Our weekly DND group used various software for audio/map building/map projection or printing and notes and planned to do a DND podcast. We booked a booth for PAX AUS to debut our first episode. Prep time for adventures was a serious issue. Nathan being a software developer started building some tools for functionality we needed and to make things easier, then Dante suggested that a new tool could be made as a passion project that would help our games. Nathan realized the need for an in-person focused digital tool and we agreed that this niche is not well served with the current options available. Dante drafted up an UI mockup and started producing audio, got his childhood friend Edi on board to make some example assets for mapping, Chris was writing his own Adventure module and Geri built a gaming table extension for the group, so we all threw our skills together and drafted up a project we could Kickstart. The podcast idea was shelved indefinitely and we decided that we will use the PAX booth to promote the launch of our Kickstarter instead.
The initial plans were over-ambitious and focused on our own needs and problems we faced. We proposed building a map builder, campaign and audio manager on the software side, fill it up with content, give people an adventure utilizing all the features, provide hardware it can run on and advertise it as a package deal. To get our Kickstarter launched and be able to show off a working demo at PAX the real crunch began. We all had day-jobs we needed to juggle to get the project started, but after a number of nights of no sleep a demo asset pack was ready, Geri has built 3 atlas prototypes, Chris and Dante a website and socials up, Edi has made a Demo pack worth of assets and Nathan got into a code frenzy, the last lines of code were written in the parking lot 30 minutes before PAX AUS started. PAX went well, our booth had no décor but the prototypes were working through the weekend, Nathan applied several hotfixes and patches between demonstrations and there and then we got on the map, we were in the Tabletop business and launched a Kickstarter.
Chris kept in touch with backers through weekly posts, Nathan started community management on reddit and the Facebook group and Dante started promoting on Facebook and forums.
The Kickstarter was funded last second we built the Arkenforge launcher to authenticate/distribute the toolkit and as promised we released the first working demo to the public on Christmas eve. The demo featured map building (with a tiling/line placement/object placement/brush tool), ambient lighting, and object lighting, soundscape module with built-in presets, music with adjustable instrument levels and native dual-screen support so you can project your maps onto a second screen. We have only sold 3 atlas prototypes through Kickstarter so we have gotten in touch with the backers, one received their Atlas Classic in time the other two who ordered Digitals kept in touch with us to produce a custom product for them but for the rest of the public we have abandoned the Atlas project. Initial reception to our software was positive and our real journey began. Edi became part time and we employed Zsofi, our second artist on a part-time basis as well. The 4 founders with 25% shares (Nathan, Chris, Dante and Geri) have aggreed not to take a salary from Arkenforge for the first 3 years, to build up the company.
We opened up to community feedback and started fixing/expanding features for 0.1. By Easter our Kickstarter funds were dry so we worked through the Conquest convention in Melbourne to get the toolkit into a sellable state, which was 0.2.
Easter – at conquest we have started our community maps section allowing users to share their creations with the community. Shortly after the first public version of the software we released the Pack creator. Pack creator was the way back then to import content into the toolkit, or produce content packs to be sold on our Marketplace. After receiving feedback on the amount of content distributed with the Master’s toolkit, we decided that we will include all prepared art for our project in the Essentials pack, doubling its size, and develop our three additional themed pack to match the size of the now boosted Essentials. For the Toolkit development, this was the roadmap at the time.
In June the third-party marketplace has launched with Maphammer being our first vendor on the platform. We have also released our second content pack, The Wild and Peter Horor joined the team as a contract animator.
In November things started to fall apart after PAX AUS 2018. Our userbase started rapidly going, and our website and server was not up to the task. We website went offline multiple times, our patching server struggled and our hosting platforms started to cap our bandwidth. We had our first tour to the US to Pax Unplugged in Philadelphia, and right before the convention the website was completely unreliable. We started our discord server to keep in close touch with the community and give them alternate download links and quick support if things went south.
We hired a contractor to move our website to a new server, change host and separated our authentication from the website and Chris had to take a break from Arkenforge for personal reasons.
