Hey, folks! VS Dave here.
May is a very special month for us here at Versus Evil because it holds the birthdate of many beloved games from our catalog. Recently, we celebrated the anniversaries of Almighty: Kill Your Gods and Wintermoor Tactics Club, and this week we prepare to celebrate Sockventure. But that’s not the only special birthday this week: The Hand of Merlin is turning 1-year old!
When The Hand of Merlin released into Early Access last year, many of you told us that its level of polish didn’t feel like an Early Access game at all. And what greater compliment can there be? Thank you for that!
We checked in with Robert Sajko from Room-C Games to give us his thoughts on the last twelve months, and reminisce about the journey to get here.
The Hand of Merlin
An Anniversary Retrospective
Before we put on our party hats and light the candles, let’s kick things off with a fun fact. Did you know that The Hand of Merlin was not always called The Hand of Merlin? In fact, finding the right title took a while!
At first, we went with Guardians of Erda: Merlin’s Tale. Quite a mouthful, huh? It was supposed to convey the message of the journey, of saving the world, of getting back in touch with Merlin’s lost kin, the other Guardians. But it just didn’t roll off the tongue.
The title we landed on, The Hand of Merlin, is also very symbolic. It can be taken to mean that Merlin has a hand in shaping the world and its history. But it also represents the Heroes that help carry out his task: the fellowship itself acting as the hand of Merlin. Plus, it’s way shorter, so that’s good!
Over the past year, we’ve been doing live development in Early Access, while also porting the game to consoles. That includes pushing regular content updates at a steady month-and-a-half interval, with lots of small updates in between, usually weekly or bi-weekly.
Let me tell you – it’s been a brutal experience! 🙂 But also very fun, with lots of things we’ve learned on the way.
Thinking about some of the highs over the last year, we really enjoyed seeing popular content creators livestream or review our game. It felt good to hear folks praising various gameplay aspects, or just plain-old having fun with it!
Another high would be… um… helping folks with technical issues. No, seriously. It may sound weird, but it feels good to have a happy customer praise our technical support, especially since we’re such a small team and all spread so thin. There’s no dedicated community manager or tech support contact: it’s just us, the three programmers on the team, juggling coding new features, bug fixing, tech support, build system management, and everything else in-between.
And of course, you can’t have the highs without the lows. In the early days of EA, seeing those very same content creators across Twitch and YouTube finding a nasty bug was a bit deflating. One time, all the textures went haywire and started blinking with psychedelic textures during a stream. The chat exploded, and the guy was laughing, but we on the dev team just wanted earth to swallow us. 🙂 Fortunately, we were soon able to reproduce and fix the bug, but I promise that we will never forget that scene with flashing neon floors on livestream!
Even with so many people praising your game, it’s still difficult seeing negative reviews pop up. I keep track of all the reviews and posts, and every unfavorable one is a kick in the gut. Still, we sift through them and often there’s something actionable to be found. Something to address, to help make the game even better.
The worst mistake you can make as a dev, I think, is to react emotionally or start arguing. Even if there’s an angry post on the forum, I ask myself: how come that person is so angry? Is there something we can change to address their issue? Oftentimes, the answer is yes, and then the person goes from feeling angry to feeling vindicated. That’s such a great feeling when that happens! So, this actually started as a “low,” but became a “high” by the end! 🙂
And so, here we are: 365 days after The Hand of Merlin’s first day in Early Access. It’s been an amazing year, and we’re very excited to reach the end of our EA voyage and officially release version 1.0 in the near future (you’ll be hearing more about that very soon)!
Before we wrap things up here, I’ll leave you with one more fun fact about The Hand of Merlin: An artistic influence on the game was Excalibur, a 1981 film. The entire movie is a visual trip, and really hits the nail on the head with that weird, off-kilter medieval feel with dark mystical undertones.
The movie also features some very shiny armor, which due to the physics of optical lenses used in cameras, produced strong fringes of light extending from the borders of those bright suits of armor. This in turn caused the film to have an almost dream-like, otherworldly feel to it. We actually replicated this artifact – this feeling – with a strong bloom effect in-game.
Thank you so much for your continued support and feedback. You’ve all definitely made this first birthday all the more sweet!