So myself, Rohan and Morgan (from our co-developer at Epiphany Games) were recently speculating about the size of our project. From humble beginnings, we realised that the size and scope of the project had well exceeded not just the expectations of Rohan and I (Noobs), but also Morgan, who projected that it’d take about three months to make and would end up with a budget of about $180’000 give or take. (Granted, this was at a Bavarian Bier Café – Morg)
That was full time work for a decent sized team of people, but for one reason or another circumstances conspired to mean that the game was worked on part time by Rohan, myself, Epiphany and our contracted contributors outside of our other gainful employment. I have been writing about videogames to pay the rent, Rohan has been working in IT, our musician was working time in between looking after his kid and working in video production and our character artist was forging through an ever-increasing amount of study while working at a bar.
The bottom line – the game has now taken 18 months and counting. And when we took a look back over all the hours and take a conservative estimate, our best guess at a budget, if we’d had one, would be somewhere in between $400-500k.
The best advice I can give for anyone looking to create a very large game with very little up front capital is as follows:
A little over a year ago, or about 3-4 months into the development of my first game, I fell into a very deep depression for which I have since been on medication and in and out of therapy. It’s entirely possible that, given my previous career involved promoting work by others, I’d had distance enough from that work not to let the stress (and there was indeed much stress) get to me. Although with depression of any kind, focusing on one factor (or even external factors at all) isn’t exactly healthy, so I only bring up the work situation because it’s pertinent to my experience here.
Suffice to say, it’s been more and more difficult with each passing month to keep my head up high or down and working, depending on where it needs to be, and I feel it’s been detrimental to the project, the team and to myself in stages.
I should stress that these are stages I’ve identified in my experience only, and I certainly don’t suggest that these are uniform and are felt in the same way by everyone going through depression of any kind.
Not quite as clear cut as the simple name suggests, I’ve experienced denial of two things primarily: that I actually have been suffering from depression, and that I am actually pursuing a creative endeavour and really putting myself out there. Within the comfort of that denial, I was able to spend many months still being productive, and with productivity comes no need to address the problem.
I imagine a common conundrum for many artists who work on one project for an extended period of time is looking back on past work that had been greenlit and seeing utter garbage. Then comes the troubling task of deciding whether to keep what is there and endure hours of eye twitching or remaking it and possibly wasting precious hours.
This issue is no stranger to the games industry and occurs across the board, be it AAA titles, indie companies and one-man projects. Fez, L.A. Noire and Spore are some of my favourite examples and extended development caused problems after release for these games regardless of how beautiful and fun they are.
So where is the sweet spot between time and quality?
So, Leigh posted his thoughts recently on the fact that our game, despite being primarily targeted at iPad, is not really an ‘iPad game’. It is in the sense that was it was built from the ground up for this platform – the interface went through three careful major iterations to make it as elegant, seamless and transparently simple as possible on a touch interface.
But it also *isn’t* in the sense that is is a full, solid premium game. These are my thoughts on that – consider it a friendly rebuttal, if you like, or at the very least an alternate perspective – why I feel he’s right… but why I feel that’s not a problem.
It wasn’t designed for in-app microtransactions, and even the budget/scale of the game is more like a mid-level indie game than a little iPad twitch-fest. This we’ve known from the start – but it wasn’t something that bothered me. Far from it – I considered it an opportunity – and a challenge. To illustrate this, I’ll tell a story.
One of the lingering things which has me somewhat perturbed as we rapidly approach final beta is the notion that our game isn’t the right fit for the platform. This was hammered home to an extent yesterday when discussing the difficulty level of See Through Studios’ game Unstoppabot at the iOS game’s launch drinks.
(Side note: everyone do make a point of checking out one of Sydney’s best indie developers’ latest works. It’s a unique game from designer Nick Kolan and is easy to pick up and play. And it’s free.)
Essentially, their game, which combines the frantic nature of an endless runner and the synapse-firing of a puzzler, has a tempestuous difficulty curve. Appearing distressingly easy at first, the game quickly ramps up. Not in speed, as you’d expect from an endless runner, but in the complexity of the puzzles. Truth be told, they’d be rather simple to get through if the screen weren’t constantly moving, and hence the challenge.
What Nick told me last night was that they found the game markedly too difficult when it came time to playtest. I, myself, am up to level 13. I’m told it’s level 14 where the game gets quite hard.
Creating our in-game economy has been an interesting experience. I’ve finished penning a second draft of it, and it’s still not quite adding up right. The cake is the most valuable item in the game, while a table is more valuable than a finely crafted sword.
What I’ve been doing is creating algorithms for calculating the market value of each item. I’ve started by giving each raw resource (there are approximately 20) a core value so that I can give values to all subsequent parts those resources can create. For example, a wooden log is worth 8, but can be broken into two wooden planks, which are worth 4 apiece.
Then there’s the complexity of the crafting of each item which adds a multiplier. The more complicated the crafting table used to create the item, the larger the multiplier.
