Hello again! I hope you are all staying safe, washing those hands, and keeping sane. Here in the virtual Blightmare office, we’re still moving along much like we always have. To that end, today we’re going to take a look at where we’re at as well as the process that we’re using to stay on track.
First let me explain how we define our milestones or phases of development.
Concept is the first phase. It is where the idea is first pitched and fleshed out. The priority in this phase is to figure out what kind of game we are making. One of the critical outcomes of this phase is the ability to describe the game to someone not on the team. For Blightmare, this led to the description of the game that you now find on the Steam page:
Blightmare is a 2D platformer that follows the journey of Blissa, a young girl struggling with the emotional and mental burdens of growing up in a difficult world. Through her dreams, Blissa confronts her demons and hopes to find the strength to overcome the darkness in her life.
Concept art is typically done at this time to help visualize the idea as well as explore what colors will make up the main game palette. Quick sketches of mechanics and how the player interacts with them are made to ensure the game has legs – that there’s enough room in the design space to make a whole game. On the programming side we do research about what tools would be good to use and what other similar games do to implement features.
You’ve already seen some of the concept art for Blissa as well as some of the inspiration for the game. We spent about 6 months in the concept phase for Blightmare.
Pre-Production is the second phase. In pre-production, we do as much planning work as we can to really figure out what the whole game will look like. This involves many experiments of how we will build the assets, the mechanics, the levels, everything. On the programming side, we have been through 2 complete rewrites of the game logic with many explorations down different paths in-between. We built our level editor during pre-production because it became clear that the other methods that we tried for content creation were not going to be efficient enough for our team.
Blightmare has been demoed several times in the pre-production phase to make sure that the design ideas and art style that we are going for resonate and work in the way that we want. This means that we built several levels that won’t be in the main game – can’t give anything away! – for the sole purpose of these tests.
We have been through 3 different asset management schemes throughout our development journey so far before we found what we have now. If you’re curious, we use Github and Git LFS for all our game assets, Google Drive for the source files, and AWS for management of our levels and runtime data. I’m sure there will be a blog post in the future that goes into much more detail in this area.
What I’m really trying to say is that pre-production can be a long road that has significant ups and downs. Trying out something experimental only to find that it isn’t fun or doesn’t feel good can be really difficult, especially when time is so precious. But in the end, this is the most important phase, because the end product is a map of the game that is fully fleshed out. Blightmare spent about 18 months in pre-production all told, and I think it has been worth every hour to get a solid foundation to proceed to the next phase.
Production is the third phase in this journey. This is the phase where most of the work that will end up being in the final product is done. Everything before was scaffolding or tooling or plans to make sure this phase can be done smoothly and efficiently. The result at the end of production is a complete game that can be played start to finish. The mechanics will all be complete, the levels will all be built, and much of the art will be done and implemented by the end of production. The game is by no means finished at this point, but it would be easily recognized as a game, and should be similar to the final product in terms of how it plays.
We have 17 planned main levels in Blightmare that make use of over 40 mechanics each with unique art, animation, and sound effects. So far we have completed 10 levels, 35 mechanics, and over 250 audio assets. Tracking of our progress started in a spreadsheet on google drive, but has begun migration into Jira as the task list gets larger. The team meets every week through Google Hangouts to catch-up, talk through what we did over the week, and figure out what is top priority for the next week.
Trying to figure out a prediction for when we will wrap up production is proving to be highly difficult due to recent events in both the world and on the team. However, progress to this point has been relatively speedy as we have gotten this far in about 4 months and the improvements to tooling as we really put them to the test will only accelerate the process.
When we’re happy with how the game plays from end to end, then we will pronounce production complete and enter the next phase.
Alpha is the fourth phase of development and is where all the pretty stuff happens. Here we make sure the game runs well on different computers and various peripherals – mouse and keyboard, xbox controller, playstation controller, etc. The tuning of each level gets finalized and polished and we will put in all the graphical effects that really make the art shine. This means fancy particles and post-processing and all the window dressing that will really create the final aesthetic that was envisioned way back in Concepting. When this phase is completed, the game is nearly done.
Beta is the fifth and penultimate phase. This is where all the final bugs get taken care of and we really try to make sure everyone has a chance to get the experience that we want from the game. Hopefully by the time we get here, there’s not much to do!
Release is the light at the end of the tunnel. The game is out and we can finally share it with everyone.
Whew. That ended up being a lot more words than I originally intended, so I thank you for sticking with me. I want to take a moment to thank all the Kickstarter backers that gave us support when we embarked on this journey and have stuck with us so far. I hope this post gives some reassurance that we are still methodically working towards the goal, and the time is well spent towards a better game.