It’s been a month since TRF launched on Steam, and I thought I would write up a game development diary covering the development and release of TRF. This is not a marketing post-mortem, or a post detailing what I think I did right and wrong, that will be coming in a few days. This post is merely about the game from a development aspect, not a marketing aspect.
So here we go!
Early Development (2018)
I originally started working on TRF in early 2018. The first thing that I actually worked on was the track editor. At first intended to work on a spline-like system, where players could place ‘nodes’ in the editor, and the game would automatically calculate where the road should be placed. Although this was mostly working, I had issues with the track joining together nicely, and ultimately I decided that using ‘track pieces’ would be easier, and sufficient enough for most track designs. I took inspiration for this from the 1999 game Re-Volt’s track editor.
The 2 main designs I *always* build into my games, is customization and multiplayer. In this case, customization came from the track editor, and multiplayer was planned to be in the form of 4 player split-screen in all the game modes, and 8 player shared screen in as many game modes as I could make it work in.
About 3 months had passed by this point, and I was only working on the game a little each day. By July 2018, I had created the basic weapons that are found in the game, as well as adding the split-screen mode. Although the dimensions of the game were far smaller at this point.
The rest of 2018 fell fairly quiet. I was working on another project which took priority, and the game wouldn’t seen any progress made on it until the start of 2019.
Starting to See Progress (2019)
Beginning in January 2019, I started to put more focus on the game again. I posted a 0.1.0 Alpha build of the game for free on Itch.io and on the Game Maker Forums. This gave me some valuable feedback, as well as encouragement to keep on working on the game.
By this point I had the track editor working enough to create basic, playable tracks, as well as an AI that could handle them. Getting to the point where you can “play” your game is a great milestone, and the first time I felt that I was creating something that people could get enjoyment out of.
January 2019 also saw the addition of lighting, as well as the first few track designs we see in the finished game, mainly Grass Raceway 1, Grass Raceway 2, Sakura Raceway 1 and Neon Raceway 1.
In February, there was a change in the size of tracks that could be built, I soon realized that the track size I had been working with was quite limited, so the track limits were more than doubled to accomodate larger and more varied tracks.
April 2019 saw the biggest update of the game so far. Originally the game only had 1 car class at this point, what is now the “Sports” class in the game. Now, I added in Street, Super & Hyper classes. This update also added weather to the game, and widened all the track pieces in order to make allowance for the faster cars. It also was the beginning of adding more game modes to the game, and the first to feature “mutator” settings.
This would be the last of the updates to the game for a while, I started a job, which pretty much killed my desire to work on the game in my free-time. So there were very few updates documented for the latter half of 2019. The Championship mode was added over the course of 8 months, as were Battle Arena’s and a few game modes. However the free Alpha versions stopped after April 2019.
Speeding up Development, Preparing for Steam Release, switch from Free to Commercial (Q1 2020)
In January 2020, I created my first Steam store page ever. Looking back, I should have spent more time on its design and presentation than I did. TRF was always intended to be a free project, available on Itch, with optional donations to support my game development. However after losing my job in February 2020, I switched TRF to a more commercial project, with the aim to sell it at an affordable price, and at least offer a decent demo of the game for those who couldn’t afford to buy it.
At this point, my focus was still on adding as much content as I could manage, looking at other driving/racing games, seeing what game modes they had, and wondering if I could make it work in TRF. Battle Game Modes such as King of the Hill, Hold the Gold and Pass The Bomb were made during this time. There were also a couple of other game modes planned that never made it into TRF, such as Cat & Mouse, a team-based game where 1 “mouse” on each team has to finish the race, while the “cats” have to prevent them from finishing.
Missions were also supposed to be in the game, inspired by Gran Turismo’s License Tests. Where you were meant to complete tasks or tracks within a certain amount of time to earn medals. I had trouble creating different scenarios for this to work with however, and it ultimately had to be dropped.
I had set a Steam release date of June 2020 back in January, and I firmly believed the game would be ready for release then. March was largely spent on QoL features that you would expect in the game, such as difficulty settings, work on simplifying the UI, as well as adding additional nice-to-haves such as Team Races and Steam Leaderboard support.
