When we started working on Quarantime, our lifestyle was different. It use to be an end year school project with all the academic and social guidance from professionals you would expect to get from a college. We had timely assessments , time management classes with the creation of plannings and milestones, whole years of follow-up supervised by professionnals, access to professional equipement, software and sound studios, easy focus test sessions, just to name a few…. School life comes like a package, and reproducing this quality outside of the school environement is actually the real thing, and it’s hard !
We had been assessed on our capacity to complete a project from start to finish. It was kind of a simulation on game development, and we had been strongly encouraged to continue our experience with Quarantime outside of the academic environement. And that’s what we did, with great pleasure.
It’s been 2 years now since we started this adventure. And we fully realize that reproducing a context as favorable as what we had back in college is a very difficult exercise. We thought we were ready but we were not. Creating a video game without any outside help is complicated, takes a lot of ressources, learning, and skills in areas beyond the creation of video games itself.
This post mortem is the occasion to share our experience over the last year. What went right, what wen wrong, and how we can improve and avoid similar problems to occur. Quarantime is not out yet and we have not achieved all that we set out to achive yet. But none of it is lost. So many things happened during this year. You haven’t seen it yet but Quarantime changed a lot.
here’s a couple of subject we covered during this year :
- Unity 5 migration
- New user interface
- Lightning & dynamic shadows
- Level design / Game design structure & constraints
- Title screen
- Background, lore of the game
- Planning / Marketing
What went right
2015 started on a high note with a major update of our game engine Unity. Bringing literally over a thousand improvements and a new businnes model along with the update. It raised the key question as to wether we should continue the development on the old engine, release a solid stable build and update later. Or leave everything as it is, upgrade now and see what happens then… we gave serious thought to the situation.
We chose the second option. It made sense to us knowing that we came from unity 3.5 and a lot of tools we were building on top of the game were natively implemented in Unity 5. This upgrade felt right at that moment and even now we still believe it was the right thing to do. Knowing where we came from even the smallest change to unity sometimes had an influence on something else, forcing us to do or rethink some systems and mechanics. It took us a lot of time to get back to a stable project. In the end changing to Unity 5 was more a plus than a minus. thanks to this, our production process is much simpler, optimized and flexible.
Over the past years, we have expanded our vision with new ideas that strengthens the original concept. The hard thing to do was to implement these ideas without conflicting with the existing mechanics. This unity update provided an opportunity to go back in a stage of preproduction, rework the lore of Quarantime, the core gameplay and redesign some mechanics to grasp the essence of what makes Quarantime what it is.
The 3 of us have been developing this game without any outside help for 2 years now. We mainly work on internet in a “ My home is my office “ way. It’s definitely not ideal for a lot of reasons starting from everyone not working at the same time. We have spent month working without any planning and budget wich is really bad. but despite all these difficulties we made it through. and this is worth mentionning
The work done so far is better in terms of quality, we have recreated or improved some assets done. while we try to give a meaning to everything we add and create for the game. the overall result feels more connected and gives life to the lore of Quarantime.
We all come from different backgrounds and we litteraly complement creatively. Each one having its references, sensitivity and expertise. We all strive for a certain quality that pushes Quarantime forward.
What went wrong
Several circumstances have affected our pace of work and sometimes our motivation too.
As mentioned above, the engine update has brought a lot of improvements, simplification and flexibilities.
Nevertheless, we chose to upgrade the game engine at a critical moment. When we were in the process of rebuilding / designing several gameplay mechanics and tools. It took us a lot of time to get back to a stable working build
There’s a couple of miles between us. And to ensure a certain quality of life in this “my home is my office” situation, we have obligations to fulfill on the side of this development. Working at home requires a lot of balancing and finding the right balance with a part time job, familly and the game is hard. Side jobs and house duty takes a lot of energy, scatter our focus away from the game and the development. Bringing excuses, procrastination and delays along.
Communication & Planning
Good communication is essential, both between team members and/or the audience. Sadly, this year, how often we communicate in general decreased for lots of personnal reasons. We ended up having less and less meetings. We know communication is important because it helps maintaining a certain pace of work, group cohesion and task planning between team members. Our exchanges on social network and everywhere were too spaced out.
A lot of assets created during the first year were not satisfying anymore, they became inappropriate, needed some modification or were not being used.
Ideally, to avoid deep code changes throughout the development process it’s best to identify from start all that should be developed in the future. This is obviously a hard thing to do. A full assessement of the project before it even starts is a huge task. However necessary, even more if the development team is brought to expand one day. Planning was not done the right way. The game grew bigger, and our vision needed to be adapted. We moved step by step, to test and choose what needed to be kept or changed. Wich sometimes made us move backward. Therefore the basic structure of the code has also been reworked
How to prevent similar problems from happening again ?
If possible we will avoid any further major engine migration.
Hold the planning under any circumstances ! A planning gives you a visibility on your development, it does not judge, he’s there to help you organize your task and development. Set clear goals which a person, team or community can focus , discuss and motivate each other on. It creates a moral obligation, a pledge and especially a common goal for all of us.
A planning gives you the opportunity to establish healthier work schedules and lifestyle. Having to comply to these set goals helps you increase the group cohesion. Everyone must show flexibility to organize and keep his planning updated.
Break tasks down into small steps when they are too complex or not easy to undersand. They will become easier to evaluate, understand and execute. This provides a better overview of the situation, the remaining tasks and the time needed for their realization. Write a quick note or description if necessary, especially when a task passes through several hands before being finalized.
Mind and weight the pros and cons ( effort VS benefit ) before creating a new feature. Or modify / adapt / delete an existing feature. The profit made must be greater than the effort. It sounds obvious, but once you get to a certain point in the development, changing a mechanic without destroying the GameFlow or the balance you have set for the game is complicated.
Foster communication ! Organize physical meetings with your team as often as possible. Stay positive light, live and cultivate the good vibes in your workspace.
Here we are at the end of a long sprint, and the beginning of a new year. We made mistakes and if we were to do it again there are definitely a lot of things we would do differently. However, this experience shapes the history of Quarantime and our group. Each of our disagreements and issues made us work for something stronger that defines Quarantime even more. Every time we had to start something over, we’ve added more detail, to drive the game forward. In the end, these errors have allowed us to experiment and learn a lot about game development in various areas: dynamic shadows, gameflow, fexibility, optimisation, lighting, shaders, UI , Ai, procedural animations,etc… These are just exemples of what have been added to Quarantime during this year.
Being an indie is no joke, it’s almost like having a double life in wich it is not easy to find the right balance between work and family life. We have the opportunity to create a game we’d like to play with. We strongly believe in the potential of Quarantime and we can’t wait to share more news, more, screens, more gameplay and trailers with you. Our objectives stay the same. Stay tuned, we have never been this close from our next big revelation. Ghouls die and retry.
We thank you for taking the time to read us, We wish you and your family a restful and reflective festive season and send our best wishes for a successful new year !
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