Welcome to the first in a series of retrospective blogs aimed at sharing all of our plans and experiences as we work on our new game, Tribal Towers.
As you may know it’s been a fair while since we finished work on Crackdown 2. So, to kick things off we should probably get one thing out of the way right now.
We’re not working on Crackdown 3!
I know, I know it’s as shocking as finding out your favourite Lasagne is chock-a-block with Red Rum’s offspring. The thing is it’s simply not an offer that’s on our production table right now, so rather than dwell on this lets get back to the real story here.
What have we been doing at Ruffian since then and what have we got in the works right now? Well, let me blether on for a wee while and tell you.
Since Crackdown 2 was completed we’ve worked on a number of released titles, just as many prototypes and also some AAA projects that are yet to be released.
The work we’ve done has seen us become a bit of an expert with Microsoft’s Kinect camera, we now know the impressive CryEngine intimately and we’ve also become a dab hand with the more than capable Unity. We’ve helped well-known companies ship their titles by supplying high end concept art, AAA game assets, countless code optimizations, numerous gameplay prototypes, Xbox Dashboard apps and fully developed standalone game modes for AAA games.
To be perfectly frank it’s been a mixed bag for us at Ruffian, most of the work was genuinely a lot of fun to be part of and we’re proud of our contributions, but some of it was a bit of a pain in the hairy tits. That said, while some of the work wasn’t as much fun as we would like I can honestly say that we’ve all learned a lot during every one of the projects we were part of. So in retrospect we’ve nothing to complain about, really.
The hardest thing to take for us as a company during this time was not being in control of our own project from the very beginning, we have had to come on to other developers projects late in the day and help them ship their game. Obviously we’re extremely grateful for the work as it’s kept Ruffian going strong, while other not so fortunate companies have had to close their doors. While we’re appreciative, in an ideal world we would far prefer to be responsible for the design of the projects we work on from the first concept and see them right through to release. That’s what we set out to do when we created the studio and that is the goal we’ll continue to chase as long as we exist.
Typically, just like buses we waited all this time and two have come along at once. At the moment we’re working on a really exciting top secret – I could tell you but then I’d need to kill you – project with a well-known publisher which we unfortunately can’t talk about at this stage – I mentioned the “killing you” thing earlier – and even more excitingly, a few months ago we decided to take our destiny into our own hands and start work on our own self-funded project.
So, how did we come to make this idiotic and risky bold and exciting decision?
We had spoken at length many times in the past about doing our own thing, but the time never seemed right and we didn’t really have what we considered to be the right idea to make the financial leap of faith. So we never really had the balls to pull the trigger and go for it – until now.
Last year a group of us made the trip down to Brighton to go to Rezzed and it was an incredible breath of fresh air for me personally. The Indie scene had always intrigued me but for some unbelievably stupid reason I had discounted it as an area reserved entirely for amateur bedroom developers. I know, I’m such an arrogant fanny sometimes! Anyway, the games that I played at Rezzed that stayed with me after we left the show were all Indie games, games like Hotline Miami, Thomas Was Alone, Prison Architect, Q.U.B.E., Project Zomboid, Tengami, and Gateways – they were all fantastic games genuinely spilling over with creativity, new bold game mechanics, quirky and memorable visuals and audio. They were all so much more interesting to me than the big publisher led AAA games on show.
I wasn’t alone in this respect, we had all come away with the same feeling and this led to our little group of Ruffians discussing why this was the case as we travelled home. The key thing we all put this down to was that these teams had nobody to answer to other than themselves, they were completely free to do whatever they wanted to, they didn’t have to ask for the permission of a publisher to make any decision regardless of how insane or risky their ideas might seem, all they had to do was justify they had merit to themselves.
We agreed that as designers this level of freedom would be incredibly inspiring and empowering but also accepted that it would likely be somewhat unnerving and intimidating at the same time. As a developer you can complain about the overbearing publisher, but the reality is that same publisher provides an invaluable safety net as they provide financial backing and ultimately they – should – take on a fair slice of the responsibility of how the game will finally turn out. Self-publishing would provide the creative freedom we all craved but it would also bring with it great risk to the company’s finances as well as its creative reputation – which to be fair is something we want to address as it isn’t where we want it to be right now.
