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KestrelPi

The future of Fine

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Back on topic, I've been thinking about why Early Access hasn't really seemed to go very well for DF, purely from a sales perspective (Hack 'n' Slash just came out, but not very many people seem to be playing it which is a shame, because I think it's awesome, and it seems unlikely at this point that Spacebase will set the world on fire.)

What I seem to notice about Early Access is that it can be successful, but it's more polarised. In regular releasing there are games that flop, games that do okay and games that to well, and very well, etc.

With Early Access, unless your game has an extremely successful Early Access run where a lot of buzz has been generated about the game, then I feel like it knocks all the wind out of the sails at launch. You need tremendous momentum to launch a game that has already been launched and make the people who didn't care enough about it yet to NOW care about it. Some people won't buy Early Access on principle, but you can't rely on those people to carry the launch. It's just hard to sell a game that you've been selling already (albeit in unfinished form) for months.

It seems like most of the interest in Hack 'n' Slash from the press has passed as I've read next to nothing about it since release. I guess we don't know if Double Fine didn't make a push for publicity or if the press just didn't bite but it would have been very nice to see some more publicity around it now, since I agree that it's an awesome game and I'd love for it to be a hit.

Which brings us to this Friday, and the Massive Chalice Teamstream:

[...]

2) Maybe a backer-only Beta period like with Broken Age Act 1, but a little longer

If they do I hope they consider their experiences with the pre-launch of Broken Age, as I got the impression that didn't really work out too well for them with reviews popping up long before it was available for sale. It seemed like interest in it had pretty much petered out by the time of the official release. I don't doubt that they learned their lessons from that though, but it's probably a difficult balance and it will be interesting to see how they go about it.

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Back on topic, I've been thinking about why Early Access hasn't really seemed to go very well for DF, purely from a sales perspective (Hack 'n' Slash just came out, but not very many people seem to be playing it which is a shame, because I think it's awesome, and it seems unlikely at this point that Spacebase will set the world on fire.)

What I seem to notice about Early Access is that it can be successful, but it's more polarised. In regular releasing there are games that flop, games that do okay and games that to well, and very well, etc.

With Early Access, unless your game has an extremely successful Early Access run where a lot of buzz has been generated about the game, then I feel like it knocks all the wind out of the sails at launch. You need tremendous momentum to launch a game that has already been launched and make the people who didn't care enough about it yet to NOW care about it. Some people won't buy Early Access on principle, but you can't rely on those people to carry the launch. It's just hard to sell a game that you've been selling already (albeit in unfinished form) for months.

It seems like most of the interest in Hack 'n' Slash from the press has passed as I've read next to nothing about it since release. I guess we don't know if Double Fine didn't make a push for publicity or if the press just didn't bite but it would have been very nice to see some more publicity around it now, since I agree that it's an awesome game and I'd love for it to be a hit.

Which brings us to this Friday, and the Massive Chalice Teamstream:

[...]

2) Maybe a backer-only Beta period like with Broken Age Act 1, but a little longer

If they do I hope they consider their experiences with the pre-launch of Broken Age, as I got the impression that didn't really work out too well for them with reviews popping up long before it was available for sale. It seemed like interest in it had pretty much petered out by the time of the official release. I don't doubt that they learned their lessons from that though, but it's probably a difficult balance and it will be interesting to see how they go about it.

Well, I think if they start it early enough before the release and make it clear that this is not a finished release, this is a final testing build, not intended for review, but allow people to post impressions and videos, then it should work better. Part of the problem of Broken Age is that the game we got was substantially the same as the game released, but with mostly minor and compatibility bugfixes. So it seemed strange that people were being asked not to review what was essentially a 'done' game.

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Whatever the answer, I feel Massive Chalice should be the model for all future public-facing development efforts from Double Fine. Excellent communication, regular updates, good interaction too and almost universally happy backers. And of course whenever the game is mentioned in the Media it's almost portrayed as this Mystery Game nobody has heard much about yet. So there's that.

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I agree that MC has been a real treat in all the aspects mentioned. But as they've described before, MC lends itself to openness more than other projects with puzzles or heavy story spoilers. But in general, they can still learn a lot from how MC has gone to apply to all future projects.

