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Design Futures
Semester 2

You've seen how busy I was during Semester 1

How about we take a look at all the things I've been up to this time around?

  • Steam
  • TikTok
  • Facebook
  • Instagram

A Brief Overview

Delighted to enter another semester on Cartoon and Comic Arts and as per usual, I have barely stopped working during the 5 months provided. I had to make the choice again between working on my own personal comic and polishing up last semester's project for a digital release. The digital release won. This isn't an issue though as it has done quite well over the time we have released it.

Contents

The Biggest Thing: Fort Valen

  • Learning in Creation

  • Working with Other Creatives

  • Distribution

  • Advertisement

- Work Going Ahead: Craig Connolly

  • Joni Project Competition

  • Continuing After University

- Convention Scene

  • Attended Conventions

  • New Products

-Online Content

-University Guests

  • Kit Buss

  • Angeline Trevena

-Kickstarter Talk

-Social Media

  • Instagram/Facebook

  • Tiktok

  • Target Audience

-Hobby Work

  • Art for fun

  • D&D

-Stuff I Totally Intended to Finish

  •  Tempus Clade

  • Etsy Store Upgrade

-The Future

  • Continuing Partnership with Daisy

  • Work with Other Creatives

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The Biggest Thing - Fort Valen

The Creation

So last semester our university project was a visual novel by the name of Fort Valen. The version we released then was a short but sweet beta run of what we were fully capable of providing. Since that hand-in I have worked diligently to port the game from our previous program: TyranoBuilder into Unity with a plugin called Naninovel, something far more powerful with far more options.

Unfortunately it also had an entirely different scripting format so I had to change 18,000 words of script into a brand new format. Not to mention the other 7k-10k extra words we added into the script afterwards. I also had to learn how the coding worked on this new program as where Tyranobuilder was a drag-and-drop block-style program, Naninovel made use of Visual Studio Code which was mildly more complicated but also had much better shortcuts than Tyranobuilder. In simple terms, I had to type the entire thing by hand. 

During this time we also worked on a couple more CGs (Computer Graphic Illustrations) for the game which Daisy took more of a lead on as I completed a few hundred hours of programming. In the end this semester we were able to produce a 60-90 minute game with 2 endings and a whole lot of text. 

Who Helped?

We didn't work alone either. This project was a combination of a lot of work from people outside the university too who we contacted to assist us. 

Aidan Ranger

Aidan is a friend and animation alumni from Australia who we worked with to create the opening cutscene animation for Fort Valen. Aidan had a lot more knowledge than I did about animation and Photoshop. He drew a storyboard, while I drew all of the assets and he then compiled and animated them to make the animatic you can see below. As he was one of our friends, he didn't ask for payment and instead requested we bought him a drink once the game was finished as celebration. We also gave him a free key to the game once it was completed. 

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Kali Maliaco

Kali was a voice actress I tracked down on Fiverr. She had worked on commercials and video game voices priorly and her portfolio convinced me that she was a good choice for the job. It's her voice narrating the opening cutscene above. Her rates were determined by how many lines we gave her and we had her narrate the opening as well as the epilogue which came out to around £60

James Kessels

Another of my talented friends who I met in 2015, James is a Dutch university student studying music. We agreed to do a trade of talents, they made the soundtrack for Fort Valen and in return me and Daisy would draw something at their request. As of yet they still haven't come back to us with anything but the anonymous art favour between us still exists. 

I also paid for a subscription to Distrokid for James which allows them to release their music on Spotify, Amazon music, Deezer and a variety of other platforms which is exactly what we did with the Fort Valen soundtrack.

I designed an album cover and entered all of the information for each track. Daisy and I both named the tracks which changed a simple "sad.mp3" from James to "Lowest Spirits" on streaming services.

Any money made from the music goes straight back to James now as a small thanks for the fact they made an entire soundtrack for free.

Bards For Hire

Bards for Hire were a company we commissioned to make an end credits song for the game, when we realised how much money we made from the Kickstarter, we knew we had enough money to pay for something good.

