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The Hidden Levels - Developer Interview

The Hidden Levels are a group of thirteen people who are dedicated to the video-game industry, more than that, they are truly are passionate about gaming.

As a media group, they work in all ends, from Twitch, to YouTube and even with Gaming Journalism. There is, however, an area where they have also been quite active; Publishing Video Games!

The Hidden Levels published The Void Rains Upon Her Heart, a fantastic and addictive Bullet Hell Shooter which we reviewed, but they also have another title lined up, and it’s Maiden City: The Last Collateral Damage. Our readers might recognize the name since we interviewed the developer.

Some days ago, I had the opportunity to meet with the founder of The Hidden Levels, Alyssa (Kitty Skies), over Steam, and talk a little bit about their plans as a group, and goals for the future.

We also got a sneak peak of Alyssa’s work as a marketer/publisher, and how that reflects on publishing of Maiden City: The Last Collateral Damage!

This is the interview conducted on 14th of June, and it’s a direct transcription of the conversation between myself representing Sinical Anime Network (SAN) and Alyssa (Kitty Skies).

SAN: First of all, I would like to thank you for your time in the name of our community for your availability, and granting us the pleasure of this interview.

For how long have you been working in the video-game industry? Must be years now I take it!

Kitty Skies: I'm a games marketer, have been doing it since 2012 as a hobby, but 2015 onwards professionally. My job is to help spread word about the games we work with, come up with marketing strategies and connect with content creators and media outlets like yourself.

SAN: The Hidden Levels first published game is The Void Rains Upon Her Heart. Tell me, are you a Bullet Hell shooter fan? Or you weren't until you played The Void Rains Upon Her Heart?

Kitty Skies: Bullet Hells were always too challenging for me. I tried classic STG games like Dangun Feveron and as a newcomer, I always had it handed to me. Then non-shmup games like Enter The Gungeon. I found the amount of patterns and attacks too difficult for myself. TVRUHH was the first Bullet Hell I got addicted to, and the first one which slowly eased me into the genre, it's a great game for introducing new people to the genre but of course, the game gets as difficult as you want, so it can get extremely difficult should you test the games metal.

SAN: That’s very interesting, because I feel the same way. A lot of people who never got into Bullet Hell, are actually enjoying The Void Rains Upon Her Heart! The whole team must be really proud for releasing a game like that!

Kitty Skies: Yes, it makes me extremely happy to be working with such a talented person. Angel has been most amazing to work with, we often flow together like water and it means that a lot gets done and because we are on the same wavelength there is very minimal time spent in discussing/making decisions.

SAN: But that's not all, you're currently responsible for the publish of Maiden City: The Last Collateral Damage and an upcoming game that's in an early stage on kickstart right?

Kitty Skies: Yes, I'll be self publishing Maiden City but working with an external company for the other future game.

SAN: What can we expect from Maiden City: The Last Collateral Damage as a Visual Novel? Is it a choice-based game with different endings, or a Kinectic adventure?

Kitty Skies: With Maiden City: TLCD, you're plunged into a dystopian future, you'll be playing the story through multiple perspectives such as Chun and Alyson. I can't give too much about the characters just yet, but we will be revealing more in the short future. Unlike other visual novels which tend to be upbeat and about happiness, this game is all about our strongest emotion, hope. Hope when all seems lost. The City is in a very bad state and officially recognized as the 'most dangerous place in the world'. Maiden City is an intro to the series, a kinetic novel and takes place in the year of 2099.

What really sets this game aside is the captivating artwork and style which our wonderful developer has created. We are extremely happy with the progress made. It's straight up passion which created this Visual Novel. Unlike a lot of other publishers, we believe in giving full control and artistic freedom to the developer. It is his project after all. Like hope, we are here to help his dreams become a reality. 'Not one person can do everything, but we can all do something'.

SAN: Based on your personal experience, what do you think is the hardest.. Creating a game or the publishing process?

Kitty Kies: Every step is as hard as the last. Creating a game is not an easy task, but with hard work and dedication you can get through anything. You really, really need help getting noticed with how many games are being released. You can be noticed and have a bad game though, which won't do any good.

You could have an amazing game, but with no publisher and marketer, be lost to the sea of constant releases, especially on Steam. So, it's really, a whole synergistic process. One of the hardest things for indie devs to realize, is that they sadly have to handle business and business deals. There are many who are not ready for that. It's always important in business to keep as many doors and windows open as possible. On top of that, there's an extreme abundance of scammers around, it's all extremely challenging and tough.

SAN: Do you feel that, as being an indie publisher, Steam somehow doesn't give you enough spotlight? Since you pretty much stay in the middle of top-popular releases and those other games that are mostly card-farming simulators.

Kitty Skies: Steam doesn't give any spotlight unless you're trending. That happens by either being A) big AAA game or B) lucky. Their store filters are really bad, so it makes it hard to sift through a lot of crap. That being said, I don't blame them for it. They all do an amazing job at Valve and I'm grateful to be their business partner. I just hope that one day they will find a better way to categorize the store.

SAN: Also, what do you think of the new Steam content guideline about accepting mostly everything? You think that might be good for indie devs?

Kitty Skies: It's a very complex and sensitive subject. In the end, they are a private corporation so they select what they get to sell. While I dislike straight asset flips and believe projects should be in a separate location, it is what it is.

SAN: Here’s another very controversial question… Are the grey-market key sellers still affecting small publishers? Also, do you consider selling keys outside Steam Store?

Kitty Skies: We are not allowed to sell keys outside of the steam store unless it's with authorised and trusted sellers like Indiegala and such. Unauthorised key resellers hurt both Valve and ourselves because we get no money from the sales. Roughly 850 games released on Steam on Feb 2018 (during our launch) and roughly 82% didn't make enough for a minimum wage. With only 7% of games, making enough to survive. (Stats referenced from Mike Rose in his GDC session, which correlated well to a bunch of games I've worked with)

SAN: Where do you imagine The Hidden Levels, 5 years from now?

Kitty Skies: A successful publisher and a bigger media outlet with a lot more friends made and developers to help.

SAN: So, to wrap it up, I always ask this... What's your favorite games? Personally!

Kitty Skies: I really miss Timesplitters and also wish that EA would remake Rising Sun. I enjoyed a lot of titles from Xbox Original/PS2 era when the mainstream titles were a lot less infested with people who just wanted to extract as much money as they can out of you. As of now, I really do love indie titles more and games which you can tell that weren't made just for money. There is one mainstream publishing company I adore still which is CD Projekt Red, who are absolutely killing it with Cyberpunk 2077 and Witcher.

On the subject of anime styled games, I'm a huge fan of MangaGamer, Sorcery Joker's is an absolute gem and I would highly advise playing that Visual Novel, I feel that it deserves a lot more attention. Best VN? Nekopara... I also love that there's a lot of adult games arriving onto Steam lately, makes me very happy. For those who love RPG Maker lewd games, there's one coming out soon to Steam called Mega Milk Story by Citadel Translations and I absolutely love unleashing my inner cowgirl!

Sinical Anime Network would like to thank Alyssa (Kitty Skies) for their time, availability, and for providing us with details and extra info on their upcoming title.

We recommend our readers to visit The Hidden Levels Official Website and learn more about the team!

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Purchase The Hidden Levels published games;

Remember to Follow the Publisher Page on Steam! Visit the Youtube Page with new gameplays and Twitch Streams every week!

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