Siralim of Old (Part 3)

Welcome to the third and final part of our look back on Siralim’s early development! Last week, we took a glimpse at the game’s music and sound effect design, and then proceeded to make fun of the user interface.

I think today’s post is going to be the most interesting of the series because it contains a bunch of features that were cut from the final version of the game. Let’s get right into it!


 Crafting

The Blacksmith offered the following options:

  1. Forging. This worked the same way that it does now.
  2. Salvaging. Instead of yielding materials, this function simply gave you some resources.
  3. Venturing. You could purchase a completely random artifact. This was meant to be similar to “gambling” in ARPGs like Diablo 2. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way in practice and led to lots of inventory clutter and frustration.

The Enchanter offered the following options:

  1. Enchanting. You could simply choose from a pre-defined list of properties to add to your artifacts.
  2. Augmenting. This added a completely random property to your artifact, but the values were much higher than if you had used Enchanting instead. For example, Attack might have had a maximum of 500 when you were enchanting, but it could have been 700 when you were Augmenting. In other words, you sacrificed control for power. So yes, this was bad and no one used it.
  3. Disenchanting. Same as always.

As you probably guessed, “Venturing” and “Augmenting” were removed early on.

When the game entered beta testing, I added a new type of item called “Materials” to the game that work the same way as they do now. The game started with 250 different materials, which made loot a lot more interesting!

Unique Artifacts

You could sometimes find unique artifacts that I pre-defined by hand. They had unique names and offered unique stats and traits that you couldn’t find anywhere else. If you’ve played Diablo, Path of Exile, or any other game that utilizes this type of itemization system, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Right before the game entered beta, there was a bug that caused artifacts to always be unique, so players were able to acquire god-like artifacts after farming for only a few minutes. Fortunately, unique artifacts were removed shortly after the bug was fixed.

Weird Artifact Properties

You were able to find artifacts that had several properties that were later removed. These properties were difficult to balance, unwieldy, outright useless, or a combination of the three. Here are some examples:

  • Replace Ability With – this property replaced your creature’s ability (trait) with a different one.
  • Increased Quantity of Treasure
  • Increased Rarity of Treasure
  • Chance to Not Consume Scroll Charges (even the name of this property was bad!)
  • Increased [STAT] While Defending
  • Increased [STAT] While Provoking

Artifacts – No Limits!

In early alpha, players were able to enchant their artifacts an unlimited number of times. While the resource cost increased with each subsequent enchantment, this “feature” caused the game to quickly spiral out of control in the late-game.  Artifacts pretty much made all other parts of the game obsolete because the increase in stats eventually made most traits and spells obsolete.

Luckily, during this time, players couldn’t add traits to their artifacts.

Randomly Generated Artifact Names

Artifacts were automatically assigned a name based on their properties. For example, if your sword granted a large amount of Attack and Defense, the artifact might be called “Sharp Rapier of the Turtle”. The prefix of each artifact was based on the artifact’s highest stat, while the suffix was based on the artifact’s second highest stat. The object name (Sword, Rapier, Katana, etc) was chosen at random based on the type of artifact.

Unfortunately, this system turned out to make artifact management really tedious. There were so many words for players to read in each artifact name that your inventory list looked like an essay.

Spell Woes

Some spells cost Power Balance instead of Mana to cast. As you might imagine, that was incredibly annoying, and no one ever used those spells.

Some of the spells that cost Power Balance were able to be cast in the overworld. One spell, Farsight, still exists in Siralim. Others, such as Summon Death, which caused a fight to immediately start with a pack of Death creatures, were changed to have in-battle effects instead.

Another interesting note is that Spell Power didn’t exist at first. Instead, your spells’ damage was based on a percentage of the enemy’s Maximum Health. In other words, no matter what level the enemy creatures were, your Fireball spell would always deal damage equal to 40% of their Maximum Health. This caused pretty much all stats to be ignored in favor of collecting spells, which is why Spell Power was later added to the game.’

Spellcrafting

This feature was never released to the public, nor did I ever mention it before now: players were able to collect components to craft their own spell scrolls.

Here’s how it worked:

  1. Collect Parchment. This is a component that determines the core function of the spell. There was different Parchment for each main function that a spell could have: damage, healing, buffing, etc.
  2. Collect Ink. This determined the potency of the spell. Different types of Ink yielded different potencies: weak, average, strong, etc.
  3. Combine your Parchment with your Ink, and choose the spell animation and sound effect that you want to use.
  4. You could pay extra resources to increase the number of scroll charges.
  5. The mana cost of the spell was calculated based on the function of the spell and that function’s potency.
  6. The name of the spell was generated similar to the way artifact names were randomly generated.

It was a fun concept, but it wasn’t actually that great in practice. Ultimately, this idea resurfaced in Siralim 2 and 3 in the form of randomly generated spell gems.

Siralim 3 – PlayStation 4 Release FAQ

Siralim 3 will be released for PlayStation 4 in North America on March 29! I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about this release, so I wanted to write a quick list of FAQs here to give you a better idea about what to expect about this release. If you have any other questions, feel free to post in the comments!

 

Q. How much will Siralim 3 cost for PlayStation 4?

A. Siralim 3 costs $14.99 USD on PS4, which is consistent with the Steam version of the game, as well as other consoles.

 

Q. At what time will the game be available on March 29?

A. I don’t have access to that information, but games are typically released at 9am PST, so that’s my best guess.

 

Q. Are there any differences between the PS4 version of the game and the desktop/mobile versions?

A. The only difference is that our cross-platform cloud saving features are not available in the PS4 version of the game. In other words, you can’t share your desktop/mobile save files with the PS4 version.

 

Q. Will Siralim 3’s optional online content be available on the PS4 version of the game?

A. Yes. Tavern Brawls, as well as all in-game events and holidays, are available on PS4. In addition, you can redeem codes to receive creatures just like you can in the desktop/mobile versions of the game.

 

Q. Will the PS4 version of the game continue to receive updates just like the desktop/mobile versions?

A. Yes. In fact, I have a console patch prepared for release shortly after the game launches on PS4. All future bug/crash fixes will be released for PS4 as well. The goal is to keep all versions of that game up-to-date.

 

Q. Why is Siralim 3 only being released for PS4 in North America? What happened to Europe?

A. Siralim 3 will be released in the EU region at a later date. I will post an update with a release date as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience!

 

Siralim of Old (Part 2)

Last week, we took a look back at how Siralim’s graphics evolved over time.

It was interesting to hear everyone’s responses to the post. Some people assured me that the game wasn’t as ugly as I made it out to be (thanks, but there’s no need to lie on my behalf!). Others seem to really dislike Oleg. As it turns out, we’ve all known an “Oleg” at some point in our lives. My advice to you is to cut that son of a [email protected]#$% out of your life and let him drive through his own [email protected]#$ing snowstorms.

Ahem. Sorry. I don’t normally lose my composure mid-blog post.


As promised, I’ll continue this series today with a look at how the game’s music/sound and user interface came together.

Music and Sound

I enjoy music. So much, in fact, that I originally decided that I’d record my own music for Siralim. After all, I used to play the trumpet (first chair, might I add) in junior high school, and no, I never got beat up for it. My craft was a careful balance of trying to fight off asthma attacks mid-song and knowing when to unleash my spit valves all over the nearest carpeted floor. In many ways, that was the peak of my existence. There was something about playing Jingle Bells for my cat as she desperately tried to claw her way out of my bedroom that made me feel like a real artist.

Fortunately for you, I quickly realized that most people probably wouldn’t want to listen to 15 different tracks that consist of nothing but trumpet blasts of the first 10 notes of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy while they try to play a game. That’s when I decided to post on the GameMaker forums and seek out a professional music composer.

Now, do you see the problem with what I just said? I tried to put “GameMaker” and “professional” in the same sentence. Knowing what I know about GameMaker now, I’m surprised that I received anything beyond a bunch of 13-year old Zacks trying to peddle their trade as master trumpeters.

Instead, I received a very professional e-mail from a guy named Tim. He included a link to his portfolio along with a link to his company website, Northgate Productions. Immediately, I fell in love with the music samples he provided. Plus, he had a picture of himself on his website and it turns out that he looks just like me, which was enough to convince my inner narcissist that Tim would be a perfect fit for the job.

