Challenges we are facing with this project
We thought that sharing some challenges we will be/are facing with this project would be useful and interesting, especially for those looking to start their own game project. These challenges are pretty specific to our needs and wants as Rocket Adrift, but some people may find they have similar challenges as well.
We are artists first and it’s difficult for us to move forward with unfinished or unpolished artwork.
The Rocket Adrift team all met years ago at Seneca College, where we were enrolled in the Independent Illustration program. That being said, we are visual artists first and therefore we tend to approach all of our projects with the best visual direction possible. A challenge we’ve faced in the past and face now is sharing our work and getting feedback from people as early as the alpha stage of development. Because we put a lot of onus on making sure everything shared with the public looks finished and polished, it is difficult for us to keep our work loose and unpolished until we get the feedback we need to make a better end product.
The biggest issue that comes along with spending a lot of time upfront on polished assets, visual design and style is that we could end up realizing later down the line of development that we don’t really need to use all those polished assets, and that using them all would result in a bloated game design overall. So then we are stuck making the difficult decision to cut out all that previous work on these polished assets, especially if we sank months of work into them.
An example of this mistake happened during the 3 year-long production of Raptor Boyfriend. Initially, we had a plan to create every possible expression and position for all the character animations we thought we would need for the entire game. However, halfway through programming we realized we wouldn’t have the time to finish all of these animations and found very quick and easy solutions to set up these scenes instead. We ended up scrapping over 100 drawings for animations we no longer needed and ultimately lost months worth of work that we could have been using to actually start putting together the game.
Approaching gameplay at the same time as writing, rather than just writing first
Our next strongest skill as a team would definitely be writing. Most projects we’ve worked on in the past usually start taking shape in the outline phase. For Raptor Boyfriend this approach served us well, since the bulk of what the game was included a lot of reading and not much player interaction. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but this time around we’ve realized we will have to start thinking about writing in tandem with gameplay.
Since the style of Psychroma requires player movement, interactable objects and an environment that can be explored non-linearly, we have to start thinking about how to tell the story we want and lead the player to the points that move that story along naturally, as well as the pacing of this information.
Using narrative design.
Understanding how we need to approach the writing and gameplay of Psychroma leads us to learning how narrative design works, the focus of which is to design the narrative elements of a game based on how players interact with its story, which differentiates it from video game writing, according to Wikipedia. If you’re interested in learning more about narrative design, there are very interesting Game Developers Conference talks about it, in particular the 2018 Konsoll 2018: Molly Maloney & Eric Stirpe – Writing & Narrative Design: A Relationship video.
We have only become familiar with video game writing through Raptor Boyfriend, so this will be a new challenge for us moving forward with a narrative side-scrolling adventure game.
Work vs. personal time and how to avoid burnout
This challenge is possibly the most universal and pervasive throughout the video game industry. Because of the multi-faceted nature of video game development, there are many demands that need to be met by all departments and project management can be nearly impossible. Unfortunately, the part of project management that almost always gets overlooked is employee mental health and well-being.
We at Rocket Adrift will be the first to admit that we have an unhealthy work/personal life balance. We are all very hardworking and driven individuals. However all too often we allow our ambitions and drive to control how we work and for how long, which often leads to burn out.
While there are no simple answers for how to avoid burnout for such a small team such as ourselves, there are always best practises which include taking breaks often, limiting hours and taking time to celebrate and appreciate our accomplishments.
We will be taking strides to improve this issue and avoid burnout as much as possible with this project, especially since doing so will benefit everyone in the long term and keep the studio sustainable.
If you are interested in learning more about the human cost of making video games, we highly recommend picking up a copy of Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schrier. It was super validating but also insightful on some of the issues surrounding burnout and the AAA game studio culture.
Thanks for reading!