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Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Halfway Point Retrospective

So development of Malevolence has been getting quite heavy lately, and recent personal-life crises have led to me not being able to work on it for a couple of weeks. However, me being me, not being able to WORK on the game has just left me THINKING about the game quite a bit, and it led me to want to share a little bit of a halfway-point retrospective of this games development, and the revelations it has brought me.

But first, a brief history:

When this project was first conceived back in 2010, it was only meant to be a small project. Basically a re-imagining of Might & Magic set in an infinite world - not particularly focused on graphics or too much innovation as it was only meant to be a fun project to a) sharpen my skill-set and b) be awesome fun to play. However, that didn't last long...

Somehow (still not sure how) word started getting around that the game was being made and all these fans of Might & Magic, Eye of the Beholder, Wizardry, Dungeon Master and even things like D&D and Dwarf Fortress started contacting me wanting to know more and giving me suggestions.

Well, it soon became apparent that I may just have an audience for this title, so I started posting around about it on forums and web communities and such, and the following started becoming immense (in comparison to other projects I've done) - even far eclipsing my last large project, Dungeon Master Pro - and after discussing it with my wife and close friends, I decided to take it the whole nine yards, make it the best I can make it and release it for sale. But to do that I'd need a team.

I teamed up with Rachel Birchnoff, a long-time artist friend of mine whom I had collaborated on MANY times in the past and also met Natalie Jane - a talented up and coming artist - while doing my groceries and together we invented the look and feel of the game. During this, I also was writing my butt off coming up with the history, the world and the structure behind the game. By this stage I had been playing around with the engine quite a bit and it was starting to piece together really well, but it was missing one key thing... Sound.

I knew absolutely no voice actors, however A short while before, a friend of mine had shown me the work of Deven Mack Jnr. and I tried for a good solid month to try and reach him. In the end, he wasn't able to work on the project due to union commitments, however, he did give me the details of the wonderfully talented Steven Kelly who was only too happy to help out, and who also led me to get in touch with Samuel Drake, Amber Lee Connors, Rebeka Thomas, Karen Kahler, David Doyle and Benjamin Irvine who all provided voice work to go into the game, bringing it to an entirely new level. It was at this point the community clamoured for the game to look better, so I obliged, adding in better detail lighting, normal mapping, proper shadow effects, etc. It was a long process, but paid off well. The game started getting massive praise from the community, which was quite humbling.

Around this time, and sitting on a team of about 20 people at this point, we were contacted by Nicolas Lee, an indie composer based out of Seattle, who offered to do music for the game. We'd had composers on the project before and had been screwed over, which had made us wary, but Nicolas started outputting this absolutely incredible work, such as the game's theme music:

We also got contacted out of the blue by the one and only Roland Shaw to help out with sounds in the game, which nearly made me fall off my seat when I got the email. His work has truly taken the game to a AAA level.
These two guys gave us some real renewed vigour to make this game the best it could be. We started getting comments saying how it was comparable to some AAA titles, and that it was even starting to look as good as or better than the Elder Scrolls games, which really made us feel special. We started getting requests for interviews, dozens of applications from people wanting to work on the project, some of whom we brought on, such as Saxon Bell, Jordan Glew and Thomas Martin, who are offering up their writing services to the project. On top of all this, we've managed to get some amazing testers, most of whom we've never met in the flesh, who have done an INCREDIBLE job of finding all of my mistakes and also doing up lets play videos and the like to help promote the game, which has been amazing, and they will be rewarded when it's over!

This whole time, everything about the game has been self-funded. I've been pouring pretty much everything I have into this game to keep people paid who need paying, to keep services like the website running, and it's been quite hard a lot of times - especially recently where my financial situation changed quite drastically - but this amazing group of people I have working together on the project has just kept going. Either volunteering completely or having an incredibly patient, understanding "pay me when you can" attitude which has made the project be able to run as smoothly as it can. Every single team member on board has been incredibly supportive, encouraging and helpful the entire way, and it has been an incredible experience thus far. Friends and family have been giving me lavish gifts to help me be comfortable, from herb gardens to pool tables, making me feel even more humbled, but things are looking up. Around March my financial situation will be changing again - this time for the better - and I'll finally be able to catch up and really get things moving. But I'll never forget the patience and understanding that the team has given me thus far.

But now, the retrospective that I promised.

During this last 18 months or so, I've learned a lot of interesting things. Malevolence has been a real life changer for me, and there have been certain events and revelations that have come to light:

1) Before this, the closest person I knew to the games industry was one of the network admins at Pandemic Studios before they closed down. Since starting this project I've met a heap of professional voice over artists, as well as some people in the games industry such as Alistair from Bane Games, Dan (formerly) from Halfbrick Games, Scott from Creature Interactive, Dave from Desura, Daniel from GamersGate, Joshua from Techzwn, James from CoG, Roland from Spicy Horse, all of Bubblegum Interactive, Blowfish Studios, Hedgegrove Enterprises and many more.

2) Malevolence was nominated for the Indie Game of the Year awards of 2011, which was extremely unexpected. At the time our game was only barely together and no-where near finished, but still, the community spoke and we were nominated. We didn't hope to win anything, but just to be nominated at such an early stage was such an amazing rush.

3) We made the cover of the inaugral 2012 TGC newsletter and have since become a household name over there. TGC is a really big community and those guys have been fantastic.

4) We were invited to present the game at the GAME festival in Sydney. We put ourselves into debt to go down there and do it, but it was totally worth it, just to be around the other game devs and see joe public (who had never seen the game before) give it such an overwhelmingly positive reaction - some people even stood there and watched the trailer on loop 3 or 4 times with their mouths open. It was amazing.

5) We knew the project was going to be big. I don't think that we could have possibly know just HOW big. It has at some points become quite overwhelming and I've had to take a break or two here and there, but the clamouring of the public for me to get back to work usually motivates me to get going again.

6) I learned that the public in general is unforgiving, and don't read. Some people have posted comments on blog entries asking questions which are actually answered in the blog entry they're commenting on, others have outright told us our game looks like crap. More than anything, people have said that what we're trying to do is impossible. We know it IS possible. We have provided evidence that it is, but like I said, people don't read. However, the negative comments have been about 1% or 2% of the feedback. Haters gonna hate, but in the end, they don't have an IOTY nominated game and I do ;-)

7) The game has given me a whole new understanding of the word 'dedication'. For those of you who read these blogs every time, you'll have read about my frustrations, difficulties and roadblocks along the way, but the team has... not... stopped.

8) The game has also made us re-assess what 'success' means for a game developer. I'm not making this as my day job. It's a side project, so I don't need it to be a smash hit to live. Because of that, the money that the game can potentially make is secondary to making a great game. When all is said and done I want Malevolence to be the best game that it can be, and that is MY ideal game. A lot of the things I'm doing on the project, other people don't agree with. But when all is said and done, that's their problem, not mine. As I said earlier, the VAST majority of feedback is extremely positive, and I'm very proud of that.

9) Finally, no matter how much I've enjoyed working on this, I've learned that I'll be super glad when it's over. Yes, I have plans for expansion packs and a sequel, but I'll still be bloody glad when it's over...

Well, if you read this far then good on you! We'll be releasing a new alpha version relatively soon and it'll have the outdoors in it (at least in early form) so you may get to see some interesting lets play videos from Hyfrydle32. We'll put up a more functional blog post quite soon, as we're playing with water bodies at the moment and will actually HAVE something to show for ourselves haha

Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope it was insightful.


  1. Very insightful! I really enjoy reading these blog posts, and very much look forward to the game!

    1. Very glad to hear you enjoyed it! I tend to babble on sometimes!