[An extensive postmortem of High Voltage Software's Wii-exclusive shooter sequel -- in which chief creative officer Eric Nofsinger explains how lessons learned during development "made us a better company, and allowed us to make better games."]
High Voltage Software has been in business for nearly 18 years. While the majority of that time was spent developing successful titles for a number of publishers, we were fortunate enough to have recently started creating our own IPs including The Conduit and its sequel Conduit 2.
Our first major original IP, The Conduit, was an attempt to fill a void in the Wii lineup by providing an FPS aimed at the more hardcore gamer that we felt wasn't being served by the existing marketplace. At the same time, we needed the game to be accessible enough to still appeal to the more casual player that made up the bulk of the Wii consumer base.
In some areas we succeeded and in others unfortunately we fell short. The title had good sales and overall positive reviews, but we knew we could do better.
With Sega already on board for a sequel, that's exactly what we set out to do. Our team rolled right into Conduit 2 as soon as they had wrapped up the first title and the following article describes how it turned out.
1. The Fans Spoke, and We Listened
During production of both titles, we wanted to show off the game at every chance we could get. We wanted to know what people liked and didn't like. We wanted the gamers to feel like part of the development process because for us, they truly are.
At any press event that any member of High Voltage Software attended, we were actively soliciting feedback and when a comment was made we would immediately write it down. For Conduit 2 in particular, nearly all core team members were active forum members on many different community sites in order to obtain a sense of what the gamers wanted and expected from the sequel.
This was a highly motivating approach for all involved. The fans became more invested in the sequel, the team felt more responsibility to deliver something that would make the fans happy, and we gained incredibly valuable data that allowed us to make more informed decisions on key aspects of the game design before we spent too much time on any one part.
2. The Engine Had Matured
When we set out to create The Conduit, we were starting from scratch. Much of our engine technology was new, our art pipeline wasn't defined, and our level design process was theoretical. We had passion and determination, but we really were creating the technology and asset generation pipeline along with the gameplay, which really limited what our designers could do. While all of this was being dealt with, we were also trying to craft a brand new IP, which causes a number of problems for us throughout development.
Fortunately, when we started work on the sequel, our Quantum 3 engine had matured through the development of titles like The Conduit, Tournament of Legends, and Iron Man 2, and was now robust enough to handle the type of game we wanted to make. Also, because so many staff members worked on The Conduit, we found ourselves staffed with designers, artists, and programmers who had at least one large Quantum 3 game under their belts. They'd seen our engine grow, worked with it extensively, and knew how to get the most out of it.
As a result of this experience, they could implement features more quickly, craft artwork that took more advantage of the engines strengths, and create more complex level designs far more efficiently that we were able to do with the first game. This resulted in improvements throughout the game such as less linear level designs, higher quality artwork, more exciting enemy encounters, more intelligent AI, and a higher framerate. This experience is why when comparing The Conduit to Conduit 2 it feels like night and day!