Welcome! This blog has been created to chart the development of Tumbleweed Express, a "Travel Defense" game in which the player controls a steam-powered train that travels along the countryside utilizing mounted weaponry to fend off attacking enemies in a "Western Steampunk" setting. This project originated at the 2011 Fall Game Jam that was hosted by the DC Chapter of the International Game Developers Association.
The Dirigiballers are proud to announce that we have have recently been Greenlit by Steam! Thus, we are currently ramping up on production planning and execution in the expectation of hitting our internal release date. Obviously we are very excited about these recent events and we hope to make a formal announcement regarding our final plans in the coming months. However, we do find that we are in need of passionate people to provide audio contributions to the project.
Do you have a desire to work on epic western steam punk music? Are you looking to boost your portfolio by contributing to an independent game development project? Do you want to work on rad stuff and help fellow indies get things done? We would love to hear from you!
Our team has several critical audio needs and were looking for an individual (or two) who can compose and execute several tracks that match the game's current score. Additionally, we're looking for someone interested in putting a critical ear to the game's audio portfolio (i.e., identifying where sound effects are needed, what's working, what's not, and executing on improvements for the game). If this sounds like something you (or someone you know) would be interested in doing, please send a resume and a portfolio to: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Thursday, October 2nd at 2:00p.m. EST the Tumbleweed
Express Kickstarter campaign ended unsuccessfully having reached ~22% of its
funding goal. Firstly, I want to express my sincerest gratitude towards
everyone who supported us during our campaign. The help we received from total
strangers was powerful and surprising and the support we received from friends
and family was heartwarming and encouraging. We met lots of new people, formed
friendships and connections, and strengthened our ties with the communities
that we came from. However, due to the all-or-nothing nature of Kickstarter we
unfortunately will receive none of the amount that was raised.
Mostly I felt relieved at the end of it, as the negative
emotions of frustration and disappointment had already run their course leading
up to the final hours of the campaign. Despite the technical failure of the
campaign however I do want to stress that this past month was the most
successful, intense, and positive marketing push that our project has had in
the three years we've been working on it. That said, I want to evaluate the campaign
and give my impressions on what happened using the following categories:
What I Know We Did
Right: Actions we took that tangibly benefit our campaign
What I Think We Did
Right: Actions we took that, while imaginably positive, did not appear to
tangibly benefit our campaign
What I Know We Did
Wrong: Actions we took that tangibly hurt our campaign
What I Think We Did
Wrong: Actions we took that, while imaginably negative, did not appear to
tangibly hurt our campaign
What I Know We Did
Undoubtedly, our team's strongest area of marketing is event
outreach. We make it a point to be out at conventions, festivals, and
gatherings as much as possible to get in lots of face-to-face marketing and
feedback. During the Kickstarter campaign we were at the Boston Festival of
Indie Games (FIG) and the Baltimore Innovate App Arcade where we built mailing-lists
with fans and connections to other developers leading to pledge support and cross-promotional
Public, Playable Demo
Having a public demo was very meaningful for our campaign
because it meant we could give something tangible to interested parties and
potential customers so they could get a real taste of what our game is about
and the direction we're going in to reach a high standard of quality.
Leading up to Boston FIG I made it a point to do some
background research and send a personal email out with our info and demo to
everyone on the Press list for the event. By the time it was time to drive up
to Boston we had lined up five interviews throughout the one-day event which
lead to a nice handful of articles and podcasts promoting our project and
Halfway through our campaign I stepped up to take the reins
on our Twitter outreach efforts. What I ended up doing was using software to
scum the whole of the Twitterverse using search terms to find anyone talking
about the tools or styles relevant to our project. If anyone on Twitter
mentioned Unity Terrain I would send them a public message linking them to our
branded Unity Heightmap tutorial on our dev blog. Did you mention #Steampunk?
Maybe you'll like this game! And so on... garnering follows and likes and
whatnot building tangible interest one user at a time.
In the last third of our campaign I went on a mailing spree
using a list of game-related Youtube personalities linked to me by another
developer. Over three days I sent out a couple hundred personalized emails,
with downloadable demo links, to the entire spectrum of youtube gamer popularity
to see if anyone would make a video about our game. In the end we were able to
connect with a handful of Tubers who generously filmed and posted Let's Play
videos of our Demo while linking back to our campaign.
What I Think We Did
To craft our Kickstarter campaign we sourced other
successful campaigns and post mortems for inspiration while playing to the
strengths of our theme. What we came up with was an art heavy campaign page
with thematic designs for our sections, headers, graphics, and rewards. When
comparing ourselves to other campaigns I would say that our biggest advantages were
with our visuals, our video, our budget and the demo we put up.
We've seen other campaigns go by and get several times more
than our funding goal while barely even having concept art to show for
themselves. We thought to ourselves, "We have an actual playable project
and a sweet trailer, we've guaranteed that this is a real project being worked
on in earnest by real developers".
