foothills, Hidden Theme 1, Hidden Theme 2, Hidden Theme 3
* General Special Blocks: Glass, Stone, Tinder, Fire, Ice, Bubble, Charred, Eater, Direction Locked, Color Reactive, Metal Grille, Turnip, Magnet (Repulsor), Magnet (Attractor), Quad Repeater, Flipper (180), Flipper (45), Crystalizer, Color Blocker, Emission Statue, Pit Monster, Sick, Cured, Living Stone, Inverter, Energizer
* Puzzle-only (or special mode) Special Blocks: Plastic, Metal, Wall (Passable), Wall (Solid), Water Fish, Water Balloon, Sponge, Apple, Golden Apple, Empty Block
* Easy, game-integrated game updates
* Mouse or keyboard controls, with keyboard control customization
* Multiple adventure savegames
* In-game tutorials
* Combinations of game modes in custom games
* Fun adventure mode story: Intro Cutscene, 45 Main Story Cutscenes, 6 Hidden Cutscenes, Ending Cutscene
* General Items: Place Color Block, Place Special Block, Can 'O Beans, Extend, Constrain, Crystal, Quake Hammer, Lightning, Question Mark, Huge Boulder, Rainbow, Flood, Icer, Turnipalooza, Color Popper, Fence, Hourglass, Running Shoes, Feather, Barbells, U-Turn, Wind Burst, Scrambler, Insta-Streams, Molasses-Streams
* Puzzle-only (or special mode) Items: Safety Pin
* VS Modes: Garbage, Endurance, or Freeform
* Co-Op-Only Modes: Sun or Moon, Block Vaporizer, Item Buddies
* Limited Vs AI
* 64 Achievements
* Adventure collectibles and brainteaser titles
* Level Editor, Adventure Editor, and Theme Editor
* Per-player handicaps, co-op items
* Local high scoreboards (daily and overall)
* Network play for up to two computers, with up to two players on each computer (so 2-4 players in all).
* Alternatively, local 2-player multiplayer on a single computer.
* Server listings and filtering.
* Ability to sumbmit high scores and achievements to twitter.

We Would Like To Thank...
... our staff for their incredible dedication and the long hours it took to make this game a reality.  Everyone on the team was working long hours and into the wee hours of the morning on their parts of the game, which is something Arcen would never demand of staff -- but the enthusiasm of everyone on the team for this project was so great that people were doing this of their own accord.  June was admittedly pretty intense, but we pulled through and the game is better than we could have ever expected.  On that note, we would also like to thank...

... the family and friends of our staff for their support and help as well.  Many of them acted as alpha and beta testers, contributed design ideas, contributed levels or art or even more significant chunks of content.  Thanks for your understanding and aid during this long project!  And on that note, we'd especially like to thank...

... the fans who supported Tidalis during the beta, both with their patronage and with their ideas, comments, suggestions, and bug reports.  The game wouldn't have been the same without you folks, and your encouragement helped us to make the game ever better.  And next to last, a big thanks to...

... the existing AI War fanbase, for their understanding during this last month when AI War hasn't gotten the attention that we normally would give it.  There are big things coming up soon for AI War (the 4.0 version as well as the for-charity micro expansion), but June and July have definitely been an unusual dry spell for the game.  Thankfully there has still been a lot of discussion and involvement of the community on the forums, and this next official release for AI War is going to be extra polished thanks to all the time folks have had to work with the beta versions of that.  Lastly, we'd like to thank...

...all of our amazing distribution partners!  It's always a challenge to be an indie company, but our partners in a very real way are the ones that make it possible for us to be in business.  They provide us with a level of visibility and a level of access to potential fanbases that we never would have access to without them:


Upcoming Tidalis DLC!
We are planning some free DLC goodies in the coming months, so keep an eye out! The game is already jam-packed with features and content, as you can see above, but we still have a lot of good ideas that we would like to explore post-release.  Tidalis won't be in "perpetual development" in the same fashion that AI War is -- we just don't have the staff to maintain that -- but we plan on dropping in some goodies for Tidalis from time to time on a running basis.  If there are a lot of custom levels, adventures, and such submitted by fans on the official forums, we might also do a community DLC release that we push out to all customers of the game.  So there's still a chance to see your levels (and your name or nickname) become part of the official Tidalis package!  Thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoy Tidalis as much as we enjoyed making it!