Dolores & Daniel got married the other day. They are one of the couples that used Divinity:Original Sin as a marriage proposal tool and represent one of my favorite examples of why I love my job so much. Their thank-you-mail complemented with wedding pictures arrived just as we were preparing the announcement of Divinity:Original Sin – Enhanced Edition for Xbox One/PS4/PC/Mac/Linux/SteamOS and was eagerly shared in the office – it really is the type of stuff that makes developers tick.
Their mail brought to mind an image we used to pitch Divinity:Original Sin to console publishers, back in 2011. It features our two main heroes sitting on a couch, playing Divinity:Original Sin together with a controller in local coop. For some reason, the vision wasn’t strong enough to convince the publisher acquisition guys back then, even if I told them I thought this was the best thing to happen to console gaming ever. Maybe they would’ve changed their minds if we’d put in a picture of Dolores & Daniel.
A long time ago, back in the days when I was pitching Divine Divinity to UK press, I came up with an acronym that described what I thought was important in computer role playing games. I engaged in this particular mental exercise because I needed something to tell all those journalists I was about to meet, and I knew that there’d be many awkward moments during which we’d have to patiently wait for a reboot of the game after one its many guaranteed crashes.
And so it came to be that my youthful self invented the FUME paradigm, a pattern against which one can evaluate the likelyhood of Swen falling in love with a RPG, or not. If it scores low on the FUME scale, statements you can expect from me include such gems as “it sucks” or “that shouldn’t have been made”. But if it scores high on the same scale, I’ll keep on talking about it for ever and ever. Ultima VII for instance did pretty well on the FUME scale, as did Fallout 2. I’d love to include a modern RPG here, but sadly there are none that I played that score as highly as those games did.
The danger exists that that last statement makes you think that I’m one of those cynics that thinks all CRPGs are shit, but that wouldn’t be right. On the contrary, I think there have been many breakthroughs over the last decades in CRPG design – the only problem is just that there hasn’t been a single game yet that incorporates everything I want to see in one game, and production constraints over the last couple of yours seem to have blocked the kind of development I’d liked to see. But even if I’m slightly disappointed with the lastest RPG incarnations, I do remain optimistic about the future, because I firmly believe that in the end progress can’t be halted.
I have these little notebooks in which I write down my thoughts. Every day I fill a couple of pages with new observations, questions and decisions. Whenever a notebook is full, I put it in a drawer, there to stay until the drawer is full at which point I empty the drawer, and put the notebooks in a box. I really don’t know why I bother with it, because I rarely read what I wrote, but I guess it helps me organise my thoughts. It also makes it look like I’m paying attention in meetings I’m not particularly interested in 😉
If you’d take the notebook that says January 2013, you’d see that I listed as major tasks for 2013, the organising Divinity: Original Sin’s kickstarter, releasing Dragon Commander and releasing Divinity: Original Sin. At that time, I only had hopes and aspirations and I really didn’t have a clue whether or not my plans were going to work.
Taking risks is of course part of the metier of running a game development studio, and there’s only that much that you can do to cover your bets. You know certain things will go wrong, you hope more things will go right. So last night, I started thinking about how we were doing compared to what I hoped for at the start of 2013…
I mention Dragon Commander a lot in this blog. If you don’t know what the game is about, it was released on August 6th 2013, and we made this fancy trailer to explain the game
One of my best friends told me that I really should update my blog. I explained to him that I’m literally working from six in the morning until midnight trying to get Dragon Commander out of the door and that the last thing I want to do in my current schedule is spend what little free or sleeping time I have left writing about work. He shrugged, repeated three times that I should update my blog, and then proceeded on another topic.
Net result: I’m updating my blog. He can be convincing.
Chances are that I will not be seeing things so clear anymore during our Christmas party this friday, so I decided to post my New Year’s letter here ahead of time. Remembering what happened the previous years, I’m sure you’ll understand 😉
You know, one thing I love (and occasionally hate) about my job is that I never know what the day is going to bring me. On most days I come to the office with a vague idea of what I need to do, and typically by the time I reach my desk, my todo list has already changed. While this occasionally leads to a bit of chaos, I have to admit that I wouldn’t want it any other way, because all these little surprises combined together keep me sharp and make my life even more interesting.
I mention this because while reflecting upon yet another year of Larian in action, I discovered a few differences between what I expected at the end of 2011 and what actually happened in 2012. From this it could be derived that my expectations for next year are probably going to be wrong again, but you will notice that this time, I’ve tried to keep them fairly realistic 😉
We’re entering our last six months of development on Dragon Commander, meaning that things are getting serious now. Pretty soon we’ll have to prove that our adventures and experiments in the wonderful land of independence and self-publishing were fruitful, and show that we’re capable of launching a game worldwide on our own, both digitally and via retail and preferably with a certain degree of success.
This is an example of the kind of stuff we've been doing trying to boost our reach on Facebook. It has some impact, but we have no idea if we're actually doing the right thing.
That success is far from certain, and there are plenty of cracks in the floor that we’ll need to hop over to break even on this game. This post is about a few very specific issues we’re dealing with, and I wanted to check if there’s anybody here reading this blog who has a couple of bright ideas that might help us forward. Your help will be most appreciated!
Dialogs have always been an important thing in Larian games.
Because text is just text, ever since Divine Divinity we’ve always been trying to bring life to our in-game conversations. I think that so far we managed to do a decent job, but it’s fair to say that there have been some slip-ups. The most memorable of these was of course the voice of the Death Knight in Beyond Divinity. That one was judged to be so bad by our forum community (who are a very vocal bunch) that we had to do a tactical retreat and rerecord the entire thing.
In a previous entry on the joys of making the Divinity Anthology, I mentioned that I was fairly stressed about some re-design work, but to be fair, that was a bit of a euphemism. What I should’ve written was that I was experiencing sheer terror at the thought that we’d made some incredibly big design mistakes with Divinity: Dragon Commander and that there was no way we could still correct them in time.
It became so bad it kept me awake at night (this game is important for Larian), and together with a whole bunch of other shit going on simultaneously, that meant I started to look like the zombie in the boxshot of Divinity II: Flames Of Vengeance.
To understand the problem we were dealing with, I first need to explain a bit about the architecture of Divinity: Dragon Commander.
Dragon Commander: wreaking havoc in the skies. But that is not all…
How can a good thing be a bad thing? And how can a bad thing be a good thing ?
This game should be releasing any moment now on www.gog.com/divinity, and yes it is LMK!
Those are two questions that have been stressing me for the last few days, and if you read my last entry, you already know that I wasn’t exactly in a state of zen to begin with. So what happened this time?
Well, let me start with the easy part, and to be fair, also the part that occupied me the least because it turned out to be a good thing.
I got an email today from a very good creative producer I’ve known for years, commenting on the price point of the Divinity Anthology which we released today.
.”..30 bucks for either digital or boxed?! Are you fucking NUTS? I mean, you/Divinity should receive presents on its birthday, it shouldn’t give away any… I gotta ask what your margin is – and you surely don’t have to answer that. ;)”
The man has a point. But really, it’s been a crazy month, and you’re not going to believe the business logic we’ve been applying… While I don’t know what the end of this story is yet , I can tell you how we got to where we are today and what our hopes and aspirations are. Whether or not these will prove to be vain, we’re about to figure out…