Welcome to the first development diary entry for Dreary Hamlet!
At this point in time, development of the game has been underway for over a year, but I figure it's never too late to start! Settle in if you're interested in reading the whole thing though; it's been a busy first year, and I put way more feels than necessary into this blog.
So let's begin with the basics; how did this game come into existence?
On the 2nd of April 2014 I had an interview at my local AIE campus, hoping to get a position in one of their game development courses. They told me over the phone 'Don't forget to bring your development portfolio'.
I'm sorry, my what now?
I was trying to get into this school to learn game development, but to get in they wanted me to show them my previous game development? Right.
So, naturally I panicked. I only had two days to prepare, so at first I tried to hastily learn how to use some basic game-building programs on the computer.
I quickly realised that teaching myself to make a computer game in two days wasn't going to happen, so I decided that I would make a tabletop game for them instead.
When people ask me how I came up with the idea for Dreary Hamlet, I still don't know what to tell them. My answer is usually just 'I don't know'. All I did was put everything I love about games and pop culture into it. My thought process went something like this:
Dice? I love dice! Let's put dice in!
Loot! Oh my GOSH do I love loot! In it goes!
Creatures! Crazy mythical creatures! Yes, in!
Scary feelings, like horror games! This is gold!
Different kinds of ammunition, like the salt in Supernatural! Done!
Health! Coins! Gems! In it goes! ALL OF THE THINGS!!!
And somehow, I made a game.
I took it to the interview, and I was offered a position on the spot, but I would have to wait for them to run a new course at the start of 2015 before I could take it.
In the meantime, I was left looking at those two pages of scrawled rules and thinking, 'Hey, I can use this'. And I did.
The first copy of the game was printed at a tiny size on shiny photo paper, with the printing company's logo all over the back of it. We had to write our health down on little pieces of paper because I didn't have any tokens yet, and I roped every damn friend I could find into playing this ratty game with me.
Some of them said 'Wow, it's not shit!', and Dreary Hamlet was born.
After a few weeks of playing with friends, I already knew this game was something that I was just going to have to see through to the end, whether it was a success or failure. I went online to try and find an artist, and was immediately confronted with how crazy expensive this process was going to be.
The game has 48 separate illustrations, and I suddenly realised that I was a 21 year old loser (who had just barely landed a full-time job), and that I was going to have to find a way to afford them all. I eventually found a wonderful artist willing to work with the highest budget I could muster (Vincent Van Hoof, his portfolio can be found here: http://vincentvanhoof.daportfolio.com), and we struck a deal to get the artwork into production.
Now contracts were being created, money was changing hands, and I suddenly had to adult-up. It dawned on me that I wasn't playing around here, and that this whole project would fail or succeed based almost entirely on my own effort. That's a pretty scary notion for a guy as eternally lazy as I am.
Time and testing went on, and suddenly PAX Aus 2014 was upon us; and here's where this story takes a joyful turn. I had been a volunteer (an Enforcer) at PAX Aus 2013, which was my first real introduction to the gaming community. Naturally I was clamouring to come back in '14, so I applied and was once again accepted as an Enforcer.
I would have to travel to Melbourne for the convention, and it dawned on me that Melbourne itself would be riddled with gamers in the lead up to PAX. I decided to ring a Melbourne game store (Games Laboratory), and ask if there was any chance I could host a game testing event there. The answer was absolutely, and suddenly I had a goal.
I went online and asked all of my Enforcer friends if any would be interested in testing out the game, and the reception couldn't have been warmer. In total around 22 people came to the event. People laughed, cursed, and grinned, and I couldn't have asked for it to go any better.
The real success was to come later though, when towards the end of the day the head of the Aussie Enforcers suggested that I talk to the lovely woman running the tabletop section at PAX, to find out if there was any chance I could show my game at the convention.