The specific people we worked with within the BFH collective were Davey Seagle, noon and John Lawrie who all have a place in our credits roll. Davey was my main point of contact who arranged the project. He was also the one who very kindly chose to waive the commercial use fee that would normally see people pay 35% on top of their order, this was due to his personal interest in the story with it being based on tabletop fantasy as well as the indie nature of the project. He also received a free key of the game once it was released. 

Bards For Hire also distributed the song on Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer and other platforms. They are still working on social media posts which we agreed to help promote and share once they do as it is beneficial for both of us. 

The Distribution

During the programming of the game I also worked on the release of the game itself, setting up for the Steamworks Partnership Program that allowed us to release a game on Steam (One of the most popular gaming platforms on PC) where it currently resides for £7.49. The price looking a little bizarre due to the American nature of the company and the dollars to pounds conversion rate. We'd considered releasing the game for cheaper but after the Kickstarter where we offered a £10 tier for a copy of the game and a named mention in the credits, I wanted something near to that to avoid any ruffled feathers.

Setting up on Itch.io was also considerably cheaper (Free even!) and the game there is released for $10 (Around £8) which is only mildly more expensive than Steam as their guidelines required that we offer the best price to Steam customers. 

One of the more tedious tasks of this whole endeavour was then having to await Steam Key approval and then send out every one of the links to the Kickstarter backers

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The Kickstarter meant we already had 36 people interested in the game, this was a good start as while we had already got their monetary support, their interest in the game also gives us much-needed word-of-mouth praise. 

Steam does a lot of the leg-work for us but I have also looked into distribution with a few companies I have talked about below as well as the built in distribution system on Steam known as Curator Connect

Curator Connect

Curator Connect is a section of Steam that allows me to pitch the game to Curators within Steam. The purpose of curators is to provide reviews to their followers and suggest games they find interesting. As of right now we have sent out 17 copies of the game to curators since the 21st April when the game released. So far we haven't had any reviews back. The slow turnaround had me instead turn to Keymailer and Lurkit to reach out to Influencers online which I talk about in one of the sections below

The first column shows the amount of keys we offered to each curator (The ones that have 0 we assume are people who denied the keys, either that or a glitch, Steam isn't overly enlightening about what it means) along with the date we sent off the keys to them

The second column shows how many of our offered keys remain

I attempted to select curators that would be most likely interested in the game based on their other reviews and the top two curators displayed on the list were people who reached out to us about reviewing the game. 

I don't know what the average turnaround for curator reviews is and I suspect I'm being impatient as the game hasn't been released for more than a month yet. 

Content Creator Friends

I also have the pleasure of having a few streamer friends who have played the game online and helped drive a few more sales.

DanteLorde - Twitch

Dante is a good friend of ours who had already backed the game on Kickstarter and we encouraged him to livestream the game, unfortunately I wasn't able to attend it as I was at an event at the time but Daisy made an appearance on the stream, much to the surprise of the viewers as I don't imagine it's often that you're able to get one of the game developers on a game livestream.

TheBlackTarantula - Youtube

Tara is also a good friend of mine who backed the game during the Kickstarter phase, He offered to create two videos of him playing the game for his Youtube channel, which naturally I agreed to. Unlike Twitch streams, these videos stay up and can keep bringing in viewers for as long as the channel is active.  

Lurkit and Keymailer

The point of our friends livestreaming brings me nicely onto the point of the two companies I have been working with: Lurkit and Keymailer

Admittedly I don't have much to report back about these two companies yet as I am still working on setting up with them. Their purpose is to send out free copies of the game to influencers on Twitch, Youtube, Tiktok and other gaming platforms to promote with their collected audiences and get more people talking about the game. This is a surprisingly effective tactic used by a lot of smaller developers which I'm also going to attempt to follow.

As you can see, both the campaigns are still being set up but I'm interested to see what they can do for our reach on Steam.

Social Media

I don't post as often as I should on Social Media but below are all of the posts for Fort Valen that I made throughout the semester and a little bit during the last semester.  

So what did all this marketing earn me? A decent amount of traffic on Steam, honestly. We've had over 5500 impressions on the website with a %20 Click-Thru Rate which is quite considerable. This is what we've managed in less than a month so hopefully while working with a marketing company we'll be able to increase that. 

