Interregnum Chronicles: Signal - a postmortem
We released our first game on July 22 making it available on Steam. We did achieve the goals we set out at the beginning of this unusual production despite finishing the game in only 6 months while working completely remotely.
The primary goal of making this game was to build our team through the process of fully developing and releasing a game. Usually those things take years to make and if we wanted to deliver the best possible game we should have spent at least twice as much time making it. Instead we decided from the get go to design and plan out the game so it will be released after only 6 months of development. This decision put on us a number of constraints and limitations that eventually determined the final product. What this short production cycle allowed us to achieve was to actually get to know each other, determine our strengths and weaknesses and move forward towards the next game with much greater understanding and team cohesion than ever before. What about the players though?
Reviews and reception
At the time of writing this, the game sits on Steam with a Mixed rating after getting around 15 reviews from players. What this means is that the reviews are split in half in their recommendation for the game. The thumbs up reviews point out the interesting story and beautifully realized environments while praising the incremental gameplay as “scratching just the right itch”. The negative feedback revolves around - funnily enough - the same incremental gameplay, portraying it as boring and repetitive.
It is a sign of an inherent disconnect between how the game is perceived by potential buyers and how it actually plays and this is the main flaw and a mistake we made designing Signal. One clear indicator for that is the fact that many negative reviews are from players who spent in the game well over 5 hours, some even more than 10 which means that they did initially enjoy playing the game.
The problem is that the game portrays itself as this epic story aboard a vast space station while in reality it is a simple and contained experience mixed with a niche incremental game mechanic. Many players seem to be surprised by the incremental aspect of the game. This is a result of combining two very different and possibly incompatible types of gameplay which in retrospect seems to be the biggest mistake we made.
This is a very unusual production: wrapped in only 6 months, but also made by a team of 15 very talented people. Having such a short production time meant we could not put too much content into the game while on the other hand having such a relatively large team meant we could deliver an experience with much greater fidelity and quality than what you would usually expect from such a small game.
This fidelity and quality with which we managed to realize the game’s environments ironically worked against us because it skyrocketed the players’ expectation for the actual game.
Typically, teams of our size focus on creating much more content-rich games over the span of years. While a team of just two people can deliver a fine game in a few months, larger teams need proportionally more development time to deliver the best of what they can do. This wasn’t the case here though and so our game looks like something much greater while being just a small taste of what we can actually make.
Besides that it always was a very risky project creatively speaking. The game is a very unusual mixture of genres you do not typically combine, at least not the way we did. It was a shot worth taking though because we could and can live very well with the consequences. After all, the goal was always to release just something and do it fast.
We are proud of what we managed to accomplish with Signal and making this game - even if it didn't manage to set the world on fire - is a tremendous achievement for the team and will help us immensely in the production of the next, much bigger and involved game.