Dwarrows DevLog #6

Metroidvania-ness of Dwarrows

If you’ve been following this project or blog, you’ll know that Dwarrows’ gameplay is a mix of town-building and adventure. The player’s objective is to build a town while exploring the land surrounding it to gather resources and treasure to better the town.

We’ve covered some aspects of the adventure-side of Dwarrows, such as dungeons and resource gathering, but there is one element of gameplay that I haven’t written much about on social media that I am really excited about: the metroidvania-ness. Since this is a DevLog, I am going to assume that you are a developer and you know what a metroid-vania is. If by chance, you do not: you can get up to speed with this helpful youtube video.

So, knowing that Dwarrows is a peaceful game and that we probably aren’t going to be receiving power-ups to fight enemies, what exactly are we borrowing from the genre?

Environmental Barriers

One of my favourite puzzling obstacles are the kinds that you discover, attempt everything you have in your arsenal and then leave, to one day later down the road: find the power/item/info that you need to get through the barrier.

I think most gamers know exactly what item they need to find for the barrier in this first image.Dwarrows_MV_01

For me, it was always exciting when I discovered a tool in the game and then suddenly realized I have been seeing barriers and seemingly unsolvable puzzles that use that tool all over the world.

Dwarrows_MV_02It usually feels like gaining a super-power because suddenly, lots of unreachable places and goodies are easily accessible.

Dwarrows_MV_03We’re planning to have most items, dungeons, and areas only reachable once you’ve gained the appropriate item or ability.


The metroidvania-ness isn’t limited to the classic adventuring. There are entire structure types and town functionality for the town-building side of things that will only be accessible from discovered items.

For example,the player won’t be able to curb the pollution in their town without first finding a blueprint for a structure that improves environment. Once they find the type, they can attempt to create new combinations at the drafting table and place the structures around the town to reduce pollution and keep the townsfolk happy. Typically, the unique blueprints can be found from adventuring and exploring, similar to the items and abilities that help you explore the environment.


To conclude, our aim with this gameplay is to help add an element of mystery and surprise to both the town-building and the environment. Players will encounter barriers in gameplay and hopefully they will start imagining the ways in which they could overcome them, and upon finding new items, perhaps they will start thinking about all of the places they can go back and use them.


On Criticism: An Opinion Piece About Objectivity

Criticism isn’t a dirty word, when used properly it is simply a tool to assess a piece of work. Providing critique and advice to other indie devs is a great way to contribute to the community, as well as improve yourself; it will force you to think critically, and you may re-evaluate some of your positions in the process of writing. Used improperly, however, and you might just be hurting someone’s progress. This goes both for overly positive and overly negative critiques, and includes self-criticism. I firmly believe that when you take on the huge responsibility of critiquing someone’s work, it should only ever be approached from a position of truly wanting to help the person improve.


Being critical of yourself and your work can be really handy when you are trying to be creative.It can push you to work harder, improve your work, and not accept past mistakes. There can be a point, however, where it can backfire: In my case, I am critical to a fault. Being too critical is debilitating and has a negative impact on your work. You should always be striving to reach that happy medium between criticism and acceptance, for both improvement and mental health.

I went ahead and made a completely unscientific chart based entirely on my observations of people I knew from art schools:SelfCriticismChart

On the chart, it is arguable that every level can have some kind of value. On the extreme-end of the less-critical side, if that is what the person is trying to achieve: there is nothing wrong with that. However, if they hope to sell their work, become a professional in their field, it won’t work out with that level of self-criticism.

The ideal spot, of course, is as close to reality as possible, combined with the ability to accept the level you are at as your skills pertain to your goals and the willingness to continue improving. Attaining this obviously isn’t easy and it can be difficult to assess your level on your own sometimes; which is why people look to others for critique…

ThinkingCritiquing the Work of Others

I’ve known a lot of people who would pride themselves on their “honesty”. This always sounds like a really good quality until you realize that most of the time it was just an excuse for them to be a jerk. The majority of what they would say would be dramatically phrased negativity toward someone or something, and worst of all: it was usually subjective.

Let me give you an example of what I mean: Imagine you are hanging out with your “honest friend” and a mutual friend of yours walks in wearing a peculiar looking dress. Your “honest friend” immediately exclaims how “ugly” that the dress is and that it looks really bad on your mutual friend. If the dress-wearing friend has any objections to the honest-friend’s criticism, the honest-friend will then give everyone a speech about how they are just honest, they don’t sugar coat things, and this makes them a good friend for being real – so you’re welcome.

What your “honest-friend” doesn’t get:

1) They didn’t express a truth; they expressed an opinion

2) Using words like “ugly” is subjective and does little more than hurt feelings

3) No one asked them for their opinion in this case

4) They aren’t being helpful, they are just being hurtful

The same goes for criticizing all aspects of the work you see posted online by other indies. If you truly want to help someone or help them improve, then you necessarily need to be mindful of their feelings. This does not mean you need to sugar-coat things or give them undue praise. Doing that is completely counter-productive and I’m entirely against it. This means you have to work on your own interpersonal communication skills and learn how to give objective criticism. This blog post by April Klazema does a fantastic job of explaining how to develop this essential skill. I highly recommend giving it a read if you truly believe in helping out other artists, designers, and developers.


Make It Come From a Place of Love and Respect

FrankAndDickAlways keep in mind that you have no idea where someone is on the scale of self-criticism. You may think their work is suffering because they aren’t critical enough and that you can ride in on your horse, called reality, and get them to be better by slashing away their failures with your sword of hard-truth; but you have no idea if in actuality they are suffering from being too self-critical or even simply: they are new. You can’t assume laziness or arrogance because you could really over-do it and destroy their motivation altogether. You could rob humanity of someone or something great. That’s why sometimes, the best way to love and respect art and artistry is to separate yourself from your own emotions and posturing. Keep it objective and always approach your critique with the purest intent to actually help. Feelings may inevitably get hurt, but they’ll forgive you if you play your honesty like Frank, rather than Dick.


Final Note

Why do I care about this so much? I’ll tell you a story about a time I saw a professor go out of his way to destroy a young artist. He asked the student to show him some of his work: the student did. When the professor saw the student’s human anatomy drawings were weak and inaccurate, instead of giving objective feedback the professor decided to ask the student what career he was hoping to achieve. The student explained that he would one day like to be a character designer for a game studio. The professor then told him that it would never happen. That was it, there was no “unless” there was no “if”, just a cruel and damning, “You will never achieve your dream”. Just in case you are thinking that this professor was fed up with a student who was consistently not trying, this was the first week of the first semester of an undergrad program. I watched the student get crushed in that moment and for the rest of the day he looked wrecked. All the thinking, planning, and bravery that it took to set out on that path ended in an instant and that student dropped out soon after. No one ever objected to this professor’s behaviour because they called it “honesty”.

Honesty.jpgThe world is cruel, the internet is more cruel, and the gaming world is often very toxic. Let’s work together to create a community that is truly supportive and aims to inspire great art and games.

Dwarrows DevLog #5

Greenlight on a $0 Advertising Budget


As many of you already know, our first game Dwarrows was voted-in on Steam Greenlight in just shy of 2 weeks! We are, of course, very excited! This is one less thing to worry about in the long road to release. It’s fantastic to see such a positive response from the community and to get feedback. We were pretty confident we would be greenlit, but since there is no way to know how the campaign will play out, we were nervous. We spent a lot of time, before the campaign, making sure we were Greenlight-ready so when it came time to finally build the campaign page and plan, it was pretty simple. I’ll go over our observations, our methods, and what did or did not work for our campaign.


How We Did

When we were greenlit, it was admittedly maybe a slight mix of emotions. Of course we were ecstatic that we were Greenlit, but we were steadily climbing and I guess we wanted to see how high we would go. We weren’t disappointed to be sure, but I guess it was “fun” to watch our baby rise in the ranks. I assume your rank is likely little more than an analytics tool; you don’t get “greenlit better” than other games, but still, We were basking in the sweet, sweet internet-points. Considering something trivial like, “internet points” was what we worried about during our campaign, I have to say, that seems pretty privileged.


