When we started with Nuclear Dawn, we had all these ambitious ideas to make a unique FPS/RTS Hybrid. Especially coming from a mod community you learn to think big, you don’t have budgets to consider, and the time you can spend on a project is almost limitless. For Nuclear Dawn we started with the same mindset, we put all our ideas on paper had multiple meetings about extraordinarily features. Soon after the meetings were done we started on the game design document. It didn’t take long after that before we started creating our dream game.
Everybody started full of energy and motivation and nothing was impossible or undoable we would show the world how it was done. It was only a few months later that we already had our first setback, developing a FPS is one thing but adding an RTS on top of it is another. Everything we did had to work for both modes and had to make sense, no magically appearing boxes unpacking into structures. We had this great concept of a delivery vehicle picking up crates from the Assembler and dropping them in the selected spot to unpack. It sounded perfect on paper and the coders started on it right away, the only problem was it would take a long time before we could test it.
We didn’t have the luxury of time to wait for all code to be done, and had to start on vehicle models and continue designing the levels to meet our deadlines. Many months later we were finally able to test, which was looking quite promising, but we only used placeholder models, pretty much boxes with wheels. Finally when the delivery vehicle was done and we had our first opportunity to test it, we instantly bumped into multiple problems. The scale of the vehicle made it impossible to turn around tight corners without getting stuck. We had to re-design multiple parts of several levels to make sure it could reach its destination in one pass. Then there was the dynamic aspect of the game, because of structures were able to deploy and could be destroyed on the fly we had to calculate the navigation mesh in real-time, that didn’t work out well because the vehicle was getting stuck easily between structures.
Although with the time already sunk in this and known issues, we had to move on with the remaining part of the game. There was still a big chunk that had to be finished including a major amount of core mechanics. We decided to look at it later and focus on the basic game-play first. In the mean time a part of our develop team went to Valve to show and to get advise on all the aspects of the game. We were extremely proud on our vehicles but Valve wasn’t so impressed when they looked at it, it was an eye opener for all of us. Valve advised to drop the whole vehicle idea for the release. There were too many issues to fix in such a short amount of time. There wasn’t much we could say to defend our design decisions and went back to the drawing board. We came to the conclusion that we had to re-design a large part in a very late stage of development. Most of our levels had already reached the final pass at that time, but were designed for vehicles and now had to be tweaked. Fortunately a complete redesign wasn’t needed because most of the maps were designed for infantry and vehicles from the start. Still it was a lot of work to make sure it would work for foot soldiers only and to have enough space to deploy structures. Sadly there was one map we had to drop, it was too much work for a redesign in the limited time we had.
Another problem was deploying the structures on location, the decision to scrap the vehicles was one thing but it also means we had no longer something to transport the crates with. After long meetings to come up with different ideas we came to the conclusion that we had to break our first design rule. ‘Magic’ was back with a vengeance. Every design idea we had to justify why something was there went pretty much out of the window. We were way past our development time and budget to stand still for more than five minutes.
A lot of design decision we made were changed in that time with a blink of an eye. We added so many features to the game over the years, and decided at that point, to evaluate them individually. Our main goal from now on was to make a fun game and everything else could wait for after that. Everything that wasn’t fun or too much work to fix was dropped from release, till we ended up with a very basic game without all of our ambitious ideas. However one thing remained in all those years of development the FPS/RTS Hybrid.
It’s easy to look back and say, ow we should have done this or that. But it’s a lot harder to not make the same mistakes twice. In any case you already used to it and in game development it’s very easy to get drawn away by extraordinary ideas and dreams. Ultimately it all comes down to one thing, is it fun or not?