The wooden planks would attract a multiplier of 1.5 for being an item you can craft on the most basic table: the woodworking table. If, however, you’ve created an iron stove and cook a soup using ingredients you’ve farmed yourself and had to grow and protect manually, it’ll attract a 5 times multiplier.
So for the last day or so I’ve had my face buried in pages and pages of numbers working out our economic system. It has that all too familiar feeling which makes me feel like I’m ever so slightly wasting my time. But it’s very much my own fault, and the fault of the ambition of our project in general (which, I feel EVERYONE involved is starting to realise now that we’re nearing the game’s end).
You see, our game involves a mechanic whereby you craft items, build buildings, hire NPCs, trade, sell and more.
Where this becomes a problem is that if I find out that the way I’m currently having people craft an axe is no longer relevant or doesn’t make sense and decide to change it – a LOT has to change with that.
For starters it often happens that some other item in the game has its crafting recipe infringed upon by the change and I need to find another way to make that work.
Then there’s the value of objects, which changes based on how complex the item is, what prerequisite things were needed to create it from a technological standpoint, and of course what components the item is made out of.
Yes, Ladies, Gentlemen and anyone who doesn’t define themselves along such lines, it’s time for our much adored (we hope) GENERAL UPDATE!
The pace of change on Township is now becoming so rapid that we’re barely able to keep up ourselves. We’re finalising a list of sound effects today (now that we’re so close to feature locked), have got all manner of previously superfluous tidbits working and are now ready for another round of brutal playtesting!
We’re moments away from pushing out a new build to our debug iPads to start figuring out precisely how rooted our in-game economy is. Each and every morsel of food and plank of wood has its own values, appreciation and depreciation rates, each merchant NPC is configured to be able to spend and sell only so much of particular items, and we’ve a whole bunch of scenarios in there ready to go.
There is an uncomfortable similarity between making a movie and making a video game.
Not really in any of the practice (unless you’re doing a heavily CG movie), but the similarity is there.
When you start a film, you’re writing the script and planning how it will be shot. You’re putting stuff in. Same at the beginning of a game. When we were penning our design document, we were dreaming up features, some only vaguely defined, but features and gameplay elements nonetheless.
As the engine begins to take form and you start to be able to, y’know… *play* the game… you start to dream up more ideas. The fortnightly (sort of) meetings or random coffee breaks would often result in a handful of ideas, one or two of which might end up in the melting pot – especially if one of those ideas is very easy to code and could, say, be knocked together in a few minutes while the shine of the idea was still there.
It’s a really great way for a game to evolve organically – not right for every type of game, but one that’s basically a sandbox with some fun toys in it? It’s really worked for us.
Hi, I’m Justine, I’m one of the artists on the Flat Earth Games dev team. I was also the lucky first person (other than Rohan and Leigh) to join the project. That was almost a year and a half ago now.
When it comes to communicating with the Harris brothers, they and I are very different. They are very good at explaining their ideas in words but unfortunately have little artistic skill, wheras in my case, I fail to convince them of any ideas until I’ve completed the image as a sketch or finished product before they understand what I was getting at.
Sometimes this can lead to arguments or feelings being hurt. Fortunately at Flat Earth, everyone is very laid back and I’m blessed with a lot of creative freedom. This doesn’t mean that everyone shouldn’t practice being conscientious when communicating to either party. Teamwork in game development is key, and here are a few tips for everyone to remember when working on their own game.
- Firstly, and probably most importantly, don’t be a narcissistic asshole. While it’s good be confident about your art, programming, or design, always spend time to look at everything objectively and improve it. If you still find that hard, why not watch this video.
- Always embrace widespread critique. When sending out an email asking for critique about a certain part of the game (especially creative aspects), don’t exclusively send it to the people who are part of the same department. Sometimes the best feedback is from someone you’d least expect.
- Spend time constructing ideas that everyone can understand. It’s true that designers, artists and programmers have their own dialects and it can be hard to successfully tell an idea to everyone and be on the same page. This is primarily the job of the designer but in a small team the lines between departments blur.
- Don’t give up. If you truly believe you have a good idea and you can’t communicate it, just do it! Spend a few hours on your weekend or after work producing a mock-up and re-submit your case. More often than not, the idea will be green-lit, if not, it makes it a lot easier for the other party to explain why it won’t fit in with the game and you can take that onboard for your next task.
- Trust your team. I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve drawn a blank trying to come up with ideas for a certain asset. Don’t be a hero and try to push through it alone. The best thing you can do is send out an email to the team asking for ideas- when others aren’t stuck in the art grind it’s a lot easier for them to come up with suggestions. You might not even take their idea, most times it sparks inspiration for something else wonderful.
Without everyone doing these things, we never would have got Township off the ground. Comparing Rohan’s initial sketches (above) that I saw a year ago to where we’re at now is quite incredible.