I hope everyone who has alpha access is enjoying Grim Dawn so far and based on forum comments, it seems like you are. : )
We've been hard at work releasing new builds to squash bugs, improve performance and add features. B12 is a big one with an overhaul of the animation system, reworked and some new animations, a major performance improvement to pathing, which has been the cause of some people's stuttering issues and many other changes. We expect to roll that out in a week or two.
After working to address many of the most critical bugs, imbalances and feature requests, we've resumed work on content. It is still going to be a few months at least before we can release Act 2 and we don't have a firm date for that yet.
Alpha released several months later than expected and now August is upon us, which was our original KS estimated release but we’re still a long way from completion. We've gotten behind our original estimates for a variety of reasons and not just because delays are the popular thing to do.
The good news is that we’ve been conservative with our funds and expect we will still have a sufficient budget to carry us to the end of development. I want to give you all some insight though, into why development has been running behind. The following isn’t meant to be a list of excuses; only the explanation that I think you deserve.
Some of it is the usual of the usual suspects - the creative process, spending time on revisions when we think things aren't good enough and adding in new features that we hadn't originally planned. We also went sort of nuts on “Act 1” and made it much longer than we originally anticipated. We said in the past that we were shooting for about a 15 hour finished game and a 2-3 hour play-through for the alpha area but many people are taking 10-15 hours to clear the alpha. The upside is that you’ll be getting a larger game but, of course, that also adds time onto development.
Other things happened though that we could not have expected or weren’t able to plan for.
One of the first setbacks had to do with hiring. As I’d mentioned during the Kickstarter, my intention was to hire on a couple friends from Iron Lore who had significant experience from their work on Titan Quest. For years they had contributed to Grim Dawn as they were able and the plan had always been for them to come on fulltime as soon as we could pay wages. However, over the years, they also had children, took on car loans and mortgages, and earned raises that made it more difficult for me to provide adequate wages out of the KS funds. When we reached our funding goal and the time came for them to sign on, they started looking at their financial situations found they were no longer in a place where they could afford the risk of joining a small startup and taking reduced salaries.
The result was that I did not have experienced people who were immediately ready to jump onto the project and had to spend time hiring. This sounds really terrible to say but it ended up being sort of a lucky break for us when 38 Studios closed because it suddenly created this large pool of talented developers looking for jobs. We were able to hire on some great people and that lessened the impact of our hiring problem but it still took time to train up new people in the use of our tools and to get them up to speed with the project.
Another big problem area was animation and people who have been following development on the forum may remember me talking about this prior to alpha release. After the KS campaign we continued on with two part-time animators that we'd been working with for a long time. Thing went on as usual until around November when they both ended up having to crunch at their day jobs during the same period. It went on for months and animation started to fall behind. At the same time, we became aware that there were some issues with the male PC rig that were going to make it very difficult to reuse any of the animations for the female. Having to create all new animations instead of being able to reuse and tweak them would have been a massive amount of extra work.
We finally had the good fortune to hire an amazing technical animator who, through fantastical feats of techno-animagic, was able to fix all our problems and has been overhauling all our player animations. That was another unexpected bump in the road that slowed us down but we're starting to see tremendous benefit to the game from having a dedicated technical animator. Some of that benefit will be rolling out in B12 and there will be more to come. One of our part-time animators is also back, working on a new enemy, so that helps as well.
Speaking of people having babies, I had one... well, technically my wife had the baby but I'm part-owner and naturally new responsibilities came with that. Is it a good idea to have a baby while trying to start a gaming studio and release your first game? I can tell you the answer is definitely no... sort of... The problem is, none of the last few years have been good times, I don't know if any of the next couple years will be a good time either and time is flying by. At some point, you have to make time for life in between all the work before life passes you by. That time came last summer and while it has been an amazing experience, it did have its impact on my work schedule.
Last year I was budgeting things very conservatively and planned as though we wouldn't get any more money from alpha release. I wanted to make sure we could keep things going long enough to finish the game even if alpha sales were terrible. I didn't want to pay myself additional money from the project to cover the exorbitantly high cost of daycare. Instead, we made plans to have a family member take care of the baby when my wife returned to work and it seemed like the perfect situation. After just two weeks, misfortune struck and that person was no longer able to help us. Not knowing what else to do, I ended up having to become a part-time daycare provider for a time... yeah...
