Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

Polishing From The Start!

My man Hamish Todd was recently asking me about something I told him some time back; I told him that in game development, I polish as I go. I wanted to elaborate on that since it's a useful, but complex production style. Readers of this blog and followers of my game combat philosophies have heard me say that I developed one attack at the very beginning of Aztez, and didn't move on to another attack until that one looked and felt great. But other game developers could argue that polish is of secondary importance, and that the rules systems and mechanics are the most important thing to nail down first. And this is where I disagree!

(This is an image from a mech strategy game currently being developed by Zach Fowler. When he made this image the prototype was a mere 3 weeks in development! How jazzed did you get just looking at this?!)

Click On The Image To Visit Zack Fowler's Dev Blog!

Now I understand you can't have a game without rules and goals and interactions/mechanics, but only a certain percentage of the fun lies in the systems themselves, while the rest is derived from the polish. I'm not specifying an exact percentage because it completely depends on the game type. But the point is, it's most certainly not 0%! Things like scenery, effects, enjoyable and clear UI, stimulating audio, etc...all these things are massive part of the package. Now this is common sense to most people, but why do it from the start?

(That is the first attack prototype I ever did. This boned me up, and boned up everyone I showed. And this was mere moments into development. Push Z to attack.)

I think it's important to do it from the start because one of the most important phases of game development is at the beginning, when a dev is just beginning to bring a burgeoning idea to life. They should be determining if an idea is worth pursuing, and put it down if it's not. A critical part of this process is involving players; at first, friends and family, and then later, unbiased strangers. Their feedback is instrumental! And you've got a much bigger chance of lighting up their brain if there's some polish there! The clearer an idea you can provide them of what the game looks like when it's done, the better. With that being said, let's talk about Kyle Pulver for a moment.

Kyle Pulver's Offspring Fling

Kyle Pulver's Offspring Fling - Click To Buy On Steam!

You've probably heard of his games or seen his work at some point. What you might not know about him is that he is a regular and fierce game jam participant, and he has racked up more "Best Of Jam" medals than anyone I've ever known or heard of. While he's generally brilliant and highly agile by default, he does this overpowered nonsense where he polishes the shit out of his game jam creations. Looking at one of his 2 day creations is thrilling, and anyone who sees it gets super pumped up! There's obviously a huge advantage there in terms of "early marketing", but the truth about Kyle (and everyone else who polishes as they go) is that they do it to excite themselves! When you have to experience the interactions you've designed a BILLION fucking times as you go, it helps to make sure these interactions look and feel good.

Anyway, this style of development is by no means critical. But you're just doing your game a massive disservice by not making it sexy from the start. Allow it to produce its own inertia and drive development! If your developer brain doesn't naturally go here but you want to make it happen, then get involved with an artist whose very purpose is to make games sexy. Let them do their thing! Even if you don't think your own short-term excitement is critical, the short to long term excitement of potential players IS, and you can't argue with this.

  • Adam Mechtley

    Last time I played Aztez I was surprised at just how much of the feel depends on the polish at a fundamental level. The unfinished attacks (ones without complete sound or particles) felt completely off. Really depends on the game, but I think it’s becoming harder and harder (especially for animation-heavy games) to separate out “polish” as an independent factor.

  • Hamish Peter Todd

    Would you worry about having to redo things though? Suppose you want to change the vibe of the game at some point in development, or you get this great idea for a polish thing – you’d have to replace some work you’d already done. Leave polish til the end and all you’ll know things will be final. Or is this not something that’s affected you?

    • Matthew Wegner

      It’s absolutely a risk with early polish! We saw this a few times in the Blurst-era projects (which had a lot of early polish because so many people were working in parallel).

      Even in Aztez, it took me a *long* time to abandon the empire mode art we already had in the project when I was prototyping the new systems. Initially I was building data structures that would match up nicely with the art, and now I’m working with a hex grid for our empire simulation (and will wire the visual representation up later, hiding the grid)…

      • Hamish Todd

        Just wanted to say, two years later, that I actually adopted you guys’ approach here to a great extent, and I have had to throw away a moderate amount of work! But… it has been worth it. The total time I invested into polish which has been thrown away is, ballpark, like 2% of development time so far. And I think that the enthusiasm boost I have had from having a consistently nice-looking product has been worth it

    • So for me, a game like Aztez is so iterative that much changes over time in the battle to constantly improve everything. Overwriting some work or scrapping stuff here and there is just par for the course. Granted, this is possible and acceptable because we have a flexible pipeline and this process doesn’t consume a substantial amount of time or energy. Ultimately, I still believe that early polish is more valuable than the small amount of time and energy you chuck down the road.

      But with the type of director I am (I say director because the finished Aztez game is my concept and we are adhering to that, not because it’s my title or I have executive say or anything), there are no major vibe shifts because I know what the game looks like and what I want it to be before I start making it. So that doesn’t affect us on Aztez.

  • nicholas ralabate

    i think the nutso thing about kyle pulver’s work is not so much the polish (lots of games have that) but the oracle-baiting make-a-screenshot-first technique:

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