One Year Anniversary Update!
When I saw Kickstarter's anniversary e-mail, I thought of a lot of things. We've known that it's been a year since our campaign, but the reminder made it all so real.
I immediately looked back, and while we had no plans of publishing an update today, I felt that I had to thank you all. I'm sure the rest of the team is just as thankful for you guys allowing us to go this far. The past year, while mostly marred by technical setbacks, has become a solid foundation for a fledgling studio dedicated on creating original works.
And it's all thanks to you.
It's been one year. One year since we've achieved validation that allowed us to move forward. One year into the journey for vindication as we work towards releasing our now delayed game.
The funding we've received from you guys may not be the biggest pile of money out there. Some creators who've cancelled their projects can refund similar amounts out of their own pockets. But the funding everyone helped us raise means the world to us.
Every single pledge we've received is more valuable than its weight in currency. Every single pledge was an approval for us to pursue our dream, as a studio working on our very own video game.
It's hard to write about the campaign a year later without feeling disappointed. As gamers ourselves, we know how much it sucks having to wait for games you're looking forward to. But mostly, it's me as the director being disappointed in myself. Blaming our bad luck in hiring programmers is easy, but the captain is still responsible for his ship.
No wonder most game studios are founded by programmers - skilful and reliable ones can be so difficult to find!
In our case, we're limited to a small talent pool which we could afford. That shouldn't be a problem because there are so many programmers, I thought. Turns out programmers within our budget who are proficient in Unity are hard to find. Even those who seem like they know what they're doing aren't as competent as you'd hope. A lot of our current problems are results of bad advice from devs with decent resumes. Thankfully, there's a lot less of those problems now, and we're almost done with the prologue and full first chapter of the game.
Speaking of programming, since we've mentioned it a few times, let's talk about what's been going on in that front. Our programmer earlier in the year - Wryd, the lead guy of the contractor we've hired - did effectively two months or so of good work for us, extended over a longer period due to his other obligations as the company's lead programmer responsible for mentoring his juniors. That plus the occasional incompatibility of his company's schedule with his part-time teaching gig and holidays left us with some weeks of barely any programming done.
The work he could do for us tapered off when he had to be more hands on with the games they were developing at the time, and then they decided to transition into an IT company soon after. This meant I had to go back to headhunting, worried how working with them will turn out since they couldn't make any promises and I was only confident in Wryd's programming ability.
What happens next is kind of an interesting story. Someone I used to talk to about game dev online before he became busy with school turned out to be a student of Wryd. Blas - the padawan of sorts - and I shared the same passion for original IPs and discontent towards the outsource-focused state of Philippine game dev. After a little back and forth about the level of skill we needed before deciding to hire anyone again, Wryd was convinced that Blas was fit for the job.
I was already going through applications at that point, but like I told Wryd, how could I say no? Blas has gusto for game dev. He even formed his own game dev club in a tech college that curiously did not have one.
He shared how disheartened he was to find - as he started to be exposed to the local game dev industry - that everyone was more focused on making money than making games. I couldn’t let this guy waste his passion and talent by entering the outsourcing grind and become jaded like what had happened to some friends and people I know. The club he founded in college produced some genuinely interesting little games that got us talking in the first place. He didn't deserve to be in the assembly line, and he was a fan of our game before the opportunity of working together was even a possibility.
Hiring him has been a great decision so far. He's the most consistent programmer we've had since leaving Ren'Py, and there's visible progress on the game every week.
Going back to the previous topic, we'd planned to take the Ren'Py route, where teams founded by writers could do great things. But when we realized there's demand for taking the game further, we accepted the challenge of developing it on Unity with open arms. From the very beginning, it was going to be a big gamble we'd hoped will pay off as we build the game on a more capable engine that'll allow us more features and the ability to release on several platforms.
Porting the game has its own risks, mainly that we'll have to be able to recoup the expenses of porting or possibly die as a studio. This meant we needed to create a game that people will buy on platforms we release on, thus forcing us to a maintain a certain threshold of quality rather than just push the game out and be done with it. As many of you reading this have heard from Zero Escape games, people achieve more under pressure. We welcomed the challenge.
