How long does it take to make Soul Reaper?

On July 28th, on InstagramZulkan asked us a very good question:

Why have you decided you need a year to finish the game?

I’ve always known the answer to that question but never really shared it with anyone, until now!

The short answer I gave him/her is as follows:

Short version is because of content creation, feature building, polishing, testing and unforeseen events.

I think the main reason why people wonder is because we do have art assets that look final, and our prototype looks like a semi-final product, at first. But trust me, it’s nowhere near final! For those who haven’t played it, you can get it on our website here: http://powerlevelstudios.com

Content Creation

The prototype doesn’t really have any content right now. It has 6 monsters, 10 soul actions, 40+ regular loot items, only 6 different “floor plans”, 1 boss monster, no tools, no legendary loot, only one section of the vault (Lava), etc.

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We’re aiming for 100 monsters, 250+ regular loot items, 400–500 floor plans, at least 6 bosses, 4–5 tools, 40+ unique legendary loot, 5 sections of the vault, etc.

This obviously takes a lot of time. On average, we can produce 5 monsters per week, so that’s 20 weeks right there. Loot is much faster so it’s pretty much just a flat image. On average, it takes about 1 hour each. We can produce one boss fight in about 5–10 days depending on the complexity. The floor plans currently take about 3 hours each. We need to get better at it. At 400 plans, that’s about 50 days of full-time work. One legendary loot probably takes about 1 day to make, depending on complexity again. Art assets for one section of the vault takes about 2 weeks. And all that doesn’t include any of the Soul Gear combos, which sometimes gives unique stats to loot and uncover new soul actions.

So yeah, content creation is a big reason why it won’t get released until later next year.

For more information on floor plan/level building, see: Opinion: Are procedurally generated levels all that great?

Feature building

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Soul Reaper is at prototype level right now. Most of the features were built/hacked together in 1 day each. Not all the code is bad, but in order to validate that an idea was fun, we aimed to “just do it”, test it, and trash it. Overall, we probably have to re-write about 60% of the code. And that’s actually really good. We now have a good idea of how the different systems interact with each other and we know we can write something solid, maintainable and scalable.

So, in addition to re-building the current feature-set, there’s more we want to do: Loot Trading with Ryder, Diablo-Style shrines, Disgaea-style geo panels, Reap & Unreap (summon monsters in combat), Vault customization before going inside (like the Hacker in Disgaea or the Grim Reaper in Rogue Legacy), quests, a tutorial, etc. And of course, the actual storyline!

For more information on how we built our prototype, see: Tried and True: 5 tips on building a game prototype

Design and Game Balancing

Soul Reaper is no simple game. Being a Diablo-style game, at least in terms of loot, the math is not the simplest, to put it lightly.

Thankfully this is a single player game, and players will be able to adjust some aspects their liking, making the balancing a little easier. Needless to say, we’re not taking this task lightly, and expect to spend at least one month full-time over the course of the development of the game.

Polishing

This is where a lot of developers don’t spend enough time. That last 5% of development is likely to take about 90% of the full development time. Luckily we have Unit Tests for most features, which should help, but still. There’s always things to polish with controls, UI, levels, etc. And there’s plenty of bugs to fix!

In the end, without polish, no one is going to play your game for very long and your reviews are going to be bad. We don’t want that, so we’re scheduling about 3 months of full-time polishing, across all disciplines (programming, art, animations, etc.).

Testing

Most of the testing will happen around the same time as the polishing, but will continue until the release of the game. We’re planning to start internal testing early; at least 6 months before the release. Alpha and Beta will come shortly after and will last as long as it needs.

Unforeseen Events

A lot of shit goes wrong during game development. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. Easy stuff to predict includes people getting sick, people taking vacation, people attending events, etc. But sometimes you may lose a key employee, break a computer, lose important assets, etc. Some of these things can greatly impact the development. We want to be ready for that.

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Conclusion

With all that said, we think Q4 2018 is reasonable. Maybe even a little tight in my opinion.

What do you think? Have you built a content-heavy game? Or a design-heavy game? Or both? Did you release on schedule? If not, why not?

First published here:  https://medium.com/power-level-studios/how-long-does-it-take-to-make-soul-reaper-11e0d9cc0f82