General

The lessons we learned.

One of the most important things I learned through this agonizing month of Kickstarter is that chocolate is my best friend. When I used to look at the small amount that we raised and compare with other projects, I found that munching on chocolate can help alleviate the general sadness of it all.

I also learned that it helps you put on some unwanted weight, but I digress.

Maybe someone in the process of making their very first Kickstarter project will come across this and benefit from our experience, so I thought I’d share some of the important things we learned.

Socialize first, ask for money later.

Our biggest mistake happened on the social media front. We only activated our accounts on Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the SM gang on the first day of Kickstarter. Not the best idea. We struggled to gather followers at a time when we really needed backers, and a lot of time and effort went into building our social media base when we should’ve really been focusing on Kickstarter updates and trying to keep our backers happy.

Put your best foot forward.

I am damn proud of our content. I think we have a cool idea with wonderful characters and awesome art, and I’m not being biased either. However, the problem lies with the fact that we did not present it in the best  possible way. We did try to amend this along the way, but the damage was already done by then, which brings me to the next point.

Make sure you’re 100% ready.

Unless by some chance you happen to be the unluckiest soul to ever tread the surface of the earth, Kickstarter won’t be going away anytime tomorrow, and even if it does, there are other crowdfunding websites out there. So before you hit that Publish button, make sure you’ve got everything down pat. Do all the necessary research, shoot a great video, prepare a great  pitch and get everything in order. Review, review, review. When you’re confident that you’ve created the best campaign possible, then you can publish it.

Have something to show for your work.

You know you have a good game, we might know that too, but until you show us just how good your game is, chances are people might not readily believe you… especially if you’re new on the scene. We had little in-game footage, something which made people think twice before backing us. The game seemed cool, but they couldn’t be sure unless they saw some videos of the game, which we unfortunately could not provide at that time.

One last thing – do not expect too much. Building up your expectations is only setting you up for potential disappointment that you really can do without. All my empty chocolate wrappers are testament of that!

And hey, never be afraid to try again. That’s why we’re relaunching in less than a month. 😉

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The End of Kickstarter.

Our Kickstarter campaign was a smashing success! We got 332% funded and are now going to produce the best and most epic game in the history of video games! IT IS GOING TO BE AWESOME.

… is what I wish I could tell you. The sad truth is that the Cedaria Kickstarter failed horribly. We were so enthusiastic about it at the start, but as the days passed it became clear that we were not going to receive the money necessary to make the game the way we want it to be. It is rather disappointing, and many a days at the office were spent wallowing in ice cream and other chocolatey goodness to cheer ourselves up, or giving pep talks to remind each other that Cedaria will happen, with or without the funding.

The thing is, we do need the extra funding to include some necessary elements and help speed up the production process and avoid cutting back on some cool stuff we wish to include. So for that reason, we’re not really giving up just yet.

We made some mistakes along the way, we realise that now. There are a number of things that could’ve been done differently, but there’s no point in lamenting at the moment. In fact, that’s the last thing we’d think of doing now that we’re busy preparing for a second crowdfunding campaign! Yes, you heard that right, we’re coming back with a new and improved campaign within a month’s time, and we will be definitely more ready.

In the meantime, I am going to continue posting updates and information about the game, but at a slower pace given that I’m plenty busy creating NPCs and storylines at the moment! 😉

With that out of the way, all that is left to say is… thank you for your support! =D

 

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Why Steampunk?

I think the term “Steampunk” still raises some question marks when brought up before people. What is it? Is it a band? Is it some kind of music? My, it sounds rather rough, hide your wife and kids! But poor innocent Steampunk is merely a sub-genre of science fiction where steam-powered machinery is usually in abundance.

The nifty thing about Steampunk, I think, is the fact that it provides a perfect balance between the modern day and the fantasy world. This is actually the reason why we went for the Steampunk genre; it allowed us to portray some real life elements quite realistically while at the same time allowing us to have a little fun and fantasize things a little. After all, our first and foremost goal was to indirectly teach the player some skills they can use in the real world, and it seemed improbable that they might ever come into a situation where they might have to decide how to best kill a ravaging sea goblin, with a sword or with a blaster ray gun.

