Shadowhand is a unique RPG card game by Grey Alien Games. Set in the south west of England in the late 18th century, Shadowhand has players battle through Enlightenment-era locations via an innovative combat system that combines Solitaire and turn-based combat. The follow-up to Regency Solitaire, Grey Alien Games released Shadowhand at the end of last year. I got in touch with Helen Carmichael, a designer at Grey Alien Games, to see what they think about the development of their game and what’s next.
Congratulations on recently publishing your game, Shadowhand! How did it feel to finally release a project you had been working on for a while?
Thanks! It was both exciting and nerve wracking to finally launch Shadowhand after over two years in development. This was our longest project to date – until now the longest took one year. It’s a relief to finally ship the game but of course shipping isn’t the end of the story: we still had marketing, support and updates to do in the weeks after launch.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything in particular you would have changed in designing the game?
We were ambitious in our design for Shadowhand, and as a result it took twice as long to make as we had originally planned. There’s a lot of content, and in hindsight we could have made the game shorter, because it currently takes around 15 hours to beat. We introduced a lot of new, complex RPG systems to our game engine, which took a long time to test and balance. We are proud of the end result, and learned a great deal during the process.
What does a game studio do in between projects?
First we needed to decompress and and try to get back to normal work/life routines after shipping. Next, in addition to support for our existing games, we have been working on business development (bizdev). Specifically this includes planning our cash flow, deciding what to work on next, and seeking funding partners and potential collaborators.
Your game incorporates solitaire with turn-based combat, it’s always great to see original systems be developed. How do you go about designing something that hasn’t been done before?
We wanted to take our existing solitaire engine and enhance it to make it suitable for a Steam audience. Jake had a flash of inspiration to create a turn-based combat system driven by solitaire. Then we prototyped the game and tested a demo on players at UK-based game shows such as Rezzed and EGX. Once we knew that players enjoyed it, we expanded and refined the concept.
Elaborating on that; how do you sell something new to audiences?
The fact that the concept is new makes it interesting to the press, which helped with marketing. We already had press contacts from our previous game and from the shows. In addition we had marketing support from our publisher, Positech Games. It took us a while to figure out how to message the game to players, but we settled on “RPG card game,” which we hope should attract the right types of players.
Strategy and RPG games are quite complex to make – do you have any general advice for developers looking to make a game in these genres?
We definitely found it challenging making an RPG/strategy game. One thing that helped us was adding these systems to an existing engine, which saved time. We would advise not aiming for something too ambitious, but to add systems gradually and test them at each stage.
What’s next for Grey Alien Games?
One of the things we have learned is that, in the current market, we can’t afford to undertake such long projects. So we will be working on a number of smaller projects this year, reusing some of our existing technology and IP. Watch this space!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.