Happy Lunar New Year!
Interestingly enough, this year’s date nicely aligns with the studio’s two year anniversary. Two years ago to the day, six of us started this journey in a dusty office space with hand-me-down furniture and a few dozen boxes of electronics. In those first few days we didn’t have a studio name, a game title, or even an internet connection. All we had was a common dream to make something cool, something tactical, and something we can call our own. Yeah, that was cheesy, but honestly it’s hard not to get a little cheesy over something we’ve put our savings and a couple years (so far) of our lives into.
Now, we’re just months away from launching Forged of Blood and the last couple years has been an absolute blur. In that time we’ve built out the team to a studio peak of eleven and have said goodbye to some incredibly talented people as they moved on to other projects. At the end of the day, the game we will launch is a testament to their talent and I could not have been any more grateful to have had the chance to work with them so far.
So while the studio is closed for the Lunar New Year celebrations, I thought it would be nice to see just how far we’ve come. Thing is, while I’ve had this post planned for about a month now… the toughest thing about all this, is the sad fact that we don’t have a lot of “good” photos to look back through – a side effect, no doubt; of crappy office lighting, an old camera phone, and being a bunch of camera shy nerds, but I digress.
As we close on the second year of production, we’re starting to see the intended vision of Forged of Blood take shape. The programmers are busy chasing down our feature list and making sure our layers of mechanical systems are working, while the art side is getting ready to wrap up their side of production and have been looking to potential future content. Our quest lines are being written and rewritten as fast as humanly possible, and little by little we’re seeing the layers upon layers of mechanics come together into something that we’re actually enjoying.
Where once there was chicken scratchings on a whiteboard, we know have realized mechanics tied into multiple layers of gameplay.
That hastily drawn table on a whiteboard, pictured above, is where we started with character stats, just a few figures listed out for a few Lego miniatures duking it out on the table. Pen, paper, die, and legos gave way to rough character stats and programmable mechanics. Fast forward a couple years and we have the tactical gameplay layer (see below) that we’ve proudly showcased at PAX East, Tokyo Game Show, Gameprime, and Popcon Jakarta.
Our strategic layer was subject to many heated discussions and iterations on the board as well. How much of the game would we house on this layer? What functions do we want served? And how well would it pair with a tactically focused game? These were recurring points as we went back and forth for months until we scratched out what we felt would be the perfect medium to allow for player agency in the planned narrative.
In just the last couple weeks, we’ve managed to fine tune the visual elements on the Strategic Layer and begun implementing a small sampling of quests into the build. These quests take us from the dialogue to strategic command to tactical combat in a manner that drove the narrative forward and allowed for the integration of our other non-tactical mechanics. Chief among which is the Tri-Axis Philosophical Index, which as you might have guessed: started with yet another set of hieroglyphs on the now dusted and ancient surface of the whiteboard.
Two years ago:
Igor: “Here’s the thing though… I don’t want the same old thing. Light/dark… good/evil is boring. I want something with multiple traits we can track on something…”
Milo: “Oh, how about something like this?”
*Milo draws a circle on the board and three axes*
Igor: “Huh, that works.”
Milo: “Cool. Hey Joe, check this out…”
And so the TPI was born.
Granted, it still took another year or so of philosophical and mechanical debates, but the beginnings of what would be the driving narrative force in our game really did have such an anticlimactic beginning (you can read more about the system here).
The last two years came and went so quickly I still can’t quite believe that we’re in the home stretch. We’ve made a ton of mistakes in the process and we’ve had our share of disappointments (failed Kickstarter campaigns, missed opportunities, and seeing dear friends leave), but through it all we kept going and I knew that everything we did, we did for the betterment of the game. With scant resources and an ambitious timeline, this was (is) one hell of a project for a virgin studio and I am so proud to say that each member of our team has thus far exceeded every expectation.
So where are we now?
Well, the programming side is in implementation and clean up mode. It’s tedious, time consuming and often frustrating, but we’re inching our way through. On the art side of things, all of our 3D assets and special visual effects are done – and I’m very happy to say that we’ve exceeded our intended map-count by a comfortable margin. Our solo animator is busy putting together the final few cinematics with 2D assets coming in from the awesome folks over at Caravan Studios. Our music tracks are being finalized, and our custom creature sound effects are in production – leaving only the generic sound effects for us to deal with in the pipeline (one thing at a time…). On the narrative front, we are admittedly lagging – mostly due to the breadth of things pulling me away from it at any given point of the day. However we are making a ton of progress and I’m very relieved to have some solid friends helping me smooth things along there.
Forged of Blood, has been and continues to be one of the greatest challenges in my creative career. I’d like to think that I’ve grown over the last two years of mistakes and daily challenges, and I truly believe that the studio will have something we can be very proud to call our own when it is all said and done. Nevertheless, the coming months will be hard and they will be stressful, I have no doubt of that; but I really hope that collectively we take a moment and look back on where we were just two short years ago. The progress we’ve made is tremendous, and the work we are putting out has been worthy of the very high bar we’ve set for ourselves.
With that, I’d like to close with my sincerest gratitude for every member of our studio – past, present, and future. We’ve done amazing things together and we’ve forged one hell of a game so far. We’re almost there, and I cannot wait to show the world what we’ve done.
To our fans, friends, and families who have cheered us on from the very beginning, seen us through our Kickstarter campaign and the aftermath, and helped us deal with the very real and very challenging stresses of game development – “thank you” is just not enough. We wouldn’t be here without you and we hope to make you all proud with the game we will launch this year, and seriously: thank you.
Finally, to those of you who are just joining us on this journey. Take a moment, have a look, and we hope you like what you see.
Here’s wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year, and here’s to another year of adventures at Critical Forge.