Shield Cat Post Demo Thoughts
Howdy! I wanted to take some time to write about the Shield Cat Demo, how it went, what I learned from it, and where the game is going next. This is a long form post, so it may take a while to read. I don't write these often, so I hope you enjoy it!
Stats and Purpose
First, let's talk about the stats! At the time of writing, 2368 people have downloaded the demo, with 284 people playing it and roughly 150 people actually beating it! (There is a discrepancy in this number as some people have times in both the Any% and 100% category for beating the demo.) 583 people have added it to their wishlist, and many people have played the game on stream and/or shared the game in a video – I was sent many VODs and I appreciate all of them!
This many people trying out the demo and enjoying it was part of the reason why I released a demo in the first place. After releasing the demo for SAGE 2020 and receiving feedback on that, I decided that the best thing to do would be to scrap the entire game and rewrite the engine from the ground up. It wasn't an easy decision, but it's been very good for me and it's been much easier to develop using the new code base. I'm well aware that many people thought that the demo was short, and I agree – it was much shorter than I would have hoped. This is why I went ahead and crammed as many abilities, upgrades, and passive abilities as I could into the demo, so people could play around with them and see a glimpse into what the rest of the game was going to be like.
The other reason I pushed out this demo as soon as I possibly could was to see how people would enjoy it, especially without the backing of gaining notoriety for being part of the SAGE 2020 demo. With that one, I feel many people downloaded it, but not many played it. This is due to them having difficulties with the servers at the time, and people were just downloading all of the games so that they could be available. There were also over 200 or so games present, so it was a competition for everyone's time and attention. This demo was for me to see how people enjoyed the game when it was just me releasing the game on its own, and the response has been phenomenal. It has let me know that Shield Cat is something that I should continue working on, which is good, because I was honestly thinking about scrapping it and working on something else instead.
Feedback and What I Learned
I've received a ton of feedback on the demo, and I appreciate it! Some of this feedback I was able to implement directly into the demo with updates, while others will have to wait until the next demo before they are fully realized. In addition, I learned a lot, both about how what I put into the game translates to the player, and how much they are able to pick up and understand intuitively. I learned a lot through VODs about how people play the game, which in some cases is much different than I expected.
A number of people, for instance, prefer to engage in combat from a distance with the shield, rather than using Lance's spin to get close to them. I've given Lance a lot of different abilities (with more planned) that allow for different play styles, so it is nice to see people using the different play styles. I also found out that some things I thought players would intuitively understand, they did not. I've learned a lot about not assuming what the player should know from the SAGE 2020 demo, where people did not know that Lance could swim, despite me assuming that they'd guess since he is an otter, so I never put any part of the game that specifically teaches you this. In this demo, however, I designed parts of the stage exclusively to make you want to try to swim.
There were issues though where players would search for the key to unlock the gate, not knowing that they already picked it up, so I made it so you can't leave the room until you actually get the key and use it on the gate. I never want to make it feel like I'm holding the player's hand, or just tell them directly about everything they can do, but I feel I am getting much better at telling the player things through stage design.
Since the demo, I worked hard to bring a lot of updates and fixes that will help the demo last for a long time. Since then, I've taken a bit of a break from the game, and it's made me think a lot about the game and what I'm doing with it. Taking a step back has made me realize that, although I've been trying to avoid feature creep, it's still coming up on me in the form of minigames and whatnot. Taking this break has really helped me to re-orientate myself on what I need to do, and focus on the core aspects of the game.
It's hard to come up with cool ideas, because you're always coming up with cool ideas, but then you have to think “Do I really have time to implement this cool idea? How long will it take to develop?” These questions are especially important, as I am a solo developer, so any feature I decide to implement needs to be that much more important to the overall game. There are so many cool things that I would love to put in ie. Two player mode where you play as Lance and one of his friends – this would be a whole rabbit hole of implementation though that I just don't have the time for.
I've also thought about how I'm going to handle things like the stages, layout, and the overall goal of each stage. Everything up to this point, everything up to the demo has been me trying out a bunch of stuff to see where I want to go and where I want to draw the line. What will people enjoy? What am I capable of? These are questions that I've been trying to answer, and I feel like I have answered them. Many people have given me feedback, and I appreciate it, but now is the time where I have to focus on what's going to be in the game and not be distracted by cool ideas, either from myself or others.
There are many cool ideas that I have for the game, but I will not be able to implement most of them unfortunately. However, I hope that what I do produce is enjoyed by many people, and if the game is successful, I can implement the ideas at a later time when I have more resources to do so. For now, I must focus on the core aspect of the game, and keep my threshold high on what's really important vs. what just sounds really cool, but isn't actually important.
Where It's Going
I've been thinking about where the game goes from here, and I decided I have to adjust how I talk about the game online. In the future, I will not be sharing as many updates for this reason. I really enjoy sharing updates with everyone, but I don't want to show something that I later have to take out, or talk about something that I end up not being able to do. I don't want to lead people to disappointment about an expected feature or mode that doesn't end up in the final game. I also want to update less because I plan on the next demo featuring the entirety of the forest, and I would like to keep a sense of wonder about it. I was sharing many more updates before because I did not have a demo available, and I wanted people to check out my game and know what it was about.
I feel now, though, that people have played the demo and know what it's about. Many people have been touched by the demo, and so many people have reached out to me with excitement and desire to play the full game. I want to realize that dream sooner rather than later, which is why I may have to cut out some further things. The important thing though is that the demo will stick with them, and this demo will remain available for future people to try out and enjoy.
This goes hand in hand with the feature creep that I was talking about earlier, as I've already shown some things that most likely won't get into the final game, and I'm afraid of letting players down who may have been excited about these things. From now on, I will do better to only show things when I know for sure that it's gonna be a long-lasting game feature.
These are my plans then for the future of Shield Cat, to create the entirety of the forest stage. It will be tough, as I haven't created a complete area yet for the game. Even now, I am going to be reworking the beginning area to better fit everything I've learned about stage design and whatnot. The area I implemented in this demo was mainly made for one purpose: get it out there and let people try it out. With the next demo, I am hoping that many more people will try the game out and share it among their friends. This, however, wont be for at least a year, so I ask that people continue to be patient with me.
If the game has enough traction by then, I may even consider Kickstarter to help fund the completion of the game. I said before that I didn't want to take a bunch of money just in case I wasn't able to do it. I am confident in myself now though that I know I can see this project through to completion. It has been a struggle and continues to be a struggle, but I have been working on this project for over 2 years now, learning the ins and outs of Gamemaker, learning how to even be a game developer (if you did not know, Shield Cat is my first game,) and just figuring out what I'm doing in general.
I released this demo to see what people would think, and to see if it would be worthwhile for me to continue to work on the project or not. Based on everyone's feedback, my work is considered to be very impressive and inspirational, and I am humbled by everyone's responses. People from around the world played the game. People on YouTube who speak languages I don't understand played and enjoyed, people I'll never know, but have no reason to lie to me and say “oh it's good” to be friendly to me. Friends and people who I know now, who played it on Twitch, who got me into Twitch as well. People who showed up out of the blue from nowhere, and are now huge fans of the game.
I appreciate everyone who has played the game, and it's really been an experience to be able to do this, to be able to touch so many people all around the world. What started as a simple Spike McFang fan-game, something I wanted to do since I was young, is now becoming something big, and I appreciate all of you for making it happen. I hope that the game continues to grow and spread, and that more people are able to enjoy the game. For me, though, it's not about the money or popularity. As long as I am having fun and one other person out there is going “Yea!! This is cool!” I will be happy.
Thank you so much for trying the demo, for reading this post, and for believing in me. Your kind messages have been great motivation for me to keep going with this, and I'm gonna do the best I can.
Until I see you again with the next demo, thank you.
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