Panic

Panic Blog

April 4th, 2017

Welcome to 2017… Panic’s 20th anniversary!!

No, your eyes do not deceive you. Some of you may not know that we founded our company in 1997, but it’s true. We’re older than Facebook, older than Twitter, older than Google, and somehow still kickin’.

Every year is a little different, and last year was for sure — a little bit quieter on the software front (at least publicly), and a whole lot louder on the launch-of-a-major-multi-platform-video-game front.

Yes, it’s time: here’s a look back at 2016, and look forward to 2017.

Releases

FirewatchFirewatch

2016 was clearly the Year of Firewatch for us. Thanks to Campo Santo’s heroic efforts, Firewatch shipped right on time on Mac, PC, and PlayStation 4. We later added an Xbox One port. I wrote a lot about the launch of Firewatch previously, and it’s still moderately interesting reading.

We’ve had a year to digest the whole (almost out-of-body) experience. I think the most rewarding part was something we don’t often get from apps: the e-mails, blog posts, YouTube videos, and forum discussions people had about Firewatch. How it reminded them of past loves, how it reinvigorated their fondness for the outdoors, how it spoke to life decisions past and present, how the ending was disappointing and/or absolutely perfect… it all made us feel like we created something a little bit more substantial than a lot of video games.

We got to support good friends in making something cool, we got to establish our name a little bit in a new industry, we got to push our marketing skills, and we learned a ton about what it takes to make and ship a game. Firewatch was also a financial success for us — a very solid return on our investment — which has created a nice cushion that I think will allow Panic to develop more software, take more risks, and try more crazy things in the future. That means Firewatch’s success is everyone’s gain. (Even you, the person who might be waiting for a new Coda!)

Since the game’s release:

  • Firewatch landed in a lot of year-end Top 10s, including Salon and Vulture and Polygon and The Independent (#2, right behind Uncharted 4!?). PC Gamer even said it had the best writing of any game in 2016.
  • It officially sold over one million copies.
  • We shipped on the Mac App Store (for people who don’t use Steam), which got featured by Apple.
  • We won some nice awards, including Best Debut and Best Narrative at the 2017 Game Developer Choice Awards.
  • And we lost a lot of awards, but one cool thing was consistent: our very first video game was right there nominated next to major franchises from massive studios. Amazing.
  • We’re now working to bring Firewatch to Japan, with localized subtitles. Here’s hoping we can pull it off.
  • And who could forget the story of the uncle that works for Nintendo?

We’ll always look back fondly at this particular time of our lives — from the initial crazy idea, to watching the team at Campo Santo actually make something of substance, on time, and for a ridiculous budget (well, as far as games go). I enjoyed updating the folks at Panic every week with what was going on, and watching our team pitch in in every way that they could, be it QA or marketing or what have you. It really felt like a team effort.

Thanks, Campo Santo, for taking us with you on this ride.

The team at GDC winning an award

FirewatchFirewatch Photos

We also launched and ran our fictitious photo printing company, Fotodome, to deliver people’s Firewatch memories on paper. All told, we — well, June, to be specific — shipped 1,500+ beautiful sets of video game photo prints around the world. And we’re now hosting over 45,000 separate “rolls” of photos on our servers — that’s over 534,000 photos taken in the Shoshone National Forest.

Fotodome was the goofy kind of thing Panic likes to do for fun, not for profit. It made Firewatch feel a little bit more special for the people who connected with it, and it still feels awesome every time a new order comes in — and there’s usually one or two every day even now!

Coda iOSCoda with Touch Bar

At the very tail end of 2016, Apple added the Touch Bar to the MacBook Pro, and we were fortunate enough to get in on the ground floor — we immediately thought it might be an interesting thing to support in Coda, an app where it’s really in your best interest to keep your hands on the keyboard as much as possible. Coda 2.6 with Touch Bar landed just a few weeks after MacBook Pro. It felt good to semi-quickly add a major new hardware feature to our app.

