Hold on to your butts
Please take your time to assimilate all of the info here into a cohesive whole. If you have questions, finish the article, and if still not sated then hit up the comments and I will do my best to answer. It’s going to be a wall of text so bear with me until the end.
Here’s the story so far...
Hiro posted about the state of the game and our troubles with programming back in July: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300298569/project-phoenix-japans-indie-rpg-feat-aaa-talent/posts/1266538
I introduced myself and hope to communicate more often and more better than previously: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300298569/project-phoenix-japans-indie-rpg-feat-aaa-talent/posts/1326086
Then we talked about how a lot of people are upset about a few things: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300298569/project-phoenix-japans-indie-rpg-feat-aaa-talent/posts/1328809
And then I posted test videos from March 2015 on the Unreal 4 engine: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300298569/project-phoenix-japans-indie-rpg-feat-aaa-talent/posts/1329068
Now let’s dive into some of the more detailed info for the state of the game and where everything sits today as well as the future direction and timeline for the game development. GO!
State of the Game
- 100% Scenarios (Main battles and story elements for Acts 1-5)
- 90% Game Design (combat mechanics are designed and programmed with the exception of the threat system)
- 80% Overall models (all base models are done which includes characters and environment - variant models are left to do)
- 70% Overall animations (90% humanoid animations are done)
- 0% Textures
- 0% Script (text for the game)
- 0% Unreal 4 executable (sandbox used to create the game) - this is the main thing we need a programmer for
- 0% Level Design (“physically” building the world, placement of objects and characters, lighting, and scripting) - obviously this cannot happen until we have the executable
- 0% Particle Effects
- 5% Sound Effects
- 0% VO (dependent on script and casting)
- 0% Localization (mostly dependent on script)
- ?% Music - 80 minutes of unlooped music is composed (JRPGs usually have 90 minutes) - still needs to go through post production/arrangement and recording
We have made progress but still have a lot of work to do. A lot of the groundwork has been laid (i.e. base models) which is a majority of the work, time-wise. Once this is done, theoretically the rest of the work will go smoothly and quickly.
0% is kind of harsh to say on some of those things but I would rather be conservative at this point until we see some results. Yes, after 2 years there should be more to show but I will go into the reason below...
So what happened? What’s going on? Why the delay? Why such a long delay?
The short answer is: Programming. Programming was listed on the KS page as one of our major risks to the project and we got hit by it. We were holding off for a specific person and ultimately they could not join us. Now we have to get a replacement(s).
The long answer is: the Project Phoenix development was hinging on one major programmer to bring the project to a point where others could begin their in-game work. Obviously, that did not work out. The programmer’s involvement got delayed and therefore the game was delayed respectively. Now he has been removed from the project altogether and we are working to get a replacement(s) in as soon as possible. The replacement programmer(s) will be paid to do the work until the game is done, unlike the original staff’s arrangement which is based on royalties (i.e. they don’t get paid until the game is done and starts selling - and no, this is not the same as volunteering) but this will be paid out of CIA’s company account and not the KS funds.
Unfortunately, we are not able to solidify the replacement programmer(s) contract until the end of October 2015 which means that there will be not much to show in terms of in-game assets until closer to the end of the year.
Why rely so heavily on one programmer?
It’s not unheard of and happens more often than you might think. Especially for Indie projects like this one. The other game he was working on, Ori and the Blind Forest, was also mostly programmed by him and there was no reason to suspect he could not do the same for Project Phoenix. David Clark is a very talented programmer and any team would be lucky to have him involved.
Why wait so long?
This was a production decision and it should have been better and/or more explicitly communicated. We wanted him to be able to be involved but, at this point, we have had to move on. We hope to be more communicative going forward. If we are waiting on things, we will let you know. I will put out an update every so often and address development status.
After all of that, why switch game engines? Doesn’t that set you back even further?
The decision to switch game engines was made for two reasons. 1) The programmer we had been hoping to work with was very well versed with Unity but once we lost him we had no particular reason to stick with it and 2) Unreal 4 natively offers much more robust tools for development than Unity and it would have actually been more time consuming to stick with Unity sans our original programmer than to switch and have a plethora of tools immediately at our disposal.
Budget & Funds
It was stated on the KS page that “all funds raised through Kickstarter will go towards making the 3D models and making sure they’re as polished as possible” which not only tells us what the original purpose of the KS was but also where most of the budget comes into play. Granted, once you have a KS, you then have to consider funding production and shipping all of the rewards which is now the most sizable item in the budget. Once the KS reached above its goal then we started putting other items in the budget.
Here is the money we pulled in from the KS campaign (approximated):
and its rough allocation in the budget:
Note: <$200,000 of what we have pulled in has been spent so we still have a majority of the funds left for finishing the game and producing the rewards. A lot of this has to do with the fact that most of the team is working under a royalty contract and are not being paid with the KS funds.
