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Leaving Pre-Production on Mask of the Rose

You can learn more about Mask of the Rose and watch the video on Kickstarter. We'll be back with more staff updates like this one during the development process!

Greetings, masquers! This update is a little bit different to our usual posts. It’s partly a look at making the game, partly a progress update.

Pre-production is the stage of making a game where questions about what the game should be and how we’re going to make it are open ended.

At Failbetter, when we move from pre- to full production, the game must have a fairly tightly-defined scope, pipelines for producing different types of work must be established, and major questions about the nature of the game answered.

What kind of questions? Well on Mask of the Rose, they included things like -

  • What engine and middleware will we use to make the game?
  • What does the build pipeline look like and is it automated?
  • What non-dialogue gameplay systems (AKA mini-games) will be in the game?

    • Have we adequately prototyped these?

  • How many characters will appear in the game?

    • What is the art pipeline for producing a character?

  • How can the player customise the protagonist?

And many more. The answers to the above examples are:

  • Unity; Ink, mainly.
  • Yes, we have a system based on Jenkins that integrates with Slack.
  • That would be telling!

    • Yes.

  • 7 primary, 5 secondary, and approximately a dozen tertiary.

    • The characters are drawn in greyscale sketches, allowed to sit in the build for creative evaluation, then colourised and lighting maps added if we’re happy.

  • Extensively.

We're gearing up to leave pre-production. We’re doing this because we have answered all of the big questions we wanted to ask firmly enough. Before formally declaring that milestone met there are a couple of activities we’ll be completing.

Firstly, a scoping exercise to fully define and estimate the scope of the full game. This takes the form of a big spreadsheet and a lot of passionate discussion about what is and isn’t essential or desirable, how long remaining work is likely to take, and if we need to bring in more people or cut lower priority features. It’s time consuming, meticulous and sometimes painful work; the drier side of making a game, but absolutely indispensable.

More excitingly, we are presenting an internal demo of the game to the rest of the team here who aren’t working on the project (Mask of the Rose is mainly being made by a small core team, while other developers are working on Fallen London, an unannounced project, and final Sunless Skies patches). This demo is a playable version of the first Act of the game (the story in Mask of the Rose can be split into three acts). It introduces the main cast, the player’s place in the world, their initial job as a census-taker working for the mysterious Ministry of Accounting and Reporting, and ends on the first major plot beat - Archie’s arrest. It’s just for internal use - there’s no sound, for a start - but it allow us to gather feedback, confirm whether we are going in the right direction and if our colleagues think we are ready to leave pre-production.

We’re excited to share this with the rest of the team, and if it’s as ready for production as we hope it is, soon sharing this singular story with you.