Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

It’s All Done Except For….

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 26, 2012

A comment over the weekend led to a short conversation about where all the development time goes. I joked (though it’s not really a joke) that if I’d chosen to use a text-based interface, Frayed Knights 2 would be done by now. Lars Doucet (Defender’s Quest) and Craig Stern (Telepath RPG) and others quickly chimed in with full agreement. Craig noted that the game logic for his latest game (Telepath Tactics) has been done for months – it’s all been UI and polishing. Lars noted that his “famous last words” were, “It’s all done but the UI and Content,” in other words, everything.

I remember some conversations with Jason Compton over The Broken Hourglass a few years ago, before it was canceled. According to him, the game engine was largely complete and functional, but even with explicit instructions to the art team, he was having a difficult time getting completed, appropriate-quality artwork in a timely fashion and a usable format. Problems abounded, which is what I assume ultimately led to the game’s cancellation. It’s sad knowing what could have been.

The “alpha” for Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon took a lot longer than I’d anticipated. While it was technically playable (though perhaps not start-to-finish) and the content was *mostly* there, there was still approximately a year of development / polishing / tweaking / revamping / playtesting remaining to the game. Yes, some new content made its way into the game during that year, and by the time we were done with the project we were getting pretty good at the process (one of the pains of moving to the Unity engine is that we’ve lost that familiarity with the pipeline). While I hold out hopes that the sequel will go far more smoothly than the first… I realistically can only anticipate small improvements.

I’ve been at this for years, and I still underestimate how much effort is involved in UI / Content / Polishing. I fall into the same trap of seeing a cool technical demo and thinking that it’s “almost done” (although by this time, I at least temper my immediate reaction with some hard-won wisdom of experience). I know I’m not the only one. I know a lot of people wondered what the hold-up was with Super Meat Boy, which is at first glance to the uninitiated “just” an upgrade of a Flash game.

I guess one could suggest that this is why the AAA games biz now requires seven-digit budgets and over a hundred people to make games that are largely just graphical overhauls of a game cobbled together by a handful of people in Mesquite, Texas in the early 1990’s. And it may also explain why there’s such a surge in “retro” among indies,  allowing much more reasonable development times for content, UI, and polish no matter how complex and modern the underlying engine and game mechanics might be.

Filed Under: Production - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • Kurt said,

    It’s funny that making a game mechanically similar to Skyrim is not all that difficult – movement, combat, inventory/items, dialog system, quest system, etc.

    The hard part is making the game last more than 5 minutes.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    That, and preventing bugs – accidentally falling through corners of the world, and that kind of thing. Because having it “99.9% right” ain’t gonna cut it, because at 60 frames per second that means a likely failure within seconds of a player maneuvering into a tight, complicated spot. (Hey, I already had that happen to me once in Borderlands 2…)

    Sometimes it’s a code issue, but other times it’s the level designer / modeler not adhering to constraints or proper procedures.

  • FuriousDave said,

    The Broken Hourglass still makes me a little sad. So much promise there.

    I’m a software developer myself, and though I’ve fooled around with Unity, I don’t have the skill, time or money to get art done for any small projects I might be interested in.

    Probably for the best, I suspect my preferances would result in fairly derivative games with little new to offer.

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    You know… I have spent 1 year polishing a text adventure game…

    (well, in my free time)

  • Xenovore said,

    …games that are largely just graphical overhauls of a game cobbled together by a handful of people in Mesquite, Texas in the early 1990…

    LOL! So true! =)

  • jeffsullins said,

    This is exactly my experience with my current game project. UI is this tedious beast demanding your time, meanwhile what you’d like to be coding more of is monster AI, neat class abilities, etc.

    Refreshing to see this is a common thread for some of you more successful game developers.