Smiles

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Whatever the answer, I feel Massive Chalice should be the model for all future public-facing development efforts from Double Fine. Excellent communication, regular updates, good interaction too and almost universally happy backers. And of course whenever the game is mentioned in the Media it's almost portrayed as this Mystery Game nobody has heard much about yet. So there's that.

Yea, it was hilarious that all the PAX reviews seemed to talk about PAX as "the first glimpse" anyone ever had of the game. Even more so than Broken Age, Massive Chalice has probably been the most open development for any game in history, and probably one of the games most influenced by direct fan feedback during development itself.

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Whatever the answer, I feel Massive Chalice should be the model for all future public-facing development efforts from Double Fine. Excellent communication, regular updates, good interaction too and almost universally happy backers. And of course whenever the game is mentioned in the Media it's almost portrayed as this Mystery Game nobody has heard much about yet. So there's that.

I don't know; I get the feeling that DF's push to openness is not really that well rewarded. Yes, if stuff goes well, then people are excited. MC is still in this territory. But as soon as the slightest problems arise, former fans will suddenly go on a crusade to bring down the company. Whereas if you develop behind closed doors, no-one will ever see these lofty goals that may have to be scraped in the later stages of development.

As much as is saddens me to say this, what the whole episode tells me is that dealing with publishers is probably the lesser evil compared to the people frequenting Kickstarter/Steam early access.

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Whatever the answer, I feel Massive Chalice should be the model for all future public-facing development efforts from Double Fine. Excellent communication, regular updates, good interaction too and almost universally happy backers. And of course whenever the game is mentioned in the Media it's almost portrayed as this Mystery Game nobody has heard much about yet. So there's that.

I don't know; I get the feeling that DF's push to openness is not really that well rewarded. Yes, if stuff goes well, then people are excited. MC is still in this territory. But as soon as the slightest problems arise, former fans will suddenly go on a crusade to bring down the company. Whereas if you develop behind closed doors, no-one will ever see these lofty goals that may have to be scraped in the later stages of development.

As much as is saddens me to say this, what the whole episode tells me is that dealing with publishers is probably the lesser evil compared to the people frequenting Kickstarter/Steam early access.

I think that at least a year ago DF were still describing it as a net positive experience for them. I don't know if they still feel that way but I hope so because I'd really miss it if we went back to behind closed doors not hearing from DF for months at a time about anything kind of communication. It's fine for some games, like CQ2 just coming out soon, but I'd hate it to happen for everything from now on. Or maybe I'd just get used to it again, I don't know. But I'd miss it.

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I think that at least a year ago DF were still describing it as a net positive experience for them. I don't know if they still feel that way but I hope so because I'd really miss it if we went back to behind closed doors not hearing from DF for months at a time about anything kind of communication. It's fine for some games, like CQ2 just coming out soon, but I'd hate it to happen for everything from now on. Or maybe I'd just get used to it again, I don't know. But I'd miss it.

Oh, I agree, I love the updates -- I think I enjoyed the DFA updates in particular as much as the actual game. But I am a bit worried that the constant wear will have its toll on DF; money-wise and people-wise. I doubt they will be able to go through another thing like Spacebase 9. I'd rather see them continue work on creative stuff with less exposure, than to go down completely.

That'll leave us with too-big-to-care AAA studios producing boring shooters and sports games, and nothing-to-loose indie-devs crunching in their garage.

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I think that at least a year ago DF were still describing it as a net positive experience for them. I don't know if they still feel that way but I hope so because I'd really miss it if we went back to behind closed doors not hearing from DF for months at a time about anything kind of communication. It's fine for some games, like CQ2 just coming out soon, but I'd hate it to happen for everything from now on. Or maybe I'd just get used to it again, I don't know. But I'd miss it.

Oh, I agree, I love the updates -- I think I enjoyed the DFA updates in particular as much as the actual game. But I am a bit worried that the constant wear will have its toll on DF; money-wise and people-wise. I doubt they will be able to go through another thing like Spacebase 9. I'd rather see them continue work on creative stuff with less exposure, than to go down completely.

