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GDC 2018 wrap-up

By Jon Manning (@desplesda), co-founder of Secret Lab.

Alec Holowka accepting the Seumas McNally Grand Prize for Night in the Woods at the 2018 Independent Games Festival.

So, I’m back from GDC 2018.

We’ve been going to GDC for 9 years now. If we go next year, I’ll have been wandering in and out of the Moscone Centre for a decade.

We started going to GDC because we were living in California, and happened to have the spare resources and time to attend it. We were always attending from the viewpoint that it would be useful to have an idea of what the game dev community is like, and to try to do the thing that business types call “networking” and regular humans call “making friends”. We didn’t realise they were the same thing until our fifth year of going.

Like many attendees at GDC, we were going aspirationally. While we’ve always been game developers—our first ever release was a tiny little competitive puzzler called Culture, in 2008—we never felt like we were part of the larger conversation, and I’m pretty sure that that feeling I shared with most people I see who aren’t frequently seen in groups in the halls.

I don’t have any advice here for people who want to change that for themselves. All I have is that, around the time we started working on Night in the Woods, I had a group of friends who all work in the same field and never see each other except at international gatherings like GDC. While not all of these people are team members on the game we worked on, having a thing that serves as the anchor for a group that we’re part of made my experience significantly less lonely, and a lot more focused.

This is the second GDC that I’ve given a talk at. This year, I talked about Grabthar’s Hammer, the compression technique that we built for the iOS version of Night in the Woods. People liked the talk! I had a number of people with questions afterwards, and I think I answered them pretty well. They’ll have ended up on the recording. I’ll probably end up cringing hugely when I review the video. Worth it.

This is the first GDC in which a game we worked on was up for awards at either the Independent Games Festival or the Game Developers Choice Awards. Night in the Woods was up for three awards in each. People like the game, I think. That’s nice.

Night in the Woods won two awards, both of them in the Independent Games Festival. We won Excellence in Narrative, and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, and it felt weird and good to be at the table and hear it. For each of the awards that we were nominated for, I’d picked out a game that wasn’t ours that we were rooting for, and at the moment of the announcement, I was crossing my fingers for them. For the awards that we didn’t win, my picks won about half the time; for the times we did win, it was a huge surprise. I think I remember loudly shouting “what the fuck” when the announcement for the Grand Prize was made.

We’d already met before the event, and talked about what our plans were if we won. We didn’t want to bore the audience with everyone having a chance to talk, so we decided to limit who was going to talk; Scott, as the primary face of the game, would speak, and if we won the grand prize, we’d take advantage of the fact that it was the end of the event to get others to say a few words.

I don’t remember much about the journey up to the stage. I do remember focusing on the fact that I was potentially on camera, so I had to maintain my stage face. I do remember noticing, for the first time, that you can’t hear what the person at the microphone is saying. I had to wait until I was back home and could watch the recording to hear what Scott, Alec, Bethany and Bekah had said.

After you’re done giving whatever remarks you have, you’re taken off stage, and led into an area with cameras and people who want to take pictures. I don’t remember much about this either, but I do remember being formed into a line and having pictures taken. There are selfies on my phone with Adam and Bekah that I only fuzzily remember.

We ended up leaving the awards shortly after the final award we were nominated for was announced. We walked down to Zero Zero, and ordered pizza. Adam proposed a toast. It was the same toast he’d given last year, less than a week after the game’s launch: “It shouldn’t have worked.”

People usually warn against putting people on pedestals. Having attended GDC and other community events as a face in the crowd, it’s hard to avoid doing that. This is the GDC in which a lot of my heroes came down off the pedestals, and I ended up just hanging out with them and making friends. I left GDC more emotionally fulfilled than when I came in. The indie games scene (which is a very specific thing, and is not the only group of people independently producing games) relies very much on personal networks of friends, and until you have that relationship, it can feel quite isolating.

Team Night in the Woods, on the last day of GDC 2018. From left to right: Jon Manning, Alec Holowka, Em Halberstadt, Adam Saltsman, Rebekah Saltsman, Bethany Hockenberry, Scott Benson. Photo taken by Felix Kramer.

We need to get back to work on Night in the Woods now! More from us soon...


