After over 2 years of development we’re finally approaching the completion and release of Shu.
There has been a lot of iteration since we began development and the team working on Shu has grown significantly. We’ve had questions like “when will Shu be released?” and “why has development been pushed back?”, so we have produced this Dev Diary to answer those questions and also share our experiences with approaching the end of a project.
Well, that took longer than expected…
We’ve ended up spending more time developing Shu than we initially planned/expected. Toward the end of October we started to realize that we weren’t fully happy with the game and it was having a disheartening effect on the team. We felt Shu lacked the fun it needed and was too much of a grind.
There were some things in the game that we felt were in great need of iteration. Originally, if a villager died, it was permanent. Each world would have three characters travelling together through it; Shu and two villagers, who possessed unique abilities that would be used to traverse through the level. By ensuring the player always has both villagers allowed us to introduce more interesting game-play scenarios and make better use of the villager abilities.
Having a perma-death mechanic meant that if a villager died, the player still needed to be able to make it through the rest of the level without their powers. We ended up in a position where we had 3 unique routes through each level and to be frank it was a design nightmare. We wanted to use our time and creative energy on mechanics and design that were more fun. Reducing the number of alternate paths allowed us to streamline each level and improve the game’s overall flow.
We also realized that the flow of the game was somewhat formulaic, which made it predictable. We had a set structure for each world;
The Storm didn’t feel very imposing or frightening, as the player would know when to expect it and when to feel safe. The Storm is largely used to change the pace of the game and create a greater sense of tension.
Solving these issues and a few others, lead to a lot of redesign and chewed into a lot of development time. We trimmed the fat and have created a more fun game with a better flow and sense of peril.
Keeping our motivation
Things have been back in full-swing for a while and we are now approaching the top of the mountain. Staying motivated and energized was a key factor in making it this far.
We approach Shu development in 2 week sprints. We have a set number of goals which we assess when the fortnight is over. This means that we can focus on smaller targets which lead up to the overarching goal of completion.
We show Shu to the rest of the Coatsink team at the end of each sprint in something we call Shu & Tell. This allows us to gather feedback and also feel proud of our work. We feel it is important to feel a sense of ownership on projects we work on, no matter how large the team.
Working on a project for a prolonged amount of time can start to grate on morale and motivation, so it is important to work in moderation and not overdo it. We’ve had to be honest with ourselves about what was achievable and what wasn’t. We’ve had to cut things that we would have like to have kept, and added things we didn’t expect, to benefit the overall health and fun of the game.
When it comes to crunch, we tend to restrict it. We have found that prolonged periods of crunch is detrimental to the well-being and creativity of our team. We like to maintain a friendly, happy and healthy working environment at all times.