Wow, I literally cannot believe that it has been nearly an entire year since Pete and I decided that we were going to take the plunge and form our own creative game development studio. I can tell you now that it has been an unbelievably crazy year full of ups and downs, mistakes and grand breakthroughs that have really changed the way that we view ourselves as designers and the industry as a whole.
What I really want to talk about in this post isn’t really to do with the challenges that we have faced over the past year (as I really want to save that subject for my lecture at Develop) but the actual process that we have gone through when starting up a studio and of course when concepting, designing and developing Ether.
I guess the reason for this reflection is that at times in our journey we have thought we were building up to specific milestones when in fact we were moving towards key points that we hadn’t really taken into account. An example of this can be seen in most of the work that we had produced in the second half of last year, Pete and I were doing an awful lot of experimental development and research whilst (in our heads) building up a demo of ideas. Our original goal was to concept a game idea in a basic fashion before building a demo in which we would work out mechanics as we went, yet in reality this was our research, development and conception stage of our project. We were never going to fulfil our demo goal as really we had only just started to pool our ideas together in those first 3 months of the project.
This isn’t a bad thing, in fact it has worked out to be the greatest misstep that we could have ever made as we ended up starting this year with an array of small prototypes looking at a variety of interesting mechanics and game play ideas as well as an array of concepts that we could then use when finalising the design for Ether.
This allowed us to then really sit back and form a solid understanding of what we wanted to create and what our target audience was going to be. We finally knew through all this research, development and conception exactly what we were aiming to build and release. Moving onto level design and block mapping then felt easier to do as we knew what we wanted our key game mechanics and USP’s to be through early testing allowing us to carefully and thoughtfully design levels that would complement them.
Looking back at our time flow of work we were in the research and conception stage of Ether for 3 months, working out what we wanted to create, if there was an audience for that creation as well as the best way to make that creation immersive and fun. After Christmas we then moved onto designing the game in detail, working out how these game mechanics would work as whole and building levels around these. It is here that we also started to write the Ether narrative based upon our conception ideas, fleshing it out and interweaving it with the rest of the game design to create a solid structure for us to begin implementation. This process really took us another two months (whilst working day jobs) to finalise.
It was only then when we were ready that the actual implementation of our levels could truly start to evolve into a back bone for Ether. We created block maps of all our levels through an iterative process that allowed us to focus on game play in conjunction with the narrative written, a stage that we are still currently completing. The next stage of the process of course is to start implementing our art and assets into some of these levels and if you have been following us recently you will have seen a lot of work coming through from our art team.
Our next step in this project is going to be our largest and although we have only been here for a year and only been working on Ether in various forms since September we feel as a studio we have come a very long way. The lessons that we have learned have allowed us to approach our designs in a more organised manner whilst still having that creative passion that drove us to start-up a studio in the first place and I am sure we will learn many more lessons in the future.
I can only speculate about where we will be this time next year, but it makes me very excited to think about what we as a studio can achieve in the next 9 months alone, let alone another full year.
We are ready to show the world what we can do and we hope the world loves it.