In December 2009, I released The Last of the Dashkin and promised fans that it wouldn’t be another 3 years before the next Brackenwood story.
In November 2010, I messaged Sean McGee to ask if he was interested in working with me on a Brackenwood game. My plan was that the game would be the next Brackenwood story. After 6-8 months we had a side-scrolling endless runner. I was writer, designer, artist and animator, with Sean programming and teaching me a ton about game development along the way.
The aim of the game was to control the “dashkin” (named Bitey) over, under and through obstacles to achieve the greatest distance.
Around that time I was doing some work for EA2D and I showed our progress to my colleagues there. In the meantime, EA2D became Bioware San Francisco and they had been actively scouting for established 2D IPs on Flash game sites. They had begun approaching independent developers, and this is how Brad Bourne’s Fancy Pants Adventures went from Newgrounds to consoles. I was delighted when EA2D asked if I’d like them to work with me on making Dashkin a social game on Facebook. After some discussion with Sean, I agreed. Although the thought of Dashkin becoming a social game with microtransactions worried me initially, I decided that I shouldn’t pass up this opportunity to get Brackenwood out to a massive audience.
A small team was assembled, file sharing and version control was set up and we prepared to dive in. Sadly, just as we got to contract stage I received word that EA2D would be going through some big changes and the boss quietly advised me to take Dashkin back. Soon after, he left the company to co-found Rumble Games and within a few months, most of the EA2D team I knew was scattered to the four winds.
This was a huge stumbling block for Sean and I because we had already begun completely overhauling Dashkin to be a social game. We had no money and maybe 5% of the game done. We shopped the game around to some Flash portals but couldn’t get the kind of money we needed, so we made the decision to try Kickstarter.
Our communities (Brackenwood, Newgrounds, Facebook) rose up in force, and six weeks later our campaign was a success. We were very excited and I got right to work on the backer rewards. We decided at this point to rebuild Dashkin from the ground up. We ditched the idea of a social, endless runner because after Canabalt and Robot Unicorn Attack, endless runners were quickly taking root as clichés. Instead we settled on a speed-based, side-scrolling, kinda-platformer, time trial obstacle course.
Funding goal aside, my next favourite outcome from the Kickstarter was the Brackenwood Character Sketchbook. If it wasn’t for the enthusiasm of Brackenwood fans, I’m not sure I would ever have got around to putting it together. I believe the addition of this reward was what helped us over the line. I’m really happy that this book now exists.
Fast forward another couple of months and we were out of money again. After fees and tax, our Kickstarter split was about $6,000 each. More than $4000 of my cut went to printing and postage for the backer rewards and before long we had to demote Dashkin to part time, in favour of paying work. I scored a gig doing 3D animation – bosses and ambient creatures – for King’s Road (A social game for Facebook by Rumble Games), and some experiments for their game maps and cut scenes. I was also doing some effects scenes for Bob’s Burgers.
I spent all of 2013 writing the A2H book. Writing is one of the hardest things because unless you have a substantial advance from a publisher, you don’t see any money until the royalties start coming in. It was a very difficult year for me because writing A2H was a full time, non-paying, thankless job. I was working on games animation, effects animation, illustration and comics for a handful of separate companies all while trying to stay on schedule with the book. I was pretty miserable most of the time, working 15+ hours a day, 6+ days a week.
It’s not my place to talk about what Sean was going through but let’s just say neither of us had the freedom to work on Dashkin. All this time I had been trying to post regular updates on the site and the Dashkin Facebook page, hoping that our next big push was just around the corner. Eventually though, the updates dried up because progress on the game had stopped.
For most of 2014 I worked for Riot Games animating and designing effects concepts. These guys are excellent people to work with and they’ve really looked after me. Later in the year I took on a second job storyboarding for Bob’s Burgers full time, alongside my work for Riot.
A2H was finally published in November and I was very pleased with the result. I was looking forward to the reaction (not to mention some royalties).
At the end of the year, as the Bob’s Burgers season wrapped up, they asked me to storyboard on The Awesomes over the holiday break. The schedule was punishing but the people are great and it was certainly a valuable experience.
There was almost no Dashkin progress (I might have tweaked some story and animation) and even less communication between Sean and I. Just the occasional conversation about the state of Flash game portals and the money they no longer have. I realised Dashkin was on its deathbed when Sean started to talk about quitting game development in order to survive.
I finished up on The Awesomes just in time to start on the new season of Bob’s. I signed another contract with Riot and today I’m storyboarding Bob’s Burgers alongside.
My first A2H royalty cheque came in the mail recently. I actually earn more money in 3 days of storyboarding. Let’s just say I probably won’t be writing ever again.
..so here we are
A couple of weeks ago I contacted Sean for the first time in many months. We chatted about our current situations. He’s working in a games store and doesn’t have time even to work on any games of his own. I suggested that we cancel Dashkin and release the source files. He agreed that it would be good to have some closure and be able to move on.
So I’m taking it from here. I have a few ideas for Dashkin, but my current plan is that it will be released unfinished, but playable, with source files and a tutorial on how to use Sean’s fantastic level editor. I also contacted Lee Miller about releasing the music, as that is one of the last remaining, unfulfilled Kickstarter rewards. I really want to honour those so I can move on to other things.
I’ve learned one or two things over the past 4 years. If I somehow manage to make a new Brackenwood game in the future, it will be from scratch, with financial backing, two or three extra people on board, and quite possibly a 2D 3D hybrid.
In a way, our progress on Dashkin was like playing through one of the levels. Each time we hit a stumbling block, we’d get up and push on, hoping to make up the time. With each new obstacle collision though, it becomes apparent that you’re not going to hit that finish line and the Yuyu are going to catch you.
Thanks almost entirely to my over-ambitious design, Dashkin outgrew our ability to see it through. We could have released a smaller, simpler game in 2012 and moved on with our lives but with the success of our Kickstarter, we aimed high. So despite the hours and passion poured into it, Dashkin drowned and could not be revived.
For all the fans and backers who cheered us on through this ordeal, we thank you for your support. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Sean for his amazing work through some really dark times. Even unfinished, playing Dashkin is a blast thanks to you man. I’d give anything for a better outcome.
While I’ve made up my mind to release the Dashkin source files, including all art, code and audio, I’ll be cleaning a few things up first. In the meantime I’d be happy to consider alternatives; so I welcome any suggestions, questions or comments.