2. Cross-Platform and Target Audience
The game was initially cross-platform and designed to be first produced as a WiiWare title, graphic-wise the lowest common denominator, before being exported to XBLA. We all know that Wii and Xbox users don't fall in the same target audience bracket, so we set out to make a game that would appeal to everyone.
This was a big mistake, as failing to target a niche -- whether wide or specific -- resulted in design hazards that did nothing but dilute the whole game experience. Eventually, we abandoned the whole WiiWare angle, instead focusing on Xbox Live Arcade.
Trying to find ways to make Lazy Raiders appealing to Wii and Xbox users cost us both time and money, and ended up a complete waste. But when we decided to focus on XBLA, things picked up and the project revved into gear, gaining both in depth and polish.
3. Communication is the Key
We wanted the game to be so good on all levels that we tried to throw everything in there. Sarbakan has a history of character and storyline development, and we quickly fell into old habits, becoming mired in what we knew, and were good at, rather than giving the players what they wanted.
So in addition to trying to make a fun and challenging game, we developed an intricate background for Dr. Diggabone. Originally, on his quest for a cushy retirement, the old chap was constantly shadowed by his arch-nemesis, the Glamazon, a greedy rival treasure hunter who wanted to take everything he had, and then some. The game was initially planned to be peppered with still scenes of her worming her way into our oblivious hero's life, posing as his maid, his travel agent, his psychologist, etc. in order to learn his trade secrets and the itinerary to his next expedition.
As a result, we ended up overburdening the game with fluff and jokes (and bad ones at that). The game's menu was a chaotic wreck that unsuccessfully communicated what it was supposed to. And if the first thing the players see when they launch the game is a mess, it bodes ill for the rest.
Saying we fixed the menus is somewhat of an overstatement; it was more of a damage control thing. They could have been even simpler and more to the point. After all, menus don't have to be fun; they just need to be easy to navigate and understand.
4. Manage by Day, Work by Night...
Despite our aforementioned delving and research into the production process of other studios like us, and despite our efforts to avoid falling into the same pitfalls they did, we failed miserably. It's like they say: history tends to repeat itself.
Our leads are the best at what they do (otherwise, they wouldn't be leads, right?) When they work on the smaller projects that are our bread and butter, they pitch in and are as productive as the people working under them. But in a more ambitious project like Lazy Raiders, they ended up managing the team and not doing what they were best at. This cost us precious resources -- people who could have saved us a lot of production time had their talents been put to good use.
After all, a good lead artist or lead programmer can sometimes do in a day what two juniors do in a week. Had we put our best managerial elements in charge of the team and allowed our leads to do what they do best, and what they love doing, we would have avoided delays, costs, and a lot of grief.
5. Time is Money
The original plan called for two multiplayer modes in Lazy Raiders, co-op and versus, that would both have been played split-screen.
We had grand ideas and twists: for example, in the versus mode, each trap you disabled would reappear on your opponent's side. In addition, special power-ups would have provided variety and interesting new ways to attack your opponent. The versus mode would have been highly competitive and fun.
Unfortunately, we were already pressed for time because of other problems -- such as the delays caused by time wasted trying to make a cross-platform game and by our management problems -- and choices had to be made.
After talking with our Microsoft producer, we concluded that delivering one superb game mode was better than delivering three half-baked ones. Multiplayer therefore went out the window to allow us to polish the single player experience. Such is the reality of game developing.
Here we are. Despite losing our initial publisher and dropping from a cross-platform title to a single-console one, we finally launched Lazy Raiders. Do we regret any of these things?
Nosiree. Losing our publisher allowed us to come into our own, and gave us the confidence we needed to repeat the experience. Switching console allowed us to focus on the targeted audience and give the game more depth, both gameplay-wise and visually.
All the same... that multiplayer mode we wanted to implement was really, really cool. Who knows? Maybe in the sequel.