Development update – May 2015

A late update on progress!

Last month we talked about how we’ve changed the game engine to UE4 and working on assets to put into the game. And on the side, there are real-life things to worry about, so time is limited.

Partway through May I was feeling the crunch of managing The Day After, as well as the other things I have to organize. I watched Indie Game: The Movie, and read a few timely articles on indie game development. The problem is scope.

And not in the obvious way. If you hang out on Reddit’s /r/gameideas, you discover people have ideas that are way too big. Throughout the development of The Day After, I’ve modulated the scope. It originally started as a board game, but grew into a video game because of useful ideas I had. It’d grow by one feature, but then I’d try to cut two.

In April, the plan was for The Day After to be a comic book video game. You’d play it like a comic book that wrote itself while you read it. There would be no animation (so you could cut down that particular massive investment of resources). Even without animation, you still needed the characters to emote. Instead of hiring an artist to draw hundreds of frames of static emotion, I could get 3d models of the characters and pose them myself. It wasn’t quite animation, but you could use the flexibility of just posing characters to give you unlimited options. Changing the camera angle is trivial, but with a dedicated comic artist, that’s a whole new picture. I’d even do away with backgrounds with just some abstract, fixed backdrops like you see in some comics.

So I felt that this way would be a great way to get what I wanted without wanting the world. But after spending much of April and May making trivial 3d objects, it was still too big. If you need a can of drink in a game, you have to model and texture it, and bring it into the game. If you need a traffic cone, you have to model and texture it, and bring it into the game. It was taking far too long, even for the trivial stuff. Of course, with experienced modelers, I could produce much more quickly, but it’s still a drain.

I had a realization. In the way I solve problems, I try to create the entire thing in my mind and then fill in the blanks over time. If I could see how it could work in principle, then that would do.

How do you eat an elephant? The correct answer is: One bite at a time. Instead I was figuring how to eat it in one gulp. Or maybe being smarter by eating the foot before the head, but still trying for too much.

So I’ve dragged The Day After’s scope way back. There’s going to be no models. Only graphics from what I already have. Nothing else. Just start from the humblest, ugliest beginnings and work up. In a sense, I’m finally getting Agile.

It’s tough because it requires discipline. But I’m sick of fighting scope. I choose now to battle a tiny monster and level up eventually. If you watch any of the behind-the-scenes for great games, they too came from humble, ugly beginnings. Portal, SpyParty, Braid. Their prototypes were not visually appealing, but at least the concept could be fleshed out and working. And that’s what we’re aiming for June and July, time willing.

In things that are less managerial, I’ve been compiling a world bible for the game. Names of people, places, businesses and the like. For example, there are two newspapers in town: the respected Metropolis Scribe where you might learn about a mayor’s shady financial dealings with Paulson Petrochemical; or the tabloid called The Daily Scoop when you just need to know which starlet was found with the Metropolis Juggernauts’ star quarterback. World-building is fun, and sparks little ideas of character interactions in the game.