Updates

Other than working on new things, our team is constantly updating our apps. And I do mean constantly. Here’s a chart of all the bits we got out the door in 2016:

2.5.14 2.1.3 2.5 2.0.9 4.4.12 1.3.2
2.5.15 2.2 2.5.1 2.0.10 1.3.3
2.5.16 2.2.1 2.5.2 2.0.11 1.3.4
2.5.17 2.2.2 2.5.3 2.0.12 1.3.5
2.5.18 2.2.3 2.5.4 2.0.13
2.5.19 2.5.5 ☠️?
2.6 2.5.6
2.5.7
2.5.8
2.5.9

We shipped 34 software releases over the course of 52 weeks in 2016, and three of them were significant new-feature updates. Each one of them was fully tested and qualified by our expanded and improved QA team. This might be a new record for us!

It’s our goal to make sure that our software works well, constantly — that the app you paid for continues to deliver, every day.

Successes

A few things that are notable from 2016:

  • Our software quality is the best it’s ever been. In 2016, we moved Aaron over to join Ashur in QA, meaning we now have two, yes two!, people invested in full-time testing and release qualification of our apps. It has been a huge change from the early years of making a few educated spot-checks before pressing “deploy” and hoping for the best. I have great confidence that the software leaving our door is stable and polished. (As a case in point, the Transmit 5 beta may be our shortest ever, because we fixed so many bugs during development.)
  • We’ve upped our group skills. This is going to sound painfully obvious so please don’t laugh, but between conducting more regular status meetings and lengthy-but-helpful bug triage meetings, we’re doing a better job all working together to define our immediate goals clearly and make them happen.
  • Supporting an external project, like Firewatch, felt very worthwhile. We’d like to do more of it in the future. Does that mean we might want to support more games? If a good fit came our way, quite possibly.
  • We took the hiring process seriously. Driven mostly by Ashur and Heather, we approached hiring with new, more refined, structured process. We created a new recruitment page, and tried a lot of new things: blind resumes (James manually redacted all personally identifying information on each and every resume we got), outreach to underrepresented groups (not just me posting on Twitter), a fixed application window, focused deadlines for responses to keep applicants informed at all times, and more. It was a huge change for us, and it took a lot of work, but the results were worth it. Speaking of…
  • Our team is extremely good. I’m serious. 2016 welcomed both Jesus and Helen into our Support group, and I’m so glad they’re here. But truly every single person here at Panic continues to impress me every day with their skill, initiative, and unstoppable urge to make the best and coolest things possible. There’s a lot I can’t talk about yet, but it’s amazing to watch everyone find what they love and do their best at it. This is a world-class team, full stop.

Challenges

But not everything was super smooth:

  • iOS continues to haunt us. If you remember, 2016 was the year we killed Status Board, our very nice data visualization app. Now, a lot of it was our fault. But it was another blow to our heavy investment in pro-level iOS apps a couple years ago, a decision we’re still feeling the ramifications of today as we revert back to a deep focus on macOS. Trying to do macOS quality work on iOS cost us a lot of time for sadly not much payoff. We love iOS, we love our iPhones, and we love our iPads. But we remain convinced that it’s not — yet? — possible to make a living selling pro software on those platforms. Which is a real bummer!
  • Game development is tricky. We didn’t bear the brunt of this (thank you for everything always Ben!). But it turns out we’re a little bit spoiled in the Mac / iOS development world, what with our usually consistent tools like Xcode and mostly reliable platforms from Apple. Heck, even the App Store is blissful by comparison. Minor updates to Unity can break your game, hundreds of PC configurations make a smooth experience for all users a literal moving target, console submission processes are extremely complex, etc. This was often tough: we got so close to a Metal-powered Firewatch Mac, but Unity complexities got in the way. We’ll get it next game!
  • Defining roles is important. What happens when you’re truly a “flat” organization and you have a bunch of incredibly smart people that can all offer valuable input on almost every task happening at any one time? Things can actually slow down a little at times. You want the right people on the right tasks, and you want someone who can make tough decisions and process the possibilities. It’s possible we’ve outgrown complete flatness. We’ll be experimenting with this more into the future, although it’s so tricky — you don’t want people feeling excluded, and you don’t want to extinguish the passion of creating!

