James Petruzzi is busy getting us closer to the next milestone (see below!), so I’m filling in for him to write this month’s update. My name is Dan Adelman, and I do the biz dev and marketing for Chasm. If my name sounds familiar (and I’d honestly be surprised if it did to more than a handful of those reading this), it’s because I’m also the guy doing biz dev and marketing for Axiom Verge. Also, if you’re a Nintendo fan, I used to run the indie business there for about 9 years. But enough about me.
First Rough Cut Complete!
It’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to announce that Chasm is now a game. It’s playable from beginning to end. So what exactly does this mean, and what’s still left to do? Here’s what “rough cut” means in our minds. It includes:
- Main narrative
- Finalized World Layout & Powerups
- Fully-functional Procedural Area Generator
- Playable (but rough) Bosses & Minibosses
- Core enemy set (over 70!)
- Core room set (over 400!)
- Completed Area Tilesets
- Completed Soundtrack
- Completed In-game HUD and UI
We still have more work to do before we hit Beta though. Our number one focus right now is for the team to finally play the game from beginning to end, analyze what we have, and see what needs improved before we move on. On top of that, there are a number of things we already know we still need to do like:
- Locking down secondary systems like the spells and item drops
- Design Puzzle/challenge rooms
- Improve the enemy spawning system
- Script complex events and cinematic sequences like the ending / epilogue
- Create the rest of the NPCs, and how the town will change as you restore it
- Finish up the boss battles
- Custom backgrounds (ie. bossrooms & other unique backdrops)
- Extra content like more rooms, items, enemies, and sidequests
- Sound effects
- Balancing & Polish
So as you can see, we still have a lot to work on, but getting to the point where Chasm is playable from beginning to end is a huge milestone! It was no easy feat designing a procedurally-generated Metroidvania, but we feel like we were able to crack the code. With the core of the game now completed, we’re excited to finally focus all our efforts on the details (admittedly the most fun part of the project!) that really make the experience.
“Why do indie games take so long to make?”
At PAX East last month, I was chatting with a games journalist who asked what I considered to be a very surprising question. He wanted to know why some games come out 6 months after they’re announced, but many indie games can take years. I was surprised by the question, because I thought the answer was well-understood and obvious. But in case it isn’t, I thought it might be a good idea to explain some of the key reasons for this perception.
Development on many games starts with something called a Game Design Doc (GDD). Before any coders, artists, animators, musicians, etc. get to work, everything in the game is planned and written out, so everyone can be super efficient in building the game to spec. More and more, though, developers are moving away from using GDDs, because the plans tend to get abandoned pretty early on. It happens so often that what sounded like a great idea on paper turned out to be not as much fun in practice. Also, during development new ideas come up that weren’t obvious in the beginning. So now, instead of writing up a highly detailed GDD, it’s becoming more common for people to write up an outline – the pillars of what the game will be, some key guiding principles, and then adjusting the game over time. Unfortunately, it still doesn't make game development schedules any less unpredictable. Games that everyone thought would take a year wind up taking 3, 4, or even 5. For example, Fez took 5 years, as did Axiom Verge.
But normally people don’t even notice the delays. Take Civ 6 for example. Even though I’m usually not a strategy game fan myself, I’m a huge Civ fan. They recently posted the trailer for the next game in the series, and it’s coming out on October 21. The first time they even announced the game, they were able to tell the world exactly when it will release. All of the Civ fans around the world are able to remain blissfully ignorant of all of the internal delays, work that hit the cutting room floor, and changes in creative direction. Firaxis was able to wait until they knew the game was more or less done before they even started talking about it.
We announced Chasm several years ago. Why did it make sense for us to talk about Chasm long before we knew when we would launch when Firaxis was able to hold off until they were essentially done with production? I’d argue there are two primary reasons: building an audience and getting the funds to make the game. A franchise like Civilization has a dedicated following, earned by decades of high quality sequels and add-ons. Many people, myself included, will buy it day one from strength of the brand alone. Chasm, on the other hand, started unknown. And even though we’ve been talking about it for 3 years, going to events like PAX, GDC, IndieCade, and E3, we’ve still got a tall hill to climb. It’s gratifying to see that people have taken notice – Sony put us in their retail kiosks, we’ve been featured on all of the major gaming websites, but we are still one of hundreds of indie games out there, and continuing to push for visibility is critical. The biggest downside of course is that the people who found out about and started supporting us earliest – our Kickstarter backers – feel like they’ve been waiting the longest.
Funding was another reason we had to announce Chasm so early in development. There are a few different ways developers approach Kickstarter. (All reasonable and legitimate, by the way. I don’t want to come off as judgmental about which is better than which.) For some, it’s essentially like a pre-order campaign. They don’t really need the money for development, since it’s fully funded and almost complete. By announcing it on Kickstarter, they start to book early sales and also get a community going. For others, it’s about getting partial funding, and proving to a publisher that there’s a potential audience out there so they can get the funding they really need. For Chasm, it was really about getting the funds necessary to produce the game. When the Kickstarter campaign was put together, Chasm was in the early prototype stage. James and Tim had taken it as far as they could in their spare time, but to take it into full production would require funding. So instead of coming toward the end of the development process at around the time the final release date could be predicted within a narrow range, Chasm really got started with the Kickstarter. Even when production started in earnest, almost everything in the duct-taped together prototype had to be redone, so the team essentially started back from ground zero.
All of our backers have been incredibly supportive, and I wanted to thank you for that. As Miyamoto famously said, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” We are focused on making Chasm as good as we know it can be.
PAX East Recap
In addition to all of the development we’ve been focused on, James Petruzzi, Tim Dodd, and I went to Boston for PAX East! Because I’m personally involved in both Axiom Verge and Chasm, we decided to do a larger booth with a unified theme:
We had incredible traffic. Our four stations were all occupied pretty much from the time the doors opened until they closed.
A bunch of press came by, and our friends from Kinda Funny also stopped to say hi:
Last but not least, Chasm won several awards at the show including "Best Indie Game" from DM21!
Thanks again for your patience and passion for Chasm. Next month we’ll give a full rundown of how our testing of the rough cut went and how we’re marching forward to the full beta. Stay tuned!