Dark Acre Week 30 Report
The Dead Zone
I’m an old man.
Ludum Dare takes a lot out of me, so much so that even with proper rest, nutrition, and exercise, I’m toast for the week that follows submission.
Fortunately I budget for this down-time by filling it with rating the other entries and getting caught up on my favorite non-gaming media like Red Dwarf, the classic Doctor Who, and reading. Also, I find it strangely easier to throw more words on the fiction pile during this time, having vented any and all game ideas during the jam.
So what exactly is in game production around here?
Rules One and Two are Always Don’t Talk About It
So there’s this primary project I’m doing, the first that involves serious, contractual cooperation with an outside agent.
It’s divided into three sections of production: mine, ours, and the other’s. What I can talk about is my side of things while not revealing anything that co-mingles with the other’s, which makes pressing about it rather difficult since the whole thing is pretty much entwined with the outside interest.
So what can I tell you? Well:
- It’s my first-ever 2D project. However, it has evolved to include 3D elements as it’s being built in Unity and honestly, I feel that if I wanted to do 2D I’d be far better served by using Corona SDK.
- It involves a lot of core coding. I’m not exactly creating a game play engine, but it’s pretty darn close.
- It’s focused on recreating something that I loved dearly as a child in digital form, so there’s a lot of passion involved.
- The other party is kinda famous.
Tease you much? Hey, sometimes no information is better than little information, right? It seems to me that there are several modes of transparency a development company can choose from, ranging from total and complete openness to absolute blackout silence.
Full Disclosure Risks Studio Closure?
Sometimes, though, the risk of openness outweighs the reward. A case in point that’s now circulating on the web is that of Bethesda’s ‘Brink‘ project.
When Bethesda first started revealing information about this game, I was excited. They showcased an active movement mode that was far more like Mirror’s Edge than it was Team Fortress 2, with a heavy emphasis on parkour-styled moves up, over, around, and under the game’s environments.
Splash Damage and Beth fired up the hype machine around December of ’09 with a video showing off their S.M.A.R.T. system, the aforementioned parkour navigation feature:
Over the course of development from that video to launch, the movement system was sidelined somewhat in favor of showing off how the weapons worked, and how the team-based play was supposed to function.
By the time the game was released there was very little emphasis on this initial feature, it had been all but forgotten and the game’s entire skill-based shooting thrust seemed to have evaporated.
By no means is Brink a ‘bad game’. It satisfies its core audience with a combination of team-based shooting and class-based play through gorgeous environments with tons of ways to kill your enemies. But it doesn’t live up to that initial impression, which may be the cause of a lot of sour grapes amongst the fans and early adopters of the product.
Marketing is important, it is absolutely essential to some degree to getting word of a product’s existence out in the open and start generating early adoption and interest. But how much is enough?
Games can undergo tremendous change during their development cycles. Features will get removed, added, and entire projects will get scrapped, some even after they’re completed and market ready. Is it reasonable to release work-in-progress snapshots in order to generate market interest, when the final results may bear little resemblance?
This goes even further now with offering up our digital efforts, for cash money, to eager fans in the form of paid alpha and beta releases. Notch, creator of Minecraft, achieved huge success using this method, generating a ton of development capital by getting people to pay for his development builds. This is a win-win for us as game creators, because usually we need to pay testers to check our games, not the other way around!
I’m fond of this analogy that summarizes how far we’ve come, commercially:
In the ‘good old days’, if you wanted a hammer you would go down to the hardware store and check out what was on offer. You would physically take said hammers in hand and test their heft and craftsmanship, and once you’d made a decision, only after carefully evaluating for yourself whether it was the right hammer for you, would you part with your hard-earned cash and take the hammer home for some good old nail-pounding.
Now we don’t even need to go to the store or check out the goods we’re purchasing. We get our hands on vaporous prototypes and do most of the heavy lifting for the hammer-makers ourselves, on our dime and in our time. And we’re happy to do so.
This is the evolution of industry. It is the near-ultimate expression of a free-market as the onus is still on us as consumers to make informed decisions about the things we buy. We still surrender nearly all right to complain the moment we lay our money down for something, unless the product or service offers some form of protection. And in our industry, the games industry, we are in nearly every case absolving the providers of any responsibility by simply opening their software and installing it on our machines.
What a beautiful system to be behind!
The thing that we need to take care with is customer perception. Promising one thing and delivering only a shadow or fraction of that thing marginalizes our integrity. So to bring this little tangent full circle, with Project Zero Four as large in scope as it is, and still in its embryonic stage, you’ll understand when we don’t start previewing things that may or many not exist in the final game.
We’re only trying to build and protect our integrity as developers.
Personally, I find it far more interesting and intelligent to keep those developer diaries until after the product is on the market, and release them as historical footnotes. The reality is that the average consumer is only parsing through for shots of the game in action anyways, and if we deliver false representations then we have only ourselves to blame when the critics rip the product to shreds.
“What they don’t know can’t hurt you” has never been more true than it is now for modern game developers.
State of the Child
In addition to the project that I can’t really say much about, there’s this Child of mine.
I’m currently spending what little free time I have, usually evenings, improving the game. There are several key goals that I’ve identified with the expanded development of ‘the Child’:
- Creation of a highly-detailed, ‘realistic’ world.
- Deeper narrative and character building, both for player and non-player characters.
- Episodic content.
The current plan, if you can call this unscheduled and unreported development ‘planned’, is to keep building high-quality assets for the game and designing rooms and levels that move the story forward. I’d like to have a grand total of 20 5-minute episodes, sort of the equivalent of a web-comic in game form. Perhaps at the end of it package it all together and release it somehow? But this is all nebulous at the moment given the current workload of the primary project.
Either way it’s safe enough to say that I’m working on it, it’s fun, and I’m hoping people will enjoy it.
I’m finally writing the climax. It has been a very long road since I published Tale and moved on to the second book, now approaching the fifth month. They often say that the sophomore effort is the hardest, but as I have no real expectations to satisfy it’s more been a matter of making certain that the story comes out at its own pace. I’ve still yet to suffer real ‘writer’s block’, but there have been many morning when I knew that no good would come of pounding on the keyboard. Suffice it to say, we are nearing a conclusion to the book, and it will in all likelihood be at least twice the length of the first and be even more character-driven while still revealing more of the technology that makes the universe of Project Zero Zero spin about its Core.
Speaking of Tale of the Madeus, it has been officially published to the iTunes iBookstore, and what a pleasure it was to open and read the book on my iPad! It’s the little milestones like this that remind me that tangible things are coming from my efforts, and fill me with much needed self-satisfaction. One of the hardest things about being a solo independent developer is that lack of immediate social feedback from colleagues and the pats on the back from overseers. I wouldn’t trade my current situation for anything in the world, but the long stretches of silent creation can wear a person a bit thin.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you’re a new subscriber welcome to the site and I do thank you from the bottom of my heart for making Dark Acre part of your usual reads.
Agree with the expressed opinions here? Disagree? Just want to say hi? Why not drop a comment below? I’d love to hear from you and lock horns if necessary.
Oh, and before I go. Some of you may have noticed the brand spanking new banner at the top of the page. That comes courtesy of the vector mastery of one Darryl Spratt, a good friend of mine and fellow game-maker whom I worked with on Gravitos. Check out his stuff and tell me I’m lying.
One last thing, I promise. One of my all-time favorite musicians, Amon Tobin, has just digitally released his latest project, ‘Isam‘, and it is a delight to the senses. If you like abstract electronica, I highly recommend you strap on the cans and give this a good listen.
That’s all for this week, a rather exhaustive post but I hope it’s been interesting. See you in seven!