About 3 meters from me, staring at two screens filled with funky windows full of debug data, one of my two favorite producers is violating at least three laws. I reflect on this talent that allows him to stitch together sexist, discriminatory and racist phrases while head-banging a keyboard and wonder which particular stimuli in his upbringing, environment or genetic constitution lie at the origin of such a prosaic ability.
In the end I decide it’s probably not the right moment to tell him that it could be that the plan changed, and that the presentations we’re preparing will be hands-on (i.e. the journalists get to play). My empathic thinking tells me that he first needs to assimilate his itinerary for the coming weeks, which he also just learnt about (for the simple reason that I just learnt about it myself, as did the publications we’ll be visiting ).
Said itinerary has him taking two planes pretty much every other day for a fortnight and during that time he’s expected to pretend that he’s still remotely coordinating activities on the Larian front and maintain whatever social relations that bless his life on his personal home front. While there for sure will be some fun to be had on this tour, he’s experienced enough to know that such an endeavor is going to be pretty tough, and I know that he cares enough to want to do this well, which makes it even tougher. He is pretty good at what he does and most certainly deserves a raise(*). So do I btw because I’m joining him
But because I’m in need of some feedback about the feasibility of the hands-on thing, I eventually bring it to him in what I consider at that particular moment a light tone:
“Dude, it’s going to be hands on, otherwise they don’t want to talk to us. They’ve seen the games before, and they need something new. We’re not big enough for them to do a feature about the fact that we have a new font. Hence, hands-on“
He reacts with a nervous laugh.
I expected more (“what about social stats? What about attacks of opportunity? What about…the impact of perception!!!”), but clearly he’s beyond that point, and, I realize he’s right.
The amount of possible development interventions is limited at this point. We can have discussions about saturation, we can argue over balancing values, we can express our frustrations over certain bugs, yes, but we can’t change a lot anymore, because we’re running out of time for this particular presentation. So hands on or hands off, it doesn’t make a difference – there’s nothing extra we can do.
Still, I expected him to come up with a list of reasons why the hands on is a bad idea. We haven’t done any usability, likeability, playability etceteraity tests yet. This and that feature still have stub artwork .That feature isn’t in. That thing doesn’t work. Something along those lines.
But in the end, no matter what hypothethical discussion we might have about this, he knows it wouldn’t matter, so he decides to use his energy for the task at hand.
Or perhaps, just perhaps, he thinks his game is in good enough shape.
Whichever it is, we are pretty much in an alea iacta est situation regarding the hands-on thing as the alea was already iacta’d the very day we decided that we were going to be showing Dragon Commander to an audience of a 1000 hardcore gamers at FOM, the biggest LAN party in Belgium, inviting them to come and play Dragon Commander and originally also Original Sin (we’re still deciding about the latter).
If you show it to 1000 hardcore gamers and give them the opportunity to play, you shouldn’t be afraid of letting people from the media play it, yet still, for some reason, that frightens me more than those 1000 players.
It was a mad plan we decided on a long time ago and in truth it should probably have been cancelled in light of the development tasklist but it wasn’t, meaning that impressively, we’re now indeed going to be standing at FOM with something playable, proving yet again that Larian indeed has the planning abilities normally only reserved for those professional companies we hear so much about and ensuring that yet again I will get many invitations from very reputed institutions to lecture on how to plan in a creative environment!
That we didn’t cancel our attendance at FOM is because we think we’ve finally cracked the gameplay of Dragon Commander,and so are ready to let people play it because we want to see if our thinking is right. The only catch is that up to this point the longest play session we’ve had in the office without encountering some blocking bug is something like 10 minutes, but well, we still have a bit of time. Panic will only come Friday evening or so. And if we’re in trouble now, it’s for the same old reason – we want to do too much too well.Not a vice per se, but damned annoying from time to time. And anyway, based on past experience, I’m pretty sure that somehow, we’ll manage.
Parallel to that, we also had to take on a bit of extra work just because we’re self-publishing little devs. So we decided to launch a new trailer & website, pretty much on the same dates as FOM, the idea being that now that we’ve actually gone ahead and changed the mechanics of the game, we need to communicate what we did as well as we can. Obviously that we’d need to communicate such things also came as an afterthought, so it was all done in a bit of a rush (we’re going to make the trailer tomorrow), but we’re confident that that too is something we’ll manage.
And because of that confidence, we’ve also invited a whole bunch of press to Larian to show both games, hoping that yet again, people will be willing to write about it just because they think their audiences will be interested in what we’re creating. And just to ensure we get the highest reach possible (or to increase or chances of finding the single interested soul) we’ve organized a tour around both Europe & the US for all the press that will not come to our offices. And then afterwards we’ve invited even more journalists. All in the hope that they’ll write about us, and spread the word…(which tbh they damn well should – both these games dangerously close to become very good games and yes, I know – I shouldn’t be the one saying that, but still, damned fine games if you ask me. )
Now obviously, if we don’t manage, we’re in a lot of pickles (is that even an expression ?), but as I said, I have faith – one of the many features a studio head needs to have if he wants to survive longer than a day in this job. That and a fierce believe in the “trust but verify” way of doing things
Somewhere in between those things we’re also going to be starting the process of translating all the text into different languages and recording the voices for the game, using our fantastic dialog pipeline which I wrote about before. (Writing this I’m actually looking at an animator who for the nth evening in a row is sitting late in the office, working diligently to ensure that the animation quality of the game will be way beyond what we could ordinarily afford with the budget we have, meriting a definite raise (*))
And we’re also prepping the pre-order thing, which tbh we didn’t think enough about and I still need to figure out between now and the weekend. And we’re prepping the public beta-testing thing. And we’re integrating the game into Steamworks. And we’re finalizing the box art. And…and…and…well, in general, we’re busy with the stuff typically associated with the endgame of a game development project. I’m not saying we’re not putting features in anymore, we are, but they are related to getting the game ready for shipping and not to inventing some new type of gameplay element anymore because really, we are nearing the point where we’re going to say, that’s it, fix the bugs and ship it.
And this time I actually say it with quite some certainty because in those ten minutes that I could actually play Dragon Commander today, it was clear to me that after all those tries, we finally found the gameplay mix that imho successfully blends RPG, strategy & action into a real time strategy game, and I’m very proud that we did, especially considering some of the decisions we had to take to get here.
So now we just need to finish the job. That should be simple enough after coming up with the Dragon Commander formula
If you want to personally check my theory that the gameplay of Dragon Commander is brilliant, and you happen to write for a publication of good repute (or ill repute in one particular exceptional case), do get in touch with us and we’ll happily try to organise something that will convince you that in fact, everything I said about Dragon Commander is right! That, or you can come to FOM & join the queue (at least, I hope there will be a queue, eventually )
(*) Obviously, any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental