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On 9th january 2008 I started writing the source code for my latest game (Kudos 2). It would take approximately 10 months to make it, working from home full time, and involve 1 in-house tester, 2 artists and 1 sound guy. For the game to be a financial success, it will have to make the equivalent of 10 months salary over it's lifetime. That is quite alot of sales, especially if you live in the stupidly expensive UK and drink lots of wine...
Kudos 2 is a sequel to my own life-sim strategy game of the same name. People sometimes assume that making a sequel is quick, or easy, and that it often just involves a bit of a re-skin of an existing game. This is SO wrong. Where it may be possible to just tweak and rebrand a lot of casual games (especially the time-management and hidden object ones), doing kudos 2 involved massive changes, with almost all the source code for the game being totally rewritten from scratch. The fact that the basic interface layout on the screen remained fairly similar is irrelevant, everything got redone to make it easier to use, more stable, cleaner and more intuitive. I didn't change what wasn't broken in design terms, but I did recode stuff to take into account what I've learned technically.
Original Game Kudos 2
The scary world of optimism (optimism += 6)
Initially, discussions with a few publisher-types had suggested that a rebranding of kudos 1 into a themed version (Kudos : NightLife!) would be a good idea. The original game had sold really well, so the consensus was that doing a glorified expansion pack would make sense. In commercial terms, this is probably true. But I wasn't happy with the look of the original game. I had the basics of a really good game idea, but the interface was poor, the character art was laughable, and the whole thing could be improved big time if I had a second go. So eventually I decided to just improve everything I could in the existing game, and do a straight sequel. This was my gamer and designer hat overruling my business one.

Pretty early on it became clear that the original game was too dark and miserable, and to sell better, it needed to be more upbeat, more engaging, and less like the diary of a manic depressive. To this end, I rewrote tons of the text, and changed the variables in the game to be more positive. So stress++ becomes relaxation--, and so on. The old game was very downbeat, but this one wouldn't be. One of the first things I got finished was the music for the game. This was really motivating because the game instantly felt much more happy. I used Jesse Hopkins again, after he did such great work on Democracy 2. I wanted a cross betwen the sims and wii sports, and he got it down perfectly.


The wonderful world of Art (cash -= 25)
The original game used the 3d tool 'poser' to do the character and NPC art. I had bought Poser 6, and tons of content for it at huge expense, and did all the characters and NPC's myself. It was a very long process, very expensive for what you got, and the characters always looked a bit 'uncanny valley'. They were the total opposite of how characters in most casual games looked, and really needed changing. I scoured the web and found a character artist who started work on doing some new avatars for me. One of the things I really wanted to add to kudos 2 (and sometimes people forget this wasn't in kudos 1 at all) was customisable avatars. I wanted a 'paper doll' style system, where you could mix and match hairstyles and clothes.
Early shopping screen Early GUI

After a while, I had to change artists, as they couldn't commit to the work due to other projects, which was a bit of a blow, and meant I was on the hunt for a new artist. Eventually, both me and a journalist I know concluded at exactly the same time that Jamie McKelvie was the man for the job, despite being a comic artist guy without prior games experience. It was pretty clear right away that Jamie's characters suited the games look perfectly, to the extent that I actually went and changed huge swathes of the UI to give them a more comic-book look. I got a comic book font, and changed the windows UI so everything was a bit speech-bubbly. The new version looked miles better, and thats how the game eventually shipped.

Although Jamie did the character art, I needed some general interface stuff that wasn't really do-able with stock art. (I used some stock bought art for stuff like the cityscape, and the items in the shopping screen). I had briefly worked with Sprite Attack before, and they ended up doing some great artwork for stuff such as the mobile phone and the shopping screen and the restaurants. In retrospect, it was a mistake to get two different artists doing seperate work without cross-referencing it and having a general design guide first. You can tell where Jamie's influence ends and Sprite Attack's begins, and it prevents the game having a truly coherent style, but it was inevitable given the different time scales, the fact that everyone worked remotely as contractors, and the fact that I wasn't 100% sure what style I wanted. Avoiding this is why big companies have an 'art director' to make sure everything looks like it's the vision of one person. It's an expensive luxuy I didn't have...


The fiddly world of code (iq += 6)
Artwork aside, there was a ton of work to do to make Kudos 1 into Kudos 2. Obviously there was tons of normal gameplay code, like the new system for dynamically sorting lists of the new character variables, and some smarter NPCs, plus the new gambling and video game interfaces, and a whole host of UI code for stuff like job adverts, and the fancy new animated and fading / wobbly backdrops. This takes ages, and is pretty hard technical work, but it's what I am used to, so although it isn't easy, it's not awkward or agnonising. The bits of game development that really take effort, worry, angst and pain are the design bits.


The evil empire of design (stress += 8)
One of the things that really sucked about kudos 1 was that you never really got much feedback on your day job. Kudos 2 added custom job event descriptions for every job. In principle this was cool, but in practice I needed to write several hundred scripts to achieve it, and I just didn't have the manpower. Not many people have complained about it, but I know its one of the most frustrating things about the game. If I had a huge budget, I'd pay a designer to just do scipts for the job days for a few weeks, but I just couldn't afford to do that. Ditto with better formatting for all the job ads in the game. One of the things that changed which few people really notice is the length of the game. ten years is a LONG time, but ten years makes sense as a time-period, so I needed to speed up my years. I ended up with 5 days in a month, but still 7 days in a week and 12 months in a year. Yes it's weird, but you don't actually notice it :D.


The mystic kingdom of balance (boredom += 8)
Balancing Kudos 2 was a very long process that involved me and my tester sitting through numerous games, working out what job was too well paid, what social event too expensive, what character attribute degraded too fast, and then constantly tweaking it and then trying the same approach again, all day, for weeks and weeks. It would normally have driven me to drink, but after balancing Democracy 2, it's really not so bad :D.

Infinite Fun Space (happiness += 9)
Even though working on kudos 2 took longer than planned, cost more than expected and meant some very long days for a very long time, I did have my moments of fun. Whats the point in being an indie dev if you can't do silly things? hence everyone who worked on the game had their portrait done and added to the game (and credits screen) by Jamie. Also, I got to do a very silly and indulgent screen for selecting what currency to use in the game. Plus I had real fun (like I did last time) coming up with silly movie titles for the game. It was also cool to make the list of default town names a list of the home towns of everyone who listed them on the positech forums.


The Valley of Conclusions (wisdom += 4)
Kudos 2 has been on sale 6 weeks at the time of writing. It's sold ok, but nothing spectacular,not helped by the sudden economic meltdown combined with me dissapearing on a much needed holiday soon after release. The game is currently being sold direct, and on a few partner sites, such as stardock and gamersgate. Hopefully soon it will appear on a few other portals, and as kudos was really more of a portal success than democracy was, it might do better there. In financial terms, it's probably a moderate success. I think it will sell as well as Democracy 2 has, which means a reasonable living.

It's been a tough sell getting review coverage for the game, and I guess that's partly because it's a sequel, and traditionally people are wary of covering a game that they might think hasn't changed (even though that's not vageuly true in this case).
Of all the games I've made, Kudos 2 seemed to be the hardest work over the longest time. I also think it's the best balanced, most varied, and best looking. There are lots of minor niggles with it that bug me, and I'd LOVE it to have more content, but artists cost money, and I probably spent about the right amount. I think I'm burned out on the Kudos idea now. My next game will not be Kudos 3. (I don't plan on it being Democracy 3 either).
Copyright Positech Games 1997-2008