At the end of the day I can say we're damn proud of the
campaign we built, but it's hard to say how effective it was without getting
access to more exposure.
Over the course of our campaign we put out 12 updates total,
amounting to a little more than one update for every three days that the
campaign was running. We made it a point to generate as much content as
possible during the campaign to give as much interest to our backers as
possible while also ensuring to them that we're serious about what we do and
that we're working constantly to bring them new and valuable content.
Before our campaign started we actually partnered up with
Indie Game Magazine, a digital publication which had previously featured our
project in one of their issues. The deal was that in exchange for giving them a
commission on specific reward tiers they would provide us with free
subscriptions to distribute to our backers as well as run cross promotional
efforts for them. Despite being hesitant we ultimately took the deal. During
the campaign they promoted us on their social media accounts and wrote a couple
of articles about us (despite
misspelling our project name...). However, at the end of the day, it
doesn't seem like much if any funding at all can be traced back to the cross
promotion they ran for us.
In the month before our campaign launched we put together a
list of as many publications as we could think of and sent out a ton of
personalized emails with our press release, some visual content, and a link to
download a desktop version of our demo. Despite our efforts though we were
unable to hook any big fish before or during our campaign.
What I Know We Did
Despite our net positive response to our outreach efforts it
seems that the majority of them came too late. Most successful campaigns seem
to have had an effective following
before launching. In fact, you're supposed to have the first 30% of your
funding ready to be pledged in the first week of your campaign. Obviously we
were never able to hit that mark. Perhaps we over-estimated our support before
launching, but we definitely didn't hit our stride in reaching out through
Twitter and YouTube for example until after our campaign was in full swing.
I believe that as a team we probably underutilized certain
aspects of Facebook as a tool for funding. While we obviously did lots of
'Sharing' and 'Liking', I think it's safe to say that we didn't fully
appreciate the power of simply messaging our friends for support. It wasn't
until the final week of the campaign that I went and manually messaged everyone
on my friendslist and in that process secured a handful of new backers while
simultaneously getting the chance to reconnect with friends I haven't talked to
in a while and who wanted to support our project. If more of our team was open
to that process and if we had put our weight behind it earlier on then we would
have been able to better frontload our initial funding amount.
What I Think We Did
Ignoring All Solicitors
We got a LOT of solicitors during and at the beginning of
our campaign. I'm sure that there are companies that either scum Kickstarter
manually or have automated systems that email their pitch to new campaigns.
Regardless, we did some research early on but shortly after began to
systematically ignore them. A lot of them offered services that seemed to
overlap with work we'd already done, such as crafting content or creating press
releases. On the other hand, they also made grand promises about the number of
customers they were able bring our pitch to. Without formal marketing training
it was hard to evaluate whether or not we would be taken advantage of , but I
imagine that there are legitimate services that we passed up.
What We'll Do Now
As they say, the show must go on! We've received a majority of
positive responses about our game leading up to and during the Kickstarter
campaign and the continued support from strangers has bolstered our confidence
in our design and art decisions. Despite
our lack of funding the team will continue to move into production with the
intention of bringing the project into beta and wrapping up for release. The
tools we need and our overhead expenses will continue to be paid for out of pocket
and the team will contribute the time that's needed to make our project a
Our continued marketing efforts will go towards improving
and marketing our Steam Greenlight campaign so that we have a strong outlet to
release from once the game is complete.
Jake here. So we've been working with Unity terrain for a while and have run into plenty of hurdles and challenges. One issue we had was that our heightmaps for a long time were imported as segments instead of solid pieces, meaning that each piece needed it's own texture pallet; which is fine for a once-over but quickly became very tedious when needing to update textures or terrain data. The solution was to combine the pieces into a single height map, but that was easier said than done. In fact it took a lot of digging and some experimentation to really get a grip on the import/export process for height maps with Unity. Below is a video tutorial I recorded to demonstrate the method I settled on so I could pay it forward with anyone who might be running into the same problem!
It would be great for the team if you could please show your support during this time! Once you have checked out our Kickstarter page, we have also re-launched on Greenlight with a full project moving forward on Steam; show us your thumbs:
It has been a long 3 year journey to get this far, but I am happy to report that The Tumbleweed Express will be back on the road! Our team is really excited to announce that our latest build we be presented at Video Gamers United:
Our build will present a number of new features, which include:
New enemies & fancier graphics.
The beginning of our open world level system.
Scaling difficulty of levels through side contracts.
Improved weapons and interfaces.
General usability improvements.
We're also proud to announce that we will launching our Kickstarter in September and we're inviting you all to be apart of the final stages of the production of our project. Finally, if you can't make it to VGU then you will have another chance to play the game at the Boston Festival of Indie Games also in September. Looking forward to seeing you take control of the Tumbleweed and supporting our team at these upcoming events!