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4. Polish on Story Arc and Delivery
While it sounds strange to say that a game, which from the beginning was based upon a story world, did not have as much time for polish on the story as we would like, this is in fact the truth. Some parts of the story evolved in my mind as time went by, or I found that as the team moved forward into the tactical aspects of the project more clarity was required on the story than I had originally accounted for.
Again, we did focus on the story, but I think that in hindsight we wished that we would have spent some more time on how players experienced the "end." We focused a lot on raising the bar at the beginning and drawing the players into the story, but we didn't achieve as much "punch" as we would have liked to for the game's conclusion.
Additionally, despite our efforts to design an appealing set of characters in both our mortal and fairy worlds, we found that the emotional connection did not completely match our expectation. We relied on the cinematics to propel the story forward and on the diary and dream jewels to provide a mechanism for players to uncover more information about the characters and backstory of Dream Chronicles world, but some of the feedback that we've received is that the delivery was too subtle.
This is an area that we took immediately as a major focus for Dream Chronicles 2: The Eternal Maze and from early indications is an area where we have improved dramatically.
5. Letting Go of the Final Marketing Was Tough
Dream Chronicles was the passionate "dream" of many people, and it was tough to see it through some of the creative challenges required to bring it to market. We struggled at times to gain consensus among the various internal and external teams on a number of non-game related issues.
Originally the game had been called simply Dream, which we loved because of the many ways that such a name could be interpreted. To my team at Kat Games it was a single, powerful word that signified what the game represented to us. Along with PlayFirst, we brainstormed a number of different ways to develop a name that could be protected, hint at a full series of adventure products, and continue to evoke the "feeling" we had intended with the original name.
There was also a challenge that we faced around how to best represent the game in the marketing collateral used to sell it in the online space. As a downloadable game, there were different opinions about how to best translate the beautiful Art Nouveau style from the game into clear and legible assets that would "pop" on the virtual shelf.
Ultimately, we trusted the points that our publishing partner made in this area and went with their recommendations. After many collaborative sessions with PlayFirst, we also chose the final title, Dream Chronicles.
In the end, we discovered that Dream Chronicles resonated with the casual games audience and helped achieve its status as a notable casual game -- and now, a franchise.
There were a few key lessons I took away from this project. First of all, be sure and find a publisher you trust and who shares your vision. Secondly, if you want to do something truly innovative, plan for unexpected costs and longer timelines (you'll need it as you learn what works).
Lastly, rely on your gut instinct on what you think works, rely on others who can provide support and expertise, but ultimately keep the "dream" alive to make your once-in-a-lifetime project a reality. It won't be easy, but it can be worth it!
Total development staff: Four (Kat Games), Two outsourcing companies
Length of development: 12 months, including 4 months for prototype
Development hardware: PC 2.2 core DUO, 2 GB RAM, 240 GB HD, 256 MB graphics card
Development software: Visual C++ Photoshop 3D MAX, Flash