Charlie’s Entry: The Story of Uncaged

So we’re officially less than a month away from the release of our card game, Uncaged!

Uncaged has its origins as all card games do:
With a horrendous physical injury that left its original creator unable to do much else other than play card games.

No, seriously. Without going into too much detail, a training incident left me unable to do much of the physical activity I love and like many nerds, I turned to gaming. Recently a few friends of mine had started playing nerdy card games again (Magic: The Gathering as well as Yugioh, etc.). Frustrated with the direction that many of these games were taking, I did the thing much of my generation is known for in scenarios where kicking and screaming did nothing:

I said: ‘Screw it, I’ll make it myself.’

This of course, was a complete failure of a prototype and only resulted in paper print-outs of text on generic fighting images but hey, it was the first step forward. There it sat, hastily glued together in card sleeves for the next few months, gathering dust in my closet.

We then had our monthly game jam in December of 2016 where I pitched the game via a playtest with our CEO. I have the coding skills of a pool noodle so my addition to any game jam wouldn’t be much more than moral support. He greenlit it upon completion of our game under the condition that it go through a few tweaks that would make it a little more friendly with the casual audience. A few signed pieces of legalese later, we were off and running.

Then came the playtesting. A LOT of playtesting. We overhauled the mechanics several times, most of the time going nowhere. It was a difficult process, but in the end our team managed to keep the feel I had intended: A combat sport game where an underdog could win SOMETIMES, and a solid strategy and counter-strategy would win MOST of the time.

Finding this balance wasn’t easy. A combat game where strikes, grapples and submissions were played with cards lacks much of the urgency as say, a live MMA event. However, with the months of playtesting grind came a very sharp game, one that I think many people who enjoy both combat sports and/or card games can enjoy. It includes the strategy and gameplanning of a card game and manages to keep the excitement of a combat sport.

The game itself is played much like a classic 2D fighting game. Commands are entered with cards instead of buttons, with opportunities for attackers to be counter-attacked, and defenders to be cracked. Players at any given moment are either attacking with a series of strikes or grapples depending on their deck design, or defending with just the right combo-breaker planned at the right moment.

Much of the ZeMind team saw fit to help develop the game, starting with several programmers and our art director. One of the biggest things that I had paid little respect or attention to was the wording on the cards. This quickly changed. We had to get the text to encircle the intent of the card without getting too granular. Micro debates in aesthetics and language quickly became the norm. For example, In accordance to our art director’s attention to uniformity and detail, he wouldn’t allow the text to shrink beyond a point. This would clash between my own wishes to have the game cards state their actions and intents without any wiggle room, regardless of how many characters it took. We would end up striking a balance after more developers suggested a change in wording.

This give and take relationship would become paramount to moving the game forward. Pushing and pulling was the new norm, and in the end it made the game stronger.

Much like the legalese on numerous contracts, the card language had to be so airtight that a savvy wordsmith couldn’t re-interpret the rules or abuse a loophole for an unfair advantage. Unlike the legalese on numerous contracts however, we had to fit the card text in the same amount of characters as your average Tweet.

We went through numerous language changes. NUMEROUS. The card game at its core still uses the same keywords as it did in the beginning, but now exists in a sea of easier-to-understand non-mma language. We had numerous card game testers come in and try to pick apart the dialect. After roughly 4 months of debate, we had finally picked the phrases that would make up the bulk of our card game (as well as the entirety of our starter deck). This part of development really floored me, as a team of actual game developers went over word by word what a card would do vs what a card would imply it does. The attention to detail was fantastic, and as the game progressed it became apparent that Uncaged would become something far better than what I initially imagined.

Originally printed on flimsy paper backed by an actual, well known card game, Uncaged had finally been hammered into a place where we could finally start looking at the aesthetics. Check back in next time for an update on what we did to pick the art, style we reviewed and the aesthetic ‘Feel’ of our game.

Check back for more updates!
-Charlie Ze CardgameMaker

P.S. We’ll have the second part of this article up and running soon! If you’re interested in playing our game, stop by the Gaming Garage at the Canadian National Exhibition this year for a chance to play it and pick up a copy for yourself!

Until then follow us on social media for more updates on our release of UNCAGED!


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How to Make a Let’s Play: Pre-Flight Checklist!

