The side journalists never see

[In which I discuss that preparing to present a game can be a very tough affair ]

Three sicks guys sitting in front of a TV screen in the middle of the night – one has a splitting headache, the other a bad case of chinese food poisoning and the third, being myself, has a high fever.

What are we doing ? Preparing for a horde of journalists invading our offices to check out our new games.

It’s not going well – Dragon Commander has been crashing randomly throughout the rehearsal presentations, and one of main features of project E game doesn’t seem to be doing what it should be doing.

I'm going to fire the cleaning crew - really, I am. that's what this blog entry is about :)

We’ve been ambitious in what we wanted to put in this demonstration, an now we’re paying the price.

One of the youngsters in the office asks me – are we going to make it? I smile reassuringly, and treat him to one of my warstories from past PR events. He walks away, slightly confused. Not sure I was that inspirational.

Speakers scream – “Project E – Yet another succesful build”.  We look up, hopefully, maybe this will be the one that miraculously fixes the problems.

Five minutes in our hopes are shattered. The game locks up when trying one of the more advanced things.

We agree that we’ll work until 2 am and then come back the next day – it happens to be a holiday.  We’ve been at it for a few weeks now, so we’re tired. I’m also proud, because a resilient core team refuses to admit defeat in the face imminent disaster.  As long as they struggle on, there’s hope.

Plan B’s & C’s are being formulated. If we can’t get this to work in time, we need to fake it. Can we ?

We’re long past thinking about the ethics of faking things in presentations – it’s accepted in our industry, everybody does it, even if nobody, including the developers themselves, like it. It’s a waste of work after all.

We agree to follow two tracks – one team tries to get the real thing working again, the other rapidly develops a plan B implementation that looks like the real thing. If first team fails, we’ll go with B. We also cut a couple of things from the presentation. We nod in agreement and go home.

It’s raining. I drive a designer home, get stuck in a traffic jam caused by a series of cars window-shopping the local prostitutes and curse – I’m really feeling sick and want to hit my bed asap.

Arriving home, my newborn son, two weeks old, decides it’s concert time. My girlfriend is trying to appease him.  She looks at me, smiles but I can see she’s tired.

I feel too sick to help her and hit the bed, coughing to the rythm of my baby boy’s cramps. I drug myself with painkillers, and try to get some sleep.

The next day I can hardly talk and everything hurts. A useful feature to have at this time I think. I arrive in the office later than agreed – I feel bad about that, but thankfully the emergency team is already hard at work, and they don’t seem to mind.

They’re making progress. I look at the games, cough & smile – they do look good.  It’ll be worth it.

I start writing out the notes about the things we definitely want to communicate. Vision, story, main features, nice to knows, history of development, where the games fit in the Divinity universe etc…

Next I start wondering about what questions they might ask us. We don’t have all the answers yet, we’re still developing, but it’s better to know up front what you’re going to say instead of improvising.

On my desk there’s a whole bunch of print outs dropped there by one of our producers– it’s reviews written by all the journalists coming, some of them are google translates. I start reading so I know who’l l be sitting in front of me, and what to watch out for. No use trying to pitch fancy dialogue options to a guy who hates dialogues in games. Luckily it looks like those aren’t part of the mix.

I make a mental note to congratulate our publishing team – they managed to bring over key press from almost each country we want to target – US, UK, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Benelux, etc… even the most important games site from Romania.Not bad for a small independent developer. We should get some coverage out of this.

The cleaning crew didn’t pass by. We need to fire them, this is the third or fourth time in a month’s time and the office is a mess. I start cleaning up, waiting for the team to tell me that they’re done. Not much I can do now except wait.

I reflect on the games we’re making. So many decisions were made to bring us to this point. Were they the right ones ? Will players get it ? I don’t know –no use in second guessing ourselves now. I really hope there’s not going to be one over-obvious thing we’ve overlooked that’s going to kill. It happens.

I read a preview of the Games of Thrones RPG– journalists are being tough on it. Eurogamer is complaining that Cyanide shouldn’t have been the one making this game – I think of the similar scenes they must have had in their office when preparing for their big presentation, and find the writers comment unfair. That’s no thing to say. That’s too personal.  He should stick to comments about the game. If this were a book preview, you wouldn’t attack the writer either, at least I hope you wouldn’t. It’s too easy.

Probably not the right time to criticize journalists either I say to myself.

Then I realize that I really shouldn’t care. We’ll be showing Larian games and as long as we believe in them, I really shouldn’t worry. The past has proven that whenever we believed in what we were making, our players had fun, and luckily for us, there’s a whole lot of these players. This despite some occasional very harsh criticism, typically from reviewers not in our target audience.

So I throw away the journalists profile, go to the meeting room where we’ll be doing the presentations, look at the screens and dream away thinking of the final results.

It seems my receptors are accepting the medecine I’ve been sending their way.

 

  • Juanpablo87

    Project E when will be released!? At what point is the development?

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      the news will be out before end of month (barely)

  • daniel

    Good luck with the press, and you’re also right, if the games are fun to play already, it will all be fine.
    So which benelux press is coming? :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      some ;)

  • http://twitter.com/SeanRidgeley Sean Ridgeley

    My favourite post on here yet, maybe. You’re quite a storyteller, Swen.

    I agree you should be confident in your work; it’s likely to make a better impression that way, at least on more insightful writers.

  • Ryan Dann

    Good luck! Will we be reading these journalists previews before, during, or after e3? I’m personally looking forward to project e’s unveiling. I hope it’s more DD, then D2.

    Also I love your blog! Develop great RPGs, take care of the new kid, and write this blog more!!! I think if more devs could be open like you are( which their publishers wouldn’t allow) it would make fans understand/respect them more. I don’t personally know you, but I know I’m routing for you, and your studio, mainly because of this “no bullshit” blog. Before I liked DD, now I like the studio behind the franchise. I’ll be buying DC solely based on that, regardless if I despise real time strategy type games. Keep it up!

    Btw, what sort of painkillers you popping over there? Over the counter, or stuff you scored from the local prostitutes on your way home from work?

    • Anonymous

      As described in the last blog post (The caveman who discovered fire), the intention was to give print media enough of a head start that they would be able to publish previews “just in time” for the E3 announcements (ie not get scooped by online media).

      http://www.lar.net/2012/04/20/the-caveman-who-discovered-fire/

      In a forum post a little more than a year ago, Swen wrote:
      “Talking about project E, the top-down thing has disadvantages when it
      comes to immersion, but it makes up in terms of some of the content
      things we can pull off with it. You can think of E as the original
      Divinity in a modern jacket augmented with many of the insights we
      gained over the course of they years and some new things we’d like to
      try out (with the caveat that those sometimes work, and sometimes
      don’t).”

      I don’t despise RTS games, but in general don’t care for them (have only tried a couple pure RTS games). After Divine Divinity and Beyond Divinity, though, I found a copy of L.E.D. Wars (Larian’s first released PC game) online, and bought that (which remains the only RTS game I own).

      I was planning on getting Dragon Commander in any case, but from what I’ve seen, the combat will be quite flexible, allowing you to play as straight flight combat with the dragon, mix in commands to your allies to varying degrees, or zoom out to an overview map to play in traditional RTS style.

  • Arne

    Are these presentations still going on today? Can we pop in and take a look? Just kidding
    Within a few months you’ll be smiling when recalling this article. I cannot wait to see the upcoming previews. Try to enjoy yourself, and if not, good luck!

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      we’re in the middle of one right this moment ;) ))

      • Arne

         How are ye holding up?

        • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

          i think everything went well, including the moment when the journalist walked through the doors with us and we had the team flashing silently behind his back: “20 more minutes! 20 more minutes for the new build to get uploaded!” :-)

          Swen’s off to sleep after three days of no rest. we’ve got the next group arriving on Sunday night, and then it will be non-stop fun until Wednesday afternoon. Uff.

  • Illusive Man

    Great blog entry. A really brilliant one ( maybe inspired by your sickness ).

    I feel disappointed about having to wait and go to other media ( paper and internet ) to see / learn / hear about your games when you have direct access to players with this blog , youtube , larian’s website and forums.
    Unfortunately that’s how it work. So I’ll wait for GameBanshee’s reviews of your games and lay down my quest for news on this side of the Web. Should have chosen the “Game Journalist” class back then when I undertake this quest…

    • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

      *hint*

      the publication that will reveal Project E first,has its name spelled like this: XX XXXXX.

      • Illusive Man

        Too bad, I ( and many many others ) don’t live in US or UK… which means no paper print or digital app of PC GAMER :’(

        Can’t go to E3 either.
        *mind wandering*
        Finally, what’s the point ?
        Why should players show early interest for games when PR requires another layer of media between them and developers ? They have to wait for magazines print, digital editorials and significant interest of people who haven’t yet been drowned by the “Hey ! Look at me !” wave.
        Only then will they have access to the holy grail of Knowledge, true believers and casual knights alike. The sole difference between these two : the WAIT.
         

        • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

          hey, come on! all the coverage from the print editions will be available online on the same day, in most of the countries Swen lists above. the Polish magazine goes on sale June 5th and a few days earlier, there will be a story online, etc. – all players will receive the information more or less on the same day. the thing about XX XXXXX, though, is that they’ve spent some quality time with us and we hope we’ve given them enough information / details to enable them to report on the bigger story of what these games mean to us as a studio…

      • Illusive Man

         ”all players will receive the information more or less on the same day.”

