Konkan Coast Pirate Solutions released on the 1st of March 2023. It’s been a few months now, and I thought it might be time to look back at the game, and analyse some of the decisions that I chose to make.
While a lot of the analysis might appear critical, it is just an opportunity for me to learn, and improve my craft.
Given what I knew at the time, I did the best with what I had. Moving forward I hope to do better, and this retrospective analysis is an opportunity to do that.
For the purposes of this analysis, I consider Design to be everything within the game. Everything that was in my control to do falls under this category.
I think it took a while for me to realise, but the title, Konkan Coast Pirate Solutions is really not great. It can be considered meaningful to players once they complete the game, but that really is not the purpose of the title.
A title should be:
- easy to pronounce
- indicative of some aspect of the game
I think I managed to cover none of those bases.
The Konkan Coast is a region of the South West coast of India. It’s native to my family and community. I got a lot of kudos across many family whatsapp groups for that one. I never actually mentioned it within the game though, and I guess that was an opportunity that I missed.
In any case, I think it is definitely something that I should keep in mind for the future.
I am proud of the way the story turned out. I feel the ending is not predictable and very satisfying. It hits a lot of the themes that I had wanted to explore.
The main criticism of the story that I recieved overall, is that there was not quite enough of it. I think the most vocal puzzle game players tend to not enjoy story much. They were on my mind as I implemented it into the game. There was a lot of things that I ended up not implementing because I didn’t want to bore the player.
However, I as a player quite enjoy the story segments. I was optimising for an imaginary slice of a player base, rather than what might have been best for the game itself. Ideally there would have been a few more dialogues peppered around. Just general mood setting things, and maybe another couple of weak puns.
In the final chapter, there was one moment that I had hoped would go a certain way (Story Spoilers)When Midas tells Swami that all that they are doing is a waste, I intended it to have a different effect. I was hoping it would discourage the player from playing the further levels. After that, when they do go and play, it would be some kind of ludonarrative harmony, as that is the same realization that the characters end up with as well. _The joy is in the doing, even if there is no explicit value._
It didn’t work out how I intended though. In most cases, the narrative drive was so strong, that rather than dissuading players, they would insist on seeing the game through just so that they don’t end on that bad note. I guess I forgot how powerful story can be, and it’s definitely a tool I know how to use better next time.
Overall I think players both enjoy and expect a little more story within their games, and adding 10% more would make for a slightly better experience.
As I had discussed before, initially the intended target audience for the game was the niche core puzzle game players. This audience generally loves really hard puzzles, meta-puzzles, and other endgame content. So the game was really hard, and there was some of the other stuff that I also had in mind.
Over the course of development though, the game seemed to want to veer away from that design. The difficult levels were mostly just tedious, and not so interesting. There was too much chaos and uncertainty, and most levels were using trial and error to muddle their way through, rather than really understanding something interesting about the system.
So I ended up deciding that I should make an easier game.
The problem there was that my definition of easier was still targeted towards that same audience. Many of the thinky-puzzle-game standard features were still present, which a more casual audience is not so familiar with. Things like no explicit tutorial, a tendency to promote self-learing over hand-holding, and a lot of other niche language was still in the DNA of the game.
So I ended up making a game that was too easy for the hardcore audience, and too esoteric for the casual audience. I had just assumed that hitting a spot between the two markets would allow both to enjoy, but for the most part it felt like it just missed both the markets.
If I really wanted to make the game more broadly accessible, it needs either a much shallower on-ramp, or more handholding through the early stages, so that players can be onboarded more easily. These are things that I don’t particularly enjoy, but I too am deep within the puzzle playing audience, so if I want a wider audience, I need to add these aspects.
I have already gone deeper into aspects of the artstyle and UX, and where those aspects do well, and where they could be improved. I’ve also gone further into the reasons that I used a custom engine and just the journey overall.
For the purposes of this analysis, I consider Release to be everything outside of the game. For the most part, all of these things were out of my control.
I got quite lucky with the timing of the games release. The game was set to release with a bunch of other thinky-puzzle games, and I got invited to be a part of the Thinkathon. It was an event on Steam that highlighted all the games that would be released that week.
For KCPS, it was a huge boost. A lot of players only picked it up because they saw it featured in the event, and that was a level of publicity that I couldn’t have generated on my own in any other way over the week of release.
For the longest part of development of KCPS, there wasn’t any game that I would consider to be very similar mechanically, in the same “setup and play” sub-genre. Then suddenly, a few games joined that list. Railbound, and the thinky-games collaborations.
So then when it came to marketing, I often compared KCPS to Railbound, and while that is true from a mechanics standpoint, there is a difference at a more philosophical level.