What’s Next

This is the part you probably care about. Here’s what we’re busy working on right now:

Transmit 5

Yeah, it’s 100% real. It’s been seven years (yes, really) since we last charged for a Transmit update. Currently in private beta testing, we’re getting tantalizingly close to the launch of Transmit 5! We don’t want to give it all away yet, but we think it’s a super solid update to this venerable and trustworthy file transfer app for macOS.

Coda

If you’re wondering what the long-term plans are for Coda, I can’t blame you! It’s been a while since Coda had a massive new release, as nice as adding that Touch Bar support was. So, what’s up with that?

The good news: we’ve been brainstorming a great deal about what it would mean to reboot Coda — tear it down to the studs, equip it for modern web development in 2017, and figure out what we can bring to that table that’s distinct and helpful. Can we make Coda leaner, faster, with more modern workflows for developing, building, and deploying web work, without completely alienating existing users who love the way it already works for them today? Can we do constant iteration instead of giant monolithic releases, and can we cook up a revenue model to support that? Can we carve out a unique identity in a universe of good (and often free!) competitors? These are the big questions. But we have a general plan, and the work is well underway.

The tougher news: this won’t happen overnight. This is a long road. This will take a while. You get the idea. I will post updates on Twitter or here on the blog when I have more to report.

To everyone who uses Coda, thank you so much for your support and your patience — this work is overdue, but we think it’ll set us up nicely for a future where Coda won’t get “stuck” for long periods of time again. (Also, feel free to e-mail us any time, and tell us where you’d like to see Coda go. We love your constructive feedback and always take the time to read and consider it.)

Misc.

It wouldn’t be Panic if we didn’t also have some crazy things in the works that may or may not see the light of day. Hopefully in 2017, our 20th year, we’ll be able to crank out something new.

Thanks

Sometimes it feels wildly improbable that we’re still here, but we’re still here.

Our good fortune is boundless. We’re fortunate to have been able to do this amazing job for 20 years straight. We’re fortunate to have found this solid group of people to work with. We’re fortunate to have the independence, opportunities, and means to try different things. We’re fortunate to have you as a customer and/or fan.

It’s been a beautiful 20 years. Let’s see where our fortune takes us next!

Posted at 3:45 pm 72 Comments
December 7th, 2016
touchbar

We’re happy to announce the release of Coda to 2.6, which fixes a few bugs…

…and adds support for the swanky Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro!

Coda’s Touch Bar support focused on the Editor/Preview, Files, and Sites views. Here are a few things you can do super easily on the Touch Bar, without having to take your fingers off the keyboard or move a pointer:

  • Instantly switch between Editor and Preview
  • Indent/outdent/comment lines
  • Jump to a line
  • Insert hex colors using a color picker (on the bar!)
  • Create sites
  • Switch between file browser views
  • Create new files and folders
  • Open the Web Inspector
  • More!

We hope that you enjoy this nice new thing.

You can download Coda 2.6 here. (If you already have it, just auto-update.)

And if you haven’t bought it yet, buy it right here — try using Apple Pay!

Once you’ve given it a try, please let us know what features you’d like us to add to the Touch Bar in Coda!

Posted at 4:56 pm 49 Comments
November 28th, 2016
dropping-chart

Short story: we’re discontinuing development of Status Board.

Status Board was something we’d always wanted. Originally a very nice web page designed to brighten up our office and act as our virtual water-cooler for company stats — as seen in this famous blog post — it evolved into a feature-packed, beautiful iOS app. We made it very easy to make beautiful boards, it worked great with video-out on a large screen (even despite the AV Adapter surprise), it offered lots of cool customizable modules, and it had a first-launch experience I still think is delightful to this day.

Unfortunately, while Status Board became a beloved friend to offices around the world, sales weren’t enough to sustain further development.

Why?

I think Status Board’s lack of success can be boiled down to a few things.

First, we had hoped to find a sweet spot between consumer and pro users, but the market for Status Board turned out to be almost entirely pro, which limits potential sales on iOS — as we’ve learned the hard way over the past couple of years, there’s not a lot of overlap right now between “pro” and “iOS”. Second, pro users are more likely to want a larger number of integrations with new services and data sources, something that’s hard to provide with limited revenue, which left the app “close but not quite” for many users. Finally, in the pro/corporate universe, we were simply on the wrong end of the overall “want a status board” budget: companies would buy a $3,000 display for our $10 app. Hmm, maybe we should’ve gone into production on LCD displays instead…

What Next?