Thanks for the feedback, ZeMind fans!

Some of you have inquired as to the more granular details on how we make our videos, so here’s a quick checklist of all the things we do before a video gets set up.

In the order of we do them, here’s the pre-flight checklist, step by step:

1. Install your game
Or, if you have already installed it, make sure you’ve got the most recent version! This is especially important if you’ve got a guest coming for your video. No one likes waiting for a progress bar.

2. Controller/Headset Check
Is your volume up? Do your controllers work? Are they mapped to the right keys? Now that you’ve installed your game, go over the control settings and button maps in the game’s layout. Do it now, or prepare to regret your poorly formulated strategy as you mis-click all over your screen in a futile attempt to ‘Git Gud’. Don’t know how to ‘Git Gud’? Your YouTube comments will surely remind you.

Seriously though, plug those headsets in and adjust the volume- Nothing’s worse than background noise cluttering up your vocal track. Often times your microphone will pick up the game audio coming through your computer’s speakers, creating a sound loop wherein your voice audio contains game audio. This is a HUGE pain to remove.

3. Intro/Outro writing and relevant information gathering
Get yo’ shout-outs writ! This is an often overlooked chunk of planning. Do you have anyone you want to thank? Sponsors that need mentioning? People you’d like to collaborate with? Write them down, have them in front of you. If you don’t, prepare to enter the land of misfit takes, where all but your worst attempts at shout-outs will be kept.

We’re also big fans of Philip Defranco.

4. Test record your audio
10 seconds, each microphone. Play it back, and make sure you don’t sound like Bane. Try and sit your levels at a somewhat consistent place, somewhere between -6 and -12 DBs, as this requires the least amount of work to edit. As an aside, you want your microphones in an out-of-the-way place where the distance between them microphones and your mouth(s) doesn’t really change. This stops you from having massive, blown out sound during the more exciting parts of your video. It’s alright to get a little loud and excited, but being loud and excited next to a microphone means your sound will be a complete and utter mess.

5. Test record your video
10 seconds, all sources (gameplay and face cam). Play it all back, and make sure you don’t look like Bane. Make sure your seating arrangements aren’t too far from the camera or sound equipment, as this will result in you having to modify the audio in the editing process, and raising the volume/gain of an audio track is a surefire way to get hisses and random background noise stuck in your video.

And finally, go out there and play your game. So far in this series we’ve covered the hardware and software, and now we’re covering the procedures themselves. If you want more from us, check out our other social media accounts and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more from ZeMind Games!

-Charlie Ze Intern


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How to Make a Let’s Play: Quick ‘N Dirty

This is more of a review meant to sum up a few details from the first 3 parts, starting from the set up. If you’re looking for an in-depth article, check those posts out!

Hello, Internet!
It is I, Charlie, here to review a few of the finer notes of our set up before anything actually gets recorded.

As we noted earlier, we’ve got a 2 laptop set-up. The first laptop is a 2017 Macbook. This runs both our audio recording software and our facecam software. For audio, since I’ve yet to find a reliable program that records 2 input sources well,
(programs I have found so far have had issues with 2 microphones with either lag or dropped sound) the Macbook runs both Audacity into microphone A (a snowball mic for those paying attention at home) and the Quicktime Player audio recording software runs for microphone B (another snowball).

For our Facecam, it’s Photobooth (The built in webcam software on a Mac). It’s very important that you do a test recording on all three pieces of software and play it back to make sure things function without issue. Can’t count the number of times we’ve false started due to my lack inability to remember to test.

For our gaming laptop, we try and record in 1920X1080 at 60 FPS. How we usually start every video is with a strong, strong cup of coffee. After that however, we’re off to the races. After we start the screen recording software and do a quick sync (wherein a countdown of 3-2-1 is cycled in time with a scroll through the main menu and a loud countdown into all microphones), we usually just jump in. Part of what makes the Indiecent Exposure series so genuine is the fact that I have no clue what the games are like, if they’ll even work, or what the controls are. It’s as much of a mystery to me as it is to everyone else!

After about 30-40 minutes of playing (that or finishing a level or first boss) we once again perform another sync at the end of the video. Afterwards, all recording stops.

