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How to Survive a 5 Year Dev Cycle

How my brother and I survived Ring Runner's five year dev cycle -- a pre-mortem. (Chef Boyardee Mini-Ravioli parties inside!)

A little over five years ago, my brother, Paul, and I were gamer/bums, spending our nights raiding under the influence of neon-flavored energy drinks. We loved all sorts of games. Maybe that was the problem because when we sat down to legitimize the thousands of hours we'd tanned in the light of pixels and polygons and make our own game, we ended up wanting to make them all. Like Craig Pearson of RockPaperShotgun insinuated, this is our mix-tape of all the things we've ever loved about video games. From Asteroids and Silent Death Online to Chrono Trigger and Diablo, you'll find elements and inspirations that span nearly every genre and era of games within Ring Runner.

From There to Here

Ring Runner is an absurdly ambitious project for a couple of nobody-know-nothings with zero prior experience in the industry. You can watch this short video to see what I mean.

Our genesis -- not of the Sega variety -- was firmly rooted in ignorance. The game was made from scratch, using nothing but the XNA framework. "Why didn't we simplify our lives by making this in Unity?" you might ask. Five or six years ago, XNA seemed pretty hot; plus, as previously mentioned, we were skydiving without a parachute.

To extend this metaphor, we didn't hit terminal velocity until a few years into the project. It all began as a learning process, stumbling into code and production software alike, partially under the guidance of our professors at The University of Texas at Dallas, but largely on our own.

Soon, Paul settled into the role of programmer, while I took the initiative on other fronts. While he was learning how to design compelling AI and write the net code for super-action-packed game play (which, pardon the tangent, I can't praise enough -- we're able to battle swarms of zombies in Newtonian-physics-driven battlegrounds with Europeans on dial-up all the way from Texas), I busied myself with 3D modeling, learning how to compose some semblance of music, and expanding the universe of the novel I'd been writing to create the plot of our 20-hour-long story-driven campaign. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to work with author, Matt Bondurant, while at UTD. My time with him allowed me to realize how much my novel sucked, and hopefully I learned how to make it suck significantly less before releasing it to the world.

How We Survived a Five Year Development

One of the toughest challenges of creating Ring Runner was staying motivated for five years. And perhaps motivated is the wrong word -- obsessed. We were obsessed with Ring Runner for five years, so naturally being obsessive is a good start. No one I know could've survived this project with their sanity intact because no sane person would've ever started on this craziness to begin with.

We'd become machines that transform hamburgers and tacos into video games. Thankfully, we converted those calorie-canoes into a game that could, on more than one occasion, surprise us. The AI can equip and (somewhat) intelligently employ any combination of the game's hundreds of skills. This can lead to some very interesting and often unexpected challenges. After receiving feedback from our first submission to IndieCade, it became clear to us that this should be the game's primary focus. One of the neatest things about Ring Runner, is that by adding just one more skill, we can introduce thousands of new possible combinations, all with profoundly different game play.

It also helped that I had a pre-existing passion for the story and setting. I've been adding depth to the Ring Runner universe since I started work on the novel, around 8 years ago. In fact, its roots can be traced back to stories that I'd been scribbling over a decade ago. The ideas and concepts had amassed gravity through time if nothing else.

Paul and I managed to keep fist-fights to a minimum by clearly partitioning our roles. He knew his task, and I knew mine. The scraps of sibling rivalry served as fuel to try to one-up each other in our respective jobs. It wasn't competitive; it was inspiring. It was something like an entirely non-sexual version of Freud's sublimation at work -- my first degree was in Psychology, which led me to handsome employment in the retail and food services industry (i.e. cashier, waiter).


But all this wasn't enough. For long stretches of time, our hard work and dedication was met with little more than doubt. And stubborn though we are, uncertainty planted seeds into every worrying neuron in our minds because debt is a great gardener of doubt.

When our student loans turned to bills last year, we turned to Kickstarter. We figured we only needed $12,000 to "finish" the game. We received more than twice that, which allowed us to refine Ring Runner to the far-more-shiny state that it's in today. So if you like how the game turned out, you can visit our Kickstarter Founders' page and thank everyone on that list.

And did I mention I got married during all this? See, I met a wonderful 2D artist named Courtney, and knowing that our family-operated studio lacked in that department, I decided to marry this girl to procure her services on a more permanent basis -- it was also fortunate that she also happens to be my favorite gal in the world. (*edit: mother excluded)

Our wedding was right in the middle of creating the space city environment and filming our spot in IGN's The Next Game Boss show, where we met Jenova Chen, David Jaffe, Lisa Foiles, and Naomi Kyle. We actually ended up making it all the way to the finals and were Jenova Chen's pick to win, but came up just short in the end. Still, it was a remarkable experience; even just getting to meet the other contestants would've been enough to make the whole thing worthwhile!

A combination of these little successes and the realization that we'd dug ourselves a hole so deep that the only way out was through the fires of hell and China kept us going. We filled the lulls with small parties that involved adding the word "party" to the end of the food item we were eating that night, such as hot dog party, nacho party, Chef Boyardee mini-ravioli party, etc...

As of writing this, I have no idea how Ring Runner will do. I have no idea if my wife and I will be able to afford a house of our own or if we'll even make enough to handle my student loan payments, but I know that my brother and I have created something special. We created the game that two gamer/bums dreamt up. We finally made good on an idle conversation that began with, "wouldn't it be awesome if..."


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