At the start of 2010, we revisited some of our design goals, and made changes to the game elements accordingly. We felt that if we wanted to make a game that was all about delivering certain feelings to the player, we should focus solely on that. With this frame of mind we started to slowly change the way we viewed the game and skipped features that did not directly contribute to the type of experience we were aiming for.
Many features got cut at this stage. A progress bar showing things done in a level vanished, the heavily used coins disappeared, and the number of items per map was decreased. Our new line of thinking also had an effect on the sanity design. Instead of seeing it as a standard game mechanic, we focused on making it atmospheric. We even automatically regenerated sanity if the player had been insane for too long. We felt it would cut down on player frustration and improved the overall experience.
One of our first priorities during the months before release was to get a preview ready. Without any marketing budget, we had put all our bets on the press liking the game. The preview was released in June with mostly very positive results, but we learned that the sanity potions were apparently "ruining the atmosphere." Thinking it over we agreed and decided to remove them completely, despite the late date.
As we got even closer to the final deadline, another fun task popped up - mailing reviewers. The responsibility for this fell on me, and I started naively by just copy-pasting and mailing. As we had never done this ourselves, I greatly underestimated the amount work that went into it. Eventually, I ended up filling a huge spread sheet in order to keep track of all the review-related information.
As we started sending out the actual review copies, we were quite paranoid that someone would leak them. We gave each reviewer a special serial number and kept track of who got what, and for the most part this kept things under control. However, a day before release, a pirated version of our game started to appear - it was of course, one of the review copies. While the leak was disappointing, most of the things happening around us were extremely joyful. Personally, one of my own favorite moments occurred five days before release, when the IGN review went out. The game had scored 85% and was also given an Editor's Choice award. For the first time I felt that these three years of hard labor might actually amount to something.
Early on, we had decided that if we did not sell 24,000 units during the first two months we would close down Frictional Games. Anything less and we would not have enough funds to properly sustain the company. A month after release we had reached 34,000 units, which was a quite nice, but not a spectacular, result. We had hoped for a bit more given the initial positive response by the media. Fortunately, we were part of some excellent holiday promotions that greatly boosted our sold unit count. By July 2011, we had sold almost 350,000 units, which was really surprising for us all. We can now, for the first time in our lives, get proper salaries - the future looks very bright indeed!
Thomas Grip has been developing horror games for over ten years, and is gradually becoming insane in the process.