        Yep, that’s exactly what i’m saying. Which means that player A will shout a loud “Finally, Larian will come back to my computer !” nearly at the same time as player B says “Huh…sounds cool.”
        From a marketing point of view, there’s no difference between player A and player B. They are part of the target audience and the goal is to get to the larger audience possible.
        This blog entry ( and some previous ones ) teach us that it requires a lot of resources and time to achieve this goal, this could be hard and painful to set up all the presentation.

        From a player point of view, that’s a different song.
        A-type player have 10 000 posts on Larian’s forum, reads every tweet and blog from Swen, knows the Divinity Universe since the first game and he’s trying to figure how “Eyes”, “Teleporter stone” and project E fits in this Universe.
        B-type player just randomly read news on his favorite site or magazine and have never heard of Larian before. Eventually a bit of Divinity II and that’s all.
        Still, they’ll get the information more or less on the same day…

        First reaction after reading this blog entry could be “Wow. Great behind-the-scene story.”
        Then you realize that it can be resume by “It’s very hard to promote our games. We’ve done all this to tell game journalists so they can tell you what we have told them.”
        Second reaction : “Wait… what ?”

        All this marketing for hooking B-type players is a great job. But it does not fit for A-type players.
        I’m not saying they deserve more attention or more anything, but maybe you could approach them differently.

        Like pen a nice newsletter some days before articles’ release, had some never-seen before screenshots and send it to all the people who have registered for the Burning Imp DLC.
        And also post it on Larian’s forum.
        “Hey guys. That’s it, we’re about to announce Project E in a few days. We are very excited and we hope that many players will join our great community blahblahblah”.
        No information that will appear in others medias, it’s not about trying to upset XX XXXXX by cutting the grass under their feet ( this expression is more explicit in my country’s language :D ), just a little more for A-type players.
        Compared to time and resources invested in all the marketing, that’s no big deal but it could make a difference. Like consumers going on the “Ok, I’ll spend 60€ / $ on this game because it look good and I want to support Larian.”-way rather than on the “whatever… I’ll wait for the -75% discount on STEAM.”-way. 

        Swen has previously wrote Larian doesn’t count on sympathy to sell their games, but that doesn’t mean that you could not use sympathy as a plus.

        Now if you tell me that this kind of thing ( newsletter / forum updates ) is already planned, I won’t believe you :D

        But you can also consider that there is no need to differentiate players.
        We are all the same.
        We are Legion.

        • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

          a simple answer would be, we committed to the certain magazine’s exclusive right to reveal the project’s details, and so we can’t possibly talk about any details before they do so – this is our end of the promise with them.

          a more complex answer is, we currently are not where we want to be in terms of communication. in general (press, players, industry) and in particular (loyal forum readers). we’re looking into this after a) we finalize a few business deals currently on the table b) E3 c) 2 big post-E3 local events in local markets. then, i’ll have the time to deal with this properly, and deal with it i will.

          a great point about the DLC, though. i nearly have forgotten about it, for lack of sleep ;) . we’ll try to send some stuff out. same day as the XX XXXXX thing will show up.

        • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

          I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your post earlier, but as mentioned, I’ve been pretty ill & eventually my body just refused, luckily just after the first presentation ;)

          I can pretty much guarantee that people who’ll follow my posts or forum will know much more about the games than people who just read about it occasionally in the press. But it’ll be more things like -”Is Zandalor in ? Yes, he is in. Is Arhu in ? Yes, he is in, explicitly.” instead of major feature announcements because…   

          promising to give media exclusive information gains us more coverage, and since we don’t have gazillions to spend on marketing, it’s one of the things we have to do. This benefits the games directly, because coverage translates into better minimum guarantees, which translates itself in more funding for the game, which hopefully translates itself into more fun.

          And on the Eyes part – we actually changed the title of the game in the last couple of weeks, so my apologies for setting you on the wrong foot there, I didn’t know myself it was the wrong foot.

          • Lightinglockey

             Oh, would be great to see Arhu again, really missed him in DKS.  That is a very large compliment coming from a strict dog lover.

          • Arne

             Was’nt he part of FOV? And what’s wrong with dogs anyway?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Dragonseekers Sergei Klimov

    Anybody wants to see photos from the press event? I asked Thomas, Larian’s film/photo master, and he’s posted some in the Russian version of this blog:

    http://kanobu.ru/blog/id328525/

  • Arne

    How did it go?

  • Illusive Man

    Ave !
    I hope you’re getting better Swen… E3 is coming !

    Anyway, I just saw a recent concept art for DC on GameBanshee. Awesome.