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Report article RSS Feed Eternal Silence Post-Mortem - Part 2

Sadly, Eternal Silence isn’t the perfect game, here’s why.

Posted by stenchy on Aug 22nd, 2009
Article

Sadly, Eternal Silence isn’t the perfect game, here’s why:


Prototype Mentality

NGM Hacker Concept All through the development of Eternal Silence, the game was treated as a prototype. We added and removed features as we went, and as a result our three major releases all play completely differently. Part of this was a result of the highly ambitious nature of the mod (it was impossible to implement all of it at once). Part of it was because we were in uncharted territory and didn’t really know how to strike that balance we wanted. Mostly, we lacked discipline.

The first two releases were so far off the beaten path design that they left a bad impression. We weren’t delivering what we claimed in our design. The third UTF Marine - Pose release brought things together, but it was very late in the game. Even our Steam release felt different, and this divided some our community. We’d like to think these changes are for the better, but the mod never reached its full potential because we never added that layer of polish and really said “all the features are done”. There was always more to add, and the attention went there. With our limited resources, it was impossible to do both things at once and the quality of the mod suffered.

The result is the mod is still plagued with very amateur bugs and still has a kind of development build feel to it. We were never able to iron out all the kinks, because we were too busy adding new things. The mistakes we made early on added up slowly and made the design too hard to turn around in the end. Some of our features, space combat for instance, were closed so as not to screw up the balance, but a lot of things were left open and never given a final pass.

Infantry Combat

Action Shots The infantry combat is a core component of the game; unfortunately it came out lacking in the final product. The infantry was the first pass of Eternal Silence and was completed very early on. The code governing the weapons and classes was written in the first six months of development and hardly changed after that. The infantry combat in the mod has always felt a little off, but we always felt resources were better spent elsewhere. This was unfortunate, because a strong infantry componentAction Shots would have benefited the mod a lot more than some of the features we worked on instead.

The big failure here was a fear to change the old code and a fear of breaking things. We didn’t have the resources to hunt down every bug, and so keeping the mod as stable as possible was a huge priority. This meant never changing a piece of code unless you absolutely had to. This turned out to be the biggest cop-out for doing infantry work, and we probably should have simply thrown out everything we had half way through development and started it all over. Unfortunately, the infantry gameplay we created early on stuck till the end and was never tweaked as much as our space combat was. In the last months, we tried to quickly clean things up and create more depth. This helped a lot, but we ran out of time to really get the changes we wanted in.

The last of our changes involved differentiating the classes more. Flame On!This meant heavy marines received more armor and moved much slower than the rest of the classes. Likewise the hacker was agile and lightly armoured. This helped bring some cohesion to the infantry gameplay, but also hurt the combat a little bit, as outcomes were much more predictable between the different classes. Had we given the infantry more attention, we surely could have struck a more interesting balance.

The Learning Curve

Possibly the single greatest failure of the mod is its steep learning curve. This has held it back from achieving wide-spread popularity and has forced many players to shy away from the mod after trying it once or twice.

The mod is complex, this is a fact. This is a game with above-average complexity and which demands practice. This is especially true in space. We spent so much time testing with experienced players that we quickly forgot this. The mod was tweaked for hardcore players who knew what they were doing. It is very unforgiving to new players.

In retrospect, we didn’t do everything we could to make the learning curve lighter. A set of instructional videos on how to fly the ship would have done the job, or a tutorial map. We left this up to the community, and these features are still not in the game. Had we also tested with more new players and gotten fresh opinions, we could have tweaked the mod to be easier at first. Many players tell us that once they “get it” the mod is addictive and satisfying. However, “getting it” can take 4 to 6 hours of frustrating gameplay where you get shot down almost instantly in space or you lose because of strategies you don’t know exist. There is more we could have done.

Open Gameplay

Action Shots Part of the focus of our original design was to present players with a truly complete experience where they could play space or infantry all the time. We pushed for this in our early releases, but in the end we opted for a much more rigid, round-based structure where players must first fight in space, then land on one ship in particular. This made the gameplay much more cohesive, but also forced players down a particular path and ruined our goals of keeping gameplay options as open asAction Shots possible. The final game still contains a lot of depth, but some of it is lost on a gameplay structure we kept tightening. It was very difficult to decide when certain strategies were valid or if they were exploits. Presenting players with such a well defined set of rules in how they should attack the enemy ship meant lots of the battles played out the same way. The cinematic gameplay and team play goals took precedence over the open world feel, and it would have been nice to keep both.