Fast forward a week, and Tim submitted the first-ever Siralim song: the battle theme. Within the first few seconds of the song, I was immediately flooded with nostalgia. The song boasted the perfect combination of Mega Man X’s hard rock elements, combined with Final Fantasy’s SNES-era prose. Actually, I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I do know the song was great.

Since then, Tim has composed music for both Siralim and Siralim 2, along with hundreds of sound effects for both games. I’m pleased to say that Tim isn’t just another Oleg, and I still work with Tim to this day. Right now, he’s working on our upcoming game, The Negative, and I think you’re going to be blown away by what he’s come up with this time. We’re trying something new with The Negative’s music that I don’t think has ever been done in a game before, and I can’t wait for you to see (and hear) how it turns out!

User Interface

Designing a user interface (that is, the menus, buttons, and other on-screen elements that communicate information about the game to the player) is hard work. It’s more of an art than a science, and each game calls for a different UI, so it’s difficult to learn from other people how to draw them “correctly”. They’re extremely tedious to implement from a programming perspective as well. Out of everything in the game, implementing Siralim’s UI was the most troublesome for me.

Imagine you’re tasked with drawing our solar system on a piece of paper. The paper is the size of your computer’s monitor, and you need to try to fit as much detail into the picture as possible: every planet, every star, every thing. If you succeed, no one will notice, which is the best case scenario. Fail, however, and your family will be murdered and your house will be burned down. That’s exactly what it’s like to design a user interface.

You see, there’s a lot of information to keep track of in an RPG, but especially so for a game like Siralim. There are hundreds of creatures to collect, and each one has a unique set of stats, traits, lore, and much more. There are also hundreds of spells and items that all need to be explained with as much detail as possible. If these explanations are unclear, players will become overwhelmed, quit the game, and leave me a bunch of negative reviews on Steam which will put me out of business, causing me to run out of money and become homeless.

But I also have a limited amount of space on your screen with which to work. I can’t write a novel about every single creature and item, because it just won’t fit. And if it does somehow fit, you’re not going to be able to read it because it’s going to need to be written in size 2 font.

This means that something has to give. I can’t possibly fit every single detail about every single aspect of the game on your screen, so I need to pick and choose what is most important and either leave the rest out or place this information in a different location in the game. Easier said than done.

When Siralim first launched on Android and iOS, I proudly handed my iPhone to my father and said, “Here it is: Siralim. People can play it on their phones now!”. With a smile, he took the phone from my hands and started to play. A few seconds later, however, I watched as his smile twisted into a frustrated frown. The muscles bunched up around his eyes, and a thick vein popped up near his left temple.

“I can’t read this. I can’t see anything at all, actually,” he said with regret. I reclaimed my phone dismissively, deeply saddened at the sudden realization that my father’s eyesight was starting to fail at his old age. Fortunately, I was able to read everything on the screen without any problems at all, and I knew everyone else would be able to as well.

Except they couldn’t. No one could. As it turns out, most people don’t have perfect vision, and not everyone has the same size of phone that I have. But hey, it’s an easy fix, right? All I need to do is increase the font size by changing a single number in the game’s code, and the problem will be resolved. That’s what the experts who left 2-star reviews on the Google Play Store told me, anyway.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. When I increased the font size, fewer words were able to fit on the screen at a time, so I had to re-word and shorten just about every piece of text in the game. Worse yet, some text didn’t fit in the UI panels at all anymore, so I had to re-size the entire UI to accommodate the new font size. In total, I spent a full week of non-stop work just to increase the game’s font size. That’s precious time that could have been better spent on other things, such as adding new content to the game or fixing bugs. On the other hand, it was only a week, so in the grand scheme of things it was for the best.

I launched an updated version of the game on all platforms that included the increased font size, eager to watch all those 2-star reviews turn into 5-star reviews as people praised the game for its endlessly-complex gameplay, brilliant soundtrack, and nostalgiac graphics.

But nope. The 2-star reviews turned into 1-star reviews instead.

“I still can’t read anything! You suck!” shouted just about everyone. At that point, I had to agree that I pretty much sucked. I wasted all that time trying to fix the problem, and somehow, I didn’t do it correctly.

