New Year's Message from Nick  

 

Hi Everyone!

As 2021 finally comes to an end, I wanted to share with you this letter to reflect on the past year, look forward to the one ahead, and, most of all, thank you for your continued support of myself and of the development of Keep the Peace.

For a second year in a row, many members of our community have struggled through the loss of loved ones, the loss of their livelihoods, physical & mental health problems, financial disasters, broken relationships, and more. Many will look back on 2021 as one of the worst of their lives.

I am extremely thankful for my health and the health of those closest to me through this pandemic, but this year has certainly not been without its challenges. I think there comes a time in the development of any major creative project -- whether you're writing a book, making a movie, or building a video game -- that an existential crisis inevitably ensues and you question every choice you've ever made, seriously wonder if you're a fraud, and feel like you'll never reach the finish line and realize the audacious goals that seemed so achievable at the start of your journey.

All of those feelings hit me hard around the middle of this year. After posting an optimistic "State of the Game" video in March, I was extremely frustrated to still be struggling to "find the fun" in the game's design -- to find the core mechanics that would keep the game interesting and engaging for a long period of time. While the prototype at the time still had plenty of bugs and incomplete features -- things that I knew needed work -- it was instead the feeling that I lacked a coherent vision for the final game, and for what would make the game entertaining, that weighed on my conscience.

Designing a game is almost always an exercise in iteration. Few game designs look the same on the first day of development as they do at release. As designers experiment with what will (and won't) make the game fun, it's natural for the design to change. Sometimes these changes are dramatic, as when the Fortnite team famously pivoted their focus from PvE tower defense role-playing to PvP battle royale, after spending just 2 months experimenting with the concept.

"Alpha Team", our supporters' community for Keep the Peace, was intended from the start to support the iterative design of the game, and in many ways, this process has been very successful. The feedback and the ideas of community members have been extremely valuable in steering the design of the game and in fueling my own creative process. But it has also led to challenges. Inevitably, I spend far more time testing, quashing bugs (for each bug that makes it into a prototype release, be sure there are dozens more that I spent time finding and fixing beforehand), and trying to optimize the game, than I would if I wasn't releasing playable prototypes to the public. Spending time on these tasks means I'm not spending time on the game's design, not spending time experimenting with game mechanics and not trying to make the game as fun as it can be.

It also meant that certain things that are invisible but complicated -- such as the frameworks underlying the original artificial intelligence and user interface systems -- were rushed, while I prioritized things that you *would* be able to immediately see and experience. But as is almost always the case, taking these shortcuts eventually came at a cost. These rushed systems were prone to major bugs and they were inflexible, making it almost impossible to iterate and experiment with them.

And finally, working towards release deadlines -- though it can give a motivational sense of urgency -- often meant I was releasing to Alpha Team a version of the game I wasn't happy with, wasn't proud of, and that didn't really reflect my vision. It also led to significant stress on my part when I would be working 24, 36, sometimes even 48 hours without sleep to get releases out "on time" but would nevertheless often "fail" and release them late. That's insane. It would be insane for a game in beta, it would be insane for a game in alpha. These versions were prototypes.

So while I was reckoning with feeling lost, frustrated, and desperate, I also needed to confront several years worth of procedural and technical barriers I had put in my own way.

What Now?

It's December 31st and I won't pretend all of these issues have magically been resolved, but I have made significant progress. As you may know, I spent significant time this year completely overhauling the game's AI and UI systems in order to overcome some of those technical barriers I previously discussed. But as you might not know, I also spent significant time reworking the game's core design, experimenting with different mechanics, and critically analyzing how I want the game to make players feel and how I want it to engage and interest you. Together these endeavours are why V0.28 went from a planned release last spring to a release in December.