Over the following months we decided we would take the risks and self-fund our next project. All we had to do was define the process and come up with a concept. Surely that’s the easy bit though, eh? Turns out it was actually quite tricky and while we’ve got the game design sorted we’re still working on defining the release process right now. In fact if you’re going to be part of our upcoming Friends & Family Gameplay Test – more on this later – you’ll be actively involved in that process yourself, so thanks very much in advance for your time and your input, you’ll not only be helping us shape the final game you’ll be helping us shape Ruffian’s approach to making Indie games for the future.
We’re now coming pantswettingly – it’s a word, right! – close to the stage where we are ready to start showing the game off externally. While that’s true, we want our baby’s first steps in the real world to be safe ones, so we’re being a little careful about who we show the game to first. We’ve had a poll at Ruffian asking everyone to hand pick people from their friends and family to invite to our first external gameplay test, which we’ve decided to call the “Friends & Family Gameplay Test” – I know, little bit of genius right there, we really are a creative bunch here.
The upcoming Friends & Family Gameplay Test is hopefully going to do a few things for us.
- We can begin building a community around the game prior to launch. If we’ve learned anything at all from the best Indie games it’s that it’s never too early to start letting people know about your game. You need to be open with the design, show off the development process, concept art, asset renders, screen shots and of course let them play the game. These are our first tentative steps towards this rather daunting goal.
- We can gather some really useful data and feedback from the gameplay tests that will allow us to see what’s working and what’s in need of a bit of spit and polish, and what simply needs chucking in the bin.
- We will also have the opportunity to start learning about how we actually go about marketing our own game. This is an area that I think every developer has complained about on all of their publisher led games, but I think we’ll soon find out just how difficult a job this actually is. That said the first Ruffian to use any wanky marketing buzz words within earshot of me will be covered in Chinese burns in a flash then ejected from the building. That’s how we roll at Ruffian, beehatches…
This entire self-funded approach may well seem like a risky proposition to many of you but the way we see it the landscape for game developers is changing right under our feet and it’s changing fast. I don’t think anyone can be sure of where and on what platform the majority of gamers will be playing their games in five years’ time. As Gaz – Ruffian Studio Head – has said many times recently the only certainty we can have for the future of our beloved industry is that things are going to change in a major way; we’ve probably never had a shift of this magnitude since the games industry began.
We don’t see consoles dying out any time soon, but the resurgence of PC, the growth of Tablets and the potential of a Steam Box makes us realise that we need to be as agile as possible as a company. We believe that PC / Steam Box and Tablet gaming is going to seriously challenge console in the next five years and because we already see ourselves as seasoned console developers, we now want to ensure we work towards a similar level of experience in PC and Tablet development. We basically want to hedge our bets a little and cover what we believe will be the 3 main bases of the next generation of gaming.
Right now we’re continuing work on consoles but we also want to test the water in the Indie scene because it’s that scene that seems to be the most innovative and exciting and it allows for smaller teams and shorter development cycles which allow us the agility we all believe we need going forward.
Well done for getting this far by the way, there’s been an impressive amount of blethering going on so you’ve done well to stay awake. I think I’ve punished you enough with my rambling pish so I’ll give it a rest now.
Over the coming weeks and months we’ll continue to add to our blog on a weekly basis. We’ll do our very best to give you a peak behind the development curtain at Ruffian and share all of the trials and tribulations we’ve been through on our journey as we step ever closer to completing development on our first self-funded game, Tribal Towers.
Next week I’ll talk about the design of Tribal Towers, letting you know more about the game as it stands, give you an update on how the Friends & Family Gameplay Test is going and maybe show you a few work in progress screenshots from the game.
Thanks for taking the time to visit and we’ll hopefully see you back here soon.