Author Topic: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt  (Read 6209 times)

Offline x4000

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Original: http://christophermpark.blogspot.com/2012/02/thoughts-on-post-10-avww-in-wake-of.html

Like many others, I recently read the news that Terraria is no longer going to be actively developed

First, A Few Thoughts About Terraria (Full Disclosure: Which I Still Have Yet To Play)

1. It's sad news for the fans of the game, but ultimately they more than got their money's worth.  The game is complete in and of itself and well worth $10, and is worth having even if it could have grown more than it did (this is true of our game Tidalis as well, which is the only game of ours which has had development halted).  Having untapped potential left in a game concept largely just means that it was an awesome concept.

2. It's unfortunate that there won't be ongoing bugfix support, and that's something that I would handle differently (and in fact we do, for our game Tidalis).  Hopefully they will reconsider their position on that at least for bugs of substantial importance.  But either way it's none of my business, and they seem to have done right by their players so far, so I have faith they'll do whatever winds up being best.

3. Also unfortunate is the fact that more wasn't communicated in advance about their intentions with the game.  I'm sure that they themselves didn't know, but having a grace period where they said "we're ending support for this in 6 months, so let's get in the last things we can between now and then" might have done more to appease fans.  We didn't do that with Tidalis, for the record, but that's because Tidalis financially bombed.  Terraria made such excellent money that they shouldn't have had that concern.

4. I think that embarking on a new project, after so long spend on Terraria, is probably a healthy thing.  Having a break to work on Tidalis was an enormous help for reinvigorating us to work on AI War versions 4.0 and 5.0.  Maybe the same will be true for the Terraria devs.  Or maybe their next project is actually going to be the successor to Terraria.

5. My own strategy with AI War has been to release paid expansions periodically, which both earn us more money directly, as well as making the base game sales spike, earning us more money indirectly.  Both of those are how we pay the bills and keep the lights on, but that's but one of two paths.  The other path is the traditional sequel/succesor-game path, and it sounds like the Terraria devs are going that route.  It's not what I would do with my own games, purely for matters of personal taste, but it's an enormously valid choice to make.

TLDR: I don't think that the Terraria devs acted in bad faith with anybody, but a little more forewarning would have smoothed things over better with their fanbase.  Either way, they still seem like really standup folks to me.  And the reason I've not played their game yet is that I'm worried I'll get hooked and spend too much time doing that rather than coding my own games!

Now, How Our History With AI War Compares
The big thing that worries me about Terraria halting game development, as a game developer, is that this will create a perception that "you never know when developers will just randomly close up shop on a game."  Minecraft is still sort of being developed, but really slowly, and that was a game I played a lot of -- I remember when the update frequency suddenly plummeted, and it was jarring.  My worry is that players will be mistrustful of post-release support from indie developers for this reason.

For AI War, we have an incredibly lengthy history of post-release support spanning since May 2009 up until the present (and still going).  You may notice that there are two big gaps, though:

1. During the time we were developing Tidalis, AI War development really scaled back for about six months, and all but disappeared for two.

2. During the time we've been developing AVWW, AI War development scaled back even further, and daily releases became weekly, then monthly, and only recently have resumed being weekly again.

What's different about both of these cases from Terraria or Minecraft is that we gave at least three months of warning before these events happened.  There was lots of "hey guys, we're pushing out an enormous number of features here for 5.0 in preparation of taking a while off after 5.0/Light of the Spire releases, just so you know!"

The break turned out to be substantially longer than we had expected (5 quarters instead of 2-3), but sometimes that's how it goes.  And the game has still managed to grow and get better polished during that time... just at a much slower rate.

We've also made it clear that we plan at least two more expansions for AI War.  This is still true, despite the fact that we've had to push back the release dates because AVWW development has run over-long.  It's those sorts of expansions that really keep the game growing in leaps and bounds, and which make for one really large experience rather than a string of similarly-sized sequels.