But why on Earth did we choose to combine Steampunk with the Middle East? Well… why not? I think it’s a pretty cool combination, and no, I’m not biased at all. Victorian meets oriental, industry meets tradition… Middle Punk. No? Middle Steam? Oh, I know, East Punk! Okay, no, I don’t know what I’m saying and I feel like I’m rambling, but you all get the picture, don’t you?

The next question would be, why didn’t we go all the way and use Middle-Eastern names for our NPCs? After all, we did adopt Middle-Eastern architectural models. This was indeed a topic of discussion for a while, and at one point we did have Arabic names, but ultimately we decided against it due to the sensitive nature of the games and some connotations that might be associated with some of the names that we might pick. We didn’t want to offend anyone, especially since this is ultimately a peace-building game, and decided that our safest bet would be to stick to typical Victorian names that would be common to any form of steampunkish media. Plus, we were hoping to reach more than the Middle East with our game, and figured that Arabic names might sound odd to a foreign gamer.

With all that’s said and done, it’s really exciting to know that we’re attempting something that has never been done before!

Are you a fan of Steampunk? Maybe you like cosplay too? You should head over to our Facebook page or check out this link! We are having a Steampunk cosplay competition with a really cool prize. =D /shameless plug.

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Cedariaception

So I realise I’ve been going on and on about the game and never actually talked about how it was conceived. It started out on a bright, sunny day with politicians screaming at each other in the background and explosions going off and scuffles breaking out on streets and… well, not exactly. Cedaria: Blackout was born out of the need for a fun tool promoting the acceptance of the other and proper conflict resolution skills without boring people to tears. I’m pretty sure you all picked up an educational game at one point and thought, “oh my god this is so boring please make it stop”, and I agree wholeheartedly with you. You couldn’t get me to play an educational/serious game unless you paid me.

Search for Common Ground Lebanon (an NGO – SFCGL for short) came to the conclusion that a video game was a very good way of getting messages across without coming off as preachy, and nobody likes a preacher. Even if you don’t know much about Lebanon, you’re at least probably aware that it is not a stable country, and a large portion of its instability stems from the many different religions/sects living within its small confines. Young generations are all pretty much caught up in all the hoopla, and even the smallest of children might show signs of stigma or intolerance when prompted; SFCG wanted to relay peaceful messages to them through a medium they’re generally accepting of. They’re less likely to clamp their hands over their ears if you’ve got them playing a game!

You’d really be surprised at the amount of research that went into this field and proved the significant psychological impact games – especially the violent ones – have on the mindsets of kids and adults alike. One second you’re bludgeoning a monster to death and seeing red when a particularly difficult boss does not die, the next you’re taking out your frustration at a friend or family member, and if you’re playing games for 3 to 4 hours a day – a survey we conducted revealed that to be the average gaming time for a typical teen in Lebanon – then you’ve got a lot of unnecessary exposure to violence. So if violence can have such an effect, why not peace and logic?

Of course, SFCG is no gamer, and they knew that if they were to go about it themselves they’d end up with a boring, educational game anyway, so they discussed their idea with Matsuko, home to a number of veteran developers who’ve worked on projects like Assassin’s Creed, Age of Conan and Far Cry, and they were all game. Pun intended. The games Matsuko worked on were mostly violent, so Cedaria was a nice change of pace for them.

To make this game as authentic as possible, SFCG needed a Lebanese element on board the project to help give it that Middle Eastern flavour that they wanted. No, I’m not talking about tabbouleh and stuffed grape leaves and baba ganoush – even though they are yummy –  but rather about the Lebanese team comprising a composer, 3D artists and a writer – yours truly! The idea was that only the Lebanese can truly know what their country is like and portray it accordingly.

So right now we’re in the production stages. Sometimes we need to build bridges between the peacebuilding team of SFCG and the gaming team of Matsuko, and sometimes we end up using conflict resolution skills ourselves. It’s an interesting experience for all of us, but we’re trying hard to come up with a common ground for everything. Now, if only we can get that funding necessary to make the game as awesome as it can be… 😉

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Where is our Middle-Eastern Twist?

One of the selling points of Cedaria: Blackout is that we’ve blended together steampunk and Middle-Eastern elements of architecture and style. We thought it would add a unique flair to the genre, plus it would make our game look pretty! Levantine architecture is distinguished by its arches, big windows and tile roofs, and that worked pretty well in the game’s setting.

How did we go about it? Whenever we sat down to discuss a zone on the island and the possible buildings that would go in them, we’d try to find some references that would blend with the setting. There were times when we couldn’t find any Lebanese references and had to rely on other things, but often times we lucked out. It helped that our 3D artists are both Lebanese and well-acquainted with architecture styles here in the region.

So, to show off some of what we have, I stole these from the design station I blackmailed the artists to allow me to use them I nicely asked the artists if I could showcase some of their work on the blog. They wanted to let you know that the buildings aren’t entirely complete, however, as they still need to add steampunk elements to them. But for now… here we go!

First we have our city buildings, which were based on some office buildings you can find in downtown Beirut.

We have whole rows of them in this particular area. They're so pretty to look at.

We have whole rows of them in this particular area. They’re so pretty to look at.

The artists used the above image as a reference and managed to create this beauty below:

Notice the similarities between the two? :)

Notice the similarities between the two? =]

Continue reading

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When the lights go out…

…. creatures come out to play.

A running theme in Cedaria is the blackout;  with the island’s main source of power – the Phoenix –  gone, the citizens are forced to stumble in the dark, relying on primitive means to light their path and trying to avoid getting attacked in the shadows. This was inspired by the power shortage issues faced by the country of Lebanon, on which the game is based.

“Kahraba walla ishtirak?” – is a common (Arabic) question in Lebanon, basically meaning, “Is it state electricity or generator electricity?” Power outages are so frequent that citizens need to rely on generators for power 12 hours every day. The main electricity company in Lebanon is always unable to supply all areas with electricity due to the fuel shortage and debts in the country, and as such distributes power to the different areas (often times unfairly) according to a strict time schedule. Be careful not to use the elevator at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. or 12 a.m. or you might be stuck! Especially during summer when outages become more and more frequent.

"Ijit, ijit!" - an enthusiastic way of saying, "The electricity's back on!"

“Ijit, ijit!” – an enthusiastic way of saying, “The electricity’s back on!”

The Lebanese are fortunate enough to have generators; the subscriptions  are very costly, but it’s better than spending hours in the dark – or worse, sleeping without any fan or ACs during the hot summer nights!! – isn’t it? The citizens of Cedaria, however, do not have generators. Or rather, they have a very limited number of very primitive ones that can barely power anything. And since the island relies heavily on its industry, this only resulted in very dire consequences.

Why can’t they use other resources? That’s where politics come into play. The Thunes who live in the mountains have monopolized the island’s stores of coal, making the precious substance available only to the very rich. The very marginalized Ozar who have always been in charge of the timber industry took this as an opportunity to demand more rights. The Kythiens offered no help because the Phoenix bothered them  anyway. The Vaytori got the short end of the stick, trapped in the middle with no means of securing enough electricity to power up their cities. Thus, chaos ensues.

The Lebanese citizens are helpless in the face of the power outages in their country. However, in Cedaria: Blackout, we want to be able to give the player a chance to change things to the better. Of course, there are many issues in Lebanon that we’ve incorporated into the game, but the outages are considered quite a big deal.  It’s true that by fixing the power problem you aren’t going to automatically solve every problem there is, but… it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “There’s a light at the end of each tunnel”, doesn’t it?

