Archive for November, 2007

Well, this sucks.

After six months of hard work and anticipation, another era in the production of my would-be adventure game opus, Rise of the Hidden Sun, has come to a disappointing end.

First, though, some background. Buckle up ’cause this may take a while.

Rise of the Hidden Sun is a 2-D point ‘n’ click adventure game in the tradition of old computer classics like King’s Quest and The Secret of Monkey Island. I was practically raised on those games in the ’80s and ’90s and I’ve wanted to make one of my own for as long as I can remember. As a kid I designed countless text adventures using the programming language BASIC, and I always thought that some day I’d move to California and go work for Sierra, which at the time was the definitive adventure game publisher.

Unfortunately, Sierra stopped making adventures at basically the same time that I graduated from college—so there was to be no “Adventure Game Designer” job title in my future. That is, until I discovered Adventure Game Studio, a do-it-yourself game design program that was both free and easy to use.

So back in 2003 I decided to put my spare time into the creation of my own game, and I settled on a Wild West setting, an epic treasure hunt, and a largely comedic backdrop. I spent about eight months hammering out the plot, the dialogue, the characters, and the puzzles in what is to this day probably the best and most polished work of creative writing I’ve ever completed.

This game wasn’t going to look like a one-person job. No, no. This was going to have professional production values from the writing and music to the background art and animation. And for a while, everything went according to plan. I was able to recruit some top-notch talent from the amateur adventure game design community. I served as the project coordinator and de facto art director, making sure that everything met a very high standard of production and had a consistent “feel” to it from artist to artist.

My biggest problem since this all began, though, has been attrition. Simply put, people who volunteer their time on projects like this—particularly people who you only know through the Internet—just don’t stick around to finish what they’ve started. They’re usually good for about three months of work before they just drop off the face of the planet, never to be heard from again.

So, about two years ago I made the decision to start paying people to work on my game. I couldn’t pay much, of course—I had always planned on Rise of the Hidden Sun being a freeware game—and it basically came down to how quickly I could sell stuff on eBay to pay for the work-for-hire artists I needed to create the professional quality artwork I wanted. This was a bad business model, obviously, but that’s why I named my production unit “Chapter 11 Studios.” I knew I’d go broke doing it this way, but I was determined to make Rise of the Hidden Sun the best damn freeware adventure game ever made.

I’ve had pretty good luck with background artists who draw and/or digitally color the game environments. My track record with animators isn’t so good. But I thought I’d finally solved the problem for good back in June of this year when I began working with a professionally trained animator named Jim Peebles.

Not only was Jim willing to work for very short money—again, I could afford him just by selling my old comic books on eBay—but his work was good. Damn good. He was fast, willing to listen to my suggestions, and responsive to my emails. Together we made more progress on the animation front in two months than I had in the previous two years. It was a revelation. The characters in Rise of the Hidden Sun were coming to life before my very eyes. After years of searching, I’d found my animator!

Or not.

Because Jim, like each and every one of my would-be animators before him, eventually stopped producing. Progress updates became less and less frequent. The quality of the animations dropped significantly when he did get around to sending me something.

And then this past weekend came the final straw. He emailed me probably the two worst character animations I’ve ever seen. Sloppy, careless, and clearly very rushed. They looked nothing like the amazing work he’d done for me just months earlier. It left me with no choice: Jim’s time on Rise of the Hidden Sun was over.

Thus, I have no animator, and I don’t even know if I can use the good stuff Jim created because every animator has a different style and it’s hard to combine the work of different artists without the discrepency between their styles being obvious.

It’s left me to once again question my plan to make Rise of the Hidden Sun a freeware game. If I really want it to be professional quality, it seems, I’m going to have to take a professional approach—and that means a for-profit model that would make this an actual business. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, I could embrace the do-it-all-myself approach and be the game’s chief artist/animator, which would ensure that it would get done—but at a significantly reduced level of quality.

So here I am, back at the drawing board again … literally. I’m standing at a crossroads in the game’s development, and I have no idea which road to take.

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