Oh sh*t! 52 weeks of development have passed. I don't see any released game, do you? Before starting a new year here's a review (with video) of what went right, of what went wrong and our future plan on Blackreef Pirates.
Posted by cominu on Feb 10th, 2012
1. Using Unity
Let's start with something easy: using Unity was the best choice I had during this year. Sure, it has some weaknesses but in the end the benefits of not having to worry about porting the game across different platforms and dealing with performance make them fully acceptable. I'm easily distracted by all the tech things around, so having something that "just works" is great.
2. Having a fixed schedule and focus
I'm a "professional procrastinator". To me was really hard to find the focus needed to blog every week (with video) but having this fixed schedule really did wonders: it pushed me to find something to show off every time and in turn this focused me more on the real game, instead of working on secondary features.
3. Working from home
After a decade of office work is great to work from home. I always had weird work hours (I work best at night) and I finally can choose when to start my work day. Also, having no real budget, working from home is great to reduce many expenses.
4. Remote collaboration
I started the year working as a "one man band" but in August I started a collaboration with a talented 3d modeler. I was very worried about the lack of a common place to work together, but in the end that wasn't really necessary. We can meet each other now and then (it's only 1 hour far by car) but we work remotely everytime: all we need is a combination of skype, dropbox and a shared online whiteboard. We work on different part of the game so it's easy to integrate everything without conflicts.
5. Good and clean project standards
Isn't hard to create things in a complicated and convoluted way and while this isn't really an issue for many developers we're trying instead to keep things simple and easy: you won't find textures, scripts, 3d models or materials scattered all over the project directory. Each texture is stored in the same uncompressed format and double sized (the minimum is 4096x4096) in order to be ready to release a HD version when the future HW permits.If everything goes in the right direction, this codebase could be the starting point of our future games, so I'm happy to get this right from the start.
6. Win, Mac and iOS with only one project
We're doing all the ports at the same time and we developed some tools to help us reduce or adapt the game resources to fit different screen sizes, OS and control scheme. This is good because we will ready to release on all platforms at once and you won't find poor third party adaptations with changes in the gameplay because one of the platform have a "touch" interface instead of the classic mouse&keyboard or gamepad.
1. Lack of content
I really underestimate the time needed to produce good content. Even if many part of the gameplay are ready or near to be completed we're still missing big parts of story, graphic and audio content.
I have to admit, it's all my fault: I have a strong technical background and usually I can do pretty accurate schedules about the coding part but what I learned is that in the end the tech is the easy part, the hard part is creating content and putting everything together. Also, the real graphic work started 7 months late: I was slow to understand I wasn't able to do all the 3D work. Luckily, Marco joined the team in August and since then the game graphics improved heavily :)
2. Using Unity
Yes, this was also in the "What went right" section: our game needed something extra (the GUI system, pathfind) and something different (character ambient shading). Happily I was able to "bend" Unity and extend the editor in the wanted direction. The downside is that I spent too much time on these customizations and I lost 8 weeks of development I could have used differently.
Working 10 hours everyday (even on weekend) is hard: I'm now completely out of shape and I gained something like 8kg in one year: this have to be fixed ASAP! With stress also came some serious mood swings ranging from depression to happyness (even in the same day), too many times I thought the best thing to do was to quit and go back my previous life. Luckily my wife was capable to keep my mental sanity to an acceptable level, thanks again Micaela!
4. Early playable alpha
My promise was to have a new playable alpha out every month but since September I didn't find the time to prepare a new one. Sure, it helped me to iron out some bugs early but probably was too soon to have it publicly playable: the core gameplay wasn't clearly defined and a lot of people didn't fully understand what "alpha version" really means, that's why I removed it today.I still plan to let you try the alpha in the near future though, in a way or another.
Yes, absolutely! Everything happened this year, good and bad, has been an invaluable learning experience. I have now a better understanding of my weaknesses and what really means being a game dev.
My original plan was to complete the game in only one year, alone. I was wrong about the time needed and the ability to do it alone but in the end I think it's completely acceptable.
The one-year journey is now over, and this closes one of the most exciting and challenging period of my life. So, what now?
First, we're going to enjoy some days off to prevent us from mental and physical exhaustion :D
Then, the development of Blackreef Pirates will continue and according to what we learned we're only halfway to completion. We could stop the development as announced and publish the current game as it is, but we think that if we keep working a little we're going to have a really great game.
In the coming months we are going to keep you posted weekly about the development of the game and about the launch of the dedicated website www.blackreefpirates.com that is going to be a better place to host our little but growing community and collect all the news and media.