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  • Postmortem: Project Lake Ridden

    [10.25.18]
    - Sara Casen

  • What We Could Have Done Differently

    1. Reality Testing the Concept of The Game Earlier.

    We should absolutely have tested the core concept for horror + puzzle earlier to get the feedback that it did not appeal to a core audience. The game idea did make sense for us as a team to work on, it appealed to our strengths and a team, and we believed there was an opening on the current market for this kind of game. But looking back we should have tested this idea on real-life players much faster. That could have saved us a lot of work and we could have pivoted earlier.


    Development
     screenshots from early on in the game. The art style in the bottom image was highly marketable and really stood out, but in the end, we needed to tune it a bit so the player was still able to see the ground clearly even in the dark shadows.

    A suggestion would be to do a paper design of your game or super quick prototypes that you upload to sites like Itchio to gauge interest. At the same GDC17 where we showed of the game for the first time ever, we managed to secure front page placement at Polygon with a 10 minute long gameplay video. At this time we could not pass on such a big opportunity to start building awareness around the game, but chances are this video complicated the game's development in the end. For the longest of time, this video was the first one people saw when they googled for Lake Ridden, leading people to believe the game was still a horror game after the pivot. An early gameplay trailer or coverage will cement a lot of the game's sound, art, and design and make it hard to break free from that or change direction or impressions later on. On the other hand coverage like that is super rare to get as a small indie studio.

    2. Sound and Music Talent Was Brought In Too Early.

    We wanted to learn from previous experiences and not treat music as the last thing you smack onto a games project. We hired an amazing duo very early to help us with sound, music, and voice acting. This in itself was great but became a challenge when we needed to change the direction after one year of development. It meant that a lot of the creepy music and mood that had already been set had to be reworked to fit a mystery-puzzle game instead. The final soundtrack of Lake Ridden has gotten a lot of praise among players, but it would have been better for the project if we had brought in sound & music later on when the vision for the game was much clearer.


    Changing
     the game from a horror game with puzzles to a mystery game with puzzles and strong narrative was not an easy move to pull off, but we managed to pivot the game.

    3. Trailer Driven Development.

    As mentioned previously we got an amazing opportunity to show gameplay of Lake Ridden on the front page of Polygon in 2017. After showing much of the game in that video we headed into creating the next area of the game. At the same time, we also contracted a really talented trailer studio to make a story trailer together with us. We knew we needed to have a new trailer ready by September 2017 when the game was to be exhibited at EGX Birmingham. The trailer studio was excellent, but since we did not have anything totally unseen from the game to show in the story trailer (and not enough resources to build a scene specifically for a trailer to later just throw away) we found ourselves in a pinch. So the solution became to shoot the upcoming Lake Ridden story trailer in the same area that we had started building right after the Polygon video went live. This lead to a situation where the layout of the new level was largely affected by what we wanted to show in the trailer. This was not the best choice since a lot of that level's layout ended up driven by the development of the trailer. The layout of a level should always be driven by game design  (or storytelling).

    4. Huge Scope for an Indie Game by Four Developers.

    Lake Ridden is a huge game to make on just four developers. It's an open world game with almost 35 puzzles, 7-9 hours of gameplay. The final art style that was chosen rivals even AAA games in fidelity and detail. We really wanted to make an ambitious project, something that would stand out. Making a game of this size requires both extremely skilled developers and good stress management.


    The
     team spending time together out in the nature to snap reference photos for Lake Ridden!

    5. Eliminated Effort = Shifted Effort. It's extremely important to be aware of the fact that if you decide to cut something from the game it might not end up as reduced labor in the end. At the beginning of the game, we had a cutscene planned to show the story of how Marie and Sofia traveled to the campsite. In the end, we had too much for the artists to do, it was impossible to schedule this cutscene into their backlog. So instead we decided to cut this scene and replace it with text made by our story writers. This ended up placing a new burden on the writers instead. It's important to be mindful of the fact that if one discipline of developments decides to cut something it will most likely affect someone else along the line instead.

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