Jun 05

Spellscape cRPG Postmortem

Tag: Codeminion, Free Games, Game DevelopmentMaciek @ 6:12 pm

SpellscapeAfter writing about Magic Match and about Pteroglider it’s time to go even further back in time. Actually I would like to go to the very beginning and give you a glimpse of how it all begun with Codeminion. This will be a story of Spellscape, the first game that was developed under the Codeminion brand. We are used to thinking about it as a “spectacular failure” …

What you must know is that we didn’t start by making casual games - mainly because back then no one knew the term and we didn’t even know that such games have already started appearing. Rather than that, we were under heavy influence of “normal” hardcore games like Diablo, Master of Magic, Lands of Lore and such, and we wanted to be a part of it. Bu let’s not get ahead of things.

Spellscape Location editorI know Konrad (my business partner at Codeminion) since primary school, but we attended different high schools. In 2001, after my final high school exams I learned that we were to attend the same college and that became a great occasion to re-join our forces and start some serious game development which was our common goal. We came up with the name for our “development studio” and decided that we would turn my early 3d engine attempts into a full-fledged 3d computer role playing game Spellscape. At that time we had some skills but were very inexperienced and didn’t know what we were getting into…

Spellscape Logo

After all, making a huge cRPG game as your first project is a very common mistake. In fact it is probably the most dumb thing an aspiring game developer could do and somehow everyone makes the same slip-up. If you search the web you will find hundreds of amateur game development projects that share two things in common – the project scopes are far too ambitious and they all eventually fail. I’m still waiting for someone to succeed with such a project, but then again it would just probably be an exception proving the rule.

SpellscapeAnyway, the basic idea behind Spellscape was to create a game similar in gameplay to Diablo, but it was to feature full 3d graphics and an engaging storyline focusing on 3 spell casting characters – The Battle Mage, The Wizzard and the Psionic Mage. We developed a whole history of the world and designed many locations for the game -  the school of magic, dungeons, ancient cities transported into parallel dimensions, etc. Today I know that in order to develop such a game we would need a team of about 100 skilled developers and it would take at least 3 years of constant development.

The worst part about the Spellscape project ironically was that we succeeded in the early development of the game. Somehow we managed to create the basic engine, music as well as some graphics that were on par with professional productions from that time. We released a tech demo of the game in 2002 which spawned great interest in our project. We were contacted by publishers from different countries and there were even professionals who wanted to license our engine and music for their own games. All of this reassured us that we were on the right path, which was not the case as we now know.

SpellscapeSoon after releasing the tech demo we started developing more advanced features of the game – outdoor locations, advanced monster and character AI, dialogues, spells - as well as final content for the game - characters, monsters, items, locations and sounds. Soon we started to realize that somehow the development of the game was slowing down although we were dedicating more and more of our time to developing the game! We were shocked when we discovered that we are completely unprepared for the complexity and enormity of tasks that were to be done in order to actually complete the game. This is how a seemingly successful project turned into a development nightmare. From some point in time we knew that we were unable to complete the game but we refused to acknowledge this fact. After all dropping the project would mean that almost three years of development would go to waste.

It was of course a tough decision to make, but it was only a matter of time before we decided to drop the project. From the today’s perspective we have very mixed feelings about the game.

SpellscapeConclusion: The good and the bad

The bottom line is that we failed to complete the game. Although the project was a failure we learned a lot during the 3 years of development. I think it was a necessary step on our road to professional game development but I regret that we didn’t decide to make a smaller game that we could have finished or that we didn’t have the guts to drop the project earlier and save at least some of our time. Basically we lost three years of our lives trying to chase a wild-goose.

If you wish you can download and check out the Spellscape tech demo. It consists of a three level dungeon with a boss character to confront at the end. You can also view the Spellscape project website which is still online and reminds us of our early game development adventures.

The rest of the Codeminion story should be known to you by now. After Spellscape we decided to create a smaller game and that is how Pteroglider was born. After that we turned our attention towards the emerging casual games market and created Magic Match. Our latest games are StoneLoops! and Saqqarah, but that is no history at all.

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3 Responses to “Spellscape cRPG Postmortem”

  1. Mertruve says:

    The Wizzard? Was this game supposed to be set in Discworld?

  2. Maciek says:

    No, the game was set in an original setting where the player would travel between the real world and the Spellscape dimension. The Wizzard was actually spelled with zz but it was just a coincidence.

  3. mmm says:

    “Basically we lost three years of our lives trying to chase a wild-goose.”

    Well, that’s a wrong statement. You haven’t lost them, you spent 3 years gaining experience which will be invaluable in the future. It’s like going to college and receiving a bad mark. The experience is there it’s just you’ve performed not well enough.

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