Archive for April, 2010:
Earlier this week we placed a pillow over Raptor Safari’s face and pressed down, gently but firmly. More plainly: We are suspending development of Off-Road Velociraptor Safari HD/64 with no plans to resume development in the foreseeable future. So what happened? We’ve been quiet lately, so let me fill you in.
Note: If you’re already raging about the status of your pre-order, skip to the end of this post. Otherwise, in chronological order…
Chasing the High-Definition Dragon
We launched development of a new Raptor Safari using the original version as a proof of concept prototype. The plan was to extend the gameplay, adding new modes and missions, and significantly overhaul the art. Our art production default was to take the same general look of the game and produce it with modern standards, which seemed like an obvious move. We went with an “HD” suffix and recreated the prototype environment as our first step. Here’s what we ended up with after two months of art production:
We brought this trailer to the Game Developer’s Conference and showed it to potential distribution channels, friends, and partners. With this feedback, and a little reflection, I realized we had made a mistake. It was a trap to pursue the “HD” expectations of platform stakeholders, players, and even ourselves. It narrowed our possibilities instead of expanding them. We were spending time on normal-mapping our rocks, a very dangerous thing indeed when your team is 3 people.
Shortly after GDC we completely rebooted the art style of the game. The goal was to create a look that relied less on raw production man-hours and more on style. A unique look would also allow us to dodge preconceived expectations of players and platform gatekeepers. After two intensive days of work, this became our new visual target:
To be clear, this is not just inspirational imagery. This is how we wanted the actual game to look. To accompany this target render, Ben also produced a style sheet to summarize our influences:
We’ve been working on the new look for a few weeks and have been making significant progress towards real-time implementation. There are a lot of challenges in a look like this, especially making the game look good in motion (temporal coherence), but the results we had so far looked promising.
So Why Stop?
There are a lot of reasons why we are halting development. Some of them are practical. Much of Flashbang’s revenue stems from affiliate programs in the casual market. Many of these programs are either shuttering completely or have drastically altered their terms in punitive ways, probably as a result of the casual market itself being hurt by Facebook/web games. Regardless of why, our financial projections suddenly went from a year of smooth sailing to a runway of only a few months.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is purely a financial decision, because it’s not. Impending poverty forced us to make some decision, but it wasn’t the source of our problems. I don’t think we would continue development at this point even if a sack of free money fell right into our laps.
Partly, the issue is one of context. Developing a good single-player experience is an exercise in perfection and polish. Our Blurst style of development, where we can get away with “good enough” in many areas of a game, doesn’t match up well here. There more I blocked out development in terms of making one really good game, the more I realized we’re not ready for that kind of commitment yet.
Finally, the project itself is quite muddy. It isn’t blindingly obvious where to take it yet. I can blame this on tactical errors I have made, in terms of where I placed our priorities and where I spent my time, but the end result is still a lack of clarity. And finding that clarity is a very taxing job; we’re just too burnt out to make it happen. When I imagine a year of Raptor Safari development, I feel drained, and when I image a year of something else I feel energized. The rest of the team feels the same way, so our choice was clear.
So what’s next for Flashbang? In the short term, we’re looking to pick up contract work as a team. I cast out nets a few weeks ago–to fund continued Raptor Safari development–so this is an easy move.
Longer-term, things will slowly diverge. We’ve pulled the release valve and distributed company savings to individuals. This means Flashbang itself no longer has any salaried employees, but don’t worry! We’ll still be here. This is the same model we used for the first 5 of our 7 years as company. The office will morph into a shared workspace for individual projects and collaborations.
Personally, I plan to spend time on Blurst features (particularly a pipeline to bring some of the 3rd-party submissions online). It’s hard to say what we’ll all be doing in four months. Perhaps new experiments will make their way onto Blurst as polished prototypes, or maybe we’ll try our hand at the roulette game of the App Store. There are a lot of possibilities in front of us!
I Pre-Ordered! What About Me?
First of all, thank you! All Blurst orders are announced via our office text-to-speech system. It always lifts our spirits to hear a purchase during the middle of a work day. You guys rock.
We have expanded Raptor Safari HD pre-orders into Blurst Bundle Pack orders. If you go to your profile you’ll now see downloads for all of our games.
If you opted to send us extra money with your purchase, you are especially awesome! We will be contacting you soon with a special something.
We may still finish Raptor Safari at some point, although certainly not anytime soon (not this year, or even next year). It’s entirely likely we will never ship it. We totally understand if you’re uncomfortable with holding a pre-order for a project that may never see the light of day.
If you would like a full refund, please email me directly and I’ll square you away.
Once again, thanks for being a Blurst fan and Raptor Safari player! You guys are why we do what we do. To be clear, we’re actually in a positive state of mind about this. We aren’t depressed! It feels like a relief to spend time on awesome prototypes and ideas again.
I’ll be happy to to answer any questions in the comments.
Founder, Flashbang Studios
Minotaur China Shop iPad Tease
994 days ago
Minotaur Dance Party
1127 days ago
Visualizing Raptor Safari Data
1149 days ago