How we increased the review score from mid 60’s to 80, and was it worth it?

by Bendik Stang
Entrepreneur, Founder/CTO @SnowCastleGames, Indie Game Dev. Also passionate about Interactive Stories, App Dev. Tech Geek. Father of 4 evolving neural networks.

Cut your losses and move on!

We have all heard it: 

So you did not make a perfect game.

Make a new one! Get over it!

The following is the story of another way.

 

On Sep. 1st, 2016 we launched Earthlock: Festival of Magic after five years of struggle with the classic indie startup challenges: Too little funding, no revenue and big ambitions.

Just before running out of cash, we managed to secure a wonderful deal with Microsoft for an exclusive launch with Games with Gold and launched the game on Xbox One 12 months of continuous crunching later.

Along the way we had to make painful cuts to the project. The cuts were the least we could manage when juggling the opposites of getting the game out before funding ran out while making a game we still could be proud of. And equally important — a game that would sell enough to support production of our next game.

Something didn’t feel right

 Something did't feel right

Something did't feel right

Six months after initial launch, we had published the game on all major platforms. It was early 2017 and we had eagerly moved on to pre-production of our next title in the Earthlock universe. But the uncomfortable feeling of leaving behind a game that wasn’t quite there in terms of quality, was growing. Editorial reviews and user scores seemed to mirror our own assessment. The game had promises of something great, but didn’t quite deliver. Sales, although respectable, were not quite where we had hoped either.

Read the the rest of the blogpost on Medium

or here on Gamasutra

Erik Hoftun
What is new in EARTHLOCK compared to Earthlock: Festival of Magic?

EARTHLOCK is now live on PC, Mac, Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch and we are getting some amazing reviews. As of now it is only available in English and Japanese, but by the end of May we expect to release the following additional languages:

Simplified Chinese, Russian, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Arabic, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese and of course, Norwegian!

So for those of you who have heard of or played the original version of this game called Earthlock: Festival of Magic which is no longer available for purchase, what are the differences? Here is a run-down:

 

Extended and upgraded, this is in many respects a brand new game. 
Keeping all the best parts from EARTHLOCK: Festival of Magic, we have spent the last year improving them in every way while adding loads of new stuff:
⁃ Craftable weapons and equipment
⁃ New abilities in the overworld
⁃ Numerous new side quests
⁃ New scenes, new creatures and new NPCs
⁃ In addition to all the strange plants you now can grow trees to bring kittens and other cute critters into the world
⁃ Treasure Maps to discover more treasures
⁃ The ability to sell as well as buy stuff
⁃ Loads of new animations, story additions, smarter NPCs and tweaks of every kind to make the game even more engrossing, enjoyable and replayable!
 

Erik Hoftun
Switch Launch and more...

13 months later and here we are, even more certain that this was the right thing to do. This time it feels right to move on. We are really happy with the result and eager to begin the new adventure of making Earthlock 2.

What’s more, the first review of the new version just came in and confirms our feeling, giving the game an 8 of 10 while concluding:

Finally, the time has come! We have spent over 13 months improving the original game and are happy to present EARTHLOCK - the extended edition

When we first launched back in September 2016 we were really proud of our achievement. We had worked nearly five years on our first game, and though we had to make a lot of cuts to get it done, we still felt like we had made a solid RPG. During the six months we spent getting it out on all the platforms we realised there was room for making the game even better. Thanks to generous help and suggestions from the community we identified numerous ways that could up the fun-factor and deepen the story.

As we began work on EARTHLOCK 2 in January 2017 we we couldn’t let go of a feeling that there still was a lot of unrealized potential in EARTHLOCK 1. Choosing between a new and exciting project and going back to the old one we had been laboring with for the last five years wasn’t easy. Doing the right thing never is...

13 months later and here we are, even more certain that this was the right thing to do. This time it feels right to move on. We are really happy with the result and eager to begin the new adventure of making Earthlock 2.

What’s more, the first review of the new version just came in and confirms our feeling, giving the game an 8 of 10 while concluding:

“...Earthlock is a game that simply demands to be played! 
...Bravo Snowcastle Games, you’ve made a charming game, a positively outstanding one!”

Read the rest of the very thorough review from Miketendo 64 here

Launch Day - almost

It’s been hectic here at Snowcastle trying for the first time to do a global multi platform launch. We have only partially succeeded – we knew it was ambitious but really wanted to try. Here is an overview of the current launch landscape:

Nintendo Switch - (First launch

  • American region launching at 09:00 AM PST (confirmed
           Backer keys ordered: ETA 5 days

  • EU region launched at 15:00 CET (launched
           Backer keys ordered: ETA 5 days

  • Japan Region: March 15th (confirmed)

GOG 

  • Global launch 21:00 CET or 12:00PM PST (confirmed)

Steam + HumbleBundle

  • Global launch 21:00 CET or 12:00PM PST (unconfirmed - likely delayed 3 days)

Playstation 4

  • Japan region: Mach 15th (confirmed)

  • American region: March 20th (confirmed

  • EU region: Tentative March 28th (unconfirmed)

XboxOne

  • American region: Tentative March 26th (Unconfirmed

  • EU region: Tentative March 28th (Unconfirmed)

  • Japan region: Tentative March 28th (Unconfirmed)

Reasons for delays

For the PS Store and Xbox Store, we first need to have the original version removed and that takes a whole lot more time that we had imagined, so the process is ongoing. This obviously impacted the launch date of Earthlock.

