It has been almost a year since my old game development group, Of2Minds, dissolved and I thought it was a good time to reopen some wounds and look at what happened. What follows is a story from my perspective, so some things may seem a little biased since I have had no contact with my co-founder since May of 2011.
In 2009 I was taking some online classes in game design. I know it isn't the greatest way to learn about a subject, but I had been looking into it for some time already, so a lot of what I learned took place outside of the virtual classroom anyway, and it fit into my busy schedule. Through one of my courses I met up with a few guys who were starting up an indie gaming group and asked if I wanted to join. I said sure and we went about the process of starting thing up.
I don't recall if the group ever had a name. Within the first week or so of it being erected we went from a group of maybe 5 people to close to 15. There was no leadership of any kind and thing quickly fell apart as people wanted different things and no one was really willing to take charge. In one of the discussions about what game we would try to tackle first I met someone who was somewhat like minded as myself and we both were very unhappy with the way things were going. So we both said our peace about the group and left.
It didn't take long for us to start communicating and eventually decide to make a game ourselves. The name we came up with for ourselves was Of2Minds Game Studio. I don't think it happened right away, but I remember us using it pretty early on. I had a lot of game ideas, but being as I tend to be somewhat controlling, I decided I should take a back seat in our first game and let my new partner come up with the concept. He told me about an idea of a somewhat action RPG in a fantasy world. I didn't like it 100% but we decided to press on. I figured I could shape some of the things I had problems with down the line, as we hit them. We wrote up a vague design document and started talking about bringing on extra people to help with the things we couldn't do, or didn't want to do. Once we brought on about 3-4 people we then started talking about what engine we would use for our game.
We compiled a list of the different game engines we knew about (UDK, Blender Game Engine, DarkSDK, etc.) and started playing with various ones. I think initially we tried the Blender Game Engine since a few of us were familiar with Blender3D but we moved on to UDK pretty quickly. We spent a lot of time, something like 3 months, debating the engine, during which time we lost all but one of the people we brought on board. We decided on UDK even though none of us really had any experience with it. The holidays were coming up so we decided to take a break from the group and spend the holidays exploring UDK.
Visually I like UDK and it is a very powerful engine, but I just couldn't wrap my head around it. When we came back from break our last person decided they were done too. We really just spent way too long looking at the engine and not enough time really talking about what we wanted these people to do. I understood it and hold no ill will towards them for leaving. With the last person gone it fell back onto my partner and I to get the work done. I decided I didn't want to work in UDK since it was a bit over our heads and still pretty fresh out of the gate, so literature was pretty lacking.
We jumped over to Unity3D and started working on the game in there. My job was to get the game mechanics flushed out and get something of a basic prototype of the game there so we could start bringing on new people and actually have a focus to offer them. During this time my partner kept making promises about getting modeling done and learning the engine, but I never really saw anything from him. He talked about not having time, but there always seemed time for him to play the newest games, while I was holding a 40+ hour a week job, doing my online classes, and also having a family I spent time with. Yet I was still putting my time into the game. I don't want to sound like I am ranting about my ex-partner or that I blame him for everything. This is just how I felt at the time.
Somewhere in the Feb.-April 2010 time line we stopped communicating for this reason or that. I personally was losing interest in the game and was spending a lot of time experimenting with GPU rendering software (not game related). I figured things had fizzled out and decided to just go on with my life. In July I started coming up with a new game idea. I wanted to do something somewhat small that I could whip out in a few months and just add to my portfolio. I started coming up with the idea and even made a few prototypes in Unity when I received and email from my partner.
He apologized for being absent and letting things fall apart and we talked about how we would work from then on out. I told him that I didn't want to work on our previous game since it had some bad blood attached to it and I had already started on this new game. He was excited and we talked about it for a couple of weeks. MineRunner was born and we got down to what needed to be done on both of our parts to get the game out. It didn't take long for things to fall back into their previous state with my ex-partner. I would ask him to come up with some character concepts, or do some research on a specific thing and I wouldn't hear back from him for awhile and rarely got results.