I re-worked the UI again, this time increasing the font size so much that I needed to re-word everything in the game an additional time. At that point, I had to abbreviate certain words and even remove words at random from item and ability descriptions just to make it all fit. Still, I managed to get the job done and submitted yet another update for the game.

“I can finally read the text now, but the font is so ugly, wahhhhh,” read a particularly dramatic review as accurately as I can remember it. Unfortunately, the majority of players agreed that the font wasn’t very easy on the eyes, and I received an overwhelming number of requests to change the font to something different.

By now, I think you can predict how this story ends: I had to change the font not once, but twice before everyone was satisfied. In other words, I’m not very good at designing user interfaces.

Here are some other problems with the old UI that were fixed before Siralim launched on Steam:

  • You weren’t able to hold down a directional button to scroll through lists. For example, if you wanted to scroll through your list of creatures at the stable, you had to repeatedly press a key to scroll through every single creature.
  • When you received items, they didn’t appear on the screen like they do now. Instead, a simple message appeared that said something like “You received a Happy Meal”. Then, you had to open your inventory and track down the Happy Meal to see what it did.
  • Creatures didn’t have health bars in battle, so players had to read strange health ratios such as “1238 / 4883” to determine how close to death their creatures were.
  • You couldn’t force the in-game dialog to finish by pressing the confirmation button. Instead, you had to wait for the game to write it all out, which was ridiculous considering a lot of the dialog was repeated hundreds of times throughout the game (imagine breaking 10000 vases and waiting for “You received 50 Brimstone” to appear every. Single. Time.)
  • If there wasn’t enough room in the UI to fit all the text I needed to include, the game would display part of the text, wait a few seconds, and then display the rest of it in the original text’s location. For example, a creature’s trait might say “This creature deals extra damage to…”, and then after a few seconds, the game might replace that text with “…anti-vaxxers”.

Thanks for reading! In next week’s third and final post, we’ll take a look at some of Siralim’s features that were cut or radically changed before the game launched on Steam.

Update Regarding Siralim 3 on PS4 and Switch

Many of you are eager to play Siralim 3 on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, so I figured I’d write up a quick status update regarding where I’m at in the porting process for each of these platforms.

PlayStation 4

Originally, I announced that Siralim 3 would be released for PS4 on March 29, 2019. While that’s still the target release date, please be aware that Sony hasn’t approved my metadata submission for the game yet. The game cannot be released until the metadata is approved, so it’s possible that I’ll be forced to push the release date back a few days, or even up to a few weeks. Unfortunately, this issue is out of my hands: I’ve done everything that I’m supposed to do on my end, so it’s all in Sony’s hands now.

For those of you who are curious: “metadata” refers to information found on the PlayStation digital shop, such as the game’s description, screenshots, ESRB rating, and more.

I’ll keep you updated as I find out more information and announce a new release date if necessary. Of course, everything might just work out and we’ll be able to move forward with our original March 29 release date as expected.

Nintendo Switch

I’ve had Siralim 3 up and running on my Switch development kit for several weeks now. However, I’m currently waiting for Nintendo to approve some “paperwork” before I can even submit Siralim 3 for certification. For that reason, there is still no way for me to predict a release date for the Switch release. I’ll post an update as soon as I get more information. Thank you for your patience! The game plays extremely well on the Switch and I can’t wait for you to try it out.

Siralim of Old (Part 1)

This is the first of a multi-part post about the origins of Siralim. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time now, and I hope you’ll find it interesting!

 

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably played a Siralim game before. What most of you don’t know is that the first-ever Siralim game started out much different from what it is today.

Did you know Siralim was first released for sale via the Humble Bundle widget, and people were forced to purchase the game using that widget directly from our website? That’s because Steam wouldn’t accept us on their store. Yes, that was back when you couldn’t simply throw down $100 and immediately gain the right to sell your game on Steam. Back then, we had to run a Steam Greenlight campaign not unlike running for Prom King or Queen, where fledgling developers over-promised and under-delivered on their offerings with the hope that gamers would give these games enough positive votes to catch Valve’s attention.

