Yet Another Miracle
Hi. My name is Ayrat Zakirov, and I’m the managing director/chief technology officer at Ice-Pick Lodge.
When we started working on the original Pathologic, the only experience any of us had making games was a small and, frankly, not that stellar 2D game that was commissioned to Peter Potapov and me.
Pathologic was supposed to be a 2D game too. Or rather no one supposed it will be anything, really; the head of our studio, Nikolay Dybowski, allowed me and Peter to decide that. Nikolay himself was too busy running around with a thick design document of his own making. The document mainly consisted of the description of NPC’s personalities and lacked the technical side completely.
Thankfully we were smart enough to change our plans and made the game in 3D—although it did take time and resources. We had to learn the basics of game development from the ground up: study Direct3D, export assets from 3D editors, lightmap the environment, write our own scripting system and AI, program environment streaming, the editor, the UI, and so on… We did all that for the first time ever, and we did it blindly. (I would love to thank our engine programmer Alexey here, but he doesn’t like publicity.)
Rookies can’t do everything right, of course. Everyone makes mistakes—that’s how the process of learning goes. The physics of the playable character, for example, worked as though he was a blind person, tapping on everything around him with a stick, looking for a patch of solid ground to put his foot on. But it did work! During the development we were in permanent awe. Here are the player’s hands, oh my god, they’re working, they’re moving, they're even capable of holding a knife! Yes, the models are crude, their animations twitchy, but they’re alive! They are walking, talking, breathing! They’re making their way through the clumsy routines! We could watch the water reflections or the fire particles for hours.
We were thrilled by the process of creation. We were giving life not only to the setting of the game, but to its technical universe too.
It was only by the time of the release that the sad realization has caught up with us. We did manage to perform a small miracle, yes, making a huge town and a 70-hour game with our largely inexperienced hands, but the quality of our product still left much to be desired. We looked at the user scores so tensely after the release. But perhaps our inexperience did the game a certain service in the end: only the most dedicated and patient players have managed to finish it, creating a circle of hardy and loyal fans that are supporting us now.
Ten years have passed, we’re more experienced today. We’ve made 1.5 more engines, released several new games, and now we want to show Pathologic to those who failed to make themselves familiar with it previously (due to poor translation or technical issues). We think it’s timely and important now.
Now is a great time to live (sorry Mr. Carmack, I only got it when your games stopped being insanely popular). The game industry has turned its attention from making technologies to using pre-made ones. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Now we can produce games rather than technologies.
So for the second time our engine of choice will be Unity3D—we’ve tried it when we released our previous small game called Knock-Knock (also funded by Kickstarter, by the way). The engine has suited our demands well; we’ve managed to make the game and port it to every platform we were interested in without any noticeable hiccups. It has multiple benefits: there is a great community supporting it (that’s an important factor that’s sometimes overlooked), it’s cross-platform, it has a simple and easily modified editor (resembling our own), it supports C# as a script language and has a huge asset store (you can discover, buy, analyze, and then use multiple utilities, shaders, and effects there). There are also many other professionals that know this engine. There are some wrinkles, of course, but we’re maintaining great communication with the developers of the engine, so hopefully all issues will be solved during preproduction.
We’ve been told that our games suffer from bugs more than once, and for a good reason. Here are the reasons, actually:
- We used to be inexperienced (especially when we produced the original Pathologic!), but always tried to aim high, envisioning huge projects.
- Our budgets have always been low; the only game we’ve managed to test properly was The Void (thanks to Wolfgang Walk!).
- Each of our games is unlike all others, so usually the development process goes like this: we develop half the game; then we realize there are critical flaws in our line of thinking; then we make it once again from the ground up or at least remake huge chunks of what’s been done. Remember that our budgets have always been tight; these factors combined lead to an absolute lack of testing.
- We were wrong to commission Russian agencies to localize Pathologic. Turned out the translation didn’t always make sense.
How do we avoid the remake of Pathologic suffering from all these issues?
- We have more experience now.
- Pathologic has already been released, it’s the road already taken. We are free to walk it again. We know the amount of assets (i.e. characters, buildings, interiors and interior objects) needed—and we can go from there. We won’t have to stop hallway realizing we’ve been doing it wrong.
- We’ve abandoned the idea of making our own engine. That will allow for more stability and less expenses.
- We’ll allow for alpha and beta access, which will help us finish the project faster and get rid of remaining bugs.
- A huge chunk of our budget goes to testing. We’ve never even had such a huge testing budget before.
- We don’t trust commissioned agencies anymore and will localize the game internally with the help of trusted outsourcers. Hopefully the quality of texts during this campaign proves that we’ve learned from our mistakes.
We want to take the best we have and make it all come together in the new Pathologic. I promise that from the technological standpoint this game will be miles better than the original was; hopefully the ideas and their implementation will work in unison, creating the symphony we’ve envisioned from the start—or maybe even something bigger.
In conclusion I’d like to say that another source of inspiration for me (apart from the development of technologies) is the growth of digital distribution and crowd funding. I’m writing this update now thanks to them! Any team that has great ideas and the will to implement them can come into the market now. You don’t have to go to a publisher begging anymore, you don’t have to make a game that’ll suit everyone’s tastes—and retail shops used to only take those. Create a community, make a game, launch a Kickstarter campaign.
Digital distribution, community, and crowd funding work together these days, allowing for an artist to find their audience and make a game for themselves—just the way they envision it.
And that’s just the beginning. Looking forward for a great time! Thanks to Kickstarter and to everyone who supports us!