Path of Kami Post Mortem - Part 1: Game Production
Updated: Jul 12
In 2018 I started working on early concepts for a casual puzzle game about a wolf and his pack. In 2019, I founded Captilight Games and started working more extensively on the game that is now Path of Kami: Journey Begins. Path of Kami: Journey Begins is an exploration game with light puzzle elements. The goal is to ascend to the spirit world and to get there you must travel through various lands in the mortal realm by discovering secrets with creative uses of your spirit fire powers. It’s a game that follows a spirit of a wolf and touches on topics such as family and death.
The game launched on Steam, Itch io, and Gamejolt in November 2022 in 10 different languages. I personally worked on the game roughly for 4 years ~ but officially as a team it took 3 years to complete. I took on the role of Creative Director, wearing lots of hats working on the game and level design, worldbuilding, narrative direction, production, marketing, and the business side of running a studio.
I learned a lot along the way and thought I’d do a post-mortem sharing what we did, what worked, and what didn’t work, and pass on any information that may be helpful to other devs! This blog series will be separated into 3 different parts:
Game Production (this article focuses on this!)
I’ll touch on topics like our approaches to game design, how I got the studio up and running, building a team, building a community, and marketing the game. I hope these blogs will be helpful, feel free to leave comments, questions, ideas for other blogs/topics, etc.!
That being said my first blog is about the general design and development of the game.
First I'd like to thank everyone who worked on the game in any capacity and to our backers who supported it! Thank you so much for believing in the project, and the Captilight team, and taking the journey with us on our first commercial game. It wouldn’t have been possible without you all!
With Path of Kami, we were aiming to provide a relaxing game experience where you could enjoy exploring various environments and learning more about its characters and the game world. I like to describe it as a 3D hidden object exploration game. As we started working on it we realized we had to change the story, and came across some technical limitations with the watercolor art style we wanted. The development was bumpy early on, we took a significant amount of time on concept art, narrowing down the design and trying to nail down the watercolor art style we were going for. We quickly learned with the resources we had and the budget, we would have to lower the scope of the game. We had a core team of up to 5 people and at most 10. We all had full-time jobs and were working on Path of Kami in our spare time.
All in all, I think it was a bigger game than what we should have done for our first game haha but we got through it by scoping the game down and cutting extra features that weren’t part of the core gameplay experience.
Note: The below stats were taken at the time of writing this blog and are taken from Steam only and does not include units sold from Itch io or Gamejolt.
Path of Kami was Captilight’s debut game and was our first commercial release
We’re a small team that had ~ 5 core members and at largest ~10
Genre: Exploration, Adventure
Wishlists at launch: 9,268
Current Reviews: 20
Steam Rating: Mostly Positive
In pre-production we worked on getting concept art, game design documentation, and prototypes together to help get an idea of the core gameplay mechanics and feel of the game. We also worked on a visual prototype to help us experiment with the watercolor art style and tweak it to what we have today. Towards the end of pre-production, we also worked on a demo that we could use to showcase in online and in-person events. In the marketing portion of this blog series, I’ll talk more about how that benefited us. If there are specific things you’d like to know, let me know in the comments!
Game Design and Story
Inspiration and Design goals
Initially, the game took heavy inspiration from art games like Journey, GRIS, and Child of Light. As development started we started looking more into Okami and Zelda games for inspiration on art and gameplay. I talk a bit more about the inspirations in my ‘Inspirations for Path of Kami’ blog if you’d like to learn more.
Some design goals we had:
Keeping the game light-hearted and relaxing
Making a ‘bite-sized’ game
Providing an immersive experience with no UI on screen
Integrating narrative with gameplay
Design themes, the core gameplay, and design challenges
From the beginning we wanted the game to be about relationships and the connections between family and friends. The game mechanics and story revolved around those themes. Initially, the game was about a wolf and his pack of friends, with the friends helping the MC ascend to the spirit world. But it brought about technical complications with our puzzle mechanics having to account for how the AI behavior would work with having a wolf pack and a somewhat open world. Additionally, having AI and other characters made the scope of the game increase.
When we brought on our Narrative Designer, Els White, they helped us update the story, lowering the scope and having it be more authentic. It had gone from a story about a pack of wolves to a more personal story between the main character, Kazeyo, and the Wisp. This allowed us to focus on a single relationship which gave a deeper and more intimate story, also helping us lower the scope of the game. If you’re interested in learning more in-depth about what the changes were and how the lore came about you can learn more about it in Captilight’s blog, ‘Lore Evolution in Path of Kami’.
