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

Ste Pickford

Our new game has been canned! Gutted!

OK, not quite canned, but it's no longer a console game, and that's the reason that I haven't written anything in this blog for a few weeks. We got the news a couple of months ago, but it's taken a while to tie up all the loose ends, and I didn't want to be writing about it while we were still sorting out the final legalities.

I can't remember how much I'd written about the background to this project in previous blog posts, but the deal we had struck was close to being absolutely perfect for us.

We had an original game concept - a 'casual game' - and had hooked up with a client who wanted us to develop it to fully playable prototype stage on PC, which they were then going to take and make into a console game for one of the download systems out there (Live / PSN / Wii Ware, whatever). This was ideal as we were being funded to develop an original game from home, retaining IP ownership, and didn't have to write the console versions, which would be impossible for us as none of the console manufacturers seem keen on letting people who work from home have access to devkits or developer licenses.

We'd got to the end of the prototype, but we'd not really known when to stop and were adding more polish to the prototype than strictly necessary. We've spent over two decades making finished, releasable games, so it's a kind of habit with us, and without anyone telling us to stop we just carried on making something like a finished game, rather than saying 'here's the finished prototype' and claiming the last payment months ago, like any sensible businessmen would.

In the meantime our client had become less keen on the prospect of committing to writing a console version of the game. We don't know exactly why. They might have just hated the game, but I don't think so. The deal gave them the right to decline to start the console version at the end of the prototype period, and they've merely exercised that right. So we haven't been canned at all really - it just felt like it when we first heard it back in May - and we're still on very good terms with the client.

I suspect the changes to Xbox Live Arcade were a major factor. The game was most definitely intended for Live Arcade when we started, and some of the early design decisions were made with XBLA in mind. Quite early on there was some vaguely negative news from Microsoft. We don't know exactly what, as we weren't involved in any of the negotiations or meetings (the business side wasn't our role on this project), but we understand that the very type of game we were making was basically no longer what Microsoft wanted on their system (even though it fits in perfectly with what's there now). It was rejected without anyone at Microsoft even looking at it. The changes to the royalty rate on offer can't have been much help either, and must have radically altered the financial viability of recouping the costs of developing a console version on top of funding a prototype.

There were other reasons too, we've been told, which were unrelated to our game. We'll probably never know for sure.

Where does that leave us? Well, we might not be making a game for XBLA any more, but we've got a nearly finished original PC game that's far more polished than a pure prototype, which has been designed to appeal to a XBLA audience. Things aren't too bad I suppose. Oh, and the game is really good too.

In the short term we need to get the game finished and out as a PC game, through www.zee-3.com, and start earning some income from it (I'm scared of the coming winter gas bill already!). That's what we've been working on over the last few weeks.

We've been adapting the prototype to be more PC friendly. We actually developed the prototype as a pure 1080p widescreen HD game, but now have to think about lower spec PCs if we're going to release it commercially. We've been adding tutorials and in-game manuals, and we've shown the game to a few alpha testers for some early reactions. There's even an outside chance of a Mac version!

Ideally it's a game that should be on Wii Ware or PlayStation Network if XBLA is a no-go, but we've yet to be approved as a licensed Nintendo developer, and the clear statement on their application form that "A home office is not considered a secure business location" means we're expecting a knock back any day now.

This is despite Reggie Fils-Aime claims that, "independent developers armed with small budgets and big ideas will be able to get their original games into the marketplace to see if we can find the next smash hit," and, "[wii ware games] can come from Reggie's Videogame Garage or from EA." Although we've got big ideas and small budgets, we can't afford to rent an office (and wouldn't get any benefit from doing so, although apparently if we had a garage to work in we might be OK), so we don't seem to be allowed to get our original games on to two of the three console marketplaces out there.

We're not sure about the current Sony developer license rules, but they used to be much stricter than Nintendo's back in the PS2 days, the last time we applied as Zed Two. Something for us to look into now.

We'll also have to look into other PC outlets too (unlike Naked War, which was dependent on a Zee-3 account to swap turns, we can potentially sell our new game through portals, and maybe even Steam, like other more successful PC indie games), and even other open platforms like iPhone etc. We just need to get the basic PC version done first.

We're really keen to return to Naked War, and are full of ideas for the long overdue 'version 2', but that will have to wait until this project is finished, and we've got at least two more frankly brilliant original game ideas that we've been talking about for months, which we'd love to start work on if only we had the time and a bit of money.

I guess one upside is that we can talk publicly about the game itself finally. We've avoided mentioning the name of the game, or showing any screenshots of the prototype as we didn't want to step on the toes of our client who was handling the sale of the game. We haven't got a client any more, so we can say what we like, and even announce the title!

It's called... Tell you what, I'll announce the title in un upcoming blog post...


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