Small Towns, Small Screens: Night in the Woods is coming to mobile

Night in the Woods is coming to iOS in 2018!

We're thrilled to announce that we've partnered with Infinite Fall and Finji in porting Night in the Woods to iOS. We've been working on it for a while now, and we're incredibly excited to say that it's coming in 2018.

Porting a game like NITW to mobile devices is interesting for two reasons. First, a mobile phone often has much less memory than PCs or consoles, and a less powerful graphics chip, so we need to do all kinds of things to make the game fit. Second, bringing any game that was designed for controllers or keyboards to a touchscreen means you've got to completely re-design the game to account for stuff like the player's hands covering up the screen, and the fact that you can't physically feel your controls.

You might have seen Jon posting about his work over the last several months on a tool for compressing sprites. This tool is part of the set of technologies we've been developing to support the port, and we'll be sharing more about it in the near future.

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NITW also uses Yarn Spinner, our open source tool for creating and managing interactive dialogue in games. We're thrilled with the community response to Yarn Spinner, and improvements that result from our porting work will be merged into the main project.

If you're going to GCAP 2017, come and see Jon talk about the port in more detail at 3PM on Tuesday, October 24th (TODAY!), where he'll also be sharing tips and tricks on how to make your game the best possible experience on iOS devices.

For more info, be sure to follow us on Twitter, at @thesecretlab, @parisba and @desplesda. We share lots of interesting behind the scenes stuff!

Talk more soon. This is going to be fun. For questions or inquiries, please email lab@secretlab.com.au


Doing things the hard way

This year, we gave a talk at GDC called “Making Night in the Woods Better with Open Source”. In it, we talked about how Night in the Woods, which came out last month and you should totally go buy, used the open source process in its development.

Unlike most of our other talks, we did something a little ridiculous with this one - we built an entire presentation system, from scratch, into Night in the Woods. We’re actually pretty proud of this, and so we put together a video showing how it was done. Check it out!

The talk from GDC is also available online, and we've embedded it below:


Yarn Spinner Localisation

Earlier this year, we were approached by the rad folks at Infinite Fall with a very interesting challenge: could we please add support for localisation in Yarn Spinner, the dialogue system we wrote, for Night in the Woods?

Yarn Spinner was written to be a more advanced interpreter for the Yarn language, a Twine-inspired tool for writing interactive dialogue. Yarn Spinner lets you write your game's dialogue in a very natural way, with minimal technical syntax and a strong focus on getting your words into the game.

Because Yarn Spinner has such a strong focus on minimising the amount of stuff you have to write on top of your dialogue, we have to be careful whenever adding new features to the language. Our goal is always to reduce the amount of stuff you have to think about when writing. However, any kind of localisation system requires you to add additional information, in the form of a key that links a line's original text that of a translated version.

We created what we think is a pretty neat solution to this: hashtags. To localise a line of text, you add a hashtag that contains a short tag, like this:

However, Night in the Woods has a lot of dialogue. Like, buckets of it. Tagging each and every line would be hugely laborious. Fortunately, we already have a tool that's very good at quickly and thoroughly processing large amounts of Yarn dialogue: Yarn Spinner itself!

We therefore put together a little tool that can extremely quickly (like, 2 seconds quickly) tag every single line of dialogue that needs it. The tool only counts text that needs localisation - that is, anything that a player will see. It ignores all other stuff, like if statements and other behind the scenes stuff, as well as any line that already has a tag, which allows you to run the tool on files that have been partially tagged. In other words, it's a tool you can feed your dialogue through without worrying about anything it's doing.

Once you have some tagged dialogue, you can then generate a file that contains every line's text, as well as its localisation tag. The tool generates a CSV spreadsheet, which is the easiest format for most people to read.

Once you have the spreadsheet, you can send it off to your translators. In our case, we sent it off to a translation team in Italy, who converted the entire text of the Night in the Woods demo into Italian. They then sent back a spreadsheet that contained the Italian versions of all of the lines. We then dropped this into the Night in the Woods demo, and presto: localised!

The code for the localisation tool has already been merged into the development branch of Yarn Spinner, and we'll be putting out more info on how to use it soon. We can't wait to see more games in more languages using Yarn Spinner. Stay tuned for more!