Postmortem: Frozenbyte's Trine
June 3, 2010 Page 2 of 6
2. Art team and the almost complete freedom given to them
Having worked so long on an AAA-class project that never made any income for the company, a crisis was evident when the project failed. Some team members left the company, some of whom were considered very important at that time, and motivation for the remaining team was swinging from left to right when they were added to the Trine team.
A decision was made -- partly because of lack of time to focus on such a task amidst all the chaos -- to give the art team and the newly promoted art director almost complete freedom with regards to the game's visual style.
The artists could do what they wanted as long as they kept to certain loose boundaries, such as completing a level in a set amount of time.
If the schedules failed, instead of "just get it done", we would opt for design changes such as dropping an unfinished level completely or shortening existing levels. This way the artists could polish the levels using their own judgment. No producer or outsider was telling them what they needed to do, or what was good enough.
This gamble paid off. The artists didn't polish the levels indefinitely but instead got the levels done in time with the amount of details they were happy with. There were only minimal schedule delays, most of which were caused by external additions, such as marketing materials.
Low-level communication also helped a lot -- the project didn't have any middle management, and many issues were solved by direct communication between artists and programmers. While this approach caused certain issues with regards to schedule and task accuracy, it fit the project's haphazard development method very well and perhaps helped the whole team pull together better.
The art team also came up with many features. The management approved each idea that got into the game and gave it a certain amount of schedule time, but by and large the art team was free to do what it wanted and spend some time on experimenting. This is related to the evolving design of the game -- Trine followed a vision, not a strict design.
The most important gameplay addition to the game by the art team was the intelligent-looking skeletons that climb walls and follow the player. This was achieved by the animator and the level designer using very simple tools and triggers -- the AI behind the system is not complicated but it gives the illusion that the skeletons have some thought processes going on.
Another example is the big skeleton "boss" in the third level of the game. It's just a regular skeleton sized five times bigger and it's not very polished -- hitting it in the head will do the trick, but it's just trial and error until the player figures that out. Trine lacks enemy variety and the big skeleton seemed like a good idea very late in the project, and it seems to have worked. Many reviewers and user comments talk about "bosses" in Trine, and half of the thanks go to the big skeleton, despite it being a rather weak effort.
The art team's freedom was considerable and they came through with flying colors. Approximately half of the art team were experienced developers. For the rest Trine was their first game, which is even more astonishing in hindsight.
3. Getting to consoles, finally
Frozenbyte had always wanted to make the move to console platforms and with the bubbling digital distribution market making a splash, Trine felt like a title that would fit the market. Coming from a strong PC background, we had formulated a PC and Xbox Live Arcade strategy.
When a prospective publisher felt XBLA had too much competition and asked if we could do the game for the PlayStation Network, the answer was obvious -- yes. The Finnish tax authorities were close to planning to liquidate the whole company, so despite not having any experience or working knowledge whatsoever of the PlayStation 3 platform, or any console platform for that matter, it was a simple decision to make.
At first we were only able to afford one PS3 debug unit. With that and access to the relevant documents and information, we began porting our existing technology to the PS3 in January 2009. In five weeks -- and lots of overtime from the programmers -- a bare-bones version of Trine was running on the debug.
In the following months we gained the trust of the publisher and Sony. Later on this feeling got even stronger internally and we felt Trine was leading the charge of big, retail-quality downloadable games.
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