That's why I like expansions instead of sequels, as a player and a developer: you get to keep all the content from the first game, as well as get all the new content from the second game.  If Left 4 Dead 2 had been a $50 expansion pack to the first game, with the same content it had plus the ability to keep the characters and maps from the first game if I had the first game also, that would have been awesome.  I still bought both games anyhow, and both were worth it, but it would be better if I could put them together rather than having them as two isolated experiences.  As it is, I pretty much only play L4D2 now, never L4D1.

How This All Relates To Our Plans For AVWW
Sometimes these things just need to be explicitly stated: again, otherwise you're leaving players wondering.  I keep talking about how we are approaching 1.0, and about various things that we'd "like to be able to do" after 1.0.  But what's really going to happen after 1.0?

Our plan is to take the AI War route, and release tons of free DLC as well to do at least a couple of paid expansions.  Hopefully in 2-3 years, we're still developing both AI War and AVWW -- that is the ideal scenario for me personally.

Really, the only way I could see that not coming to pass is if AVWW financially bombs like Tidalis did.  Tidalis was simply too niche, and I personally still have lost about $50,000.00 out of that entire endeavor of making that game.  I'm glad that we did make that game, and I think it's a great game, but we spent way too much money making it and it never made that money back.  Developing more content for that game would be simply a fool's errand for us at this point.

If we somehow have that happen with AVWW as well, then... well, a lot of my plans for post-1.0 work probably won't materialize.  But we'll give it three months at least, and pack in a lot of free DLC during that time, to make sure that we give it a fair shot at succeeding if it has any chance of doing so.

But all of that is really very negative speculation: signs are excellent that AVWW is going to be our biggest hit yet, and absolutely blow AI War out of the water in terms of the audience it reaches.  And if it does that, great -- we'll proceed as planned, and AVWW is going to go from massive to incredibly massive, same as AI War did between it's 1.0 and 5.0 versions (all of which were free upgrades, by the way, released alongside the paid expansions).

On the other end of the spectrum, what if AVWW goes viral and gets super incredibly popular?  AI War's income will seem paltry and sparse at that point, right?  And wouldn't it be better just to let that game quietly die and focus on the big moneymaker at that stage?

Well, no -- that's how a "suit" thinks, isn't it?  I'm not a suit.  If AVWW goes sky-high popular then that will certainly put more demands on our time because we'll have a lot more fans to please all of a sudden.  But that's not going to mean we're going to give up on AI War, or that we're going to do lesser expansions for that game because of it.  It just means we'll have to work harder to divide our time effectively between the two, which I believe is something that Keith and I are equipped to do (especially with Erik handling PR and Josh helping so much with QA and support).

The Bottom Line
For Arcen, communication is really a key part of how we do business.  Having an open development process has been a blessing and a curse -- early on with AVWW, a lot of people thought we were crazy, but now it's all coming together in a really positive way and there's this great public record of how the game has evolved.

As we move forward toward AVWW's 1.0 and beyond, that communication is going to be something we maintain.  We'll try to give you as accurate of updates as we can on the timing and plans for AI War's expansions, and for the free DLC and paid expansions for AVWW.

You won't ever wake up some day and hear "oh, by the way, the last-ever patch for AI War or AVWW was today."  You might someday hear "unless something changes to make this financially viable for us to continue, we've got three months left to work on patches for this or that game before we have to stop indefinitely with that title."

If there's anyone who was feeling doubtful in the wake of recent events, hopefully that helps to set some minds at ease.  With regard to Arcen titles, at least!
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Offline KDR_11k

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #1 on: February 23, 2012, 04:41:36 PM »
I wasn't surprised or angered by Terraria's development stop. The game's in a state that I would call finished, there aren't really any gaps left for more content. Playing through hard mode already felt like they were stretching it, the three extra ores felt like filler and kinda lost the game's appeal of having different tasks for different materials. It's also significantly less flexible than something like AI War where you generate new "worlds" constantly, a new biome in Terraria would require tossing out a crapton of progress, much of which was fun the first time but would be tedious to redo. I've restarted many times in AVWW too in order to see the whole progression and not start from a state that would be invalid in the current version.