Soon, we will remove Status Board from sale.

But! The good news for everyone that already has Status Board installed is that it will continue to work fine on your devices in the foreseeable future. There are a few things on the horizon to be aware of: due to API changes our Dropbox support will stop working in June of 2017, and we’ll continue to pay for our weather service as long as we can but sometime in late 2017 it will likely stop working also.

We’ve also just posted a final update, 2.0.13, that adds full iOS 10 support and fixes some bugs. If you use Status Board, make sure to grab that final update before the app is removed from sale in a couple of weeks! Update now!

And any customers who purchased Status Board in the last 30 days or so should contact us — Apple doesn’t provide us with the ability to process refunds directly, but we’ll do everything we can to help.

Thank You

For everyone who helped support Status Board during its tenure, it was a pleasure to work on this app, and we deeply appreciate your support, as always.

Posted at 3:26 pm 95 Comments
May 10th, 2016

The Panic Sign

By Cabel

sign-header2
Image courtesy app: the human story.

After many many years of writing apps and doing things, Panic finally feels like a real company. Why now? Well, we put our name on a building. That’s right, we’re hittin’ the small big leagues, baby! But this isn’t just for show or ego — it’s a little bit cooler than that. Read on.

The Idea

As a kid growing up in Portland, I was always fascinated by a strange, bright, sometimes-flashing colored light on the top of the Standard Plaza building. You could see it crossing the bridge on the way to school — sometimes it’d be red, sometimes green, sometimes white. Weird.

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One day my dad told me the secret: it was a weather beacon. If the temperature was going to rise more than 5 degrees, it was red. Drop more than five degrees, white. Stay within five degrees, green. And if it’s flashing? Rain.

(Needless to say, the beacon almost exclusively flashes green.)

Something about this blew my mind and stuck with me forever. This little tidbit of knowledge felt like a secret between me and the building. This seemingly-decorative light did more than just just decorate, and I was pretty certain nobody else in my school (or later, my whole city) knew.

With the Panic Sign, I wanted to do something similar — not just feel cool about seeing our name on a thing but also build in a little magic for the city, something special for the observant, curious, and knowledgable. And I thought we could take it one step further: we’d put the magic in your hand.

The Build

We hired Security Signs to fabricate and install the sign, for two reasons. First, they’ve been around since 1925 and have created some of my favorite signs in the city, from the ’50s swoops of Burlingame Fred Meyer to the unforgettable rotating loaf on top of Franz Bakery. And second, they were OK with our probably-unusual request: “can you build a sign but let us provide all of the internals, power supplies, and controllers?” (Their only stipulation: everything had to be UL approved!)

They got to work:

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We put a test segment together with our controller and… it lit up ok!

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The Install

Sadly, I can provide no pictures of me dangling precariously from a cherry picker, because this is one of those phases where you leave it to the professionals. It was amazing to watch — these folks know how to install a sign.

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The Test

After a good day’s worth of installation, with everything in place, we hooked up a lot of stuff…

Nervously flipped the switch, and…

sign-changing2

…success! Our Panic Sign lit up — and it could change colors!

Now, we just had to take it one step further…

The Magic

The idea was simple: wouldn’t it be cool if, at the touch of a button, you could change our sign?

Well, you can.

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With a simple, clean web app, we’ve enabled anyone in the city to change the colors of our sign.

There’s something surprisingly special about standing on a street corner, tapping on your phone, and watching some colors you chose appear on a big brick building. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to change the world, but it’ll change our colors.

(And just like my Standard Plaza weather beacon, I wonder — does it feel like magic because maybe nobody else around you knows how you did it?)

The Tech

Here’s the fun part (at least for nerdy dummies like me).

The first thing we had to do was take the Panic Palette — a set of colors we developed for website/apps/whatever — and try to convent them into similar colors for the RGB LEDs. This was basically just me sitting at my desk tweaking RGB values and eyeballing it on some lights. Once we had the colors set, it was time to build the controller rig.

