So, there's various news that I'll post here in the forums, but it's not something I'm going to broadcast in our news section yet, or post on the front page of the site... yet.MetaCritic
First of all, based on our recent reviews we finally have an official MetaCritic score: http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/pc/aiwarfleetcommand
Evidently the cutoff for that is having 4 reviews, and we now do. The last two were a bit lower than I had hoped for, of course, but we're still averaging out at 80 which is not bad at all. Hopefully that will climb a bit as more MetaCritic-feeding review sites/magazines write about the game. When we find the right kind of strategy reviewer (long form, thoughtful) we tend to get super high scores. When we find the more fast-paced strategy gamers we get better-than-average scores, as with the Cheat Code Central one. Non-strategy reviewers tend to give the game pretty average scores, except for the ones for which AI War just happens to scratch an itch... and they tend to then fall in the above-average-to-great category. So it's always interesting to me to see what sort of review score the game will get from any particular outlet, since it's so dependent on the background of the reviewer. I think that is true in some fashion with any game, of course, but this is the first time I've seen it first hand with something of my own.Direct2Drive
For all the D2D fans out there, we'll be arriving on that platform on this Tuesday, the 20th. There is still some discussion with them as to whether or not we'll be releasing 1.301 initially, with 2.0 to follow a bit later, or if they will go straight to 2.0. Most likely the former, but that decision will be made on Monday. We'll see how the buglist goes this weekend, so if you guys are finding things, please let me know sooner than later!Steam, and Version 2.0
At this stage, I'm comfortable enough announcing here that we're tentatively planning for a launch of 2.0 on Steam, Impulse, and so forth on Wednesday the 21st. Getting very close now! There are some cool interviews and some reviews that I suspect will be quite positive (knock on wood) that are also coming up next week. It's going to be a pretty incredible week all around, I think, and there's going to be various promotions with a lot of our partners, so this is quite exciting. It will be very nerve-wracking for me to see how the game performs on the new platforms, since those can make or break Arcen's short-term financial future. Hopefully the whirlwind of publicity and exposure that will come next week will help to make this super successful, but if you are involved in other forums or social media (such as: join our Facebook page!
), or have friends who might be interested in the game, then be sure to spread the word!Beyond 2.0
In the coming months, we're going to be seeing some non-English localized retail versions of the game, and there is some potential for English-language retail in the US and elsewhere, though those deals are still in the very early stages and could fall through, especially if our performance on Steam is disappointing. As for updates to the game itself, expect to continue seeing monthly free DLC from this point on, but it will mostly be bugfixes and small tweaks and balance improvements, as well as a couple of ships each month.The Zenith Remnant
Phil, Arcen's artist, is already hard at work on The Zenith Remnant, AI War's first expansion. The new logo for that game is done and looks amazing, and the graphics for the first 10 ships are also pretty much complete (5 are 100%, 5 are almost done). This basically comprises two ship classes -- Beam Frigates and Grenade Launchers -- with their Mark I-IV variants and core variant. Most likely I will be starting coding work on the expansion partly next week, and mostly the week of the 26th. The expansion will become available for preorder, with the first alpha versions available, either during the week of the 26th or in the first week of November. This is very exciting for me, because with this expansion we're really going to push the game outwards content-wise in a way that hasn't happened for around 6 months now, including finally seeing more bonus ship classes and AI Types (which have been absent since I consider them off-limits for free DLC).
A page with some of Phil's new artwork, and with information about what will be in the expansion for sure (with other items TBD based on future feedback from you guys) will be going up on the main website before the 2.0 release, along with a page doing a retrospective of what has changed between 1.0 and 2.0... that's going to be pretty epic, too. The final version of The Zenith Remnant will officially be Done When It Is Done, though players who preorder will have access to the alpha/beta versions all the way through, so you'll still be getting updates on it multiple times per week, as you're accustomed to with the base game leading up to 2.0. I expect to have this expansion done by year end, but we'll just see how it goes as we get more into development. It's better to get it done right than fast, although often Arcen has been able to achieve both (Alden Ridge being a notable exception, where we're giving it lots of extra time to really make it shine when it does finally come out).Feedback (The Game)
Our upcoming puzzle game passed through prototyping in the summer, and we'll be starting work on this in earnest in the November/December timeframe. Exactly when will depend on what happens with Steam and our other platforms in the next week, and what sort of financial flexibility that gives us. This is another one that will go on preorder well before it is done, basically once it is in a later-alpha stage with more functionality and art and music and such in there. It's a very cool game, and quite addictive already, so I'm enthused to see how it will look and sound with full production values.