 

Do you have many power outages where you live? If you were in Cedaria, what solutions would you come up with? What’s the one thing you would miss the most in case of a blackout? Personally, I’d miss my internet!

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Kicking off with a… kitten?

Today I’m excited to announce that we have finally launched the Kickstarter for Cedaria: Blackout! We were so nervous about clicking the “Launch” button that we had a kitten do it for us. Yes, you heard me – a kitten. We currently have an office kitten right now, and while I love kittens to death I’m starting to think his presence will be an extremely huge distraction, but then I look at how extremely darn cute he is and all is right with the world again.

But I digress.

Our Kickstarter is finally up, and it should give you a look about the game and what it’s all about. But while we’re at it, I’ll give a brief introduction.

Cedaria: Blackout is a cooperative adventure RPG set on the island of Cedaria, where chaos has been unleashed as  a result of the breakdown of a machine that held it at its seams and drove forward its industrial movement, a machine known as the Phoenix. Ten of its essential parts disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and the machine could not be put together again (for more on the story, click here).

As a wayfarer returning home to reunite with your family after a long period of absence, you will soon find yourself stuck on the island, and will be given the choice between doing what’s best for you, or what’s best for the island.

The game has been designed under the banner of “gaming for peace”. It is somewhat based on the country of Lebanon, but discusses issues present in every other country in the world. Rather than simply killing monsters and rescuing people just because the game tells you to, we want the player to be aware of the choices they’re making and the effect they have on the island; so it’s not just an adventure through a universe influenced by steampunk and Middle-Eastern elements, but very much a choice and consequence kind of game.

To make this happen, we need your help! We have such awesome plans for the game but unfortunately lack a sufficient budget, and it would absolutely kill me if we didn’t get to execute them all. You wouldn’t want me dead, would you?

Wait, don’t answer that.

It would make our kitten sad, though. =[ And speaking of our kitten, how would you like to help us name it? We’re all still pretty much undecided, and I do believe that continuing to call a male cat “Kitty” will make it rather confused later on.

Our kitten! Isn't he just adorable?

Our kitten! Isn’t he just adorable?

And what's a kitten without its castle?

And what’s a kitten without its castle?

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Of Kickstarter and Internet Woes.

According to Murphy’s Laws, when you really need something, its either not available, or can’t be found, and when you don’t need it, its either available, or lays around in plain sight. Here’s one thing I should mention about Lebanon before anything else: we have (probably) the world’s slowest and most unreliable internet. And terrible customer service; to get your connection fixed, you would have to wait many hours or days at a time. I’m not even exaggerating. The one good thing about the internet here is that it allows you to go with the excuse of, “Hey, sorry I couldn’t meet my deadline. My internet was dead last night.” 

Yesterday was a pretty hectic day for the entire team because we wanted to submit a Kickstarter campaign for Cedaria. There were reward tiers to be filled, descriptions to be written, proofreading to be done… and that’s without mentioning all the other things we’re preparing for the official announcement of the game. Then, suddenly, right in the middle of proofreading the campaign details and double-checking the reward tiers, my computer tells me I don’t have internet access. Just when I really, REALLY need it.

I was quite ready to flip my laptop. Hey I'm getting a new one in a couple of day; I'm not fussed about what could happen to it.

I was quite ready to throw my laptop. Hey I’m getting a new one in a couple of days; I’m not fussed about what could happen to it.

I restarted my router, my laptop, tried just about everything I could think of, but no dice. And it was a bit late, so of course I wouldn’t have been able to grab hold of anyone who could get the dratted connection to work. Thankfully, our producer lives abroad and I was able to contact him and let him know what happened. He was able to salvage the situation; he proofread the entire thing and submitted it before the night was over, earning 200 nerd points and winning the internet (not mine) in the process. Meanwhile, I had fallen asleep over my laptop after staring far too long at the little computer in the corner of my taskbar. I woke up much later to find an email from said producer letting me know that the application has been submitted. phew. Hopefully it should go live within a few days, and then we can get around to discussing all the game elements I’ve been so tight-lipped about!