We were greenlit in the #20 spot after 12 days. I do believe there are certain exceptional games that break the mould, but Steam appears to Greenlight batches in two-week intervals. So, we were included in the first batch of games to be greenlit after we put Dwarrows up. Looking at the dates of games that were greenlit just before us, it would appear that we launched our campaign exactly 1 day after they did their last batch. Since Steam keeps everything so secret, I couldn’t tell you how often they ACTUALLY do it, what their processes are, how many they choose to do each time, but I can atleast say that there was a two week interval pattern for at least the 3-4 batches before us.


It’s common belief that once you are in the top 100 you are potentially greenlit, though there is no hard word on that from Steam as far as I know, I noticed a lot of indies live by it and so did we. After we reached the top 100 (in a single day!) we were uncertain as to when we would get official word. Because I followed the two-week interval pattern I successfully predicted the date. This isn’t so much a tactic to get Greenlit, as much as it is a way of curbing your sanity while you wait in the void.

How We Did It

I think when it comes to this kind of campaign, there are probably a million Gamasutra articles that explain what I am about to say. I don’t think there is any secret or mystery to the success of games that are greenlit. Greenlight is about gauging community interest. Steam just wants to know if this is the kind of game that the community specifically wants to buy and play. This is where you have to be really honest with yourself about the quality of your marketing and the game itself. When building the campaign, we weren’t willing to publish it until we could say (honestly) “Yea, I’d buy and play this!”; otherwise, we couldn’t really expect anyone else to say it.

I am not saying anything new here, but this is what a campaign needs:

  1. Beautiful screenshots, ideally with actual gameplay
  2. A trailer: ideally gameplay
  3. A clear, concise, easy to understand explanation of your game
  4. Some kind of social media presence

I realize there will always be an exception, a game that will get by on concept alone, or a game that is in such early development that all it has is great concept art. I wouldn’t benchmark myself against the exceptions, though.

Social Media

I think numbers 1-3 are pretty self explanatory. Social media presence on the other hand can be difficult to understand and I am no expert, but I have made observations and learned a few tricks that may or may not be common knowledge to the average twitter user. Since there are plenty of people who struggle with getting any amount of attention on twitter, I’ll share a few things I picked up in my short time doing this.


Facebook: For us as a start-up, it’s difficult enough to get followers, so it might be a good idea to create just one page for your company and keep all of your game specific updates on that page. Also take part in groups. There is SO MUCH SUPPORT from other devs. Start with Indie Game Developers (that’s the group name) and you’ll find links to all of the sister pages.

Twitter: Hashtags are your friend and there are a lot of them; here are a few: #indiedev #gamedev #indiegame #ue4 #screenshotsaturday. There are also twitter accounts whose entire purpose is to retweet anything tweeted at them or under a certain hashtag. Usually called bots, keep an eye out for them, they are really handy in getting new followers and boosting the visibility of a post. If you are lucky, you may get retweets or features by some generous accounts. I was personally helped by @ProjectMQ and @TorontoGameDevs. Shout out to them!

Indiedbb: Definitely make a page each for your game and company, there is a surprising amount of activity on this website with a good amount of moderating.

TigSource Forums: Great place to speak with other devs. I specifically recommend keeping a DevLog.

And there you have it: A beginner’s guide to basically being a beginner at Social Media written by a beginner.

What We Did Right

We tweeted and advertised as much as could. Doing this could get annoying, so we were careful with how and when we used it. We chose to start the campaign just before a Saturday. This was advantageous because we took advantage of #Screenshotsaturday on Twitter. We posted brand new screenshots all day under the hashtag with a little plug for our greenlight campaign in celebration of it’s launch. Because we posted a completely new screenshot each time, I feel audiences could digest the fact that our message was consistently about our greenlight campaign. We got a lot of attention, retweets and clicks and by the end of the day were in the top 100.  We slowed it down, but continued to do this throughout the week, 1-4 times a day.


What We Did Wrong

The Diversity of Little Green Elves

One oversight that was pointed out by a user on Greenlight was that our screenshots and videos showed a lack of diversity in our game. Because there are townsfolk and it would be easy to show diversity, it seemed to them that we were purposefully avoiding it. In actuality, not only did we already have a diverse range of characters, but the townsfolk having different skin tones was always a planned feature.

