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Taking Care of Business - Iron Tower Studio 2020 Business Diary

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Taking Care of Business - Iron Tower Studio 2020 Business Diary

Company News - posted by Infinitron on Tue 25 February 2020, 16:47:33

Tags: Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game; Dungeon Rats; Iron Tower Studio; The Age of Decadence; Vince D. Weller

Right on the heels of the recent Colony Ship development update, Vault Dweller has come out with this year's installment of the Iron Tower Studio business diary. Whereas as the last two diaries were mainly focused on the studio's future, this one offers a rather sober retrospective of its recent past. With the passing away of longtime Iron Tower animator Ivan Soloviov, it has not been an easy road. Here's an excerpt:

2019 was a stressful, no good, very bad year. The loss of a friend and a team member who’s been with us since the beginning (2005) was a harsh, surreal blow, and it fell during the hardest phase of game development (hard enough even without such losses) where many indie projects (those not destined to make it) falter and fail.

Anyone who’s ever followed such projects knows how it usually goes: Year 1 - making bold promises, proudly showing concept art, weapon models, the main menu (the most important part of a game, no doubt), etc. Year 2 - the first playable, barren like a desert, noticeable drop in the team’s enthusiasm, the first wave of volunteers leaving the project. Year 3 - the grim year(s), progress slowing down to a crawl, waning support (the crowd that cheered every time a new weapon or vehicle was posted is less enthusiastic about vital but invisible things like pathfinding, functioning inventory, and object classes), more and more people leaving until only 2-3 guys remain, at which point the project enters the state of suspended animation and stays there until someone makes the final announcement.

We had a couple close calls with AoD and CSG, but we made it through our first game and we're over the hump of our second full-scale game. The purpose of this update is to take you backstage and walk you through the whole process. Maybe it would even help teams ready to throw their hats into the RPG ring prepare for the inevitable challenges ahead. Without further ado, here's a recap of how those last three years have gone for Colony Ship:

Year 3: The Long Slog.

Year 3 is about turning the first playable into something resembling a game other people might enjoy. It may sounds like fun but the list of things you need is endless and the pace gets slower and slower since tasks get more and more complex. To illustrate, it took 4 weeks to do 4 jackets since they go on top of the ballistic vests and some armguards can be worn on top of the jackets, so there are all kinds of clipping problems to solve. Would the players appreciate such attention to details or file it under ‘meh’? Fuck if I know.

Roughly, that was our development speed this year: each item on the list took about a month. 12 months – 12 development items per category (programming, animations, assets, etc). Equippables, necessary GUI improvements such as targeting, combat gadgets, feats, dialogue working fine in the dev build but refusing to start in the first Steam build (Nick had to rewrite it from scratch – another month), and so on and so forth.

Progress generates enthusiasm, visible progress generates support from your audience, so ideally you need both, yet there inevitably comes the time (a long stretch) when visible progress all but disappears (we spent a year and a half on the combat system and posting the arena screens got old pretty fast) and invisible progress slows down to the aforementioned crawl. Months go by, tasks are slowly getting off the to-do list, yet the game looks and feels about the same. That’s when everyone’s sanity and the team’s integrity are getting thoroughly tested. That’s when Ivan died.

It’s still hard to talk about Ivan's death and even harder to think about it, so I won’t as I don’t really know what to say and how to process it. So we push forward and focus on work because it’s easier.

With his 14 years of hands-on experience, 3 years with Unreal 4, there was very little he didn’t know or couldn’t do. Finding an animator to fill in the gaps left by someone else is never an easy task, especially on a short notice. It threatened to become a major project that could have easily taken well over a year. In the end we got lucky, the work resumed, and we were able to start beta-testing the combat beta in Jan 2020.

Originally, we hoped to start combat beta in the spring of 2019 to test the mechanics and add bells and whistles as we go, but Ivan got ill and the plans got derailed as we didn’t have all the animations and wearables (body armor, jackets, coats, helmets, goggles, respirator and gas masks, hair styles). There’re only so many placeholders a player can tolerate in the initial public offering.

In comparison we started testing AoD arena demo without half the features including players’ favorite save/load so they had to ironman the whole thing for the first few months. Overall, it took us 5 years and 8 months to get to the combat demo stage, so we’re still ahead.
As usual, the business diary also includes yearly sales figures for The Age of Decadence and Dungeon Rats. The games aren't bringing in much revenue anymore, but according to Vault Dweller it should be enough to carry Iron Tower until the Colony Ship Early Access release.

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