Last week, I and all of the other NFTS students got to present our games at the EGX convention. Now, I’d presented a different game at the PC Gamer Weekend earlier in the year so it wasn’t like I was new to this sort of thing and I’ve gotten up on stage plenty of times, so I wasn’t too afraid of having to give a performance in front of everyone.
But none of my experiences could have prepared me for just how overwhelming this event was.
My game is My Last Son, a 2D side-scrolling puzzle narrative game about a young woman's journey through the five stages of grief after the loss of her child, all the while being hounded by a monstrous manifestation of her sorrow. Quite a heavy subject to be sure and I think my biggest worry going into EGX was whether or not I'd be able to represent it, as well as the African art style we'd gone for, in a mature and respectful manner. Fortunately, we had a lot of positive feedback about our game's themes, setting, and presentation, so I'd like to think that we're on the right lines there
First of all, I want to give a big thanks to my core team and everyone who supported them along the way. Peter, Roz, Sean, Stefano, Josie, Alex, Sophie, Xanthe, Tadhg, all my friends and tutors who gave me advice and helped to steer me in the right direction whenever it looked like I might be in danger of making a mistake… You’ve all been absolutely magnificent and I truly could not have come this far without you. Words truly cannot express my thanks.
Thanks especially go to my artist Peter, who went around the whole convention in a costume of our monster promoting the heck out of our game by chilling out with cosplayers and showing up on people’s filming for YouTube, and to his friend Sophia for making the suit. I’d joked about having a monster costume right at the beginning of the project for some trailer we never got to shoot (mostly because by the time we were ready to make it the tone of the story had become wildly different and our original pitch for said trailer would have been tonally inappropriate).
However, once the possibility of it becoming a reality presented itself, I nagged him over and over again to see if it we could get it done and lo and behold we did and he absolutely rocked it. He didn’t have to put in all that effort for us, nor did Josie or Alex taking him out every other hour to drum up support for the game, but thanks to their efforts we got somewhere in the ballpark of 257 people playing the game over the four days. Considering that we were in a pretty disadvantageous location (right in the far corner of the west Rezzed section) and we were a student game and we were just a little tiny project in a sea of much bigger indies, I think I can be pretty okay with those numbers.
What really warmed my heart and, in hindsight, honestly brings a bit of a tear to my eye is the fact that people were so complimentary about our choice of setting and the themes it was trying to tackle. I won’t lie, this was the part I was dreading most about the show. All it would’ve taken during the development process was one single screw-up and, boom, we could have had something horribly insensitive and possibly racist on our hands and I would’ve hated to be in that position. As I’ve said before, this is a region in the world that really fascinates me and I wanted to do it justice and I’m really happy that the public’s general consensus was that we succeeded. In fact, we had a lot of press people wanting to talk about the game and its inspirations so I hope those are connections I’ll be able to keep onto and really make something with. We’ve already been contacted by at one of them, so watch this space and see what develops
Our sound and visual design also drew a lot of praise from people, so a big thanks to Roz for the texture design, Stefano for the composing, and Sean for his sound design (whose work, by the way, managed to scare the pants off of a grown man with the monster’s blood-curling scream… Easily one of that day’s highlights.) It seems that I can finally say with confident that we’re going in the right direction and, while we must ever be vigilant, I would like to hope that this is a sign that we’re doing something right.
Honestly, the only person I feel disappointed with is myself. Maybe that’s a result of all my doubts and disorders all bubbling up to the surface during a time where I was, and still am at time of writing, incredibly sleep-deprived, highly exhausted, and running primarily on water and pizza while also getting increasingly ill-er (fortunately I don’t think that showed up on camera) but even now all I can think about is fixing everything I wish I’d done better.
Don’t get me wrong, we had some really good constructive feedback - a lot of people suggested making the level shorter and more compact, others wanted the monster speeding up to increase the game’s tension (which surprised me as I’d slowed it down because so many people in the labs thought it moved too quickly!), and more than a few people helping to inspire some narrative ideas I hadn’t yet considered. However, I also noticed a lot of things that I very quickly became possessed by a burning desire to correct: We need to tighten the controls, we need to hasten the action speed and make the game feel more responsive, and we need to overhaul That Bloody Tutorial (as I have taken to calling it). Honestly, that thing is my arch-nemesis. What absolute cretin decided that making a story-based game without any text or dialogue would be an incredible idea- Oh wait, it was me. Awkward.
My emotions are still very mixed. Maybe I’ll feel better about myself once I’ve slept for more than four hours uninterrupted but, right now, all I want to do is go back in time to hug every member of my team and smack my past self in the jaw with a rolled-up newspaper for not fixing the problems I’m currently trying to fix. Still, I couldn’t be prouder of my team and everything they managed to achieve during this time. We might not have come away from the show with any awards or the interest of any major publishers but I sincerely think that the people I’ve had supporting me are the best team I saw at the event and it was an honour and a privilege to have them all supporting my little game.
I'd say EGX was a very important learning experience. I'm always looking to understand more about how I can make my game even better but having to be in that frame of mind, taking notes and observing how people are playing your game, for four days straight can take a lot out of you. Fortunately, I had an absolutely fantastic team to back me up during the period - and seeing how well people reacted to them going out and around the event dressed up as game's monster made me really happy.
Well done, Team My Last Son. You’re all getting cake.