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We reach our first checkpoint just 4 hours after starting - an impossibly short amount of time. What can we possibly have gotten done? The coffee hasn’t even gone cold yet.
The updates we have to share are exciting but not incredibly substantial. Some pieces are starting to fall into place - what will this game look and feel like? What kind of levels will players bounce through? Will we actually have a boss? (hint: yes). Gathered around the big screen, we share our progress and cheer for exploding Ziggs bombs and super rough level sketches, but there’s a bit of an impatient undercurrent. Many of us shift in our seats while we feel the minutes tick away - but this part is important. It’s the only way we know we’re all on the right track together before we get tunnel vision again. A few questions bounce around based on what we’ve come up with, and we quickly scatter to get back into it.
On the rare occasion any of us look up, we see that it’s getting dark outside. We finally start to play music since the discussions have faded to a murmur, and something has to keep us awake in the coming hours. We’re still coming in under normal working hours, but everyone’s had to be on the entire time. No breaks, no meetings, just focus.
With the 7pm update now looming, a bit of frustration is brewing underneath the creative energy. There are, of course, some things we didn’t see coming. A lot of us are using tools and systems that we’re not incredibly comfortable with, and it’s taking time we don’t have to get into the groove. We’re pulling a lot of assets right from LoL and it turns out those don’t scale super well into Unreal so there’s still some heavy lifting to do - the things we thought were free are becoming more expensive.
Coordinating between all these pods is also proving more difficult than we thought - where do we prioritize our art and vfx resources? What’s the best possible thing we could get done next so that other teams can leapfrog off that progress? Tracking and managing this is a process that takes up a huge amount of time - entire jobs - at Riot normally, and we’re boiling it down into a two day mad dash. As we get a clearer vision of what this game is, these questions become easier to sort through.
There’s a little bit of history for this team that’s stirring up nervous thoughts - some projects from past years haven’t gone perfectly and no one is keen on rinsing and repeating. Most of the stories Thunderdome veterans recite as cautionary tales involve pods running in parallel for too long, excited by their own work but not having a great idea of the big picture. When the time comes to megazord all the awesome pieces together, they don’t always fit. If there’s not enough time left to make major changes, the result can feel disjointed or lackluster.
This year the mantra instead is ‘playable version’ and we are driving as hard as we can on that goal. The idea is that if we can pull all the not-so-perfect pieces together first, we’ll be able to tell where we need to spend the most amount of time, instead of giving it our best guess. We keep hearing “is this MVP for playtest?” and the answer is often a toss-up. Do we need a turret? Why do we have a turret? Cut the turret! Noon tomorrow is when this project turns into the proverbial pumpkin and only the features that are done by then will make it to the ball (pretty sure that metaphor held up).
7pm rounds the corner, and our final check in for the day brings a much needed lift in spirits.
There are finally some bones. We can see Ziggs jumping around, tossing bombs, blowing up everything in sight like he’s meant to do. We’ve gotten some awesome input from players on the art and storyline and we’re feeling really good about both of those directions. We clap a lot more than we did at the first update and we mean it - there’s a game in sight! It’s clear that we’re finally starting to wade through the problems that were initially slowing us down and make some progress, but there’s still a long way to go.
After the update, leads say things like “It’s fine to go home” but they also say things like “remember that anything not done by noon tomorrow has to be cut” so there’s some averaging to be done. It’s 9 right now and almost everyone is still here. I’m considering building a small fort from empty Red Bull cans. There’s still more to do. New enemies need rigging (think inserting a skeleton into a stiff body so it can animate), VFX can only work on things that have models and things to do, models need rigging so they can do the things, and we’re still in the process of not making a turret.
We’ll check in next tomorrow afternoon when, barring complete failure, we’ll have a fully playable game loop.