Sleuthhounds, Top Priority

August 5, 2016

When I first started developing the upcoming Sleuthhounds Halloween adventure game I was only putting about ten hours a week into it. This started shortly after completing the previous Sleuthhounds game, The Valentine’s Vendetta, back in February. Recently, however, I’ve bumped up the priority of the Halloween adventure and have been channeling most of my available time into it instead of my other game, Robyn HUD. Not because I’m growing tired of Robyn HUD, far from it, but because on reflecting on where the Halloween game is at development-wise, I realized I needed more hours to get it done in time for its October 31st release date.

While initially designing the Halloween game, it was going to be comparable in size to The Valentine’s Vendetta. As such, the number of hours needed to develop the game should be comparable too. However, several factors have emerged that require a greater time investment.

First was the character animation requirements of the game. Of all aspects of creating a game, the animation is the one I’ve found most difficult to properly estimate. Even when I get quite detailed in the game design, it’s very easy to overlook animations that are a needed until the part of the game that needs them is actually implemented. I’ve currently got a list of 15 animations that are needed in addition to the 137. Fifteen doesn’t seem like a lot, but on average it takes about two hours to do an animation, so there’s two more days of needed work right there.

Second, as I was developing one of the puzzles for the game I realized that it just wasn’t working. The particular puzzle in question was starting to take on a life of its own rather than being just a component of a larger puzzle chain as I had intended. Once I saw the problem growing, I had to take a step back and really look at the puzzle design for that part of the game. In the end, I had to make the decision to rip out the original puzzle and replace it with a new one that was more in balance with the rest of the game. Perversely, while the new puzzle is more “lightweight” than the original puzzle, it requires more game assets and accounts for 4 of the new animations I need to create. So a bit more time is needed here as well.

Thirdly, when I was estimating this game I overlooked the musical needs. When I developed the Valentine’s game I reused musical selections that I had already gathered for the first two Sleuthhounds games. Now, I’m not a music person myself. I can’t compose it, I can’t create it. I therefore turn to royalty free music available on the internet. However, even though I’m not creating the music, it does take time to listen through different songs to find the ones that fit the game. In this case, I’m going to be listening for music that fits the Halloween party theme. So this was a complete miss in the design and estimating phase for this game. All I can say is, whoops, and then move on from there (making sure to not forget to account for the music on future projects).

Finally, although I determined early on that the Halloween game should require roughly the same number of hours to develop as the Valentine’s game, I didn’t really account for the fact that the overall development period was stretched out longer. I started work on the Valentine’s game in late December and went into early February. So its development covered about two months of calendar pages. The Halloween game, working at fewer hours a week, is being developed from mid-February through to close to the end of October. So about nine and a half months.

The tricky thing here is that when you’re looking at the calendar and see that you’ve only got two months to make a game you have a much greater sense of urgency than you get when you look at the calendar and see nine and a half months staring back. I can’t in all honesty say that I’ve been working with the same sense of urgency on the Halloween game so some things have probably taken a bit longer working at a more relaxed pace than they could have otherwise.

Fortunately, I’ve taken a good look at where the project is early enough here to be able to bump up the hours going into to ensure it makes its release date. Another week or two of full time work should be enough to get everything nicely on track again.

I’m presently finishing up all the critical path scripting for the game. This entails coding all the necessary actions that a player must perform in order to get from the beginning of the game to the end.

Once that’s done, I’ll move on to fleshing out the game with all the non-necessary actions that a player can do in the game. While these actions don’t advance the player’s progress through the game, they are necessary for giving the game a more open feeling. They give a better sense that the player can try anything.

After all the necessary and non-necessary actions are complete, development will really open up. At that point I’ll be able to tackle several areas in parallel. I’ll be able to:

  • Generate the dialog script and get people in to provide voices.
  • Code in all the journal material indicating the status of the “case” the Sleuthhounds are on, notes about the suspects, and hints for if players get stuck.
  • Finalize all the background art.
  • Finalize all the animations.

Then, once those tasks are all done, I’ll be able to incorporate the sound effects and music. This is always the last thing before final testing as the sound scape is very much influenced by the visuals, especially the animations.

Barring any unforeseen disaster (knock on wood) I have no worries about delivering the game on time. Check back often for further updates as I get closer to completion of the Halloween game. Oh. Right. I should probably come up with a final name for it sometime too.