“Pilot Chapter” Post-Mortem (Part 1)

This is my first post in the development blog, so let me introduce myself to all of you. I’m Mauricio, programmer of The Game Kitchen. For The Last Door I’m in charge of website programming and project management. In the following series of articles I will be guiding you through the development of the first chapter, and if everything goes well, will continue to do the same for the following chapters from here on out. Later, I’m planning on sharing with you other aspects as well, such as our business model, statistics and other stuff that I hope would be of your interest and even use.

So without further ado, let’s go!

An exhausting crowdfunding campaign

To pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign, Kickstarter or any other platform, is no easy feat if you’re lacking a certain reputation to precede you. The Game Kitchen is a relatively young team. Back in 2012, we didn’t even break our third year of existence yet, and of those, the first two years was exclusively dedicated to carrying out projects for other studios and companies. We didn’t have a successful project to call our own and, because of that, we didn’t even establish a regular fanbase. All of that makes getting visitors to a crowdfunding campaign really hard.

December of 2012 was one of the most stressful and busiest months in my life. That’s actually not a bad thing, considering the project got funded and hey, it’s just thirty days! But there’s something I didn’t expect, and I think none of the rest of us did either, and that’s the amount of work and stress level involved in just thinking about ways to make the project more visible and attract an audience to Kickstarter.

In our ingenuity we thought that part of the team would be enough to handle the campaign while the others would start working on certain aspects of the game to have them ready once we were up and running (and more importantly, funded). But that wasn’t the case as most of the resources were spent on the campaign, only exception being the creation of the playable prologue. Even though we barely reused any lines of code or assets from it, it turned out to be a good prototype and gave us a real and concrete vision of what we wanted to achieve in the first chapter.

Eventually, the campaign ended up being a moderate success and we were able to breathe easily again for a week or so while charging our batteries during the Christmas holidays (which in Spain last approximately until January 6).

The real work begins

We began the pilot for The Last Door in January 7. Ahead of us was one of the greatest challenges we ever faced: develop the whole game engine, the first chapter of the adventure and also the first version of the website. Everything in a mere 60 days.

On top of that, we ran into an unexpected bump on the road. Our colleague Alejo told us that, due to personal reasons, he wasn’t going to be able to continue in the team. He directed the crowdfunding campaign and also took a primary role in the project’s birth, but sadly we had to separate our ways for the development of the pilot chapter.

Our first step was setting up a rough planning of all the work ahead of us, and the team’s configuration if we wanted to carry it out. Soon, we decided some of the KS rewards and main features of the website would have to wait until the next stage of the development because we didn’t have enough resources to tackle them at the time. Luckily, the episodic, iterative nature of the project gives us a certain freedom: we would focus on the most essential features during this first stage, and then we could continue adding the rest, along with the following chapters.

Where to start?

From the point of view of production, which is an unassigned role that we all share using our collective intelligence, our first decision was to make a first sprint that would last for a little less than a month. We did it like that because we had to build a clear-cut, well-defined basis for every aspect of the game, and we thought it would be convenient for us to have a 30-days schedule where everyone could focus on their task.

The team in charge of the script and general design of the game, formed by our artists Enrique and Mateo, would be creating the main storyline, script and gameplay of the first chapter, all from a basic argument Enrique had going on in his head during December. Obviously, it had to be a script that would somehow “hide” the lack of features that would be entirely missing from the game because of time constraints, such as tree dialogs (that’s why there’s no other character to talk to in the first chapter) or navigation grids.

For the programming team, formed by Javier and Daniel, the top priority was to create the game engine. The coding of the prologue was done rather hastily during the campaign, so it was obvious it needed a deep and thorough analysis and refactorization if we wanted it to hold up a much longer gameplay and the potential inclusion of even more features in the future. Considering the script and design team would need a few weeks before finishing up the story, we decided it would be best to test our newly coded engine features creating a replica of the prologue.

The team in charge of the website, formed by yours truly up to this moment, would create a good basis that supported user profile management: people needed to be able to register, log in, edit basic information and identify themselves as KS backers to access their individual rewards.

Finally, we had to deal with some other production issues during this first stage. On the one hand, we had an ARG going on since the KS campaign and we wanted to keep it alive. Our partner Alejo, even though we knew he wasn’t going to be part of the development of the first chapter, showed a genuine interest in continuing in charge of this experience, one he himself had conceived and created in the first place. So that was settled. On the other hand, we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to satisfy our players’ communication needs for two main reasons, the first being the huge amount of workload ahead of us and second and foremost, no one in the team really has enough command of the English language. So we thought it was imperative to get into the team some sort of “community manager” if we wanted to guarantee a fluid channel of communication with you, without linguistic limitations. So we started the search of the right person for the task.

To be continued…
The next part of this post-mortem will be available next week.