With the new year we have re-planned the Master’s toolkit project, our Kickstarter promise for the 1.0 did not match our vision for a complete toolkit anymore, so we decided that we will just continue our patching and while all of our Kickstarter promises will be fulfilled, the Toolkit will not be 1.0 for a long time. We have published the summary of of 2018.
We have published a new roadmap and began works. We decided to be serious about animation and started producing animated assets, Essentials has tripled its animation assets, and production has began for the Wild to be updated. We have decided that all future content packs will include animations as well. Free one-week trials were introduced with a new version of the launcher.
In February we started to experience delays in our production. The toolkit has gotten exponentially more complex, and our inexperience in UI/UX design started to show. We were not able to scale the UI well to accommodate all the new functions and we were graphics heavy. Code on the back-end started to cause issues as well, our community was at this point actively involved in giving us suggestions and feedback, so we were able to see our products through different lens. Geri became a dad so he also took a leave from the team. We were still working day-jobs as well and Dante was busy trying to gain permanent residency in Australia so things became difficult.
March turned tides as we attended our first Gary-con. Meeting industry giants, our beloved community ambassador at the time – James in person, meeting more of our amazing community members Amanda and Mark and hearing about their experience in the strange world of the tabletop industry has inspired us beyond measure, and we could not be more excited about moving forward.
We worked through the year to prepare us to our first Gen-con experience. We were not able to secure a booth but hiring an event area was a great way to show off the toolkit for folks. James worked through the con with us and helped us getting things rolling and he became an official member of the Arkenforge team.
After the con the expansion of our and third party libraries were rapid, and our content management systems posed serious limits on it so we had to issue another rework. A little friction started internally and with the community as well. We posted monthly updates explaining why our delays are happening and what are we working on, why our proposed roadmaps do not work. The proposed way of producing Towns and Cities did not go to plan so the production schedule had to be reorganized and we experienced some delays with the large assets made.
On Pax Aus we have revealed our Towns and Cities that introduced a new type of content – modular assets. The way those were produced was not viable, as it turned out chugging the Toolkit and eating up RAM like no one’s business. We needed to rearrange our modular stuff and break up release to weekly chucks as things are being fixed up. We have released all the place-able assets, textures, walls and audio, but we had to schedule our modular assets for the new year.
On PAX Unplugged, thanks to the immense help or Ryan we were able to show off the Toolkit on a Digital table in the US for the first time. We realized unfortunately at the same time that people are reluctant jumping on board because they associate the Toolkit purchase with a multi-thousand dollar investment into a digital table. We realized that we might only be appealing to in-person gamers with a Digital table in mind and because it is a complex niche software, our messages need to be completely unambiguous showing off ease of access.
In December we have released Ice and Snow, and made it free for the month for the community.
In January we worked together with Arcanacon to produce our first Livestream using the Master’s Toolkit on stage by Mark Morrison, creator of Terror Australis and Reign of Terror.
In February we have finished the content library reworks, phased out Pack creator entirely and we were ready for the weekly Towns and Cities release. A new Launcher got released as well with a lot more stable patching and content delivery. We moved our patching and content delivery to Amazon.
Our graphics heavy UI and our UX received heavy criticism from our users. Tidal and * wrote up a report of our biggest shortcomings. After some talks we started to tie-up all development on our public stream and decided that this will be the time for a full back and front-end rework, creating a foundation that will allow us to build upon.
In March the global pandemic news became serious and Melbourne went into a complete lockdown. Our dayjobs were gone and we went full-time into Arkenforge rework, redesigned the entire UI based on community feedback, planned asset-production workflows and improved communication between team members with establishing monthly online meetings for the entire team, and weekly individual workflow meetings.
In April we organized the our first Online convention in partnership with Arcanacon, Dungeons and Distancing.
In May we have released the last public release and started tearing the toolkit down in Beta to accommodate the new code and UI. From May to December several back-end functions have been re-written and modules have been re-designed from scratch. We have released a content pack update every Friday.
In August we have released the Dungeons Deep pack and ran our second online convention in partnership with Arcanacon – Goblins of Zarth.
January – We have started our Kickstarter for 4 major content packs we plan to release in the span of 1 year.