You always have to be prepared to look at what you’re spending your time on during a game project and ask yourself: Is this really necessary?
This is doubly true of a project that’s got a budget and a limited runway in terms of when you can afford to still be working on this thing… So during a some recent time off during a public holiday, inbetween trampolining and exploring the mountains along our south coast, I had the chance to take a step back from the work-face and consider a few things.
The biggest question: Is the Kingdom worth it?
Specifically, is the graphical representation of the Kingdom in Desktop Dungeons worth it? It performs fine as a progression menu in the game, it gives players meaningful goals and manages quests, etc. That’s all great, but do we need it to look as detailed as we’ve been trying to make it?
The background on the Kingdom’s “new look” (which to us isn’t new at all) is that Lurk first drew a few Kingdom concepts back in the early days of us starting to work on ways to expand Desktop Dungeons into something better than the free alpha. His concepts were great and quickly got us thinking about a lush field, full of upgradable buildings and quirky little touches. The idea totally blew away the alpha’s ugly starting screen with its incomprehensible options, but the sad truth is that the actual Kingdom menu that had been in the beta for so long was the result of us crunching like mad to get the game playable before GDC 2011. It was, as many of you know, another ugly collection of (often incomprehensible) buttons…
We only recently managed to replace that menu with something resembling the Kingdom concepts of old, why did it take us so long? Well, it turns out that getting all that art to play nicely with progression is incredibly tricky. Finding an artist that could take on Lurk’s singularly detailed painted style was one thing (Hi Dorianne!), but we also had to do a lot of engineering to make it work the way we wanted it to.
I spent 4 months on a tool that would allow Dorianne to work on the Kingdom in a similar way to how she’d worked wonders with the tilesets. We had endless back and forth sessions on what individual buildings should look like and how they interacted with their neighbors from both a graphical and functional perspective as a sort of stealth menu. And it’s worth noting that this wasn’t an acrimonious process! We were all pretty happy with everything, it was just taking forever. It didn’t really matter that the buildings and their upgrades were all written up in the game’s design wiki years ago, things had to be concepted, painted, re-sampled to lower resolutions, touched up, polished, re-drawn, transferred to polys, integrated into display groups, logically tied to mouse actions and put into the overall progression before they were even viewable in the game. Yes, the LayerSet editor allowed us to do WYSIWYG edits, but that mostly resulted in tons of re-drawing and polishing, which took up tons of time.
Time which we’re starting to have problems affording.
So, the question burned away while I was trying to remember how to stop pulling to the right during backflips: If we don’t have the fully-featured Kingdom we see in our heads, what takes its place? Once I got back to the office, I lobbed the same question at Marc and we tried to be as ruthless as possible. We decided that we needed to have the Kingdom done and dusted by the end of this month. If that meant going with a simpler, less rich version of the Kingdom screen that was essentially a skin over simpler buttons, so be it. The deciding factor would be how efficient we could get with the production of the Kingdom we really wanted, so out came the big lists of stuff that needed doing and we crunched at that until we had a critical path.
We presented Dorianne with both options, the cut down Kingdom as a recovery plan if we didn’t get far enough on the full thing’s milestones this week and next. Dorianne told us how we could help it all happen faster too and a significant chunk of my time has moved from coding to managing art… How are we doing so far? Well, I’ll let you judge for yourselves: