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The Hacklist: Prologue, The Postmortem Preview

When dreams begin to take shape, we see it from a different perspective... Developing video games is not as easy as we thought. I share with you some thoughts and advice.

[The Spanish version is on my personal blog.]

Hello, my name is Erick Subero, I am a Generalist Programmer at Caustic Games and an active member in the development of The Hacklist. On the occasion of the launch of our first demo, I wanna tell you a brief history of its development before making the real postmortem.

Getting Started

"I want to make games", "I'm gonna make games", "I want to make the next Final Fantasy”.

Many of us start with those phrases in our minds as we enter this area as artists, programmers, designers or musicians, we all start with that premise: making games.

We begin to learn little by little how this is done and hit each other with one barrier after another (creative, technological and/or emotional) until we finally reach a barrier-free path (although we always get some small ones) and feel that we are ready to show our work. It's exactly how we feel to have the demo of The Hacklist, our first project as a team.

 

An idea doesn't have to be definitive from the start. The development of games is iterative and can be constantly changing, of course, if the idea has few changes during development, it means that it is very good but, normally, it undergoes many changes. The Hacklist didn't do exactly that, this demo corresponds to the 5th iteration of the original idea (which you can see in the following link), changes in narration, in the humour of the story, in gameplay and in art resulted in a project that is far from what it was at the beginning.

Integrating more people into the project helped us to get a much clearer idea of the game and both the artists (including the writer) and the programmers were focused on the goal of having our first demo (of this iteration) so that we could share it with everyone and receive feedback about their opinions... and that's where Square Enix Collective comes in.

New opportunities

I'm used to consuming a lot of Gamasutra material, and I read about the Square Enix Collective (SEC) initiative last year, kept the link in my Pocket app and a year and a few months later I told my colleagues about SEC and the work they've been doing and we decided to dedicate ourselves to it.

For those who don't know, Square Enix created an initiative called Square Enix Collective to support independent developers and make themselves known in their community, which then votes for published projects and determines whether or not a project moves on to the next phase. This next phase can go from theoretical and practical support to a Kickstarter campaign, I invite you to read all the information on your page for those interested, there is no loss.

This is a great initiative that helps many small projects with good ideas to get ahead, not to let them go unnoticed or to eclipse the amount of games that appear daily on the usual commercial platforms (Itch. io, Gamejolt, Steam, GOG, etc.), to take a more "objective" feedback from people who don't know them. Now back to the subject...

We managed to be selected by SEC to present ourselves on their website and we decided to build our initial demo (the one I told them about above) and at the time of trying it with outsiders... some people thought it was boring, they were not convinced or didn't understand what we wanted to transmit. It was a hard blow, but the show had to go on and we had to finish a good demo that was representative of the work we have been doing and that we also promised in the pitch for SEC (error that when we make the official postmortem, I will approach in greater measure).

Now, two and a half weeks after such a long voyage, of seemingly unsolvable mistakes, of going against the clock, of being late nights, of bad merge on git (true fear), we have a demo that you can try here and of which we are very proud. We have gone through narrative changes, changes in mechanics, new art and other omitted (hopefully, for now) but even though so many changes look bad, it has been a good thing.

Closing Words

Changes happen for a reason (most of the time), because something seems to be not quite right and needs to be modified, held in a rigid position before the ideas can be a bad move. Personal opinions about your idea may be correct, but by contrasting them with other people's opinions, they can give a better perspective of what you want to achieve and be able to adapt and improve it so that more people feel comfortable with it and enjoy it as much as you want. The advice I give to you is:

  • Don't close yourselves to the comments of others, whether positive or negative, both can help you to improve your ideas.

  • Don't be afraid of change, even if you feel radical.

I don't want to say goodbye without inviting you to vote in SEC for the following link and tell us your opinions and suggestions about the game in the "feedbacks" section, we will be happy to read them and take them into account.

Thank you very much for all of you, we'll be reading soon.

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