I just wanted to say that this is a beautiful post, and I greatly admire your attitude on all of this. I wish you the best with all of your future endeavors. You've already done such great work and I'm sure you'll continue to go far. Cheers mate!
Pawndemonium postmortem. Making the game free
This is a tough post for me, for reasons that I'll get into below. Just let me first say thank you to everyone who played and supported the game. It means the world to me to get feedback and kind words (and helpful advice).
Making a Game from Something I Love
I started working on this game in the middle of 2021 for the OST Jam. People were bunkered up during the pandemic and chess started to become very popular online. I even had a subscription to chess.com and was doing lots of puzzles every day. It was fun.
Part of me wanted to make this game in order to ride that wave of popularity, but my development cycle just wasn't fast enough to keep up with it. Plus, eventually Shotgun King came out and did everything I wanted to but much, much better.
The result of the game jam was fine, but it was missing a lot of the core gameplay necessary to make it something interesting to play for more than 5 minutes. The gameplay loop was more of a straight line and needed a complete rework.
Game Development Isn't Like Jazz
This is a lesson I am constantly learning. When I write music, I often start at the beginning and just keep adding things until the end. That isn't how games are made. They need to have a plan, and objective, and a roadmap on how to get there. Even if the development cycle is just a weekend, I think that having a plan in place is vitally important.
I came into this project thinking that I could make something fun with the idea of using chess pieces as a kind of turn based strategy game. I think the core concept works well, but the execution of it just lacked cohesion. The game mechanics can get "broken" fairly easily making most maps trivial. Building an AI smart enough to not only avoid, but actively use the traps and board effects in any way turned into a nightmare to code.
The other problem with not having a plan is that scope creep happens frequently. I get an idea and I want to realize it in the game without respecting the plans I already had in place. I love the level editor and I learned a ton from making it, but it was wholly unnecessary for the initial release of the game beyond using it to create the rest of the levels.
Visual Cohesion Is So Important
It wasn't all bad though. The presentation of Pawndemonium is something I'm immensely proud of. I love, love the look of this game. It's clean and has a distinct style that I feel really holds up with the elegance generally associated with chess.
I had worked on a game called Hyperthread in early 2021 that had a similar bold visual style. I love the idea of making big text and really being ambitious with the visual presentation of the game itself. I think it adds a lot of personality and fun to the game in ways that aren't directly quantifiable. I definitely want to continue that trend moving forward.
The color scheme of this game was very important to me as well. I adore the soft, muted mint blue/green that permeates everything offers a lovely consistency between screens. Contrasted with the harsh whites and blacks that signify the colors of the chess pieces, it's a good lookin' game.
One of My Favorite Soundtracks
In the original OST Jam, we were using music provided by other musicians, but as I brought this game toward an "official" release I wanted to make my own music for it.
I was heavily inspired by Flight of Angels - Splice OST. Specifically, it was music for two pianos with a focus on ostinatos and playing with patterns. It was something I listened to a lot and I'm honestly very proud of how these songs came together.
I created twelve songs in total, one for each note on the piano. I even created a script that transitioned between these songs in an organic way so that each key change was a logical step. It felt like one long, slowly evolving piano solo, but the order of songs never repeated. I am very proud of this.
Often I find myself listening to this album while working, it's good thinking music. I'm listening to it right now.
Confronting My Worst Fear As A Game Developer
When I released my first game on Steam, Color Jumper, I had a sudden and terrifying realization: What if someone buys this and can't actually play it?
This was before Steam refunds were a thing and the feeling that someone would spend their money on something that was functionally broken was a crippling fear. Thankfully, that game's release went really snoothly. Lots of love and support for the project invigorated me to patch the inevitable one-off issues that cropped up among players and I was able to directly support that game into a release on the Switch.
However, Pawndemonium played out very differently. There is a bug in this game. A bug I have no idea how to combat. If you read any of the comments and replies on the game's itch page, people report the game soft locking after completing a board. The game needs to be closed and opened again in order to play another board. While this doesn't fundamentally break the game, it cripples the flow to the point where it becomes frustrating to progress.
I have no idea why this is happening.
Even worse, I am unable to recreate this issue on any of my computers. There is no earthly way I can debug and resolve this problem because to my computers, especially to Unity, the problem simply doesn't exist.
I've tried so much to fix it. I've gone over every line of code multiple times in the hopes I'd find some value or operation out of place, but everything ticks along exactly like it should on my systems. I'm flummoxed.
Games Can't Be Made in A Vacuum
Obviously, this is a problem of my own design. I struggle to find people to actively playtest projects I'm working on and this bit me in the ass. It bit off my whole ass. If I had someone trying out my iterations I'd be better able to pinpoint where this issue was happening while the game was being developed. But as far as I know it happened somewhere between the OST Jam release and the final production release. Not helpful.
One big lesson learned is that as soon as the game is in a state that is playable and the game is Confirmed Fun™, make it available to anyone who wants to play it. Even if you get a handful of reports on what works and what doesn't, I think it would have went a long way to making this game functional.
I know "early access" is a common thing these days, but this goes even before that. Early alpha I guess? Getting eyes and hands on the project as soon as that minimum viable product and gameplay loop is achieved is so important. I really dropped the ball there.
Death By A Thousand Bug Reports
I don't blame anyone for this, I genuinely appreciate the feedback and assistance I've received when people encounter this issue. But every time I get a comment on this game I know what the message is gonna be about.
This is the main reason why I'm making this game free. It's fun. It's a good game, but I do not feel comfortable asking people to part with their Earth Dollars in order to play something that has a fundamental issue with its flow.
This issue had thoroughly stymied my passion for making games through most of 2022. I need to close the door on this project and just move on to other things. If you were one of the few people who purchased this game and didn't receive it for free in the charity bundle, I'd be happy to work out a refund for you if you like.
I personally hate it when capital-g "Gamers" call games Abandonware. It's, frankly, a shitty thing to say about a project someone poured their heart into. Most games can't, and shouldn't, be supported forever. Technology changes, there are other ideas out there to be realized in the limited amount of time that we are given on this planet.
There's a quote I love that "A work of art is never finished, only abandoned" and I feel that's where I need to leave Pawndemonium. I adore this game, but I need to put this out of my mind and move on to other projects.
Maybe someday I'll have a flash of inspiration and understand where this bug came from, but I find it unlikely. I think it's a beautiful little game that I spent 9 months making that has one fatal flaw. I need to give up and move on.
Thank you for your support and your kind words. I'm looking forward to future projects.
This time, I'll post them much earlier in development.
Log in with itch.io to leave a comment.
Thanks for the kind words. Shortly after writing this I participated in the Ludum Dare 52 and started a new game project! I've been really enjoying the process of making it so hopefully putting Pawndemonium behind me was a healthy step toward getting back into making things :)
Hey :) Just wanted to show you my support. By reading this post I felt identified myself on many things. I also started playing chess like crazy recently, and when I found your game I started following it, as it seemed a brilliant idea. As an amateur game developer I've also suffered from many of the issues you mentioned and there are still many things that bug me a lot, even though it's a learning path and it's about growing and growing. Anyway, keep it up mate, you are not alone! ;P