by Chris Baron
Happy new year from all of us at Salty Studios, hope you had a great holiday season! So here we are getting ready to jump straight back in to development and thought we would share a little bit about the transition from what was Project Light/Source to the now named Lawson’s Shadow.
“The original project logo from 2016.”
The basics of what would become Lawson’s Shadow began at a meeting consisting of myself and Ben, our lead coder, at a coffee shop in our home town of Launceston. The pitch was simple:
“A game about stealing stuff but you can only see what’s in front of you.”
From there it began, we started formulating a plan of action and the team we needed to get it done. Over time the team changed as people came and went but the core of us stuck together to move forward with this idea of a stealth game that plays with the idea of light.
It went through numerous incarnations but one thing we knew we wanted was top down; that bird's eye, Hotline Miami-esque design. We experimented with numerous themes for the game - at one point it was a wasteland style survival game, at another point it was a neo-metropolis game about corporate espionage.
“A screenshot from the first concept demo, House.”
Whatever the changes, we all knew what we wanted from this game and put our hearts in to crafting it into what we needed it to be. But with change comes setbacks and numerous roadblocks in our first year of development. From missed deadlines to family commitments, for a while it felt like maybe we have bitten off more than we could chew.
This very much came to a head with our first year of showing the game at conventions. It began with MAIcon in Launceston, a smaller convention but one run by a group of super dedicated people. It was a solid showing and people were getting the core concept and the feedback was huge but from some reactions we knew we had to go even bigger for PAX and that was only 1 month away at the time.
Soon it was go time, the team implemented as many changes as they could to get the game up and running and the next thing you know, we were off to Melbourne to showcase Light/Source, the first big game from Salty Studios. It was a whirlwind trip filled with good memories, great company and even better food but it came at a cost; on day one of our trip we lost one of display monitors and computers.
“We came with two screens but only one survived the journey.”
On it was our build and everything that we had been working on to get it up and running - now this is where the age old saying of save your work would come in handy but unfortunately, we had been working on it the night before with no internet so what we had was simply what we had. We did what we could to repair and even had our modeller working on things on a donated laptop to show off our progress.
We salvaged what we could, took in the numerous amounts of criticism and revelled in the compliments given to us by other developers and built friendships with some incredible people but most of all we were driven to come back bigger and better. The final stop was AICon 2018, where we showed exactly what we had planned for PAX, had a super great weekend and enjoyed the time as a team but one thing happened when we got home that changed everything.
Some time between PAX and AICon was the announcement of IO Interactive's Hitman 2, and with it came a logo that looked very similar to ours. Of course, panic set in and we got to thinking about how we could fix this. This went over a long period and ended in about April after we had correlated all the survey and feedback data from all 3 events and one thing became really clear:
People really wanted this game in first person.
“The change in perspective meant we had to go back to the drawing board.”
For so long the game had been in our minds as this unique twist on stealth and the top down genre but maybe we were wrong. We always had this mantra “we make games that fans want to play” and we used this a lot for our design and direction. At every major turn we had players input about what they would want to see in the game and we saw the occasional note and had the occasional comment.
But from everything we read, it was crazy how often this suggestion for first person popped up, and as a team we took it on board and went to work. We ended up coming out with the idea for Lawson’s Shadow, a 90’s noir comic inspired stealth game that puts you in the role of a fixer, a criminal for hire in Chicago criminal underworld.
But this change came with some setbacks; we lost more team members to other commitments. As for most of us this was our side project from our day to day lives. We lost people due to various reasons and in the end, it went back to the core group.
“Even Lawson went back to the re-design phase.”
We eventually met some other people who shared our vision and together built something we were really proud of. We scrapped nearly everything from almost all the code to 90% of the assets and we went back to basics. We used tools that we had never thought once about using and began creating characters and assets beyond what was in the original concept.
From there we announced Lawson’s Shadow and began moving out of planning into solid development, we finally felt like we had the right people, the story was coming together, and the game had this knock effect in which we started going to places and meeting new people and even though we have never met they knew of Lawson’s Shadow and Salty Studios.
We finally felt as if we were ready for PAX AUS 2018 and ready to show off Lawson’s Shadow.
Next time I’ll discuss and break down our trip to PAX AUS 2018 and how from there we have begun to build the game we think will be something special to us and those who play it.