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Postmortem: Smudged Cat Games' The Adventures Of Shuggy
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Postmortem: Smudged Cat Games' The Adventures Of Shuggy

September 29, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

What Went Wrong

1. It Took Too Long to Release the Game

I believe the single biggest problem was how long it took to get the game into people's hands. Development started at the beginning of 2007, and the version of the game entered into Microsoft's Dream Build Play competition wasn't vastly different from what was finally released in June this year.

Seeing games such as Braid, Lazy Raiders, and P.B. Winterbottom released, which use mechanics featured in Shuggy was upsetting. I knew my chance to stand out kept slipping away. Not only that, but there has been an understandable assumption that I stole the mechanics of those games for Shuggy. Particularly upsetting for the time travel / past echo mechanic, as I'd released Timeslip back in 1999.

I can't help but wonder how the game would have been received had it been released sometime in 2008, but as a lone developer there was no way I could fund an XBLA release myself. It was unfortunate that Vivendi was taken over by Activision Blizzard, as it (eventually) decided to terminate the Shuggy contract, but it was something I had an infuriating lack of control over.

2. The Trial Doesn't Sell the Game Enough

The demo, along with most other elements of the game, went through a few changes over the course of the development. I initially implemented a trial similar to what ended up in the final product, containing the first few levels of the game from the dungeon area.

The first publisher felt that players might think the dungeon was all there was, and wanted to get across the fact that there are five areas in the game, each containing 20 or more levels. The trial was changed to levels scattered throughout the game rather than just at the beginning so it was obvious how deep the game was when you played the trial. The other advantage of this approach was that it gave the chance to show off more of the different game mechanics rather than being limited to what was available in the dungeon.

When Valcon Games took over as publisher, the company felt that leading the player around all the different areas might be too confusing and wanted to go back to the first few levels from the dungeon. The idea was that we would still convey that there are many different game mechanics through a couple of videos that pop up as you play through the trial.

I think changing back was a big mistake. Although we've got the videos, I'm not convinced that players really pay much attention to them. When someone is playing a demo, they just want to play, and can easily skip over videos. I've done it myself -- when upsell screens appear as I'm playing a trial, I mash the A button hoping to continue, and don't really look at what's on screen. I should have let the game sell itself, rather than hoping the upsell screens would do it.

3. Unclear Target Audience

Since the release of the game I've seen some reviews that really like the graphics and some that don't. However, one thing that most reviewers seem to agree on is that the graphics don't fit the gameplay. A lot of the levels in Shuggy are aimed at hardcore gamers who know their way around a platform game, but the graphics make the game look like it's aimed at a much younger audience with less experience.

I worry that a lot of hardcore gamers have disregarded the game, assuming that it's some generic platformer aimed at pre-teens. Similarly, I imagine there have been some younger gamers out there who have downloaded the trial liking the look of the game, but have found that the levels are far too difficult for them.

It's a shame, because I really like the look of the game, and I'm not a fan of the gunmetal grays and rusty browns that tend to dominate games aimed at a more hardcore audience -- but in future, I'd try to keep the look of the game more in line with the audience that it's targeted at.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

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