On the flip side, taking this much time to develop one game means having a lot of time to think and rethink. A lot has changed since the original outline for Exogenesis. It would actually be interesting to show older flow charts and documentation we have once the game is out, to see how much it’s changed. For example, Toshio’s chapter is being overhauled almost completely, from a story that somewhat befits his age and the mood we had in mind for that point in the game, to something that relates better to the Ark. Yu is becoming a protagonist we don't see very often, hopefully in a good way. We have new mini-games we didn’t have before, and the major puzzle sections are going to be in more interesting places than originally intended.
This isn’t to say writing is going swimmingly well, in terms of pure word count. I have to admit this much. Entering a year since the campaign, experiencing all the setbacks we’ve faced and working from home for almost four years now are probably taking its toll. The simplest way of putting it is that I’ve had more lows than highs. While I’m not completely comfortable about sharing this, I think writers who care a lot about their work feel the same way.
A lot of time for introspection leaves many doors open for self-doubt. When nothing goes the way you’d hoped, it can lead to a lot of tentativeness and procrastination. Traditional wisdom dictates you should endeavor to finish one thing after another, instead of trying to perfect a single work, but that doesn’t really apply when you have to rely on others to reach completion. In such circumstances, you fall into these unproductive cycles of thinking your work is not good enough, while twiddling your thumbs watching the other side move so slowly. Sometimes it's easy to get back up, other times you're paralyzed for a while. Then you have the typical problems life tends to throw at everyone.
Often, I owe yielding to these obstacles to wearing many hats, and to the fact that we can only go as fast as programming does now that we have a large amount of art done. But the crux of the matter is I was confident in the kind of output I’m able to produce when we launched the campaign (given what we’d already accomplished prior to that), but I’m not on that level right now. This is the kind of struggle that leads some to throw in the towel. It feels a lot like losing motivation.
But I don’t think the fire ever dies down, unless you put it out yourself. The question is how to bring it back up.
Besides, we're not in a terrible position writing-wise. For those who may ask why the game script isn't 100% finished one year later, though, my shameful answer is above. Some of you may even call me out. “If you thought you could write 100k words by December, you should have 150k by now.” And that’s absolutely what I tell myself, too, along with other unmentionable French.
Looking back, I actually mentioned the writing problem in our February update, but you deserve more insight than that. Hopefully, you won't have to hear about issues in writing again, because twice of it is already too much. I thought these things are best left for the post-mortem, anyway. I also do think, however, that identifying and writing about these afflictions will help conquer them, so I hope you're able to bear with me.
Another reason why you shouldn't worry is that we've already hired an additional writer, who's tremendous in the sense that we have perhaps 90% of the same understanding of the game's characters. He's been a great help in substantiating dialogue and we've actually exceeded word count targets in certain chapters, owing to his ability to flesh out some dialogue that I only need to outline.
Anyway... This was gonna be a short anniversary post, but that's a lot of dirty laundry! Sorry about that.
We can't possibly end an anniversary update on a negative note, so how about a couple of cool stuff? There was gonna be a section for them, but the images are now used as page breaks. :P
What remains of them, you can see below. We posted this video on Facebook to show some of the animated characters in the prologue.
We also uploaded this track that I thought was too good to be kept under wraps. See, there are benefits in following us on Facebook. Check it out! :D
In closing, I'd like to assure you guys that our team is committed to completing this game within the year. Hopefully, our new programmer keeps up the pace, and once we receive funding from Ouya's Free the Games program, we might be in a position to risk hiring an extra programmer to speed things up.
About funds, a backer expressed concern on that end - but right now, we’re not on the verge of going bankrupt or anything like that. We continue to operate very frugally, so no sudden cancellation announcements. The voice acting budget which we haven't touched (recording for the prologue is on-going) is kind of our safety net. We have flexible payment schedules for that, though we want to make sure our voice actors are properly compensated. Worst case scenario at the moment is that we go on early access for additional funding, but there is no imminent danger and we’re still hoping Ouya will help us out once we submit a beta candidate.
Phew! What did I say about tentativeness and self-doubt? Took me at least 3 hours to write this. But don't you worry, 2015 is the year for sure!
Once again, thank you for your patience and we hope you keep on supporting Exogenesis! :)