A brief hiatus, and a hint at something new

Hi everyone! Time for some honest talk on where Planck is, what we’ve been up to since late last year, and what Shadegrown Games’ goals are for this year. For those of you who don’t like to read a whole lot, the short version is: we’re working on something new— but Planck is still alive.

So what’s the deal? Why are we working on something new right now?

As we demonstrated Planck and pitched it to various potential partners, the near-universal response was that it was too expensive to do as a larger PC or console game. But, they added, they’d be happy to talk to us about doing a much smaller version of Planck, for smartphones. I didn’t want to reject these suggestions out of hand, so we created a branch version of the game in order to test out various ideas and figure out what it would mean to simplify Planck for a smartphone’s capabilities and audience.

Going down that path, however, meant that we got away from some of the aspects of our original goal: to make the sprawling free-form dynamic music game we originally dreamed of making. The mobile device discussions are still ongoing, but it’s hard to make concrete progress on Planck right now when we don’t know what our real target is going to be.

Of course, no matter what happens, we’re also going to continue to pursue the grandest vision of what this game is meant to be on our own– it just won’t be with the greatest speed.

(Aside: “Why not do a Kickstarter?” is a question I’m often asked about finishing Planck. I’ve thought a lot about Kickstarter, especially in light of its recent string of great successes in funding excellent projects for awesome developers. Ultimately, I think our particular situation isn’t totally applicable— the amount of money that we could get through it would fall short of allowing us to leave our day jobs and work on the game full-time, which is really the only thing that would help us get the game done faster. Any amount of money up until that point doesn’t actually buy us a whole lot— we have the people and equipment to make the game, just not that dedicated length of time.)

In the meantime, though, we’ve decided to make something new.

It’ll be a smaller game than Planck—something designed from the very beginning to be something that people with day jobs can finish successfully. It’s also got many of the same principles and ideas as Planck: abstract colorful visuals and dynamic music that responds to your play. We’ve already begun testing this new game (it made some secret appearances at this year’s Game Developer Conference) and we’re excited to share it with you later this year. That’s right, we’re committing to having it out in a reasonable amount of time! We want to ship stuff, and we think focusing on this new game while we wait to find out what’s going to happen with Planck is our best strategy for doing so.

Information will be coming soon. Please look forward to it!


Planck Dev Diary #13: Alive and kicking

A couple of people have understandably written in to ask how things have been going and to make sure we haven’t gone away or given up. Rest assured we haven’t! It’s been a busy year for everyone on the team: we’ve moved, changed jobs, gone on long trips. But that’s not to say we haven’t been working on our indie dream at the same time.

So what’s been happening? The first thing we’ve been doing is continuing to iterate on Planck’s core mechanics. In particular, we’re keen on trying out a new system that makes changing the color space of the level more explicit and less of the mysterious thing it used to be. Right now in the build we’ve got special “transverse motes” that create great changes in the level’s energy when hit. This makes mixing up the palette of sounds easier and potentially much more dramatic. We’ve got more to do on these— we need to adjust the levels to work with them and do their art—but it’s a promising step towards making our suite of player actions simpler and more powerful at the same time.

We’ve also been exploring some basic prototypes for other games in a similar vein to Planck, with the idea of doing something small and simple for mobile platforms. I wasn’t lying when I said that we ambitiously bit off a little more than we could chew trying to make Planck, so our desire as a team to get something out the door together sooner rather than later led us down this particular path. The prototypes aren’t too far afield from Planck in art and sonic style, but they do show some of the other interesting ways we can combine music and gameplay using the systems we’ve already built. I think we’ll be sharing some of those prototypes with you here at some point.

Tying in with the above is a significant amount of thought that’s going into the business side of things. Some people have asked if we would be open to doing a Minecraft-style paid open Alpha. We’re definitely open to that, but I think we would need to get farther along with the game before that could happen. Right now, we’re considering a wide range of possibilities as far as platforms and release strategies go. Navigating these waters can be confusing sometimes— depending upon whom you talk to, you can get very different answers about the viability of the options out there for a game such as ours. Sorting that all out is taking longer than we want it to, but I’m of the mind that, just like in life, in business it’s best not to rush into a relationship you haven’t fully thought through.

