How do you plan for your games?

whatgame
Not even Chambara’s divination skills can predict which one of my games will be out next!

As you probably know if you follow me, I’m working on several games at the same time. Often people (both other indie devs or simple players) approach me asking “why/how do you make it”?

Well, first of all, it’s not really my choice. In the past, I was making a game at time, like most of my other indie developers colleagues. But at those times I was doing everything on my own, coding, (terrible) art using Poser and other 3d tools, royalty free music tracks and so on.

Compare that to my modern games, where in almost all of them there is:

  • one or more artists. Usually two, one for the backgrounds and another for the sprites. In some cases though, even 4 or 5 like in Loren (item/GUI/interface artists + colorists).
  • an extra coder for the most tricky parts, like Anima for Loren RPG Framework, or even only to speed up production like Aleema helping out with  some parts of Planet Stronghold 2 (codex, colony sim, etc)
  • a dedicated musician to do a custom soundtrack, so that my games don’t look cheap (hey I’ve heard that main menu theme song already! I think it was in a free flash porn game! ROFL)
  • a writer who writes the story in a proper way
  • an editor/proofreader that checks the (usually very LONG) texts of the story
  • someone that does a bit of marketing (I usually do that myself) posting images/videos in the social network, doing blog posts with progress updates, etc

…and probably I’m forgetting something. As you can see, a lot of people involved, even for low-budget indie games like mine. And do you think that everything always goes smoothly?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!

In 99% of cases, something will happen. This might vary from a small problem that will delay the production for a few days, to a complete disaster that delays the game by months or in some (luckily rare) cases, the total disappearance of one of the key figures (writer, main artist, and so on).

The only solution I’ve found, was to start several project, to balance the inevitable problems that will arise. This way if project A was on hold, there was project B that could still go on. I am probably at project Z by now :D jokes apart, as I said is not a great thing, because managing everything is a total pain in the ass, but I found no other practical solution if I want to be able to release several games in a year, which is something that I must do because differently from many other indies I know, my games aren’t on Steam.

Now luckily, after some years, I have made a good selection of people I trust and that I can count on. I usually always give to everyone second chances, but when people repeatedly fail me (and in some cases with lame excuses) I’m forced to put a cross under their names… after all I run a business, and businessmen are notoriously ruthless ! ;) (well I am not, not really).

Anyway, all this explanation will hopefully enlighten some people about the process, and how in practice I cannot really know myself exactly when a game will be out, apart for some “indicative release dates”.

Next week will resume talking about Seasons Of The Wolf with new character previews! But meanwhile, I got this letter dispatched by a pigeon from Roger Steel writer:

What lies beneath the surface …

Although you haven’t heard from me for months – and even Jack only slightly more frequently – it’s not because Roger Steel has ground to a halt. There has hardly been a day in which I haven’t been thinking of some aspect of the game, if not doing some actual writing. Like a great intangible Rubik’s cube being manipulated in the limited confines of my mind, I have been thinking not only of Roger Steel’s narrative, but also the title’s mechanics and gameplay, and how those relate to the story being told.

Designing and writing a game is always a matter of choices and compromises. From the engine in which it is written to the genre in which it is set, each choice entails its own set of consequences, some of which might manifest themselves only far later in the development cycle. But in order to develop games economically – that is with a view to making a profit at the end of the day – it is the game development team’s job to foresee as far as possible the consequences of the choices being made even in a project’s earliest stages. Changing direction due to unforeseen circumstances late in development is often fatal to a game’s profitability and the studio’s survival.

Making an RPG is particularly tough in this regard. Players expect a modicum of choice in traversing the plot and flexibility in building their characters. Meeting just these two expectations – which, while necessary for a successful game, is not itself going to win plaudits from critics – entails a whole lot of effort. With this in mind, it is instructive as a game designer not only to look at successful games but also the unsuccessful.

Let’s take as an example, Arcania – Gothic 4 – a game universally panned by the critics and gamers as little more than an adventure game masquerading as an RPG and a grievous insult to its illustrious namesakes. For me as a game designer, it’s instructive to play through Arcania and see what went wrong. The graphics are good, the world detailed, and the player character development decent.

