Scope and Planning – Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…
Indie Dev is as hard as people say…and we love it. More specifically, we are passionate about it. Long hours and strapped for resources we forge ahead day and night. Not just on development but mounds of paperwork, timelines and checklists to complete in order to publish on each platform, applying for age ratings, generating media assets that the platforms and others will judge our game’s worthiness by and more. Then there’s social media and marketing, paying bills so our lights stay on and making sure there’s plenty of coffee to fuel the team. That’s just the business and marketing end. We are fortunate to have a well-rounded team with business, marketing and development bases covered.
Ultimately our goal is to make a fun, challenging and rewarding gaming experience for our players. No matter how clear we are about the scope and core features of the game, in this case Salvo. We inevitably have new ideas. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “What do you think of…” are heard around the office and the possibility of scope-creep moves in. Realistically there is no way to pre-think every useful feature and some of those in-the-moment ideas should have been included in the first place or are fresh and would positively impact game play.
With that in mind we are undergoing a project status check in the studio right now. This is pretty normal and healthy but can seem counter intuitive. With looming milestones, deadlines and launch dates why would we stop development to refactor and align our project? Because it makes sense. Anyone who has worked on a long, intense project has experienced the snowball effect of small decisions along the way. Sure, progress is being made but updates may not be integrated as thoughtfully as they could be and in the worst cases they may be shoehorned in which can create a Frankenstein. Productivity can also take a hit as the team gets out of sync from a delay in one area while another moves forward.
We run an agile shop, scrumming out work effort, sprint based planning, development and review cycles etc. which helps us keep on track. We have a well detailed Game Design Document and all the supporting documentation. But this time we are pausing for a couple of weeks to acknowledge that our little game idea is growing and has the potential to be great. Possibly even franchise level. We will make sure we are as efficient as possible moving forward and we want to make smart decisions about what it will take to make Salvo to be everything it can be.
We are taking an inventory of every object, screen, feature and mechanic needed. Looking at progress across the board, identifying and estimating effort on new scope, validating requirements and users stories then producing an updated roadmap.
We are also assessing the tools we are using. Primarily our workflow management tool. We have identified that a there may be a better solution to move work through the studio than the one we are using and that we are also using a number of other diverse tools including Discord, G+ and Google Drive that spread out our production footprint in a less efficient way. We are looking at JIRA as an intermediary Sprint, Task and Issue based production solution. Long term we are interested in a game focused workflow system like Hacknplan which is an entire production workflow system for game studios that integrates planning, proofing, kanban, scheduling, documentation and project measurement under one “roof”. Hacknplan may be too big of a migration to take on mid project but is definitely an option after launch as we prepare to get into our next project.
While we run through this exercise a few things will keep moving at a full clip. Modeling, art concept design, in game UI screens and cinematic creation will continue and meet development “on the other side” in a few weeks.
We are an indie studio working on our first major game release. An amazing experience and we’re glad we can share with you along the way.
So…we’re off to get real cozy with our game.
-The DI Team
Getting In Character
When a player selects a character to play, customizes it then spends hours, days or even weeks as that character they likely don’t know where the character design came from or how many concepts were passed over to land on that one. We try to meet a number of criteria when designing characters. There are high level basics like male and/or female, mesomorph (heavy set)/endomorph (average)/ectomorph (thin) body types, skin color/ethnicity, and heads. These elements define an affinity model and hopefully within the mix of them the player finds a set that they identify with.
Beyond the basics we look at:
- Extended races. Are there aliens, hybrid humans, cyborg etc.?
- What are the function and capabilities of each individually and within a team?
- Are their clothes or suits particular to a company or job?
- Are they well funded like Salvos for Salva Co. or under funded scavengers (Renegade Co.)?
So what does that mean for design? It means that at minimum we are going to run multiple concepts for each male and female and company character. It is not unusual to create and throw out a half-dozen concepts per character.
Here are a some concepts we passed on:
Why didn’t we accept them? One, aesthetically they were not what we were looking for. Further, the exposed rivets might be an issue in space and a little to old time diving suit looking. Just some of the details that we didn’t feel would be functional enough.
Here are some accepted concepts:
When we look at the character in game play we need to think about how the design accommodates or inhibits necessary motion and activities for the different classes. Since Salvo is set in space with individual jet pack flight the suits need to accommodate the packs as well as the tools they might be using.
Salvo Gauntlet and Large Jet Pack Style 1
When we initially designed the game we had planned for each of the three suit types to apply to a single Class.
So, a Miner would have a specific suit, Operator and Demolitionist their styles. But when we looked through our player “glasses” we realized that we were likely limiting player choices and character designs. So, we extracted the suit styles from the Classes themselves in order to allow the broadest flexibility to players in selecting their character. So now a Miner, Operator or Demolitionist can have any of the suit types and we think that will work great.
Salvo Modeling and Lots of White Box Testing
The guys are writing code and testing iteratively every day now doing “white box” testing. That’s a version with stand-ins for most objects and no texturing. This allows development to play test with focus with minimal distraction of textures, effects and odd lighting. We’re looking at the physics and core play mechanics. The characters move in space with Jet Packs and need to maneuver realistically but also be nimble and able to shoot accurately. It’s a balance and we’re going to get it right.
Meanwhile our three modelers are working on hi-resolution character sculpts, asteroids, space junk and in-game locations. A couple of sprints from now we will be on to environments and animation for the cinematics.