It’s interesting picking up the project again, remembering how I felt the last time we worked on it and comparing it to now.
It’s a completely different experience.
I guess the difference is that in some ways, it feels like the pressure is off. The project is already dead and buried in most people’s minds, so anything we can come up with now is an improvement on that, right?
I think our personal expectations have also been reset, we’re not doing this to earn a living. There isn’t a frantic clamouring for attention or working on stuff that doesn’t matter to try to keep the funds rolling in. We’re just working on this at our leisure and for the first time in a long time, it feels like fun.
The tricky part is dealing with people and managing expectations.
Of course it’s hard when we see people getting pissed off, but ultimately we still have to make this thing; part of being a leader is taking feedback on the chin and carrying on. We wished we had the time and funds to deliver everything we originally promised, but we don’t - we both have to deal with that.
If you speak to most devs or community managers they’ll tell you the same thing ‘don’t talk about the bugs’, ‘don’t talk about the stuff you’re taking out’ but actually, we can’t help but talk about that, it’s cathartic in a way.
What if we toss all the things we should be doing over the shoulder and just tell you exactly how it is? Seems like it could work ...
Even still, sometimes we forget that Players aren’t devs.
Devs like to spin the grand vision, talk about how they see things playing as if we have all the answers but we don’t. Writing a computer game is probably the most complex piece of software imaginable, there are so many interactions between the various components.
Some ideas that we have that sound fantastic on paper will clash with other parts of the game.
Now generally speaking, it’s far easier to add something in later than to add it and take it away again.
With a small team it’s also really easy to get carried away and spend time working on stuff that adds nothing to the experience. So we have to be super strict about what we bring in from the start. We have to make sure that the core gameplay experience is sorted, and only then we can roll in additional stuff with Player feedback.
But that can translate to us seeming a bit too prescriptive.
Last article I mentioned about keeping the Player stress down and talked about restrictions on abilities. But just a week on we find ourselves contradicting this, because even that core gameplay experience has a lot to cram in.
In fact, if you flick through the previous articles in the blog you’ll find it littered with contradictions. It’s not intentional, it’s just part of the process.
We can either talk about the process - gathering a much needed crowd on the way, which draws in new Players and reassures the old guard that the thing is still being worked on; or we can burst through the doors with the finished thing to an audience of the few looking in the other direction.
The trouble is, the more talking we do, the more we are likely to need to backtrack.
We’ve sacrificed quite a bit to both keep the project going and simplify things over the previous versions, but we still want to make the Player feel like they are in the seat of the Fleet Commander at the same time.
Now the core experience is coming together nicely, but we still have quite a lot of infrastructure stuff to sort out, especially regarding load balancing and ensuring the servers are up to challenge.
It’s a completely custom backend, it’s not like we’re trying to stick Unity3D into the cloud, so we can easily optimize and we are confident there (just praying for small bills 🙏).
The MMO thing is proving to be an interesting decision in general.
I remember way back - when contacting Youtubers asking them to cover the game, 1 out of 10 responded if that, and the first thing they asked ‘is it multiplayer?’ my answer came ’no’ and it was like - tumbleweed, everytime.
It’ll be interesting to see what they have to say about this latest iteration!
Still, we’ve been getting a lot of people wanting dedicated SP.
In my research I kept landing on the title Ancient Space, trying to dissect it and work out where they went wrong.
It had everything: strong graphics, 3D movement, storyline, progression, seemingly all the things that should make a single-player space RTS game work and yet it flopped. It came out around the same time we were working on Shallow Space and honestly, had we even been funded or gone down the publisher route, we’d have probably still ended up falling short of the effort put into Ancient Space.
When we picked up Shallow Space again a year or so ago we looked at this spectacular failure and in the face of it thought 'would there have been any point in trying?'
What can we do with SP that they failed to do, it was difficult to answer that.
So ultimately we had two options:
- Pick a successful RTS and clone it, let’s just call it what it is: a copy. I think that’s what people would say if you ask them ‘we want a copy of Homeworld’; but forget about the cutscenes, translations and voice acting.
- Or ignore all the screams of WTF, seize the opportunity and try something different.
It’s gotta be number two, right?