Any videos are then run through HANDBRAKE, a program used to keep video frames and quality consistent. Our settings in handbrake are a constant FPS rate of 59.94, or as close to the source material file as possible. From Handbrake, the videos are saved to an SSD here at the studio. The audio files are also moved to this SSD. In fact, EVERYTHING is moved to a central SSD, which makes finding and importing things into Adobe Premiere so much easier.

Open and import your raw footage into Premiere Pro. Lay everything out on your timeline, and try to line up the syncs on all of your audio/video footage so that the start of your timeline is the countdown of 3-2-1 on all tracks. Once you’ve done this, RENDER YOUR FOOTAGE.

During the rendering, I usually head off, grab lunch, another coffee, play a few rounds of our upcoming MMA card game. But in all honesty you should take this opportunity to create your graphics. End cards, name tags, anything funny or special graphics wise you’d like to import later on should be created in the downtime.

Once your footage has been rendered, and your graphics created, begin editing your footage. Shrink the face cam footage to a corner (any corner is good!) to a point where it’s not distracting but still noticeable. Don’t forget to bring the game audio down to an acceptable level (usually around -20 DB) and try to get your own (microphone) audio up to an appropriate level where both partners are clearly audible (easier said than done!). Now take the cut tool and use it to select pieces of your footage you like, and remove clips you don’t like.

Lay in your graphics and add the appropriate transitions (fades and dissolves!) to spice up your editing.

Now export your footage and grab yourself a drink!

We’ll be going into the details of ‘Performance’ in our videos next time so don’t forget to follow us on social media for more updates!

-Charlie


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How To Make a Let’s Play Part 3:

Greetings, nerds! It is I, Charlie! With a quick note about this week’s blog post:

Attention! Before reading, you should know this is a continuation from parts 1 and 2 of How to make a Let’s Play, so if you’re just starting out and want to know what to use and how to record gameplay footage and audio, give a quick look through our previous parts.

…And now we’re back!

We left off just as you finished the importing of all your sweet, sweet raw footage and audio into your timeline. So now that it’s all up in there, What next?

1) Import any graphics, animated pieces, pictures or cards (end cards, title screens or otherwise) into your project. This includes things like your name tags, Title tags, all that good stuff.

2) After you’ve lined up your sync (using the 3-2-1 CLAP method noted earlier, in which you line up the audio to the video with a menu scroll) insert your name tags in the appropriate area.

3) RENDER. YOUR. FOOTAGE. After everything is placed on the timeline (roughly where you want them) Render the footage. This helps prevent ‘Loading Lag’ wherein a succession of quick cuts can cause your machine’s video display to fall behind and appear out of sync, even if that is not the case.

4) Once rendered, editing will go much smoother. Import any music you’d like into your timeline. If you’d like to give your video a ‘Bed’, (soft music playing in the background during speaking bits), place it just low enough to cover up any awkward silences.

5) Place your name tags, title screens and any other relevant information into the timeline. Don’t forget to add transitional effects (like fades) into your titles as well.

Remember that most adobe programs can cross over into others, so taking the time to learn things like photoshop and aftereffects can pay off in huge dividends for a final product.

6) After you’ve pieced together everything comes the rough stuff. The export. When exporting in any program (but in this particular case, Premiere Pro) try to keep your export settings as close to your import settings as possible. For example, if you imported a video that was a resolution of 1920X1080, try to export it as the same resolution. If your program has preset settings for a particular platform that you would like to use it on (such as a ‘YouTube’ setting), try and use those settings as well.

Seems simple enough, right? You can check out our finished product here:

Well we’ve covered a ton here so don’t forget to take the time to review everything before uploading your next video. If you’ve got any questions don’t forget you can reach out to us at the ZeMind social media accounts below.

Thanks for reading!

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How to Make a Let’s Play Part 2: Editing

So now that we’re set up with our equipment, it’s time for the hard part.

For editing we run the most recent premiere Adobe Premiere (Creative Cloud), along with the program ‘HandBrake’. Why Handbrake? For those of you who aren’t familiar, the built-in DVR you can find in the XBOX app (comes with Windows 10) can record at higher frame rates, but often doesn’t CONSISTENTLY record at higher framerates.

