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  • What I Learned From A 14-Year Passion Project

    [09.28.21]
    - Matt Canei

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    The 5 things I would do differently

    1) I wouldn't have spent 14 years on one project. Indie is too saturated; developing one really good mechanic, solid art style and doing something you can do in 1-2 years is a better level of risk and personal health impact.

    2) Designed the messaging/feedback directly with every mechanic/game mode/etc. It wasn't until the last few years of the project that we realized the mechanics or game rules weren't flawed - they just weren't messaged right. Great messaging and visual feedback can make a mediocre mechanic great, and the lack of it can make great mechanics bad. This would have preserved a lot of great ideas and modes we had working that we canned. Our UX design was somewhat limited but once we got it, almost magically, all our mechanics suddenly were way more "fun".

    3) Consider how much cognitive energy it takes a player to figure out your game. It should be very simple to learn, remember, and experience your gameplay loops. This all ties back to UX and a lot of testing.

    4) We should have waited 2-3 more years to release to Early Access. We thought it would help fund staff gaps since we were $0 budget, but it simply didn't. There was no exclusivity for future outreach because it was too accessible, if that makes sense. The game we had in 2019-2020 would have been a solid Early Access game. Doing your own closed alphas/betas would have been better for us growing a multiplayer game. We always thought the game was way further ahead than it ever was.

    5) We wouldn't have done multiplayer. In college, when it started, we all thought multiplayer would be easier because VO and cinematics would be too hard (and to be fair in UE3 they were). But multiplayer has its own technical challenges as well as the absolute hell of trying to grow a player base with no money to facilitate that process. We always thought MP would pay for SP so we could tell meaningful, impactful stories, and maybe we'll get that chance still.

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    The 5 best parts of doing an indie project for so long

    1) Coping mechanism - this project has been the greatest sandbox of self-therapy and working through the grief and loss of my mother. Many of our dev team members have since lost a parent to cancer as well, and really diving into the personal themes of the art, game world and the whole purpose of the game has been amazing. Our whole mission as an indie studio is to inject personal meaning and purpose into our games, via metaphor and storytelling to get through whatever it is we're trying to get through.

    2) Absolute creative freedom. No random pivots or "put a robot at the end" or any corporate mandates. We had the freedom to explore, grow, fall, get back up, try things, freely and with lost time as the only consequence.

    3) Limitless practical learning - I can attribute most of my career skills as a Technical Artist to this project. I had to learn UI, animation blueprints, blueprints, localization, all these crazy game engine systems as just an environment artist. It helped me understand how all the pieces fit together and I was able to get 10,000 hours horizontally and vertically between working in the industry during the day and working on this at night for so long.

    4) Team camaraderie - Having the core of the team together for so long, all of us doing this in our free time after work, forms a special kind of bond and respect. It's more than just being colleagues. These are people you root for, support, respect deeply and for me personally these are people I couldn't have possibly got anywhere near shipping this game without them.

    5) Seeing the growth and change - Projects like this move forward incrementally. But you get to see and experience every bit of it, and it was the life force of the project. On the personal side, seeing the team's growth, seeing the skillsets grow, expand and mature was rewarding. So was bringing on recent graduates that needed mentoring and being able to see them get their first industry jobs from experience on the project. I couldn't pay people, but one of my deepest, most satisfying aspects of leading this project was knowing that almost every person that joined the team without an industry job, ended up with one with the project as a big reason why.

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