Of cliffhangers and dangling plot lines...
Those of you who are astute observers or faithful readers of this column will recall that this installment was initially supposed to focus on character creation and design. I had labeled last month's "coming soon" teaser something along the lines of "Anatomy of a hero." (And thanks to all those who e-mailed requesting pictures of that anatomy. Real funny, people.)
Anyway, if you're still paying attention, you'll notice that this installment is not, in fact, entitled "Anatomy of a hero." For that, you'll need to wait another month or two while we do a little more visual tweaking to turn Jake Dawson into the reluctant, rough-around-the-edges hero he's supposed to be. Instead, I'll use this installment to fill you in on a couple of huge developments in the design process since the last time I wrote.
First, in the tradition of the Saturday afternoon cliffhangers of yesteryear, I've decided to release the game in four connected chapters (or episodes) rather than waiting until the entire game is finished to unveil the story. This required a little bit of rewriting (or, to be more precise, expanding) of the first episode to bring the length of the first chapter more into line with the others. But now that that's done, each of the episodes ends on a cliffhanger that leads directly into the next installment.
And, when all four chapters are completed, I'll release a compiled version of the entire game as well, with (possibly) some special features like a voice pack, behind-the-scenes concept art, and maybe even a sneak peak at the next big project on the way. (And if you're wondering what that is, check past installments of this very column.)
(Above: a preview sketch of what you--and Jake--can expect to find in episode one. Click for a larger version.)
I think the benefits of releasing the game in episodic form are evident, but if not, here are a few that come to mind. First, we'll get the game out to players sooner rather than later, rewarding both those who have been looking forward to playing it and those of us who have been toiling away for what seems likes ages making it. (And, bonus, instead of getting a playable demo, you get a fully working first chapter!) Second, each episode will build excitement for the next. Third, we'll hopefully get another big promotional push when we release the entire game in compiled form on CD. And last but not least, it allows me as project manager to divide the game into smaller portions and set up a reasonable production schedule in which everyone involved can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So, right now a lot of effort is going directly into finishing up and expanding the first episode. But that doesn't mean that we won't be working on the rest of the game at the same time. I am dividing the work on each episode into different teams, making sure that when episode one is being worked on and completed, episodes two, three, and four are already in development as well.
It roughly breaks down like this: The bulk of animation, sound effects, and scripting work will be going into episode one, while the bulk of music, pencil art, and coloring will be going into episodes two and three. Episode four, while entirely plotted, has yet to be developed into a functioning game environment, so I am putting my time and energy on that front into creating concept art that will eventually form the basis of the background screens.
Meanwhile, you may recall that I promised at the start of this column to fill you in a couple of huge developments. What's the second? This time, it's some team news. I'm thrilled to report that Dan Lee, whose amazing coloring work you've all oohed and ahhed at in the past, is stepping up to become the project's lead animator for episode one. This is especially great for two reasons--not only has Dan been part of the project since nearly the very beginning, but he also designed many of the characters himself.
Dan is also developing his own custom sprite animating software to speed up the process. Expect more on this, and animation in general, in future installments.
Anyway, that's all for this month. Next time, I'll write about how I divide and keep track of the technical and not-so-technical work needed for each episode.
Next: The unfinished assets checklist (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Project Management)