Things are relatively calmer today – if you ignore the underlying tension that accompanies the wait for the campaign to be approved – and the internet is working! Today we all get to resume our regular tasks after all the work that went to preparing our KS campaign. There are some back stories to be written, gang names to be decided on, and other cool stuff. Personally I’m looking forward to more concept art for my characters! It’s going to be interesting to see what our artist comes up with for the different clans inhabiting the island. 😉

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The Perks of Being a Game Writer.

One of the first things I’ve realised after starting out as a writer for Cedaria: Blackout is that work can actually be fun. Sure, I still have to wake up early (sometimes after few hours of sleep), sure I have a bit of a long commute, sure it’s sometimes a bit hectic, but it’s fun with a capital F, to the extent that it sometimes does not feel like work at all.

Working on Cedaria has been special in the sense that it’s a team effort. Even though I’m the writer, almost everyone can contribute to the way the storyline is going, whether it’s a line of dialogue thrown in by our designer, or a special contraption included by the 2D artist in one of the various concept arts, or a simple suggestion by one of our 3D artists that spawned off an entire town. When you’re working on a book, it’s more or less a solo effort, but when you have everyone brainstorming together and tossing all these wonderful and crazy ideas out, you feel secure in the knowledge that you’re going to end up with a very cool game. It also helps vanquish Writer’s Block quite effectively!

One of the best things that come along with the territory is that you get the benefit of seeing your characters come to life. The first time I saw my characters as ink on paper (or pixels on my computer screen) I practically squealed in delight. You can already see a couple of them – my favourites, actually – in the background of this blog. Eventually I’ll introduce them to you; one of them is practically dying to talk about himself. Honestly, we’ve had to keep him on a leash because he was causing so much havoc.

The world of Cedaria is slowly taking shape now, and it is absolutely exciting to watch it unfurl before my eyes. The various zones are slowly getting populated with various NPCs and points of interest, and of course that means writing a whole bunch of back stories and quests and researching various professions and Victorian and steampunk elements (mighty generators and airships, monocles and goggles, thingamajigs and whatchamacallits!) … and that’s without mentioning everything going into planning the game’s reveal next week!

Things are getting incredibly busy, but that’s okay. As I said, it’s just incredible fun. =D

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Introductions are really not my thing.

I am usually terrible when it comes to introducing myself or any subject I intend to talk about. In most cases I’m all too happy to let someone take the load off my shoulders and just take the stage, to the extent that I almost would not care if they introduced me as a chainsaw-wielding, home-wrecking sociopath, as long as they said something. Anything.

It’s even worse when I want to introduce a project I’m working on. As a writer, people ask me, “Hey, Zen, what’s your book about?” and I just freeze. Yes, it’s my book; yes, of course I’m the one who wrote it, but please do not ask me about it. For your sake and mine, I think we’d both be better off if you just read the synopsis inscribed on the back of the book.

Unfortunately, however, I cannot do that with Cedaria. It’s not a tangible thing, there is no back cover! The first time I had to introduce the game to a large crowd of gamers*, I panicked. I was shaking, shredding a tissue paper between my fingers, my coworker had to practically take my hand and lead me to the stage. For a moment my mind was completely blank and I forgot what I was there to talk about; I was mostly thinking, “Oh my god they are going to abhor me.  They probably think I have no idea what I’m doing. Need to get out. Would they laugh if I bolted to the nearest exit?”

Fortunately, things went pretty smoothly after I managed to form the first few coherent sentences, and hopefully they will go just as smoothly here in the days to come as I introduce you to the video game I have started working on recently. A video game by the name of Cedaria: Blackout, the first ever to combine both Middle Eastern and steampunk elements.

What is it about? Well, for now you will have to settle for the little sneak peak here! 😉

* This is entirely relative. To me, a large crowd comprises 20 people.

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