However, when it comes to plot or open world exploration, the game utterly fails. The player is forced to progress through a linear sequence of plot points which match perfectly to a linear sequence of locations. Dialogue is banal, NPCs boring cardboard cut-outs with paint-by-numbers characterization, and interactive elements placed in the world (beds, workbenches, drums) which hark back to the original games but are stripped of all functionality. Arcania provides no incentive for the player to return, or even to complete the journey.

Contrast this to Two Worlds, a game with rough graphics, dubious voice acting, and unfinished, rudimentary character development. It also met with a very mixed reception, yet because it had a functioning open world (ignoring the plot, the player can explore freely to his or her heart’s content while dodging the rather lethal wildlife and bandits) it is objectively a far more interesting game.

Clearly Arcania’s developers ran out of funding before much more than the game engine had been completed, while those who developed Two Worlds apportioned a limited budget to deliver the best game they could which would at least meet the minimal expectations of open-world RPG aficionados.

In Indie development, the compromises are tough and the economics unyielding. The engine we are using inflicts its own limitations on the story we can tell and the methods we can use to tell it. Roger Steel won’t bear any resemblance to Baldur’s Gate, The Witcher, nor even Arcania or Two Worlds. Neither will it resemble The Broken Sword series, The Last Express, or the Blade Runner adventure from the late nineties. It will, however, carry within its DNA fragments of each of those inspirations, albeit often twisted beyond all recognition. And hopefully, it will meet the expectations of players like yourselves in that it delivers an interesting, dynamic, rewarding, and polished experience which is worth returning to in order to explore different plot paths, relationship options, and character development strategies.

This entry was posted in development tricks, general, indie life, nicole, planet stronghold 2, Roger Steel, roleplay games, Seasons Of The Wolf. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How do you plan for your games?

  1. Albert1 says:

    Actually, I find the “Poser art” in Magic Stones… nice. You know, sometimes a couple of rough edges, in an indie game, help getting the user in game!

    • admin says:

      Haha no, I really don’t like Poser art! If I had to do a sequel to that game I would use hand drawn art, not manga, but not 3d poser either.

  2. Matt says:

    How do you decide what kinds of stories to make games about? Do you have an idea in your head already? Do writers pitch you story ideas that they want to write about? Do you decide what kind of game to design first and then fiction afterwards? Would be interested to learn more.

    • admin says:

      It’s different every time, in most cases I have an idea in my mind but sometimes writers pitched story ideas, in other cases I brainstormed with them the full plot first, and so on. In general though the first thing is the basic idea and the main characters. But sometimes what were secondary characters became very important ones, like in Loren Rei or Mesphit weren’t even supposed to be recruitable in your party at first…! and now are two of most popular love interests in my forums poll :)

  3. Ren says:

    Is Spirited Heart 2 not included in the list, then?

    I’m kind of interested in the Roger Steele one, given the words from the writer – he/she seems to have a sensible and interesting approach to things.

    I still have to play the Blade Runner game my boyfriend lent me, though. :/ I was just reminded.

    • admin says:

      SH2 is a long game, I have actually a good amount of the “otome romances” already written, and the writer is very reliable, so that will get done. But is still a big game so I don’t think will be out soon, I want to do things well adding much more gameplay than in the first (crafting, gathering, maybe some RPG element too).
      Roger Steel writer is Fen Cayne, he lacked time to work on the game so far but I really think will do a good job too.
      Blade Runner game I suppose is Bionic Heart 2, personally I think the story is cool, even if didn’t do much well sales-wise :D

  4. Spongeyuns says:

    I’m a huge fan of your games, and i’ve always wanted to make my own but I’m just an artist so, no XD

    I used to think “Wow! He’s overworking himself” but I sort of get it. This was interesting to read.

    Good luck on your games c: I’m excited for all of them~

  5. Yuri says:

    I lol’ed hard at “(hey I’ve heard that main menu theme song already! I think it was in a free flash porn game! ROFL)”

    Jack, you pervert! You need to stop visiting such suspicious websites okay :-D

  6. Fen Cayne says:

    You’re right, Ren. The Blade Runner game is actually the adventure from the late 90s (http://www.mobygames.com/game/windows/blade-runner). based on the film, which I consider the last true film noir (my favourite genre). Very ambitious game I should really get around to finishing some day (I bought it when it first came out … yeah, I take a long time to finish games …).

  7. Pingback: Dev Links: Branching Paths | The Indie Game Magazine - Indie Game Reviews, Previews, News & Downloads

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