Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime was a hit in 2013 when it was just a multiplayer, neon-streaked demo mixed in with all of the nominated, blockbuster indie titles at the Independent Games Festival. Lovers was up for an award in Visual Art, and even though it lost to Kentucky Route Zero, the nomination was enough to create buzz around the game and its studio, Asteroid Base. At the time, co-creator Jamie Tucker felt confident that Lovers would be done within the year. Now, two years later, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is set to debut on Xbox One and Steam on September 9th. Yes, in 2015. We asked Tucker via email what happened with Lovers' development timeline and he broke it all down -- including details that offer a glimpse at the real rigors and lucky breaks of game development.
When we spoke at GDC 2013, Lovers was on track to launch that same year. What happened?
Haha, I wouldn't say we were "on track" so much as I would say we were being extremely optimistic and naive. The "what happened" is we learned what was really involved in developing and shipping a game.
Funny story: Back in the fall of 2012, we were showing off the game and an early "first look" trailer to some local devs in order to get some feedback. Craig Adams (Superbrothers) told us that whatever we did, we should never suggest a date unless we could actually hit it. In our infinite wisdom, we figured that 2013 was a whole year away and that would give us enough time to finish the game. So with Craig's advice unheeded, we applied to the IGF with our three-month-old prototype and started telling everyone the game was only a year away.
"We only were able to work part-time on the game, since we were funding it ourselves with contract work."
-- Jamie Tucker, Asteroid Base
From talking with other devs, one thing you hear a lot is that the initial phase of a project is really rapid and fun -- you go from zero to something really quick, and you're adding new features every day. Progress feels really fast. But that doesn't last and the middle chunk of a project can be a slog as everything gets more complex, and you need to rework and iterate on everything at the same time as you're struggling to make a larger game. Back when we were thinking of a 2013 launch, we had only experienced that initial rush. But then it came to things like just churning through all the levels we wanted to make, writing pet AI for single-player mode and tying everything together in the UI.
Well, 2013 came and went and we found ourselves losing momentum. At that time, we only were able to work part-time on the game since we were funding it ourselves with contract work, and it was getting harder and harder to make progress because we were always playing catch-up. At the end of 2013, out of nowhere John Baez from [Castle Crashers studio] The Behemoth approached us about their Gold Egg Project, which turned out to be the perfect way for us to fund the game and switch over to full-time development.
How did early attention from the IGF impact Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime's development?
The IGF was one of those moments in the development of this game where, had it not occurred, we probably wouldn't be where we are today. Until then, it was completely just a hobby project for us, but the IGF showed us that we weren't the only people who cared about this silly idea for a game; there were real live strangers out in the world who were interested in it. And this was despite the fact that we were showing a very early version -- all you could do was fly in a straight line from planet to planet while enemies spawned at an ever-increasing rate. There were no real objectives, no progression, no enemy variety, no single-player mode, no different ships, no levels, no terrain and only a rudimentary upgrade system... and yet still people were responding to it. It was a neat thing.
After the IGF, we all felt a real commitment that we had to see this game through, and try to make it as good as it could possibly be.
How did you settle on working with Microsoft, rather than Sony (so far)?
We first met with [ID@Xbox Program Director] Chris Charla during GDC 2013 and he was really excited about the game. But it was still too early in development, so we never really pursued it. As we developed the game more, we kept in touch with them though (along with other platforms), and when Microsoft launched the ID@Xbox program, it ended up being the perfect time for us to start solidifying our console plans. We submitted an application to ID@Xbox on the first day it opened up, and the gears started turning. It ended up taking lots of paperwork and phone calls and emails, but they made it about as painless as lots of paperwork and phone calls and emails can be.
If you could travel back to GDC 2013, what advice would you give yourselves as developers?
SERIOUSLY, DON'T PUT A DATE ON YOUR FIRST TRAILER!