Essentially what will happen is your footage will either gain or lose frames as it plays, leading to occasional de-sync between your voice and the video. Handbrake is used to level out the frame rates and thus give a more accurate sync between audio and video.

Speaking of being in sync, it’s important to give yourself an editing start point. For us, it usually involves going to the game menu and scrolling through options while simultaneously counting ‘1-2-3, 3-2-1′ into the microphone before a large CLAP.

What this does allow an identifiable point in both audio and video which you will use as a starting point for your project in editing. (the clap will show up as a HUGE spike in the audio waveform so all you have to do is align it with the visual clap on the screen). To save yourself some extra time later, write down the time of any significantly entertaining moments happened on a piece of paper next to you (or just make a mental note of it for later).

Once you’ve performed your sync, and put your video through HandBrake, you’ll be able to align both up properly in editing. Play your game as planned, and nearing the end, perform a sync again (just to make it easier to tell if your video has fallen out of sync at the end). Quit your recording and POOF! You’re ready to go.

When exporting audio files, it doesn’t really matter what container your sound comes in as long as it’s high quality and readable by your editing software. This also applies to your video footage. For transparencies sake we try and export as .wav in audio and .mp4 for video.

Once you’ve opened up your video editing software, import your audio and video to your timeline. Watch your video until you find the clap from your sync earlier and align it with the clap audio and VOILA! You’re all ready to start editing.

Use whatever tool you can in your program to assemble all the good parts of your video while leaving out anything dull. This is often done in a click/drag motion and found in many of the programs’ tutorials. Don’t forget to do the same with the audio as well as fine tune the levels to the appropriate volume.

That’s all for this week, NEXT WEEK we’re rocking the overlays and editing tricks to add a little flair!

Don’t forget to follow us on social media, and in the mean time enjoy the latest video from our YouTube channel and don’t forget to subscribe!

-Charlie Ze Newbie

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How to Make a Let’s Play Part 1: The SET UP

So you want to be internet famous? Make a ‘Let’s Play’ video or five, do ya?

Well you’ve come to the right place. In an upcoming series of blogs, I’ll walk you through a behind-the-scenes peek of how we make the videos currently releasing on our YouTube channel in our series ‘INDIEcent Exposure‘.

For a quick overview, INDIEcent Exposure is a series where we highlight the gameplay of ‘Indie’ developers from Toronto and the world by playing them (occasionally really poorly). You can check out an example of us playing Ballistic Tanks by Kirklight Games on our YouTube Channel!

Alright, now to the good part.

What is our set up?

Right now we’re running a pretty basic set up. We use the ASUS gaming laptop ROG GL552VW to play/record the game audio/video. It’s nothing fancy but it does everything we need it to do.

SPECS: Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6700HQ CPU @ 2.60GHz (8 CPUs), ~2.6GHz Memory: 16384MB RAM. DirectX Version: DirectX 12

We’ve hooked it up to an extra monitor (yet again, nothing fancy). Any HD monitor will do, in reality. As for our Facecam, we’re cycling through a few different options (webcams, our own phones etc) but we’ve settled in on using the same Macbook we use to record our sound (Just so happens it’s the latest and oft hated Macbook, but that’s negligible. As long as it can run ‘Audacity’ software as well as its own webcam at the same time, it’s good in our books).

When it comes to microphones, we’re using the ‘Blue Snowball’, a classic choice among early streamers/podcast enthusiasts. You can find it here.

All of our recorded video is kept on an 500 GB SSD (which will undoubtedly need an upgrade once it gets full.)

Our next video will feature a lighting and set up using this green screen kit (provided it ever gets here).

When it comes to the software on the Macbook, we’re running the built-in webcam programs, as well as Audacity in the background to keep things going simultaneously. While my personal experience would request the use of an ElGato capture device, the Windows 10 laptop we have uses the DVR built into the XBOX app. The footage taken from the XBOX app can be in varying qualities, so it’s important to note your settings before hitting the record button.

Anyways, that about wraps up the prerequisites for our set up, tune in next week for the next step of making a ‘Let’s Play’ styled video montage!

 

Until next time, don’t forget to follow us on social media and watch our videos!
-Charlie Ze Newbie

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Stream Team, Assemble!

Greetings, Internet!

Good news everyone! We’re reviving our YouTube channel! Praise the sun!

