You may have noticed that this week’s blog post is hitting on Friday morning instead of Wednesday morning but that is because there’s a lot going on here at Tearcell. The biggest item first, of course: the demo is currently out and available via Steam! Thousands have downloaded it, and… wait, how many? Really?!
Ok, thousands have downloaded it, but only a select few have provided us with feedback so far. But we are LISTENING! So play, hit the feedback forum on Steam, and let us know what you think!
Also we have been furiously preparing for our participation in Next Fest – not only planning our broadcasts on Tuesday October 4th at 4pm Eastern and Saturday October 8th at 8pm Eastern but also preparing for several other fun things. Do you follow us on TikTok or Twitter? We’re running giveaway contests on both platforms for a limited run of Somnipathy Next Fest stickers. That’s not the only way to get them though – if you attend our Devstreams on Steam during Next Fest, we’ll also be giving away a limited number of them during each stream.
All this going on doesn’t mean we’ve stopped working on the rest of the game. Level two is well under way, and for those of you who have made it through level one in the demo already… well, level two is bigger. We’re looking forward to throwing more twists, turns, and level loops at you to navigate Aggy through while continuing to uncover the mysteries of Somnipathy.
Maybe we’ll even talk about it on the dev streams next week… so stay tuned!
Tomorrow the demo for Somnipathy goes live on Steam – we hope you have your calendar marked. There is far more available in the demo than just the small bits we’ve shown off here in the blog and on our assorted social channels. We are excited to see what you think and how you react!
But before we can see how you respond to what you’ll find in Somnipathy, we can take a moment to ask our creative team to talk about some of their favorite and most memorable moments, elements, or encounters that you’ll be able to experience in just a few more days.
Mink (creative director and artist), lead writer James Thomasos (@HVCPHD on Twitter), and Ryan (artist and cutscene artist) have been some of the most involved members of our development team since day one. Somnipathy lives and breathes via what the player sees on the screen. We asked them each a few questions that we think will resonate when you all get to dive into the demo.
Mink: There are quite a few easter eggs in the game that I am pretty excited about, but naming my favorite one specifically would ruin the fun in finding it. 😉
James: Hmm. Honestly, I’m excited for people to encounter and carry out the Pianomantis questline. I’m reasonably proud of how that one turned out.
Ryan: The weird and quirky way the player uses “dream logic” to solve puzzles.
James: I think it will be Aggy’s boss’ line about having a meeting to schedule a meeting. Truthfully that one hurts me every time I read it!
Ryan: I like where Aggy is “too tired for this sh…” and yells at big scary things like she’s an angry old man.
Mink: There’s a warning but no one is going to listen. 🤣
(Ed. Note: Very, very early in the demo, you’ll be asked to make a cup of coffee. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE HOW TOUGH THIS MIGHT BE!)
Ryan: There is one part where the player will have to navigate a sequence of events at macro and micro levels, all while evading a threat. Always be prepared!
Mink: I think the biggest struggle anyone will have is managing your inventory under pressure. It’s coming…
James: I think the most difficult set piece involves the opening of The Forge. That set piece involves crossing a ton of thresholds in rapid succession to collect heavy items, which will quickly raise the difficulty of the game as well as the speed of The Creeper. The only hint I’ll give is that there are two or three workarounds depending on how patient you are or how much of Aggy’s money you’re willing to spend!
Mink: Thirsty. 🧛♀️
You’ll be able to download the demo on Steam tomorrow. We’ll see you there!
It seems like a million years ago now that the members of Tearcell Game Studio sat together in a Discord call and discussed moving forward with transforming Somnipathy from a limited-mode entry to Ludum Dare 50 into a full narrative experience for retail release. We quickly identified a list of what needed to be done to make that happen, and with public release of our demo on Steam coming up next week we wanted to take a moment to go behind the scenes for some of the business and technical efforts that went into bringing us to this point.
I am Vibe, and along with being the voice behind our weekly blog posts (and a host of other duties related to the development of Somnipathy) I am also the business director for Tearcell Games. I sat down with Darius, our technical director and leader by acclimation and inspiration, and we talked about all the “I’s” dotted and “T’s” crossed to get where we are today.
Vibe: Let’s go back to early May after we decided to make a go of it. I wandered off to do the “guy in a suit” thing and plan out our formation, draft our bylaws, and attempt to project some kind of budget, and you immediately got working on… well, doing what exactly? I know there were a bunch of technical adjustments that needed to be made to turn our jam project into the start of a full Somnipathy game, but can you explain them to me [as if I were a small child, please]?
