We have been developing, on and off, for Vita the past few months. It has been difficult to put enough time into it recently as we have been finishing off two PSP Minis – which are essential to us in order to keep some sort of income coming in while we wait for our Vita titles to start earning revenue.
It is fair to say we are small – really teeny tiny small – there is me, in-charge of art, design and audio and Steve, who is in charge of all engine related code and several of our past games gameplay code. Finally we have Lee who helps out with code on various projects and is also our chief (and only) internal game tester. Lee also puts together all of our game trailers, platform holder submissions and screen-shot packs for our games.
So – that is three development staff. We also have our one non-development staff member Claire – who handles finances, payroll and marketing. Right now Icon’s teeny tiny team is working on two PSP Mini titles and two PS Vita titles. Today is Boxing Day, and I’ve had the last two days off – already I am chomping at the bit ready to get back to work and carry on with the games we are working on. A mixture of enthusiasm and panic at how much work needs to be done.
Another thing on my mind is that we have just enough money to cover the bills in January – our last PSN invoice was for just €1684.45, which is a long way short of covering our bills for even one month. Gulp!
So here we are with no money and just 3 development staff and 4 games to finish ASAP. Why on earth am I even writing this diary? Perhaps because I drank too much wine today or maybe because I am so proud of what our tiny little team has done in the face of ever present financial adversity?
One thing I have found ever more apparent over the last couple of years is that WiiWare or Minis don’t really provide enough revenue alone to support a full-time team, even a small one like ours. This in turn has led to on-going severe cash-flow restrictions which make expansion, or indeed any form of cohesive future strategy, incredibly difficult. So the strategy is more often than not a grit your teeth and hope things go smoothly, while cutting corners as necessary to get stuff out the door. And with the lower revenue markets you need to get a lot of product out there. Oh – and we also had a rather unsuccessful foray onto iOS – now that is one scary marketplace! Kudos to those who have made it on iOS, long may it continue (although I doubt it will).
Compared to our past developments, Vita is different in many ways as I believe we have a more realistic prospect of earning a decent level of income from our titles than in the past. Unfortunately on-going Vita development has been difficult as we need to keep putting other titles out to keep some form of income coming in. It is also more than a little scary when we look at some of the products and well-funded teams out there who are working on Vita right now. Sometimes I wake up and think; sh*t – how the hell are we ever going to pull this off!?
Recently, however, development has come on in leaps and bounds. Now while it is true that we still have to submit our Stage Two concept approvals for both Vita titles to Sony, and as of now only one of the games is fully up and running on Vita (we do much of our development on PC), Steve has done such an incredible job with the Vita engine so far. It looks wonderful – finally after years of Wii & PSP development I have proper pixel shaders, normal maps, real-time shadows, bloom, reflections and other effects. At last I feel like a ‘proper’ 3D artist, at last able to utilise the latest shaders and effects to create the sort of environments and detail level that I have long dreamed of.
We have some really nice levels and visual polish in there now, but as it is only me on art I do find myself forever slightly panicked that we’ll be picked apart in reviews. But it does push you on, to add more detail, to not cut corners, to take the time to add the extra bits you perhaps neglect when you’re traditionally short on time and resources. I have lost count of the number of times I have analysed screen-shots from other Vita games; comparing detail, environments, texture fidelity, lighting and so on.
I’ve also got to say how good SCEE have been to work with; they are very supportive and deal with any concerns in a very positive way. No other platform holder comes close to this and it makes it a completely different (in a very good way) experience. They listen, help where they can and treat you with professional respect – certainly from our dealings with platform holders in the past this has been unique and very welcome.
So as 2011 draws to a close and we’re fast running out of time to complete the games to keep money coming in, I wonder what 2012 will hold for us. One thing is for sure – I’d like to think this will be the year where we have a little more financial stability. Seat of your pants development is exciting – but also frustrating as you know you could achieve so much more with a little more financial breathing space and a few more resources.
We are going to do it though, and I know our Vita games will be good – our best yet. So regardless of size, even the smallest of studios can achieve big things.