After a quick discussion with the higher ups, everyone’s favourite ‘Newbie’ will return to the online trenches with an ongoing YouTube series wherein members of our studio will play games to highlight some of the great indie content from Toronto.

The finer points are still being worked out, but essentially we’re coming out with short form (5 minute) videos playing games from small-ish studios with the hope of showing the public the kind of games we’ve got in the works here in Toronto (including the surrounding area). We’re also hoping to invite some of those game developers into our own studio to play their games with us; the intent being to build a larger and more well-knit local community.

So if you’re a developer from the GTA (or from the southern Ontario region) and you’ve got a game you’d like to see us play, send the following info to this address: Charlie[DOT]Barangan[AT]ZeMind.ca

A) Link to your game on Steam
B) Credits (Dev team, etc)
C) Contact information
D) Relevant social media

Please note that we may not always have the resources to commit to a solid release schedule. Rest assured that we will try to get around to as many games as possible, but we also need to make time for the production of our own titles. If you’ve got any further questions/comments don’t be afraid to get in touch with us on social media. The channel itself won’t be updated until we have more content, keep an eye out for us in the coming weeks!

We’d love to hear from you!
-Charlie Ze Newbie

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Meet a ZeMind Artist!

Greetings, internet!

It is I, Charlie Ze Newbie with a new kind of blog post.

A lot of work and love goes into the games we make here at the studio. For our upcoming game, VERSUS, we’ve gone in a delightful cartoon style that is absolutely adorable. This week I sit down with Gus, one of our artists, and talk to him about his background and his thoughts about working here.

How did you get started in art?
I watched a lot of cartoons as a kid. I used to come home from school and lay down in front of my tv and watch cartoons. I used to draw fan art of the cartoons I was watching as I was watching it [laughs]. I lost it (drawing passion) in high school, although I got it back in college because I wanted to make a career out of it. In high school it didn’t seem like a possibility. Afterwards, I went to college and took art fundamentals from there.

What are your degrees?

I have two diplomas. Diplomas? Certificates? I don’t know. I have two of them since I graduated from Sheridan with the Visual Creative Arts program and I also graduated from Mohawk College with one in graphic design/animation. I thought about doing a game design program that focused on art and design programming at one point, but art still feels like an ‘Enterprising’ part of the game design field. In video game art, it always feels like we’re reaching new… Well not “Heights”, but like, “Heights”, you know? [laughs].

Influences?
I shouldn’t call any of them out. It’s funny because I’ve met a lot of them. I’m actually friends with some of them now. They’re people I aspire to, whose art I found online. But growing up, I found my influences in cartoons a lot of the time. Megaman, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Medabots. Those were great.


Speaking of which, what are your Favourite games?

My favourite game is Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced! It inspired my art style a lot. That as well as Megaman battle network. My dad took me to Germany once and I never looked up from my Gameboy (due to Megaman Battle Network). Those and of course the classics, like Ocarina of Time and Majoras Mask. I have really fond memories of them all.

What are you playing right now?

Breath of the wild. Everyone’s playing that right now. Everyone who has a Nintendo Switch, anyways. I’m also playing some PC games. I like Blizzard games, like Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone. Those kinds of games.

What is the best part of working at ZeMind Games?

This is a pretty good environment. We have a dog, so what else is there? I have a computer, [laughs] The people are pretty cool. Various types of people. I’m trying to un-dig this hole that I’ve dug for myself (laughs), I don’t think you should include that there’s beer in the fridge. That’s a secret perk.

Thanks for chatting!
Thank YOU!

Hope this let you all get to know the sort of people who work here. If you’ve got the chance, we’d love it if you followed us on social media! Stay tuned for more of the people who make ZeMind Studios such a fun place to work.

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Calling all Toronto Artists!

These faulty prototypes turned out a little smaller than we expected… Pen for scale.

What’s that? You’re a local Toronto artist interested in card games? Well step right up!

We’re on the hunt for a few extra hands for our upcoming card game. Just so anyone interested is aware, it’s based on the growing sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) that takes place in a cage (think the ‘UFC’). Players will build a deck of punches, kicks, wrestling and submission techniques to help reduce their opponent’s health to zero in as fast a manner as possible. Many card game lovers who are/were familiar of games such as the Pokemon Trading Card Game, Yu-Gi-Oh! As well as Magic: The Gathering should find some of the elements in our game familiar.

