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Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Mon, 07 Apr 2008
Subject: Magnetic Billiards: Seriously Casual

Ste Pickford

I wrote a massive blog post on Friday, but I had second thoughts before posting it. It was about the game we're currently finishing off; both the good side of development as all our ideas click into place and we have the buzz of seeing everything coming together, and the less good side of having to change your work when publishers / platform holders get involved, and the general low status of game design and game designers within the world of video game (as opposed to, say, film directors in the world of films, authors in the world of books, musicians in the world of music etc.).

It's really easy to write down funny anecdotes about daft things that happened when we were making old games (and I've done a fair bit of that in the softography), but it would have been difficult to write about any of those things as they were happening. It doesn't seem quite right to whinge in public about things that involve other people. It's probably safer to stick to moaning in the pub.

I thought that one of the advantages of 'going indie' would be that we would be allowed to talk openly about aspects of the industry we weren't allowed to when we ran a studio.

John once offered some comments in support of 'Fairplay', a UK campaign group that was trying to put pressure on publishers / manufacturers to lower the price of new video games to something closer to the price of CDs or DVDs. We've both always thought that games are too expensive, or have been since the dawn of the console era at least, and will happily say so to anyone who'll listen. When John's quote appeared on the Fairplay website all hell broke lose at Zed Two. We had friends from all over the industry phoning up asking what the hell we were playing at, clients panicking about continuing to work with us, and even the very real (and absurd) suggestion that we were too 'dangerous' to work with spreading around the UK publishers (who were our potential clients at the time), that almost certainly lost us at least one contract we were pitching for that year. All for publicly suggesting that it would be better for everyone if new games cost £20 instead of £40.

I've wanted to write a complete, comprehensive development diary for a few years now, documenting both the ups and the downs of designing and developing original games, and the few posts I've made in this blog about our current game are my first steps in that direction. I guess it would only be possible to do with a clear conscience if we were self-funding again (as we did with Naked War), without anyone else involved. I'd then only be highlighting how stupid John and I are if I documented every daft decision that was made (and there were a few of those on Naked War)!

I've saved what I've written and might post it at some point in the future, once it's part of the game's history and I can point and laugh at how precious we were about what were probably completely rubbish ideas.

In other news, the game itself is looking great, with a surprisingly successful cosmetic improvement to the front end implemented, and John's wish of getting some of my drawings into the game being finally fulfilled. We're still coming up with new ideas on our Friday nights in the pub, even when we think the design is done.

Sometimes ideas can only occur to you when the game is pretty much finished, and it's absolutely brilliant to be working in an environment, or within a process, that allows us to keep adding and tweaking at this late stage. We don't have to reject ideas because they don't match a list of milestones or deliverables painfully negotiated at the start of the project, or because they'll require changes to the existing documentation and the knock-on requisite approvals would be too time consuming and difficult to secure.

What happened on Friday night was that John had the game running with the relatively new computer AI playing the game on autopilot when I arrived at his house (AI was never suggested, specced, or required at the start of the project - John had the idea of how to do it relatively late in development, but implementing it has inspired several other great new features). We sat there chatting for an hour or so, almost hypnotised as the AI played the game in ways we never would, all of which made us look at the game from different angles, and see new possibilities.

The game is robust and entertaining enough that we're sure it doesn't need any new ideas, so the things we're coming up with now aren't to solve any design problems, or fix any flaws - they're just ideas that, if we do our job right, will only make the game better, deeper, or more subtle. We're conscious of not wanting to overload the game with features (I've already talked about how much work we've put into streamlining and combining different ideas to make the whole design more elegant and simple, without losing any depth), so anything we come up with now has to be carefully integrated. Some of the ideas we're adding will perhaps be invisible to new players, but should become apparent as an extra layer of depth as players get into the game.

None of the ideas we've had in the last three or four months could possibly have been designed on paper at the start of the project.

The only problem is, every time we think of something new we're pushing back the point where we can invoice for the final development payment, so we're literally self-funding this optional extra phase of development. No wonder we're not rich.


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