A Change of Plans

Good Morning, Afternoon, Evening, or Whenever You're Reading This!

For the past six years I have been an entrepreneur, focused on creating my own sustainable business with the goal of expanding my knowledge by getting experience in fields I had no prior history with. What began as learning the very basics of programming turned into developing skills in networking, marketing, source control, collaboration, agile development, tech support, and a dozen other skills I use on a daily basis professionally to this day.

The title of this post is "A Change of Plans" which is a misnomer - this is more of an announcement of a "return to plans". For the past few years I was working on The Neural Network with two of my good friends. Collectively we decided that we had lost interest in working on the project, in large part due to the story we had settled on four years ago no longer resonated as a tale we felt passionate about telling.

Since then I was hired as a full time game developer, which was one of the goals I initially set out when starting my own independent game development studio. However, now I am seeking a change in career. Professionally, I wish to transition from a Developer to an Analyst, focusing on the culmination and assessment of data and discovering how that information can be used to better the world we live in today.

To that end I am changing South Orchard Studios' purpose. SOS is no longer an independent game development house, but instead a general software firm. I want to use this company and this website as a distribution platform for my continued learning in the field of analytics.

All that being said, I still love developing games, and I will likely continue making games, and will continue to release them under the South Orchard Studios name. This is not the end of my game development career, but a shift to a new, more exciting chapter in my professional life.

Thank you all, and I cannot wait to show you what I have coming up next!
Brian Paine
Founder, CEO South Orchard Studios

New South Orchard Studios Logo

As we begin ramping up to the eventual (we promise!) release of The Neural Network we are putting bows on all the little things that need to be set up before we release a game with a huge media push. One of these tasks was redesigning, or actually designing, our game studio’s logo.

Without further ado, here is the new artwork representing the South orchard Studios brand:


Pretty cool, right? Caitlin threw this together after months of trying to figure out what we want our logo to look like while also keeping the design within the scope of our abilities. The simplicity of this design represents a lot of what we stand for at SoS: keep it simple, trim the fat, and make it elegant.

For those who are curious, we did go through a number of other preliminary designs. Here are some of those that barely made it, and those that were so awful we had to share them!

Programmer’s Playlist

Something I wanted to add at the end of all my posts is a brief update/recommendation for music that I am listening to while working on the game. Not comprehensive or game-related enough to serve as their own post, but I want to shout out great new singles or albums that have caught my attention.


This week it’s the new record from Tame Impala which is now available to stream via NPR Music. Tame Impala are a psychedelic rock band who gained a large following in the lead up to their sophomore album Lonerism. This album garnered critical acclaim but was not really to my liking - a bit too much of a throw back to 80s rock for my taste. However, their third record Currents, set to be released on July 17th, offers an even more experimental sound with refined and focused writing that create a more coherent, fulfilling, and thought provoking record. That being said, the music is so smooth that you can easily play it in the background and focus on the more important things, like finishing your video game!

Until next time, have a wonderful week!

At Long Last...

It's been a long time coming - us here at South Orchard Studios are finally ready to start talking about The Neural Network again!

The past few months (almost a year) of silence can be mostly blamed on 1. laziness and 2. being busy. The whole team at SoS just graduated from college with our various undergraduate degrees, which meant the past few months have been stressful, both related to school and related to figuring out your life after college.

But, that all being said, we now all have our ducks in a row and are ready to give the final push to get The Neural Network out the door and into your hands!

At this point we have a limited number of remaining tasks. I am focusing on adding a few additional puzzles to keep the game's pace up, as well as doing general polishing. The initial game had, like, no puzzles, but adding more we think makes the game more intellectually fulfilling and is arguably the main culprit behind the extended development time.

Caitlin is wrapping up dialogue and music. She is polishing up old content while filling in the remaining gaps in our game.

Our goal is to have most of this stuff wrapped up by the end of the month to begin the ambiguous polish phase which could take a week, or it could take a few months. We're hoping for the former.

I hope to pepper this blog with additional development flair in the coming weeks leading up to the release announcement and when The Neural Network officially drops! Thanks for your patience over the past few years, the end is in sight for both the dev teams and our fans!

The QA Delay

Hey All, a quick, sad (but in the end - positive!) update on The Neural Network.

While the original release was set for today (September 18th), the folks here at South Orchard have decided that, in order to release the best product possible, we are going to delay The Neural Network a bit.

There are numerous reasons for this delay, but the main reason is simply spending more time polishing the dialogue and the level design to make The Neural Network as good as it can possibly be. 

It should be noted that another reason for the delay is a general lack of momentum leading up to this release. While hundreds of emails and demos were released to press, we received very little feedback (either positive or negative) on the game itself. This means that we do not have a substantial audience waiting on pins and needles for September 18th, giving us freedom to not be tied to this release. Perhaps more importantly, however, is this also tells us that we need a new marketing strategy to build momentum and make The Neural Network the biggest launch we possibly can. We still have some learning to do!

As for a new release date.... well....