Sales So Far

The important part of this really is the sales and what the payoff for all of this work is. We've seen a small level of success so far with 20 units bought and 20 units activated from Steam Keys that were distributed to our Kickstarter backers

1 unit was returned, this was likely because Steam games can be returned if you spend less than 2 hours playing them and Fort Valen currently takes around 1hr30 to play. Some people will take advantage of that system, it was to be expected.

We also have 178 people who have it on their wishlist, which I am hoping to ensnare with the 50% discount I have set up for the Steam Summer Sale. Anyone with the game in their wishlist will be notified via email when the discount goes live so I hope some of those people will be tempted to buy into the game.

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We haven't been near as lucky with Itch.io where we haven't made any sales and the only downloads are from the Kickstarter backers. I suspect this is because the price is higher there as according to our agreement with Steam, we have to offer the best price to their users.

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I already went into detail about the Kickstarter in last semester's submission and it won't count for work done this semester but I'm still giving it the honourable mention for the fact it was the reason we were able to do this project at all. I arranged the Kickstarter myself and did the majority of marketing as third parties won't assist in the promotion of a Kickstarter campaign unless you've had at least one successful one. The only difference on the page these days is that I have adjusted the page to redirect customers to the Steam page for the game.

Next Steps

New Platforms

Looking to the future, I want to adapt the project onto the Nintendo Switch and Mobile devices, visual novel apps such as The Arcana and Mystic Messenger are particularly popular with many fan creators online making costumes or fanart. That will require a reformat in the unity engine we're using so that is a project for the future as it will take considerable time to reprogram.

I have also worked on becoming approved by Nintendo as a Switch developer which is the first step I have taken to reach this goal. The process involves us pitching our game to Nintendo and proving our prior experience in game development. We're currently waiting to hear back.

Below is the form we had to submit to Nintendo about the game.

Game Updates

After the initial release we started asking the players what else they wanted from the game, such as which characters they wanted to see more of, who's backstories they found interesting and what they would want to see more of visually.

 

We got a few responses which spanned from new Illustrations to new backgrounds and we determined overall that Lancelot is the character people seem to like best so we intend to go further into depth with his story.

The next steps for the game involve

- Fixing some spelling and grammar mistakes (Bound to happen in a 27,000 word script)

- New Backgrounds: Guard barracks, comfortable room, broom cupboard, oasis.

-CGs: Painting with Reyvani, Healing with Haloban, 

-Fleshing out the Staying in the Fort ending

-Adding other endings where you can accuse any of your friends of the murder

-Adding more days where you can stay in the fort

-Talking about the prior escape attempt that is mentioned a few times in the story.

After completing most of these we'll do a version 2 of the game and release that to the players. 

Craig Connolly

Moving on from the talk of video games I have also been trying to further myself in the comic industry.

During this semester Gareth brought us a big opportunity with a client who was looking for a consistent artist to work with, all we had to do was draw according to a 4 page script made by the aforementioned Craig Connolly. I initially tried to research him but I wasn't able to find anything on him or the project we were meant to be emulating. Overall that is probably a good thing as it meant there was nothing to influence my rendition of the script but it also meant I had to estimate on my target audience. I was mostly concerned that my art style wasn't going to be of interest to Craig as I so often do Fantasy stories and my art style very much reflects that. This exact quality was what actually became helpful in later play with this project

Above on the left are the pages I completed for the competition and on the right are the official pages that I was able to find once I learned more about Craig. His other artist goes by "Beyond The Bunker" at conventions and has created Joni as well as other projects. I also asked for advice from him once the project was over

 

Craig ended up announcing me the winner of the competition which came with a variety of perks including a £200 commission and the potential of working on another project with him in the future

After winning the project Craig contacted me through Instagram and we arranged a date to call and talk through our next steps

He was searching for another comic artist to create a new story based on either an apocalypse or fantasy story, both of which are entirely up my street. Considering I am already working on a fantasy project of my own I elected to try my hand at his apocalypse idea. I have a decent knowledge of the apocalypse media world as I have always been an avid fan of The Telltale Walking Dead Game and The Last Of Us. Craig's idea also followed a young girl and her father figure much like those two games so I couldn't have found a more perfect project for myself.

