The Long Dark Development Cycle

Hey, did you guys know how frickin’ long videogames take to make?!

With each major project I work on, it gets to that point where we’re like “Yesssss, the game’s almost done! It’s so close! We’ll be finished in a month!” The part where the game’s all coded, the art’s mostly in—everything’s coming together and you can really start to see the final product emerging after years and years and years of work. All that’s left is to iron out the kinks, maybe add a few new animations, code some in-game hints, add a points system, try recording some voice acting, scrap all the voice acting, and whoops, it’s a year later now.

It happened with Life in the Dorms, and we’re about at that stage with The Beard in the Mirror, too. For what feels like years (probably because it has actually been years) I’ve been saying “all that’s left is the art!”, but now most of the art is there; there’s just a couple scenes left that are using cobbled-together placeholders that look like a child drew them, because I drew them:

Yes, this is still in the game.

We’ve even started outside testing, which is something we haven’t really done with this game since the days of “testgame.exe: Making the Adventure.” We’ve brought a bunch of friends on board and had them play through the entire game—literally the first time anyone besides ME has played the game beginning-to-end—to make sure the game makes sense, the puzzles are solvable, and it’s a generally fun romp.

An aside about testing: You’ve probably seen some developers telling you that you shouldn’t use your friends as testers, because they won’t give you real feedback; they’ll just tell you “everything is awesome!!”—which isn’t exactly actionable. I don’t think that’s true. I’m not ashamed to admit my ego is fragile and I need people to be gentle when they’re giving me feedback; otherwise I’ll 1) get mad and assume they’re completely wrong about everything, or 2) get super depressed and think my game is garbage and do horrible work on it for a week, since I’m so distracted by how awful I am at everything. The people I have testing Mirror are telling me where the game needs help, but they’re doing it in a hand-holdey way that makes me listen to them instead of have arguments with them in my head, and all’s the better for the game.

harvest

Harvest is moving along similarly slowly—probably slower than the development team thought it would (I think our original release projection was in the spring!), but it’s becoming weirder and more awesome the more I hack away at the script. (Plus, I’m keeping pace with the rest of the team—always something to worry about.) I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but I’ve made a great deal of progress over the summer and I’m excited to see where it’s taking all of us.  I’ll leave it at that for now.

Other big news—not really for me, but for an associate—Anna’s Quest just got picked up for distribution by Daedalic! You might remember Anna’s Quest as the game that looks like this:

…which I did a little proofreading for and which I’d be happy to do more for, Dane, if you’re reading. Dane. But yeah, that’s kind of a big deal, not the least of which because Daedalic has rapidly become one of if not the biggest developers/publishers of traditional point-and-click adventure games, now that Telltale’s veering off on it’s own (and also awesome) direction.

As usual, I’ve been picking up little side-projects, too, to fill in the gaps where free time might attempt to worm itself in; here’s a sample selection:

  • I created a design doc and wrote the storyline and text for a hidden objects game about a dusty old magic library (which I’m probably not allowed to talk about, either).

  • I also wrote a bunch of game descriptions for various iOS games about zombies, vampires, and slot machines. Both this and the hidden-objects game came from projects I picked up on oDesk—a surprisingly helpful resource for finding freelance contracts! Much better than what I was doing before, which was going on random gamedev forums and saying “HEY I’M PROOFREADER, WORK PLEASE.”

Pizzarian-Mission-Battle

  • I’ve been doing testing for a few games, including Troll Song and Alex Jedraszczak’s pizza-themed shoot ’em up Pizzarian.

  • And, right now (as in, I have the window open on Monitor #3), I’m doing continuity testing for an interactive-fiction game that—again—I don’t think I can talk about; but my role involves combing over random pathways into the game to ensure that, no matter what decisions the players make, the narrative makes sense all the way through. Neat stuff!

I’ve also tried–twice, and unsuccessfully—to start up a new visual novel project with writers I’m friendly with. I’m finding that I actually kind of dig coding when I’m using software that holds your hand (like Adventure Games Studio or Ren’Py), so I’d be totally into a project where someone else takes care of the narrative while I turn it into a videogame. But, no luck so far. If that’s something you’d be into—and you’re okay with revshare—let me know! (BTW if you’re an artist, ALSO let me know, because you’re a rare breed and I always have trouble nailing you down for projects.)

Preferential treatment will be given to people who are cool/I’m already friends with. Let’s just be honest here.

And, last thing! (I haven’t blogged since like January; I’M SORRY.) I’ve been picking up the pace with my yardsale blog—don’t look at me like that—changing my posting schedule from “one giant post on Sunday” to 4-5 shorter posts scattered semi-daily. I can’t tell if the quality of my posts is going up or down, but at least I’m getting way more hits this way; so as soon as I can figure out a way to monetize it (spoiler alert: WordPress doesn’t let you do Google Ads), then I will be ROLLING in nickles. (…Which I will then spend at the yardsales, so.)

Probably my best find of the season/EVER.

With you as my witness: one day my full-time, adult-person career will be 1) writing goofy dialogue and puzzles for indie games and 2) going to yardsales, and I will be living the best possible life that anyone has ever lived, including pampered little dogs that live in people’s purses.

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5 comments

  1. As always, I’m happy to beta-test whatever for you and contribute voice acting to bring down the quality of your current project, especially if your current project is not a game and is something that does not require voice acting. “Paul glanced at the clock. It was pie time: the time for pie.”

    1. I say with all sincerity that you’re at the top of my to-collaborate-with list! I’m dying to work on a game with a narrator specifically so I can make you be that narrator. …Maybe the sheep game, if we ever finish Mirror and it’s time to start the next great big game.

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