That'll leave us with too-big-to-care AAA studios producing boring shooters and sports games, and nothing-to-loose indie-devs crunching in their garage.

On a more positive note, at least they've found publishing partners that seem to be a bit of a better fit for them, like Midnight City, and so forth.

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So what I'm hoping for/expecting

1) No Early Access type thing. The public release will be the release, whenever it is.

2) Maybe a backer-only Beta period like with Broken Age Act 1, but a little longer

I can believe that in a month or so they'll have all the game features and content locked down, and then can dedicate a solid month to balance tweaks and remaining bugfixes.

So, I wasn't too far off. There's no early access, and there's a backer only beta (apparently this was actually a reward, which I'd forgotten about). But it seems like the beta is coming sooner than I thought, while the actual release is flexible based on feedback, which seems sensible.

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Well, I guess there is Early Access after all. Hah. Well, I think it makes sense in this case.

Anyway, it's been kinda a bummer time for DF lately, despite the fact that as well as some missteps they're turning out some of their best work ever. I still love Broken Age and think part 2 is sounding even better, and Hack 'n' Slash, Costume Quest 2, I think Massive Chalice is coming great, but they can't seem to catch a break lately can they?

Every time I look at this, I re-wonder. Is it time to pull out the big guns and do something with Psychonauts. Played right, it feels like it could be the ace up their sleeve. At the time it didn't sell great but now its reputation precedes it.

I don't know, though. I once thought it might be an interesting way to do it to announce a project like Adventures of Psychonauts where it'd be an episodic platform game, each episode being a different person's brain, and lasting about the length of a level from Psychonauts (along with a hub area), and with an over-arching plot.

But just thinking aloud. Or on screen, I guess.

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I don't know, though. I once thought it might be an interesting way to do it to announce a project like Adventures of Psychonauts where it'd be an episodic platform game, each episode being a different person's brain, and lasting about the length of a level from Psychonauts (along with a hub area), and with an over-arching plot.

But just thinking aloud. Or on screen, I guess.

You know, I don't think I've ever really seen episodic games that weren't point-and-click adventures. I wonder why? I could see that working with a Psychonauts 2, for sure. If there's an overworld (the equivelint of the campgrounds in Psychonauts 1) most of that would probably be open and explorable from the start, and shared between all of the episodes. It'd be access to the next brain-level that each episode would unlock.

There'd probably be an emphasis on powers or items from new episodes unlocking things in the previous episodes' areas... which is nothing new for a platformer or any adventure game, but they'd want to make sure that when you gain that newfound access to previously unavailable areas, there's something more interesting than some bonus macguffins.. make it video or concept art unlocks, at least. Or alternate outfits for Raz or something like that.

Actually, something I wouldn't mind seeing out of a sequel would be playing as other characters during different segments. Have a level where you're Lilly, have a level where you're Sasha Nein, get some character-relevant commentary dialogue and maybe some power differences going. All the way up to the next-coming episode they could focus the teasing and hype gen on the character who will be playable in it.

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It's surprising to me that this concept hasn't really been explored before in the genre, because particularly platformers seem sorta ripe for it. Especially ones with hub worlds and then themed worlds (which is basically what Psychonauts is, except dressed up in very thematic trappings)

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You know, I don't think I've ever really seen episodic games that weren't point-and-click adventures. I wonder why?
It's surprising to me that this concept hasn't really been explored before in the genre, because particularly platformers seem sorta ripe for it. Especially ones with hub worlds and then themed worlds (which is basically what Psychonauts is, except dressed up in very thematic trappings)

I guess the main reason is because adventure games are almost entirely content-driven, whereas platformers and similar genres do have content (levels) but are more systems-driven than adventure games are. Perhaps an episodic approach could still be done, but it would mean mostly locking down the systems design as early as Episode 1, whereas traditionally the more systems-driven games have often continued to fine-tune systems design in tandem with level design right up to beta.

