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Learning How to Early Access

The yellow boxed GGU news...

The yellow boxed GGU news...

GGU will be late. We are now targeting February, possibly March.

It’s not a significant delay, but it is a delay. And it’s not as though we didn’t mention the possibility of a December release. So that’s our responsibility, and we owe you an explanation.

I believe our reason is more intriguing than the usual “developers cannot plan for shit.”

I mean, developers cannot plan for shit indeed, and that’s why game delays have become a meme. Literally, a CD Projekt Red apology generator exists…

The best advice, then, seems to be the words of Jordan Mechner who said, and I quote from memory not even sure if it was really him:

After you create your development plan, double the budget and add half a million, and double the time and add half a year.

But no, in our case it’s two things I have never encountered before in my 30+ years of making games.

The first reason is the direction this spaceship full of Astronauts has chosen when lost in the rings of planet Early Access.

Let me explain. Before releasing Witchfire as an Early Access game, I – along with some other Astronauts – have done extensive research on what a good Early Access project means. It was clear to us from the start that we need to understand not only in what shape we can enter the Early Access phase but also how to support the community properly with updates until the 1.0 is out.

What I’ve learned surprised me a lot. For example, the two most important findings were:

  1. Your game needs to be stable and as bug-free as possible.
  2. Your game needs to offer a lot of content, allowing dozens of hours of play.


This sounds like the opposite of what Early Access is supposed to be, right? Because originally, Early Access meant buggy releases with limited content. But not anymore. Most players won’t tolerate anything less than what I listed above.

Here’s something that made an impression on me. Among the Early Access games I tested, one had a warning that the game was buggy because, well, it’s an Early Access game. It wouldn’t format your hard drive, but it possibly had some annoying bugs and maybe even crashed every now and then. To acknowledge the message and confirm you understood this was an Early Access game, one had to hold down a button for ten seconds or so.

Then, when the game started, the same message appeared again, and again I had to hold down the button for quite a while before the warning disappeared.

Then I went to Steam reviews. One of the top reviews and the top negative one said that the author could not recommend the game …because there were bugs in it. It literally sounded like someone expected the final release but was shocked to discover that sometimes the enemies try to walk into a wall. Seems like two elaborate warnings made absolutely zero impression on them. This and many other similar observations made us realize that we have to deliver Witchfire as almost a regular release game, with enough content to satisfy most players.

I think we delivered on that front. It was a lot – trust me, a lot – of work, but we were happy people noticed. If YouTube videos complaining that “after 30 hours, I finished Witchfire Early Access” are your biggest problem, it’s not a bad place to be.

However, “good enough” is not “perfection,” so riding on the release high, we continued the work and focused 100% on bug fixes, balancing, and quality-of-life updates.

During that time, we received a lot of feedback and realized some things ourselves. Being an ambitious team, we quickly prepared a plan on how to address all of these issues, such as the Calamity system, leveling up linked to difficulty, and resource management.

Our thinking was that we needed to rebuild and strengthen the fundamentals of Witchfire so that in the future, we can just focus on expanding the game rather than redesigning it.

Moreover, we wanted to add new content too – new weapons, new spells, new enemies, new gear, and more, a whole lotta new.

Also, we realized that we need to serve two types of players. The first one is obvious: the new players who would simply buy the game. We wanted to put Witchfire Updated into their hands, a game that retains all the good things of the original release but fixes whatever sucked.

The second type… I don’t read too many business books because they bore me to tears, but I remember one that made a strong argument that your old customers are more important than the new ones. Loyalty is a good feeling and good business, but loyalty is earned and you must keep earning it. In return, fans and followers are the ones who support and evangelize whatever it is you have to offer and are there for you in times of trouble.

In fewer words, obviously we also needed to have something cool for people who already finished Witchfire three times, reaching max level and defeating the final boss with the monitor turned off.

Because of a certain…thing, we’ve decided to call this first update the GGU, where U stands for Update, but GG is kept secret for now.

By now, you probably see the issue: overambition. Witchfire with some core systems redesigned or updated, Witchfire with new content and gameplay to allow veteran players to start over and have a new adventure, Witchfire with new difficulty and learning curve for the new players – all in one update.

