Archive | November, 2012

Mitch’s Developer Diary

g0bble g0bble g0bble.

Mitch here. Hi!

It’s Thanksgiving time at Harebrained Schemes and guess what we’re thankful for?

1) First and foremost, we’re thankful for our Backers who believed in the project when it was just an idea. You truly rule.
2) We’re thankful for Kickstarter.com and the platform that allowed our little indie studio to find an awesome audience. It was the ticket for one helluva ride.
3) And, of course, we’re thankful for the chance to bring Shadowrun back. It’s a world that deserves to be inhabited and we’re excited to be working on it!

As you probably know, we released a bunch of images and information around PAX in early September and we’ve made a few Q&A videos to answer your most pressing gameplay questions since then. But mostly, we’ve been heads down making the game and haven’t really come up for air to check in with you and let you know what’s going on with the project itself.

So, as another way of thanksgiving, today we’re going to start sharing some deeper “developer diary” kind of information so everyone can hear how the project’s going, where we are in the process, what’s making us tear our hair out/whoop with joy. . . that sort of thing.

Because I’m overseeing production and have my fingers in just about everything, we thought I should go first. This first one will be a little long, since it’s an overview of the whole deal. In the future, team members from different disciplines will jump in and talk about what they do so you can get to know them, too. (After all, there’s only so much Jordan and Mitch one can take.)

Sally and me hammin’ it up on Turkey Day

Okay, so where do we start? Since I’m a producer, probably schedule.

As we announced a few months ago, we’ve backed off our original delivery date of January 2013. It might’ve worked for the scope of the game we originally envisioned but as our ambitions (read that “features list”) grew, so did the time we needed to deliver! Plus, we made a big move from our original top down camera to an isometric point of view and that took serious R&D time. Right now, according to our estimates, we’re looking at May or June.

We’ve spent the majority of our time getting our game engine, art pipeline and base gameplay up and running and we’ve covered a lot of ground to get a lot of systems in place. Our engineering team has been crunching off and on for months to maximize the amount of time our designers will have to create our story. After many late nights for many weeks, we adjusted our start times to 8am so that people gain more focused time before lunch and more time with their families at night. The results are very promising (although coffee consumption has gone up).

Our first big milestone was our gameplay prototype. It was called “Run ‘n’ Gun,” and the goal was to test our development tools and create a firm foundation to build the rest of our gameplay upon. We built a secret lab environment, populated it with Lone Star guards and played a team of shadowrunners trying to steal some tissue samples. Run ‘n’ Gun exercised our combat interface, artificial intelligence, animation system, and editor. Everyone contributed.

Mike Mulvihill, designing away.

Since then it’s been iteration, iteration, iteration with everyone playing the game first thing in the morning and noting the things that needed to change. Based on the team’s feedback, we redesigned our first-draft combat interface, and the second-draft works much smoother. We’re going to play with it for a few weeks and keep a running list of the team’s feedback before making further revisions.

We’ve also revised and debugged our base combat AI so they choose the right weapons (watch out for the grenades), use cover appropriately, reload, use medkits, attack aggressively or become cowardly, and respond to gunshots or calls for help. It’s taken awhile but they’re fun to fight with just guns, fists, and swords. Once NPCs start using tech and magic, things are going to really get crazy.

After many weeks of hardcore debugging, iterating, and reworking, we’re happy to say that we’ve “found the fun”. We’re happy with Run ‘n’ Gun and feel confident that we’re building the rest of the game on a solid foundation.

Beyond all the design meetings and system writeups, our designers have created more than a dozen additional scenarios that exercise the editor, the AI, the interface, the combat systems, and our skill as players. And they did it without the use of our extensive trigger system which is just now being implemented. It’s sort of a spiritual successor to the trigger system we used on Crimson: Steam Pirates and a very powerful, flexible tool for our designers (and with some time and patience, you too).

BTW, while all of this was going on, we hired a small team of character artists, several engineers, a designer, some awesome interns, and moved into a bigger space with running water! Finding the right people to add to the team took a lot of work but we’re happy to say it still feels harebrained around here.

Okay, that puts us about halfway through development. Next up, we’re going to town on all of the magic and tech-based abilities that make Shadowrun, Shadowrun. We’ll also work on our conversation system and start putting story into the game. Oh, and on the story front, we’ve come a long way but there’s plenty more to do. The story is very Shadowrun (and very Weisman) and thus quite complex. The team is really happy with it, which is awesome. Who wants to work on a story game when you don’t like the story?

We’ve got plenty of challenges to overcome between now and release (like figuring out how long it takes to make a fun mission for a party with a wide range of combat, decking, rigging, and spellcasting abilities) so it’s going to be (more) nose to the grindstone!

Jordan’s computer is camera shy…

Along with all the progress and fun, there’s the harsh reality of production. I wish I wasn’t the “scope cop” but that’s the job. We need to continuously revise our scope and feature list to stay within our budget, focusing on the things that are core the Shadowrun game we want to make and that you supported. Unfortunately, one of the features we talked about on Kickstarter and at PAX didn’t make the cut: the ability to recruit your friends’ characters into your game. It’s a good social feature and it pains us to cut it, but it isn’t core to the fun of creating your own character and having a great Shadowrun experience. These are some of the roughest parts of game development, when time and budget demand tough choices, and features you love don’t make it in. And we know from experience that we need to keep our knives sharp and ready to trim when necessary to focus on quality over quantity (and ensure that Shadowrun is as good as we can possibly make it in the time we have).

Nevertheless, the team is pumped and focused and pushing hard on the next phase. It’s going to be really exciting to see shamans summoning spirits, deckers hacking into security systems, and all the rest of the great features we have planned. Plus, we know that the best part of the project is still ahead for us–when we’re experiencing the story and polishing the game to really make it shine. And we can’t wait to see the stories and shadowruns you create with the Shadowrun editor! I have the feeling you’re going to blow us away.

Okay, that’s it for this grizzled producer. Have a happy and safe holiday and we’ll work on a nice fireside chat video with Jordan to end the year.

And seriously, thank you. We think of you all the time and appreciate knowing you’re out there supporting our work. It means a lot.

Mitch