A couple weeks ago I did finally release V0.28 of the prototype, and though this version incorporates several new systems and an overhauled AI and UI, it is only the beginning in realizing my current vision for the game. Rather than rushing into the next major version (V0.29 -- which I do have big plans for), I will be issuing a series of updates to the current version (0.28.1, 0.28.2, 0.28.3...etc.) which will focus on making the mechanics that are currently in the game (e.g. hiring and developing officers, creating and managing units, and responding to incidents/emergencies) fun, engaging, and working well. I want negotiations with hostile suspects to be tense, foot pursuits to be exciting, fights and combat to be nerve-racking. I want you to feel you're making important choices when you hire particular officers and when you choose how to train them and how to structure and equip their units. And I want all of these decisions and actions to have a meaningful impact on how the game plays out and how your city/environment develops and changes over time. I also want new and returning players to feel the game is intuitive and accessible, which means the game needs to give a bit more guidance, support, and motivation to players, especially in the beginning.

Beyond the game's design, I also want to make some important improvements to how I structure my work, how I engage with the KTP community, and how I release new versions of the prototype in this coming year.

Discord has been an immensely successful platform for us, largely thanks to the efforts of our dedicated community management staff and assistants, along with a number of highly-engaged community members, many of whom have been around since day one. By far, the majority of the feedback and input we receive comes through Discord. In the new year, we'll be making some improvements and additions to our Discord server to make it easier to share your feedback, discuss the game, and get support. I'll also be posting new types of development updates, with much greater frequency, on Discord and other platforms.

In contrast to Discord, our website has been neglected. Much of the content on it is old -- even as old as 2017 -- and many parts of the site, including the forums, are very rarely used. In the new year we'll be completely overhauling the website, streamlining much of it, refreshing the content, and adding new ways for me to share development updates, information about the game, and an updated roadmap for the game's development.

In the aftermath of V0.28, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to structure and announce future releases of the prototype. In the beginning, I strived to have a new release once per month. As insanely ambitious as this was, it actually worked, for a time. But it completely failed the moment I had to develop a major part of the game that took longer than a month, or when I would spend three weeks building out a new feature only to determine after testing it myself that it wasn't fun or it needed major changes -- resulting in nothing new being available for the actual release. Sometimes, reality dictated that I needed 6 months to make changes that were substantive enough to deserve a release. Other times, I only needed 2 weeks. All in all, I've learned that adhering to a specific and inflexible release schedule, though it does have some benefits, was ultimately a fool's errand. I've come to a similar conclusion with regard to announcing release dates for prototype versions of the game, which I so often fail to hit (and why would I be surprised, when even major AAA studios so often miss their own dates for the *final* release of a game?).

So, going forward, I won't be holding myself to neither a firm release schedule nor firm release dates. But transparency to the community, and getting new releases into your hands, is still extremely important to me. To that end, I will be publishing and actively maintaining a roadmap for the game's development which will outline *rough* timelines for future development (although always subject to change) and I will be issuing much more frequent development updates. These development updates will vary in format (posts on Discord, videos on YouTube, etc.) and length, depending on what I'm working on, how interesting I think it is, and how much time I have. But they will be frequent. Please look forward to these in the new year.

This letter has turned out to be far longer than I originally anticipated, and if you made it this far, I am flattered and humbled. So much of my ability to get through the past two years has been thanks to you, thanks to your support, your encouragement, your faith. I don't say this lightly, but 2022 will be a make-or-break year for Keep the Peace, but I'm more optimistic now than I have been in a long time, and I am as confident as I was on day one that, together, we can make KTP into an awesome game that we will all enjoy playing for a long time. The challenge ahead is enormous, but if we can grow this game, grow this community, and grow ourselves in the process, we will all look back a year from now with an immense sense of pride and accomplishment. I'm extremely thankful to be on this journey together with you, and I hope you are as excited as I am for what's to come. May the new year bring you and your family good health, happiness, and hope.

Thank you.

Nick

This topic was modified 2 weeks ago by deliberative_nick
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Posted: 31/12/2021 5:39 pm.
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