Thursday, July 18, 2024
Indie Gayming

Reverie Saga: Inside the mind of an indie game creator

The Reverie Saga has had a long, winding road over the past 7 years, and is now about to be released on console. A demo of the game debuts today and you can go play it now.

The story of the game’s development is a lesson in trial, error, and perseverance – something which every indie game maker has lived through. We invited the game’s creator, Gary Adrian Randall, to write a blog about bringing this game to life.

The following details the course of the game through development, its launch on mobile, its failure, subsequent retooling, and reimagining as a console game shows the passion and dedication indie creators need to have.

What this has resulted in is a game that looks visually stunning and highly unique with Gary’s unmistakable hand-drawn art style. We truly hope this story of inspiration not only inspires others, but also sees him garner new fans of this beautiful game.

My name is Gary Adrian Randall, and for the past 7 years, I’ve run an independent gaming company, Seagull Fish. To say it hasn’t been easy would be an extreme understatement. This process has been about as easy as the boss battles in Cuphead (which still trip me up, to this day). But maybe my trials and tribulations can help someone out there who is thinking of undertaking a similar journey. So if you’ve ever wanted to start a gaming company, read on:

I was born a storyteller. If I could have spoken at the time, I probably would have popped out of my mom full of interesting anecdotes about my 9-month annexation of her womb. 

I was also born an artist. In my mind, art is just another way of telling a story, and I spent my childhood sitting in my bedroom imagining worlds, and bringing them to life on paper. Video games and comic books were huge sources of inspiration. 

But being a storyteller and artist always comes with the inevitable question: Will I ever make money with my talents?

For most artists and storytellers, the answer is no. Fear often gets in the way of us accomplishing our dreams, and too many people are willing to settle for what life offers them, instead of going after what they really want.

When I turned 30, I decided I wasn’t going to give up on my dream of making a living through my art. I just needed to find the right vehicle to tell my stories.

I was born of a unique generation that existed before The Internet. I grew up with some of the first video games, and played them with my siblings. It eventually occurred to me that the video game was the perfect medium for me. I could tell stories through interactive art, and the fact that games are digital meant that my stories could not only be shared globally, but monetized as well.

I then set out to create a small ‘art game’ to get my name out there. I approached my best friend Jason to help me manage the project, since organization and management are as foreign to me as fantasy football.

Jason (left) and Gary (right)

Jason and I had a very strong chemistry as both friends and business partners. Before I knew it, the project was up and running. We had developers, company credit cards, we were incorporated, and we were set to attend events in the gaming industry.

We spent the next 7 years creating a mobile game for iOS and Android called ‘Enter the Reveries’. 

In that time, we fell prey to every known and unknown obstacle you can imagine. We ran into copyright issues and had to change the name (the original name was ‘Escape from Clowntown’). We spent five years working with a developer who only worked on the project about an hour a week (which we had no way of knowing). We dealt with computers crashing, software malfunctions, personal illnesses, and deaths in the family. 

I even worked on the game while living in a cancer ward in Birmingham, Alabama while my mother received chemo treatment. All the while, we kept our eye on the prize. I raised around $100K to keep the development going. We were sure the game would be an instant success. After 7 years of hard work, we soft-launched the game in 2019 on the iOS App Store.

At that point, a resounding ‘whomp, whomp’ was heard around the world. 

Our reviews were good, we got a decent number of downloads globally, and everyone praised the art and commented on how unique and beautiful it was. We were even named an official honoree of the Webby Awards in the category: Independent Creator.

But in terms of money, I think Enter the Reveries made about $80.

Still unwilling to give in, we went after a large investment for marketing. We also set up a meeting with a mentor in the industry. We felt like all we needed was one big break, and the floodgates would open.

The floodgates did indeed open, and failure rushed in.

First we met with the mentor, who agreed that the game was beautiful, and had some interesting ideas. He told us that the mobile gaming customer doesn’t want expansive art and intricate storylines. They want to pick up a game, play it for a few minutes on their lunch break, then go back to work.

He told us we should go back to the drawing board. Faced with that idea after 7 years of tireless hard work was very demoralizing for both of us. It was a bigger disappointment than the last season of Game of Thrones.

Then Covid-19 hit, and our big investment fell through. We were faced with a product on the market that wasn’t making much money, and seven years of invested time, money and effort that appeared to be all for nought. Working so hard, for so long took a toll on our friendship too. 

During the pandemic, Jason decided to step down from his position as Chief Operating Officer for health reasons including a serious physical health issue that left him unable to walk for 6 months, and mental health issues surrounding our failing company.

So I was left on my own, with nothing but my dream, and a gaming world that seemed to want nothing to do with it.

Everybody has dreams when they are young. Most people never even say them out loud. They imagine that one day they will go after their dreams, and just sit around waiting for that opportunity to arise instead of making it for themselves. Then one day, their dreams die. They don’t realize it at the time, but life becomes ‘good enough’, and they make peace with it. They give up on their dreams forever, never knowing what they could have become.

This is not in my nature. 

So I took 2020 to mourn the failure of my game, and deal with the mental darkness that came with being locked up in my apartment like Rapunzel with no hair.

During that year, I realized three things: 

I made an artistically beautiful game, but you couldn’t appreciate the art. In Enter the Reveries, you had to jump through the levels dodging enemies, so you couldn’t stay still long enough to even see the art, much less be gagged by the eleganza of it all.

I made a game that wasn’t very fun. I don’t know who decided that games should be fun to play, but I wish they would have texted me so I didn’t waste so much time on the visuals. Game play should have been my #1 priority.

I was going after the wrong demographic. Our mentor told us that mobile gamers want a quick fix, and my mobile game was anything but. My detailed visuals and in-depth story-line were much better suited to the console gaming market.

In January of 2021, I decided to re-imagine Enter the Reveries as a console game. I started learning Unity (the development program we used) and started designing the first stage myself. Luckily, my developer Zyron still believed in the project, so he helped with all the back-end coding, and over the next 9 months we created a demo that I think finally does justice to the story I have been trying to tell. 

I named the new project ‘Reverie Saga‘, because this whole process has been nothing, if not a saga. 

Reverie Saga has something that Enter the Reveries didn’t: a balanced mix of graphics and game play. I am incredibly proud of what I have been able to accomplish without a project manager. Paying out of my own pocket, mourning the death of my mobile game, staying committed to the project even through my mother’s illness and death, and coming out on the other side with something to show the world has been both heartbreaking and gratifying.

I don’t know how the world will receive Reverie Saga. I don’t know if I will ultimately succeed in achieving my dream of sharing my stories. But I do know that I am the owner of a gaming company. And even though there have been a million times when I could have given up, I never seriously considered it; not even once.

Because that is what you do when you have a dream. You keep going when most other people would have turned back. And when you finally get where you wanted to go, you reach a hand back down to help others along in their own respective journeys.

I haven’t gotten where I’m trying to go yet. But regardless here are five things I’ve learned from starting a gaming company: 

Murphy’s Law applies here

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will. I’m here to state that EVERYTHING will go wrong. If you are thinking of starting a gaming company, just be aware of that. Expect the worst, and commit yourself to the project through thick and thin. (Thick, when you are stuffing your face to stave off depression, and thin, when you spend all your money on your developer and can’t afford to eat).

You don’t know what you don’t know

When you undertake something like a gaming company, there are a million things that you don’t know. What’s worse is, you don’t even realize that you don’t know all these things. Seek out mentors, advisors, and people who know more than you, and soak up their knowledge like a sponge.

Learn to Pivot

You are going to hear the word ‘No’ a lot. You are going to run into all kinds of obstacles that seem insurmountable. You are going to face failure time and time again. I encourage you to stop ‘hearing’ the word ‘no’. When you get a ‘no’, don’t take it personally. Take a moment to feel crappy, and then pivot. Decide another course of action or move in another direction, leaving that ‘no’ in your dust, never to be thought of again.

Ignore the naysayers

Many people will tell you it isn’t possible. When you tell them what you want to do, they will immediately come up with a laundry list of reasons it might not work. Ignore these people. If you can, remove them from your life. Dreamers have no need for naysayers. Naysayers take their own insecurities and fears, and project them on anyone who is angling for success. Don’t let someone else’s lack of confidence or belief affect your dreams.

At the end of your life, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. 

Learn to take it on the chin

Criticism is your best friend. Remove your ego from your project, and understand that your only goal is to make the best game possible. You cannot do this without criticism. Take in any and all criticism, hear it, digest it, and implement the good ideas, while ignoring the bad ones. As artists and entrepreneurs we tend to think all our ideas are liquid gold. They aren’t. The ideas and criticisms of other people are a tool you can use to reach your end goal, free of your ego.

And there you have it… I, like many other people, am still on the road to achieving my dream. Seven years after I set out to create a mobile game, I had to pivot and completely alter my vision. My new game demo is a culmination of all the blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifices I’ve endured on this journey. But nothing is a failure if you keep the faith.

So I hope this helps other people out there thinking of going after their dreams and starting a gaming company. My ultimate advice is to start on it today. Work on it tomorrow. And don’t let a single day go by where you aren’t actively chasing after your dream.

If you want to play the Reverie Saga demo, click here.

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