AAA refers to the staff involved and the collective resume they bring to the table. Final Fantasy titles, Dragon Quest titles, Halo, etc. etc. AAA does not refer to the budget or perceived look of the game in any way. Nor does it exclude the development team from setbacks and delays.
$1,000,000 is a small game budget by today’s standards. Especially one which features fully modeled 3D characters and ~60 hours worth of gameplay (Acts 1-5) along with a renowned music composer. Also, keep in mind only about half of that is being used for the game development (some is taken as fees from the facilitating agencies) and a good portion (almost half) is used for rewards and shipping.
It was stated on the KS page that the development team “have taken time out of their personal schedule to contribute their expertise towards Project Phoenix's success” along with a line from the FAQ stating, “each of our members are professionals in their own field, they do not require a salary right now, and so, are donating their time and effort into developing Project Phoenix” which communicates that these developers are working “in their spare time” to produce this game.
They have day jobs they need to attend to but ultimately want to create this project on their own time and will see it through, even with delays and budgetary constraints. This in turn means though, that we are not dependent on additional funding outside of paying for the 3D modeling. Development will roll on until we are done; delays and all.
It was stated on the KS page that this game would be “a SQUAD-BASED, REAL-TIME STRATEGY GAME combined with strong Japanese RPG design influences”. Let’s break that down based on the intentions of the team.
- Small group(s) of characters with specialized roles
- Primary Influence: Many RPG classics with class assignments and small party of characters
- Not turn based (i.e. everything moves/acts at the same time) and requiring some amount of micromanagement
- Primary Influence: Warcraft 3
- Strong story and characters, great boss battles, itemization and skill progression, grinding for xp, items, etc.
- Primary Influence: Final Fantasy
In regard to all of this, I think the game is progressing along these lines. It could have been communicated better but here we are. Let’s work together to make it the best we can.
It was also stated that players will “experience the strategic options without being bogged down by overwhelming archaic battle systems” which communicates an effort to eschew traditional JRPG game mechanics and systems. There is character progression in skills, items, talents, and stats but these systems are relatively simple. The pitch video also asks “wasn’t there more to JRPGs than just flashy graphics and ever-changing battle systems?”. Project Phoenix set out to do something different from the onset.
It was stated on the KS page “Art that balances Western functionality with Japanese aesthetics” and “A JRPG primarily built for a worldwide audience, not just Japan“ which communicates that, although based on those things, we are trying something new. The risk when doing so is that it may not resonate or be well received with everyone but, it *will* be our own.
Also, under Staff, Asami Hagiwara is listed as SD artist. SD stands for “super deformed” aka “chibi” and, under the Art section, “In-game battle sequences will make use of super-deformed characters”. There are also examples of concepts of “in-game 3D model reference” in the chibi style.
All roles and responsibilities are accounted for by existing staff.
- Nobuo Uematsu - Music
- Yoko Enoki - Scenarios
- Gontaro - Lead artist, Art Supervisor, Art Director
- Take-B - Character/Monster Design
- Yoko Tsukamoto - Monster Design
- Koya Takahashi - Lead Cinematic Artist
- Koji Moriga - Concept Art Designer
- Asami Hagiwara - SD (super deformed) Character Design
- Steffen Unger - 3D Character Modeler
- Yumiko Sugihara - 3D Environment Modeler
- John Kurlander - Sound Engineer (interested but would need to hit stretch goal)
- Rene Paulesich - German Localization
- Phil - German Localization
- Yoshihiro Sakaguchi - Sound FX
- Yasutaka Matsubara - Animator
- Takaharu Matsuo - In-Game Art Direction
Those that have left have done so because they 1) became too busy, 2) Hiro bought out their share, or 3) there were creative differences in vision for the project.
Any role left vacant by these individuals is being engaged by existing staff or we have people lined up that we cannot announce yet.
- Vaughan Smith - Game Design
- Bill Benfield - Script Editor
- Donna Burke - Casting, VO, Singing
- Kiyoshi Arai - Art Director
- Larry Oji - Community Team
- Cronus - Community Team
So what about the staff “security breach”?
This was not a “security breach” in the sense that data was hacked or compromised. Rather it had to do with breach of protocol and locking down the KS account from the CIA team. We had to contact KS to reclaim our account. Everything with regard to this is resolved now.
Moving Forward and Next Steps
As stated before, we need to move forward from here, be more communicative, and stress getting actual content in your hands. Development is still underway, although slow, but the main contributors are still very much involved and interested in bringing this game to the light of day.
I hope I have helped clarify some major questions but I will be happy to help answer any others.
I would like to thank and appreciate all of the positive feedback we have received as well. We aim to complete this game with our vision intact and we hope you all enjoy it as well. It will take a bit of time but we will get there.
I will focus on getting more content in-hand but obviously I cannot get much until we resolve the programmer issue and get an executable and begin importing game assets and "physically" building the world.
I also have plans for some dev diaries which I need to line up. I really liked how Harebrained Schemes did some of theirs for Shadowrun: Hong Kong so I will see if I can get some people to talk about their work.
See you in the comments!