My lizard is the Lizard of Scope
This has been on my mind lately: it is hard to show what the scope of my game is supposed to be. I'm the only person who really knows what I intend. I offered a map of the demo, with some sketches and notes in an earlier update, but I started to think I should give a better picture of it.
When I was working on the print manual, writing about the game makes certain things final. I had to be very careful to make sure what I wrote will match the finished game, and this ended up finalizing quite a lot of design decisions which were still in the air. I ended up making this map of the game:
I hope this gives a better idea of the size of the game. It's not precisely proportioned or very detailed, but I want it to show the player early on how many major areas there are, where they are, roughly, and how to get around. It should help give an idea of what there is to do in this game.
With the doubled ROM size, the planned size of the world has doubled too. There should be about four times as much space to explore as you could find in the demo.
At this point the demo world has been scoured from the game, and the pieces of it that I wanted to keep have been refitted into the new double-wide world. Most of the areas that were in the demo will feel very similar, but everything is more spacious now, and there will be new details too.
On the subject of scope, I need to push the timeline back. In my last update I wrote that I wanted to have the feature-complete beta ready by the end of March, but a few more weeks of progress have given me a better idea of the time involved. I hate to be a string better, but I know that I should spend at least one more month. Here is my current estimated timeline:
- A beta version will be available to backers in early May of 2015.
- Finalization a few weeks after the beta.
- Shipping of physical copies should begin soon after finalization.
I'm sorry to disappoint any backers who want to play this game sooner. In return for your patience, I will make a better game for you, and I won't push this date back again.
If you're interested in knowing how this decision process works, I'll attempt to explain. It might get a little personal.
I get asked very often "when will it be done", and even though I know this question comes from excited interest in my game, it disheartens me each time I have to consider it. It's a reasonable question to ask, and one that I have to answer, but it's very hard for me to answer, because I know that giving you a timeline is an empty promise on my part. I feel hollow making this promise, beause I know that I don't really care about the timeline. I care about making the game, and the timeline is merely a consequence of that act. It is subservient to that goal. The game changes shape as I work on it, and I want to give it the time it needs.
If meeting a specific date was the most important thing, I could do it. I've worked professionally to meet deadlines, and I've participated in game jams and time-limited competitions. I know how to focus/narrow the scope of something until I can get it done on time, but I'm also acutely aware of the compromise that involves.
This isn't to say that I want to work on Lizard forever. I want to be finished, and there are practical limits to how long I can spend. I'm not going to ask any of you for more money, and my ability to extend the timeline ends when I run out my savings. (I actually can't push it back any further at this point.) I don't realistically expect to make a profit on this game, and this wasn't really my goal. I just want to make a quality game for the NES.
Also, I very much want to be done with this game so that I can get on with my life and other projects. This puts a limit on the timeline just as strongly as the financial drain.
I started working on Lizard in August 2013. I thought then I would have it finished before the end of the year. The goal and scope was smaller then, but I didn't commit myself to the work, either. It remained at only a slow simmer for a very long time, and I played with many different ideas of what the game could be. Around August 2014, I felt a need to make it real, and I started working on it increasingly until it became my full time occupation. As soon as I had a satisfactory demo in hand, I began this Kickstarter campaign, thinking I could finish in three more months. The month of November was unexpectedly almost entirely dedicated to promotion of the project, pushing me back a month. Near the end of the year I decided to increase the scope of the planned game, and now that I've had more time to evaluate the ramifications of this decision, I think these changes will have added an additional two months to the schedule by the time it's done.
From the outside, I imagine that this sounds very vague. What does a month mean? This is hard to express. I'm the only person who knows the plan, or what I can get done in a month. It's necessarily vague for several reasons:
- Many of the details of the game are unknown until I actually implement them. From experience I can know roughly how long it may take to solve a problem, but knowing the specific form it will take is impossible without actually solving it.
- There are lots of unplanned setbacks in game development. There's no way to predict what they will be, but it is certain they will happen. Any realistic schedule requires extra time set aside for this.
- This game in particular is largely about discovery and exploration, and I am worried about revealing too much of it in advance of delivery.
- Telling you about a specific thing is kind of a promise that it will be in the game. Every detail I give you becomes a constraint that I have to make sure I satisfy. When the Kickstarter campaign was running this was doubly true. Making a good game requires continual adjustments and changes as new things develop, and every constraint I add limits my ability to adapt.
There was a really awful interview with Peter Molyneux at Rock Paper Shotgun a few weeks back. The interviewer attacked him on behalf of those angry at the unfulfilled promises he has made about his games over the years. It made me sad to read, because I recognize in Molyneux an unguarded enthusiasm about his projects. The kinds of things he says publicly are the kinds of things every developer believes about their game in progress. When a game isn't finished, there are always a lot of interesting and very exciting possibilities, many of which you honestly believe will happen. You usually shouldn't talk about these things to the public, and Molyneux makes a very public example why, but as a developer I completely understand why he wanted to.
Anyhow, I am trying to offer details to you as they become solid parts of the game, though I am currently in a very nebulous period of development. As I approach completion there will be more and more things I will be confident sharing. You'll be seeing more here as time goes on. After release, too, it will be even easier to speak retrospectively on it.
So... right now it looks like I will be coming in about three months late from my initial promise. I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry for getting maudlin about it too, but I truly hate having to revise estimates and I felt that I owed you some kind of explanation for it.
As always, I welcome any questions or comments. I don't want to discourage questions, or make anyone feel bad for having asked me questions that I don't like to answer. I really do appreciate the interest, and even if I can't answer something now I will still remember that you asked. Please, don't hold back.