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2. School Projects versus Full Development
Another point which required a lot more work than expected was simply polish. We wanted the game to be as good as we could make it at that time.
During our game design education we worked on games, so we thought we knew how to make games. But school projects have strict deadlines, and once those pass, the game gets evaluated. This meant we had never actually completely finished a game. We always went about 90 percent there, which was good enough for good grades.
As the saying goes, the last 10 percent of the work takes 90 percent of your time. It might not have been quite that extreme for us in this case, but it still took a good deal longer than we expected.
3. Having One Programmer: The Notepad Issue
The levels took a lot of time to build with the limited tools we had. With only one programmer, you can't ask for a good level design tool. For design, then, we had to use the stock Windows text editor, Notepad. We used it for almost everything -- editing the levels, writing a script for the game.
Adding all of this text to a huge text file and testing all the different versions in all languages took quite some time -- especially since every change required the level to be restarted. But we had three designers and five artists vs. one programmer, so we put up with Notepad.
There was one exception: AI. Our AI routines were built in a simple logic tree editor, which was built by a programming intern. And though the editor was a bit buggy, it was still a major improvement over editing those XML files in Notepad.
In hindsight, we probably should have put some time in coding creating a visual level editor. In about two weeks, we could've created an editor which, while it wouldn't have been too user friendly, would still have been a massive improvement over Notepad. This, in turn, would've allowed us to tweak the whole game that much better, and also would have saved the rest of the team a lot of time.
4. Adding Stuff at the Last Moment
A few big features we created pretty late in the process, such as different speed settings, which were implemented in the last week! This, of course, had to be balanced and checked for every level, and quite a few nights of sleep were skipped to check all of these last-minute features.
Another thing which came very late was the actual balance between factions. Halfway through development, we had the impression that the balance was okay, since we did a few basic balancing sessions at the start. But by the time the campaigns were nearly done, we decided to take another hard look at this balance. It turned out that the balance was horrible and would need a lot of work.
Once we started investing in this work, it of course shook up a lot of the work on the campaign. Levels were suddenly way too hard, or too easy. This added another chunk of unexpected work. Needless to say, we learned a lot about the sequence in which we should design our games.
5. Promoting Your Game Is Hard Work
After the game was out, we had to do a lot of work to promote it. We had a marketing plan, in which we would release occasional stuff like videos and screenshots. But this was not nearly enough to get the game out there.
Because our deadline was pushed back four to five months, and we had started the marketing with the original release date in mind, we had to fill this time with enough marketing materials to keep momentum going.
Marketing took a full time artist, creating videos, screenshots, logos and high resolution materials for press. We did not plan on marketing taking that amount of work. Thankfully, Nintendo helped us out by giving us some extra promotional support.
To know when your project is done is pretty important, and to arrange everything for your release is something we will take in account from the moment we start our next project.
In the end, we are very happy with the game; it definitely worked out pretty well for us. We have a great game as track record and we managed to make some money off it too. A game can't ask for much more than an 84 on Metacritic, a bunch of awards, and being called "one of the best RTS games for consoles".
We have plenty of ideas for a sequel and combined with the numerous ideas from our game's fans, we have more than enough to make the next Swords & Soldiers title even bigger and better.