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How one Unity 5 port threatened a studio's entire future

"Doing episodic development on a story-driven and graphics-heavy game with a team of ten people is a harrowing task. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone."
"Doing episodic development on a story-driven and graphics-heavy game with a team of ten people is a harrowing task. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone."

- Dreamfall Chapters creator Ragnar Tørnquist.

A new Medium blog post by Dreamfall Chapters creator Ragnar Tørnquist has shed light on how the developer and the rest of the Red Thread Games team handled the challenges of episodic development and a problematic porting process.

After choosing to make the leap to Unity 5 in a bid to salvage a game that had, in Tørnquist's own words, "stumbled", the Red Thread team quickly realized that even the best laid plans can go horrifically wrong. 

In this case, the decision to port the game resulted in "four months of shifting schedules and development delays, a barrage of bugs, a protracted and painful beta phase, and a $100,000 investment".

A first, says Tørnquist, Unity 5 appeared to be the miracle the team had been looking for. It was "the holy grail."

What then, could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, quite a lot. 

"Doing episodic development on a story-driven and graphics-heavy game with a team of ten people is a harrowing task. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s a relentless and seemingly endless loop of designing, developing, testing, fixing, launching, patching — rinse and repeat," explains Tørnquist. 

"It’s brutally Sisyphean.

"We’d originally estimated the port to take a couple of months for a couple of developers, working part-time on the project — primarily environment artists, who’d have to go over all the lights in the game to re-bake shadow maps. We figured they could do this on the side while spending most of their time on the next episode. It wouldn’t cost much; it was a no-brainer.

"The port ended up taking a team of 4–5 developers four months, spending at least half their time on the port, working overtime to compensate for the mounting delays. It ended up costing Red Thread at least $100,000 in production costs — and that doesn’t factor in the loss of income and added costs to Book Four."

Read the full article on Medium to find out more about the rocky development of Dreamfall Chapters.

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