By Adrian Chmielarz Posted in Witchfire on 2020/07/22
Playdead, a Danish game developer, released Limbo in 2010. It took them six years to make the next game, Inside. It’s been four years since then, and we still don’t even know the title of their next project.
Frictional, a Swedish game developer, released Amnesia: Dark Descend in 2010. It took them five years to make the next game, SOMA. If their next project, Amnesia: Rebirth, is released this year, it’ll be another five year gap between the releases.
There are many – too many? – more examples like this and they all have one thing in common. An indie studio has a properly successful game, a commercial and critical hit, and then somehow slows down instead of speeding up.
Why? Here’s my take on it.
The first post-release year is both supporting the game (bugfixes, updates, ports to another platform), and decompression (game development is an incredibly stressful endeavor).
Then the work on a new project starts but hey, there’s no point in growing the team when all we work on are just ideas and prototypes, right?
Then it takes a lot of time to come up with the game the studio is happy with. A lot of successful indies are successful because they’re really good at what they do (read: they know when something sucks and when it doesn’t) and they’re perfectionists. Combine the two and the studio does not want to move forward with production until they’re 100% sure this is the game.
When it’s finally production time, the most reasonable thing to do would be to hire more people and go full on hammer time and finish the game.
But at this point, the studio becomes aware they already burnt a lot of money prototyping and even though they’re still financially stable, “can we really afford such a big jump in monthly burn?”. It’s not just new people, it’s also the new hardware and software, and most likely a new address. “But if we stick to what we have now, we’ll still get there eventually, right? And it’s safer this way…”
And so the years go by.
As for us, we’re in that last – but not short at all – stage, i.e. the full production.
For quite a while now we know exactly what the game is. Sure, some solutions may change, but we know the general direction and what makes Witchfire fun. The development does not feel like prototyping and soul searching anymore, for quite some time now we’re just making the game.
Now it’s just the question of how much of the game a team of eight can do in a day… Not a lot on the surface level, and a lot if you consider the level of difficulty of making a modern 3D shooter.
Some of what we do now is obvious and expected.
We’re adding new interior areas…
We’re adding new enemies…
We’re replacing placeholder weapons with proper models…
We’re tweaking the animation/AI systems that rival, if not surpass The Last of Us II…
Etc. etc. you get the point, there’s always something new every day. But, as I said, with our resources, it’s still an unknown number of seasons before the game is ready. We’re doing the best we can, though!
I called this entry a summer update – which honestly could be TLDRed to “yeah of course we’re still making the game” – because I’m not sure how soon the next one’s going to happen. I could write every week on various development happenings but honestly we’re a bit scared of spoiling the game or showing too much too early. I mean, we’re still better with our updates than Odd Tales and their The Last Night – god, I want this game so much! – but I promise we’ll pick up the pace when we’re closer to the finishing line!
Old but this is an example of why we’re hesitant of frequent updates that show the true behind the scenes, raw and dirty game development. I mean, we’ve said it already that you will be able to choose between the Centered and Lowered crosshair position. We’ve said it in our blog posts and on Twitter not once, not twice, but at least every quarter.
However, of course it’s hard to blame someone who joins us on this journey late that they see something they find suspicious and they’re concerned. Hell, we’re glad they care! And we like to be kept in check! But constant reminders that “this is work in progress” and “yes, there will be an option for this in the menu” is a Sisyphean effort, and we’d rather be just making the game. There will still be a lot of time for players’ feedback later on, when we reveal what the core gameplay loop of Witchfire is.