Heya Cadets! Maddy here with another EXOK newsletter :)
We recently started formally playtesting Earthblade! For this game we wanted to wait for quite a long time before beginning playtests, so finally getting here has been very exciting and energizing for us. We're currently scheduling one for the end of every month, tapping friends of ours who aren't yet familiar it. As expected, we're gaining valuable insights from observing how people from outside of the project experience it. Another benefit of these playtests is they function as deadlines - the week or two before one becomes a sprint to prepare the game so that we can maximize the usefulness of that session (and because it's just plain motivating to see your work played!)
We chose the monthly interval because we don't want to be always sprinting - we still need time to tackle things like large refactors or prototypes of new mechanics. In the week or two before a playtest we often adopt an attitude of "we'll fix it later!" for complex problems that arise. This makes sense because sweeping those tasks under the proverbial rug serves the immediate purpose of keeping the game playable, but we still want space to think through and solve these problems properly after the fact. Additionally, sprinting gets tiring for us when it becomes our sole mode of work - when used sparingly (and without overtime!) it can be a fun and engaging mode of work that applies juuuust the right amount of pressure for magic to occur.
This cadence feels right for the team and the project right now. We suspect that we'll want the playtest frequency to increase as we progress further, as the changes we're making become more granular and a higher feedback interval becomes more valuable to really finetune everything into its final form. All told, it feels like we're close to what we'd call "full content production mode" on Earthblade. Our hope is that we can make most or all of the game's content this year, and then release in 2023 after some form of (private) beta test, polishing, localization, and of course the dreaded console certification. For now though we came into this month with some big changes to the game's foundation and we're gearing up for the sprint to the next playtest.
My primary goal with this newsletter has been to provide a window into our development process and it occurred to me after some recent discussions here in the office that side projects are a huge part of how we work. It's strange to talk about them because they don't fall under the EXOK umbrella, but they definitely play a role in our process.
All of the core, full-time Earthblade team will typically have at least one non-EXOK creative endeavor living in our heads that we tinker with from time to time. Sometimes these can be somewhat similar to Earthblade (Noel has a 2D action-exploration platformer that he's making with his brother) and sometimes they are completely different (Amora is slowly planning out a comic that she's wanted to create for years). To me Earthblade represents a convergence of our creative lives at this moment in time, and I treasure these side projects as little views into the worlds of my collaborators, untempered by our collective process. Working on side projects is always welcome in the office, and I love arriving to a teammate excitedly showing off what they stayed up late making last night.
We do think that there's some practical utility to them as well. A lot of knowledge gained through these ventures has already contributed to Earthblade in substantial (and surprising) ways. But I'm wary of attempting to justify every side project beyond the creative fulfillment it brings. Expecting justification is an easy way to turn a fun, freeform exploration into a slog, and we don't keep track of them in any formal capacity beyond chatting over lunch about our latest obsessions.
I think a lot about how lucky I am to belong to a team that can still function this way harmoniously and productively. I think that it necessitates a small team of people who have a huge amount of trust in each other, working together on a game that we have collectively shaped in a self-directed manner. And a long history of collaboration doesn't hurt. Our process has evolved over the more-than-decade we've worked together (!), but that comfortable familiarity is always there, communication is easy, and we know that any disagreements will be approached with mutual respect.
Our roles on Earthblade are what we make them. And the process is as much about each of us finding where our voices fit on this particular game and what we have to say, as it is about making the game.
Stay safe out there!
- Maddy ♡