SODWA Update #3

by | Nov 12, 2019 | devblog | 0 comments

(continuing from SODWA update #2)

 

The momentum from our successful Hero Machine contest was insane. Our followers couldn’t wait to see each new piece of concept art we were developing based on the characters they had submitted. It was at this time that things took a turn. Our lead concept artist and her 3d modeler husband started slowing down. Their output was slowing and their responses to emails were slowing. They had produced three amazing pieces of art and one insane 3d model, but now it had been over a month since we were able to show anything to our fans. Our momentum was slowing as our fans started to lose interest. Finally, one dark day, it happened. The concept artist finally responded to an email stating that they would no longer be working for rev share, but would need to be paid upfront, and that their rate would be several hundred dollars per piece. Ouch.

I know how much time and work goes into the creation of such amazng artwork, so I can’t blame anyone for wanting to get paid, but I do wish there had been better communication. This revelation derailed my entire project. Unfortunately for our fans, we were not able to produce any additional concept art of their character submissions.

This sudden loss of momentum hit hard and it resulted in several additional team members dropping out. This was fine by me, as our team was already far too large. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I needed to soldier on. At least I still had my lead programmer, a talented computer scientist from the Netherlands.

We had realized that the Hero Machine framework wouldn’t work for our game. We needed something that could handle 3d models. I also knew that we would never be able to raise enough money on Kickstarter since we were totally unknown. What we needed was a big name attached to the project. When it comes to models of comic book characters, there’s certainly one name that comes to mind: Randy Bowen. If you’re not familiar with Bowen’s work, he makes statues and busts of just about any comic character you can think of. Just Google “Bowen Statue” and you can see a lot of his amazing work.

The X-Men villain, Apocalypse, one of my favorite Randy Bowen creations.

Without any kind of plan, I fired off a quick email to Randy. Thankfully, I still have that first awkward and poorly-written email in my Gmail:

“Hi, my name’s Brian Woody and I’m the president of Thunderpunch Studios and a huge fan of Bowen collectibles. The reason I’m contacting you today is to see if you’ve ever considered putting your substantial sculpting talent to use in the digital world of video games. I do have a proposal for you, if you’re interested.

We’re in the process of putting together a tile-based strategy game where players get to design their own characters and pit their team of custom characters against the teams of other players in online combat. We’re working with the amazingly talented Livio Ramondelli of Transformers: Autocracy and DC Universe Online fame to design the 2d concepts of our battlefields and characters. We’re going to be putting together a team to convert his 4-point turn sketches into 3d models within the game. The models will be similar to what you would find in games like Heroclix or Warhammer: highly-detailed non-animated game pieces. That’s where you would come in. We would basically be hiring you to create the 3d assets based off of Livio’s 2d artwork, and to come up with the basic character poses (I’ve always loved your pose choices for your statues). Jeff Hebert, designer of the popular Hero Machine character creation system, will be assisting us with the challenge of creating interchangeable costume pieces that work well together. Our character customization engine is a huge part of our game, and by working with us it would basically be allowing characters to not only design their own digital Bowen statues, but to use those “statues” to play an actual video game.

I’d love the chance to go over the possibilities with you, so if you’re at all interested please let me know. Thank you for your time, and I can’t wait to hear from you!

-Brian Woody, Thunderpunch Studios”

Ugh, I cringe when I read that now, but it worked! I won’t repost Randy’s repsonses out of respect for his privacy, but he was friendly and gracious and patient. He broke my email down line by line with his responses interspersed. How amazed was I when I read the final line: “I am interested. Send me your phone number”. Holy shit!

We went back and forth from June to November, 2012, via email and several phone calls. Eventually things fell through, as I’m sure Randy could smell my inexperience a mile away. Reading these emails now is almost physically painful. Randy’s patience must know no bounds, considering how long he put up with me. I was sad to see our deal fall through, but I’m thankful I didn’t end up wasting any more of his time than I already had.

So, Randy was out, but we still needed a big name to attach to the project. It was around this time that I came up with the “Kickstarter Agreement”. It went something like this. I’d contact a relatively well-known artist or writer, someone I couldn’t hope to afford. I’d lay out the project details and let them know about our impending Kickstarter. I’d then ask, if they were interested in the project, how much they would charge to contribute. And if they would be willing to commit to contributing on the condition that I did receive the funding. This deal was a double win: on the one hand, it gave me a better idea of what kind of budget I would need, and on the other, it would allow me to advertise on my Kickstarter that we had the well-known person on board. Using this deal, I managed to get Livio to commit to being our concept artist, and I managed to get Daniel O’Brien to commit to being our writer. If you’re not familiar with Daniel, he was the head honcho at Cracked.com for ages, back when it was still hilarious. He’s now an award-winning author and writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Of course, we never did end up launching our Kickstarter so I never had the chance to actually work with these talented people, except for Livio who did our main promo art piece, but it was still an awesome experience and proved that my deal did prove attractive to well known creators.

Unfortunately, this is where things get a little hazy. Almost the entire team, except my programmer, ended up dropping out. And really, I can’t blame them whatsoever. The project was stalled out, I was obviously inexperienced, and it had gone on for far longer than any of them had anticipated. When you work with a rev-share team, you’ve got to expect people to drop out. I can’t remember exactly when I shut down the project, but at some point I saw the writing on the wall and decided to stop wasting mine and everyone else’s time.

Even though I had lost my team, I never let my project die completely. Every so often I would return to my SODWA folder and pour over the mechanics and artwork. At one point I registered to become a Nintendo developer and was accepted, though I never ended up doing anything with it. I worked for a bit on a second project, Puzzle Hunters, which is where a lot of my current SODWA concept art came from. I hired a talented young artist named Ignacio to do the full-body and action shots of Vila Kast, Grekko, the Medbot, and Cy for me, I believe for around $75 a pop. I’ve got a working demo of Puzzle Hunters and will hopefully get back to it as my next project, most likely as a spinoff of SODWA.

So here we are, finally, in 2019. Once again, I’m pouring over my mechanics and artwork. My trivia business is successful. I’ve set it up to be almost passive income, taking up only a few hours of my time per week. I’ve just moved to State College, no friends or family within hundreds of miles, other than my amazing wife and four wonderful cats. I’m not sure why, but one day I thought, “fuck it”, and reached out on Reddit to see if I could find a couple of people to work on the game with me. Of course, I was immediately downvoted and called a scammer, but luckily one talented programmer saw the potential of my project and reached out. Working together, we’ve almost completed a full working prototype of SODWA. It’s still ugly as hell, since neither of us are artists. We’re using character models from Synty Studios, free open source textures, free animations from a demo asset on the Unity Asset Store, and about $150 worth of visual effects, sound effects, and music I purchased from the Assets Store. But ugly or not, it works. Almost 15 years after that first spark of an idea, I can finally sit down and actually play SODWA. The feeling really is surreal.

Now, as my amazing programmer wraps up our basic battle system, I’ve set out trying to spread the SODWA gospel. We plan to launch our Kickstarter the first Tuesday in February. From here on out, this dev log will actually detail our progress and the current state of the game. Thanks for catching up with me. Until next time!

-Woody