Here are the pieces of the puzzle:

IMG_1923-compressed

RGB LEDs: places in the sign itself, we used JE-006M-04 from JS LED Corporation. (They’ve since been replaced by the JE-006M-06.) These modules were UL approved and super affordable — a real solid part.

DMX Controllers. Something’s gotta make them lights change. Two HM-12RGB8A3-DMX512 controllers also from JS LED, one for each half of the sign. Each controller sits on a different DMX channel and waits for color changing instructions, then they drive the lights directly via separate RGB wires for each light strip. (The power supply powers the controller which in turn powers the lights. Also it’s so weird to me that DMX uses MIDI XLR cables.)

• Power Supplies. After running some cool math, we finally arrived at a 60 watt driver also from JS LED. Our first math was bad and we bought two 40 watt drivers — when we set the sign to “white” (full RGB active), everything overloaded and shut down. Oops. Turns out each “bag” of RGB lights = 42 watts at full RGB.

(I should note here there may be better/cheaper/other parts from other companies, but we just kind of rolled with JS LED since they were responsive and helpful!)

• Ethernet to DMX Bridge. To control the sign from a server, we needed to be able to send DMX commands. The Enttec OpenDMX Ethernet did the trick. You have to give it a static IP — no DHCP allowed — but it sits on your network listening for any “Art-Net” protocol packets to be sent over UDP. It converts them into DMX and sends them to the controllers.

• Airport Express. Because this whole rig is mounted in the ceiling with no ethernet jack nearby, we thought we’d use an Airport Express as a dumb ethernet bridge. But after months of insane debugging of sign sluggishness and eventual unresponsiveness, we eventually ran an ethernet line there and all of our problems immediately vanished and the signs responsiveness became instantaneous. Take heed! Use ethernet!

• Test LightsWe added a few tiny strips of test lights above the controller boxes, because debugging the sign previously involved phoning someone standing out on the street. Now we can, at a glance, make sure the lights are doing what we want. Plus it looks cool.

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On the server end, I’ll let Steve explain:

Well, it's pretty simple! When the user taps the submit button on the web page, it sends an HTTP request to the "sign server", which is a tiny Node.js app running on its own port. The two sets of RGB color values chosen by the user are embedded in the request's URL.

The server breaks out those RGB values, does some sanity checking of them (each value must be an integer in the range 0-255), and performs some rate-limiting and other things to deter general abuse.

If the request looks good, the server uses the artnet Node module to craft a special UDP packet that gets sent to the Ethernet-to-DMX bridge to actually change the color on the LED modules. (In fact, it will send several of these packets to quickly and smoothly crossfade between the previous and new color selections.)

And that's it!

Now go out there and make your own cool sign! At the very least, one-up us by using using pixel-addressable RGB modules (think of the effects!) — that was my original plan but I couldn’t find any that were UL approved! Maybe they exist now…

The Intern

tFz62JoEFor fun, we asked Carmen — one of our two amazing summer interns last year, Hi Carmen! We miss you! — to take our existing API and create a native iOS sign-changing app that we could all throw on our phones. She even went a couple of steps further: she wrote it in Swift, and she also wrote a watch app.

Carmen the student intern here.

I'm now a junior at Scripps College where I am majoring in computer science.  Somehow I was able to convince Cabel to take me as an intern, so I've spent my summer here Portland with the Panic team.

This Panic Sign project is what I spent a majority of my time on.  Using the app, or the watch extension, you can remotely select and change the color of the real life sign outside our building.

Before this project I had virtually no experience in iOS coding—let alone Xcode or swift.  But with heavy help from Heather, I was able to make this nifty project.  Although Xcode's auto layout sometimes made me want to cry, I enjoyed getting to do some front-end design work.  It was incredible to work with Panic not only because everyone here is ridiculously resourceful and smart, but also because everyone is outrageously nice and helpful.

Hope you enjoy changing the sign's colors as much as I enjoyed my summer with Panic.

Both her native app and the watch app turned out great:

iPhone app

watch

(Of course, we thought about submitting this “Panic Sign” app to the App Store but became worried Apple would reject it for not being “very useful”. While that would be a pretty valuable real-world intern lesson, instead we’ll try to find some other sneaky place to put this code!)