The one thing especially unique to the whole sub-genre is its affinity to complexity and chaos. By the very nature of how the mechanics play out, it means that there is a large opportunity for levels and solutions to all devolve closer to something resembling chaos.
Railbound, in my opinion, leans into that nature, and as a result has levels that are really complex, and a large part of the game is sorting through all that complexity, and finding the solution within.
With KCPS, I was trying my best to lean away from that same complexity. Doing all that I could in my levels to keep things as simple as possible.
So given the (relative) proximity of the games’ releases, the earlier games may have had an effect on the reception of my game as well. The players who had been bitten by the complexity and the chaos took a look at KCPS, and decided that it was not for them. I also imagine there may have been players who enjoyed that complexity, and may have been decidedly upset at its lack of inclusion in KCPS.
So players who might have otherwise enjoyed the game, had it been released in a different context, ended up not playing it because of their experience with other similar-seeming games.
Overall, I don’t think I can definitively say that I can learn much from this. Just something that I thought was a bit unfortunate.
Reviews and Reception
I think there are three major reviews that I would like to highlight.
“Traditional Media” - PCGamer
The game was covered in PCGamer soon after release. It was definitely the event that directly led to the largest number of sales and wishlists. The review is a fairly honest representation of the game as a whole. It’s short and to the point, with a focus more on the story and setting, while making some references that I was unfamiliar with.
Overall, it shows how important having a unique setting/premise for any puzzle games can be. It allows for something that the media/readers can quickly catch onto, and hopefully hook them in.
“New Media” - Big YouTube
A popular YouTuber called Real Civil Engineer (1.7M subs) covered the game on their channel. It is the second largest bump in sales and wishlists. Given that the PCGamer article was right in the middle of launch week, it could be said that this was equally impactful.
The video is a bit mixed overall. A lot of it is just showing the final solutions of the levels, and a lot of the eureka moments. But also it’s very tightly edited, so maybe doesn’t really get the way the game works overall.
I think overall it is a separate challenge to make a game that is fun for a youtuber and streamer to play. A lot of the enjoyment of the genre happens within the players head, and that’s not really something that comes across over stream very well.
“True Fans” - Random Streamer
On the day of release, there was a video uploaded onto the Steam Community page, that linked me back to a streamer that had picked up the game on a whim, and I watched the recording on youtube.
Everything else that the game has going for it, sales, accolades, all pale in comparison to this single playthrough by SametTheTurk.
Over the course of making a game, it is stressful, and you lose all sense of objectivity. Hundreds of little touches that are applied to the various aspects of the game, and you have no idea if they are of any use, if anyone would spot them.
You have no idea if people get what you made, and why you made it.
Watching this playthrough taught me that it was all worth it.
Here’s a self indulgent edit of my personal highlights of that playthrough.
I guess different kinds of reviews serve different purposes. There is a lot to learn from the first two, on how to make things that will appeal to the largest audience, and what is the best things to add to increase appeal.
But the last one always reminds me of why I decided to create in the first place. The ability to communicate ideas and elicit joy, and that should always be at the fore.
Some other assorted lessons that I would like to carry forward for the next games.
Marketing and Steam
I picked the best time to do all my research on how to market a game and how steam works: The weeks after release. I still stand by my decision. I think if I had started that research too early, it would have scared me from making the game that I was making, and eternally delayed release.
But now that we are past the first roadbump, it makes sense to get a little more serious about the more practical aspects. The resource is really great, and has a lot of good pointers (and some questionable ones).
Even just knowing how Steam works is really useful in early stages of a product’s development. You are free to give as much attention as you need to that, but it’s a good thing to have knowledge about.
Other Form Factors
I think the game I created would work pretty well on mobile, but now actually porting it would involve a lot of UI changes, because the smaller screen might pose a lot of space constraints. Similarly, it could have a usable controller input, but again implementing that might be a lot of work.
Wide screen monitors exist. Something I never thought of, but my engine was not set up to support. Similarly, monitors with different refresh rates. How to deal with those.
Moving forward there is a lot more to consider than just it works on my machine.
Calm Down. Enjoy the process
Release week was stressful. And I still don’t know why. The game had not been updated for weeks. Everything was already in place. But I think some aspects of the uncertainty of how it would be recieved really got to me. As a result, I feel I wasn’t really able to enjoy that feeling of releasing my first game on Steam.
I hope the next time around, I will be in the state of mind where I can just enjoy it as it happens.
And that’s mostly it. I think going through systematically and marking out a few places where I can do better was a good exercise to undergo. I hope that I am able to make better games moving forward.