The sausage factory of game design Frogboy
Where to start? Sunday, July 9, 2006

They say the difference between a successful game company and one that is out of business is time.  At least, that's what the joke in the game industry is.

And there's a lot to be said for that.  There are a lot of problems in game development, particularly when doing a new game.  For example - turn over.

While developing Galactic Civilizations II, we had a couple people leave during the course of the project. It was all amicable, but you get big enough, turn over becomes a percentage.  Because we were so tight on time, we ended up taking people off Society and putting them onto GalCiv II.

So then GalCiv II gets done and we're left with one game team. So what can one do?

Paul K., who was our lead developer on Society, has also left in the past year.  When you have a company of 40 people, a few people are going to leave each year.  But some developers are not well equipped to handle the loss of even one person. 

At Stardock, our development strategy revolved around having a few incredibly good developers who are equipped with a lot of inhouse technology that allows one developer to do the work of many. So when we lose one developer, it is really tough.

So what this means is that we're hiring up people. But it's slow going finding the right people, particularly since we're based in Michigan which isn't a tech hub (it's a great place to live and work but it's not like say Dallas where there's a bunch of game studios coming and going).

So that's one of the things that's slowed down Society.  The other thing is the fact that GalCiv II has done not just a bit better than we thought but massively better.  Which begs the question of which projects should resources go to?

Stardock has on its plate 4 game projects:

  1. Galactic Civilizatiosn and future expansions.
  2. The Political Machine 2008
  3. A fantasy strategy game
  4. and Society

The Political Machine is a smaller project so that will essentailly be done by the GalCiv team.

But if we have a second dev team, which should it be? a fantasy strategy game or Society?

It wouldn't be the end of Society, it would just mean that it's developmetn would be slower (i.e. a later release date).  We are definitely going to do Society. The question is how fast we can develop it.

In the beginning... Frogboy
It was called "Mobilization" Monday, May 16, 2005

In the mid 90s, we put together what we thought, especially at the time, was a really cool and fairly unique idea for a game. The game was called "Mobilization". 

The game would use the Total Annihilation engine and allow users to build up cities that, in turn, they used to conquer the world map by map.  These maps would be part of a larger world much like Cavedog's fantastic Boneyards universe where Core and Arm (the factions in Total Annihilation) battled for control of the galaxy.  In this case, things would be even more persistent, more interactive, etc.

In terms of game mechanics, Mobilization didn't have peons. Instead, your citizens were born and it was up to you to create the right conditions to get your population up there.  You would direct what your population was doing through sliders so that there was no micro-management of units.  The only other buildings you would build were for military purposes to "mobilize" your citizens. You would then draft citizens into the military and send them off to war (which is where the TA engine really shined).

The project got as far as pre-production as GT Interactive was interested.  But then they got bought out and everything kind of stalled.  And by that point, we were busy with other projects anyway.

As time went on, and hardware improved and net connections improved and our development resources grew, our design changed, expanded.  We had other ideas we wanted to incorporate into the game to make it much more open ended and provide multiple ways of playing the game other than war. 

At that point, the name "Mobilization" didn't quite fit anymore and so we came up with the name "Society".

Over the months, we hope to give you glimpses and then eventually beta versions of Society to play. It will be available first to members. But eventually it'll be available for everyone.  And then after that, released to everyone in its final "gold" form.

These journals will hopefully be interesting and give you some insight into how a small development house goes about creating a massively multiplayer game.  You'll hear a lot of details on how the servers are put together, the issues we run into in terms of budgeting and technological limits, and all kinds of other details.  In short, you're going to see the sausage factory. ;)

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