What went Right
I like a lot of elements of Between Heaven and Hell. I had high expectations for the final product, and while I can't say that they were completely met, I wasn't too far off, either. Since the game has just been released and I haven't heard many people's opinions, it may turn out that the some of the following aspects of the game didn't go as "right" as I currently think they did. But, here's hoping.
A handsomely rendered game. I love that expression. The backgrounds and animation
I love the overall look of the backgrounds. Some of them are downright gorgeous. People tend to find the style very striking, which I'm happy about. The animation for the main character and others turned out very fluid, which was one of my personal requirements for the game. Even to this day, seeing the main character just running and jumping around is kind of amazing to me.
Though I liked the music of AfterShocked!, much of it felt kind of "random" given its placement in the game, like I just created a bunch of tunes and tossed them at the game. Actually, this isn't particularly far off. BHAH's music feels like a complete soundtrack, usually matching the on-screen action quite nicely. I think it really adds to the overall experience, and helps to create a more cohesive package.
At this point, I think the gameplay has been ironed out to the point where relatively experienced gamers (my primary target audience) aren't going to get massively stuck at certain points for ridiculous amounts of time. For them, the game should move along at a fairly brisk pace. As for less experienced gamers... well, they may have a tougher time, but winning is certainly still feasible.
When playing through Out of This World, it often felt like I was in the middle of a big-budget sci-fi action movie-- especially when I'd play from beginning to end barely dying, after I knew the game's ins and outs. I get a similar feeling playing through BHAH, and I hope others do as well.
Half-Life 2 is the best implementation of an interactive movie I've ever seen. Well, that and Night Trap.
Testers proved extremely valuable
Indie developers: I can't stress enough the importance of having a lot of other people test your game. Testers will do all kinds of crazy crap in your that you wouldn't have thought of in a million years-- and that's just when they're playing normally, not trying to break your game. When they attempt to break your game, get ready for a shit-storm of incoming bugs. What's more, without the feedback I got from my testers, I estimate that the gameplay would be ten times worse. In my stubbornness, I was more reluctant to take feedback seriously early in the game's development. This was a huge mistake. Just try to get through the levels in the alpha version and you'll see what I mean.
What Went Wrong
Not everything about the game is as good as I'd like it to be, and not all of the game's development went as smoothly as I'd hoped. Though some of this stuff could have probably been fixed (at least to a degree) before the game's release, the fact of the matter is that I've been working on this game for over two years, and I think it's time to move on.
Gamers on the interweb are a very critical bunch.
A lot of people are going to hate this game
A long time has passed since this style of game was popular, and as such, the gameplay here may come off as extremely dated to some people. I've known from the beginning of development that games of this nature are not universally appealing. It's much more of a niche appeal. They're too slow-paced and frustrating for a good portion of the gamers out there. Since BHAH is a platformer, it's common to see people approach it with the same sort of recklessness that you'd approach Mario. But of course, that's going to result in a ton of deaths in this case, whereas the player who plans out their actions carefully is going to have a lot more fun. Though I tried to cut down on the frustration factor as much as I could without sacrificing too much of the challenge, I guarantee that many players are going to hate me and wish to castrate me so that I won't be able to have game-making children.
The cutscenes maybe didn't "work" as well as anticipated
One issue here is that I have actors spouting out dialog that would be more suited to a cartoon, despite the fact that live-action photographs and video were used. Also, much of the intended campiness doesn't seem campy enough at times, at least to me. The last thing I want is for people to take this plot and dialog too seriously, because stacked up against good fantasy and sci-fi, this is kinda crap. It's meant to be a fun ride, nothing more.
The world and storyline aren't as fleshed out as they could have been
By the end of the game, we really know very little about Limbo other than what the main character has experienced firsthand. We can't really infer a whole lot about this world based on the information we're given, either. This is a real missed opportunity. In retrospect, I should have incorporated more challenges into the gameplay that would give the player some insight into this vision of Limbo, rather than focusing so much energy on locations that didn't really add much to the player's perception of the world (for example, the Robe factory). It's kind of like seeing the film version of a series of sci-fi or fantasy books. You're probably only getting a tiny, condensed fraction of the world that the author has created. And in this case, you don't even have the option of reading any further about the world.
