It's easy to lose sight, in the middle of everything, of why we do a thing.
I began working on Nocked in March 2013, I published to iOS in July 2017; yet, by October 2017 I was already making plans – and hiring people – to bring the game to desktop. This culminated two years after the original release with hundreds of thousands of additional words, hundreds of pieces of new art, and over an hour of original music in order to launch on Steam July 17, 2019.
The reasons are twofold: mercenary, and creative. Nocked was well-received critically by a small number of outlets, but sales were lackluster. This led me to believe that A) I'd written a good game and B) people would buy it if they knew it existed. The news outlets for deep, involved role-playing games on mobile felt fairly limited, but there was a lot of press space available for desktop gaming.
Secondly: By the time of the iOS launch I needed, creatively speaking, to be done. But after a couple months off and some honest feedback from players, I was ready to dive back in. Those niggling mechanical elements, the narrative shortcuts that were good enough; I was ready to rework, reevaluate, and expand. As justification – to myself – for revisiting the finished project, a desktop release was it.
An honest assessment of the desktop playspace was fairly succinct. I’d need to expand the vertically-oriented mobile layout to fit a horizontal, letterbox display (in this case, adding two side panels and resizing the central play area); and while the mobile version was deliberately silent for easy reading, no desktop game worth its salt is released without music.
Working with the artist, Amanda Spaid, we decided to play off the silhouette art in the original release images and use that to depict characters in-game. I also proposed something to represent the changing seasons and locations, but she came up with the background styling after Lotte Reiniger on her own. Then it was simply a matter of lists and spreadsheets detailing all the character and location combinations.
Music wasn't much more complicated. The composer, Ivan, originally wanted to assign instruments to all major characters, queuing them in and out of themes as they were appeared in the game. While that idea didn't totally pan out, it helped us work through our musical palette, and the result is a coherent (though exceptionally distinct) set of musical cues that manages to be listenable both while playing the game and in its own right.
From a development standpoint, Chris and Joel were stars. I asked them to make it work, and they did – largely without my input or understanding. And coming back to my mercenary instincts? I hired a marketing firm, Game If You Are, to drum up awareness, promote Nocked to the press.
It's easy to lose sight, in the middle of everything, of why we do a thing. By and large, writing is a solitary activity; but stories can change how we see the world; they can make us pause, and think; they can be a welcome distraction, a needed escape. I write to stretch my imagination, to challenge and entertain my readers, to hopefully make enough money to work on another project. That readers and money go hand-in-hand is just one of the perks of the job.
In October of 2017, I convinced myself that desktop was the best market to distribute my best game with the best chance of attracting as large an audience as possible. One week after Nocked’s release, it's in the hands of more players than I had on iOS after six months.
I’ll call that a success…