Rob here with a belated new year update; going to discuss something very frank with everyone about Cryamore's development.
TL;DR: There's nothing bad going on and development is picking up again. For the detailed long read, please continue:
There's a lot about this project that personally I, and my partner Alan, feel we are ashamed of. We started an ambitious project together that is considered "crazy" for the typical first commercial indie game project. A rather large world, tons of characters, tons of enemies, a fully-written narrative, a detailed art and animation style, a robust ability system, 50+ track soundtrack; the list goes on. We've admitted that we made a mistake on our projection of when we'd be done with it in 2014.
However, we still feel guilty of that despite making a wealth of progress throughout development. We've been actively reading the comments here on the page, and though we're fatigued by the content of some of them, the positive ones spur us on to keep going. But that's not why I'm writing this update. I wanted to be as transparent as I could and give everyone a detailed explanation as to why there's been a developmental lull in contrast to earlier years.
A Personal Recap
Around 2015, I started having huge issues in my personal life. Without getting too personal, up until the end of 2016 I lost a support system from lifelong friends and family. I was thrown into a huge case dealing with my now ex-wife (I made the decision to divorce her in 2017, close to 12 years of a relationship), and I haven't been quite the same since in that regard. I lost a lot of myself there. Simultaneously, I also dealt with a situation that forced me to dissociate myself with friends and family.
While I did have the support of my core teammates during this time (Alan, Mike, Aivi, Surasshu, JC, and Judy; and I can't thank them enough for building me up and sticking with me. I personally consider them my new extended family at this point), in mid-2018, Alan unexpectedly lost his father in death. That threw him for a loop and he had to travel out of the country to deal with that tragedy. I had to take up the mantle on keeping everyone updated in that time again, but during that time, I've been working to relocate and start my life fresh across the country by moving to the west coast.
So, needless to say further, we've been through a lot in the past 3-4 years. It's weird to associate the development of Cryamore with so much that went on in our lives personally, but that's simply the nature of working on a project for a good chunk of your life. With that said, these negative experiences, albeit slowing us down, did not make us want to give up by any means. It did the opposite. We've already invested so much time, money, sweat, and tears at this point, it would be foolish to. So let's talk about where the game is currently at, because that's the most important thing.
Cryamore's State: The Honest Truth
As aforementioned, Cryamore is a big game by indie standards. Let me give a rough recap of everything we've made so far:
- Programmed the full game and most of its tools and systems essentially from scratch
- Close to 4,000 sprite animation frames of characters and enemies (Esmy alone has close to 1,200 frames of animation)
- A wealth of in-game art and dialogue portraits
- Designed and implemented 8 dungeons, as well as an overarching Overworld environment
- Wrote the main story, side quests, and chapter-specific dialogue from start to finish
- Composed, arranged, and recorded close to 50 pieces of individual music
So yeah, we've done quite a bit here over the course of our development time. If you were to ask me for a rough, approximate number, the game is at about 50-60% complete, because art asset production and polish takes the most time. But with this knowledge brings another whole ordeal that we recently dealt with, and we made a rather significant developmental shift. Let's talk about that.
Cryamore ver. 2.0?
Starting a game in early 2013 and continuing development to today has presented quite a few interesting, albeit not unique, problems:
First off, our engine Unity 4 was becoming too outdated to work with. The editor would constantly crash because of dealing with large texture files that it couldn't smoothly handle and such. Secondly, we couldn't even port to current generation consoles with it, requiring us to port the existing game entirely to Unity 2018 in order to be up-to-date with the rest of the world. We want the game to be on the Nintendo Switch, for example, and that was a base requirement.
As we made this decision, we started thinking about the entirety of our game's development process. All the trial and error, hacked-together scripts that we settled with because everything "just worked", tons of content and features that we cut that were still lingering in our project and builds, etc. At that time, the game was fully playable from start to finish in the most roughest state imaginable-- every dungeon was in but looked like a horrible batch of boxes and bosses were implemented but were supremely buggy.
