I will show you something, which most of you don’t know it even exists and I work on it. I developed another game. It is called Breathers. Another game means another postmortem. This postmortem is written one month after the previous one for Zeroes. Don’t be scared, the development took a little bit longer (but only a little).
We have to ask important question first, before rating and analyzing anything. What is Breathers? Breathers is post apocalyptic action rpg game. What is so unique about it? Today’s post apocalyptic games take place in very commutable setting. We wanted to change it. Breathers doesn’t take place in classical post apocalyptic setting like wasteland or desert. It take place in world, where nature takes back everything what humanity stole from it. There is no sand. There are forests instead. There is no rust. There is wood and stone. The world is completely open to your exploration. You can even invite your friend to join you thanks to split-screen.
The Breathers tells story about human development. The kind of development, which sounds great, but which is too fast. About solving our pressing problems without adequate forethought too. Cure for all diseases was developed at the beginning of game’s story. That sounded great, everybody wanted to use it. So they did, from poorest to heads of nations. However cure became virus after few years, and it started to kill people. Vaccine against this virus was developed with huge speed. Many people used it. But it wasn’t tested enough. It caused collapse of respiratory system and insanity at some people. People with collapsed respiratory system had to wear breathing apparatus. They are called breathers. War started, because some heads of states became mad. Few people were lucky and hid in shelters. You are one of them. You have to go out to new world now, because you run out of supplies after several years. Who knows what lies before you. Good luck! This is opening of story for Breathers.
How did I make another game three months after I finished Zeroes? I study CTU as you might know. I took course called Video games and animations. Sudent’s goal is to create game in groups of four during one semester. This is how I did it. I was in group with Michal Novotný, Filip Ryšavý and Petr Tomášek. All of us are programmers and Michal moreower created graphics. My task was to create AI, save system, side quests, design world and main menu and optimize the game.
You should know even more, before I will go through mistakes, which we did. CTU is technical school, so course’s goal was not to create game with the best gameplay. The goal was to create the biggest and technologically the best game. Created games was rated based on gamedesign document, reports submitted during semester and mainly by final presentation. Game was presented to peoples from Czech game studios like Warhorse, 2K Czech and Bohemia Interactive. They selected three best games. Authors of the best game get A rating, so they don’t have to go to final exam. There were no rating based on playing the game. We also had only three months to complete it. I was the only member of our team, who created some games before.
Let’s get to postmortem finally. I would like to point out at first, that this is my opinion. It may not be the same as opinions of other team members. I will start with negative aspects as usual.
What could be done better?
All of next flaws are closely connected and were caused by lack of our experience.
The size of the game
I think, that this is problem of all novice game developers. We all want our game to be the biggest, the best and with the most features as possible. And sometimes we forget, that this all will cost us time and it needs a lot of experiences. We decided to make open world game. None of us did something like that before. Yes you are right, we were also caught by this newbie trap. I think, that if the Breathers would be a little bit smaller it will feel more polished. We were too much focused to quantity and forget on quality from my point of view. Quality is created by small things and details. I would rather create some smaller game next time and spend more time on its mastering. What lesson I get? I will plan next game more carefully. I will plan game, which will take one month to complete if I would have two months to create it. I can use the second month to polish the game.
Playtesting and gamedesign
This problem is closely connected to the previous one. Because of the game’s scale, we spent most of the time on its creation and we didn’t test it. Some time we were like: “We should add this feature, because it will make our game bigger and thus better”. However we didn’t test it. Was it true? Who knows? I quite like the idea of minimalism. It says that system is perfect, when you can’t remove any part out of it. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are two games, which were heavily influenced by it. Will they be better with perks or trading? Maybe yes, maybe not. I don’t know. You have to playtest it, before you can make judge. This is what we didn’t do sadly. I should learn more about playtesting to be able to do it better next time.
Focusing on not important features
We planned, that our main selling point will be split-screen. This is not much common in today’s PC games. I feel, that this was totally correct decision. However we had another great idea. Great from perspective of planning phase. The idea was, that player will be able to play with some character form singleplayer during split-screen. I will write example to make it clearer. Imagine that you are player. You start playing Breathers with some character. Let’s call her “Clara”. Than you start again with character called “Laura”. Your friend comes suddenly and he wants to play also. So you start split-screen and he can play with your Clara or create new character. It doesn’t sound as hard to implement as it was.
It was really hard problem to solve. How do you save all characters? I mean, how do you know, what character he wants to play. You played as Clara and level her up to level 8. Than you load game for some reason. Clara is only at level 5 at this save. Than you play and level her up to level 6. And than your friend wants to play as Clara. But Clara at level 5, Clara at level 6 or Clara at level 8? As you can see, this problem is quite complicated. Problems, which are hard to explain, are mostly also hard to solve.
We solved it by not selecting the character, but by selecting save file, which contain some character at some level. It is not as practical, but it works at least. Main flaw, which I try to show here is, that this feature complicated many things (save system, gui…), but it wasn’t as important. We could just create some “no name” character with abilities scaled to the level of main player. It would save much time, which I could invest into more important features.
I couldn’t imagine how saving game state is hard in open world game by the way. You have to keep track of so many things.
What to take from this experience? I should decide, if this feature is worth of effort and time invested into it, and I shouldn’t be afraid to drop it, if it is to hard to create and has small gain to game.
We didn’t show Breathers anywhere during its development. It is way to oblivion. We should market it at least somehow. Show screenshots, trailer or some article. Why we didn’t do it? We were so focused into making the game, that we hadn’t time to do it. I would repeat it again. Smaller game means less time into development and more time to other important things like testing and marketing.
However this is not so much problem in this case. Why? This game was created in order to pass course. It was accomplished. Putting it on internet is big but still secondary reason, why this game was created.
What went well?
This part will be much smaller, because this is the first game created by our team. People learn the best by mistakes they created. And I have learned a lot.
Cooperation in team
We worked in team of four people. I thought, that it would be huge unorganized mess. However it was something absolutely different, than I knew from Peord games. Our cooperation worked well thanks to every week meetings and almost 24 hour Facebook chat connection a day. We updated, what is done and what we will do for next week at each meeting. When some problem occurred, we solved it by chat in short time. I must say, that cooperation worked, thanks to our tight connection.
I was really scared to create 3D games until this year’s September. I thought it has too much problems. One dimension of problems more than 2D. Where do I find good 3D models and animations for example? But we did it! We created game, which is 3D! I considered it almost impossible, but the game is finished and it works. I am not scared to make 3D games now.
And that is probably the main thing, which I get from this game. This game is not the best, which all players want to play. However we learned a lot during its development. I am more experienced than before. I can make even better games thanks to it now!