I heard a quote once that said "Art is never finished, merely abandoned." That applies to games of course, you can always find a way to make your game better and very few games ever see a point where they could be called finished. Maybe games that are all about the story are finished when they tell their story but more emergent games will always have potential for tweaks and additions.

Offline x4000

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2012, 05:03:25 PM »
Yep, I agree with all that. 

As an added note: with AVWW, structurally speaking, there's been incentive for people to start new worlds because we've been working to define the game.  Once we pass that threshold permanently, you'd just keep playing new continents to see new stuff, not restart new worlds to do the same.
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Offline KingIsaacLinksr

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2012, 05:41:02 PM »
I'd say the only thing they should have thought better on was the abruptness of it all.  Beyond that, Terraria in its current state is more than good enough.  Especially since most paid almost nothing between the various sales for it on Steam.  The game was quite enjoyable for me this year.  :)

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Offline Dizzard

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2012, 05:44:10 PM »
When it comes to Terraria...I did get my moneys worth however that isn't the point.

It had so much potential and it feels like it has just been flushed away. Terraria was "finished" in the most strict sense of the word. You can see on the Terraria wiki there were loads of features that were planned. It's a shame and I wouldn't really blame people for having a sour taste in their mouths. It wasn't just about getting your moneys worth.

At least the new venture by one of it's developers is looking really promising. In fact I'm starting to think it will surpass Terraria. Starbound: http://playstarbound.com/
« Last Edit: February 23, 2012, 05:47:33 PM by Dizzard »

Offline HellishFiend

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2012, 06:14:41 PM »
Great read. Always nice to hear your thoughts on an issue and gain some insight into your plans for the future! For what its worth, I'm sure I speak for many members of the community when I say you can count on us to continue to support you and play our part in any way we can.

Best wishes moving forward!
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Offline keith.lamothe

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2012, 06:30:37 PM »
It wasn't just about getting your moneys worth.
I only played Terraria a little so I'm on the outside of this, but I can understand that sentiment, and I can understand how some of the customers had different expectations than the developers.  I'm not sure if that was it, or if the developers had matching expectations and then simply had a change of heart, but I understand how it could have been that the developers simply never saw it that way and the customers didn't realize that.

But seeing the game-maker to game-player relationship as more than just a transaction is something I hope we see more of, and it is what I try to practice here.  Not that I think the "just a transaction" model is wrong, it's just less fun.  Here I genuinely have fun putting together stuff to brutally slay entertain the players, and the feedback indicates that they genuinely enjoy the experience.  We also generally enjoy shooting the breeze and making fun of each other ;)  And even if we manage to really annoy each other, there's generally graciousness that comes in not long after.  The money's a necessary part of it in order for the developer side of the equation to have enough time to devote to the work, and it provides a degree of objective "accountability" of whether a game is generating enough interest, but it's very much not the only thing going on.  I don't want folks to look at "fire and forget" release practices, or even indies who suddenly cease development, and think that this kind of ongoing thing is always an on-thin-ice affair.

Of course, I get the feeling Terraria had that going for a while, so maybe it's just that those developers wanted the whole thing revolving around different games (and the one guy's about to have a birth in the family, that definitely changes things).
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Offline x4000

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2012, 06:42:59 PM »
Very much what Keith said.  I look at Dwarf Fortress as a great example of perennially exploring a potential gamespace: they just keep building and building and building on that thing, and it's gotten so that something that was massive to start is just unbeatably huge, for games in general.  In its own genre, I think that AI War is (perhaps) the only game to do the same thing.

With sidescrolling action games with a large crafting component, it felt like Terraria was doing the same thing for a while, but evidently not.  With AVWW, I think both Keith and I want this to be "our terrestrial game that we put all manner of stuff into" for the next few years.  Being able to spend so much time making AI War huge and complex has led to it becoming an unusually rich strategic experience, just like DF is an unusually rich simulation experience (and that's saying something, given how rich simulations tend to be to start with).

