The Complicated History of Sally Face

I get asked all the time where the idea for Sally Face came from and what inspired me to make the game. I also went through a lot of personal struggles while creating the first two episodes. So I thought that topic would make a good starting point for this blog.

Around 2006 / 2007, I sketched a creepy character (as per usual) and the name “Sally Face” just popped into my head. Over the next few weeks, I began to imagine this character and what his life would be like. A boy with a girls face sewn on. I imagined him living in an apartment building filled with odd tenants.  His best friend would be a lazy stoner who wore a cape and lived in the basement. This was the genesis of Sal and Larry.  Here are the original sketches from that time:

Sally Face and Larry (aka “Lazy Kid”) version .01

A few months after those initial ideas began to form, I had already created a backstory for Sal (that’s when I ditched the sewn on face in favor of the prosthetic mask), a world that he lives in, a cast of characters and different stories I could tell within that universe. At the heart of everything, I really wanted to create something that had the look and feel reminiscent of a 90’s Nicktoon (like Doug, Ren and Stimpy, Hey Arnold, Rock’s Modern Life) but with darker themes and more mature stories/content.

Sally Face version 2.0  (young Steve had just started learning 3D modeling)

I got together with a few friends that were good artists and animators, as I attempted to assemble a team to make Sally Face into an internet cartoon series. Everyone got into the idea at first and we were all excited to start this project. However, between work and school schedules, no one could commit enough time and things quickly fell apart.

Sally Face sat in the back of my mind for seven years, as I moved on to other projects.

In 2010 I started a small indie game team, Wither Studios, with some friends. We developed a game called Crowman & Wolfboy that released in 2013 on mobile platforms. The game got great reviews from media and users and was downloaded over 600,000 times. Despite all of that, we still struggled to make money off of C&W. Because of this, the team voted to abandon development on the planned expansions to the game. This had me pretty bummed for a while because I had some awesome ideas for the direction of that game that I was really excited about at the time. A year later, our team was still struggling with what direction to take our next game. Eventually, at the end of 2014, we lost two of our team members over that conflict. It really sucked because they were not only good artists but good friends as well.

The chaos that Wither had fallen into is what ignited my desire to work on my own project. I wasn’t sure if the team would make it through that rough patch but I also needed a creative outlet. There were a few ideas I was tinkering with but Sally Face came back around into my mind. I thought it would be nice to finally do something with that idea and that it would transition pretty well into an adventure game, rather than a cartoon. So in 2015, building from the original concepts, I rewrote the story arc to fit a five episode narrative and began working on episode one in my free time. It was a slow process, as I was working a full time job and still working with Wither Studios too.

Redesigning Sally Face Characters  (third time’s the charm?)

In February 2016, I was unexpectedly laid off from my job, during a company wide downsizing. Finding a new job afterwards was turning out to be difficult. That’s when I decided to focus on finishing episode one of Sally Face. I had enough money saved plus unemployment coming in, that I could be more casual about looking for other work for a while. My wife at the time fought me tooth and nail over this decision. It turned out that she didn’t support my dreams and refused to even meet me on any middle ground. This torn a giant hole in our relationship.

That summer, I moved out and stayed with my parents while we figured out what we were going to do. During that time, I was able to finish up development on Sally Face, Episode One: Strange Neighbors. I released it in August, on Sales were dismal to say the least. I tried my best to promote it but I just couldn’t gain enough attention. My funds were also starting to run low. So I decided to run a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to kill two birds with one stone (funding and attention).

During that fall, I moved back to Pittsburgh, with my wife. We were going to attend couples therapy and try to work through things. In November, I raised over $13,000 for Sally Face via crowdfunding. Luckily the game had started catching on with YouTubers and some of the bigger channels were starting to play episode one. That was a huge help with getting more eyes on the game. In December, I had released Sally Face on Steam to great reception. I was finally able to focus my full time efforts into making a game, and not have to worry about finances.

Things were seeming to look up, when tragedy reared its ugly head again. A very close family member of mine was reported missing (I don’t want to name them out of respect for their privacy). There was a suicide note. I was 7 hours away. The next few weeks were the darkest, saddest and hardest times of my life. Thankfully, the police found the family member still alive. After days in recovery, a second attempt and then more days in recovery, they are doing much better now. Obviously, this slowed production of episode two down quite a bit. Even after I had returned home, I was still dealing with a deep sadness over what had happened.

Working on episode two actually became helpful for me, in what I was struggling with internally. As I was nearing the later half of production, in the spring of 2017, my now ex-wife had decided that our marriage wasn’t working for her. So she left for another man. We had been together for 8 years so this was a pretty huge impact on me, especially with the emotional roller coaster I had just been through. This all but halted production for a while. It was the second biggest hit for my life and for episode two.

After some time, I began getting back to development. Working on the game, again, became very helpful in getting me out of the dark hole I was isolating myself in. Seeing all of the excitement of the fans and how much the fandom was continuing to grow was also a big emotional gain when I needed it the most. I can’t say how much I still appreciate seeing that excitement from fans every day.

Sally Face, Episode Two: The Wretched was released in July 2017 and was even bigger and better than episode one.

Development of episode three has gone MUCH smoother than both episode one and two. I’m in a healthier emotional place. I don’t have negativity around me, dragging me down. I feel great about my future and the future of Sally Face. I’m crazy excited to start on episodes four and five and I can’t wait to see people’s reactions as the mystery unfolds.

My goal with this blog post wasn’t to write a sob story or gain pity points, but to tell the story of Sally Face as it intertwined with my life. I got dragged through the shit but that’s part of life. When I got knocked down, I stood right back up, held my ground and forged ahead. Life is full of ups and downs. After all, we couldn’t have joy without sorrow.

Creating interactive experiences to share with people around the world is an amazing feeling. I would never want to do anything else and will likely be making games until they bury me in the ground.

Sally Face, Episode Three: The Bologna Incident  will be out on Feb 10th!

*As an additional note, Wither Studios is still kicking! I help them on the side with game design and art, among other things. We’re currently working on a demo for a new horror game, called IMMURE.

Thanks for reading my first blog post! I really appreciate the continued love and support!

– Steve