At the time I was so nervous, and tried to turn his idea down; the game wasn't ready yet and I knew it, and I didn't want to completely blow things at the convention. My whole plan had been not to say anything about the game at PAX '14, and to come back in '15 if the game was still going strong. He pushed though, and eventually I agreed, and suddenly PAX happened.
If you've ever volunteered at a large convention before, you'll know it's a crazy experience. Everything was go, all hands on deck, and I no longer had any time to worry about it. The days sped by, and then suddenly it was Friday night, and it was time to go.
I found myself in the huge wing of the convention centre that housed all of the games, and made my way over to the tabletop section. The Enforcers there greeted me warmly, and I was ushered over to my own red-covered table. Suddenly, I was a game developer.
It sounds silly, but that convention was the first time that ever really sunk in to me; volunteers were introducing me as a developer, and it just sounded like such a lie to me. I kept thinking 'I'm not a developer, I just made this in my bedroom.' But I guess we all have to start somewhere.
I put the cards out on the table; slightly better quality sets than I had started with, but still blank and white, and looking up at the beautiful games around me I didn't have much hope that anyone would be interested in playing mine.
And then I looked up, and there were people sitting at my table, looking at me expectantly.
It turns out, the people who go to PAX are awesome.
They didn't care that the cards were white and had no artwork, or that I made the game in my bedroom; they just wanted to play it.
Then, while I was stood staring in stunned wonder at these people sat at my table, some other convention goers came over and stood beside me. They looked at these people playing my game, and said 'Hey, I want to play that too'.
So I stole another table.
Now I had two red-covered tables, and three games running.
Another ground of people came over, so I stole another table, and seemingly out of nowhere I had four independent groups of people playing my game.
I think it was the first time I was happy with what I'd made. Random strangers are different to friends; they don't have to agree with you or pull any punches. And yet here all of these random strangers were, having fun and playing my game.
The real joy came hours later though, when I packed up the games and went home. It was almost midnight, and I was sat on the last train home, staring at the big wad of folder up pieces of paper in my hand.
The event was still playtesting, so I had been asking for feedback, and here it was in my hand. Just one big, intimidating pile of unfiltered opinion.
Filled with worry I read the first one; nothing bad. Then the second; still nothing bad. I was starting to smile then, as I read through all of them, and then I got to the big one. It said:
'I love this, I really want a copy of this game! Please email me at [---------] when I can buy it.'
And that was it for me, I was laughing and grinning like a madman on the midnight train, people were staring, and I didn't even care.
The rest of the weekend flew by, and it was time to go home. But now I knew that the game worked, that people liked it, and that I could do this.
After PAX I registered my business, 'Mallegory'. The broken fable. The misleading story. It fit perfectly with the sort of games I wanted to make.
Then I built a website. Somehow. It's still a mess, but it works; not bad for my first try. Just like everything else related to this game; it's a learning experience that I'm richer for having stumbled through.
In early 2015, AIE called me about the position I'd been offered with them, and suddenly I panicked. I had a good thing going with my game, but I had wanted to learn computer programming too. I simply couldn't decide between them, but I knew without a doubt that I couldn't afford to do both.
I fought with myself for a solid week, then decided to sign up. 'I'll just put the game aside for now' I thought, 'it won't go anywhere'.
I went to that school for just three days before realising I had made a big mistake; the project was too big now, and too much a part of myself and my identity for me to just put it aside. Besides, I had contracts with an artist and graphic designer, and I didn't want to have to put the brakes on their work.
So development continued, and now suddenly we're here. The game mechanics are still being tweaked, but almost everything is in its place. The artwork still won't be ready until the end of the year, but the game itself is nearly complete.
The current prototypes have boxes, rules, dice, gems, coins, cards with actual art on them, and almost magically, it looks like a real game.
Without a doubt I couldn't have made it this far without all of the wonderful people who have pushed me to succeed with this project. I'm so grateful for the Enforcers that pushed me into putting myself and the game out there, and for the friends and family who didn't just shrug it off as a dumb idea.
For once in my life I'm sticking to a project, and I can't wait to see where it goes next!