Darius: With the clear feedback we got from Ludum Dare 50, we knew we were on a great track atmospherically but the gameplay didn’t match the strength of our setting. Before rewriting we had to get organized. There are eight of us touching code and assets that started out held together with a combination of duct tape, glue, and prayers. The whole project could turn into an unmaintainable mess of spaghetti code if we didn’t invest in good structure before doing anything else. We also had to fix a lot of things that had been hard coded just to make the jam deadline and were not flexible enough to be used as a general API and system to build a larger game around.
Vibe: I saw drafting our bylaws similarly! They are the API for our operations, if you will – the functions and flow chart to how the work gets broken up as well as what needs to be done for us to be a functional company. Continuing to speak of APIs, there was that moment where we had done all of the suit-steps needed to set up as Steam developer-publishers, they had verified that we were “a real boy” – well, a real business – and we had full access to that side of things… which we can’t talk about in huge detail, but there was that first moment where it was like, “wow, this is real now,” and then you immediately dived into learning how publishing on Steam would work and what was required from a technical perspective…
Darius: I’ve deployed a lot of software and a lot of systems on a lot of different platforms in my career, and Steam solidly falls in the middle of the spectrum for complexity. They provide a wealth of documentation, tools, and information, but there are definitely best practices that need to be strongly adhered to. They have some deployment concepts that are still a bit confusing even with all my experience, but having command-line APIs to do automations while working on projects has been fantastic. That said, once you get the hang of the “Steam Way” you’re unlikely to make mistakes, their high level of organization provides great guardrails for your process. Thankfully for us we had the support of Gramps of CoaguCo Industries, his amazing GodotSteam integration builds, and his strong and supportive community. If I had a question they were there and eager to help.
Vibe: I know from watching this process how much work it was, even if I still don’t quite have a grasp on it. If you had to put a number on it, how much time did you spend working on just lining things up so that they’d work later, over that first month after the big thumbs up moment?
Darius: From the original thumbs up moment, it was roughly two solid weeks – about eighty hours total – just pulling off the duct tape and reinforcing the fundamentals (interactables, events, and dialogues) that were the initial pillars of development for us moving forward… and then another six weeks or so before the code was back to a foundation that I was comfortable with us building upon. Then I set our lead writer loose to do in-engine level design, but even today I’m continuing to build new features onto the core of the game’s base.
Vibe: And now we’re sitting here, and the demo for Somnipathy will go LIVE a WEEK FROM TOMORROW. For me, that’s a real surreal feeling. I keep expecting to wake up and I’m 13 again and Steam wasn’t even a thing yet and I’m playing X-COM Terror From the Deep for the umpteenth time and thinking, “hey, someday I’d like to make a video game,” would you say that you have any kind of similar sensation at times?
Darius: I was sitting here today designing new features for the boss battle at the end of the demo and I couldn’t help but stare at my work and think, “this is really cool!” and thinking about how it compares to Mr X in Resident Evil 2. (Ed. Note: We’re not saying the first boss is at all the same as Mr X! Just capturing the feeling.) I have those moments most days – when I’m not hunting down bugs that is!
That’s it for us for this week. We’ll be back next week, talking to some of the creative minds on the team who will be giving us their perspective on what you’ll find in the demo. We can’t wait for you to play it!
We’ve spent most of our time in this space discussing our upcoming game Somnipathy, and with good reason. It’s why most of you are here, and it’s what all of our collective efforts at the studio have been focused on. But with Labor Day this week and some major milestones coming up for Somnipathy, we wanted to take a moment to look back at the history of the studio itself. Once we finish our flashback montage, we’ll make a few big announcements too!
It all starts with a personal challenge that the man who is the driving force behind Tearcell Games set for himself a few years ago: Darius decided that he was going to build a small game every month for a year. He had the skills and knowledge and wanted to apply it in order to keep those skills and that knowledge sharp and to stretch himself, and at the same time adjust the dimensions of his love for gaming.
When he embarked on this challenge he shared it with a group of friends. We had for the most part known each other for many years… and in the course of those years spent an immense amount of time playing and discussing video games with each other. We all spectated and commentated upon his game-building efforts and then at some point during his year of personal challenge, Darius mentioned that he wanted to do a game jam.
This seemed like a fun idea, and in November 2020 we formed up and participated in Mix and Jam’s ‘Mix and Game Jam’, hosted on Itch.io. Our game, The Kobolds of OSHA, was ambitious and adventurous. We tried new tools, we bit off more than we could chew, we had fun… and more importantly, we learned a lot. And somewhere in the aftermath of that jam, Darius uttered the words, “I’ve always wanted to do a Ludum Dare game jam.”
In April 2021, we jumped into Ludum Dare 48. Again, we built a game with a tremendous amount of ambition – Debts and Pandamonium. Again, we learned much more than could be contained in the preserved build of our game you can still play on Itch.io. And again, we had fun.