At the time, there were only two townsfolk meshes and they were all sharing the exact same texture. Why? Because I’m one person and it was non-essential to building a playable demo. Going into the campaign we thought very much like devs and our aim was to show off gameplay and environment. It was never our intention to be political and make a point about social issues, so it hadn’t even occurred to us to show diversity in screenshots on a greenlight campaign.

It was only one user to have complained, but it worried me that there were others who noticed and just didn’t say anything. The last thing we wanted with a happy, colourful, and peaceful game was to alienate anybody. Especially since, dammit, we were mindful about it in the design process.

The Icon

So I still like it. I think it’s hilarious. I can see how it isn’t a great representation of our game, but since we didn’t really have any trouble with our campaign I don’t feel too bad that it wasn’t well received. Let’s just say, that after all of the very nice comments and compliments, the most talked about thing on a greenlight page was how much everyone hated our icon.


I’ll take this opportunity to explain our decision on this, because I still think it was a good one. I have no real way of knowing how effective our tactic was, but I suspect it didn’t hurt it as much as these people in the comments (who claimed they voted “yes” anyway) believed.

  1. The icon had absolutely no visibility when we posted the link to our social media and therefore could not deter anyone
  2. Anyone following their queue on Greenlight who did not like the icon would also see at the same time our beautiful screenshots.
  3. When browsing Greenlight titles, there is a wall of beautiful icons. It’s hard to stand out. I don’t click most of these icons, no matter how nice that they are, because they don’t catch my attention. They get lost in a sea of nice icons. This was all that we wanted to do with this Dwarrows icon. My guess was that people would notice it, they might have a poor impression of it, but when they saw our trailer and screenshots they would change their minds. There were actually a few comments that implied this worked. Ha!

So there you have it, beyond maybe being deterred in that one scenario, I don’t really think the experimental icon choice could have hurt us, but maybe it did? There was no real way to tell, but people definitely didn’t like it.

Final Thoughts

I think the best advice I can give to an indie dev rearing up for a greenlight campaign is this: Be prepared to spend quality social media time before starting your campaign, gain a bit of a following and get the hang of things; and make sure you’re ready with new media content to show off your game as often as possible (within reason, of course).

Dwarrows_Screenshot_20Greenlight was a bit nerve racking for us, since it was the first real reveal of our game to a large audience of gamers, but we gained many new followers from it, and a powerful new distribution partner: Valve/Steam!

Dwarrows DevLog #4

Resource Gathering

Since Dwarrows is a town-builder, there is of course: resource gathering! Since it is also an adventure/puzzler, there will be more ways than just mining and chopping down trees to acquire these precious commodities.


Essential Resources


The Old-Fashioned

The traditional way to gather resources in town-builders, the way our grand-pappys-done-it, is to chop trees for wood, and mine for stone and gold. This is also the main method of acquiring resources in Dwarrows.



Self-explanatory,players will find resources and sometimes unique or rare items hidden under a pile of rocks, branches, or leaves.


Occasionally, the player may find a treasure chest, which will drop a lot more than the common geocaches.



Finding people is similar in gameplay, but you aren’t searching in bushes or peeking under rocks. Potential townsfolk can be found at camps in the woods, where the player can talk to them and ask them to join the town.


A Different Kind of Resource

Lastly, and a little different, is the essential resource of blueprints! In Dwarrows, to build a structure in town, the player needs the blueprint for it first. Players start off with 4 basic types (Farming, Housing, Market, and Industry), and will expand their library over the course of the game. The player can discover new blueprints by combining two existing blueprints. Eventually after every combination has been tried, this British Monarchy will need new blood. Hidden through dungeons and given as rewards from quests, players will receive new blueprints to combine with what they already have in their repertoire as well as some uniques that will give them a special structure.



Dwarrows DevLog #3

Dungeons and Character Swapping

The player will have the ability to swap between 3 characters. In general town-related gameplay, each character will have unique abilities and contributions to the team. Most of the time, it is not necessary that the characters be together to complete a task.

In dungeons, however, the player must control all three characters to complete puzzles and advance.


