Back in 2011, innovative platformer Shadow Physics seemed poised to reap loads of love from the video game cognoscenti. The ambitious shadow adventure showcased impressive tech and was part of the freshman class of games getting money from Indie Fund. It looked like their path to success was set.
So why did the game get cancelled?
A talk at this year's GDC explained some of that. Scott Anderson from the Enemy Airship dev studio gave a presentation on a panel devoted to failure that detailed the many stumbles that led to Shadow Physics getting funding cut and eventual cancellation.
Looking back at the game, Anderson admitted that Shadow Physics was a great concept that wound up being not that much fun to actually play. The goals that he and studio co-founder Steve Swink were chasing — fame, fortune, notoriety — were all external rewards, as opposed to the satisfaction of getting the game nailed down.
Anderson also talked about how he and the Enemy Airship team should've used the Unity development engine instead of their own home-brewed tech. That tech led to problems with the physics engine and an overall feeling that the game wasn't tight. Certain levels had moving light sources which would shift the terrain where your shadow character could move. But, issues with collision plagued these levels. And, despite having a few interesting puzzle levels, Anderson said that the systems in the game felt unpredictable.
Lots of tension came from hiring the wrong people, a lack of communication and follow-through. Moreover, design didn't break through early prototype stage and there was pressure to move into production.
And, other considerations soured the game's development for a game, too. There was a case of "Braid envy," Anderson said, where Enemy Airship both wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Blow's game and found themselves anointed as the next indie success. Yet, Anderson said that being an Indie Fund game bound for an Xbox Live Arcade release felt like a fatal combination, because they didn't have enough manpower or resources to put out a sharply polished title.
All too often we're hearing about how making games on your own is a big happy lovefest. While Shadow Physics' failure sounds like an indie dev nightmare, the story of the disintegration made for great peek behind the less shiny side of this scene. Anderson indicated that he'd be talking more about the non-release of Shadow Physics at his Impossible Land blog.