By now, Darius’ personal challenge to himself of building a game a month had continued for more than a year. He kept doing it though, and he also kept going back and tweaking some of his older projects. He kept using and learning (and even sometimes contributing) to the tools he found himself going back to, like the Godot Engine and Dialogic. And the rest of us discussed looking forward to doing another jam, and taking the temperature of some of our friends and family to see who might be interested or who might have skills that would contribute to the team.
Then in February 2022, we entered the IGA Impact Jam. We decided prior to the jam that we wanted to try something totally different from our prior jam efforts, so that everyone could stretch their muscles a little bit. Our entry, Cosmic Canidae, was in a lot of ways our most polished group effort so far and the judges panel for the jam agreed. We placed second overall and we took that burst of energy directly into discussing our plans for the next jam we’d join…
Ludum Dare 50 was in April 2022. Our reinforced team including friends both new and veteran took the theme and ran with it, building a survival thriller of a point-and-click adventure with ever-increasing difficulty, online leaderboards, and tongue-in-cheek dark humor. We received a tremendous amount of feedback and had an incredible experience. When the judging period ended we did not want to leave behind our creation, Somnipathy. And Darius again uttered a phrase: “I feel like this is a game we can turn into something that we can publish on Steam.”
So we formed Tearcell Game Studio. We founded a company, we planned a structure, we made outlines and plots of what the game would be, we became a Steamworks developer-publisher, and we worked on Somnipathy… and continue to work on Somnipathy.
Now the next big step is coming for our little game of psychological horrors. We’re participating in Steam’s Indie Next Fest in October, running from the 3rd to the 10th, and our demo for Somnipathy which will include the full first level of the game will go live for everyone to play and enjoy on Steam on September 22nd. The demo also includes the updated score attack mode for your enjoyment! We want you to be at Indie Next Fest with us too: we’ll be streaming twice during that week, on Tuesday the 4th at 3pm and on Saturday the 8th at 8pm, and we look forward to seeing you all there in chat for those streams! (We’ll be putting direct links to those events on our socials ASAP and updating this post with them as well.)
If you’ve been following along with this weekly series of blog posts, you’ve learned enough about Somnipathy to know our game has a lot of text. If you haven’t and this is the first blog post you’re reading – congratulations! Welcome! We’re glad you’re here, and we think you’ll really enjoy Somnipathy!
Because our game has a lot of text, we need to present that text to the player… which means we need to have fonts to do so. Fortunately our team includes Babs, who we have presented with the title “Empress of Fonts”.
Over the course of development so far, Babs has crafted, revised, adjusted, and finalized dozens of variations of hand-drawn fonts for us to use in the game for different purposes, different characters, and different times.
I’m an avid journaler with an appreciation for good handwriting, so having the opportunity to use tools like Calligraphr to create a unique typeface for Somnipathy was a labor of love.
For the rest of the team, the process of seeing the fonts come together has been a sort of magic all it’s own, especially when the first few were implemented into Somnipathy and began to provide that extra layer of texture and friction for Aggy and the rest of her world. It was a very subtle but large step in making the game inside of our collective minds turn into something real…
We’ll be back next week, to talk more about Tearcell Game Studio itself, provide a proper introduction to the people behind Somnipathy, and also make a big announcement. We hope to see you then and in the meantime don’t forget to wishlist us on Steam!
We are back again, with more discussion from inside the development of Somnipathy! This week we want to pull back the hood on two very different systems involved with our work: one in-game, and one out-of-game.
PickyBurrito49 is one of the programmers on our team, and he’s taken the lead role on several subsystems within our game. Frequently this means that he works on a system isolated from the rest of the game’s development, and then only gets to see how it interacts with our world after plugging in a reasonably functioning alpha version for us to play with. Sometimes, this breaks the game entirely! This kind of work also means that sometimes he has to go back to the drawing board with an idea, so we asked him about his process building out a system that can’t be tested until an alpha implementation:
Our technical director makes my job easier because he has a knack for seeing into the future and providing parameters for subsystems that are capable of handling whatever we need them to do upon adding them. Some rebuilding is still inevitable as the game continues to evolve but overall it has been pretty fun to be able to build out ideas I have and share them with the team. I am looking forward to seeing the public reaction to Somnipathy too!
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the work of our Creative Director, Mink. She leads our small yet mighty team of creatives as they excavate the art mines, iterating upon ideas to come together into a cohesive and coherent whole. Along with her talent as an artist, she also has a background in film and animation that we all rely upon heavily as we work. The art mines are very time consuming, with many versions of concepts being extracted and discarded before a particular character, element, or object being locked in. She took a few moments to pass along her philosophy on iteration and feedback to share with you:
The term art mines is funny but very fitting for what can be considered as the “trenches”. A gaming project is guaranteed to have a surplus of art needs and in truth, “art never really is complete,” you merely stop making changes – ideally, when it has become “enough”.