Siralim was in the top 10 best-voted games for nearly 8 months before Valve decided to let us through. Other games with a fraction of the votes were accepted before Siralim was, and all I can figure is that Valve knew the game was too rough around the edges even for their low, anime-porn-game standards. And frankly, I can’t help but agree with them.

Let’s start with a game trailer you’ve probably never seen before. In fact, this unlisted video only had about 500 views before I tore it down in embarrassment. Don’t tell anyone I’m sharing it with you, ok?

 

Damn, right? Every now and again, whenever I start to feel a slight tinge of pride for my work, I like to watch this video to bring me back down to earth. Nothing keeps a man humble quite like realizing he created this… thing.

As you can see, the spirit of Siralim has always been there – but it was so rough around the edges and had so many strange design decisions that I had no choice but to give the game a complete overhaul. While I waited patiently for Valve to accept Siralim on Steam, I worked 80 hours per week for 8 months to improve the game.

Let’s start by taking a look back at the most apparent issue the original game had: the graphics.

Graphics 1.0

The graphics were originally drawn by one person who goes by the name “Bynine”. I contacted Bynine about this project before I even wrote my first line of code for Siralim. I found some of his work on DeviantArt, and a lot of his samples included his own versions of Dragon Warrior Monster sprites – perfect for Siralim since that’s what the game is based on.

I still prefer many of Bynine’s creature sprites to the ones that are in any of the Siralim games to this day. They perfectly captured the retro feeling I was hoping to attain, and I think those creatures looked like something you would have found in another Dragon Warrior Monsters game on Gameboy Color. Most people seemed to enjoy these graphics as well. Unfortunately, aside from the creature sprites, everything else was really… rough. As you can see, the overworld sprites had strange proportions (take special note of the Fiend in the arena shown in the trailer above), the realm graphics were hard on the eyes, and just about everything else was inconsistent with the rest of the game.

Please realize that I’m not writing about this to talk down on Bynine’s art style – in fact, I’m pretty sure I specifically asked him to draw them that way, and regardless, I still keep tabs on his work and am amazed at how far he has come as a graphics artist since he worked on Siralim so many years ago. He was still in high school when he drew all the art for Siralim, and it’s amazing that he managed to find time to balance schoolwork, graduation, and to create art for a massive RPG all at once.

Unfortunately, all that remains of Bynine’s work in any of the current Siralim games is the Dumpling. It was his own, custom creature that he created when we first started working together. I wanted to keep that creature as a tribute to the artist who helped bring my childhood dream to life.

The only art that Bynine didn’t draw were the spell effects for Siralim’s 100+ spells. Those were instead drawn by JC, who I’m still happy to work with to this day. JC has worked on every single game I’ve ever created. Right now, he’s working on art for another game we have in the pipeline called The Negative.

Graphics 2.0

Eventually, Siralim was selling enough copies on Humble Bundle that I managed to scrounge up a decent enough budget to hire a “professional” (those are ultra-sarcastic quotation marks) artist. His name was Oleg, and he did some great work for Siralim. Most of his art is still included in all the Siralim games to this day. He drew all the castle tiles and all the objects/walls/tiles for the original 8 realms.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out with Oleg because, despite allowing him to name his own price on everything he drew, I had to literally beg him to get any work done. He also wouldn’t accept PayPal or anything like that, so I had to wire the money directly to his bank account. Unfortunately, he lives in Russia… so for security reasons, I had to drive all the way to my bank, wait for a banker to become available, and then sit there for up to an hour while they grilled me with questions about why I’m sending money to Russia. That’s not a fun process when you live in an area with snowy, icy winters like Ohio. It’s also not fun to be treated like I fell for a Nigerian Prince scam every other week.

Eventually, I got tired of both pleading with Oleg to do any work and needlessly driving to the bank in the middle of a snowstorm, so I decided to part ways with him. Oleg caused more stress for me than any other aspect of my career, and I can’t even begin to describe how relieved I was to find a replacement for him.