I expect this game will come out on preorder in the November/December timeframe, but it could be as late as January just depending on what happens with our schedule and our financial flexibility in general. The final version of this game is expected to come out in late Q1 2010, or possibly later if it needs more time, although this is much quicker for me to code than AI War is, given how much simpler it is. The main burdens here are with art, music, and of course puzzle design and design in general, though the programming isn't completely trivial given it will be online multiplayer and come with a puzzle editor, etc.Unnamed Tower Defense Game
This is going to be the next project after the game Feedback, and it's going to be a tower defense game for the PC. Possibly also some other platforms, we shall see. There's also been talk of porting Feedback to other platforms, but again that will just depend. I'm not really publicly saying a lot about this game at the moment, but the general idea is that this is going to be a bit of a unique genre-bender like we're known for. Probably nothing quite as dramatic as AI War in that regard, but I have some ideas for tower defense that I think are legitimately new and not just "one more tower defense game," since that's a super crowded genre. My reason for entering that genre at all is the fact that I really want to love the genre, but most games just don't quite do it for me. I really love PixelJunk Monsters on PSN, and Defender Chronicles on the iPhone, but neither of those are perfect (like any game, Arcen ones included) and there are some certain specific elements that both are missing that I would like to see added to the genre. For now I'll leave it at that, but I think that players who enjoy AI War will have a good chance of enjoying this tower defense game, too. (Don't read too much into that statement: it's not going to have a ridiculous scale, or have any aspects of RTS in it).AI War Expansion 2
Depending on when we finish the unnamed tower defense game, the second AI War expansion may be next on the roster, or it might be Alden Ridge. I hope to start on the second AI War expansion by around 8-10 months from now, so we'll see how that works out. The process will be the same as with this first expansion, and of course by then there will also be 8-10 months of free DLC that you will have had in the meantime, so it's not like AI War will cease growing even while the bulk of our focus is on Feedback, Unnamed TD, etc. I can't begin to speculate on what will specifically be in this second expansion, but you can see a lot of the ideas in our various forums related to collecting that sort of thing. And I'm sure that will grow monstrously in size between now and when we start actually working on the second expansion, which is why it would be a fool's errand to promise any specific features now, so far in advance. Who knows what even-better ideas will come up between now and then?Alden Ridge
I'll be honest: Alden Ridge is really fun, and has a lot of content, but it also has some serious problems at this stage. I'm trying to blend a couple of genres there, and it's not coming out quite right. The individual levels are great and just what I would want, but they are supposed to be all brought together through an adventure framework, and that just doesn't feel right to me yet. That aspect feels a bit... amateur, and it just doesn't have the needed sort of progression. Alden Ridge has been on hold for a year now, after 8 months in development during 2008, and it's going to be on hold for almost another year before I really come back to it. It's a very special game to me, and far to fun to just abandon, but I need some time to figure some things out with its design. I also hope to use this intervening time to get to the stage where I can afford to contract or hire a friend of mine who is an awesome
adventure game designer, who I think could do a far better job with those aspects of the design than I ever could. My strength has been in other areas of the game's design, so far at least.
There are already around 80 levels done for this game, but I hope to make it end up with more in the 200-300 range. The graphics are also pretty terrible at the moment, far worse than AI War ever was. There's a certain charm to them, sort of an odd mix of 16bit and 8bit qualities to them, juxtaposed with much more modern effects and scale in many cases, but I'd like the entire presentation to look a lot more modern. There are something like 8,000 images associated with that game, though, so it's going to be a large undertaking just from a standpoint of Phil's time on the art overhaul. Hence more reasons for me to delay on this specific title, and come back to it when we're really ready to do it justice.Unnamed Platforming Sidescroller
I have a real fondness for sidescrolling platformers, especially of the Mario kind but also branching out to DKC, Castlevania, Metroid, and others. Heck, I really like Archibald's Adventures, Canabalt, and Sooisiz on the iPhone, for that matter. I have a variety of platformer ideas that I'm interested in pursuing, as does Lars (the designer of Feedback) for that matter, and we haven't yet decided on which one would come at this stage. This is probably looking into 2011 by this time, so that's getting pretty far out there.Cayenne
This is going to be something of an interactive novel, but also a JRPG and an adventure game with a unique realtime combat style. Confused? Yeah, this is another place where we're going to be blending genres and doing something that is like Simply Nothing Else. Alden Ridge has a fair bit of story, and it's possible that our sidescroller may have a lot of story, but this is going to be novel-length in content. Think 40-60 hours of gameplay, with side quests, a huge cast of memorable characters, and a strong emotional arc along with some pretty weighty themes for a game. This is based on the first (unpublished) novel that I ever finished writing, but will be a major upgrade and expansion to that text, incorporating the 11 years of life experience I'll have had since initially writing the story. This is another project that I'm quite excited about, but in many ways it will be our biggest yet, and I'm under no illusions as to how challenging and time consuming it is going to be. Arcen is going to have to do well with the preceding titles for this to happen, otherwise it's likely to get shoved back in the queue and a less-ambitious project would have to take it's place. We're probably looking at 2012 for this one in any case.This is all Subject to Change (Of Course)
All of the above longer-term plans are, of course, extremely subject to change. We've already played around with the schedule for Feedback and Alden Ridge by quite a lot, just based on the reality of our ever-changing situation. AI War needed a lot more attention to really make it, and so the concept of AI War 2.0 was arrived at and superceded work on the other projects. It's possible that something like that might happen again in the future, although since we'll be involving fans in our actual development process, hopefully the post release process will never again need to be remotely so extensive as with our first game.
