DevelopmentIndieStudio Spotlight

The Deep End Games: Building a Bootstrapped, Innovative Game

January 18, 2017 — by Gamesauce Staff


DevelopmentIndieStudio Spotlight

The Deep End Games: Building a Bootstrapped, Innovative Game

January 18, 2017 — by Gamesauce Staff

The Deep End Games made a splash on the gaming scene in mid-2015 when they announced Perception, their first-person narrative horror adventure game that puts players in the shoes of a blind woman who uses her hearing and wits to solve mysteries and escape a deadly presence inside an abandoned mansion. The game and studio has been featured in publications such as IGN, Kotaku and PC Gamer.

Here is a quick look at how the studio and game came to be – and some key takeaways other developers might be able to benefit from.

Dynamic Duo

The Deep End Games is the husband-wife team of Bill and Amanda Gardner – who run the studio out of their home. Bill has a history in game development – working at Irrational Games in many positions and on multiple projects – while Amanda has extensive history in writing and English.

With Bill’s connections, The Deep End Games has been able to cherry-pick a team of veteran game developers from franchises such as Bioshock, Rock Band, Dead Space and more – but because of the bootstrapped nature of their start-up, they were unable to create a physical location for their studio. “We knew who we wanted to work with,” Amanda says, “but we certainly couldn’t move people to Boston to start this studio. It was a blessing in disguise because doing this remotely has been so great.”

The other team members working on Perception currently work remotely as contractors and everyone stays on the same page by using Skype, Trello, email and phone. The flexibility provided by this remote-setup has proven doubly beneficial since the couple has four children, two of which are babies, who tend to make every day an unexpected adventure.

It Starts With An Idea

Even before The Deep End Games officially got off the ground, Bill already had the idea for Perception. The idea for the game came about after Bill walked out of a graduate school class where the professor had promised the students that by the time they reached their cars, they’d have an incredible idea. For Bill, it certainly seems to have been a promise kept.

As soon as he got home, the couple brainstormed and Perception and The Deep End Games were born. One of the most exciting things about creating an independent studio for Bill has been building a more intimate relationship with players – something he was unable to do as a developer at a bigger AAA studio. The couple set up a Kickstarter so they could immediately begin gathering funds for Perception and connecting with their fanbase one-on-one.

“Having that fan base and wonderful community up front has been incredible for us,” Amanda says. “Truly, meeting them and communicating with them has been an unforgettable part of the experience.”

Building a Perception

One of the most innovative parts of Perception is its use of echolocation. As a blind woman, players must use sound to illuminate their surroundings every few seconds – but the catch is that the noise players make is also how the evil Presence hunts them down, making sound a resource to be used sparingly

Amanda says that as soon as she and The Deep End Games team nailed down the story of Perception, they immediately got to work prototyping the echolocation function in the game. “It was really cool to see how objects would illuminate,” she says, “but the tricky part was for how long, and what the radius would be. We also didn’t want the tapping to be annoying. It’s really walking a fine line.”

Amanda says that reaction from the blind and low-vision community has been warm and welcoming. “We’ve met and spoken with so many amazing people who are excited about what we’re doing. It’s really incredible.”

Accolades and Buzz

Takeaways for Indie Devs

  • Keep your mind working. Attend classes and events that get your creative juices flowing.
  • Build and maintain relationships with co-workers and colleagues – even after you leave an employer.
  • Talk with your fanbase and keep the dialogue flowing during development and through dormant periods.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new concepts – even if they take some time to refine.
  • Enter your games into gamedev competitions

Building buzz has also proven to be a rewarding experience for The Deep End Games. Amanda notes that both her and Bill have made many fantastic friends in the industry over the years who have been very supportive of their work – including members of the press who have helped them spread the word about Perception.

The game also has plenty of its own accolades. It won both “Best in Show” and “Best Narrative” at the Boston Festival of Indie Games. Even months later, Amanda says the team is amazed and thrilled with those achievements.

Heading into 2017, however, she notes that while the accolades are nice, there’s something even nicer. “Accolades are great, but the real magic is watching gamers have a great experience. We just want people to enjoy the game.”