Finally, thanks to everyone who left a comment or sent us a message. It’s always great to hear from you.


Planck Dev Diary #12: Peeking at another new world

In addition to refining our base mechanics, we’re also thinking about how far we can take our music-gameplay engine. Some of the results of our tests are teased in this video, which features new art, music, and a more energetic look and feel than we’ve seen previously in the game. Also, maybe a bit of a surprise!

Along with the video release, we spoke to about our current progress with the game, where we want to take it from here, and our ultimate plan for the future. Please take a look!


Planck Dev Diary #11: Games, goals, and numbers

I’ve written before about the importance of the playtesting process, and at Shadegrown we try to use it as a way to inform our game design. Today we have a concrete example of that happening in our new Scored Mode.

To learn about where Scored Mode came from, we need to dial back the clock a bit and look at the genesis of Planck. The basic mechanics of the game were put together with the goal of creating an experience where crafting a cool music track via gameplay was the main reason why people would play. In other words, the moment-to-moment flow was its own reward.

One of the biggest feedback points we got, however, went something like this: “This is cool, but what’s my goal? What’s the purpose of the game?”

So we spent some time wrestling with the question of whether or not we should give players an explicit “purpose” to the game. We didn’t want to encourage the idea that there was a right way or a wrong way to interact with our interactive music systems. Conversely, we didn’t want Planck to be just a “toy” and not a game, too (and most ideally, it could be both of those things). It was clear that a lot of people wanted, or even needed, a goal-oriented framework to guide their experience.

Our first serious attempt to address this issue was through the implementation of various achievements strewn across the level. The problem, however, was that the achievements were dependent upon already knowing the mechanics– we would tell players their goal would be to “unlock all the blue motes,” for instance, before they really knew what unlocking motes was. 

What’s a simple evaluative goal that can be understood instantly? Well, that’s obvious: a numerical score. But we were actually a little hesitant about just throwing in numbers. Scoring, we thought, might be too extrinsic of a reward for players, making them focus on earning a larger number at the expense of enjoying the journey as its own reward.

The nice thing about organic development is that we can try things even if we have doubts about how they’ll work. After several rounds of iteration on the scoring system, though, I’m happy to say we all like the result quite a bit. There’s a fundamental hook to “keeping score” in the human brain that’s impossible to deny.

Lastly, the freeform exploration we originally envisioned isn’t going away, either. To accommodate both, we plan to offer two flavors: “Scored Mode” and “Free Mode”. Scored Mode is more like a traditional game, designed to reward mastery. Free Mode is Planck in its unadorned, toy-like form: our mechanics, there for you to play and experiment with as you see fit.


Planck Dev Diary #10: To the Planckiverse

It’s been a while since our last post, and for that we apologize. 2011’s been a very busy year for the team– in both work and in life. But we’re still plugging away at Planck, throwing big gobs of paint onto the canvas with our largest brushes. With our moment-to-moment gameplay in a place we like, we’ve started to take a look at building a context for the player’s actions– what some people in the industry call the “metagame,” the larger wrapper experience around the smaller sections of gameplay.

Our organic development process means that, while we long knew we needed something for this, we hadn’t really designed or specced anything out– until just the other night when the team was chatting and suddenly hit upon the seed of right framework. It was startling how obvious that it was the right idea: there was a palpable sense in the air that the missing piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place. That great moment is the fruit of our experiment with the development philosophy that I recently had the chance to speak to Joystiq about– a kind of process where the games “sort of take on their own life and go wherever they want to.”

So what is this awesome idea? I’m afraid you’ll have to stay tuned to find out! After all, we just came up with the idea the other day– we need to bang on it a bit before we have something to show. But if you want an early look, two of the Shadegrown crew are headed out to the 2011 Game Developers Conference next week. Let us know if you’d like to meet up. We’d love to see you there and we might just have a build with us.