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[DEV] About Game Updates

edited June 2017 in General
Hello everyone!

We wanted to take time to explain to you all how we do updates for our games and what we mean when we talk about "small updates" or "big updates" or even sometimes "huge updates". Some of you might not be familiar with how game development works, or specifically how WE here at Traplight work, and we think it might be useful and informative for you guys to know a bit more how we work. This will also make it easier for us in the future when talking about updates, so we are all on the same page with things!

So how does an update for our game become to be?

When thinking of new updates, the team gets together for an initial kick-off meeting to discuss what we should do next after the already planned & prepared updates are ready. Usually we have 1-2 updates already in development pipeline, and we start discussing the next when we get one update out from the pipeline. Almost always the lead designer (For BBR it's @Seppo) already has an idea of stuff that would be really good to look at more closely, but sometimes it's a blank slate with anything up for discussion. If there is no direction set from the designer or the rest of the team, we do a bit of pre-meeting work by searching through our player feedback excel (that's YOUR opinions right there!) to get ideas. Almost always however there is a clear goal that we have, but it's a really broad one that needs honing and the exact things that we will do are not there yet. For example we might know (from data, from player feedback, from designer and team observations & gut feeling) that it would be good to create an update that serves mostly the Level Creators of BBR. We then meet up and start discussing ideas on how to create an update that is a nice, doable package with features that fit the game as a whole, but also bring a lot of value to the target audience of this particular update.

After an idea session (where usually we don't restrict ourselves and our imagination in any way) the designer and programmers narrow down the ideas based on what is actually doable taken into consideration the technological things, time, amount of people working on the update and other resources. Then the team chooses the feature or features that will be put into the update, and design the schedule and divide the tasks. The designer then needs to do his/her work in slicing the feature into small details and designing all aspects of how the feature will work, how it will affect the gameplay, how it will look, how will the players interact with it etc. It's a lot of work with excel sheets, numbers, sketches and tables. If you are interested in the details, maybe @Seppo can write a separate post about this phase sometime :)

The updates are usually done with one designer, 1-3 programmers depending on the size of the update, a server programmer, graphic designer and/or 3D artist (depending on the update), QA and community/marketing team if the update is big enough. Programming of the feature frame and preparing the server side features start usually immediately, and when the final design is ready, they get into the details. The graphical stuff starts after the design is mostly ready, but if it's something related to the game menus (like it usually is), the graphic designer can't start working without a clear plan of what needs to go and where. Otherwise they will have to do the design many times over (which has also happened with us, no one's perfect :D). If there are some new visuals coming in to the game that require more artistic look (not just functionality like menus) the graphic designer/3D person can already start sketching after the first kick-off meeting, but the final look will be clearer when the design is finished.

QA or quality assurance/game testing is done constantly while the feature is being developed to catch the bugs already in the development phase and not leave all the work to the testing/fixing phase (our QA Lead @Scourger can maybe talk about this more if you are interested). The programming and testing phase can take from a week (super small feature/fix) to 4-8 weeks (big feature, lots of different things to create and test) or even longer depending on the size of the feature and the problems we run into. We also need to take into account the fact that Apple and Google want to know about bigger updates & review them at least 3 weeks beforehand, so it adds another 3 weeks from when the update is submitted to the stores to the point when it is live and available in the game. Some smaller bug fix updates we can just throw in and get them out there in couple of days, but for anything bigger we need to be prepared for a 3 week waiting time. And when you count in the design phase (around 1-2 week), the whole production of just one update can last for months.

So when we talk about a SMALL update, we really mean a super small update to you guys. These updates also don't usually take much time from our side. It can be a bunch of bug fixes, one button added somewhere (with no new functionalities added), a really small visual change made somewhere. Basically these are updates that you probably don't even notice, as they are meant to be upkeep rather than making any drastic changes or new stuff. A MEDIUM update might be something that one programmer, designer and graphic artist do in about a week. Then there is testing of course, so in total the update might take about 2 weeks to get from designer's table to you guys. For example the Tournament Replay feature was around 2 weeks work from design to the players. To you it might look like just a play button next to a person's name on the Tournament leaderboards, but actually there is a lot of stuff that needed to be done in order to get that to work. We already had the ghost data from the participants of the Tournament, but we needed to make it so that any player is able to watch any other player's ghost rerun whenever. We also needed to design the menus, how it's gonna look overall and test it like hell to make sure it works correctly. It was a completely new feature with it's own functionality and also lots of value to both the players and YouTubers alike, not just a trivial bug fix :)

When we talk about BIG updates, we usually mean something that takes us several weeks or even over a month to make. These type of updates can include already new visuals, maybe some new functionalities (but mostly already existing functionalities put into new use), some new stuff to do or see in the game. For example the Winter Holidays Update was on our side a big update, that took us around 4-5 weeks to create. There were completely new visuals for the levels, which took a lot of time from our 3D artist, and the new functionality of the daily gifts which required lots of programming and design, and of course all the stuff that you got from the gifts (new hats and items etc.) needed to be designed, somebody needed to make the graphics and the programmers needed to program them to work. With these bigger updates there are of course also the Marketing & Community involved, so we need to prepare social media & forum posts, contact Apple & Google and inform YouTubers and collaborate with them etc. Lots of things to do!

And now, if we talk about a HUGE update we really mean a massive amount of work on our side. For example the Tournaments as a whole were a huge feature, that took us months to prepare and create. It's a completely new part for the game that had little to do with the existing stuff, so everything had to be built from ground up. Just imagine all the previous stuff that I have written about eg. for the medium & big updates, and triple the amount of work, resources and steps. Then you will arrive closer to the amount of work that a huge update requires from our team :) We understand that from your point of view it would be awesome to have updates like the Tournaments all the time. And we would love to give those things to you as well, believe me! :D It's just the realities of game development that come into the way. All the designing, programming, drawing, discussing, testing, finding problems, fixing, trying options, fixing stuff again, marketing, talking to the players, honing some more and finally coming up with something that we are proud to put out there takes time.

So sharing this info on how the updates are actually created hopefully sets your expectations to the same level with our reality, and we can understand each other a bit better when we talk about our future updates for example :) We don't want to disappoint you, and we really want to create the best possible updates for you guys, so hopefully this helped a bit by sharing our point of view as well.

Thank you for reading this far, and please let us know if you have any comments on this, or if you would like to know more about any of the phases of update design and we can ask our magnificent team mates to share a bit more info about their respective talents :) Cheers!


  • For sure it takes me down to reality :D , maybe I was expecting from updates even more than what's doable. I can figure out how difficult it must be to introduce a little brick in an already built wall.

    Well, i'm always interested to know more about the design. From the main idea in a piece of paper to the graphic final result. Could @Seppo explain a bit longer how it works for you there?
  • ... I can figure out how difficult it must be to introduce a little brick in an already built wall. ...

    Pretty nice metaphor, amigo. ;)
    "Does believing you're the last sane man on the planet make you crazy?"
    - Will Smith, iRobot
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