I’ve been working on Sally Face for the last five years of my life. In that time, within the span of 5 episodes, I’ve created over 80 characters, 54 environments, recorded 56 songs, wrote thousands of lines of dialog, designed 70 puzzles/challenges and mixed over 500 sound effects. The final project has over 4,000 art assets and over 1,000 animations.
My blood, sweet and tears went into this project. I’ve poured so much of myself into making this game, at times giving too much and then learning to find a better balance with life. For many people, it’s tough to understand how much work goes into developing a game. I hope that the above stats can shed just a little bit of light on the sheer amount of work involved. Though honestly, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Yet, to me, this work is very rewarding and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I started working on Sally Face in my free time, around 2014/2015. I went through a lot of personal struggles during development, which the game ultimately helped me through (I’ve talked about this in detail in previous posts, so I won’t get into that here). In 2016 I began working on SF full time and it has changed my life. I now develop my own games for a living; something I had been working up to for about 7 years prior.
Working on my own
This project has been a solo endeavor for me. I create everything in the game myself: art, music, writing, design, sound, animation and so on. Not only that, I also do every other aspect from marketing to PR to support. That means answering emails, fixing bugs, cutting trailers, making marketing materials, writing press releases, traveling to conventions, doing bookkeeping, managing social media sites, etc.
I began working on my own out of necessity (I didn’t have any budget) but also out of passion. It was a project I had been wanting to work on for years and I liked having something that could be my personal creative outlet. So even when the game started making some money, I still wanted to see it through on my own.
For my next game, I may contract out some artwork to help speed up the process. I’ve also recently partnered up with Brand Central, who have been handling Sally Face merchandise, which is great. One less thing off my plate and they’ve been getting some cool merch stuff going. I’ve also worked with a group of awesome volunteers for the translations, which I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own.
What I’ve learned
Keeping the project short and taking breaks in between really helps to prevent burnout. So the episodic format was great to work with in that regard. I also planned from the beginning to evolve the game as I went, so that I was always looking forward to making the next episode. That turned out to be very helpful in keeping my motivation going.
The episodic format becomes a nightmare to manage over time. Whenever I have to do an update or a patch, I now have to make 14 builds and upload them to four different sites. It’s very tedious and time consuming. Additionally, when there are big gaps in releases (with new episodes) plus software updates (Unity and plugins) it can sometimes create issues when users update their older files. In the future, I might need to rethink how I’ll be distributing a game.
Working 70+ hours a week is not sustainable. I used to work like this for long stretches of time without breaks. But it’s not healthy and I want to continue making games without burning myself out. Occasionally, I’ll still slip into that overworking mode for short spurts but I’ve learned to keep a better balance overall.
I will never do a midnight launch again. Every time I plan this, I try to get everything set up early and every time I think I’m not going to be up too late. I always end up staying up super late anyway. For Episode Five I stayed up past 4am and it was just too much. From now on, I’m going to plan on doing launches in the mornings. This will give me the full day to work with a clear head and not zombie brains.
Avoiding crunch is hard, though I’ve been getting better at it. I think the key is to get the project in a near finished state before even talking about a release date. I’ve seen a lot of people online saying things like “drop the new episode already” but I don’t think they really understand what they’re asking for. These things take a lot of time and even when they are “finished” they still require a lot of work before launch. You have to get the bugs out, do testing, work on translations, ready platform specific implementations, work on marketing materials, etc. Asking for a rushed game is like asking for a shittier version of a thing you like. No one wants that. Especially not the person working hard on the project so that players will enjoy it.
No matter how hard you work and no matter how much testing you do, there will always be bugs. Always. Once thousands of players are playing the game on all different devices and interacting in different ways, issues will pop up. It’s inevitable. It used to really stress me out. And I’d be lying if I said that stress was totally gone but I’ve come more to terms with that. Just knowing and expecting to have to fix some things after launching.
The Response to the Ending
The responses to Episode Five have been very positive overall. The majority of players really like it, which is great. Though the thing with endings in general is that they don’t always please everyone. Sally Face is not an exception, as a good amount of fans didn’t like the ending. Even though it’s the minority opinion, I still feel pretty disappointed in that. This is a project I’ve poured my heart into and a community that I love and care about very much. So I do care what they think and it does affect me.
It seems that most of those who were disappointed were so because they wanted more. And at least that’s something good. This was one of the feelings I wanted people to have at the end. I wanted them to want more, I wanted them to wonder, “what happens next?”, I wanted there to still be mystery remaining for people to talk about. Additionally, I wanted to keep it open so that I could revisit the world of Sally Face. I have too many ideas to let it die and too many things I want to explore.
So will there be another Sally Face game in the future? Yes! Will I work on that next? Maybe! I have several ideas that I am excited about. However, I also have other game ideas (non SF related) that I’d like to explore too. Life is short and games take a long time to develop, so I have to choose what I do carefully. It may also be good to take a break from SF then come back to it, so that I don’t get burned out on it. But I haven’t made any decisions on that just yet.
In general, I wanna work on games that mean something to me. That’s why I’m an indie developer and not signed on with publishers (not saying publishers are bad, just that I prefer to have creative freedom). I wanna make things that I care about. And I hope that whatever my next project is that Sally Face fans will also enjoy it.
That said, in the short term here is what I’ll be doing:
- First and foremost, I’m going to take a short break for the holidays and visit my family (who I haven’t seen in a year)
- Working on some more translations for Sally Face when I get back
- Putting together a Sally Face art book! (more details to come later)
- Porting Sally Face to new platforms (more details later)
- Figuring out and designing my next game
Thank you all for your love and support. It means the world to me.