The Dreaded Last Step: On Making a Game for 7 Years and Finally Releasing It

I’ll admit it. The development of the Pale City was a long, erratic process. It started with two years of intense development while I was an undergrad, usually working about 6+ hours a day. This was a productive period, and it’s when most of the foundations were laid. Then, for good or bad, I went to Notre Dame for an MFA—and I found that I just didn’t have time to work on the game anymore. Thus began the long years of guilt. I was in my early 20s when I began the game; next year, I turn 30. I dreamed of The Pale City at night; its ghost haunted my first year in China, as I dedicated energy to writing two other novels. So, finally, I crept slowly back towards the unfinished, headless beast that was the game, until at last I had completed the digital equivalent of a “first draft”.

My brother and Eddy Rathke beta-tested that first version, and gave me the new confidence that I had produced a live, functioning thing. My brother, a lifelong RPG fan and all around radical dude, played the game twice and gave some extremely useful comments that resulted in another six months of work. Because of him, environmental exploration became much more important; NPC dialogue changes throughout the course of the game; and I even added a hidden, super-difficult boss. In the middle of that, I moved to a new city (Guangzhou), with a new job that took up most of my free time. That made it easy to put off the last, possibly most difficult step: actually selling the thing. So, for nearly six months, The Pale City just sat there. And, like it says in the tutorial of the game:

As the only designer of the game, I would have to do the entire publicity campaign myself—and I was dreading it. The first step was this website, which I had no idea how to make. When I finally did start, I discovered WordPress doesn’t work well in China even with a VPN. Every change can take up to five minutes to see in the editor, which stretched the process out for what felt like forever. Fortunately, I was able to sit down and finish the whole thing over a trip home this summer.

Video games also need… trailers! I made the first one last year: an unusually still, silent look at the atmosphere of the world. (Influenced, for better or worse, by the trailer for Kentucky Route Zero.) That first trailer is currently available only on this website, but I plan to post it on Youtube soon. Right now, I’m capturing footage for the second trailer, which should be online by next month or so.

I’ve also compiled a massive list of about 50 journals to send the game to; Youtubers will be next, and possibly even some Twitch players. As a novelist, in addition to the few copies sent out by the publishers, I often found I simply didn’t have enough money to send my books to reviewers, when many journals insisted on having a paper copy. However, I find myself with a nice, refreshing amount of confidence in selling the Pale City. It’s not for everyone—but, of everything I’ve ever released, I would say I’m the most confident in this one.

Making The Pale City has forced me to learn about a hundred skills I never had before. The most recent is basic graphic design, which resulted in this fancy press kit! I’ll be sending this to journalists and, most likely, posting it on this website soon. I had never done any graphic design in Word before, so it was quite cool to sit down last weekend and, six hours later, emerge with this thing.

The last, and possibly most important part is… the demo! I’ve sent the Pale City to a last few testers, and I’ll be designing it as soon as I hear back from them, so I hope to have it available in a month or two.

Anyway, I plan to blog here somewhat regularly, both on the process of making the game and possibly some reflections on it, so please do check back if you’re interested!

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