Much like everything else we do, teamwork is key to achieving our vision. Sadly in the world of Somnipathy, Aggy does not really have a team to rely upon – other than you, the player! Remember to wishlist us on Steam, and help Aggy find her way.
In Somnipathy the world can be very dark in many ways, but that doesn’t stop us from throwing all kinds of small details into the game in order to make it feel alive. Those small details are also one of the ways that our small team crosses boundaries between development disciplines in order to bring them to life.
Our lead writer, HighVoltageCatfish, is deeply inspired by atmospheric horror games past and considers Silent Hill 2 to be one of the all-time greats. His writing style both for Somnipathy and in general is heavily influenced by it. Yet along with wearing the hat of “lead writer”, he also serves as our primary level designer which means that he’s also responsible for making a lot of the small detail choices within the world of the game. We asked him what principles he uses when setting up the physical world that his story will be played out within, and he had this to say:
“I’ve been having a lot of fun with the synergy between writing the overall story as well as designing the levels, especially when it comes to allow players to make their own connections between things in game. Where it might be superfluous or overly verbose to have the Superintendent talk about safety measures with The Otherside, it is far more informative and concise to place some railings along an edge of an expanse along with a well-used, cluttered workbench nearby.”
Another one of our team members who crosses disciplines is pnutbutterprincess. With a background that includes work as an artist and as a programmer, she often ends up tasked with small but recurring details that hover on the line between the two. Many of the elements of our HUD design were her work, both in the code and in the on-screen appearance. Currently she has been prototyping some of the icons that will appear as part of other in-game systems that we’ll be talking about separately soon. pnutbutterprincess described her philosophy on creating those elements for us…
“There is some magic in creating elements that are both memorable and intuitive without being intrusive or confusing in some way. When creating, it can be scary to stare at a blank slate and try to come up with elements that will make sense and look good. I know that the other artists on the team all do amazing work, and they are there to back me up and help revise once we find good concepts.”
Talking about all of this sometimes fails to communicate just how involved some of the work in the Godot engine can be in order to stitch together all of the elements into a unified whole. We might be showing you fun concept art or screenshots here, but most of the time what we are all looking at is more like the image below.
Thanks for reading this week’s entry! We’ll be back in a week’s time with more from the team, and more about what goes into bringing our game to life. In the meantime, don’t forget to wishlist us on Steam!
This week, we are thinking about storytelling. No. Wait. We are ALWAYS thinking about storytelling… this week we are thinking about… CUTSCENES. As we close in on the completion of the first chapter of Somnipathy in our internal builds, we are moving to flesh out the encounters and events that inform the world you will be exploring as players in Somnipathy. The image at the top of the page is the initial draft storyboard that one of our talented artists, Ryan, put together for the very first cutscene you will encounter in the game.
When asked about this cutscene, Ryan described the key elements under consideration and what the cutscene’s intended message to the player is.
For this cutscene introducing the Creeper, it is critical to communicate the nature of that entity to the player. The Creeper is an ever-present threat that will come for Aggy even in places she would otherwise feel safe (for example, her apartment). Fighting it through conventional means is futile! The player’s only choice is to run.
Of course, making cutscenes come to life is not solely the work of the artists on our team. In order to make the art and concepts come to life, everything needs to be wired together inside of the game engine. We asked our Technical Director Darius, who is also the driving force behind the studio, about what it’s like implementing a cutscene or other set piece in-engine.
Getting the artwork is only half the challenge. It’s exciting, but then you’re like, “Wait, how am I going to do this justice in engine?” Godot’s animation player is REALLY powerful thankfully, and makes timing things very easy. Still, you have to take off the programmer’s hat and put on the director’s hat, and that hat sits differently.
Because our team is so small, communication is very important, and we keep a constant and vibrant flow of discussion active internally so we can all stay on the same page. Discord for us is key, as none of us sit in the same room at any point during our development. Its all remote work when you can find the time.
That’s all for now, but we’ll be back in this space soon to talk about the Tearcell team and some more of what we’re doing to bring Somnipathy to life. In the meantime, enjoy another piece of wonderful work from Ryan below.
This is a huge milestone for us and the culmination of a lot of work by the team. We are now counting down to a demo on itch.io to show off the brand new story mode and updated score attack. You’ll also get to see newer graphics, lighting, and music… it will almost seem like a completely different game than it did back in Ludum Dare 50!
This is just the start of a lot more information regarding the full game, and we hope you’ll all join us on the strange and interesting journey between now and retail release in early 2023.