“Success is not final, failure isn’t fatal: it’s the courage to continue that counts.”
—Sir Winston Churchill
Halbjorn’s Wrath was an extremely challenging game, trying to get solid ranged and melee combat into a game in 13 weeks with an inexperienced four-person team is an imposing task. None of us had ever done a combat game before, or for that matter gone though a full-blown production cycle. We had communication breakdowns, we left bugs unfixed a little long, and we had some design issues when it came to the enemies.
Yet despite our shortcomings, we had the courage to continue. We managed to create a unique combat experience by closely tracking our progress, play testing at any chance we got and, of course, it also took a lot of hard work. This hard work and dedication earned us GD27′s Best Final Project Award at graduation, and we have a heck of a portfolio piece.
What Went Right:
For Halbjorn’s Wrath we wanted to create a truly unique game that mixes a shooter and a brawler. We managed to hit that mark and also created gameplay that does not copy any other game. We did this by conducting play tests throughout our development process. This allowed us to ensure our game matched our vision and also as an opportunity to do a gut check, to make sure our game was playable and fun. The take-away from this is: always get fresh eyes to test the product and ensure that the desired outcome is happening. It was critical for us to ensure the players were traveling down the right paths, that they were enjoying the game and that we were invoking the right feeling.
When you break the game down into simple colors you can see how we guided the player using lines and lights to point them on the right path. This was achieved through multiple playtesting.
Keeping a Close Eye on Tracking:
During the production of Halbjorn’s Wrath we kept a very close eye on our scope. Through proper tracking, we were able to identify, cut and/or add features with the confidence that we knew exactly what it was doing to our timeline. Everyone in the group knew exactly where all aspects of the game were at all times. The result of this was no wasted effort anywhere in the game throughout the entire production. Things were refined to bring them up to a higher standard, but all the assets/features that we cut were cut before they were ever started every time.
Watching scope and knowing where you are at in the process is extremely important as it allows you to focus on your quality instead of just quantity.
Halbjorn’s Wrath was made possible mostly because of the team’s commitment to the project, and because of the vast amount of time put into creating the game. Each member had no problem staying late most nights, until midnight or later, in order to keep working. Each member was consistently clocking in near to 80-hour workweeks, which allowed for a lot of fine details and for churning out high quality content.
As it turns out, it takes a lot of hard work to make a game. Even though we watched our scope and cut things, we still needed to work extremely hard to create the type of game we wanted with the quality we wanted.
What Went Wrong:
We Left Too Many Little Things For Too Long:
We had a lot of minor bugs in the game that should have been fixed sooner than they were. They caused a large amount of “noise”, which made it hard to figure out what was fun in the game. It slowed down the process of refining our core gameplay. Due to the slowed refinement of our core gameplay, we didn’t get as much iteration on it as we would have like to have done. This also caused a lot of stress, as it wasn’t until late in development that we got our game to be truly fun.
The important thing to learn from this is to clean up the game and the area you are responsible for as much as possible. You never know how hard it really is to fix the bug until you actually spend time doing it. The bug could actually be part of a bigger problem that will require significantly more time than you have. Take time every week to clean up the bugs so that you are taking as many unknowns out of the game as you can.
This is a bug we had in the game. (Un)fortunately we fixed this bug right away.
Throughout the development process all members of the group failed to communicate effectively with each other at some point. As a group we were able to come to a decision on things but a lot of grudges developed, which caused negative team cohesion. This negative team cohesion led to a hostile work environment.
After some time of having a negative hostile work environment, the issues and grudges came out and the group was able to talk about it and deal with them accordingly. The key take-away from this was: always have open and honest communications with each other. It’s important to deal with the small things that are irritating you before they turn into grudges that can lead to a hostile work environment. When small issues and little grudges are held onto they can turn into bigger issues that are harder to deal with.
We had never done a full game before, so it was really hard to know whether to stop working on a feature or if that feature required additional work. When developing Halbjorn’s Wrath, we were so focused on developing cool mechanics and making the player feel powerful that we under-developed the enemies and challenges to the player. We didn’t give the player enough variety in challenges to justify all the cool mechanics we developed for the player. There is no real reason to use the heavy attack button other than it’s cool and it might kill enemies a little faster.
This primarily has to do with our inexperience in developing a combat game, with more experience we would have had a better vision to evaluate every feature and known where to put the effort. Of course, inexperience should never be an excuse, we should have put more thought into the challenges the player would face and maybe took more inspiration from other games to see how they dealt with enemies.
Throughout our development cycle we learned a lot about how to communicate effectively with each other, about the need to clean up bugs as soon as possible and how to design better combat. We watched our scope and worked extremely hard to create Halbjorn’s Wrath. Our hope is that, in posting this article, others can learn from our lessons and make even better games. If you have any questions or just want to talk about our game feel free to contact us.
The Halbjorn’s Wrath team are: