Last year I broke my elbow. This meant that I had to take a break from programming for about six weeks, and The Secrets of Skellig, my indie game, was put on hold.

After a couple of weeks, I recovered enough to do some basic keyboard and mouse movements, and I stumbled on a free game called The Roottrees are Dead by Jeremy Johnston. It was exactly my kind of thing: a thinky game where you have to use your brain to fill in a family tree, based on results from a search engine. It was Her Story meets Return of the Obra Dinn meets The Case of the Golden Idol, and it consumed my free time for several days in a row.

When I was finished, I noticed it was not released on Steam, presumably due to the generative AI art it used. I thought: This game deserves to be much bigger than it is.

I reached out to Jeremy on the game’s Discord and said, I know you don’t know me, but hear me out. What if I worked with you to bring this to Steam?

Shelving my passion project

Putting my main project on hold was not an easy decision. I still love The Secrets of Skellig and I have about an hour of gameplay finished. I recently had some people playtest it, and while feedback was not super positive, it identified a bunch of areas that I thought could improve and I remain excited about the project. But it’s a long-term effort, there are literally years of work ahead of me.

Still, I could not shake the idea of how great The Roottrees are Dead could be. It was already a fantastic game. The puzzles and writing were clever, the worldbuilding was fun and interesting, and I knew it was within my abilities to spruce up the user interface. I have also been fortunate enough to have had some financial success from co-founding Discourse, so I could help with funding professional illustrations.

Jeremy and I kept talking, and I kept prototyping, and recently we announced the Steam version of The Roottrees are Dead!

What have we enhanced?

  • All the AI art will be replaced with professional illustrations.

  • There’s a totally new hybrid 3D/2D interface. You zip around your living room in 3D, then explore the Internet circa 1998 on your retro computer in 2D.

  • We’ve remastered the audio with new sound effects and voice acting.

  • Every aspect of the user interface has been rethought to make solving the mystery smoother and faster. If we did our job properly it’ll just get out of the way and let your brain do the work.

  • The game has been ported from Unity to Godot. We’ll be releasing on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

  • Care has been taken to allow for localization, although we haven’t committed to any other languages right now. If the game does well I hope we can release it to non-English speakers.

The original free game isn’t going anywhere. I’ve always been a fan of preserving web content for as long as possible. I’m hopeful though, that our new version will be more than good enough to entice people to throw us a few bucks. But hey, if you disagree, that’s cool! The free version is right there.

If this sounds like something you’d like to play, I’d love it if you could wishlist it on steam. Also, if you know anyone who would like this kind of game please spread the word.