Now, It’s Yours

If you’re in Portland — maybe you’ve lived here forever, you just moved here from San Francisco, you’re visiting for a few weeks just for fun hopefully in the summertime, or something else — please come down to the corner of 11th and Burnside at night, that’s right by Powell’s books, stand across the street on the corner, and change our sign.

Impress your friends. Blow your child’s mind. Make a weird? cool? impression on a first date.

Just visit sign.panic.com, and enjoy.

Our sign is in your hands. Thanks for being a part of Panic.

Posted at 4:59 pm 54 Comments
March 18th, 2016
panorama

The story of Campo Santo and Panic — and how we ended up being a part of a first-person adventure video game for Mac / PC / and PlayStation 4 — starts in 2013, and makes for interesting reading in retrospect:

How Panic got into video games with Campo Santo – Dave Tach, Polygon

Here we are, a little more than a month after Firewatch shipped. If not just for posterity, I wanted to take a moment to record some of what’s happened since.

Reviews

I can’t lie — my stomach was a wreck as launch day approached. Butterflies to the extreme, the kind of butterflies that keep you in bed a little too long, the kind I’m well familiar with whenever I tackle the unknown. But once Firewatch reviews started to appear, the world stopped spinning a little bit. Here were some of my favorite reviews:

IGN – Ryan McCaffrey
“It is among the very best of the first-person narrative genre, and it reminds us what video game storytelling is capable of in the right hands. It’s a game I can see coming back to every year or two just to revisit its beautiful sights and memorable characters – just like a good book.” 9.3

Rock Paper Shotgun – John Walker
“Firewatch is a rare and beautiful creation, that expands the possibilities for how a narrative game can be presented, without bombast or gimmick. It’s delicate, lovely, melancholy and wistful. And very, very funny. A masterful and entrancing experience.”

Polygon – Colin Campbell
“In the end, it feels like it’s about the emotions and cares of real people, not the animations of puppets.” 8.5

Wired – Chris Kohler
“It’s an emotional gut-punch all the way through, for many reasons, and largely a pleasure to explore and find yourself lost in—mentally, if not geographically. This is your next must-play story, another voyage to a place games don’t often take us.”

The Mary Sue – Marcy Cook
Firewatch deals with love, loss, and how you put yourself together again after trauma. It does all this in a clever and engaging way that will have you emotionally connected to both Henry and Delilah. All of this is wrapped in a fun game that, once completed, I played over again.”

The Guardian – Nathan Ditum
“The writing is not just believable, it is likeable and funny. Henry and Delilah’s exchanges are full of the familiar tug and tarry of people getting to know each other, of playing and of flirting, and of reaching out to feel less alone.” ★★★★☆

There were also some cool write-ups about our genre and interviews with our team:

Firewatch and the Addictiveness of Lonely Video Games – David Sims, The Atlantic

‘Firewatch’ creators mix heartbreak and the creeps – Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times

Playing With Words – Laura Hudson, Slate

Video Games Where Hearts, Not Guns, Drive the Action – Chris Suellentrop, The New York Times

Then there were the incredible streamers — folks like Markiplier (who had a thoughtful and hilarious — poor Bernie! — experience), iHasCupquake (my niece’s favorite!), and Jacksepticeye who gave Firewatch their time. By my rough ‘n’ crummy math, there’s well over 15 million views (!) of Firewatch on YouTube, which is so hard to comprehend. (I also loved stumbling across the everyday streamers like EpicSoren, just people playing our game, and in this case, being really affected by it.)

In short: people’s response to Firewatch was overwhelming and amazing.

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Sales

Panic’s metric for Firewatch’s success was probably calibrated a little bit differently than Campo Santo’s: of course we wanted to make the best possible game we could, but we also had made an investment we really hoped to recoup.

How’d it go? Firewatch’s budget, while huge for us, was modest for a game of its quality and scope, but we made our investment back in about one day. Firewatch has sold around 500,000 full-price copies in its first month. (It was even the top PlayStation Store digital download in February!) As an indie game, or heck, even as a “real” game, ok fine but not as a Call of Duty or Star Wars game, Firewatch can be considered a sales success.

We’re so grateful. And relieved. But mostly grateful.