If you’re a Toronto artist who just so happens to to enjoy card games, MMA or both, drop us a line! Here’s a soft list (by no means set in stone) of what we’re looking for.

In no particular order, here’s what we’d like to see:

We’ve only just begun our hunt for local talent (we love supporting our homegrown pals!), but it’s very important to us that the art on our cards be action oriented. The style has yet to be nailed down in its finer details, but we’re imagining something with heavy inks and a dynamic perspective.

If possible we’re going for something along the lines of what ‘The Big 2’ comic publishers (Marvel or DC) would publish in one of their larger titles. Exaggerated hands and feet as well as combat in motion are all a huge plus here, so don’t be afraid to showcase your style when it comes to the ‘Art’ part of mixed-martial arts.

Preferably, we’d like to include two characters per card locked in mid-strike or in the heat of combat. Art that highlight all sorts of punches, kicks, knees will all go to the top of the stack. Combatants can be on the ground, in the air or standing as long as the violence/exaggeration levels don’t reach the ‘Mortal Kombat’ level of gore. Think less in the realms of ‘Fatalities’ and more in line with the ‘EA Sports: UFC’ series.

Don’t worry so much on background as much as getting the spirit of combat just right. We also LOVE dramatic angles, so if you’ve got a few pieces lying around that fit the bill, we’d love to see them (Via link! No files please!).

When it comes to colours, we’re hoping to see a lot of de-saturated pieces as well as heavier, comic styled inks. Inspiration wise, there are plenty of manga titles up for grabs that would help, but try and take your inspiration from fighting video games such as the Street Fighter franchise.

Don’t worry if your art doesn’t fit the requirements list perfectly, we’re still working things out so details may change. Send us what you got!

You can email a link to your portfolio, and some notes about yourself to me, Charlie Ze Intern, here charlie(DOT)barangan(AT)zemind.ca or reach out to us on social media accounts listed below.

We can’t wait to show you what we’re coming out with next!

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Git Into my Game!

I’ll be the first person to tell you that coding is hard. I’ll also be the first person to tell you I can’t code to save my life. That’s why, of course, the lovely team here at ZeMind has introduced me into the cold and murky depths of Xcode (lucky me).

Yes, your favourite newbie has descended into the flame-broiled heart of heck itself, past the rings of Unity and into the pits of Git.

So, what am I doing here, you may ask? Turns out that while writing the script was a team based and often times humorous trip into the realms of puns and fantasy, actually entering the thing into the game has proven to have a bit of a learning curve. Those of you who follow our social media pages (which you all should be, duh) know that since I’ve begun my tenure here at the studio I’ve given Unity a try, with uh, mixed results.

That being said, I clearly had not-the-worst point collection ball game here in the studio, and the experience went well enough to say that I’d give coding a go in the future.

Fast forward to now, where thanks to our tightly knit team of developers, I’m working with an (explicitly for newbies) customized chunk of code which essentially plays as a mad-libs for entering the script and dialogue into our game. For Versus, we’ve gone with a traditional JRPG dialogue setup, that is to say we’ve got a shared dialogue box between all talking head characters on the screen.

On my end, I’ve gone about not just entering the dialogue but also selecting the talking head portraits themselves as well as filling in sound effects for dialogue (while we won’t exactly be going with english, we may change it up to have a sort of ‘Sim-Speak’ kind of tone.

It’s definitely eye-opening to see the amount of sheer, hair-raising frustration and terror that goes into coding something. Even with my custom set up, I’ve had several follicle ruining moments that have tested my patience. Not to mention all the times I thought I completely wrecked the game when pushing it.

*Shudders*

The game is now in an incomplete but playable state. We’ve got a ton of the art assets set in (which, while still being awesome, still have a few left to go) as well as the majority of dialogue and story from acts 1-3. Most of the characters are playable, save for a few that need a touch more tweaking. We’re still in the process of finalizing certain aspects of the story as well as selecting final music and additional effects, but overall this game is turning out to be a lot more fun than anticipated.

That’s all for this week, don’t forget to follow us on social media for more updates, contests and giveaways!

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