By M&R | March 17, 2015
In case you haven’t been able to tell from our silence here, we are now in the very final stretch of development: since the start of 2015 we’ve been pushing extra hard to tie up all the loose ends and get the game finished, and sadly that means no time for things like showing the game at GDC or other events, or for writing blog posts.
We know you’re all aching for a release date, but we’re still not quite ready to announce that yet — we don’t want to announce until we’re sure the game will be out on that date. But we’re almost ready, and we’re here to give you a giant, detail-fueled update on where we’re at in the meantime.
WHERE IT’S AT
N++’s core gameplay (single player, co-op and competitive multiplayer) is finshed and feeling great. Currently all of the levels are arranged and in the game, all of the colour schemes are designed and in the game and all of the music is licensed and in the game. The UI, packaging and transitions are in, though there still are a few placeholders, but we know what needs to change and how to change it — there are no more unanswered questions. This is a huge amount of stuff — and it only took two years 😉
We just playtested the first proper beta version on Friday, and it was really exciting to see it all finally come together!
Everything still needs the usual minor adjustments and polish — and a lot more testing — but all the components are complete and in place; our job is no longer to create anything, but instead to tweak and correct what’s already been created, while solving problems and fixing bugs.
(In case you can’t imagine what sort of problems may need to be solved, consider having to test not only every page of every menu, but also every graphic, animation, and particle fx of every entity in the game; not just once, but over 50 times, each time with a different colour schemes — each of which is built from over 140 different colours. It’s a lot of work!! (If you’re curious about the +8000 colours in N++, please check out this recent tumblr post)
WHY IT’S THERE
The good news is that it should only be a matter of months before the game is out: months plural, since we have at least a month of bug-fixing and mistake-finding-and-correcting, and then when we’re finally done, the game still has to go through Sony’s internal testing and verification process, which will take another month. Oh, also, at that point, we’ll finally be able to announce a release date.
We realize that this is little consolation to those of you who have been waiting patiently for literally years for this game to come out, but we promise that if you’re a fan of N or N+, once you try N++ you’ll (a) understand why it took so long for the three of us to make, (b) grudgingly — or excitedly — admit that it was worth the wait.
We also realize that this isn’t the first time we’ve thought we were months away! Discussing this with other developers tells us that this seems to be a common thing to experience: you know what they say about the last 10%. Beyond that, there have been several times in this project in particular where just as it seemed like we were cresting the final hill, a new hill appeared on the horizon.
Because this is the final version of N that will ever be made (EVER), we thought it was important to always try to explore these distant hills, in order to make sure that we didn’t miss anything crucial; this curiosity has been rewarded, as several times we managed to improve something beyond what we had thought possible, and add a few new twists to the core game that have made it even better.
Anyone who has tried the new competitive multiplayer Race mode has seen a good example of this: we could have simply made it the same as in N+ XBLA, but we suspected that with a bit of work we could find something even more awesome. We’re really glad we decided to spend the extra time and effort, because murdering your friends with rockets is a ton of fun! If you haven’t been lucky enough to play it yet, here’s a recent stream from Indiecade that shows some casual matches — including a few rocket murders 😉
Pretty much every aspect of the game has been leveled-up in a similar way to Race — this is how a project which initially began as a quick 9-month launch title became a sprawling 36-month behemoth! 9 months was how long N+ took to develop, so we figured it was a good estimate, but we failed to account for all of the new stuff we would discover and explore in the process.
At this point we’ve satisfied our curiosity and are pretty confident that any further changes we could make would yield diminishing returns, if not actually make the game worse.
For those of you keeping score, we’re going to end up launching at around month 30 of development, but we do still have about 6 months of development work left to go — however those last 6 months will occur *after* the game ships, as we release post-launch updates which add new levels, colours, music, and (perhaps most excitingly) new game modes.
Releasing post-launch updates is a way for us to continue investigating promising ideas which we discovered during development but haven’t had time to properly explore, and to let us finish the game for launch without further delays.
In case the above paragraph has you worried that we’re shipping a rushed half-finished product that we’ll later patch: worry not, that will not happen. The game as it ships will be rock solid and pretty insanely great (if we do say so ourselves).
Our best guess for the fastest possible speedrun of all the 2000 levels available at launch is no less than 20-30 hours; we estimate that most players will take at least 50 or so hours to play through the launch version — if they’re good enough to beat everything.
We simply had to draw a line and say “okay, that can wait until post-launch” on a few things (eg additional multiplayer modes, additional levels). For example, we’ve spent the past 5 years making over 3000 new levels — levels which we feel are much better than anything in N+, simply because we’ve gotten a lot better over the years (plus we added new enemies and stuff).
However, making the levels is only part of the work involved in getting them in the game: what takes even more time is testing, arranging into episodes, tweaking, and finalizing them. That amount of time is gigantic. So, we decided that in order to expedite the launch, we could only finish half of the levels right now.
As it stands, at launch N++ will be 4x as big as N+ was — and actually, each individual level is also 30-40% bigger since N++ levels are 16:9 while N+ was 4:3.
Let’s just let that sink in. N+ had 500 levels, and at launch N++ will have over 2000.
We actually think it’s a better experience for players if we leave some levels for later, since even the current 2000 levels can be a bit overwhelming. But by the time we’re finished, this game will be so chock full, it could last a lifetime. Which is kind of the point, since again, this is the last version ever!
For those of you still keeping score who might ask how we could arrive at 2000 levels at launch while using only half of our 3000 new levels: one thing we haven’t mentioned is that N++ will also contain a special “Legacy” section which features the best levels from N v1.4, N+ DS, N+ PSP, N+ XBLA, and N v2.0, all remastered for the new 16:9 aspect ratio, and (when appropriate) featuring the new enemies and items from N++. As if over 1000 brand new levels weren’t enough!
When we started this project, our ambition was to make the best, definitive version of N — but we didn’t appreciate what this really meant. Our conception of this idea was simply something like N+, but with better production values, new levels, maybe a new enemy or two.
However, once we really found our footing and got going, we realized that this was something quite different than N+; this was something much bigger, much more complex, and also much more important.
When we’re all finished, N++ will be about 10x bigger than N+ XBLA was, but much more important than that — more than just a quantitative improvement — is the tremendous leap in quality that we’ve managed to bring to every aspect of the game. We’re so proud of the new levels, the new colours, and the new music. The whole package is 10000x better and we really can’t wait for you to finally be able to try everything.
Throughout the project we’ve tried to keep one thing in mind: you, our fans. Our mission was to make a game that anyone who had enjoyed N or N+ would adore, and when we playtested on Friday we were convinced that we have succeeded.
All three of us have been dedicated to a single goal for the past 28+ months: making the best possible game we can. We’ve ended up with something much better than we ever anticipated, simply because we each pushed each other to get better and better, to keep digging and iterating, to learn and improve.
We think this is a good sign, since it reflects the very core of the game itself: continual growth and improvement, and doing things that initially seem impossible.
It’s taken a lot longer than we had planned, but we’ve at last managed to achieve our ultimate goal: to finally fully realize the vision we had over ten years ago, but lacked the resources, experience, skill, and insight to create.
We’ve tried to climb this mountain several times over the past decade, but it wasn’t until the last couple weeks that we truly felt that we had reached the final summit.
Now we just need to climb back to base camp safely and share the results of our adventure with the rest of the world — stay tuned! It seriously won’t be long now