Monthly Archives: September 2013

Coming Up for Air

Hello, there! It’s been a while!

For the past few months I’ve done a blog post every Saturday, but the last two Saturdays have cruised right on by without an update. Why? Because I’ve been working around the clock trying to finish the game. The last few weekends I decided to just put my head down and keep working on the game instead of doing blog posts. I don’t even know what the blog posts would have said, other than, “Hey guys, I’m … uh … working on the videogame.”

But last night I wrapped up a brand new build and sent it out to the playtesting group, so I’m taking today off. In the past month I’ve had exactly one day off, for a family visit, so things like blog posts and email correspondence and press requests have fallen by the wayside. I look forward to taking a deep breath and catching up on all of that stuff soon.

So what’s the state of the game? If you remember from my prior blog post about the alpha build, I sent an alpha playtest out to friends and family in early August, and it wasn’t up to my quality standard. I got some great feedback from some very smart developers and built a one-chapter demo of an updated core loop w/ lots of new features. I iterated on that a few times, and once I was confident in that direction I started propagating those changes throughout the entire game.

That’s the build I sent out last night. The entire game has been updated with the new core loop, which includes new types of memories, more diverse writing, tons and tons and tons of low-level feature refinements, and updated artwork and animations from my friends at CGBot. The game is playable front to back with the new style, and almost all of the content is implemented. My friend Tynan Wales (mentioned here) was a huge part of getting this build done. He did all of the posed scenes and chapter wrap-up dioramas for the entire game, which make a massive difference. Thanks, man!

The next step is to record all-new VO for the game, which I’m doing this weekend in LA. That’s a really exciting prospect, as even the small amount of temporary VO I have in the game now adds a ton of flavor and depth to the characters. The Novelist is a text-heavy game, but hearing the characters provide voiceover for their writing really brings it all to life.

Other than some final animation polish, VO is the last big chunk of content that needs to go into the game, and that will happen very quickly; the pipeline and functionality are already in the game, so adding the VO is literally just copy/pasting new .wav files over the temp ones.

There are, of course, small bugs to squash and little polishy bits to do. And once the playtest data starts rolling in I’m sure there will be other things to fix or change. But the game is, in large part, done. I’m still not ready to announce a date, as I want to see more playtest feedback and get more opinions on the game before deciding exactly what I need to do to finish it, but I’m working as hard as I can to wrap it up soon.

I know the press coverage has gone dark for a while, which was a byproduct of focusing 100% on the game to the exclusion of everything else, but I’ve got plans for sharing much more information about the game soon. I’ll definitely posts some new screenshots, and I’ve also been thinking about doing a commentary video that shows off one chapter of the game so that you can get an idea of what it’s like to play moment to moment.

There probably won’t be a blog post this weekend, as I’ll be in the middle of a marathon VO recording session, but I’ll try to keep you guys up to date more frequently than I have lately. Thanks, as always, for your continued support.

So … About Summer

When I announced The Novelist in May, I set a release window of summer 2013. When asked in interviews, I always made it a point to say that summer lasts until September 22nd and that I didn’t know enough about the final game to set an exact date yet.

What I know now is that when the autumnal equinox occurs on September 22nd at 1:44 P.M. Pacific Standard Time and summer turns to fall, The Novelist will still be in development. It won’t be in development for too much longer, but once I became 100% certain that I would miss the summer window I wanted to let everyone know.

Now, the game isn’t going to slip too far. I’m adding finished content every day and completing features that I won’t ever touch again. Large parts of the game are 100% locked down. The game is close, it’s just not done.

When I sent out my alpha build on August 2nd, I had a game that I could have finished in 6 weeks and shipped in the middle of September. The problem was that the game wouldn’t have been good enough (see this post for more details). It was a really disappointing and difficult moment, but I’ve spent the last 19 months of my life on this game and the worst thing I could do would be getting it this close to completion only to release something I’m not happy with. I don’t want it to be a near miss. I want it to be something special. I want it to be the game I see when I close my eyes at night.

And I don’t want to be the thousandth game developer to break out the Miyamoto quote about how “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad” … but I guess I just became the thousandth developer to break out that quote.

And since I’m sharing quotes, here’s another personal favorite: “Once you finish the first 90%, all that’s left is the last 90%.” I don’t know who said that originally, but I learned it back at Ion Storm Austin and I’ve always found it to be true.

I know a lot of people will be disappointed that the game is missing its original release window, but rest assured that this is only a mild slip. I haven’t rebooted the game. I’m not junking it and starting over. I just had to take an extra month to refine what I had and get it into a form that really delivers on the core promise. I believe it was time well spent, and I’ve even considered releasing the alpha build for free down the road as a curiosity, so that people can contrast it with the finished version of the game.

As for where the game stands right now, I have a schedule and a release date I think I can hit, but I don’t want to announce a date until I’m 100% positive that I can make it. I’m working 7 days a week, and I’m also getting help from a friend of mine named Tynan Wales, a really talented designer/artist who made the excellent Ryan Amusements level in BioShock 2. He’s building some really cool content, and though he’s only been on the game a week it’s already been amazing. He’s doing great work, and it’s a huge load off my mind to have a big chunk of content that I just don’t have to worry about.

Starting Monday, I’m going to take the changes I made during the alpha revamp and propagate them across the rest of the game. I’ll then send out another build to friends and family, and unless there are any major surprises I’ll shift into bug-fix mode and start shutting the game down.

I apologize to anyone who’s disappointed by this news, but the wait will only be a little longer and I think the quality improvement will be worth it.

Thanks, as always, to everyone who’s taken the time to leave a comment or send a supportive email. You guys are amazing, and I really hope the game meets your expectations.