Alpha

snyggtroja

TJD2 has sort of reached alpha!

“Cool!!!!!! But what does that mean????” I hear you ask, in excited confusion.

That’s a highly warranted question, I’m glad you asked, you clever reader, you! “Alpha” can mean anything from “proof of concept” to “almost beta” in the games industry, so it’s a pretty useless term to measure progress with unless you define it more specifically. This is how we have chosen to define alpha (written in italics to emphasize how scientific we are!):

The game should be fully playable from start to finish, with all puzzles and story-related material implemented to the extent that the player can play through the entire game, deduce all solutions to the puzzles without external hints, and follow the motivations and grand plot of the game without any extra-game explanation.

So, why do I  say we’ve sort-of reached alpha? Well, we did our first real live user test yesterday and watched two guys battle the plots and puzzles of TJD2  pretty much entirely unassisted by us. At some key points we had to intervene and drop clues, but I’d argue that these are things that we will easily have implemented into the game before the week is through.

The total play-time totaled on a beautiful five and a half hours, which is pretty much exactly what we had been wishing for. Some things took a little longer than I expect they will in the finished version, due to lack of clues, and some things went a little faster, due to several characters and locations being underdeveloped. We hope to greatly increase the amount of dialogue and lore-exploration in the game, which I suspect will add another hour or so to the game, unless you’re a rusher. But TJD is no game for rushers, frankly. But again, some things will likely go a little faster to solve in the final build, so five and a half hours might be a good rough estimate of where the final game might land.

So, a giant thank you to our first brave test pilots Erik and Jörgen. You guys are awesome for lending your free time for this!

Oh and the pic, which you likely envy as hell, is of Mathias, sporting our brand new TJD tshirt. We had them done for casual connect, which I personally won’t be attending, but my colleagues Henrik and Mathias will. If you’re going, be sure to hook up with them to see their awesome tshirts in all of their real life glory!

2013

It’s been a while since the launch of TJD1 and I’m pretty sure many of you guys are wondering what on earth we’ve been up to all this time. Well, we’ve been doing our best to keep y’all posted via the development thread over on desura, but we haven’t been very good at giving it spotlight – so odds are most people haven’t found there way over there yet. Also, we haven’t really been very good at keeping that thread up to date anyways. So, in an attempt to remedy this lack of updates on our side, I’ve decided to make a brief write-up of 2013. Believe me, we’ve been quite busy.

Almost exactly one year ago, on the ninth of January we launched TJD1 on Steam. That combined with our recent release of TJD1 on iOS gave us a nice big monetary and morale boost. For a couple months there we were kings of the world! We we’re getting tons of positive reviews and the hype just kept on building. 2013 was off to a very good start!

California

I managed to convince my colleagues that we were so loaded in fact, that the best thing to do possible, was to broaden our horizons a little bit, and put money into a trip to San Francisco – more specifically, to GDC. I flew a month beforehand and brought my wife and daughter with me, henrik and mathias arrived a month later and joined me for the actual conference.

The conference itself was fun but it paled in comparison to all the great people we had the opportunity to hook up with, while there. Among other things we hosted an “adventure party” together with a bunch of other similar studios which was a complete blast. We had guests like Ragnar Törnqvist and Ron Gilbert there.  I was star struck!

adventuredudesDinner with Thomas Grip, Dave Gilbert and Agustin Cordes and a bunch of other folks.

 The period in San Francisco was sort of a combined work and holiday, I will admit. Together with my wife and daughter we went and visited the glorious real life Sierra-logo in Yosemite, as well as a big bunch of other nice locations in the vicinity.  So, it wasn’t all work, that’s for sure. And the work that was done during these months was largely geared toward PR stuff, rather than focusing on real development.

toddyvinRoadtripping in Marin County with epic sound dude Jory Prum.

All in all the time spent in San Francisco and the area surrounding it was an awesome work/holiday, and I really hope to go back there some day. There’s a lot left to explore, a lot of neat people to connect with, and a lot more food left to eat! Damn, I love SF cooking.

Back home

Once back home again we could get back to work on the actual game. We didn’t have an office at that point so we went back to our roots of being developer nomads and roamed the cafés of Gothenburg for a couple of months, leeching power, coffee and internet as long as we could. This was the point in time when we started taking our gigantic pile of ideas, locations and characters for TJD2 and actually started implementing them into the game at full speed, rather than just theorizing about everything.

kaffeHenrik and Mathias, power-nomads at work

Rather than working on the actual game however, Mathias was knee deep in spaghetti-code, adding new features to our GobEd editor, to greatly improve our work-flow. We also started revamping our animation system at that point, since we had a couple of flaws in the original game that we didn’t want to be stuck with for the second chapter. The actual game engine itself also got a lot of features added, stuff that we had wanted to have in TJD1, but didn’t find the time to implement before deadline.

California, again

Somehow Henrik managed to get us free tickets to E3. Being the event we had always wanted to visit, and still not being broke meant we went for it. This time, it was Los Angeles. Again we had a fun time but this trip was a lot shorter (for me, only ten days) so we didn’t have much time for socializing. It was mostly business but rewarding in many ways. Among other things I got to hook up again with my friends Gene and Christine (Irresponsible games) as well as a bunch of other people I’d been wanting to meet for a long time.

todcutMathias cutting up business cards for E3.

