It was sixteen months ago that we posted our first blog regarding Redwall, or Project Mouseworks. Shortly thereafter we launched our AbbeyCraft kickstarter, it funded, and then roughly a year ago this month AbbeyCraft was released. All going well so far. The plan at that point, as far as we could see it, though shrouded in some pretty dense fog, was to wrap up a modest private funding effort, build a modest adventure game and then see what happened. It was a pretty straightforward plan and while Redwall was obviously a big thing, our goals were fairly short term and limited. But something happened on the way to that pivot and while it’s cost us some time I hope you’ll see it as something overall quite positive – I know we do.
Setback #1: If I’m honest, I was just horribly naive about how the private funding world works. I’d never done it before but with all things considered it felt like the right play as opposed to either a traditional publishing deal or taking a second draught at the crowd funding trough. I’ll certainly write more about this experience in the future but suffice it to say that I underestimated the time this was going to take. On its surface that sounds like a bad thing, it was certainly wretchedly frustrating at times, but as I’ll describe below I think it was actually a blessing in disguise.
Setback #2: Having never worked an IP licensing deal I had no freaking clue how complicated and laborious the paperwork can be. Seriously, this is the only paragraph where I’ll flat out complain but I was staggered at how drawn out these things can be. What can be agreed to in principle in a 1-hour conversation can take months and months to document, formalize and sign. It’s the lawyers, it’s the filings, it’s yadda after yadda, after yadda. Bottom line, I was again naive about this world and how it really worked and with that aspect alone it’s fair to say I jumped the gun in making, and announcing, any kind of timeline. If not for the silver linings in setbacks 1 and 3, this paperwork thing would have driven me to drink.
Setback #3: This event was a setback in name (and time) only but was actually the start of a really important shift. Near the beginning of 2014 one of my mentors, Steve Graves from Praxis, asked me a particularly penetrating question. I brought all of our “Big Ideas” and docs and our pitch to him for feedback and input. Rather too impressed with how thins were going so far, I reckon I was hoping for (and expecting) a rubber stamp approval. He was very kind and generous and supportive like a mentor should be, but then looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you need more money?” While again a little off-topic for this post, the question shook me up. I was thinking, “What the hell kind of question is that?” But what it really did was speak directly to the heat of a big mistake we were about to make. I was thinking way too small and way too short term and that was bad…for everybody involved, especially Redwall and her fans.
All of these delays forced us to slow down. While work and production on The Warrior Reborn didn’t stop entirely, we couldn’t spin up until the ducks were lined up. What’s more, it was a long chain of moments that feel like you’re coming over the laaaaaaast hump, only to find there’s another. Perhaps that’s the thing that has been hardest on our supporters – the silence. Somewhere around Christmas last year I realized this was taking longer than expected and it was messing with our schedule. I suppose we could have posted something to say, “Hit a snag. Working on it. Don’t know how long this will take.” But that’s about all I could have said. I never lost my confidence that it was all going to work out in the end. All of our conversations, all of the dance-doing, was positive – strikingly so in fact – I just couldn’t get any read on how long it would go on. I’m the kind of guy who wants to bear good news. I’ll bear bad news when needed but I hate bearing…ambiguous news. “Hi everybody! We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re making good time!” Would have made for a stupid update but it was all I had to go on between about December and…now. I hope our supporters who have been feeling disappointed will forgive me for my awkward silence.
So, looping back, a lot of the last year has been spent thinking and talking. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the game (or games), thinking about the story, and thinking about a time horizon longer than 6 months. Simultaneously, we’ve been talking to fans, talking to gamers, and talking to folks with a lot more wisdom than myself. It’s been a time to really determine what we wanted both for Redwall and our deal there, but also for Soma Games because without question the Redwall name has opened some doors for us, introduced us to people we’re unlikely to have met otherwise, and if I’m not being melodramatic, presented a kind of existential threat to Soma Games’ mission if we weren’t careful. In a worst case scenario Redwall could assimilate Soma Games, devour all of our time and money, and go down in a flaming ball of badger…that would suck for everybody.
Steve’s question made me aware that I was thinking too small, no doubt about that, but far importantly, I was thinking too short. I was injecting urgency when thoughtful, deliberate action was required. Having spent most of my career in a work-for-hire world and in mobile gaming there was too much of the get-in, get-out, rinse-repeat mentality and I’m grateful that we were caught up short in our understandable enthusiasm for a chance to catch our breaths and think this through.
All of this thinking and talking has led to several good changes (IMHO) in how we’ll be proceeding. Some of it would be very boring to write about, like improvements to our license, clarifications in our contracts, etc. It’s all good stuff but not very interesting, so I’ll just mention that such things are important, and they’re done, and we’re moving on.
I do want to be clear about a few things just in case the narrative is a bit rambling:
- We did NOT squander a bunch of money in the last twelve months with nothing to show for it. (Where some have…) The Warrior Reborn is still an active project and I’ll be revealing more specific details in the coming months. We just had to slow down. And while that’s undoubtedly a disappointment for the folks who have been patiently waiting, I think the slower pace will lead to a better product than if we’d been able to steam ahead with plan A. I said in our Ground Rules post that quality was a higher consideration than quantity (or speed) and we’re trying to be true to that value.
- We are not suddenly all full of reckless ambition and attempting to build some 400 hour epic open-world extravaganza that’s certain to fail. If anything we are more aware than before that we are an indie studio that will need to avoid biting off more than we can chew. Much of this post is about seeing a bigger picture but don’t take that to mean we can build Skyrim next week. While I think most fans want to see that kind of thing in time, we hope you’re willing to take that journey in steps, and grow with us – at a sustainable pace. That said, the scope of the first game has grown from initial concepts but again, more on the depth and quality axis than the size or features axis.
Ok – pause…
- Today we’re releasing a new webpage that contains a pitch for some additional private capital. We’re taking Steve’s advice and thinking bigger…but not that much bigger. The pitch is aimed at private investors, most likely in the Angel category, which normally would be a quiet, who-do-you-know kind of affair. But it seems the laws have changed to allow us to broadcast this kind of thing openly so we’re putting it out there. While the goal is ostensibly for capital the deeper goal is to connect with the right kind of partners…something I came to deeply value over the last year. There is a lot of money out there looking for something to do, but only a small subset of it comes from folks with common values and goals. While Redwall is the anchor of the proposal, the bigger picture is about Soma Games’ larger mission and establishing a voice in the larger gaming conversation.
Check it out here: http://www.somagames.com/redwall/pitch.
- With the hindsight of the last year I’m only more reluctant than before to issue any kind of launch date but it’s worth saying that where the burn has been pretty low-key since last August, we’re starting to spin up in earnest. Still some ducks to line up before it’s all done, but I actually see the light at the end of the tunnel here. For a glimpse, just a glimpse, of something were working on, come see us at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco Sep 9-11. This will be more tech demo than game demo but it’ll be the first time one of our Redwall characters has met the public eye.
See: IDF for more info.
- If you’ve been watching our Facebook page you’ll have noticed that we’ve been talking more about G Prime than Redwall and that may have made some folks think that Redwall was dead or cancelled or whatever. Fear not. G Prime was something we decided to do while all this paperwork settled out but it was also part of the bigger plan. With much of our previous experience in mobile we didn’t want our first PC game to be Redwall – that just seemed too risky. So we built a game using our own IP, and learned a ton in the process. G Prime is in post-production now for things like voice overs, art polish and balancing…and it looks gorgeous! I’m very excited about seeing our first game rebooted and it feels like the game we wanted to make in 2009 but didn’t know how. Look for G Prime on PC and Mac for sure. A Steam Greenlight will be launched soon and we’re crossing our fingers to get approved for XBox One. At least one, possibly two, additional PC/Console games are likely to release before we launch the The Warrior Reborn but neither are brand new efforts that will suck precious resources away from Redwall. Rather they are additional practice opportunities to take something we already have, work it up for a larger platform, and learn our lessons about scrum and pipelines, and design ideas in a place that is “safe” for both us and Redwall. We see these efforts not as distractions but rather training. Redwall is the wrong place to practice, so we’re building the team with these internal efforts. And given how that’s gone with G Prime – I think it’ll be time well spent.
For the moment, I’ll pinch this off. I hope it answers some of the most pertinent questions about the fate of the Redwall project even if it’s still a little thin on specifics – I plan to address that second part soon.