In the first dev blog post, I talked about some of my previous attempts to get a game made and a game company going. After getting my “training wheels” project finished, I turned my attention to making Heritage. The idea for Heritage evolved greatly in the time between conception and around January of this year.
Heritage started as an idea from my very good friend and college buddy Luke Jacobs, the Director of QA at Harmonix. Luke is the kind of guy who tends to have 3-5 designs kicking around in his head at any given moment. One of the designs he’s had kicking around for at least 8-9 years is for what he called Adventure, Inc.
Luke envisioned a game something like X-Com in an open fantasy world. Your people would start a small settlement and expand out, late in the game encountering the Big Bad that they needed to defeat. The process from start to finish would take generations; a central part of the game would be managing these families of heroes through those generations.
We looked at working together on the idea, but life continued to get in the way; both of us were putting in way too many hours at work to make a go of it.
But once I was full-time on Macguffin Games – well, that was different. Luke gave me his blessing to take the idea and run with it, and I started wrestling with turning this concept into a game.
From the start, my take on Adventure, Inc. was pretty different. While most of the elements above were still intact, it wasn’t a turn-based tactical combat game like X-Com at all. I wanted to take the game more in the direction of Crusader Kings, one of my favorite titles by strategy game maker Paradox Interactive. In Crusader Kings, you control a medieval fiefdom and, somewhat indirectly, the noble family that rules it. Characters in that game are described through traits – so your rules won’t have an 18 Strength, but instead might be Strong… or a Brilliant Tactician. Or in my favorite case of the nobility inbreeding, a Hunchbacked and Schizophrenic maniac.
So, this game – which I started calling Heritage - was going to be a grand strategy game, but capitalizing much further on the idea of a ruling family of heroes. The design was sketchy and so were my programming skills. In retrospect, I fell into the same trap I had warned so many people about: don’t bite off more than you can chew for your first game!
From around May of last year through to December, I went on a roller-coaster ride of exploratory game design and programming. The design slowly evolved over that time, as did my understanding of the scope of this massive project. All this time, I was working at home alone – not a situation that really suited my temperament, in the end. I came to a point in late fall where progress was slowing down tremendously. Although my coding skills had come a long way, it had become obvious to me that I could not create this design on my own.
I started talking with a pro programmer I knew who had made strategy games before and was a huge AI geek – a perfect pairing! We met several times, and he was interested in the design and in working with me. Towards Christmas vacation we decided that he was going to take some time and review his personal codebase of strategy game AI, figure out what we could use, and be ready to rumble in January. He figured he could spend about 20 hours a week working on the game.
This was huge! With that kind of expertise, this game could get made! He also had a ton of experience with strategy game design that I lacked.
Sadly, this fell apart come January. The demands of his day job were escalating, and what had been 20 hours a week turned into, “Let’s talk in a couple months.” Although this was incredibly disappointing, I wasn’t completely surprised. There had been signs that things would go this route, and 20 hours a week always seemed like an amazingly high number!
So, that’s where I was at the beginning of 2009 – picking away alone at an unworkable game design, going nuts in my house, and overall in a disheartened state.
My response here was defiance. This was just about my only chance – I was going to make this work, come hell or high water.
In part three, I’ll talk about how I started working with Graham and how we turned this things around.