That situation has been resolved and I’m back to dedicating ridiculous hours per week to Grim Dawn development but time was lost and, since I’m responsible for skill mastery and world development, it is lost time that pushes out the completion of beta content.
Oh, but wait, that's not all! Why not throw in a little lead poisoning as well? So yeah, right after alpha shipped I found out from a blood test that my family was somehow being exposed to toxic levels of lead. I ordered some test kits and discovered our apartment was totally contaminated with invisible poison dust. The upside, if there is one, is that we found out very early before it reached critical levels and required treatment but we had to get out of the apartment ASAP.
The result was that I had to dedicate a lot of time to finding a new place, packing, moving and unpacking. It was particularly difficult trying to find a suitable new apartment because we did not want to risk moving into another older house that could have lead contamination and a lot of the rentals around here are older houses from the era of lead paint. We're all moved in now though and things are returning to normal.
Earlier this year, we also lost one of our designers who some may know as Jalex on the forum. He had been working for us on a reduced salary when his wife lost her job. When he then received a job offer from another company for way more than we could afford to pay him, it was something he understandably couldn’t pass up. Since he was primarily working on quest creation, we’ve gotten behind on implementing quests for “Act 2”.
Finally, the release of alpha itself has slowed us down more than we had expected. Once the game was out and thousands of people were playing it, we felt compelled to respond quickly to feedback and bug reports. I think the quality of the game has improved significantly as a result and we’ve gotten in some much requested features.
So, it has been a bit of a rough ride but we’re still here and cranking on Grim Dawn. Some people may ask what happened to the additional funding we received and why the project is delayed after reaching almost double our goal. Fortunately, we’ve budgeted conservatively and so we still have a large portion of that money in our account to help pay for the rest of development. We also ended up having to pay about $138,000 in taxes on it, so we couldn’t hire on quite as many people as you might expect.
There are also some aspects of development that you just can’t accelerate with more people or where you get a diminishing return. For example, you can only really have one person effectively on a class mastery at a time and you can only have so many people working on quests and story before it starts to become inconsistent. More money mainly helps you to broaden scope and the game has definitely grown larger than what was originally envisioned but also higher quality.
Ideally we would have kept this expansion of scope and quality to a point where it wouldn’t have affected our development schedule (baring all the other setbacks) but along with the increased attention and funding we received came increased pressure and the capability to make a better game. When we started this project, we expected to make a small, somewhat rough indie game that would have limited appeal but still be financially viable because it was so low-budget. Since then, it seems like expectations have skyrocketed with some people setting their hopes on Grim Dawn to be the next big ARPG.
We’re still a very small team though, as far as ARPG makers go and despite surpassing our goal on Kickstarter, $537k is a fraction of the budget available to the bigger name studios in the genre. Yet, we did feel that we had the capability to do more than we'd originally planned and I think most of you would be disappointed if we didn’t strive to create the best game we could.
While I’m not happy about our delay and I’m not trying to casually dismiss it, I do believe that a huge part of the reason developers and gamers alike are attracted to the crowd-funding model is the flexibility it provides developers to do what they think is right to ship the best game that they can.
Under normal circumstances, the delays we encountered wouldn’t push out our ship date; it would just mean that we would have to make cuts to features and content. Likely, in the end, we would have been forced to prematurely ship a game that was never allowed to reach its full potential.
So, here we are. It is August and we have to announce a delay, a significant one. I apologize for that and we are working hard to ensure that Grim Dawn will be worth your wait. Under the circumstances, we are also planning to alter our release schedule somewhat to compensate so that access to the game is no longer tied to specific development milestones, which I'm not sure really made sense to begin with. Instead, it will be more like earliest, earlier, early access.
Alpha is already out, as you know, and I’m happy to say that, based on feedback, the vast majority of those playing will tell you it was worth the wait. So, I hope those not playing the game can, in turn, wait a little longer for their releases. We’re hoping to open the game up to beta access in a few months. Then, at some point beyond that, once we have a critical mass of content ready to play, we’ll open it up to everyone who has backed the game.
I also wanted to say that the vast majority of you have been incredibly patient thus far and we greatly appreciate your understanding.
Now back to work…