From frequenting Skybound XPO Livestreams, I have also studied Tilly Walden who writes one of the Walking Dead Game Spinoff comics. It isn't overly well received online and I also came to learn that she doesn't script her comics and just goes straight to drawing. I can't say I agree with her methods but she was an interesting case study as she is an award winning comic creator and is currently one of the Comic Laureates in America.

I currently have the brief written down and we both agreed that I would complete it before the end of May and only once my deadline for university was over. This initial piece would work as a poster to sell at future conventions as well as serve to see if my art style was fitting for the project. Assuming I do it correctly then we will progress onto the full project together.

Should we continue to work together in the future, Craig has agreed to assist with convention table costs as well as print runs of the comic for as long as we are working together and I am displaying his work.

Conventions

While my convention attendance has been a lot lower over the past few months, I have still attended a fair few events. I applied for MCM London and unfortunately didn't get a table (Until they got back to me about a backup table but by then it was too late as I had already booked another event for that weekend) I did however get both Megacon conventions I applied to. I have also been attending a couple of smaller conventions around Stoke. 

A lot goes into my convention preparation and once University finishes I intend to keep going to conventions. I am booked to go to Megacon Manchester (Where I hopefully will not catch Covid again like I did last year) I also intend to sign up for MCM Birmingham as it is now a 3 day convention and the footfall is always excellent.

We attended 4 main events throughout this semester: Megacon Birmingham, Larpcon, The Staffs Uni Apprenticeship Fair, Stoke Con Trent

The table setup has remained mostly the same across all 4 events as I haven't had much time to add new products which I intend to change before Megacon Manchester. 

Megacon Birmingham

Definitely one of my quieter conventions, making just over £100, not an ideal amount considering the table was £150 and the area we were put in was very secluded. I found myself next to Time Bomb Comics and Meraki Comics who I made friends with over the weekend, we had plenty of time to talk considering how quiet our section was. Overall I made a few connections and I got to hand out a few business cards so the event wasn't a total loss.

Larpcon

Larpcon wasn't an event aimed for comics, but I attended anyway as a lot of my primary audience are roleplayers and fans of fantasy and Scifi... also they advertised free tables for artists, this was probably also because we were in quite a secluded space. I made the money back that I paid for the hotel there as I had to travel to Coalville which is a little far out to commute for a weekend.

The event was good, I got to see a lot of people I normally only see 4 times a year and I handed out a lot of business cards there to new potential customers and I sold a decent amount of comics and badges.

Apprenticeship Fair

I won't get cocky with this one, I only made about £2 the entire day but the table was free and across the road from my house so I can't really complain. Most people went to the fair expecting freebies so the price tags on things were something of a turn off to most of the visitors.

I spent most of the day drawing in my sketchbook and I conceptualised some new products. It was the least I could do for my business while there.

Stoke Con Trent

A similar story to the other conventions, we didn't get much footfall and I just about covered the £10 I paid for my half of the table. I haven't had much luck with Stoke Con in the past so I hadn't expected much from it again, I also spent a lot of this one drawing in my sketchbook during the quiet moments.

How the Display Has Changed

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December 2021

I first started tabling at the Christmas fair in 2021 and those trusty wire crates are still with me. I still haven't felt a need to change them as they're still working very well at holding all of my merchandise, though I do use them slightly differently now. Where before I had an open backed box where I could keep products I now opt for a flat corner design which allows me to fit more products on it. This was a necessity as I gained more products.

I don't use the commission board currently either as I haven't had time for commissions this year

My business card design hasn't changed much either, it is still the same just now has the addition of this website and my casual business email. I also have a professional business email which I don't post online so I can keep track of my serious commissions. I used this with people like Craig Connolly where I need to consistently make sure I am replying to emails.

March 2023

My table setup is obviously very different now and it is about to change again for Manchester Megacon as we will have the solo issue of Pastrami the Space Cat and I will hopefully have the second issue of Tempus Clade by then so I will need a better comic stand. I have also been working on some wooden pin badges which are my next big step with my products. Since I started I have gained the wooden tray which I am going to need a second one of if I continue making more products at my current pace. My badges and stickers are my most popular seller so I will keep up making display space for them.

