The postmortem below is a guest contribution from Nigerian independent studio, GBROSSOFT – a three person outfit based in Lagos.
What could be more fun than playing video games? Making one, for sure.
Being self-taught developers from Lagos State, Southwest Nigeria, video games had always been an integral part of our lives starting from the early days of the 8 bit Nintendo and Nintendo 64. This was soon to be followed by PlayStation 1 which intrigued us to no end with the massive jump in graphics and storytelling engagement it featured compared to what the earlier versions of Nintendo had especially when we got our hands on the older resident evil games series. It was thus a no-brainer that we would pivot to making games as we grew older.
Initially, creating games was just a hobby. With each free tool we came across and each neat skill we learned, we pushed across our creation to cyberspace eager to share with the world what we had made. But of course, they were largely unpolished pieces which drowned in the abyss of undiscoverability.
Outliver: Tribulation would become our first real commercial title, and this was because it was discovered by an industry veteran who would soon become a friend and a mentor. It was a project we started in 2019 and like its predecessors, a lack of funds meant we couldn’t push through with the vision and level of detail we wanted for the game. The industry veteran found its release date trailer which was billed for February 2020 and reached out, advising we work on the game some more in order to make it polished and commercially viable.
That encounter gave us the nudge that we were on to something and could perhaps create a game people would love to play. With enthusiasm we overhauled the whole project and began to flesh it out. However, as we would later find out, passion and enthusiasm could only take us so far. For one, we were a small sized team of three people without the funds to increase team size or outsource work. Then, even when we tried to streamline our development process, there was only so much we could do without the necessary tools. This brought us back to the issue of funding.
Between 2020 and 2023 when we were finally able to release Outliver, we applied to many funding outlets both for underrepresented developers and for indie creators but sadly, none of them came through. None, that is, until Epic MegaGrant.
Enter Epic MegaGrants
A drumroll to the guys at Epic for the wonderful initiative of a MegaGrant for creatives and open-source projects. This would be the first and the only break Outliver: Tribulation got while in development but a great one at that. The MegaGrant helped us purchase some critical hardware needed to continue the development of Outliver. The unreal engine 5 with all of its incredible features also made production seamless and we were finally able to finish Outliver: Tribulation.
While the Epic MegaGrants enabled us purchase critical hardware and software, we still needed funds for a lot more other things. For instance, we would have loved to have distinct, asset dense maps for each region of the tribulations realm but a lack of resources meant reusing environment assets for most of the maps. Another thing we really wanted was to support multiple languages which we still hope to add post launch. We would have also loved to commission a unique soundtrack for the game, but of course without funds, our project lead Mudathir had to double as a composer and sound engineer, lol. We all had to wear different hats; big ups to Ahmad and Mudathir for their dedication and unrelenting resolve in seeing this to the end.
The four-year journey of Outliver: Tribulation’s development has no doubt been one fraught with ups and downs and some of the lessons we’ve learned include:
Having proper plans/schedules: This was important as crafting a project timeline helped us take a disciplined approach towards development. Having a set time for certain milestones meant we were able to plan a more feasible workflow. We also became distinctly aware of our limitations and had to scope down from the initial massive outlay we had earlier planned to something more manageable that would ensure we could finish the game.
The importance of community: We learned the importance of building a large community and wishlist prior to launch by taking advantage of events like Steam Fest which is where we got the majority of our wishlists. We also got featured in other independent events such as the Indie Houses games showcase event which the industry veteran helped with. This also gave us a significant boost in wishlist numbers.
Asking for and acting on feedback: Outliver owes its current level of polish to the massive feedback we got from players who tried its different demo versions. With each iteration, we got more feedback and incorporating the suggestions helped take Outliver: Tribulation from its earlier unpolished state to its present state.
What’s more, getting feedback has also helped us add more content to the game as the recent Warchief update released post launch was due to players who wanted two difficulty modes. Outliver: Tribulation initially had only one gameplay mode, however, when most players complained about the difficulty of the first boss which made it impossible for them to get further into the game, we had to lower the difficulty level. This however posed a problem for players (Souls Fans) who loved the challenge hence the need for two difficulty modes.
The lesson we took away from this was the importance of empathy in game design. As the game developers, we thought the initial difficulty level of the game was easy enough for all players to get through and so opted for only one difficulty mode. However, the feedback we got showed otherwise and taught us the importance of catering to different skill levels. Also, acting promptly on the feedback we got meant we did not get a barrage of negative reviews from disgruntled gamers.
Outliver: Tribulation is a story-driven, lore-filled survival horror action game that mixes gameplay elements and combat styles from the resident evil and the souls series with African lore. It is a story about a soldier who mysteriously finds herself in a supernatural realm of African mythology and has to fight to stay alive in order to make it back to her realm.
Outliver : Tribulation is a labour of love and a product of resilience which underscores the human spirit of pushing on and seeing a vision to fruition despite all odds. While we tried to hold out on releasing the game in the hope that we could get more funding to improve soundtrack, aesthetics and localization, we are very proud of how Outliver: Tribulation turned out and will continue to support it as we get feedback from players and (or) funds from sales.
It is our hope that everyone who gets to play Outliver: Tribulation enjoys the experience and finds some escape into African mythology.