August. That's the last time I wrote at any length about the development of Deadnaut, the game I've been working on since February this year. The release is tantalisingly close and once again I'm feeling that strange combination of joy, relief and terror at exposing a creative endeavour I've worked on for the better part of year to the world. But overall, the emotions are positive ones, especially as I look at how far the game has come in the space of a few months.
Deadnaut is still the same entity it was in August, but during that time it transformed from an enjoyable, yet broken toy into a video game. Every title goes through this process and if you ask any artist, programmer or designer when the transition occurs, they won't be able to tell you.
One day, it's a collection of entertaining systems wrapped in a delicious pixel coating and the next, an actual, proper game thing that you wouldn't be embarrassed to watch someone play.
Screenshots don't tell the whole story, but here's a comparison using an image from back then:
Here's what the game looks like now:
There are some striking differences — the panels above and below the main screen, for example — but a lot of it is subtle. Proper specular textures, an increase in feedback and information for the player. Sound effects.
OK, that last one doesn't come across very well.
A big focus for Deadnaut is atmosphere. We want you to feel like the commander of a rickety spaceship who has no qualms with sending his Alien-esque crew off to die in some horror-filled derelict. Except you can make your own crew... and when you do that, well, you might feel a pang of regret for letting Jenkins be dragged away into a corner and torn apart by rabid extraterrestrial critters.
All the buttons and dials you see on the interface can be manipulated. Each one does something, be it boosting the signal strength to your remote Deadnauts, checking their status conditions or switching the Database over to the Threat screen to find out what you've learned about your enemies.
Speaking of enemies, all the creatures you fight, the ships you explore and even the items you can acquire are all procedurally-generated. Which is cool, right? What we found as we continued to refine the design however is that creating content this way can't go untamed.
Procedural generation is a tool and in the end we had to take a "top-down" approach to some elements, massaging what the game produced so you get a smoother, more consistent experience. So, the variety and mystery are there, but there's a layer of handmade design keeping it all on the level.
Right now, we're waiting for the game to be giving the thumbs-up by the Classification Board — a process we're intimately familiar with — but the delay has given us the opportunity to give the game more polish, which is always a good thing. Sadly, we missed our October release, but if all goes to plan, you'll be able to play Deadnaut within the next seven days.
That's when I'll really be feeling it.