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The development of Last Dive (or "A Tale of Excessive Scope and Post-Development Burnout")

So, this is Last Dive.

It is a story-driven subaquatic platformer that focuses on exploration and discovery, plus a bit of timing based action.

You can download it HERE!

Keep reading to learn how this game was made.

Last Dive was developed for the 29th edition of Ludum Dare, a quick game development competition that takes place every 4 months. We had to work under the theme "Beneath the Surface", and all of the development happened on the 72 hours that followed the announcement of the theme.

We've been participating in game jams for a while now (I'm still pending on posting some of the games we made lately), and as we get better at this, we're usually also getting better at managing development time while still not needing to work under overly stressful conditions. We're not kids anymore, you know!

Anyway, Last Dive ended up going in the opposite direction of that trend - that is, we committed to a scope that was too big to be developed in 72 hours, and even after we realized that, we still didn't want to let go any of the major features. It had been a while since we did something like that, and it left us with mixed feelings, to the point I decided to write about it.

Being minimalistic versus giving up your vision

At some early point during those crazy 72 hours, we realized that the game was getting too ambitious for such a timeframe, but at the same time we didn't want to cut anything. We felt that everything that was on scope was really necessary (although some of the stuff that had already been done was not that important, but then they were already done).

Dynamic light: it wasn't reeeeally necessary for this game, but it looks pretty so why not
(that's how the scope gets way too big before you know it) 

As you get more experienced with game dev, the natural tendency is to start focusing on small scope, high polish games. For a 72 hours game, throwing in 3 enemies, a final boss, several cutscenes etc was clearly too big of a scope. The thing with game dev is that everything ends up taking at least 3 times longer than you would guess even if you think you are being conservative. I don't know what happens, it's like if some tiny evil time gnomes sneaked in and stole time right from your very watch (yeah I know, I'm all Nobel today). So, stick to small scopes cause you'll need the extra time, right? Right!

But then... The experience we wanted for Last Dive was very specific and came from a deep place for us, so it was very hard to let go anything. So we did something that we were committed to not do anymore: giving up sleeping, eating, etc, and working nonstop to put everything in and still have time to review and finetune. Things didn't go that smoothly, of course. In the end we HAD to cut stuff and improvise, but it somehow helped making the experience more focused on what did get in, so no problem there. However, a couple game breaking bugs were discovered as soon as people started playing the game. It was very frustrating, and although in regular conditions fixing it would be a 2 hours thing, those were no regular conditions: we were ridiculously exhausted. I don't know if you ever went through something like this, but seriously, it's like your attention span falls to 5 seconds max, you Alt-Tab to check something but when you get to the folder you have no idea what you were after anymore, and even the simplest chore becomes extremely hard. I don't know from where we took the willpower to track and fix those bugs (which were actually really stupid mistakes that were quite easy to fix once the source was identified), and after we were done, we couldn't stand looking at the game for almost an entire week.

So, was it worthy it?

I don't know. I mean, nowadays I'm a strong believer that this modus operandis isn't worthy as a regular thing. The human body has its limits ("ah no, that is something that happens to other people, but I'm uber motivated and immune to that" - no, you aren't, we used to think just like that and things just don't go that way).

Cutscenes that could have been cut - Naaah!

But in the end, for this particular game, I'm glad we did it. Even though it's far from perfect (of course it is still a jam game and is still limited by our own limited competence), we still feel it manages to convey what we wanted it to convey. It is true to the feelings that inspired its creation, in a way it wouldn't be if we had cut any big thing - the ending, the boss, dynamic lighting or whatever. We like it. The pacing, the story, the ending. We think it works in expressing those feelings. And we are proud of it!

Honestly, I think we may even get decent ratings when the Ludum Dare results come out, but we're not at all expecting to run for the top 5. Still, the game is what it should be, what we wanted it to be. If it's not competition stuff, too bad, we still like it exactly as it is!

Anyway, we have put our hearts in Last Dive in a way that we hadn't done with any game for a loooong time (Tiny Shard was the last one, I think!). Maybe that's why we don't wanna make any changes on it now.

It is a deeply personal game, but we hope you like it too, and we hope you can relate to it at some level, even if just a little bit!

In case you missed the download link, here's the link again: LINK!

And here's our Twitter, where you can see a lot more of us complaining of game dev life and failing at being funny!

Thanks for reading and playing :)

Gabriel and João Pedro