A lot of the plans also depend on what happens with us financially, and what other ideas become exciting to us in the next year or so. Like I said, we have a lot of various platformer ideas, and all of them are pretty crazy and not like anything else out there, but I also have ideas for so many other genres. I really want to do a game that is part dungeon crawler, for instance, although that's another one that would be a genre mashup (aren't almost all our titles?). At some point I also would like to do a true Turn Based Strategy game, and/or a Turn Based Tactics game. I have a lot of interesting ideas for both genres. I also have vague aspirations of doing a game where you control a spaceship directly, in the manner of the old Star Control games, but with a completely different hook and an emphasis on exploration and a mishmash of other genres there, too.
All of the games presented will have a significant co-op component, by the way. That's just how I roll, it's what I've always wanted in any game I've ever played.Why Look So Far Forward?
I thought it would be interesting to show this forward-looking glimpse into my plans for Arcen Games, assuming that things go well with Steam and our other upcoming distribution deals. So much is riding on those. I won't be able to do this in my spare time forever, so I'm going to have to cap most of this off (aside from AI War updates) after the middle of 2010 if I'm not able to support at least myself doing this fulltime by then. All of the staff at Arcen are united in this: we're not necessarily looking to get rich quick or become super multi-millionaires, although of course that is nice for anyone -- we're just seeking the financial stability and independence to let us keep putting out some amazing new ideas that no one has ever seen before, and that no publisher would take a chance on funding up front. We don't want creative oversight, and we want to be able to iteratively grow our visions of each game, and refine and improve and extend them as we go. We want the freedom to be able to Do Things Right, rather than to a deadline. I would also like to have a personal life again.
This next week is going to be nerve wracking for me because it holds the possibility of making all of those dreams come true not just for myself, but also for the rest of the Arcen staff (and for any fans that want to see us continue to innovate). If this week doesn't go according to plan, I don't think those dreams are really going to evaporate or anything, but it's going to be one huge blow. It would mean that the commercial viability of our first product (and thus, by extension, our second product -- the expansion) is less than we had hoped. It would mean that the expansion will probably help support maybe a month or two of Arcen staff's time (not including me, I have yet to get paid for anything Arcen has done -- we've made five figures of income, but I've had to keep reinvesting it all so far as is the case for many small business owners), and that then the pressure is really going to be on for Feedback and the Tower Defense game. It would mean that if those aren't stellar, if those don't have more commercial viability, then things are going to wind down in 2010.
There are many possible fallback positions without things becoming completely dire, of course. We could do work for hire for a AAA publisher, possibly for a handheld platform. That won't be very innovative or interesting, but it could pay the bills (and maybe we'd be given some latitude to put our own unique twist into whatever design we're handed). We could also seek outside funding, either from VC or in the form of an advance and a relationship with a traditional publisher. Those both equal less control for Arcen, but they'd keep us afloat. There are other scenarios that might also work, but fortunately we're a long
way off from having to do any of that. We've got through the middle of next year at least to make something work, even if things go poorly in the meantime. We already make enough to keep the lights on, so to speak, and this next week can't do anything except add to that.
I think that this sort of turning point is one that every game developer faces at some time or another, although our situation is a little bit better since not everything is riding on this one event. All our eggs are not in one basket, thank goodness, even if I really am hoping for this. For a lot of AAA development shops, I think that some variant of this scenario is what they face at the release of every major game they do. If the game does really poorly, then their next games might be in jeopardy in various ways, and some heads are going to roll. Staff is going to be lost, etc. Or if there's no fat in the company, nothing to cut, then the whole thing closes up shop. You read about it all the time, especially these days, and it's always sad, especially if the developer did something interesting. Now it's my turn to stand at that precipice and to attempt to leap across. For so long, that precipice has loomed in the future, representing the promise of true commercial success and a self-sustaining business with complete autonomy. Now here I stand at the edge, where I should perhaps be quaking, but instead I find myself as excited as ever to make the jump, even if I don't know where I'm going to land.
No matter what happens this next week, in my eyes AI War has been a huge success. Everyone here has been a part of that. A large part of me never expected to even reach the point we are currently at. My gratitude to you all.