Last weekend I saw Iron Man 3, and was oddly disappointed. The movie was fun despite a few flaws, and was really quite entertaining. It took me a couple of days, but I think I’ve figured out why I was underwhelmed by it: because I’m (some might say finally) getting sick of media that’s satisfied with just being entertaining.
The problem is that in the last few years, we’ve had an influx of movies that were incredibly good at just being entertaining (Transformers, Star Trek* and pretty much any Marvel movie comes to mind). The quality bar was raised, and that, for a while, was enough. It’s fine to have movies like that every so often (I still really enjoy them), but now that there’s so many of them, it’s starting to grow stale.
*This article by Rohan Harris describes a similar problem from a very different angle in regards to Star Trek in particular. It’s well worth a read.
Unfortunately, the same trends are true of games. In some ways, our industry is more problematic than film. The mobile sector is completely obsessed with the idea of simply capturing attention for the sake of doing so, and there’s an insidious and pervasive notion amongst developers that if your first goal isn’t ‘fun’ (whatever the hell that means), then you’re automatically a bad developer and your game is going to suck. What results is shallow games, whose existence is fine, but whose sheer numbers are really quite demoralising.
So today I’m going to talk a bit about ambition and depth: specifically, a quick test I’ll make for any project to make sure that it’s going to be interesting.
I’m sitting in the SeeThrough Studios office after a rather odd week. I’ve spent a rather large part of last week working on the story of Particulars, both in terms of its plotting and its execution. As a result, the actual design of the game hasn’t moved as far as I’d like (read: sorry alpha testers, no new build for you this week!).
I think that this week, more than ever, has taught me that getting your narrative right is about getting a tonne of things to line up properly. Most of what I worked on was getting a document which outlined what each episode and chapter contained, how it would move the story forward and how it all lined up.
It’s also taught me that house hunting in Sydney is painful, but that’s another story.
So out of this week, I’ve gotten a list of 7 different things that need to “fit together” in a game story. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list – I’d love to hear any extra things you might have to add.
As you might be able to tell by the adverts plastered all over the site, the Particulars alpha had it’s soft-launch yesterday (PS. you should totally buy it!). You might not know that we had a softer launch on Monday. Or why we had a soft-launch at all.
After this experience, I’m pretty convinced that soft-launches are the best thing ever.
Why, you might ask? Find out below in a 4-act morality play*.
*replace ‘morality’ with ‘practicality’ and ‘play’ with ‘blog post’. Yep, that’s probably more accurate.
I think it’s fair to say that Particulars has had a particularly long development history: the project started in mid 2011, was put on hiatus while funding was found, continued hiatus while other projects completed and is finally rearing its physics-soaked head again in 2013.
I think it’s also fair to say that I’m both a little addicted and a little over that particular pun.
So I’m pretty excited to say that this game is almost out of Pre-Production and will be, as of next Monday, in Production.
So what does that mean? Click below for a quick run-down of what we call Pre-Production means and some sneak-peeks on what we’ve made so far.
Launching a game is tiring. Launching a game where the launch doesn’t really work is exhausting, especially when those who actually play the game seem to really like it.
I’m currently at my desk with a pile of work to do on Particulars (you’ll hear more about that next week!), but i’m constantly checking Facebook and Twitter for new mentions, checking our analytics for new plays, and googling ‘unstoppabot’ for new press. I keep getting that feeling that ‘I can do more’, but I know that in the end, certain things (like some of the press) will simply take a few days to take hold. Right now, I’ve gotta go design the UI for our next project, but instead I feel the need to write about this moment. Because once Unstoppabot starts doing better (and I’m fairly confident that it will), I’ll likely forget what I’m feeling now. And if we go through this on another game, I would like to remember that this is just a part of the process.
We’ll be doing a post-mortem on Unstoppabot in the next few weeks, and you’ll be sure to hear more about the launch, what went wrong, and what you should look out for if you’re launching your own game. I’m also going to write something about the procedures we’re putting in place to ensure that the development of Particulars is a much smoother ride than this bot that just won’t stop… unless it does and then you launch it (or something).
I’d like to take the time to thank everyone who’s shared the game so far: we had 127 download of the game and over 20 reviews in the first day, which was pretty damned awesome considering that the vast majority of the downloads were from social networks (we didn’t show up as ‘new’ for anyone, but more on that later…). If you haven’t played the game yet, please do! If you haven’t rated/reviewed it, please do that as well – it’s one of the most important things for the game at the moment, and our best hope for getting it to break through.
In saying all this, I don’t want to give the impression that this game has failed. We’re a little down, but definitely not out, and we’ve got some plans that could really turn this ‘never stop unicycle’ around.
I’m fairly sure I’ve used the ‘Holy x Batman!’ title before, and I’m sure I’ll use it again. I make no apologies.
So, an update. And not, surprisingly, a post apologising for our lack of updates and explaining why. Why? Because I think I’ve done that post before, and I think you (the reader) will get much more out of an actual update (the psychology of why we stopped updating is mildly interesting, and pretty much comes down to the word ‘burnout’. I’ll leave the rest to your collective imaginations, and invite you to write any wild speculation in the comments). Suffice to say, we’ll be making a concerted effort to come out of the Update cave more often from now on.
I’m going to split this update into three sections: ‘Development’, ‘Business’, and ‘Other stuff’. By the comparative sizes of these sections our current (and quite incorrect) priorities should be pretty clear.
But enough of this chit-chat – to the Update-mobile!
After a 2-week wait, we’ve finally come to part 2 of our Budgeting Saga.
And no, it won’t be a trilogy. More like a dodecology.
First, the drop: I won’t be budgeting for the entire 3-project span up front, but will first focus on Flatland and then work on the other two projects (Particulars and Seed) once that’s been done. There are simply enough differences between the projects (essentially, that Flatland isn’t funded while the others are) to ensure that doing them all together would be… confusing. The other upshot is that I get to budget something simple first, before tackling the complexities of actually having money.
So without further ado, we’ll head into the murky depths of expenses (what I’ve done all-too slowly over the last few weeks) before diving into the income side of things.
Since we’ve announced that we received funding from the Interactive Media Fund, I’ve had a few people ask me for various advice about applying for similar grants. As such, I’ve decided to put together a collection of my top 5 tips for applying for this, or similar, funds.
Before we start, check out this video we made during the application process. It’s kind of fun to look back and see how much things have changed since then.
And then there were 3…
This week, we’ve put mutants into the mix as a gameplay element, adding some much needed emergence to the Shapes of Grey build. Also, some new art concepts, progress on the lighting system, new scheduling and budgeting.
That’s right, we’re about to bring some open-source to our accounting.
Why? There’s a couple of reasons:
- This is a process that a lot of indie developers don’t know much about. Hopefully we can help that
- None of us are experts. We could really use any and all help/advice.
- We aren’t under any NDA’s that would prevent us from doing this*. This, quite simply, won’t last.
First, some exciting news: SeeThrough Studios has just been funded** for the development of two projects that are quite definitely not Flatland. This has put us in the awesome but complicated position of:
- Actually having a bit of cash
- Having a dangerous amount of cash (I like to call it ‘enough money for us to shoot ourselves in the foot’)
- Having a fairly full project backlog till the end of 2013.
- Probably not having enough money to last till the end of 2013.
So it’s time to rebudget and replan. That and more, after the jump!
*We’re actually already are under one NDA: I can tell you how much funding we’re getting ($100,000, or $50k for each project), but not the conditions of the funds (when we get how much, etc.). So I’m going to have to step a bit lightly when it comes to that sort of stuff.
**Funding is via the Interactive Media Fund, an initiative by Screen NSW.