Sunday, January 10, 2021

Year in Review: 2020

It's hard to believe that my last real Year in Review was for 2016. I haven't been keeping up with this blog as much as I'd like, but this time it's been because of how busy we were with Aground between 2017 and 2020.


In April 2020, we finally released the full version of Aground, and over the summer we released our final major content update - the Hybrid Path. As difficult as 2020 was for everyone in the world - us included - Aground's launch was by far the biggest success we've ever had. We are so proud of how far the game and its community has come. Achieving an "overwhelmingly positive" review score was one of my long-standing goals as a game developer, and even though it is just a number, it was really special when we finally reached it.

The console ports for Aground are nearly ready to launch - so look forward to that early this year on the PS4, Switch and XBox One. Beyond that, while we've considered expansions/sequels/DLC for Aground, we kind of feel like it is done, and has a strong, complete story, and we are ready for something new. We may come back to Aground at some point, but it will not be our next project.

The big question is: what comes next?


So, what DOES come next for Fancy Fish Games? When in doubt, I do what I've done in the past (and what actually gave rise to Aground) - rapid prototypes to find out what works, and what to focus on. We now have several prototypes, and while we aren't fully decided, it's likely we'll be working on Stardander School for Witches (previously called Witch Academy) next. Which is funny, as in my 2016 year in review, one of our goals was to push this project forward after </reality>.

Ideas have been circulating for this game for a long while, and Natalie has already done a lot of art for it (as you can see above), but only recently have we put together a strong prototype for it. I'm also very proud of the battle system, which is one thing I've struggled with in other game designs.

Another prototype we put a lot of work into is  "My Children are off to be Heroes, but someone has to tend the Farm" - or Heroes Farm for short. This was meant to fill the void of the colony update we were never able to do for Aground: with farming, managing villagers and defending against waves of enemies in a similar vein to Kingdom. The story is also from a neat perspective: the parent of the heroes who go off to save the world from the dark one. Someone has to provide food for the armies, and the dark one knows this and attacks farms because even the best heroes can't win on an empty stomach! As new parents ourselves, the idea really resonated with us.

Unfortunately, due to feedback from the prototype we realized that the two cores of the game didn't mix well. The farming elements are more casual/relaxing, but at night everything can be lost by invading enemies (more action/stress). While the colony/NPC elements tie the two together and let you automate both, it turned out to not mesh well when actually playing the game. I do have ideas on how I could remedy this, but it's on hold for now in favor of Stardander.

Going Forward

My only real concern right now is that Stardander is very different gameplay-wise from Aground. I always seem to do something different, and this remains true even if my past game was a success. I do want to go back to Aground eventually, and maybe even I Can't Escape, but for now I'm pretty excited about Stardander. Hopefully people who enjoyed Aground will give it a try, or at least understand that we are crazy and never do the same genre of game twice in a row. Doing something new keeps us excited and our ideas fresh, and maybe you should try something new as well!

At a low point during the development of Aground, I was wondering if I would even want to/be able to continue Fancy Fish Games - but the success of Aground has given us the opportunity to keep going and the confidence to try something new. So I look forward to 2021 with optimism even with the challenges of the pandemic still at large.

PS. My game ideas spreadsheet now has 58 entries. I will never make them all... but at least I have a lot of ideas to choose from and continue refining!

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