Content

Our early releases suffered from a huge lack of content. We simply didn’t have the resources, as a mod team, to pump out assets at the quality level we wanted. Our first map, es_aethra, was remade three or four times throughout development and received the most testing. The other maps were neglected as a result, and we had a huge lack of mappers during much of the production. This meant that our third major release came out with only two maps. These were fully polished and excellent maps to play, but that amount of content will not keep people around for long. We had to learn this the hard way. Our latest release contains 10 maps and 4 different game modes, and this certainly helped, but we still haven’t put out as much content as we were hoping, as most of those maps are recycled for different game modes.

The make up of the team was partially responsible for this. As a mod it’s very difficult to hold on to people, and like it or not a core of maybe 5 or 6 has made the mod what it is today. People came and went throughout development, and as a result, many of our projects had to be cut.

Conclusion

There is still a lot to say about Eternal Silence, it is difficult to summarize 5 years of development in just a simple article. Eternal Silence was a great experience for the entire development team. The lessons learned were invaluable and many of the concepts can be applied to future projects. My takeaway from Eternal Silence is never to underestimate the meanings of things inside my games. Every step of the development and every feature supply a meaning to the experience for the player. When these signals get crossed or you get too caught up in prototyping, things come out feeling wrong. A lot of this has to do with attitude during development. This means testing, yes, but also being disciplined and making decisions from the player’s point of view.

Written by Dan Menard (MadMechwarrior)

Previously: What Went Right

Post comment Comments
Apst
Apst Aug 22 2009, 8:00am says:

Ahh, admitting what went wrong with your game is risky business. Kudos to you for doing it anyway, i'll definitely be watching Eternal Silence more closely now :)

+3 votes     reply to comment
MadMechwarrior
MadMechwarrior Aug 22 2009, 10:32am replied:

Risky business? No game is perfect. If we had more time and resources, this is what we would have fixed.

0 votes     reply to comment
Apst
Apst Aug 22 2009, 1:39pm replied:

I meant that most game developers never admit to their mistakes, because it can have a seriously negative effect sometimes.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Noremakk
Noremakk Aug 22 2009, 9:35pm replied:

I agree, however knowing that the developers feel the same way I do about the infantry combat is definitely comforting.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Hellsevil22
Hellsevil22 Aug 22 2009, 9:35am says:

i don't mind the ifantry combat. And I thought Space combat was pretty straight forward.
but then again I'm a hardcore gamer.

+1 vote     reply to comment
snotmaster0
snotmaster0 Aug 22 2009, 10:33am says:

The problem with this, and don't get me wrong I love the summer of mods and indies and I love Eternal Silence, is that this article makes me feel like the mod is dead or dying! I really hope that this is not the case at all, and I'm certain it isn't, but if I had never heard of ES and I read this, I might be less likely to try it if i felt the mod was dead or dying. I think that stating your flaws was a gutsy move, but you really could have said "We're now working hard to fix this" instead of "We should have done this" because the latter makes it sound like you never will fix it.

PS. Wow, just noticed this article is called Post-mortem, is ES dead then?

+5 votes     reply to comment
MadMechwarrior
MadMechwarrior Aug 22 2009, 10:40am replied:

A postmortem is an article format where you talk about what went right and what went wrong during a project. It's meant to provide insight to other developers on how we dealt with certain issues and where we think we should improve. Eternal Silence is still being worked on, though with a very limited team. There is a new patch in the works, so quit worrying about the status of the mod.

+1 vote     reply to comment
snotmaster0
snotmaster0 Aug 22 2009, 10:47am replied:

YAY! Thank you for the explanation. I guess I should look things up in a dictionary before I post...