When we noticed this, it became evident that we were, essentially, working on a prototype of the full game all this time while producing final assets. Upon the porting process, we started looking at the game rationally. By that time, we intentionally settled on just myself and Alan to build the rest of the game because of low funding at the time, but also because we grew a lot in our skills. I’m a programmer now, compared to when we first started off, for instance. There’s just so much we’ve learned throughout the course of this game’s development. We didn't want to touch the remainder of our bank with our Atlus partnership, and we already spent the development portion of Kickstarter funds towards, well, development. So we took the route of pulling in side work to keep us fed while hacking away at the game after our "work shifts". However, making this change made us realize how much our direction of the game was problematic, particularly in our environment process...
A More... Lush... Environment
Our 2D method was rough on us the entire length of development. In so many words, we were making a rather big top-down 2D world with insanely large texture files sometimes that faked 3D in a 3D engine. Preposterous, to say the least, but a valiant effort nonetheless. In a smaller game, this wouldn’t be an issue, but for what we want Cryamore to be in the end (something akin to the scope of a 90s Playstation action RPG), we were making things unnecessarily more difficult for us.
For example, water depth in dungeons. A design element for action RPGs that’s been a staple since The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past that we initially wanted in our game had to be cut simply because our unorthodox 2D environment/background direction didn’t play nice with it. Previously, we tried so many avenues of reinventing that wheel that just resulted in lost time and effort, when we could’ve been done with it in an hour by incorporating 3D into the toolset.
Cryamore Has Gone 2.5D
We are beyond excited about this shift!
Although this appears like a step back, it’s in fact the opposite. A lot of the game’s environments on "version 1.0" weren’t fully finished, and what was finished wasn’t exactly our favorite work, critically. Environments in full 2D has plagued us the entire project, so it made no sense to continue that trend with our new development outlook when we began porting the existing game on over. Instead, it brought us so much more room to play with!
- Level design & creation is the greatest factor. Building scenes in 3D space is way more intuitive and efficient than the previous workflow using large 2D textures, painstakingly applying boundary edges on each element, and cutting up pieces of areas just to make Esmy and character objects appear as if they’re behind them. This is all intrinsically automatic with 3D. Also, 3D assets are infinitely more usable than 2D ones simply for being able to rotate and scale while dressing the levels. And the best aspect is that we still retain our artistic, hand-painted aesthetic, with readable depth. Lighting is a key part of the game now instead of faked effects that were just moderately okay previously.
- Gameplay. A chunk of our existing abilities were pretty stale and it was rather difficult to make it all convincing using faked physics. Esmy will be able to actually JUMP now (with the Anemojump ability); proper elevation is an integral part of the levels and now becomes a key gameplay element. You should look at our old code for our old 2D elevation floor system; it was the most ridiculous thing imaginable just to get enemies on different “floors”. Physics and obstacles make a wealth of sense now. And a lot of designs we've abandoned because of the previous limitations, we can actually integrate now.
- Asynchronous level loading. We were tired of the small, contained rooms. Previously, when traversing the overworld, the constant black-screened scene loading that took you out of the game is just outdated. Because everything's in 3D, the player can stay out in the world/locales longer without hitting a black screen every 45 seconds. Even though it’s not that much larger, along with the new depth, it makes the overworld (and dungeons) appear much larger than they actually are, which is a satisfying feeling when playing through.
In short, this change has made the largest part of our development more efficient and faster to continue to work on. Who’da thunk it? (Don’t answer this question, it’s rhetorical.)
I would like to end this update on a good note. We’re alive. We’re well. I'm in a new location, and feeling good, and secured a great side gig the beginning of this year that will help Cryamore pick up steam again considerably, so we can hire more assistance and push the remainder of this game on through the finish line. So, there’s a lot to look forward to! I purposefully only showed the initial prototype work that we’ve done last year because once you see the new reveal in its entirety, we’re sure you’ll appreciate the result.
Our primary goal right now is giving everyone that playable demo you’ve all been asking for. And we’re making it the best playable demo you could ever want to play to our ability. We will keep everyone apprised on the details of our transition and development further from this point forward up until that time.
We want to thank everyone for continuing to be patient with us. We know it’s been a long wait and a lot of mistakes have been made, but we have not backed off on our initial promise. All we ask is that you remain to be patient with us!