The Path —— Status Report November 2008

November 2nd, 2008 by Michael

Where did October go? It flew by! Looking back, though, I feel like we have made the transition from a game under construction to a game that is nearly finished.

The overall structure was cleaned up and the last remaining design issues were resolved, completing the gameplay aspects of The Path. We tend to design a game in broad strokes and some of the details are only filled in at the last moment. Which was now. It feels good.

Halfway through the month we put together a super-tight schedule for asset creation of all the remaining things. It’s amazing how quickly you can fill up a month with things that all seem relatively simple by themselves. But it helped us feel more certain about our ability to achieve our production deadline. As long as we stick to the schedule, we’ll be fine.

We also finished the remaining Red Girls this month and published pictures of them. That was an important milestone. There’s still some work to do on the other characters in the game but at least the avatars are finished. And they look lovely! We’re very proud of them. Auriea, Laura and Hans did an excellent job! Thanks to the pictures -and the girls’ Livejournals- they already seem to have started a life of their own in the imaginations of the public.

Towards the end of the month, we invited people to come and test the game. We would sit them in front of a computer and observe how they play, slowly giving more guidance as they get deeper into the game. The results of the tests had significant impact on the priorities of our to do list. Especially on the “process” side of things, the schedule got rearranged quite a bit. We wanted to fix problems that came up in one test and then see if our solution worked in the next test. So responding to the test results suddenly became my priority.

As a result some of the things I had planned to do in October, remain unfinished as they were moved to next month. The tests made us realize that our game was indeed nearing completion, as the testers really did look they were playing a game, and not just testing some interactive processes, like Auriea and I tend to do all the time. A lot of very interesting things came up during the tests. Some serious bugs. But also issues relating to gameplay, interface and communication within the game. I believe that our response to these issues will greatly increase the enjoyment of many players. So we should all be very grateful to the testers!

We had scheduled three months of what we call “authoring”, to fine-tune the game after all assets and systems are created. But it looks like we won’t have such a clearly defined period. On the one hand, there simply is no time. But on the other, it feels a lot more efficient to coordinate this authoring effort with observing and talking to people who test the game. Rather than simply following our own artistic instincts. At this point, we may be too close to the game and unable to tell the important things apart from the less important ones. Seeing how other people play with our game really helps to put these things in perspective.

We have also discovered some annoying technical problems. Installing software on Vista is apparently not the same as on XP. For some reason, a newly installed game is able to access saved data that I thought was uninstalled. We will need to look into this. And then there’s some serious issues with the game either taking a long time or plain crashing on exit. Luckily the game engine‘s main programmer is helping us to resolve the issue.

We want to have The Path done by the end of the year. So that there is sufficient time for the creation of marketing graphics, a trailer, perhaps a demo, for communicating with publishers and distributors and organizing a launch event. It’s going to be tough. We’re probably in what is called a crunch period now. And while we do make tangible progress and it’s really nice to see the game flower, I think this period is too long. We’ve been crunching for two, perhaps three months now and there’s another two months to go. We’re going to need a serious vacation after this!