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Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Postmortem: Part 4

The best laid plans of mice and men come to fruition. Part Four of the subjective post-mortem of Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love. Developed in Unity, by a single man. Winner of Intel LevelUp and Indiecade finalist.

The Story Thus Far.

Read Part One, Part Two and Part Three

Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love had evolved from Cube & Star: A Love Story.

It had been in development since March 2013.

The release date was set for Valentine’s Day, 2014

It was early February, 2014.

The core of the game was there. The early, mid and late game were relatively solid.

Explore the world, collect the colors, resurrect the tiny things and reunite the Ancient Cube with the Ancient Star. It was ... however vaguely, a narrative.

The game, as it stood on release week.

Coming Soon to Steam.

I uploaded to Steam and set the release date a week in advance of Valentine's Day.

The icon appeared on the "Coming Soon" list.

It was a thrill to see it in the Steam UI. I'd seen the demo on Steam, but somehow being on the front page felt real.

At this stage an amazing thing happened.

You see... I'm not media-savvy. I don't read too much gaming news, I don't watch too many Youtube gaming channels.

As soon as the game was on the Coming Soon list - the Youtube channel hosts began to email. Dozens and dozens of emails. All personalized, all well-researched, all totally human and genuine.

I have the utmost respect for their initiative. It's real media. It's proper media. It's not wait like Jabba the Hutt for the press releases to roll in media - like some networks. It's investigative.

God bless the Youtubers, friends. They will be the salvation of our news networks.


Steam Release.

We scheduled the release on Steam for Valentine's Day, 10am - California time.

At 9.56am on Valentine's Day, I was standing on a parking space divider outside my office job, smoking. @TheDopplerDuck messaged me to tell me the game was live.

I don't know what I felt. I felt cold. Not really... relieved or happy. Just... weird. I felt at a loss. I'd been so intensely focused on the game for so long and I wasn't sure what to do with myself now that the game was out of my hands.

@TheDopplerDuck was handling the press. She had a fantastic press-list and set about emailing journalists and such.

The Reception.

Here's a confession. It's something I've kept to myself. It's not a great thing to admit. If anything, it's insulting for the people who spend the time playing games and writing articles about them.

I hate... hate reading articles about my own work.

It fills me with dread and anxiety. What if somebody isolates the fundamental flaw in my personality, via my work, that will ultimate drive me into nervous breakdown?

What if I am, in fact - an enormous and pretentious poser with zero tangible skills?

This is the inner monologue I have when I receive a super-friendly "Here is the link to my article" email.

I delay. I procrastinate. I turn into a nervous wreck.

It's an amazing division in my personality.

@TheDopplerDuck summarized the press coverage on our website - here are a few for the convenience of your eyes and hands.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun 
Life Finds A Way – Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love
"It appears to involve transforming a monochrome world into one of colour and life, like a clown visiting a local government office."

Critical Indie Gamer 
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
"Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love is a strange entity, but it makes a compelling case for games as high-art."

Rami Ismail 
Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love - This is a recommendation
"Cube & Star: An Arbitrary love is a wonderful weird little game ... There's some magic here."

Regret Zero 
"It’s incredibly difficult to explain an experience like Cube & Star, to explain something that’s touched your heart of hearts… and that’s what this game did for me."

It was amazing. I was... surprised. The game had a lot of flaws, but a lot of them had been overlooked. People seemed to get the thrust of the game. They seemed to like the pointed aimlessness.

It feels weird to say I'm thankful. You can't really thank somebody for speaking their mind. It seems to trivialize their objectivity.

But you can be grateful that they took the time to play something you made.

And I am certainly grateful for that.


Post-Launch Bugs

I've developed for Android. I lamented fragmentation.

But developing for PC and Mac was by far the most bizarre and fragmented experience.

Issues occurring on one breed of Macbook but not another. Strange timing bugs.

Issues (as yet unresolved) with the Steam API on certain systems.

I was left to sit on my balcony, smoking endless cigarettes, attempting to imagine what possible differences could explain the issues on certain systems.

At this stage, @TheDopplerDuck and I were planning our wedding. I was still on deadline with my office-job. The Nintendo Wii port was coming due. Things were busy.

It's exceptionally hard to maintain focus on a shipped product. I know rationally that post-release support is of the utmost importance. I know that. But it's a heavy burden to lift: being burnt out on a product, the desire to move onto something new, the desire to rest and forget.

I attempted to push through it. I still am. It's difficult. That's all I can say about it.

But slowly and surely, as time permits, we will reach near-perfect stability and functionality. Slowly - but surely.


It feels strangely negative to tag work with a number. I felt that way when attempting to price the game.

Boiling a year worth of work and immeasurable stress into a number seems... reductive. Or something.

Something... bad.

I can tell you this:

I worked on Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love for almost a year. Maybe... 700 hours of work time. I traveled to Seattle to demonstrate it at PAX.

Factoring these costs in, I can confidently say: Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love will likely never break even.

It sounds like a grim assessment, but I never really considered the time I spent developing it as a deficit. I created it without the expectation of earning any money. I was... driven to create it.

You can't really break that down into a dollar value, I guess. It's just... what you do.

I don't think we could do anything else. Call it art, to be controversial. Artists create art. Sometimes they make money. But the two concepts aren't connected.

Unless you're Salvador Dali. That's the ideal.


The Future

And here we are. It's the 16th of April, 2014 (at the time of publishing this post).

Cube & Star: An Arbitrary Love has been live for two months. A little over two months.

It feels like a year. Time is bizarre.

I'm currently burnt-out. It's the usual post-project hangover.

Cube & Star went live on Desura a few weeks ago (5th April, 2014).

I put together a little knee-jerk 3-hour "Special Edition" for the IndieRoyale bundle and we had a sale on IndieGameStand.

These smaller, more focussed markets are really nice for a quasi-basement developer to begin building a following.

The Wii U port will get completed... at some stage. I will catch the flu and be grounded for a solid week. And during that week, in a fever-haze, I will port Cube & Star for Wii U.

It will be a wonderful, bacterial sprint.

In the meantime, we are attempting to create a new game. Something a bit more dynamic and action-packed.

@TheDopplerDuck and I got married at the beginning of the month. I feel like that is a good conclusion for this post-mortem.

She was the inspiration for the game.

I took almost a year to come to terms with the gameplay thrust of the systems I had created.

And now that I have finished - we are married.

It's almost an analogy.




Game development is hard. Sometimes it is profitable, sometimes it isn’t.

Sometimes it is spiritually profitable but financially unprofitable. This was one of those times.

I am too close to the development to judge whether I enjoyed it.

I certainly enjoyed implementing the systems.

I would never undo the work I did on Cube & Star. I would never lament it.

Every piece of work we create is the preface for a larger work.

I doubt we ever execute our masterpiece. It is the dragon that we chase endlessly.

I watch @TheDopplerDuck play Cube & Star on that big, over-saturated iMac screen - while I sit on the balcony, smoking.

And I am happy.

I think that is the best thing we can aspire to.

-Joshua McGrath

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