During this time, I also found another graphics artist named Andreas who would re-draw all the battle sprites and overworld sprites for the creatures in Siralim – over 200 in total! That was no small undertaking, especially since I needed these to be done in a hurry – after all, I could only convince my friends and family for so many months that I wasn’t working on a dead-end project. Andreas worked hard to deliver the goods as quickly as possible, and I’m very satisfied with how most of the creatures turned out. The majority of his work is still found in all the Siralim games, as he drew hundreds of the original creatures found in Siralim and Siralim 2.

And, since I have no sense of moderation, I also asked Andreas to draw another 100 creatures to be added to the game as a free, content expansion update. I like to think that all 18 players really enjoyed that update.


 

If you enjoyed this post, check back next Thursday for part 2! I’ll talk about why I originally thought the Siralim soundtrack was ripped from a Final Fantasy game, and discuss why I had to re-draw and re-code the user interface 6 different times.

Now Hiring: UI Artist

Thylacine Studios is hiring a graphics artist to draw UI elements for our upcoming game, The Negative.

The Negative is a 2D pixel art RPG that has a dark environment similar to what you might find in Dark Souls or Bloodborne.

You can view some early screenshots of the game at the following blog, but please note that the UI elements shown in these screenshots will be discarded and replaced by your creations: https://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=61540.0

______________________________________

Primary Task: Create reusable UI elements for the game, such as panels, buttons, checkboxes, radio buttons, sliders, gauges, etc. You will also be asked to draw non-reusable assets such as item icons and other miscellanies.

Payment Method: Must accept PayPal. Payments will be made on a per-asset basis. Sorry, but we won’t pay by the hour, day, etc.

Workflow: We’d like to find someone who will be available sporadically throughout the next year. Your workload won’t ever be particularly large (aside from the first few weeks), but we’d like someone who can fit a few additional assets into their schedule every week or so. We would like to build a long-term working relationship with you for this game, and possibly others in the future. All communication will be conducted via e-mail.

Requirements:

  • Experience in UI design, and proof of this work in the form of portfolios, finished games, and anything else you can think of.

  • Excellent communication skills: a good command of the English language, fast e-mail response times, etc.

  • Ability to think creatively without too much hand-holding.

  • Experience in playing games with a “dark and gritty” atmosphere, including Bloodborne, Dark Souls, Salt and Sanctuary, etc.

Applications:

  • Send applications to [email protected]

  • Please include a relevant portfolio that includes any UI elements you created in the past. Please don’t make us dig through work that is irrelevant to our needs, such as concept art.

  • Tell us a little about yourself: your past job experiences, where you’re from, whether or not you work full time on game design/art, your favorite types of games, and anything else you think is relevant to the task at hand.

  • If you have any questions about our company or the task at hand, feel free to ask!

  • Please note that due to the large volume of e-mails we typically receive for job postings, we may be unable to respond to all applicants.

Thank you for your time! We look forward to working with you.

Game Development: Dealing With Negativity

Whenever you share something you created with a public audience, that “something” will be judged by other people. This is a universal truth for just about anything: video games, books, music, paintings, and even smaller compositions such as a post on your favorite forums.

Sometimes, you’ll receive positive judgment for your work: appreciation for your effort, a quick note about how it improved someone’s day (or week, or life), or if you’re especially lucky, you might even receive some constructive criticism that you can apply to your next creation.

Other times, you’ll receive negative judgment for your work: destructive criticism (“these graphics suck” or “I could have shat on my kitchen floor and ended up with something better than that”), bouts of entitlement on how you should change your creation to match that person’s exact expectations, and even much darker responses such as personal insults and threats.

After only five short years of working as an independent game developer, I’ve seen countless examples of everything I just mentioned – and then some. As you might expect, positive judgment is what fuels my passion to improve my games and create new ones. I hungrily accept constructive criticism because I know it will make for a better game in the long run, even if it does take a bit of extra work to make it all happen. And who wouldn’t love to hear a sincere note of appreciation every once in a while? But let’s not forget about the other side of the coin: negative judgment, otherwise known as “negativity”.

Negativity is like a black hole that will inevitably suck every last ounce of motivation and passion from your mind. It leads to aspiring game developers (both independent and AAA alike) quitting their jobs just to avoid feeling so poorly about themselves, and that’s all thanks to the obnoxiously-vocal minority of people who just can’t seem to be nice. Negativity is painful because, in order to create something that’s actually good (games, music, etc.), you need to be passionate about it. And when you become passionate, you also become protective. Your creation becomes a very important part of your life, and it feels terrible to hear someone talk down on it.

