Monday, February 13, 2017

A Year In Review 2016

I haven't been very active on my blog, but I wanted to at least keep up with the year in review posts, where I look back on what happened in the past year and discuss my thoughts/plans for the future. The previous end of year reviews are here:
As you can see, Fancy Fish Games has been a constant roller coaster of highs and lows, of built up expectations and crashing dreams. It's already been over 4 years, and I Can't Escape: Darkness is the closest thing we've had to success. We've actually gotten a lot more sales since then thanks to the Steam Discovery Updates and the Halloween Sale, but we still haven't been able to realize our dreams of becoming a full time dev studio. Despite our uneven footing and uncertain future, we have been getting a lot better at designing and developing games, so we're definitely improving - if not as fast as we had once hoped.

So What Happened in 2016?

For those of you who have been following us, you probably noticed we had no major releases in 2016. In fact, our only release was Quotidian, our 2016 Global Game Jam entry (if you haven't yet, you should try it - it's very short, and very good for having been made in only 48 hours).

The rest of the year was largely brainstorming, prototyping, and freelance work until around July, when we started working on </reality> (more on that later).

The only playable prototype I'll share with you today is Medieval Tactics. It's a neat TBS with some city building aspects inspired partly by the board game Settlers of Catan, but it's kind of lackluster and doesn't really add anything new to the genre, so I haven't made any plans to go further with it.

Beyond the Stars

The prototype we spent the most time on was Beyond the Stars, which I have shared a few screenshots of on my blog and twitter. It's gone through many revisions, but the basic idea was an FTL-like game where you control a fleet of ships (instead of just one), and your score is based on how many civilians survive. However, this turned out to be very difficult to manage (as a player), and there weren't enough options for defending civilians besides ordering ships to defend other ships. We started planning a simplified, but multiplayer version where each player commands one ship in the fleet (and the rest of the ships are AI controlled). However, this became overwhelming very quickly, and we still couldn't find where the "fun" in the game was, beyond complex management that only die-hard fans of strategy/simulation games would enjoy.

Our conclusion with Beyond the Stars was that the basic gameplay needed more thought, and adding bells and whistles would only hide, not remove, those issues. For now, on HOLD.

Voxel Engine

After I Can't Escape: Darkness, I was inspired to make a Voxel Engine for future block-based 3D games. It mostly started out as a hobby/side project (and I coded the voxel mesher in OpenCL, which was interesting), but now we are planning to use it for I Can't Escape 3 (not yet announced). I also wrote a layer-based voxel editor for designing rooms and worlds.

Early screenshot of a room in I Can't Escape 3

The engine supports ramps and 3D models (including bone animations), and should be useful for many games in the future. And yes, I am crazy for writing my own voxel engine from scratch, but that could be the topic of a whole separate blog post.


After experimenting with many game prototypes, none of which stuck for long (besides Beyond the Stars which I explained above), we were unsure what to make next. We really liked the basic story behind one of the prototypes, but the RPG-ish gameplay wasn't that interesting. Natalie started expanding the story and moving away from the original game, and eventually we realized if we scrapped the gameplay, it would make a very interesting Visual Novel. That was how </reality> was born - the only remnant of the original gameplay being a short nod to it where Jacob explains that Vitalia will eventually be a creature-taming game based on a loyalty system.

Thus started our next big project. We decided to use Ren'Py, as it had basically all the features we wanted out of the box (and I'm not afraid of a little Python coding). I kind of consider </reality> Natalie's project, as she is doing all the art and wrote the first draft of the story. I wrote the original outline, and did a little coding, and a lot of formatting the story into the Ren'Py format, but most of my work on this game has been script editing (and there seems to be endless editing to do on a story this large).

</reality> was successfully funded on Kickstarter and we recently released the Steam Coming Soon page! Development is going pretty smoothly, and we still hope to release by the end of March (coming up really fast) or mid April at the latest. We also made an offical </reality> website with pre-order/late backing options available.

Global Game Jam

Last month we attended the Global Game Jam again and created Wavebreakers in 48 hours. It was my first time using Unity (at the request of the two other programmers on the team), and we were perhaps a little too ambitious for such a short period of time, but the game idea is definitely interesting and we might eventually polish it to the point where we feel comfortable releasing it to the public. But, even if we don't, it was a good experience, and I got a handle on Unity pretty fast if I ever need to use it again (for work or my own games).

The Future

Obviously, between now and the end of March we're going to be pretty busy finishing up </reality>. However, I have been brainstorming ideas for our next game(s) and even made another new prototype (codename "Witch Academy") while waiting for </reality> art from Natalie.

2017 Goals:
  • Release </reality>!
  • I Can't Escape 3 - Matt, the artist for I Can't Escape: Darkness has already written a design document and started designing rooms in the Voxel Editor. We probably won't be able to release this year, but definitely next year. The only thing I'll tell you about this game until we announce it formally is that it's a direct sequel to I Can't Escape: Darkness, taking place after escaping the tomb (and killing the heart, with all the consequences of doing so).
  • Witch Academy - After </reality> is released, this will be the next project I work on with Natalie. I should be able to work on both this and ICE3, and I already have the game design document and a prototype of it working. This also probably won't be released until early 2018.
  • We might try to release one other game this year, but if we do, it will be a smaller one. I did work on a few small prototypes with Aaron, an artist I met last year, and two of them could end up being pretty interesting.

So, we should have a lot of interesting releases between now and early 2018! After that, we still want to make Beyond the Stars (if we can make the gameplay fun), and I also have a few ideas that I want to experiment with in the Voxel Editor (you can see one world I made above using Kenny's voxel textures).

So, we may have slowed down, but we definitely aren't giving up, and we have some pretty ambitious games planned!

P.S. My game ideas spreadsheet (which I created to organize all my ideas, design documents and prototypes) now has 38 entries! We won't make all of them, and not all of them are good, but that's still pretty wild.