There were a lot of things I was really proud of in the game. I created a random level generator of sorts that allowed for some pretty interesting level design. The holidays came up and we took a break around Thanksgiving to spend time with our families and not be distracted by the game. By this point I was back to the frustrations I had at the beginning of the year and I didn't touch the game from Nov. 2010 through to Feb. 2011. I was pretty sad that this concept I had come up with, and a cool component I designed, would get scraped. Since things were going so slow I asked if I could bring my friend Nick on as a concept and production 2D artist. I figured this was something we could use to keep us both going as well as lower the amount of work we each had to do. He agreed and we began talking about what would need to be done to finish the game.
It was maybe a month later when my partner said he had lost all interest in the game. He wanted to work in UDK and on something completely different. Since I was already frustrated with MineRunner and really didn't see it going where I wanted it to go I agreed we should look at something else. We started talking about some ideas we had, if we could bring anything over from MineRunner and what would need to be done to get this next game across the finish line. It was in May of 2011 when we decided that we needed to get past this conceptualizing point and actually write some stuff down so we had a clear goal of what we wanted to do.
We saw pretty quickly that we both wanted different things and so we decided we would each write our own design document and then would debate over which design would work best. He submitted his a week or so later and upon reading it I was pretty much done with Of2Minds. It seemed like a clone and combination of so many AAA games already on the market and there was no way a small team of 3 people could get it done. I submitted the idea I had shortly after that. It too was a pretty big game, but it was something that we as a team could split into multiple parts, as a series, that could grow with the abilities of the team. I am not going to say my idea was this fantastic thing that put his design to shame, but I will say it was a lot more designed for us as a group. He responded a day later and asked if I had shown it to Nick, which I had.
That was the last time I heard from my now ex-partner. It was obvious we both just wanted different things, and were willing to put in differing amount of work to get things done. I am not sure exactly why reading my design doc. pushed him away so abruptly, but in reality it was the best thing for each of us.
I learned a lot of things from Of2Minds. First is that if one is to form or join a development group, make sure the other members of the group have the same levels of commitment. There is nothing worse than working your butt off and then finding out the person next to you has been goofing off for the last three months.† Also if one finds themselves in that kind of situation, call attention to it so that things can be dealt with early instead of having it fester for month on end. Second was learning how to design a game around the constraints of the people developing the game. We all want to make these amazing AAA quality games, but rarely is a small team capable of executing that design. There are just too many variables involved and if the design doesn't work, people's commitment to it usually falls off. Third was knowing when to call it quits. Personally I kept holding out for my ex-partner hoping that he would come around and that our ideas could take off, but I spent more time wishing things would change then actually changing them. I was too devoted to keeping an idea or game concept alive then on what could actually get any game finished. Ideas are cheap, like any veteran game designer will tell you, so there is no point in holding onto something that is failing. These things can feel and act like our babies, but they aren't. Lastly was that working with people over the internet is a hard hard task to do. It is difficult to collaborate on ideas via email, and trying to setup online meetings is just pointless at times, which also follows my first point about commitments. There is just something about working with someone in the same room that at least for me makes me feel more productive. Its also easier to deal with problems when your partner(s) are easily reached. Finding an issue and then having to write an email or text about it, and then having to wait for a day or even just an hour can make it extremely frustrating.
In the end the demise of Of2Minds was for the best. I am not sure what ever became of my ex-partner. Nick and I decided to form our own group with a lot of the ideas mentioned above. We decided to modify the last game I wrote the design doc. for enough so that it didn't really reflect the original design. I wanted to leave that portion of my life in the past, along with the game ideas we came up with. So far things have worked out very well, with some new lessons learned I'll write about in a postmortem once the game launches in a few months. Its amazing to look back at the last almost 3 years and see what's happened. Even working on our new game for the last year hasn't felt like a whole year. A lot of this stuff feels like it happened only a few months ago.