Postmortem: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
July 30, 2013 Page 4 of 5
3. Demos -- too damn many of them
People who know me are probably expecting me to go completely off the deep end and start bashing marketing and PR right now, but I'm not going to do it. I understand how hard their job is, and how that job is fundamentally motivated by events that are counter to the way developers like to work.
Developers, especially producers, like to be proactive. We make schedules, and we plan dependencies. That's how stuff gets done. Sure, problems pop up that we have to react to, but the goal is to reduce those as much as possible.
Marketing and PR are by necessity much more reactive in their work. If you sat down and tried to formulate the next two years of a marketing plan with the same level of detail that a development schedule has, it would be full of every single possibility that could arise while trying to sell the game. A very small percentage of those opportunities would be sure things. There are some major milestones that can be planned well in advance, such as E3, but you have to remain flexible and opportunistic with a new IP to ensure you follow through on opportunities as they open up. Of course, that means that they'll come to game developers, say "We have this great opportunity, but we'll need a brand-new demo and 30 never-before- seen screenshots by the end of the month," and drive us crazy. Being a brand-new IP, we were aware we couldn't get away with a single demo at E3 and a few dozen screenshots and videos. We knew we had to get our awareness up so people would start paying attention to our game. Marketing decided that the best way to do that was show the press as many different things about the game as possible over a very long period of time.
I'm trying to remember the number of demos we had to create over the development cycle of Reckoning, and I honestly end up losing count. Doing a demo for us was a pretty major undertaking, like it is for almost everyone in the business. You're basically taking content and systems that were meant to be first or second pass at a certain point in the schedule and bump it all up to shippable quality long before it's supposed to be shippable quality. This results in a lot of work that is just thrown out because the real content and the real systems end up changing a few weeks or months later. And there is nothing quite as frustrating as working overtime on something that you know is just going to be seen once and then thrown away.
The consumer demo was another hurdle to overcome. There was no way we were going to be able to complete work on the game and create a downloadable demo in parallel. We just didn't have the time. In the end, we had to outsource the demo, and they had to build something with old code and not a lot of time. The result was a buggy experience, but still an experience that a lot of fans enjoyed.
In the future, we'll be sure to plan plenty of time and budget for multiple press demos and work on a better plan to either build the downloadable demo ourselves or better support outsourcers.
4. Main quest -- not enough of it fleshed out early enough
In Reckoning, a lot of the custom content work we did focused on the main quest. There is a lot of custom content throughout the entire game, but we knew we really wanted to spend more of our time on the main quest, as most players would see the majority of that line. A big chunk of that custom work was cinematics.
Our cinematic team is awesome but very small. Much like most of our teams on the project, they have to produce more content than would normally be expected for a team that size. Not locking down the major beats of the main quest early really hurt the cinematics team.
Going from a storyboard to a finished cinematic takes a long time. Once a cinematic is finished, it is very costly to change. Because we weren't locked down on the major cinematic moments in the game for so long, we ended up having to cut several cinematics that we really wanted to include. The cinematics we have in the game are awesome, and we got all the major beats that we wanted, but we definitely wanted more.
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