+1 vote     reply to comment
MadMechwarrior
MadMechwarrior Aug 22 2009, 10:54am replied:

Article format: Gdmag.com

+1 vote     reply to comment
mikejkelley
mikejkelley Aug 22 2009, 11:09am says:

Contrary to what gdmag.com or anyone trying to co-op and re-define words for biz-speak speak /wants/ the word to mean, postmortem will always have negative connotations relating to death because of its' etymology (and moreover, definition). Most, if not all postmortems on moddb.com rightly refer to dead mods and if you don't want people to think that Eternal Silence is dead (like I and others), you should come up with another name for your post.

+2 votes     reply to comment
MadMechwarrior
MadMechwarrior Aug 22 2009, 3:23pm replied:

This is a pointless argument. Believe what you want. Major work on the mod is finished.

+1 vote     reply to comment
defragen1
defragen1 Feb 24 2012, 5:42pm replied:

post mortem = after death
It's not a pointless argument, I thought I was reading about a dead mod...

+1 vote     reply to comment
Cirdain
Cirdain Aug 22 2009, 3:10pm says:

I thought it was quite simple. But there was only 2 other people playing.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Tokoya
Tokoya Aug 22 2009, 8:38pm says:

The mod may not be perfect, but I still had a great time playing it.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Jesternz08
Jesternz08 Aug 23 2009, 12:37am says:

Yeh, I Must say, if there was one thing, at least for me that put me off, it would be the infantry combat, space combat was incredible, but the infantry really seemed to lack quality. It was as if going from space to infantry was where quality dropped down a notch.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Dra6o0n
Dra6o0n Aug 23 2009, 1:42am says:

But With the neat way of space combat, If ES ever runs out of fun, maybe reuse the idea and code and make a new game thats more into space combat, but also allows trade?

It would be awesome if they took pieces from this game and turn it into a brand new, complete game.

Maybe following Huxley's example, and creating a Open world, but battle takes place of zones? This means that it would be neat if zones support up to 64 or 128 players, and the game provides features similar to EVE online...

An Idea is focusing it completely on space combat but allow side features like trading or side jobs (mercenaries etc?) to expand the game itself, and offer multiple ways to customize your ship.

But if i think about it, it would end up too much like EVE online then...

+1 vote     reply to comment
defragen1
defragen1 Feb 24 2012, 5:44pm replied:

that's not really feasible without changing source engine DRASTICALLY

+1 vote     reply to comment
leilei
leilei Aug 23 2009, 3:25am says:

After the novelty of landing the ship in the enemy ship, it just switched into Counter-Strike-in-space. Where's the cool lasers n' stuff? So many bullets :(

+1 vote     reply to comment
theguyfrom[gt]
theguyfrom[gt] Aug 23 2009, 9:07am says:

To the developpers
Heh, I always felt that ES's learning curve was low. Its quite arcadey. In fact, I've always wanted to see an Empires-like mode - well, actually the end result would be Homeworld 2 meets First Person but w/e...
Maybe [url=http://www.empiresmod.com/]their team[url] could give you assistance in doing that in exchange for due credit.
Also, [url=http://age-of-chivalry.com/]Team Chivalry[/url] has recently taken a very complicated objective based game and made it fool-proof (though not 'toal n00b' proof) with a redone interface and a few simple tweaks like HUD indicators for objectives (optional of course). Team Chivalry also likes to blog alot.

I am not familiar with other mod teams or communities. I can't speak for how proprietary or Dev-god complex ridden either team is, and both Empires and Age of Chivalry have their balance detractors. Mostly Empires. Maybe Source modders should have a Balanace symposium. :P
Anyway, E.S. completes my trio of habitual source games, so gratz on that...
(Probably why I want to see both Empires of Chivalry and Empires in Space, but seriously. 1st class melee combat meets an FPS/RTS combo, and then FREAKIN' HOMEWORLD 2 WHERE YOU CAN PLAY AS THE GRUNTS!?!?)

+1 vote     reply to comment
Plasmatic
Plasmatic Sep 2 2009, 2:55pm says:

how the hell does admiting mistakes have a negative affect? Only a dumbshit would place a negative effect on a Dev team that has admited mistakes

+3 votes     reply to comment
Shadowmetroid
Shadowmetroid Oct 6 2009, 8:27am says:

I will be watching the development closely...This just became one of my favorite mods. :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
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