20 October, 2010
Time for another installment of the developer diaries. When we last left our heroes, they had a plan: make an RPG, The Fae's Wyrd, in a month. This is the part where the plan goes off the rails.
Everything takes longer than you expect
I knew making an RPG in a month was crazy. I think most people understand that on an intellectual level. But, it's different when you're in the middle of it and you're up to your neck in it. Looking at that TODO list, which seems to be growing every time to realize another hole in the design, is daunting. I wanted to get the basic infrastructure done last week, then spend this week adding the content. Next week would be polish, candy, and rainbows.
I'm not horribly off-schedule yet, but every day counts when you're trying to do something in a month. I've gotten a lot done, but the code is largely untested since Dave has been slow getting the display and interface code done (more on that in a minute). I'm pretty sure the gameplay code does what I want, but I was hoping to test it as I went along. In retrospect, I probably should have written some simple test harnesses to make sure things work as I expected them to.
The other issue I'm grappling with is how future-proof I want to make my code. For example, in the full design spells can take multiple types of mana from the four basic elements (Fire, Air, Earth, Water). For this initial game, I've simplified the spells down to 8 that take only one mana to cast (4 light magic, 4 dark magic). But, in the spell casting mechanics, should I use this assumption that there will only be one point of mana required, or do I assume a spell could have multiple mana points as a cost? In general, I've tried to plan ahead with my code, but I suspect that has contributed to me being late.
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
I'm not a huge Beatles fan, but I do enjoy that quote from John Lennon.
So what about that wacky French Canadian working with me? Foolishly, he decided to make some personal games in addition the crazy task of making an RPG in a month. Obviously he's insane enough to fit in the company.
The problem is that another of his single-player games has been demanding some of his time even though he had finished it. The good news is that he found a sponsor for a game, and has officially made $100. Hooray! Not a huge amount of money, but it's an important step. The bad news is that he then spent a lot of time customizing the game for the sponsor. It was only a matter of adding a sponsor logo and a few buttons to go to the sponsor's site, but it was new territory for Dave and took some time. On top of that, the sponsor provided assets that didn't work well in our development environment. Instead of splashing out money for the Flash authoring tool (or, worse, pirating it), we're using the free tool FlashDevelop. It's a great program and I highly recommend it, but it's not quite as easy to use when doing things like embedding .SWF files into your project. I'll let Dave post about the technical details, since I only know them secondhand. Needless to say, this ate up a few nights of his time, so his side of the work has fallen behind as well. On the bright side, he's expanded his skill set and if we need to do this on future projects he's going to be better able to handle it.
Changes in business
So, as you might remember, part of the reason we're doing an RPG in a month is for a game development challenge. The important part of the challenge is to make money ("sell 1 copy") of the game. Our goal was to use the wonderful FlashGameLicense.com to find a sponsor. We accepted that this might take longer than the end of the month, but it seemed to be the best way.
But, then Dave found a blog post from a Flash developer entitled Flash game sponsorship dead? In the post, a rather experienced developer explains the trials and tribulations faced in trying to find exclusive sponsors for relatively high-end games. Dave had experienced something similar with his first game, a wonderful, Halloween appropriate, zombie-themed game that fits within the world of his brower MMO Golemizer. He has what I think is fairly original gameplay and it's a lot of fun, even if he uses the same type of sprites as from his game (meaning, not lush original art). But, while his game seemed to get a fair amount of attention and plays from potential sponsors, in the end the best bid was $100 for a non-exclusive sponsor.
Now, maybe there are extenuating circumstances here. Maybe the original poster having trouble finding a sponsor has upset too many potential sponsors. Maybe the game isn't striking the right chord with potential sponsors. Maybe Dave was having some problems since he was a new and unknown quantity. Or, perhaps the market has changed and big-ticket exclusive sponsorships are a thing of the past. At any rate, it's another concern to note as we go forward. In the long term, however, I definitely want to get back into MMOs, and I understand the business models for those games a lot more than I understand them for sponsoring single-player Flash games.
About the artists
Not much to report on the art side of the game. They've produced some great work and it's helping the game come together. The art schedule is proceeding according to the original plan, but there are always little, "Oh, we also need..." situations arising. Although one of the artists is taking some night classes and the other has a part-time job with unpredictable demands, which is keeping both of them busy. But, I think that the art portion of the project is going smoother than the programming.
Will our heroes make it?
We still have a week and a half left of this month. I think we're not going to make the literal requirement for the competition: finish and sell a game by the end of the month. I think it's possible we'll finish the game by the end of the month, assuming Dave doesn't have to make more changes to an existing game and focuses on this project! ;) This game is interesting enough to me that I think we'll finish it release it even if we miss the deadline, but it might be something you see in the next few months instead of the next few weeks.
Taking a look at the current situation, I see the biggest specific risks as being: bugs in the existing code, having a surprise art requirement, and just not finishing the code in time for the deadline.
As always, feel free to ask questions below. I'll answer if I'm not too busy debugging or harassing Dave to get work done. :)