It’s been just over a week since the end our Martha Is Dead NEXT Fest demo. Here LKA founder Luca Dalcò shares his thoughts and musings over the challenges of creating a demo for a game like Martha – and how the studio felt watching people play for the very first time! Enjoy!
Marketing: “We need a demo for Martha Is Dead”.
Me: “Great. It’s been talked about for a long time, when is it needed?”
Marketing: “In 3 weeks.”
Me: “3 weeks?!”
We’ve been talking about a demo for a while, but as it sometimes happens, the sudden rush comes and we just need to get it done.
But… How can I deliver the news to the team?
Me:**A long sigh**
Me:**Another long sigh**
Me: “Okay… a meeting with LKA… let’s begin”
One gets nervous, another thinks about changing jobs and the others are unusually silent. In the end, we have the team together – We’re ready.
The marketing team is never entirely happy, every now and then you have to lovingly ignore them and move on. They have too many ideas for my taste!
We’re sure they’ll end up happy, because the final product is great, but communicating thoroughly takes time and that’s what we don’t have… Time.
Me: “But they trust us.”
Trust between LKA and Wired is one of those things that never fails!
Brick by brick
We identified a few chapters to be included in the demo that didn’t exactly follow the beginning of the game. Simply because taking the first few chapters wouldn’t have represented the game well by itself.
Martha Is Dead is a game with many different attributes, our goal with the demo was to show as many of them as possible without giving too much away. To make it clear that there are guided moments as opposed to moments of complete freedom.
We also decided to add a scene that didn’t exist yet, we utilised the puppets which are a key mechanic of the full game…. alright… let’s be honest, we didn’t think of adding it, Marketing did and you can’t always say “no”! We did however decide to add it as a non-interactive scene. Interactivity requires testing and polishing which requires precious time. 3 weeks really is too tight.
3 weeks in game development is nothing. Just a small glass in a big lake.
A new scene of the type we want to requires at the least:
An outlined idea
Develop concept from the idea
Drafts of written texts
A full script based on those drafts
Many new assets required including 3D models, animation, voice, music, drawings.
Polishing of the 3D and animation assets that require more time.
Carry out the script using a storyboard
Define the necessary illustrations for each scenarios
Start realizing the drawings
Write the final script
Work on sound fx and music
Translate the texts
Record the voicesLast but not least and the most important – stop members of the development team and marketing guys from getting any more ideas!
It’s been 3 weeks of lack of sleep, many things that could have gone wrong… did go wrong.
A few days before the demo release, the chapters were already working well, but the new final scene was still a disaster (That may be me exaggerating).
Marketing is worried, but they are patient. They know that if they put pressure on us we’ll burst!
In a few days, the mosaic is composed. The illustration assets begin to arrive, the 3D model of the new puppet finally works and the animation (Originally made on a place holder rig) is functioning. The voice for English and Italian also arrives (We couldn’t do more for the first version). Correct the lights, correct the framing and… the miracle happens.
A scene that just a few hours before was a jumble of stuff, takes shape.
It is always a great emotion to see how the combination of so many elements harmonize with each other, finally creating an atmosphere and just the one we wanted to create!
Good thing it went well the first time around!
Everyone is happy, especially at Wired. We at LKA are always pessimistic and strangely… even though we are Italian… less expressive.
Stress is part of game development. It is both the worst and the best part of it. I always hear developers say “No no, that’s enough, from now on …” and when I meet them again I find them more stressed than the previously.
In small teams you have to do a thousand different things, all at the same time. Sometimes time is so tight (As in the case of the demo), that you can’t plan everything using smart task management software. You are forced to improvise… to move forward based only on the fixed point in your head.
You have to let out all you can give, these are the most stimulating moments, the team produces something in 3 weeks that should actually take two months… you feel like a flat tire which has continued to travel miles. You know what I mean.
Then there’s the ‘release syndrome’, even for a demo.
And this isn’t just a developer thing. We’re all paranoid, developers, manufacturers, marketers… we all put our souls into it and as a consequence some anxiety is normal.
Will players like it?
In split moments you think:
“Yes they will, it’s good, it’s going to be great.”
and a minutes later:
“No, no, they will destroy us, we got it all wrong I’m sure!”
Everyone reacts in their own way.
One who will watch and read everything.. really everything
One who wants a specific live stream in a panic.
One who does not want to know anything and goes to prepare dinner instead.
One who won’t watch anything themselves but wants to be constantly updated by the team.
One who tries to make himself strong by saying that criticism does not interest them.
In short, between anxiety, paranoia and fear, the release comes.
And … It seems that people like what we created.
There are a few problems, but they like it. They like the graphics and even more essential for us… they like the story.
We are happy! Even on YouTube the comments quoting Batman and Superman are almost non-existent. I know that no one believes me when I say that I have never seen that movie, that I had no idea choosing “Martha Is Dead” as the title would have had that effect.
But I say it anyway!
Nobody sees all the flaws that we were worried about, while other problems that we had missed are discovered. Seeing the players play our creature, a creature whom’s gestation was 5 years long, is an indescribable feeling. When someone catches that detail, that nuance… It’s incredible!
And the players always go beyond those expectations. They discover things that even you didn’t fully understand because you added them following just inspiration and they explain it to you! That reward for all the stress, the neurosis, the rush, the panic.
So here we go.
We feel that the demo went well, but as soon as we begin to relax a little bit it comes to my attention that the demo will have to be improved, polished further and released again soon.
Me: “Alright… no problem, isn’t it ready?”
Marketing: “Obviously not! We all want to push and try to always make it better!”
Production: “[i]Let’s add the German voice, let’s put the subs in all 12 languages, let’s improve this, add some corpse here and there, let’s solve those problems I was mentioning before… and… let’s also write a blog about the development of the demo![/i]”
I’ve always wondered with great admiration how some developers manage to write all those beautiful and well-kept blogs.
This is ours. It may be a thing that you just read, but I wanted to write it just like we developed the Martha Is Dead demo. With passion. Without overly planning. All in one go!
Thank you to everyone who played it, your feedback has been really useful in helping us improve the game.
Oh… And sorry! I forgot to mention that I’m Luca Dalcò, founder of LKA, art director and screenwriter for “Martha Is Dead”.
So there you have it, a little glimpse into the world of LKA and the creation of the Martha demo!
Thank you all for playing, and stay tuned for further updates!
If you want to catch more Martha content across the internet, then hit the links at the bottom of the blog! And as always, make sure Martha is on your wishlists – and tell your friends!