The main reason for the extra delays in the EU region is that the game have to go through a full new PEGI review process. This takes 10 days, and only once this is done will we be able to start the final process of getting it up in the digital stores for PS4 and XboxOne. So this has taken longer than anticipated.

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Free upgrade for those who own the original version

If you own Earthlock: Festival of Magic on PS4, XBO, Steam or GOG then you will get the new Earthlock for free. It might take a few days after launch, but we have been informed by Sony, Microsoft, Valve and GOG that this can be done. If there is any unforeseen complications we will let you know.

Languages

EARTHLOCK will launch in English and Japanese first, the rest will be patched in as soon as possible. We are in the process of getting it translated to all the following languages. Here is the list:

  • English (Default
  • Japanese (Default
  • Norwegian (Completed - done in house TBA) 
  • German (TBA)
  • French (TBA) 
  • Spanish (TBA)
  • Italian (TBA) 
  • Polish (TBA) 
  • Arabic Chinese (Complete re-translation TBA) 
  • Russian (New TBA) 
  • Brazilian Portuguese (New TBA)

Need Support?

If you have questions or need help, please contact support@snowcaslte.no
Feel free to post comments below, but ideally if you like us to respond to you directly, please either send a PM or an email.

Thanks!
– Snowcastle Team

    Erik Hoftun
    Earthlock is Coming to Switch

     

    We are very happy to announce that we will be publishing Earthlock on the Switch.

    We will initially be doing this in Japanese and English only, and then as soon as we get the game translated to other languages, we will update with those. We can’t say much more about this release right now, but you may expect more exciting news about this release soon. As we release on Switch, we hopefully will be able to release the Japanese version of Earthlock on Playstation 4 at the same time.

     Right now Bendik and Erik are attending Tokyo Game Show and meeting with Cross Function, our publishing partner in Japan. 

    Right now Bendik and Erik are attending Tokyo Game Show and meeting with Cross Function, our publishing partner in Japan. 

    IMG_0961.JPG
    IMG_0963.JPG
    Erik Hoftun
    Wii U Release Imminent!

    In This Update:

    • Wii U release imminent!

    • Japanese Publishing deal

    • Nintendo Switch version

    WiiU_Earthlock.jpeg

    Wii U release imminent!

    We are very happy to announce that we have passed certification and the game is scheduled for Wii U launch on:

    We had some snags with the US version, though still in the certification process, the title has been approved and moved on to release preparations as we speak. If everything go as planned (and we don’t see any issues with the delivery as is at this point) the US version should be visible and ready for download on the 14th September.

    It has taken a lot longer than anticipated, but we were dead set on keeping our promise to release the game on Wii U. So, from all of us to all of you, we sincerely hope you enjoy the journey through Umbra!

    Japanese Publishing Deal

    We are very happy to announce that Cross Function will be helping us publish Earthlock in the Japanese market digitally (no physical launch there).

    We will be going over to Tokyo Game Show on September 20th to 24th to show off the Japanese version.

    Switch Version?

    At this time we can’t say much more than earlier, but keep an eye out for announcements from Cross Function during Tokyo Game Show!

    Best regards,

    Snowcastle Games

    Erik Hoftun
    EARTHLOCK - New Update!

    While EARTHLOCK: Festival of Magic has been out for some months already, we’ve silently been collecting your feedback in the dark corners of our office. Focusing firstly on issues that have affected larger portions of our audience, we’ve quietly released patches along the way before taking on more obscure bugs that might not even have been reported.

    But the time for silence is no more! Over the last few months we’ve worked hard on optimizing EARTHLOCK on every available platform.

    The optimization work done on EARTHLOCK differs wildly on different aspects of the game, from smoothing out camera nodes to generally improving frame rates and stability.

    Each and every scene in the game (and that’s a whole lot of scenes!) has been reworked to try to bring players the best possible experience adventuring through Umbra.

    Have a look at some of the bigger changes we’ve done:

    Code / Bugs:

    • New death volume to fix unity bug where character can fall through the floor at random locations.
    • Turned off occlusion on all cameras. (Should reduce crashing on some rigs)
    • Fixed colliders to avoid getting stuck

    Optimization:

    • All scenes in the game has been optimized for improved frame rate.
    • Water reflections have been adjusted in some scenes (no longer reflecting things that can`t be seen)
    • Elements no longer cast real time shadows when those shadows can't be seen
    • Realtime shadow casters adjusted to avoid unnecessary performance drop
    • Most VFX has been edited for improved visual quality and optimisation
    • Removed DoF from all combat arenas
    • Smoothed out camera nodes
    • Burning Desert - many models rebuilt with better UVs and textures for higher quality and added LOD for performance

    Improvements:

    • Earthlock artifact new animated texture
    • Zaberium Temple Combat arena retextured
    • New improved camera bloom
    • Plains Overworld is now more lush with vegetation

    Wii U Version

    Now for those of you thinking “ All available platforms… WHAT ABOUT THE WII U VERSION!?” or even “Yeah yeah yeah, look at all these platforms getting a sweet deal while us Wii U folk are still waiting…”. –

    Fret not! We’re still working hard on the Wii U version. And to sweeten the wait, we will launch EARTHLOCK: Festival of Magic at the low price of 10$ on the Wii U.

     

    Erik Hoftun
    EARTHLOCK: Festival of Magic is hitting stores around the world.

    In collaboration with Soedesco Publishing, we are bringing EARTHLOCK: Festival of Magic to stores around the world! EARTHLOCK will be available on PC, Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 in Europe, Australia, New-Zealand and The Middle-East on January 27th and in the United States on February 14th!

     

    Erik Hoftun