The core gameplay involves exploring and lighting lanterns with your spirit fire powers to solve puzzles and get collectibles. The maps were separated into areas with a set of puzzles, some being optional. Solving a set of puzzles would give players a key. After collecting a set of keys, players would be able to access a new area. Later in the game, we introduced elemental fire types that interacted differently with the puzzles to add variety i.e. air elemental fire moving or rotating platforms while earth would create or destroy them.
While exploring and solving puzzles they would also get collectibles that would provide extra lore about the world. There were also lots of platforming segments and other environmental hazards that could lower the player's health.
One of the design goals we had was not having any permanent UI on the screen, we wanted players to feel immersed in the game and didn’t want UI obstructing the view of the world. This gave us an interesting design challenge: how to display the health of the player?
Our solution was a combination of conveying health through art while pushing the narrative of the story and character. In the game, the MC passes away from a snowstorm and the game officially starts with the MC waking up as a spirit in their wolf den. To convey health we played on the spiritual aspect, as health would decrease the more ghostly the character would look.
During playtesting we realized that some players would still want a more direct way of knowing how much health they had left so we added a set of floating orbs around the MC’s neck. Along with appearing more ghostly, they would lose an orb when losing health.
Tools we used
Discord: We used this for communication, team meetings, and work hangouts.
Hack N Plan: Project management tools
Clockify: Track time spent working on game and used for timesheets to pay team
Unreal Engine: Game engine we used to build the game
TortoiseSVN: Source Control for the game
Digital Ocean: Hosting for the source control
Canva: Graphics, marketing materials, roadmapping
If you're interested in learning more about the tools we used and how we organized our project, check out my video "How to plan and organize your long term game project."
So let's summarize how the production of the game went!
What Worked :)
The visual prototype helped a ton with defining our unique art style and experimenting early with what would work best for the game.
Puzzle Manager & other tools
The development team put together a set of tools such as a puzzle manager and cinematic system for designers to be able to quickly create and implement puzzles and cinematics. This helped save a lot of time for programmers so they could work on other aspects of the game while giving designers more control over the puzzles.
The art team built modular kits for the environments in the game which helped a ton with world-building and quickly setting up environments
With the feedback we got on the game I feel like we did a great job at keeping the experience casual and relaxing for players, achieving one of our main design pillars and goals!
The audio team worked very hard on providing ambient music and a soothing soundtrack for the game which really added a lot of depth and pushed the mood we were aiming for. (Check out the soundtrack preview above!)
Launching with ‘release essentials’
While working for a game publisher I learned there were constant negative reviews for certain game features that players wanted and made sure we had them for launch day. Players would leave negative reviews because a game didn’t have input binding, widescreen support, and other features on launch day. Below are the features we implemented to help prevent this:
Keyboard/Mouse AND Controller support
Wide screen support
Multiple Languages [didn’t see a lot of negative reviews for this but I highly recommend launching with multiple languages because it increases your reach, you’ll also have tons of people commenting in Steam discussions about adding their language :) ]
What Didn’t Work :(
Scope of the game not matching team resources
When scoping the game, we scoped high in hopes that we would be able to get a publisher or additional funding. Although we were able to fundraise some money for the game, it wasn’t enough to fund the team full-time to work on it. Even with scoping down the game and it being relatively ‘small’, it took us a long time to make. This is partially because we were all working on it less than part-time.
Spent too long developing the game
This kind of ties into the point above. We ended up spending 3 years working on the game. With this being our first game we should have scoped something a lot smaller so we could release something fast. Usually, your first game doesn’t make too much money so we could have spent a shorter amount of time developing this to quickly have a game under our belt and get experience as a team releasing something first. We also could have utilized asset packs more to shorten dev time.
Getting stuck ‘in the box’
We focused a lot on art and worldbuilding, kinda losing sight of the big picture. We also approached the development linearly as the player would play it. The game ended up being stretched too long and made it so we had to do an abrupt ending to the game. To fix this we could have regularly tried looking ‘outside the box’ and looking at the game as a whole from start to end. Taking a look at how much time we should spend for each level and take extra time on the ending of the game.
We marketed the game as an exploration/adventure puzzle game and these genres are pretty saturated on Steam. They are also known to not make as much money as other genres, although since this was our first game we weren’t expecting to make much on our own. Steam also tends to like more strategy-type of games, I’ll probably talk more about this in a later blog. To top it off we later learned that publishers also tend to not like puzzle games as much as other genres as well.
I hope this was insightful, thanks for reading and stopping by. Until next time~!