Iterations. They’re an important part of any creative process. Take, for example, writing. You finish the first draft, and then you edit. You do a second draft. And you edit some more. You change things around. You move bits and pieces. Constantly rearranging and polishing, working towards the finished product. From the earliest stages of its worm-like existence, to the final stages of flight as that butterfly launches into the atmosphere, there is always change taking place.
The team has had a mandate from the very first day we started on this project to document everything. Part of this is for the collector’s edition, which will come with a special book detailing special behind-the-scenes aspects of our development. Another reason is for an as-yet-unannounced project that will be launching simultaneously with Volume I. But also for posterity’s sake. It’s great to be able to look back on how far we’ve come…and give folks a taste of just how iterative the process of building a game world actually is.
So many times on forums and social media we come across comments from those who don’t understand how iterations work. They think that games just magically spring out of nowhere, that teams should automatically be creating the most polished, perfect version of every single little aspect of the game from day one. Somewhere along the line there’s a select group of gamers who have forgotten that this is actual work, that it’s a creative process that takes time to hone, and that like every piece of art ever created, it all starts with a block of marble, a chunk of wood, a blank canvas, sketch lines and notations, and imagination.
My brother shared a screenshot on Facebook recently from the very first iteration of the game world, sometime from mid-2014. It was amazing to be able to look at it and then compare it to shots from our most recent public build on April 30th, around two years later. It really puts things into perspective. It’s like those before and after shots of someone who has lost 150 pounds; it’s dramatic, and it’s breathtaking.
Don’t take my word for it; have a peek below. The first is the two year old screenshot, compared to one taken from last month.
Now let’s put that into perspective. That’s how much things changed in the first two years of development. We still have another year and a half to go. We can’t even begin to contemplate what things will look like in their final stages. We’re still using placeholder character models, we haven’t even begun the work of fine-tuning animations, there has been zero polish done to the zones, no shading passes, lighting passes, or effect passes, nor have we implemented any of the assets that our own team is creating and we’ve yet to show anyone.
Knowing how much things can change in as little as six months, let alone a year and a half or two years, it’s a great reminder that everything is in constant motion. We started off with nothing more than a large block of wood. It’s a long, painstaking process to carve, whittle, trim, sand, and polish things down until we have a finished sculpture. Even more complicated when you have multiple people working on the same sculpture to make it something worthy of note.
The next time you look at a game that it’s an alpha state, remember that it’s a work in progress. Take a step back, and appreciate the creative process. Understand that iterations are a natural part of the process, and that things aren’t in their final state until the game is published. Until then, things can and will change on a day-to-day basis. You might not see or understand those changes as they happen in the moment, but when you pan out and look at said changes over a period of months and years, the time-lapse gives you a chance to appreciate the complexity of the work as a whole.