TumbleSeed is a very good video game. Novel, unique, and devilishly clever, this independent endeavour by an unnamed five-person team was one of the best games on Nintendo Switch during its teething period. There was only one problem that turned many players against it: It was too damned difficult!
The game was so challenging in fact, that only a mere 0.2 per cent could finish this rolly roguelike.
Heck, only 1.8 per cent of its players even made it to the game’s fourth and final biome, while a mere 8.3 per cent crossed its midpoint to the desert region.
TumbleSeed is so stiff in its challenge that less than half of its player base could even conquer TumbleSeed’s opening quarter.
The TumbleSeed developers have taken this criticism to heart and addressed this with a new patch that tweaks the difficult a tad, while retaining the bulk of its challenge.
Currently available on Steam, but coming to Switch and PS4 “within a couple weeks or so”, this new “Four Peaks Update” drastically changes the game without losing the core of what makes it special.
Two of its biggest changes are new modes that aren’t procedurally-generated, offering a far more useful tutorial for players to come to grips with TumbleSeed’s peculiar control system. One new mode is individually themed mountains that stay the same every time you play and contain quests to unlock more auros.
The other big addition is a Weekly Challenge that remains the same all week. Not only is this available longer than a Daily Challenge, these weekly events will be replayable, so you’ll have the means to practice them and watch videos of how others conquer these challenges.
Another concession to the difficulty is that the Four Peaks update makes it so you can unlock up to 12 auras that are equipable at at the basecamp (i.e. starting point).
The Four Peaks update also removes quests and teleporters from Adventure Mode, but the new practice mountains should make shortcuts undesirable anyway, while quests are now relegated to these separate modes where you can learn the lay of the land.
There’s a ton of changes the Four Peaks makes and you can read the full patch notes on Steam.
In a long and refreshingly honest postmortem, that’s well worth a read for anyone interested in independent game development, developer Greg Wohlwend postulated that TumbleSeed wasn’t necessarily too hard per se, but rather too inaccessible.
The problem, he realised, was that players were simply asked to learn too much too quickly, and it made the game feel a lot harder than it should be. “The issue is not necessarily that the game is too difficult, but that players feel overwhelmed with far too many things to learn at once,” he said. “On top of this, they also feel overly punished for not learning them fast enough.”
He further exposed a lot of fascinating, albeit somewhat depressing, information about how financially successful – or rather unsuccessful – TumbleSeed was.
The developer estimated that it spent $25k over the years on legal fees, travel, expo booths and equipment.
“Calculating an average of 40hrs/week/person for the duration of the project, we’ve each made about $15/hr for the hours put in based on our revenue split,” Wohlwend explained. “The trouble is that we worked many more hours than 40 per week. During the last six months of the project Benedict [Fritz], David [Laskey] and I did little else but work day and night without weekends. Accounting for all that we likely earned something closer to $10/hr.”
It gets bleaker.
“These costs do not include our own living expenses, which of course, were the largest expense of all,” Wohlwend continued. “While often overlooked in these kinds of calculations, I am including them in our concept of ‘recouping costs.’ For us to get close to that, we’d need to sell a little over two times of what we have already sold. Pretty unlikely.”
Nevertheless, Wohlwend and company are adamant about perfecting TumbleSeed’s flaws, even if it never ends up a commercial success.
“While I don’t think this update will change the course of our success, it does feel really good to know we gave it our all especially when it was hardest to,” the developer said of this update. “Working on this update acted as a sort of therapy for all of us. We felt better working towards solutions than we did wallowing in problems.”
I recommended TumbleSeed, even upon its initial launch, though I was also one of the 8.3 per cent who made it to the game’s dastardly second half. I said that it “requires patience, perseverance, and experimentation to unlearn everything you know about how to manipulate a video game character” in my TumbleSeed review.