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Magic Game Update - December 2014

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slayemin

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The source of my stress stems from money issues. I had this idea that I would invest all of my savings in the stock market and then operate my business off of the interest of the investments. Great idea, in theory, but it assumes that your stocks are going to be worth more rather than less. In my case, I've lost a ton of money. That has changed how "relaxed" I am about the game production. I used to have about 3.5 years till my bank account dried up and was shooting for a 2 year production cycle, with the extra cash being used for paying outside people and cost overruns. That's no longer an option, and that's been causing my production schedule to change. So, that has been my #1 mistake in this whole project. If I could go back in time and not know how the markets perform, I'd probably repeat the same mistake. So, here's the rule: If you invest money, be prepared to lose it all. If you can't afford that risk, don't invest it.

So, the financial pressure has me seriously re-evaluating my sources for financing this project. Previously, I thought I wouldn't ever need to consider a kick-starter project. Talking to a publisher sounded like a "nice to have" (The dream: Paradox). I'm entertaining the idea of pitching to venture capitalists. The concern at the top of my mind with all of this is, "What do I have to give up to get financing from various parties?" (assuming of course, anyone would even want to help with the financing). All I want for Christmas is a huge jump in my stock portfolio value so that I can work longer on this game. There is a reasonably good chance that even if I finish this game, nobody will want to buy it. I'm taking some lessons from the book "The Lean Startup" and trying to play test my game as early as possible with people who might be future customers so that we don't make a game with a glaring flaw in my blind spot when we release to market. My risk taking demon is telling me to charge forward courageously and go for broke and see how far I can run before failure catches me. Maybe something good may come of all this?

Anyways, all this business talk is dry. Let's talk about the game itself!

I put together a 2 minute video of the evolution of the game production (no sound):
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We have switched to building the production version of the game! The last still image in the video is a screenshot of the beautiful landscape being built (it's a work in progress). I'm getting familiar with Unreal Engine 4 and how to integrate C++ code with their blueprint system. I'm mostly going to be focusing on porting my existing C# code into UE4 and that requires a bit of a pivot in thinking. The good news is that it's going fast! So, that bodes well for a shortened time schedule and relieves a bit of my project anxiety. I'm excited to see where this goes. Based on how much work I got done in the last few months, I expect lots of amazing progress in the upcoming months.
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Switching to prod is a big step. Are you sure you've been able to determine from your prototype that the game worked and was fun?

Could you describe the full game experience from the prototype alone?

From what I've seen, (and I've played the nov prototype) one can fire spells at their opponents, move units, and engage in combat (including archery) but the entire economy concept seems to be lost in the process unless I've missed that point, or it somehow evolved?

 

What have you toned down specifically to keep it coherent with your shifting finances? I'm curious about the thought process and inherent decisions taken there.

 

Also, regarding stockmarket, what did you invest in? I would assume not IT (so as to put your eggs in a different basket). My personal take would've been gemstones because they tend to return safe value over time regardless of market swings, unless you end up putting everything into bogus mining companies that "think" they found gold and turn up short.

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Yeah, we realized that if we were going to spend any more time building the digital version of the prototype, it would mostly be wasted time (and come with an opportunity cost -- prototyping time eats production time!). It was just taking too long to get a good iteration cycle going. We couldn't fail fast enough. So I decided it would be faster and better to just use index cards on a table top to prototype the game play. I was partially correct. I sat down with my artist and we spent an entire day playing through the game campaign and participating in the tactical battles. It was fun to play and helped us see what the game should look like and how the core works. We also saw what parts needed some work and were able to make changes to the game play mechanics in a few minutes in notepad. If we had built the game in code, it would have taken a lot longer to implement the rule changes. What didn't work? Well, index cards and bits of paper are unwieldy to work with. It's easy to accidentally move something unintentionally. It's also computationally expensive to do the battles manually, so I spent a day writing up a battle calculator to reflect the game combat. All in all, we gained a pretty solid grasp of how the core aspects of the game should play. There are certainly some design blind spots which we'll run into, but I don't think they'll be show stoppingly disruptive.

 

As far as scaling things back, we initially had a 40 page design document of all the game systems we wanted to include in the game. We wanted crafting. A village simulation. Castle building. Custom building design. Wizard training. Creep spawners which add tower defense style play mechanics. Fog of war game mechanics, where you had to send messengers to your distant armies, etc. It all got cut. It's just too much for two people on a tight schedule. If we had more time or money, we could revisit some of these ideas and include them. But they aren't essential to the game play. How did I decide what gets cut and what doesn't? You have to sit down and ask this question for every feature in the game: If I remove this feature, do I still have the core essence of the game I'm trying to make? Our game is about magic and unit tactics in the context of a larger campaign map. A crafting system is interesting, but not the identity of the game. It can be cut. I pared the game down and pretty much wrote a bullet pointed list of game rules. It's 180 lines of text and can be used like a rule book for playing the game manually.

 

At the end of the day, we have to decide if we want to build and ship a game which is simple and polished and we know we can ship, or if we want to take a big risk building a really complicated game, risk not having any time to polish it, and risk not being able to properly QA it before the deadline. The differences are pretty stark, so it makes it easy to decide on a more limited feature set with more polish. If the game is well received by customers and we get sufficient cash from sales, we can look at releasing a sequel which has many more of the features I had to cut. It sucks to not be able to build the originally envisioned game, but it would have required a team of at least 15 people, 3 years, and $2.8 million to pay everyones wages and operating costs. I certainly don't have those resources laying around, so the pragmatic thing to do is cut features until the costs match my available resources.

As for the stock market: I've been invested in solar power companies and Fannie Mae. I was doing really good for a while, but this summer and fall has not been kind to my portfolio. I am probably not a very prudent investor, so I probably deserve to get burned. If I was smarter, I would have just put all of my money in a nice conservative index fund.

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"If I remove this feature, do I still have the core essence of the game I'm trying to make? Our game is about magic and unit tactics in the context of a larger campaign map. A crafting system is interesting, but not the identity of the game. It can be cut. I pared the game down and pretty much wrote a bullet pointed list of game rules. It's 180 lines of text and can be used like a rule book for playing the game manually."

 

I'm glad that you're getting a good feel as to what your "MVP" actually is. That design was feature heavy, I wouldn't say it lacked direction, but it had a lot of moving parts that did not feel like they needed to be there (at least at first).

 

"solar power companies and Fannie Mae."

That's putting your eggs into 2 baskets. I think there's a middle ground between that and investing in something overly conservative. With the recession coming up, I'm considering investing in gold and gems. Historically, every recession, their value increases. Not sure whether to look into jewelry, mining, or whatnot (from experience, mining can be quite tricky!).

 

That being said, and to be more on topic, can't wait for your January post (if it ever comes...)

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