For AVWW, my aspirations are to make it an unusually rich action-adventure game experience, with bits and pieces from all sorts of other genres mashed in there (as you can already see some of).  The ability to do that sort of thing, as a game developer, is a luxury, make no mistake.  With Tidalis we had wanted to push the boundaries of a complex puzzle game even further, but we were not able to do so.  So many ideas we had there, and we were excited to do potentially multiple expansions there, and so forth.  But all that evaporated when the game didn't sell, because we have to do some sort of activity that pays the bills, ultimately, or go find other work.

Granted, Tidalis was developed more behind closed doors, and then the reception to the brief public beta was miniscule, so there were signs all over the place that it wasn't going to make it (but it still surprised us, go figure -- partly because it's legitimately a really good game in a lot of people's opinions).  But for AVWW we've been open from the start, and the game has really been through the fires of player criticism for months now.  If we'd released "1.0" with the mechanics from back in November, that would have been disastrous.  But thanks to players, we've been continuously reinventing and now what we have is something that we're really proud of and that a growing playerbase seems to really find fun and interesting and promising.

At any rate, supposing that a wider audience feels about this game the way that the beta players now seem to... hopefully we'll be afforded the luxury of being able to really explore this sort of gamespace on the level that DF and AI War do, and the way that Terraria seemed to be heading towards (and for all I know, the way that Terraria's sequel will).  I'm really feeling hopeful that this will happen, based on how things are going at the moment -- it looks likely!  But we thought that with Tidalis, too, so we have all sorts of fingers and toes crossed at the moment. ;)

Anyhow, thanks for all the kind words, everyone. :)
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Offline Itchykobu

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2012, 09:08:22 PM »
Much bigger games have ended lifecycle much more abruptly. I'm not really shocked to learn that Terraria is ending dev cycle, and what Arcen does is a ridiculously superb example of developer support.

Offline x4000

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2012, 09:14:08 PM »
My motivations in writing that blog post wasn't precisely to address the folks who already know us really well -- although some assurances of continued support for AI War were overdue.  But for people coming to us who don't know us, or who might even be looking for something to pass the time if they're now done with Terraria... I felt it was good to have our stance on this sort of thing in one codified place, rather than scattered all over the forums in a disjointed fashion.
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Offline KDR_11k

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2012, 12:19:42 PM »
Speaking of Tidalis, since that's on Unity would it be feasible to make an iOS port? It might have more of a chance there.

Offline x4000

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2012, 12:27:25 PM »
Speaking of Tidalis, since that's on Unity would it be feasible to make an iOS port? It might have more of a chance there.

It would be feasible, but it would cost us several thousand dollars in dev tools (Unity iOS is a seperate product), and both RAM limitations and CPU limitations and GPU limitations and screen resolution limitations would require substantial man-hours on our part.  Not to mention the requirement that we'd have to come up with a touchscreen way of actually playing the game.  My feeling in general with that is that there are easier and lower-risk ways for us to make more money, and that in general doing lots of ports is something that doesn't represent what I as an indie want to do with my time/life. ;)
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Offline KDR_11k

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2012, 12:36:55 PM »
Controls seem fairly easy (touch and drag to reorient, tap to fire) but if there's significant work to making that port it may not be worth it, yes.

Offline x4000

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2012, 12:44:27 PM »
Problem is that on a phone, those controls will be fiddly as all get-out.   But yeah, beyond that there are the other problems.
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Offline KingIsaacLinksr

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Re: Thoughts On Post-1.0 AVWW In The Wake Of Terraria's Development Halt
« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2012, 06:26:11 PM »
Bejeweled on the iOS is the closest I've seen to a really good puzzle game port on that platform.  (1 out of a 100,000 geez....)  That said, Bejeweled is a lot less complex than Tidalis is so I can definitely see the problem in porting the game over to it.  :)

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