Needless to say, the second trip to California was equally disrupting to our focus on actual TJD2 development, but we were working, hard, just on the networking, business and beer drinking side of things. :)

Brighton

We barely had a week at home before it was time to leave again, this time for Brighton. Simon D’souza, the wonderfully talented musician behind the TJD1 and TJD2 soundtracks, held a live eleven-man band concert, featuring the soundtrack from TJD1. It was pretty much the most awesome experience of my life. Here’s a small part of the concert, the whole thing is on youtube if you look at Simon’s youtube channel.

Me my wife and daughter had a great stay at Simon and his wife Susan’s house, they spoiled us rotten. I got to check out Simon’s studio and my daughter got to play with his exciting box of toy instruments. We had a blast!

simonsaxTheo shows Simon how to hold a saxophone.

Summertime

Finally our globetrotting was over and we could get back on track with development of TJD2 again. Mathias had wrapped up most of the editor fixes and had now joined me in the process of putting the actual game together, it moved at a rocket-pace and we got tons done in only a matter of months. Henrik spent most of his time working on the characters. Repairing issues with the old meshes, and building, texturing, skinning and rigging the new ones. Unfortunately by the end of summer both me and Mathias got caught up in a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of our time went into doing taxes and those kind of boring things.  (Our now defunct game “Nord” generates A LOT of bureaucracy)

trailerI spent most of my work hours this summer inside an abandoned old trailer

Autumn

Once that whole paperwork hurdle was over, we actually got caught in one more. This was when we started realizing that our giant pile of gold wasn’t going to last forever, so we were going to have to start looking for means of financing the remaining development of TJD2 . After consulting with a bunch of different people we decided that the best and most efficient way to move forward was to simply borrow the money needed to wrap up the development. The other two guys kept working on the game, and I got caught up in trying to convince banks to let us borrow the money. Fortunately this didn’t take up a lot of my time really, it was more of a passive project, that needed poking on a little now and then, so it didn’t really disrupt productivity in any real sense.

trailerRe-re-re-re-designing the storyline. Practice makes perfect!

Time flew and before we knew it the game started turning into… well, a game. It wasn’t playable from start to finish, but the prologue, the first act, and a large part of the second act were implemented and fully playable. It was now, when we finally had implemented all those things we had thought out so cleverly long ago, when we started realizing how much of it didn’t make sense. Sometimes testing is the only way to really see how great/ungreat something is. So, autumn saw a lot of fairly vast changes to the script. A major character was cut out, a large chunk of puzzles were removed entirely, and several locations in the game were moved about, or worse, deleted. This whole process was very painful and in many ways it all of a sudden felt like we were moving backwards.

Winter

Money was increasingly becoming an issue that we needed to focus on and lucky as we were, we were approached by fellow Gothenburg game studio Free Lunch Design who asked if we could do some work for hire for them on their current project, comic conquest. This was perfect timing for us, so Mathias jumped on board and helped them out for over a few months time, and brought in some money that way.

Unfortunately that meant nearly three months without Mathias on the project, which definitely slowed down the implementation-part of things. So, me and Henrik decided to focus on the cutscenes rather than the actual game itself for a while. This turned out to be a very, very good thing. Focusing on the cutscenes meant that we really had to start analyzing the plot and flow of the game, which lead to quite a lot more radical changes which would have been immensely hard to make if production on the actual implementation of the game had come any further.

fld-presentMathias prepares a super secret beer & coffee x-mas present for free lunch design.

Once the cutscene storyboards were all finalized everything around them started falling into place at a very rapid rate. Even though I’m proud to say that the storytelling this time around is more in the game than in the movies, the movies do form some kind of base. Pillars, if you will, that make the rest of the game easier to write, once they’re all in place.

Once Mathias returned we finally got our loan secured, and also we found out that we had quite a lot of taxes to get back, so we didn’t have to borrow quite as much money as we first feared. So the monetary situation was all of a sudden a lot nicer. From then on it’s been rocketspeed development 110%.

The game is now fully playable from start to finish. It’s still very rough around the edges and the cinematics are still nothing but animated storyboards. We’re missing a gigantic amount of polish. Less than half the speech has been recorded, there’s still loads of feedback missing,  but the whole game is there and feels absolutely awesome.

One of the biggest challenges, one of the reasons that we’ve rewritten such large parts of the game so many times, was the fact that we this time around wanted to make the player feel more involved in pushing the plot forward. This was something we really felt we wanted to improve on from TJD1, and something I proudly can say we have finally succeeded with. It took forever, but we nailed it.

So, yet again the new year begins with an awesome feeling of optimism and high momentum! And this time we’re taking a break from the globetrotting and focusing 100% on development. :)

 

Goodbye Nord!

nordheader

Nord“, the non-violent mmo we had been running for over six years has now been shut down. It has been a core part of our company and shutting it down came with a lot of conflicting emotions. Saying goodbye to a project you’ve worked on for that long is tough, but at the same time… Moving on feels great.

* Nord took our passion for game development from hobby to full time profession.

* Nord taught us the tools of the trade.

* Nord made us learn to work together as a team and to understand and respect each other’s skills and ideas.

Thanks to all you wonderful people who made Nord the nicest game on the internet!

Needless to say, without Nord, The Journey Down would have been ugly, buggy, completely user-unfriendly and actually, most importantly… It would probably never even have been conceived.

About half a year ago we virtually stopped working on Nord and put pretty much all of our focus on TJD2. Since then, development has been moving on at rocket speed. Now, with Nord completely shut down, it will allow for even more focus.

Full speed ahead!