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Improvements

In many ways, shipping a game was like shipping an app. A lot felt very familiar: no matter how much testing you do on software (we all played through the game so many times on all platforms!) things are either going to be broken for some people or you’re going to think something isn’t a huge deal that other people will feel very much is a huge deal.

And again, like an app, the best thing you can do is be on the ball after launch, read tweets, read forums, work overtime, and fix the majority of the friction points as quickly as possible. So we fixed bugs. We watched streams for bugs. We read countless forum posts for bugs. And everybody at Campo Santo worked like crazy to make things even better. For example, a lot of people weren’t happy with the game’s performance on PlayStation 4, so the team cranked and quickly pushed out a PS4 patch that dramatically improved the PS4 experience.

And the great thing: we’re not quite done. We’re still fixing bugs. And we’re still working on ways to improve performance all across the board, including on PlayStation 4 and the Mac. There’s more to come.

(As a side note, there was one big post-launch mental difference for us at Panic: when you make a game, you’re telling a story, and there’s no “patch” in the world that will make a story perfect for everyone. We were fully prepared for this, but: some people really loved Firewatch’s ending, others didn’t. Both opinions are completely valid. But we wanted to tell a ‘real-life’ story, and those often end quietly and sadly. We’re just grateful people played enough to have an opinion!)

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Fotodome

I don’t know if you heard, but Panic did an insane thing for Firewatch — at one point you find a disposable camera in the game, and at the end of the game, you can choose to upload the photos you took to our server.

Here’s a roll that was just uploaded today.

And then, if you want, you can actually order physical prints of the photos for $15, shipping included.

Now, at that price, this was never designed to be a massive profit center. We saw it as a very special opportunity to try something we’re not sure has ever been done before: give users a customized, personalized keepsake from a virtual journey, on demand, when they beat the game. What would that feel like?

So far, 214,802 photos have been uploaded, and June (thank you June!) has shipped out well over 1,000 sets.

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Here’s what it looks like when we ship an order:

(A little implementation trivia: those QR code separator sheets, when scanned, ‘type’ into the computer a special URL that launches our Endicia Mac shipping software and fills out the user’s shipping details. So not only do they help us separate out the print jobs, but with a single scan we print postage and a shipping label! Also, for you web devs, Patrick, who built the Fotodome website, describes it succinctly: “vagrant ubuntu ansible django nginx gunicorn redis rq pyqrcode cups (oh god cups) gutenprint stripe s3”. Ok!)

Here’s my favorite anecdote from making this crazy thing. We knew the conceit here had to be consistent: since the game takes place in 1989, this item has to feel like it came from 1989. Maybe it’d been lost in the mail for 27 years. So Neven and I spent a good deal of time dreaming up how it should look and feel, starting with what we would name our fictitious photo printing company:

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Once we decided on Fotodome — Neven drew a nice circle logo, I suggested we give it some aperture lines for a bit of a (not-exactly-Olly-Moss-level) visual pun, we both hunted for good period fonts — our new fiction was ready and we started to design the perfect retro photo packaging to sell it as authentic.

Later, Jake pointed out that, in the game, there’s a line of dialog from Delilah when you get the camera:

Try not to snap anything that would scar a photomat employee.

We knew what we had to do. Cissy was in the studio to record a few miscellaneous pick-up lines for Firewatch, and Sean had her very quickly record a brand-new replacement line:

Try not to snap anything that would scar a Fotodome employee.

And just like that, Fotodome was now a complete part of the world of Firewatch.

(I’ll take a moment here to point out just how lucky we were to have Cissy Jones as Delilah, and Rich Sommer as Henry. Such a significant amount of the game’s depth is solely thanks to their great acting delivering great writing.) 

This whole thing wouldn’t have happened without people like Ben and Jake at Campo Santo who said “Sure, let’s give it a shot!” and worked overtime to design the in-game UI and put together all the uploading code. It was a true and very fulfilling collaboration.

And it’s been so cool seeing the response. We wanted the packaging to be a surprise, so we did very little promotion beforehand. Here’s Lazy Game Reviews doing an “unboxing” of their set of photos. Our presentation was so good, he thought Fotodome was a real company!

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Writings

It’s nice to make a thing, but nothing has been as fulfilling in this process as watching people talk about the thing we made. Seeing people discuss the story, what it means to them, what they think happened, how it related to their lives, how it made them feel — another thing we’re not used to in the “I’d give it zero stars if I could until they add Mosh support!!!!” world of making apps.

Here is some of my favorite Firewatch writing. It’s safe to say this is spoiler city. But if you’ve played the game, you’ll probably enjoy reading these pieces:

Firewatch: Story Explanation and Analysis – Ewan Roxburgh, Press Start

Firewatch Am I A Good Man? Thoughts On Firewatch – Alec Meer, Rock Paper Shotgun

Learning to Love Nature with Firewatch – Gita Jackson, Paste

Firewatch Took Away Our Ability to be Good People, That’s Where it Shines – Olivia White, Polygon

So what about the men? A deeper look at Firewatch and Catherine – Katherine Cross, Gamasutra

On Firewatch – Dina Abou Karam

Firewatch, Projection and Isolation – Reid McCarter, Paste

How Firewatch Reminded Me to Remember – Jefferson Geiger, ZAM

Team BucketThe Incomparable

10 Moments You May Have Missed In Firewatch – Hayley Williams, Kotaku

(Did I miss any good ones? Drop me a note in the comments!)

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Fan Art

Once again, sorry to beat a dead comparison, but with very few hilarious exceptions, we don’t really get to enjoy much fan art when we release a new OS X file transfer client or whatever. It was extremely fun to see what people created after they played Firewatch (or watched a Firewatch stream). Here are some of my favorites.

(Click any piece of art to visit its creator.)


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Unknown-1 Unknown
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To everyone who took the time to write, draw, or play something inspired by Firewatch: thank you so much. It’s hard to overstate what it’s meant to all of us.

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Notes

• Music licensing for the end-credits song was a funny challenge for us. I figured it all out — how to find the publisher(s) of a song, how to find who owns the master recording of a song, how to find the right contacts at those two companies to start negotiations to license — but no matter how many voicemails I left, one side wouldn’t call me back. I ended up hiring a licensing expert, who contacted the same people I found, and got it done in a couple of days. ? LA: It’s Who You Know™.

• Most of our marketing dollars went towards our super-nuts preview center at last year’s GDC. But it seemed to be really effective — we still hear people talk about it — and I think it helped set a tone of “oh, this game is the real deal”.

• One thing that I’d like to appreciate for a moment: the nice people at Sony and Valve who helped us throughout. There were a lot of unexpected bumps — a surprise Steam sale during our launch, the delicate business of navigating Sony certification — but the people behind both of these companies were extremely helpful and supportive, not to mention excited about our game.

• Keeping the “Twine Intro” a secret was tricky, but rewarding. We didn’t let preview streamers or press write about it, we never showed it at events, and the only people who learned of it before launch was a packed house at Pixar. In a world where we know everything about games before they come out, it’s awesome to hold back a things or two — surprises are good.

• (My favorite inside-joke story from production will hopefully be told in a future edition of the Campo Santo Quarterly. I’ll update this post when that tale is told.)

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Ending

So the day after Firewatch ships, Steve and I fly down to San Francisco and head to Thee Parkside, a tiny little dive bar that shares a wall with Campo’s office. We drink and joke and eat a lot of corn dogs and I profusely thank everyone on the team, one by one, probably a little bit too emotionally (but I really meant it!), thanking them for their sacrifices, their creativity, their hard work, their brilliance. Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin of Campo get up and give a real nice speech, which is never easy, to everyone in the room doing the same, and it’s lovely. All of us find ourselves in the same weird afterglow of actually having done it, something I think feels weird and almost hilarious to all of us. How did this happen? What are the odds? We made this thing. So I give Sean a hug, and he leans in and says “let’s do this again.” That’s how Firewatch really ends.

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(Our sincere thanks to everyone at Campo Santo for everything. Sean, Jake, Jane, Chris, Olly, Ben, James, Patrick, Nels, Gabe, Will, and I guess even Paolo — it was a pleasure getting to know you, and making something with you.)

Posted at 8:39 am 27 Comments