Q: Eleven years? Seriously?
A: Yeah, this started as a personal project of mine when I was still in high school (earliest dated source code files are from Feb 2001), and I vowed to myself to make a substantial game I could proudly call "complete" instead of just abandoning it like so many other things. Unfortunately, as aspiring game developers are prone to do, I grossly underestimated how much work would be required to realize the vision of the game that I had set out to build. So, over a decade later and with the help of several talented and generous collaborators around the world, I finally reached a version that I thought lived up to that promise I made to myself: A game true to my vision, that is fully playable and "complete", if not perfectly polished. More of the history is detailed here
.Q: So this is like a school or hobby project for you?
A: Although I started this project while I was in high school ("gymnasiet" in Sweden), it wasn't for
school in any way. I hoped to land a game industry job with it one day, so I taught myself programming by buying books off amazon.co.uk and reading up on what I needed to know to accomplish the little progress goals I set for myself. Showing the game did eventually help me get that AAA industry gig (Tools Engineer at Rainbow Studios/THQ here in Arizona)... but I also quit that job after about a year to pursue Data Realms again, full-time. I define "hobby" as something that costs money to do, and CC doesn't fit that description since it provides the main source of income for a couple of families (including mine). I am serious about keeping these projects going and growing organically for as long as I feel they are fun and profitable. Data Realms does fit the description of a "lifestyle" business: We, the principals, are primarily concerned with our own quality of life; the business always serves that and not the other way around. For example, if I start feeling even a little burnt out on working on a project, I take a break and do something completely different for a while. The hiatus can be from a week to up to a year - however long it takes for me to naturally recharge my passion and motivation to work on games again! So far, it has served me well and I am glad to have made the scary decisions to quit both college and "real" jobs to pursue this.Q: I think "finished" and "complete" are basically synonyms - but I've seen you making them out to be different... what gives?
A: To me, a "finished" game is totally done and won't really be touched again by its developers, ever (save for ports, etc). "Complete" means it is fully playable, eg in CC's specific example, you can actually play round after round of the metagame/campaign to its end, but things aren't necessarily fully polished and finished. I'm not sure how this best maps onto a more traditional game production cycle and terminology (beta/alpha/cert/gold etc), but I'd say "finished" is beyond
gold master, after
all significant post-launch patches are applied. What I consider "complete" may be somewhere around beta stage. For over six years, we have been putting out "Test Builds" of Cortex Command publicly on our website and also calling them "alpha builds", which seemed appropriate. This alone sets CC apart from how most games (indie and AAA alike) are made and published, so hopefully you can see our difficulty with fitting into the regular mold and methods.Q: Hold on a minute; you've already launched the ONE POINT OH ("1.0") of the game, but you just implied it is still kindof a beta??
A: Yeah, you have a good point; this is one area where our very unconventional development cycle causes some problems and confusion. On one hand, calling a piece of software "1.0" strongly implies completeness. On the other hand, to me it's also still only the very first revision that is fully usable. Software being what it is (ie the most complex artifacts humanity has invented), there will be bugs, design flaws, and other shortcomings in a 1.0. Fixing and addressing the worst of those issues is what I consider truly "finishing" the game. So, in this sense and at the time prior to launch of that particular version, I thought "1.0" was a good label for the state of the game - complete, but not yet finished.Q: I still feel that labeling what by traditional game industry standards would most certainly be a beta as "1.0" is confusing at best, and misleading at worst! What do you have to say for yourself?
A: Again, I absolutely see your point, and agree that it is very confusing. For this reason, in retrospect, using the loaded "1.0" label was a mistake and I should at least have been far
clearer about what I meant by it when we released it. We are paying for that mistake in negative reviews by critics who are understandably accustomed to more traditionally developed games and industry practices. Every such review I've seen talk about the great potential of the game/concept, which it falls disappointingly short of in its unpolished state. I think that would be true for any hit game if it was reviewed in a similar stage of development as CC 1.0 is now. A crude analogy: compare the generally unfavorable impressions of the leaked and unfinished Half-Life 2 build to the critical acclaim the final version received. I'm not saying CC will ever be universally loved like HL2 eventually was (or that it's even in the same league), but it's a useful example to show how disproportionately important the very last phase of development is to any game's ability to entertain.Q: So, did you intentionally mislead people by prematurely calling it 1.0, just to make some quick money??
A: That would be a pretty shortsighted and silly thing for us to do after having sunk so much time into this thing already, don't you think? The negative reviews and lost goodwill from fans will hurt our sales for years to come - hardly worth what was gained in this launch if we had tried to pull this kind of stunt on purpose. On the contrary, we always try our best to NOT disappoint anyone, as it makes me personally feel super crappy to hear that kind of feedback after having worked so hard for so long. Really, the pain of learning about people being disappointed is motivation enough to avoid it to the best of my limited abilities and experience. Unfortunately, this IS my first game I've ever developed (save for a "snake" game on my TI-83 in high school) and
marketed, so honest mistakes are bound to happen - and have. I take full responsibility. We are also a very small team, most of whom work on a volunteer basis in their spare time, so we can't provide the same kind of production muscle and pace of development as you might be used to from other studios. Please bear with us and our experimental, plodding ways.Q: I bought the game on Steam before there was any kind of warning about its unfinished state on the store page! I feel ripped off and can't get a refund from Valve due to their no-returns policy. How does THAT make you feel??
A: Bad enough to do something about it. The Steam store page description wasn't fully completed until about a week after launch, due to both technical issues (our changes were unintentionally reverted twice by a database problem at Valve) and by difficulties fitting this kind of weirdly developed game into the Store system. I've since learned that it's entirely possible to not only sell pre-release licenses for a game on there (I knew that), but also to provide the actual pre-release game download to people at the same time. Had I known that earlier, it would definitely have been a better fit for us and the way to go. As for those who felt let down by the store page description problem, I have been offering to directly refund their steam purchase money. If this applies to you, please forward your steam receipt email to support at datarealms dot com and we'll see what we can do for you.Q: Why the heck are you selling Cortex Command, a not yet fully finished indie game, for the unusually high price of ~$20 on Steam??
A: Please note that much earlier versions of this game has been for sale directly on our website for many years already, mostly at a $18 price that is discounted from what any final version might eventually be. Tens of thousands of early adopter customers bought that deal, and I wouldn't want to release a "fully priced" version of the game for LESS than what they paid! I hope you can see how that would have been a real slap in the face to our existing fanbase, and so we insisted on the $20 launch price on Steam.Q: Why isn't there a demo of the game, so prospective customers can check out if they're comfortable with the current playable but not fully polished state of the game?
A: We tried maintaining a demo years ago, and it wasn't worth the extra hassle of updating and packaging a separate build for all platforms and distribution channels. It multiplies the work needed to be done each update of the game we wanted to release, and just got in the way of our already relatively slow progress. If you want to get a good preview of what the game is/plays like, I recommend you check out the many youtube gameplay videos
of it in action.Q: So, what's next? When are we going to see this "finished" version??
A: In our efforts to avoid disappointing people (see above), we've learned long ago not to promise dates for things. So, I can't do that for you now, but I can talk about what we're planning on pushing out for CC in due course: Steam Workshop integration for the already established and seasoned modding community the game enjoys on our Fan Forums
. AI fixes and improvements (many are already in the pipeline). Fixed fullscreen issues on both OSX (retina) and Windows. Much polish and game design tweaks both for the Scenario and Campaign modes. Easing the learning curve of the Campaign/metagame mode. Added and balanced content, from actors to weapons to craft to new terrains and AI base plans. To best follow our progress between released updates, stay tuned to our Dev Log
and development Twitter feed