We are going to take time to finish polishing the game. The problem now is two-fold - all of the team at South Orchard are in school, limiting our time. Also, Fall is a terrible time to release an indie game, especially without much momentum, given the massive amount of AAA games releasing around this time of the year. Releasing The Neural Network in October or early November is likely suicide. Releasing in early December is an option, though our sales could be cannibalized by the Steam Holiday sale.

This is all to say we are not sure when the game will be released. When we feel comfortable with an official release date, we will let you folks know! 

Trailer, Greenlight, and Release Date

We finally did it - The Neural Network is officially announced, is on Greenlight, we have a trailer, and we sent over 200 emails to video game websites and youtube folks. Hopefully next week we will be able to do a post rounding up all of the press coverage we receive (though we are being realistic about the quantity of coverage).

Whatever the case, here is the overall roundup of information we sent to the press:

Greenlight Here!

Trailer Here!

And, most importantly....

September 18th, 2014

Is our official release date. Mark your calendars!

 

 

Social Media and Getting the Word Out

About two weeks ago I made a blog post stating that there would be a trailer along with the "Official Announcement" of The Neural Network the following week (the week of the 18th of July). This did not really happen - but the question is why?

We have a trailer. We have a Greenlight page. We have a Tumblr account, a Twitter account, we are working on a Facebook page, we.... Oh. That's the issue. While South Orchard Studios has all of the seeds of social media planted, none of the outlets are in sync with one another. While making and maintaining a single account on a social media outlet is a fairly simple process, trying to coordinate between many different ones becomes an arduous, monotonous, and time consuming task - but one that must be completed none the less.

This is all to say that this week the crew here at South Orchard are having our final "pre-announcement coordination" putting a giant ribbon on all of the social media stuff we have been working on for the past few weeks to organize one large push (ideally with sustained content afterwords) on all of our major social media channels. Look for this post to be updated with links to all of our social media channels, along with another post detailing what we consider the use case for each outlet.

Until then, have a good one!

Another TNN Status Update

Progress on The Neural Network has been steady. At this point the game is nearly alpha - which, for our purposes, means the game is playable from start to finish, though might still be missing some content (temporary dialogue, unfinished art, unrefined cutscenes). This is a massive step toward getting the game actually completed and shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

For next week we are planning to release our first official preview trailer, setup a Greenlight page, and send our internal demo (the first few minutes of the game) to the press with the hope of getting some upvotes on Greenlight before release.

While there is still plenty of work to do, we have nearly reached an integral milestone to getting The Neural Network in the public's hands!

An Update on TNN

The Neural Network has been in preproduction since January 2013, and in full production since Summer 2013. The game has yet to come out (or really be officially unveiled) for a handful of reasons.

  1. During the school year (September-December and February-May) the entire team has had much less time to dedicate to the full project
  2. Focus on story and writing rather than art makes the game difficult to show in screenshots
  3. Company re-branding - we wanted to get our new organization sorted out before we fully promoted the game under a different name

Now that the Summer has began (for two of the three members, anyway) and we have our new website, the only issue to address is the second point. It is our firm belief that the story and the writing of The Neural Network would not be as good as it is now if we had spent the same total time, but over a shorter time frame, working on it. Because we spent so much more time in the conception and brainstorming phases, the game makes more sense, flows more appropriately, and is much higher quality. 

That is to say, The Neural Network would not be as good as it is now if we had done it in a shorter time frame. If we had all been working full time, it probably could have been completed in six months, but it would not be as well thought out or as interesting a narrative if it would have been developed that way, we think.

 Which brings us to where we are now. This will be the last Summer working on The Neural Network. Our current plan is to spend the next few weeks getting the game into "Alpha" - a state where the game is fully playable, start to finish, but with some placeholder graphics and dialogue. Then, we will work on getting the game into "Beta" with polished up dialogue and graphics. This is when we will spend extra time going through and making slight tweaks to cutscenes, art assets, dialogue, puzzles, anything really, to make it the best experience we can.

Our schedule is to get the game into Beta by mid July, then spending extra time polishing until we are comfortable with releasing a finished, polished product. Our goal is to have the game released in August, but if we feel the game needs extra time, we will absolutely take the extra time to improve the game.

 

We plan to update this blog more regularly over the coming weeks and months to keep you guys up to date on the progress of the game, so we don't have another 8 months of silence.

Rebranding

The Artist formerly known as Tropic Tundra Games.

We have decided to re-brand ourselves as South Orchard Studios. A name change doesn't change anything about us as developers, it mostly just means that we had to pay for a new web domain.

To elaborate slightly, Allan, Caitlin, and I mutually agreed that we needed a new name, and before publicly announcing The Neural Network was the right time to change it. The decision boiled down to being generally unsatisfied by the Tropic Tundra moniker. Frankly, it did not flow very well, it did not sound professional, and it did not represent our company as a whole.

South Orchard Studios is meant to be fresh, and, depending on how well The Neural Network sells, the SOS acronym may not be too far off. And we like the idea of having a silhouetted apple tree in our logo. 

Anyway, as of right now we do not have a full logo, but once it is complete we will add to this page and broadcast to the world our new found name.