So an episodic platformer is an interesting idea; it would just take someone willing to rethink the way those games are produced, like hiring fewer level designers and have them move from one episode's level to another rather than having several level designers working on all the levels in parallel. (For comparison, a recent action game I worked on--though not a platformer, so those might be different--had five systems designers and twelve level designers simultaneously.)

But the episodic approach for a platformer or other action/adventure genre might not provide that much savings in terms of compartmentalizing development into episodes, because the first episode would still need a lot more development time than the other episodes in order to get the systems finalized, and if you're going to do that, arguably you might as well work on more levels at the same time. The Telltale model works partly because a lot of their systems presumably carry over from series to series, albeit with some evolution of the systems over time. They're almost like a company making DLC all the time, if that comparison makes sense.

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Good points, all. I think the reason I like it as a model isn't just because of whatever savings might be made, but it's also because it almost feels right for this sort of game. And they could scale the project according to its success. They could fund a short run of 5 levels or something where the story arc is figured out, but then if it's a bigger success, fund extra episodes, either between the main plot arc or running parallel.

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Episodic games take a lot of planning and time budgeting, Gamasutra has an interesting article from quite a while back about Tell Tale's approach to episodic content and how scheduling too tight can have ripple effect across the entire production. Here's a bit from it (Gamasutra; Postmortem Highlights: Behind The Scenes of Tales of Monkey Island May 13, 2010 )

"Tales of Monkey Island is our fifth monthly episodic series, and by this point, we have a pretty good system. We usually take several months up front to build assets, plan the story, and get a head start on episode production before the monthly releases begin. Once the series launches, we follow overlapping schedules, with work on a new episode ramping up as the previous episode wraps."

"The Tales of Monkey Island schedule followed the same principles but encountered problems in practice, starting with a very ambitious release date. From a marketing standpoint, revealing the game at E3 in June and announcing its July 7 premiere at the same time was a good move. We maximized the Monkey Island love by putting out our game at around the same time as LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition."

"However, our agreement with LucasArts wasn’t finalized until sometime in February, so we were on a very fast-tracked schedule to meet this date. Thanks to hard work from everyone on the team, we were able to launch our first episode on time, but this situation sent a ripple effect through the rest of the schedule."

"We believe that for an episodic game to be successful, it must follow a consistent and reliable schedule. This makes scheduling a critical factor in our process, and keeps us under pressure to stay on track and release our games on time."

"We did initially try to make up for the scheduling issues by planning a six-week gap between the first two episodes, instead of four weeks. Since we were still getting up to speed with the series, we needed that time to get Episode 2 out the door, but we still couldn’t get a head start on Episode 3. By the end of the season, the schedule was extremely tight, and we ended up taking a few extra weeks to get the final episode out."

Downtown Kansas City, Mo is about 1/100'th the overhead and is on the high end for the area, just saying ;D

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Understand that I didn't have the idea because of budget stuff. I understand what kind of planning is involved - I just thought it would be a neat way to reintroduce psychonauts in a way that wouldnt mean comitting to the big 2. It would still be a pretty large project either way.

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Yeah, Psychonauts does seem like a universe where episodes or DLC expansions could seem appropriate. To an extent, Psychonauts has elements of a procedural: mental problem of the week. I'm only half kidding :D

Though I do wonder what impact it would have on the game ramp and the flow of a platformer to divide it into smaller chunks. Interesting thought experiment.

I definitely think it would make sense for Double Fine to look for more ways to add new content to some of their IP that people have liked in the past, as they've done with Costume Quest. It has to be the right IP, of course, where new content would feel genuinely interesting to people and not like mere sequelitis. One of the things people (including myself) appreciate about Double Fine is that they're always trying new things. But Double Fine also create cool universes and sometimes it's fun to have more than one window into a universe.

If Massive Chalice does well, it'd be a great type of game to create DLC expansions for. Obviously it takes less development time to add new content to games where you've already worked out the systems, settled on an art direction, and made a lot of potentially reusable art assets. So that could be a good option for Double Fine to consider, at least for games where it's appropriate.

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I admit that I don't really understand the details of budgeting or planning on episodic games (even after reading the quoted article) this is just.. enthusiastic, idealistic brainstorming.