Early on, I took to heart every negative review, comment, and tweet about my games. Even in a sea of positive feedback, one snide remark was enough to spin me into a short-term depression in which I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything for the rest of the day. At one point (especially when I published Siralim for PlayStation), these comments bothered me so badly that I self-medicated with alcohol just to avoid dwelling on this mindless prattle that ultimately served no one other than some nameless keyboard warrior’s ego. But soon after, I realized that I was letting these people take away the thrill of what should otherwise be a fun and rewarding job.

Something had to change for me, and I’m relieved to say that it most certainly did. I want to share what I learned about dealing with negativity to help other creators who will inevitably find themselves in this same situation. Pardon the long introduction, but this is a topic that I’m extremely passionate about.

Before we begin…

I want to start by reminding you that there is a difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Even if a player doesn’t particularly enjoy your game, they’ll often provide useful feedback about what you could change about it to better suit their wants and needs. That type of feedback is extremely valuable, and I am not advocating that you ignore feedback from your players. Your game isn’t perfect, and it never will be, because there’s no such thing as a perfect game.

This post is about dealing with internet toxicity – the kind of stuff that serves no purpose other than to bring other people down.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Be careful about what you choose to read online.

If your game becomes popular enough, you’ll be able to find comments about it everywhere: in reviews, forums, social media, YouTube comments, and more. Back in the day, I used to intentionally seek out as many of these comments as I could find. After all, I wanted to know what people thought about my game!

The majority of the feedback I found was positive, which motivated me to work harder and to release more free content updates for my games. I don’t care how humble you think you are; when someone praises your hard work, it’s impossible not to feel good about it.

Unfortunately, I also came across a few really nasty comments about my games as well. Even after reading hundreds of nice things about Siralim, all it took was one bad review or one personal attack to erase everything those nice people said about my game. This sapped my motivation and ultimately caused me to produce less content over time. You can’t be motivated to work when you have things like that weighing down on your mind.

I know there are some people out there right now who are rolling their eyes and saying “Ha! Really? You get to make video games for a living. If I were in your position, I wouldn’t let a few negative comments get to me!” But until you’ve been in that position, you can’t possibly understand. Before I started making games, I said the same thing, and I now realize just how wrong I was.

The solution to this issue is a simple one: don’t read these comments at all. You might assume that it’s useful, for example, to read the negative Steam reviews about your game to obtain feedback. In most cases, however, you’re not going to get anything valuable from these reviews. Usually, if someone genuinely wants your game to succeed and they have something useful to say, they’ll get in contact with you and let you know. They won’t slam you with a negative review without talking to you first. Sometimes that does happen, but not very often.

Of course, there are some instances where you need to read these comments. For example, I welcome suggestions and bug reports on my forums, so of course, I need to read my own forums. But my forums are where I’m in control, and the trolls know it. They’re probably not going to waste their time telling me how much I suck at life when they know I will just delete their post and ban them. This is a valuable takeaway: in general, focus on reading comments only on the platforms you control. You’re far more likely to find useful feedback on these platforms and far less likely to find harmful comments. And, if you manage these platforms correctly, you’ll slowly grow a helpful and mature community of players who you look forward to interacting with every day.

On the other hand, I stay away from platforms that I can’t control. For example, I often find posts on the /r/iOSgaming subreddit about Siralim. Most of the time, people are recommending the game to players who are looking for an RPG with certain criteria. That’s awesome. But I don’t read the responses to those recommendations, because I know there’s always going to be that one person who couldn’t manage to get the game running on their iPod Touch from 2002 and they somehow believe that’s my problem.

When in doubt, ask yourself, “If I read this comment, will I be better off for it?”. If the answer is “no”, and most of the time that will be the case, just ignore it and move on with your day.

 

Don’t try to change other people. Change your outlook on them.

No matter how hard you try to avoid negativity, however, you’re going to stumble upon it eventually. It’s inevitable, and you need to be prepared for it.

