[In which I discuss that shows like E3 force developers to think about the essence of their games ]
I’m writing this one from the airport. We’re finally packed up and good to go after what seems to have been a pretty good E3 for us. I have to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve been so exhausted. But I’m also happy.
The road to LA started about 2 months ago for us, and when we began this particular journey, it looked like it was going to be smooth sailing. That didn’t last very long with the first crack in the plan appearing when we realized that in order to be featured in magazines at the time of the Divinity – Original Sin announcement, we’d need to show the demos we wanted to show at E3, one month before the actual show.
You’d think that after having been 15 years in this industry I could’ve predicted that one, but for some reason, the thought never occured to me, and the result of course was that we needed quite a few heroic development efforts to save the day.
Actually, when Tom, our PR agent, told us in april that he scored a visit from PC Gamer to our offices, my initial reaction was to cancel the entire thing. At that time we literally didn’t have a lot to show. Our development had been organized such that it would suffer minimal impact from having to make a demo for E3, but that visit meant we had to somehow cram 8 weeks of work in 3 weeks or so.
It was madness, but in hindsight, I’m glad we did it.
The major reason for that is that it gave us an an opportunity to test-run our presentations on a real life journalist and see if what we were trying to communicate actually registered. While I think the presentation we gave to Richard from PC Gamer was probably the weakest of the bunch, it did help massively to make the future presentations a lot better. Richard unwittingly became our guinea pig 😉
Next came the horde of journalists from all over Europe that invaded the Larian offices for a period of two weeks or so. That too wasn’t planned in our original E3 schedule. Given that we knew from the PC Gamer presentation what worked and what didn’t, we rushed to fix as much as we could between the period of the PC Gamer visit and the other visits, making plenty of changes in our approach and again not sleeping a lot`.
Here too we learnt a lot about how to present our games, because 15 guinea pigs are better than 1 😉 So when those presentations were done, and there were only three weeks left before E3, we decided to turn the wheel yet again and made plenty of changes, knowing full well that we were playing with fire. A lot of short nights followed once again, and we actually boarded our plane to LA with builds that had been made only hours before.
It was a very very close call.
Arriving in LA, with a jetlag that received a boost from all those short nights, we spent two days rehearsing nearly every word. Realizing that some things still didn’t communicate as well as we’d wanted them to, we even fired up the game editors and changed things one day before the show.
I’m pretty sure most development directors reading this aren’t approving of this one bit. We could’ve gone with a slightly improved version of what we showed to PC Gamer a month before, and that would’ve worked too, because in the end they are the same games. However, reading the first coverage I think all the effort was really worth it.
For one, what I’m reading corresponds with what we wanted to tell. I’ve read previews in the past that didn’t do that at all. On top of that, reading what’s being written makes me want to try out the games. I’m not sure that was the case with the previous coverage. People are still being cautious, which makes sense given that they’ve only seen the games for 10 minutes, but they did seem enthusiastic . That I think only happened because for most of the things we told them, there was something happening on the screen that corresponded to the words we were saying.
I read an interview somewhere, I think with somebody who was formerly at EA, that he considered E3 & events like it a necessary evil to force focus on making the essence of a game crystalize. It’s painful for the development teams, buy it ensures that they don’t get sidetracked in features that aren’t important, and it stress-tests their development pipelines. That observation was clearly based on experience.
Prior to going to doing all these presentations, we were unsure ourselves about certain things, but this event forced us to think things through and decide about them. It also gave us a couple of new ideas which originated by discussing with industry people. The warrior skills in Divinity – Original Sin for instance will undergo some change based on an idea a journalist gave us.
I’ll let you judge for yourselves how good our presentations were (or not) by posting videos when we get back to the office, but I really need to go board now. Here’s in any case the wrap-up of how people reacted to Divinity – Original Sin.