I figure a major plus of episodic games, ESPECIALLY right now, is that if people have the option to buy one episode at a time, even if an episode is delayed they will have only payed for the content they have and not what they expect to get (but of course would have the kind of "season pass" option for the confident supporters wanting an overall discount)

I support Spacebase DF-9 as a fun game, but I acknowledge the kind of concerns it raised for backers, and I think they'd approve of anything with episodic pricing at this point.

Bonus Idea: One of the most charming features of the original Psychonauts was that each brain level had completely different art direction to the level... an episodic Psychonauts game could take that a step farther, have completely different teams of visual designers working on the content from one episode to the next, with only the hub/overworld areas retaining the original game's art style.

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I admit that I don't really understand the details of budgeting or planning on episodic games (even after reading the quoted article) this is just.. enthusiastic, idealistic brainstorming.

...

Bonus Idea: One of the most charming features of the original Psychonauts was that each brain level had completely different art direction to the level... an episodic Psychonauts game could take that a step farther, have completely different teams of visual designers working on the content from one episode to the next, with only the hub/overworld areas retaining the original game's art style.

@KestrelPi Oh no, I wasn't discounting your idea, it's awesome! I'm just thinking out loud (in type ... something like that) There may need to be a small project or two in between as they ramp up.

Mostly what makes the Tell Tale stuff work is it largely seems to keep the episodes separate. To use Psychonauts as an example it'd be more like going from brain to brain instead of connecting up to a hub. In the the Tell Tale games you can't go backwards for the most part. This means it compartmentalizes the episodes making them easier to divide up and you don't have to make sure it doesn't break what's come before. The drawback to this is it makes the game a lot more linear.

However a Hub that's added to would be really cool, despite the technical complexity!

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However a Hub that's added to would be really cool, despite the technical complexity!

I don't think it necessarily WOULD be complex, if you think of it like... setting Act 1 up as the base game and then making all of the other acts work like areas added through DLC.

So Act 1 would contain most of the hub area (although a later Act may add onto it, when story progression calls for it).

You wouldn't be able to skip ahead and buy the later acts without having the first one installed, but why would you ever want to when the later acts wouldn't make sense without the preceding, anyways?

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Mostly it's making sure systems don't mess with each other.

For example

Episode 1: you have running, double jumping, and hitting. You have to make sure

hitting works with running

jumping works with hitting

running works with jumping

and everything works with the levels you have

Episode2: you add shooting. You have to make sure

hitting works with shooting

jumping works with shooting

running works with shooting

hitting still works with running

jumping still works with hitting

running still works with jumping

everything works with the new levels

and everything still works with the levels you have

Episode 3: you add levitating. You have to make sure

hitting works with levitating

jumping works with levitating

running works with levitating

shooting works with levitating

hitting still works with shooting

jumping still works with shooting

running still works with shooting

hitting still works with running

jumping still works with hitting

running still works with jumping

everything works with the new levels

and everything still works with the levels you have

and a partridge in a pair tree...

ect.

You can make all the functionality from the start but if you have to change something because it's not working with how the game has progressed you have to go through and retest every system to make sure it doesn't break something else. Adding time to the schedule.

Verses

Episode 1: you have running, double jumping, and hitting. You have to make sure

hitting works with running

jumping works with hitting

running works with jumping

and everything works with the new levels

Episode2: you add shooting to this episode only. You have to make sure

hitting works with shooting

jumping works with shooting

running works with shooting

hitting still works with running

jumping still works with hitting

running still works with jumping

and everything works with the new levels

Episode 3: you add levitating to this episode only. You have to make sure

hitting works with levitating

jumping works with levitating

running works with levitating

hitting still works with running

jumping still works with hitting

running still works with jumping

and everything works with the new levels

If you have functionality that only works for one episode you can have separate teams largely working autonomously. But the downside is the player looses abilities they gained previously. You trade stability for ability growth.

Plus if an episode falls behind it can mess up the remaining schedule *cough*half life 2*cough.* But there's risk in anything you do so it's just about picking a plan and trying something.

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