To be honest with you, I cannot say that pursuing the above was the wrong decision for sure. The reason is: we cannot create content quickly. If we were a 2D game or a 3D cartoon game, it’s a different story. But we’re a full-fidelity 3D game that visually competes with some AAA titles. And so, if creating a new enemy takes at least a month of work, why not rewrite some parts of the game in the meantime?So… I don’t know. Maybe GGU is the right thing to do. Or maybe we should have focused on a series of smaller changes and updates. Fix the Calamities in the first update, then the difficulty linked to leveling up in another. You tell me…

The truth is, the GGU delay would possibly not have happened if it weren’t for the second thing. To sum up the first, we’re simply inexperienced in the Early Access area, and with our first update, we’re probably a bit too ambitious. So what’s the second?

Remember when just a few paragraphs ago I wrote that riding on the release high, we continued the work and focused 100% on bug fixes, balancing, and quality-of-life updates?

I’m pretty sure this is not what you’re expecting from a video game blog post, but let’s talk about sex.

Don’t worry, I won’t go too deep. Let me just offer these four famous quotes:

Post coitum omne animalium triste est (All animals are sad after sex)

Latin saying

[…] as a general rule, the result of intercourse is exhaustion and weakness rather than relief.

Aristotle

For as far as sensual pleasure is concerned, the mind is so caught up in it, as if at peace in a [true] good, that it is quite prevented from thinking of anything else. But after the enjoyment of sensual pleasure is passed, the greatest sadness follows. If this does not completely engross, still it thoroughly confuses and dulls the mind.

Spinoza


Directly after copulation, the devil’s laughter is heard.

Schopenhauer



I genuinely think that – as a hyperbole, of course – this is what happened to the team. The last few months leading up to the release were difficult, with long hours. But they were also incredibly exciting. After all these years, we were finally going to release our game! And then, riding that high for the first month after release, we continued to work with the same dedication, excitement, and joy.

But after getting the game to a fairly good state, we paused the updates to focus on the GGU, and… the energy disappeared. We experienced post-coital tristesse, if you will. It’s not like we stopped coming to work or anything. We still held meetings, discussed designs, created new assets, and so on. However, I could easily sense that the energy levels were dropping quite significantly.

On paper, that should not have been the case. We had a successful launch, we gained thousands of fans, and the reviews were mostly great. We like each other, we like working with each other. Everything’s fine.

But — it’s just that you cannot be in a state of flow or ecstasy or hyper-excitement without eventually paying the price. Witchfire’s release was our five cups of coffee, and the beginning of the GGU work was our caffeine withdrawal hour.Eventually, we got past this issue. Nowadays, I can feel it in the air that our team energy is back to normal. Not yet at the levels of the pre-release weeks, more like the regular development days, but that’s fine. This is the way. This is sustainable, this is right. But we did need our recharge period, and it lasted a bit longer than I anticipated.

I hope all that I have written explains our slight delay a bit. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to make a great first update for our first Early Access game ever. Admittedly, we’re learning all about it as we go.

Now, for some good news. I mentioned the sales earlier, and I’d like to provide a more concrete update. As readers of this blog know, our aim is to match the number of units sold during the EGS Early Access with that of a certain high-profile indie game. I’m thrilled to announce that within these nearly four months, we’ve achieved 62% of that ambitious goal. That is truly outstanding. Thank you all.

To keep the streak going, another great news is that we’re using the money from these sales to make Witchfire better. We could not afford it previously, but now we can, and so we’re cooperating with a well-known sound studio that specializes in monster design. The first recording session is this weekend! We’re video recording it all as well, so we will post excerpts soon.

Next, as some of the more advanced explorers have noticed, there is an area in the Irongate Castle that was fully meshed and ready but wasn’t used. The torture chamber in the dungeon…




I’m pleased to announce that not only will this place be playable in the GGU, but it will also feature a fantastic surprise. Actually, it’s one of the most exciting things that we’re adding to the update. As always, that’s all I can reveal until we venture into hard-core spoiler territory.

Next week, we’ll return to our regular programming and delve deep into how we’re transforming the relationship between difficulty and leveling-up.

Question of the Week

Hard disagree here. I was a dedicated KBM player for many years, including five years of hardcore high-level competitive Quakeworld. But — I dropped KBM ten or so years ago and play exclusively the controller (with the exception of some point and click adventures). I have over 10K+ hours in Destiny and Destiny 2 combined, half of this in PVP against PC KBM players.

And can I say with 100% certainty that the controller support in Witchfire is great.

But I’m not writing this to play the NO U game. I’m writing this to bring everyone’s attention to the menu option that allows for separating the hipfire and ADS sensitivity. It’s great. Use it to your advantage! You can have a very fast non-ADS movement with fine tuned, precise aiming when ADS-ing — that is what I use.

If you need even more control over your aim, I suggest using the Xbox Accessories app or any other native controller app in which you can set stuff like the stick’s response curve.


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