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LOOKING BACK

Filed in Developers' diary by Dan @ 4:30 pm UTC Jun 24, 2013

Real screenshot from our game

Long time no see! We’ve been silent for five long months, and you’re sure to wonder why. What was going on here? Why this long pause? To put it simply: we’ve been quite busy. We were finalizing the game prototype for a Publisher pitch that our future basically hinged on, so we were focusing on that and blogs unfortunately had to be sidelined. Besides, we didn’t want to publish too much information at that important moment as it’s certainly better when your potential partner learns the salient facts from you directly and doesn’t have to hunt for them on social media. Now we finally have some time so I’ll try to catch up and write an account of what was going on here.

As you may know, we are a startup financed by a private angel investor. We received funding for development of a prototype to demonstrate to Publishers. If they’re interested, (i.e. willing to finance at least some of the development and publish the game), we move from prototype development to full production and you’ll get your game. If they’re not interested, we don’t move anywhere and you’ll get nothing and we’re out of business. Of course, there are other alternatives, like Kickstarter, but this is not what we’re focusing on right now.

The last few months were the period when we were finishing the prototype and then we went on a ‘world tour’ of Publishers’ offices, so as you can imagine we were quite occupied! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, now we want to talk about the process of finishing the prototype and the report from our tour will be on the menu for next time.

OUR MASTERPLAN

Our original plan was to develop the prototype in 15 months, and given our original commencement day this was supposed to fall on September/October 2012. Unfortunately, there were some delays when starting the company, and the deadline shifted to Christmas 2012 and we didn’t realize at first that you can’t actually sell anything but trees, turkeys and trinkets at this time of the year. We shifted our deadline to February and that gave us space to improve the thing (and it also cost us some extra money).

And what are we calling a prototype? What have we been doing for the past year and a half? We managed to do quite a lot and surprisingly (this being a game project) we even surpassed our original plan in some respects.

Our approach was different from the common practice of creating a fake Potemkin village to show to publishers, only to be thrown away when the actual work starts. Most things actually work and will be used in the final game. Actually, it’s quite difficult to create a fake playable slice of an open-world RPG as this genre is a confluence of many different mechanics. While in a shooter game one nice looking level where you can shoot at things (shooting is moreover included in CryEngine by default, so it’s very easy to do) will show everybody what you have in mind and can look highly polished, for an open-world RPG you have to show much more and the result can still be a bit unpersuasive. Imagine playing just one of the Skyrim dungeons as an archer. You can hardly envisage how the complete game feels when you are playing outside as a Mage.

We preferred to create a substantial part of the world (about one square mile) that includes a town with various buildings, some of them including interiors, and the first quest with all the basic game mechanics fully functional: dialogue, cut scenes, controls, combat system, GUI, in-game map, shops, AI… We have also created our own tools for game production and wrote most of the design. We can show you something that looks like a complete game and it will take you a while to find out that you cannot do everything you should be able to do. We did this in order to make sure that we would be able to create a game like this, give us a feel for what is the best way of doing it and how long it is going to take. We’ll not have to throw anything away and we have a very solid demo that any right-minded Publisher should be able to appreciate. The drawback to this approach is that we have no ‘wow’ moment, a.k.a. crumbling skyscraper. Such moments are not common in RPGs, but all the same, our prototype lacks something conspicuous (even though it looks very good overall) that would sear itself into a publishers’ memory. We calculated that the success of Skyrim would teach Publishers what RPGs are about and they would be more interested in proof that we can do a game like this rather than in a cool scripted tunnel like Call of Duty (next time I’m going to tell you how this theory worked out for us).

Moving the presentation till after Christmas gave us more time to improve the planned features and add some extras. We created more cut scenes and dialogues than we originally planned, we had a completely functional GUI and map, and we even had details like accurate item pick up: the character will actually correctly grab the item it’s picking up. I was really proud about our final build because it contained almost 100% of what planned for it, looked very good and didn’t crash (almost).

After Christmas our agents started to set up meetings with Publishers. Visiting twenty different offices on two continents in three weeks is not trivial. And we were bringing more materials with us to the meetings, but this is something we’ll be discussing next time, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Dan Vavra, Creative Director

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