I can hardly believe it's been over a year since Lifeless Planet was funded. But then this project has been full of "hard to believe" moments—almost all of them very good. At the start of this new year and as I work towards finishing the game, now may be a good time to reflect on some of those surprising milestones:
Yeah, $17,000 isn't much to brag about on Kickstarter these days, but at the time Lifeless Planet was funded, it was in the top 25 of all game projects (and arguably the number one action-adventure)!
I sometimes wonder what would've happened if I had posted a few months later, during the Kickstarter "gold rush." It's possible the final total would've been much greater. Or...the game might have been totally lost in the shuffle. So I'm honestly very happy with my "bird in the hand." Besides, the Kickstarter money allowed me to secure even more money (much more) from investors and a publisher. And any way you cut it, I'm doing what I love and paying the bills. That. Is. Huge.
Signed a Publisher
Kickstarter says posting a project is about more than raising money. I didn't fully understand what they meant until my inbox started filling up. I even got a message from a major movie studio about film rights! Don't first-time indie developers usually have to go begging for attention from these folks? This is just one of the intangible benefits of a successful Kickstarter campaign. I never imagined we'd be flying to London (half-way around the world from Alaska!) to sign a worldwide publishing deal. I was/am overwhelmed to have received so much support--by the hundreds!--from you, my Kickstarter backers (Note: This update was originally posted as an update to my backers on Kickstarter.com). I never expected all the press interviews and inquiries. It's hard to keep up sometimes, but this is a good problem for an indie developer to have.
Missed The Release Goal
I tried very hard to be up-front about the soft nature of the estimated release date. Partly this was because I was new to such a big project and was/am mostly doing it alone. But also I knew the project had potential to grow. If I had met my funding goal, but barely, I could still make a game. But it wouldn't be the Lifeless Planet of today...more on this below.
Featured at Lunarcade and PAX Prime
What an honor for Lifeless Planet to be featured alongside so many great games this year! You wonder why I haven't finished the game yet? Imagine the pressure of being exhibited in the same room as Dear Esther...
And once again the Kickstarter people proved how supportive they are of indies by inviting us to PAX Prime. Man, is Kickstarter cool!
A 60+ Page GDD Comes to Life
Early in this project I worked in earnest to flesh out a detailed game design doc. While it took a lot more time than I expected, it was time well spent. And the GDD is the reason I know this game will get done. Knowing exactly how many levels, puzzles, models, mechanics, scripts, etc. will be in the game from the start has helped ensure scope did not run out of control. I've been more than a little stressed the last few months as the project has stretched into the 11th hour, but I would be out of my mind if not for the GDD. Most of the levels are fleshed out now, and I know what needs to be done on those that remain. Yes, there's been a lot of stress, but there's also been a lot of delight at watching this world come into (virtual) existence.
THE JOURNEY SO FARTo tell where the project stands today, it's helpful to look back at where it started. For an example of what I mean, compare these scenes from my first test build (featured in the Kickstarter video) and a recent build of the game (from a level called "The Cliffs"):
I'm trying really hard to push Unity to the max in terms of graphical beauty. I remind myself that I'm only one guy, but at the same time the gamer doesn't care--they just want a spectacular world to explore. So I'm cutting corners and taking shortcuts where it doesn't hurt the overall experience, and putting as much time as I can into fleshing out a beautifully detailed world where it counts.
WHAT'S LEFT TO FINISHFrankly, there's a lot left to do, so I still can't give a firm release date yet. Here are the major items that need to be done:
- Finish building the last 4 (of 20) levels.
- Script 12-15 remaining cinematic scenes.
- Integrate remaining music into the game and cinematics--much of which has yet to be written.
- Finish writing/placing remaining log files/docs.
- Build the core game menu system.
- Finish adding details to the PDA.
- Tweak, tweak, tweak the gameplay!
- Finish texturing a few of the models.
- Add more details/refinements to some of the levels.
- Code a save/restore game interface.
- Release Alpha. Refine the game...
- Release Beta. Fix the bugs...
- Release the game!
THANK YOU!In closing, I want to say thank you again for your support and your patience over the last year. I won't lie: it has been very hard and I've learned a lot along the way. I like to say my strategy has been to push as hard as I can, hit "the wall," and then take a step back. Sometimes I have to walk away for 15 minutes. Sometimes for half a day (usually sleeping-in after a night of working past midnight). I've tried hard to take at least Sunday's off because I think I work better when I have at least one day a week to relax a little bit. But in general, I figure I've put at least two thousand hours into this project. Two thousand tough, rewarding, educational, brutal, wonderful, exciting hours.
I guess I'm trying to say that I take my commitment to you very seriously. I wish I were further along, but I also want to deliver an experience that meets your expectations. I'm trying very hard to do that, and I can't say enough how much I appreciate your continuing support.