Ryan Hewer, Founder of Little Red Dog Games took the time to write us an excellent blog to accompany LRD Games' Meet the Devs Week. Enjoy!: One of the bits of advice I share with people just starting to dip their toes into game development is, “Don’t make your first game that magnum opus you’ve been dreaming about up until now. I would suggest making small, digestible products first and see what you can learn when you bring them from the drawing board to commercial release.” Our first commercial game, Rogue State, was such a digestible product. Half point-and-click adventure game, half strategy game, it was made in the Adventure Game Studio scripting engine as an experiment to see if we were capable of making something commercially viable after a year or so of hard work. The game dealt with a familiar world to our own, but the Jean Gireaud inspired art of Derek Restivo, the inclusion of a despotic rooster, time travel mechanics and surreal talking points with foreign leaders indicated something more than just a simulation of contemporary crises. We fell in love with The Glorious People’s Republic of Basenji as much as our fans did. Why else would we compose (and perform) it’s prideful and uncomfortable anthem for the game’s opening credits, or send Christmas cards from the various nefarious leaders of your fictional neighbours, or include plot-twists and easter eggs that only the smallest minority of players would ever experience, just to further flesh out the world we had created?
Saying you work in an indie gamedev company is the new “I’m in a band”. With the retirement of Steam Greenlight and the newly unveiled open highway of new releases known as Steam Direct, small companies like us that didn’t understand marketing, didn’t understand community management and didn’t have a network to fall back on were suddenly forced to adapt to a new paradigm. Deep Sixed (2017) was the manifestation of two years of pushing our skills to create something nobody had ever seen before in an engine nobody had ever heard of at the height of our own personal indiepocalypse paranoia. Drunk on the unbridled optimism of Rogue State, we invested heavily into both assets and marketing, dove deep into the crowded ecosystem of crowdfunding, and hoped that we could make lightning strike twice and recreate the tone and magic of Rogue State into a new piece of intellectual property. When that didn’t come to pass, the future of Little Red Dog Games looked bleak. Denis started working on Master Pyrox Wizard Smackdown with Dropped Monocle Games and I started working on Precipice as something very small with solid foundations to help keep Little Red Dog Games alive. Ultimately, we were lucky to get Denis back to tighten the bolts on Precipice -- adding essential network code and developing the artificial intelligence that responds to players personalities over time. We released Precipice with low expectations, but it recovered the cost of its development in a matter of a few hours and received the kind of critical praise we had always hoped for Deep Sixed. After Precipice, Little Red Dog Games, previous a scrappy hobby company, could now stand on it’s own four paws as a relatively stable developer with three commercial titles under its belt all released on-time and under-budget. Most importantly, however, we got the attention of Modern Wolf.
We always knew that we wanted to revisit the world of Rogue State. When Deep Sixed came out, half the posts on the Steam Community page were asking when fans could expect such a game. Our Precipice videos on Youtube are littered with requests for a newer, better Rogue State. We had plans that we had been sitting on for years -- this would be that magnum opus that we’ve been dreaming of since we started. We have come so far and learned so much that we were ready. From the beginning, I knew that Rogue State 2 wasn’t going to be easy -- for us to create a game that was truly going to blow our fans away, we’d need the kind of resources that went beyond what was left of our earnings from our previous games. I went over the plans with Denis, who affirmed from the get go that “not making games is not an option”, and that one way or another this game had to get done. For almost a year, I hounded countless publishers, soliciting them with detailed plans on what the game would be, how it would play, and what fans can expect from it. Some responded positively, but cautiously -- seeing value in the game’s mechanics, but promising very meager budgets that would have constrained development. I had almost given up, and was sitting in a study hall one day (at the time, I was teaching middle school history as part of my other life) when one of my students asked me if I was “still doing that Middle East game.” I remorsefully said no… which my brain must have interpreted as defeatist and unacceptable. I then proceeded to spend the rest of my day rewriting the company prospectus and drafting entirely new mechanics for the planned sequel. Francis, I owe you a big thank-you for giving me that unintentional twelve-year-old kick in the ass that I desperately needed. A couple weeks later, I received an unsolicited e-mail from somebody I had never met and never heard of. The e-mail was titled “LRDG x Modern Wolf”.
“I'm Fernando Rizo. I've been playing Precipice since it launched, and I am full of admiration for it. You guys are making exactly the sort of things that I like to play and your production values and aesthetics are tremendous -- I especially love the birds in Precipice, especially Fidel.”
Modern Wolf played our entire catalog of games, learned our company history, listened and responded to our needs and concerns. They reviewed our design plans for the redesigned Rogue State Revolution with the same excitement and passion that we had for the product, and they produced a budget for us that would not only see the game developed, but developed well, using the right people and the right techniques. They provided us with generous business coaching, access to new partners, agile feedback, but always trusted in us to steer the design of the mechanics and aesthetics to what we knew RSR could and should be. Within a few months I’m sitting in a German bar with 11 bit studios, Croteam and all my indie strategy game heroes wondering how I got to be so lucky. A few months after that, Fernando took the time to fly from London, England to visit my small town in rural America just to meet some of my college students and spend the day talking games bizdev and roadmapping the future of Little Red Dog Games. I said that having an indie gamedev company is the new “I’m in a band”, but Modern Wolf signing with us made us feel like rockstars with a hit single underway.
My Twitter feed is filled with companies like our own, all unhappy about the love they’re not receiving from Steam, from publishers or from journalists. I asked Fernando, “There are literally thousands of capable developers out there pitching to people like you, why did you seek us out?” He told me that our ad campaign for Precipice, the one where I’m in an eagle-mask in an escalating standoff across from a big guy in a bear mask, captured exactly what people can expect from a LRDG product: deep strategy layered beneath a veneer of charm and ridiculousness. We don’t ever want to lose that, because it’s such a privilege to be able to go to work and debate the many ways we want players to be able to tackle the issue of homelessness in Basenji, and then move on to figure what the appropriate railgun attack range of the Glorious Leader’s personal mech-suit should be. We’re lucky to have publishers that understand us and believe in us the way they do, and now working together we’ve got an incredible game in development for you, and we can’t wait to show you how far we’ve come since our inaugural title in this series.