Almost seventeen months ago, a small group of friends gathered together to participate in a game jam, as they had done on several prior occasions. This time, for Ludum Dare 50, they decided to be even more ambitious than some of their prior efforts. They were ready. They had ideas, and a process to turn those ideas into a working and enjoyable gameplay loop. There were things they wanted to do… and they did them.
And at the end of the jam, after seeing public response to their effort, and becoming attached to some of the ideas and characters they had created, they decided they couldn’t abandon this particular idea.
And so the decision was made to move forward, and despite all of our own separate full-time avocations, found a game studio… and make Somnipathy a full game.
Today, Tuesday the 12th of September, 2023, marks the point where Somnipathy arrives at retail, via Steam, where anyone who likes can and should buy it. For some members of the team, this is an end point – attaining a lifelong dream of being a game developer and having a published game. For others, this is a starting point – knowing that there are more games to be made, and more stories to tell. For a few of us, it is both.
We also know that we’ll be hearing from you, over the days, weeks, and months to come. We want to know about your experiences with Somnipathy, both the good and the bad. We’ll still be developing and maintaining the game, even as we move on to the next thing, and the next thing after that. So let us know what you think!
And if you’re still undecided about making your own foray into the world of Somnipathy – this week we have a slate of Twitch streamers who will be taking their own adventures with Aggy, Lamp Cat, and the rest. Check them out, see a little bit of the game for yourself – and know that we’ll be hanging out in chat to answer questions during each stream.
Here’s to Somnipathy, and here’s to you all helping Aggy finally get a good night’s sleep!
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!
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.)
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.