It’s been a whirlwind of a year for us at Rose City Games!
We’ve been hunkered down, not just because the Portland rain and cold have kept us indoors (although it certainly helps), but because we’re also hard at work moving into the final phases for The World Next Door.
Also, hi! My name’s Jenny, and I’ve just joined the team! I’ll be moving into taking care of the blog and updating you guys on all things The World Next Door and Rose City Games. I thought that this would be the perfect time to recap the journey before jumping into the home stretch, since I’ve been catching up on all the progress the team has made. It’s been just over one year since full-time development began for The World Next Door, and from what I’ve heard from everyone here, it has been a wild ride. So, gather ‘round the blog, everyone, time for me to tell you what I’ve learned. 😊
Pumped about Prototypes!
Let us rewind back to Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2017, just over a year ago. We had brought a prototype of what we were then calling “PT001” to the event. Yup. You read that right! “Prototype 001” -- super clever, no?
With just a few character designs (thanks to Lord Gris and an internal game jam), we had a bare bones idea of what we wanted the puzzle battles to play like. Our goal was to see what the general reception would be if we asked players to combat one another in a match-3 setting.
Overwhelmingly, we found people in fact did enjoy this take on puzzle battles, so onward we went...of course with a few lessons learned and changes we already hoped to implement.
From PRGE, we realized we wanted to mess with the general assumptions of what’s supposed to happen in traditional match-3 titles. Little shifts, like allowing players to grab and move their tiles anywhere, rather than a simple swap or rotate. Or introducing more complex battle mechanics, like being able to create combo attacks and adding magical, spell-casting elements. Not only is magic just plain cool, but since one of our major inspirations was anime, we couldn’t resist the urge to add that spell-slinging flair.
Our next step after taking all the initial feedback from PRGE? Start to implement it in a full demo of the game for a snazzy vertical slice ready in time for the Game Developers Conference only months away!
A Wake-up Call
By the time GDC rolled around, we thought we were ready. We had dialogue. We had fireball-shooting puzzle battles. We had cool art and music! We felt ready. We were so proud of this vertical slice, at the time...but when we showed it to various peers, press, and platforms, the resounding feedback was “What a nice little prototype!”
While our initial reaction was, “Oh no, this is more than a prototype,” it was important for us to hear we clearly had a long way to go. You can think you’re so far into development, but that can all shift when you start showing your work to an audience. We learned it can be hard to communicate a vision until you see what happens when people get their hands on the game and actually play it.
With this feedback, we were fired up and ready to get back to work. Our next goal? Build the game up as much as possible before out next planned event: PAX West. In the six month period in between, we wanted to get all the remaining components added into an Alpha build, so people could play all the major features in the game and walk away saying “I want to buy this when it comes out!”
A (Vertical) Slice of Life
Pre-PAX was busy busy! At this time, the game had a clear A/B formula: you moved from dialogue into combat, then right back to talking again. We knew--and from the feedback we received, YOU knew--we needed to get the player more immersed in the world of Emrys.
In this period between GDC and PAX West, we went from no movement in between dialogue and battles to implementing dungeon rooms you could wander through, complete with new items to find and doors to unlock. When we figured out how to make that work narratively, those changes snowballed into more unexpected features to add in, like scripted movement, animations, an even more finessed battle system, and more! This demo was getting beefier by the day.
Through these adjustments, we’ve also worked through our fair share of additional challenges. As our first big game, we’ve had to learn about how we work together, and we’re always taking stock of what does and doesn’t work well in this process.
While we’re still building our core team for the studio, we’ve had many creators touch the game and then transition out for various reasons. Other projects come up, some work took longer than we planned, and sometimes there are just those moments when you realize you’re a non-pineapple pizza person working in a pineapple pizza world. But, truly, this process has taught us about different work styles, what we’re hoping to achieve with this game, and goals for other titles in the future.
The First 15 Minutes of E v e r y t h i n g !
From the initial prototype up until PAX West, the majority of our time was spent making 15 minutes of really fun, really solid content. It doesn’t seem like a lot of game, but to us, the goal of this short demo was to give players a quick introduction to everything they can experience in the final product...and PAX West was our first big showing. While we were, of course, handling things like pros on the outside, inside? We were flippin’ out!
Would anyone understand the tutorial? What if something broke and we had to rush back to the hotel to fix it? What if everyone decided they didn’t like the art style or puzzle battles anymore?
The fateful morning arrived. PAX West. Thousands of people were queued up and ready to discover new games. And as the first players sat down at The World Next Door booth, everyone waited with baited breath. One person finished the demo. Then a couple more -- kids, even! And they didn’t have to ask for help!
Fun fact? Corey, the project director, may have even gotten teary watching those first few players playing all the way till the end.
About 700 people played the game in four days (!!), and the verdict? SUCCESS! After PAX, we came away feeling confident that the 15 minutes we had spent our time on was well worth the effort. And even better? Players enjoyed it!
The whole team walked away from PAX feeling on top of the world. All the work and stress we had to deal with was well worth it.
Work, work, work, work, work*
*(please be sure to sing this to the tune of Rihanna)
When we came back from PAX, thanks to the initial groundwork of our last six months building modular systems into the Alpha Build, our focus turned more towards hooking everything up to expand the world. It felt so good to get out of that first shrine, since we’ve been staring at that green-blue for the better part of the year.
We worked on finishing the really beautiful hub scene, getting more enemies and boss fights squared away, and adding the remainder of the environments for Jun and friends to explore.
Post-PAX, just 4 months later, we went from having about 15 mins of content to where we are now with hours of playable game!
Really honing in on that first vertical slice made a world of difference for us, especially as this is the biggest project we’ve worked on as a studio.
In the midst of finishing up work to complete our Beta milestone, we still managed to get out to a few more events. We revealed a trailer at Anime Expo 2018; attended New York City Comic Con with our publisher, VIZ; returned to Portland Retro Gaming Expo... Oh! And we even made a comic book (A FLIPPIN’ COMIC BOOK?!) set in the world of Emrys, thanks again to the support of VIZ. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure!
The Portal Awaits!
Emrys is a magical universe we’ve been creating for a year-and-a-half, and we’re finally in the home stretch! We’re just putting on the final polish and getting ready for QA with our Beta. The best part? We’re getting closer and closer to announcing the official release date, so stay tuned! We can’t wait for you to experience the story of Jun and her friends and jump into more puzzle battles.