In the above screenshot, the glowing platform on the floor to the right of the balcony is an elevator. Just in front of the balcony there is a small lever that controls the elevator. If the player tries to pull the switch, run over, and jump on the elevator, they won’t make it in time. The solution is to position one character on the elevator and then have another character pull the switch for them. This is made easy with the character-swapping ability. With a single keystroke the player can instantly take control of any one of three of the playable characters.


Naturally, there may be times that repeating a task in a dungeon would detract from the fun, such as having to walk all three characters through a long hallway or flight of stairs. This is why dungeons are designed with this in mind. Whenever the player completes a task that would be tedious to repeat, there will be a “Friendship Fountain” available nearby that will transport the other two characters to that location. The fountain allows the players to continue in the dungeon with all three characters when they need them without any frustration of having to manually move three characters from room to room.


Game mechanics such as levers, elevators, floor buttons, timed switches, and locked doors are universal puzzles that will be found throughout the world and in every dungeon. Some dungeons will only be accessible/completable if the player has acquired certain equipment as the entrance and puzzles will require use of the equipment for the player to proceed. There are also some puzzle mechanics that are unique and specially made for a dungeon which may only appear once.


Another puzzle element we will see repeated throughout the dungeons is the key-shard collection. Scattered throughout the dungeons are pieces of a key hidden within treasure chests. The chests will be hidden or hard to reach and may require the player to go out of their way or complete a puzzle to reach them.


After all the shards are collected they will form a complete key that will open the door to the final chamber of the dungeon.


Ultimately the goal is to reach the final chamber where the player will find treasure. Depending on the size, difficulty, and importance of the dungeon the loot could simply be gold and common resources or it could be more important like a unique structure for the player’s town or even special equipment for the characters that adds new abilities.


Dwarrows DevLog #2

A Quick Overview of Dwarrows

What is Dwarrows?

Dwarrows is a peaceful town-building game that borrows from the Action Adventure genre.

Take control of three uniquely skilled characters to leave the confines of the town, explore the lush forest surrounding it, and work together to solve puzzles.

Gather resources to build your town, invite the wandering elves to join it, and discover treasures within the ruins of a forgotten civilization.


Engine: Unreal 4

Genre: Town-Building/Adventure/Metroidvania

Mood: Happy, Peaceful, Calm

Art: 3D, Handpainted, Colourful

Major Gameplay

Town Alchemy

The Town Alchemy System allows players to experiment with combining structure types to create a new one. The logic is similar to that of Little Alchemy. When the player disscovers a new structure type they receive a blueprint which they can use to build that structure in town.


Tent + Tent = Small House

House + Small Store = Inn

Puppet Show + Farm = Circus Tent

Treasure chests and rewards from quests will also be minor ways of getting your hands on blueprints.

Puzzles and Dungeons

Throughout the world, the player will encounter puzzles. Sometimes spread throughout the outdoors in the environment and sometimes in the form of a dungeon. At times, the puzzles will be ways to move forward in the environment/story, other times it will be used for gaining specific rewards. Puzzles are similar to the MetroidVania style with some minor 3D platform jumping.

Similar to Trine, many of the dungeons will require 3 character coordination for completion.

This room has two floor buttons, one powers the door, the other opens it. If either button becomes unpressed the door closes.

To solve: Two characters stand on the buttons, the third character walks through while it is open, finds a switch in the next room which opens up a new path for the two characters who were left behind.

Resource Collection

The three main resources that the player must collect to build their town are: Wood, Stone, and Gold. These can be obtained by the Dwarf with his wood-axe and mining-pick, or by any character if they search a geocache. Gold can also be found on treasure hunts with the Halfling.


The Queen, The Commonwealth, and the Little Elves of the Wood

The entire reason the protagonists have come to this forest and are building a town. Many races belong to a peaceful Commonwealth under the rule of a High-Elf: Queen Solatia. This includes the realm of Dwarves, Gnomes, and Halflings (the races of our protagonists). The homelands of the Wood-Elves had been destroyed a very long time ago and have since been wandering the world with no territory of their own. That’s where the protagonists come in. The Queen enlists your team of expert colonizers to help rebuild a civilization. This explains how everyone came to be where they are.