Disciples II: Dark Prophecy Designer Diary #13

The game is in the home stretch of development, and Lead Designer Danny Belanger checks in with what could possibly be the last update on Disciples II.

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Entry #13 - 12/21/01

By Danny Belanger
Lead Designer, Strategy First

And now the time has come for me to write another designer diary for Disciples II. With one month left on the project, many of us have started working seven days a week, and this has had an effect on our sanity. Tension can be felt throughout the team, and a simple matter often takes enormous proportions. But we have a common quest: to create the best game possible.

If any of you have ever wondered what it's like to work on a computer game in the weeks just before it goes out, well, imagine swimming across a shark-infested lake...completely exhausted. Even the smallest change can have a major impact on the game. Changing a value in the AI, adding an icon for a battle effect, even changing a simple text file...even though these changes are made to fix or improve a part of the game, they can also have a negative effect on it. All the tiny details that were forgotten throughout the project "reappear" near the end--little problems with icons that float over the towns, feedback on new attacks, screenshots for marketing...it's total madness.

The team is still making minor tweaks and adjustments to the game.
The team is still making minor tweaks and adjustments to the game.

The members of the team have dedicated themselves to putting out a game of unsurpassed quality, and this has led to many long hours. In many ways, everyone on the team can say "I am the game" (but that might be my last bit of sanity feeding upon what's left of my brain), especially after they've poured all of their heart and soul into the game; and after all, the game can only be as good as the people who worked on it, and we've been blessed with a very talented team.

In these final weeks, I'm working on the campaigns, which I consider the soul of the game. Creating quests, stories, and characters also gives the world a history, a feeling, and thus a soul. As many of you probably know, there are four races in the game, and each of the four factions has a unique story that follows the same timeline. What I find unique and interesting about Disciples II is that the whole story can be completely understood only if you play all of the campaigns. The four campaigns "happen" at around the same time, but each one is a unique story. In one campaign, you may succeed in destroying a character from another race, which means that it's the end for that race's story in your campaign; but in another campaign, you can do the exact opposite. Sound confusing? Well, it's very straightforward in each campaign, but the big picture is a little more subtle.

After spending more than two years on the same project, it has become difficult to have an objective view of every aspect of the game. Do we have clear feedback on this feature, does this attack make sense, and are the item statistics appropriate? This is where the quality assurance team comes in handy. They usually have a "fresh" look at the game, and they provide us with concise and important feedback. All the members of the team must be professional enough to accept their criticism, and they sometimes must take time to explain why a certain aspect works the way it does. For the most part, the QA team has done a great job of improving the game. We, in many ways, think of our QA department as our first client, and if they aren't excited about playing your game, there is probably something wrong with it.

The team is pretty much wrapping up the project. The artists are adding details, finishing and improving the battle animations and interfaces. The programmers are finalizing the AI and some last bugs. Sound engineers are adding the final sounds. And we the designers are completing the quests and campaigns. I personally think that a game is never really finished. We could always improve a certain part, add a little feature, and think up new ideas. But I honestly believe that Disciples II is very near final, to the point where a new idea that could improve the game could also make another part less interesting. Well, I have to get back to the work, and I'll try not to think about all of the precious time I stole from it by writing this diary.

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