Welcome back! It's been a long time without a proper blog post, but I've acconplished a lot over the past six months.
I guess I'll break it down by month. We already did a post on January, so with that said...
Let's dive in!
February was mostly dedicated to creating graphical assets for the Chapter 1 Demo. I barely managed to get the Jeannie CG drawn just in time for posting on Valentine's Day. I drew a few more CGs, some of which I can't show since they take place much later in the story. But I figured out a process allowing me to draw graphics at a comfortable pace.
It usually takes me 4 hours to sketch a CG on paper, then another 4 hours to color it digitally. So each CG would amount to a full day of work for me. I need to keep this in mind when calculating an estimate for a release date.
I also spent a lot of time taking online courses for using social media. I learned a lot about how to conduct myself and network with other entrepreneurs. The short of it is something I knew all along: just be yourself and provide value to an audience like you.
Also, Detective Butler: Maiden Voyage Murder was featured in Steam's Mystery Fest. It was also placed at the very top of "top selling free detective visual novels", as you can see in this screenshot:
The biggest event in March was publishing the Steam page for Detective Butler and the King of Hearts. It's important to have a page up early, because it allows potential fans to wishlist the game. Every day that passes by without the Steam page up is potentially lost customers.
Being able to see a number like that is a big deal. It lets me know how many people are truly interested in the game. I have a lot more I could say on wishlists, but I'll have to save it for a different blog post.
I published the Steam page without a trailer or a demo, so the next priority was to add both of those. I spent most of March programming the demo so that I could get feedback from my team of testers. Meanwhile, I shared bios for all the characters on Twitter. Ultimately, those tweets didn't seem to do anything to increase the number of wishlists, but I know fans enjoyed seeing the character reveals each day.
I spent most of April with the intent to release the Chapter 1 Demo by the end of the month. I had a to-do list with priorities in place so that the demo would pass Steam's testing as smoothly as possible. It takes up to 5 days for Steam to review the build, so I figured during those 5 days I would work on the non-essential features. As fate would have it, Steam got back to me and approved the build after just one day.
There were three majors issues to deal with in April, so it became a busy month. The first issue was the artwork. I still had to draw facial expressions for all the characters. As the demo features ~25 characters, and I generally have 10 expressions per characater, this meant I had to sketch and color 250 faces. Each face sprite was also animated with 4 frames each, giving us literally 1,000 different face sprites across all characters in the demo.
Once again, I tried to be smart and only prioritized drawing the faces that were actually displayed in the demo. So if a character didn't make that face, I didn't bother to color it (but I did draw the sketch). I wrote a Python script to quickly extract this info out of the game.
The second major issue was programming the game. I still had to implement the settings menu, a new save/load system, as well as Suspect Notes, Case Notes, and Lecture Notes. These features were important, as they were included in the Steam store description, so I could not release the demo without these features present in the game.
The third major issue was that I really wanted to include voice acting. Normally I don't even play visual novels with voice acting, but I wanted to design this game so that you could turn on the auto-read setting and basically watch it like it's a movie, with the dialogue and narration both voiced. I also tend to write my scripts like they're movie scripts, so having realistically spoken dialogue is important to me. If it's awkward for a character to say as a spoken line, it should be redone.
Also, I received two new songs from composer Solo Acapello for the Chapter 1 Demo, both of which play during the investor conference scene. The second of those two songs, Seer's Gambit, has probably become my favorite out of the whole soundtrack.
A lot happened in May. I was running late with finishing the Chapter 1 Demo, because I wanted to include voice acting. I was very determined to see the demo through to my best of capabilities, and it wouldn't feel complete if I didn't at least include voice acting as an option.
I ended up programming a set of Python scripts to automate the whole process. It would take the lines of dialogue from the game's script and extract each character's lines into their own files. Then I could run a command to only generate the lines for that character. Each generation included multiple takes using different voice variations, and I would listen to each line and pick the best ones.
I released the Chapter 1 Demo on both itch.io and Steam on May 15th. This was coincidentally the Monday after the new Zelda game came out, so it's possible some people were too busy playing that to check out the demo. But they're quite different genres, and there's plenty of time before the final game is finished, so I didn't think it mattered much. What's important is just getting it out there.
I finished the trailer by the end of the month, and I am quite proud of the result. You can see it here.
Most of June was spent putting together a roadmap for the future.
Supposedly a successful indie game needs 7,000 wishlists by launch. The number of wishlists we've had so far has been abysmally small at just under 200, and the number who've played the demo is even smaller.
But there is hope.
The first Detective Butler game had 24,000 unique players on Steam (who opened up the game). 25% of those players -- 6,000 people -- actually finished the game. With a review score of 80% positive, that means 4,800 people should have enjoyed the game, and would likely enjoy another one.
So we've really only found less than 4% of the people who would be interested in a second game. This isn't including people who've never heard of us before, whether they played the first game or not. I'm sure there are thousands more.
I can write 500 words per hour if it's fiction, and 1500 words per hour if it's non-fiction. I can complete a character sprite or CG in about 8 hours. Since we have ~15 chapters remaining and probably another ~25 characters to draw, this amounts to about 8 months of full-time work. Double that estimate to account for emergencies and other obligations, and we're looking at 16 months, or November 2024.
Editor's Note: It's now August and I forgot to publish this post, so I guess I'm going to do that now! What I would've written here is a bit different now, so you can find out exactly what happened in July and August by reading the follow-up post.