 

New Products

Making fanart is risky business for convention sellers but luckily one of the things I want to make fanart of actively encourage fan artists and convention sellers. That company would be Critical Role, a company that started as friends playing D&D together around a table and it has since grown into a multi million dollar company with an animated Amazon Prime series. I love their content and I want to design sticker and prints of the characters within the show. It is a safe way of making and selling fanart without the risk and it also brings in the exact audience that would get on well with my original content.

The other thing I have been working on are making wooden pin badges of all of my current sticker designs through Zap Creatives. Below are the proofs to the badges and I will hopefully be able to take them to Megacon Manchester. I also plan on designing a backing board to put them on. I will print those off myself once I have fixed my printer which is currently broken.

 

Online Products

Spotify

Tempus Clade

University Guests

I attended all of the talks as expected and I found Kit Buss to be the closest to what I would enjoy to do in the future career-wise. I was happy to see her as one of our guests as I have traded comics with her before at conventions and we occasionally talk online when she gets the time.

 

Angeline Trevena was the other guest I found incredibly useful. I should hope so seeing as I got her in to talk to the class and paid for her out of my own pocket to get my classmates the guest they wanted. I originally networked with her at Larpcon 2023 in March. She was happy to do the talk for us and I arranged the date for her to visit us as well as what length session we wanted to have with her. The class received her really well so I consider that an overall success.

Kickstarter Talk

After our successful Kickstarter for Fort Valen we wanted to offer our newly earned expertise to the second years so we spoke with Claire and arranged a date to hold a Kickstarter presentation for them. 

Below is the presentation we gave, covering 24 slides and about 30-40 minutes of things to talk about.

I also spoke with other friends who had done physical release Kickstarters too as it was an area we were lacking in knowledge. They gave some decent tips, especially my friend Max Anthony who did a physical release Kickstarter for a Tarot deck for the game Darkest Dungeon. He found himself short of £5000 when it came to shipping costs, so I knew he's have some interesting tips for young creatives.

Social Media

I'm not a very prolific social media user, but I recognise its place as an important part of modern networking

I use Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok most frequently, I do also have a Twitter account that remains unused. The algorithm on Twitter requires you to post around 3 times a day and I don't particularly enjoy the stress of it. One post a day does fine on the other sites and I barely ever manage that. 

I make use of Meta Business Suite a lot as it allows me to post at 10am when I know for a fact I won't usually be awake at that time. 

I have a decent following on Instagram and I am working on my presence on Tiktok and Facebook. This means I have some Demographic statistics for my Instagram following which provides me some key knowledge about my primary audience.

Most of this doesn't surprise me, my main conventions have been in Stoke and most of my family is based in Northwich and Middlewich. Having Argentina and Nigeria as two of my top five locations is surprising but something has to go there after the two primarily English speaking territories.

My gender split is mostly even, this is ideal as I'm not aiming at any particular gender with my work and having a younger demographic also makes good sense to me as my work is mostly based off of pop culture, Dungeons and Dragons and the Fantasy genre which is very popular with the younger generations currently.

Hobby Work

Throughout all of this I surely had time for some art for the sake of art, right?

Surprisingly yes I did carve out some time to draw things I wanted to, to further my art skill and keep the inspiration alive.

Most of my pieces were based on my other favourite freetime: D&D because sometimes you have to escape your regular life of writing fantasy stories... to go and write some fantasy stories with your friends! 

I find having D&D as a font of inspiration has saved me from a lot of burnout that I would have experienced if it wasn't for the weekly silly meetups with my friends and while it may not be something I was paid for, it's something I draw for myself and others and I think it deserves a place in my submission as one of the factors that keeps me going artistically.

Things I Intended to Finish

Tempus Clade Issue 2

As is expected, some things always get cut out and Tempus Clade is no different, While I'd fully intended to finish the second issue of this long ago, my duty to my uni work took priority and Tempus got put on the back burner again. I finished issue 1 almost a year ago now and the art change is astronomical. I'm hoping to have it finished before Megacon Manchester now. I am still on the lineart stage and I will display what little of it is actually completed here to show I've actually done some of it.