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What It Takes to Make a Reload Animation in Witchfire

It's certainly more than we anticipated.

It's certainly more than we anticipated.

One day, during the late stage of the development of Bulletstorm, I wanted to add a small new feature to the game. The Epic’s producer, Tanya, rolled her eyes and told me it’s not possible, we’re out of time.

I felt it was a really important feature and pushed for it. “I only need one guy for two hours tops”, I said.

Surprisingly, Tanya smiled and said ok.

So we went for it. To see the feature fully implemented and in final quality, it took …six men and two days.

“Are we done with these requests, then?” – asked Tanya.

It was then when I realized what she has done. She decided to sacrifice some development time to teach me a lesson and get herself a more comfortable future, one that’s free of the creative director’s brain farts.

To add insult to injury, it’s not like I was a freshman back then. I already had multiple games under my belt, and I knew that everything in game development takes longer than anticipated. I thought I was being smart by anticipating the feature would take an hour, so I said two.

I cannot recall the author, but this quote is always on my mind. Paraphrasing:

If you finally have your well though out game development plan, multiply the time by two and add six months, multiply the budget by two and add a million dollars.

In today’s entry, I’d like to show you an example of what it takes to add a simple feature to the game. I mean, what can be so complicated or time consuming about making a reload animation for a gun? You give the animator a gun model, they use some animation software and boom, a few hours later we have what we needed, right?

For some games, maybe, I guess. But with the quality we strive for in Witchfire, that’s definitely not the case. Add the unexpected external factors like the Coronavirus and suddenly it’s an adventure. Admittedly, a hilarious one if you consider the mo-cap gun:

(Jakub “Kubold” Kisiel was a lead animator on Bulletstorm and Gear of War: Judgement, he helped us with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, and we’re happy he’s helping us with Witchfire. You can find his Unreal Engine animations packs and other cool stuff on his webpage.)

All the effort you have seen in the video is just for a few seconds of the animation for one of the many guns we have. And then a programmer needs to put that into the game, and we need particle effects to accompany the reload, and, finally, sound effects. And even that soundless, particle-less version you’ve seen in the video is not the so-called final quality, as Kubold wants to tweak it a bit more and add more weight to the magazine…

But, you know, we only have one shot at this, so we’re doing our best to make sure that Witchfire is the game worth your time – even if it means making mo-cap guns out of duct tape.

I hope this video explains a bit why things take so long. Speaking of which…

Question of the Week

At this very moment, only one of us works on site, with me joining him occasionally. The rest of us work from home. We have a pretty solid setup: VPN-ed source control, basic Asana for the project management, and Discord for meetings, chat and memes.

Has this affected our speed, which, by the very nature of being a small team, wasn’t that spectacular before?

The honest answer is I don’t know. One would think it had to but at the same time I see the everyone working hard and delivering. The game grows every day, and is starting to gain shape. But it’s still in a stage that is not that heavily affected by everyone not being in the same room, I think.

That will certainly change when we’re in the final stage, but it’s hard to say when that’ll be (we still don’t know our release date but I hope to have more info on that this Summer) and if the pandemic is dealt with at that time.

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