Unfortunately, as much as we might want to, we can’t jump out of someone else’s computer screen and strangle them with their own headphone cords. In fact, we can’t do much of anything about what other people say about us. Critics have the luxury of hiding behind anonymity, and that is a fact that will never change.

So, if we can’t change other people, we need to change ourselves. Or, more specifically, we need to change our outlook on the matter.

Even now, whenever I read something that I don’t like, I still feel my blood pressure rise a little. But soon after, I remind myself that I know just as little about this person as they know about me. For all I know, they just got fired from their job, or maybe they recently found out that a family member has a terminal illness. Maybe they had to euthanize their dog last week. It’s even possible that they have a mental illness that causes an otherwise friendly person to say terrible things sometimes. I have no idea, but I do know that most people aren’t complete assholes for no good reason. That person is likely dealing with something bad in their life, and talking down on me or my game is how they’re choosing to cope with it. That doesn’t mean what they’re saying is justified, but it does help me to understand that their negativity is a problem on their end, not mine.

With that in mind, we can start to fight back a bit – but not in the way you might expect. No, we’re going to learn how to lovingly hug these trolls and turn them into our greatest advocates.

Give them a hug.

It’s a lot easier to shrug off negative criticism when you realize that these comments aren’t your problem. Maybe you’ll even become sympathetic to someone’s situation, even if you don’t know what that situation is.

If you’re brave enough to respond to someone who seems angry, violent, or all-around nasty, do it in the kindest way you can. More often than not, they’ll take a step back and realize that they were in the wrong and apologize. Some people will even feel so badly about what they said that they’ll change a negative review to a positive one, or even buy an extra copy of your game for a friend. Other times, you’ll gain the respect of onlookers who see how you handle even the most obnoxious of critics. In other words, use this negativity to your advantage.

Here’s a YouTube video someone made about Siralim 3. I’m still not entirely sure if they truly hated the game or if they were just employing an unbelievable amount of satire in their video (which they’re well-known for), but I invite you to watch the video and then take a look at the top comment, as well as the responses to it and the number of likes that comment received. It would have been very easy to respond to the criticism in the video (they barely finished the 5-minute tutorial and had several key facts about the game all wrong), but that wouldn’t have helped anyone at all. Instead, I gave them a hug and was immediately embraced by their viewers.

Whatever you do, don’t respond to negative comments with more negativity of your own. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and speak your mind. “How dare they talk down on my creation? I’ll show them just how wrong they really are.” But that will only make the situation worse.

When I get really annoyed with someone (which, fortunately, has lessened over time as I’ve adjusted to it), I’ll write a response to them in Notepad, and then save it to my desktop. The next day, if I open it up and still want to send it to that person, I will. But I almost never move forward with sending it, and when I do, it’s heavily edited and a lot more professional than when I first wrote it. This has saved me from a countless number of PR issues in the past. After all, no one will remember the obnoxious 11-year-old kid with pink Kool-Aid stains around his mouth who said I suck at making games, but plenty of people will remember whatever I said to him in response.

Remain focused on the bigger picture.

I’m pretty sure that no one has ever made a game that every single person hates. At worst, no one cares enough about your game to comment about it at all. In most cases, however, you’re undoubtedly going to interact with some great people who play your game. They’re passionate about what you do, and they want you to succeed – after all, if you’re successful, you’ll be able to create even more games for them to play.

Embrace these people. Listen to their feedback, thank them for taking the time to talk to you, and even befriend them if you want. Make your games for these people. They’re the only ones who matter, and they’re the ones who you’ll want to keep around for the long term.

Exalt the good, discard the bad, and you’ll grow something amazing together.


Thanks for reading! Despite what I wrote about not reading comments, I want you to know that I will most certainly read any comments about this post. Your feedback is always welcome!

If you want to read more about this topic, I highly recommend Jeff Vogel’s take on this subject. Jeff is the owner of Spiderweb Software. You might know him as the creator of the Avadon, Avernum, and Geneforge series. His post was instrumental to help me understand the motivation behind people’s negative behavior and how he deals with it. And, if nothing else, it’s great to know that you’re not the only one who deals with these issues on a daily basis. Misery loves company.