In addition, the storyline, which was always meant to be simple, ended up having a very "small", abridged feel to it. To once again use a movie comparison, the effect is similar to when a studio cuts what should be a two-hour film down by forty minutes, so you only see the bare-bones version of what was originally intended, and you don't get all the little extra bits that give the film its character. Of course, I didn't cut massive amounts of stuff out of the game. I never created it in the first place. Perhaps it would have been in the game's best interest for me to have spent less energy on cutscene visuals and sound, and more energy on creating better, slightly lengthier dialog exchanges. Then again, if I'd gone that route, the game wouldn't have quite the same cinematic quality that I'd always wanted from it.
AGAST engine issues
Unbeknownst to me for most of this game's development, AGAST does not include any way to remove assets from temporary memory. This means that if you play BHAH from start to finish in one sitting, the game will eventually take up more than 250 MB of temporary memory because of all the art and sound assets getting piled up as you progress. Players may experience stuttering in gameplay and cutscenes even on a machine with 512 MB of RAM.
If your computer looks like this, you can forget about running Between Heaven and Hell.
Additionally, one of AGAST's long-standing bugs is that the speed at which it runs can vary from machine to machine. So, one machine might run a game at normal speed, while on another it another will appear to be running in super-fast motion. This is why the "sound test" screen is necessary at the beginning of the game-- so that I can attempt to adjust the game's speed to what it should be. The speed is tailored to what I believe to be the vast majority of machines, but the minority who have to choose the first option on the sound test screen will experience a slight speed-up in the action from what it should be.
Because of the stuttering and speed issues, it is very possible for the sound in the cutscenes to get out of sync with the action-- especially on slower systems. Technically, all of a cutscene's resources should be getting loaded into memory before the it begins, but due to the aforementioned ridiculous amount of temporary memory that the game takes up, this doesn't work as well as it should.
My lack of time during much of the game's development
In the beginning, I honestly expected this game to be done in mid to late 2005. This was probably not too smart of me, especially considering I've done this before.
Some of the voice acting
I won't name names, but not all of the voice actors were quite up to the low standards that I'd set in place. But I still love them.
Lens flare is a cool, hip effect!
Not as many cool effects as I'd like to have had
As this is a very cinematic game that plays out somewhat like an action movie, it would have been nice to have more flashy looking special effects. But, it wasn't in the cards, since I wanted to get the game done sometime before Duke Nukem Forever's release.
UPS nearly destroyed my computer
My computer was shipped through UPS four times during Between Heaven and Hell's development. I ended up having to replace my video card and my network card, plus something deep within the bowels of the hardware ended up getting jostled around, and I spent $75 getting it fixed. They also managed to dent my monitor despite the layers of padding in its box. Oh, and now if you so much as lightly kick my computer, it will shut itself off. Thanks douche bags!
When I finished AfterShocked!, I wasn't exactly eager to jump into another giant game project, and I feel pretty much the same way at this point. Creating these games requires a massive amount of time and effort. And I mean massive. I can't really recommend that anyone attempt this sort of thing unless they've got a metric ton of dedication. I'm not going to rule out creating more games in the future, but when in the future that will happen, I can't really say.
As for a career in the games industry, it seems I'm off to a decent start. I currently have a job envied by nerds the world over: Doing quality assurance for Blizzard Entertainment. It's low-level and low-paying, plus I work the night shift, but it's a pretty great job. Testers are clearly the unsung heroes of this industry. Despite having a degree in computer science, I'm kind of trying to avoid programming for a living, though it's not out of the question. I'm not totally sure where I'd like to be in the industry at the moment. Very few positions sound hugely more attractive to me than others. All the kids these days want to be the "idea man" (usually without putting in any real work..), but even in some sort of design position, I'd most likely be creating content for someone else's game. Is prospect of designing missions for The Godfather: The Game really all that wonderful? My ideal role would allow me to have a lot of creative control over the project, but those sorts of lead designer roles are rare, as are the opportunities for these lead designers to create original titles not based off existing works. Then again, I'm starting to think lately that what's really important, perhaps more so than my role on a team, is for me to be working on a project that I can fully get behind. Getting involved in game journalism also sounds appealing to me, since games are one of the few subjects that I actually enjoy writing about. If anyone would like to hook me up with some nice game-related job, by all means, you know, drop me a line...
As for the immediate future, I plan to catch up on all the games I've been neglecting due to my spending so much time on BHAH. I'd also like to maybe write another screenplay. Other than that, I dunno. My primary focus at the moment is on my job. But, life's an open book at this point, and who knows what I'll be doing a year from now? For now though, enjoy BHAH...
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