By April 2020, I was starting to relax, I thought I had gotten most of the features in that I had wanted, the game was fairly stable, things were good! I took some time out to add some fun little extras that myself and others wanted to see in the game. This is when the Trucks and Formula classes were added to the game.
The Steam Summer Games Festival & First Attempt at Steam Release (Q2 2020)
This is where I really started to get nervous about the release. My game qualified for the Steam Summer Games Festival 2020, and I had to provide a demo ready for Early June, 3 weeks earlier than I had planned for. Suddenly I wasn’t relaxed and adding extra features to the game. I had to go over everything and make sure it all worked how it should, and that it was presented in a way that was easily understood. Whether I achieved this or not, I don’t know.
The Steam Games Festival arrived, and with it, a big popularity boost for TRF, bigger than anything I had in the 6 months the game had been listed on Steam, the wishlists it was receiving on Steam spiked, and held that way for a few days. It was definitely a big boost for the game, and probably the only “event” that TRF was seen at.
My planned release date of late June 2020 was looming ever closer, now just a few days away. Unfortunately I had made a terrible error in judgement.
When submitting a game to Steam, it has to pass through Valve quality assurance before it can be released onto the store. I uploaded my game to be certified just 5 days before it was due to launch. After 3 days Valve got back to me with a review of the game, it had failed certification.
The reason? Apparently, you aren’t able to list a game as having “controller support” on Steam, unless all multiplayer features are possible with an Xbox One controller. My game up until this point had had 8 player local multiplayer, unfortunately, Windows only supports up to 4 Xbox controllers to be plugged in at once. So in order to play 5 or more players locally, you need to use PlayStation, Switch or other Direct Input controllers. Valve said this wasn’t acceptable on their Steam platform, so I was asked to remove this feature. Because of this, the release date of June 26th came and went. I went into a slump for a few days, demoralized that my release plans had been ruined, and even worse, that I had to remove what I viewed as a big feature for my game.
Switching to Online Multiplayer, A Graphics Overhaul, and Finally Releasing on Steam (July-Oct 2020)
After a couple of weeks break from game development, I had decided to come back and try something I had never managed to successfully do before, add networked multiplayer to a game.
It seemed the only logical way to get around the lack of 8 player local multiplayer. I decided to lower the local multiplayer from 8 to 4, to comply with Valve’s standards, and to add online multiplayer for 8 players.
I spent hours everyday during July to get this working, and lo-and-behold, by the end of July, the Race game mode could finally be played in online multiplayer, by the end of September, every game mode could be played over a network.
During this time, I also worried that the graphical presentation of the game had negatively affected it during the Summer Games Festival, it wasn’t featured by Steam in any of the categories it appeared in, and I came to the conclusion that I needed to take some time out to work on the graphics of the game. I am so glad that I did, as I think just a few days spent solely on the graphics caused a remarkable improvement.
I also added an in-game shop, as well as in-game currency, as there was no real progression in the game. I think TRF always lacked something to keep players invested in it, and the in-game shop gave you something to work towards, unlockables that you could buy, and I think it achieved that goal.
As luck would have it, the Steam Autumn Games Festival just happened to fall right before my game would launch (I lied, when the festival was announced, I adjusted my release date so my game would qualify, a loophole that Valve has now closed). This time I wanted to see if my games improved graphics would have an effect on the wishlists and attention that it received. Ultimately it’s hard to tell, looking at the wishlist graph, there were more wishlists gained during the Autumn festival than the Summer one, but whether this was because of the presentation or not, it’s impossible to say.
A new release date was set of October 26th 2020. This time I was far more prepared, I made sure the game was as bug-free as I could make it, and I submitted it to Valve 10 days before the planned release date, to give me some time to resubmit in-case it got rejected again.
This time however, the game was accepted, 3 days before the planned launch. By this point in the development, I was genuinely growing sick of working on TRF. And I had pretty much made up my mind to never again work on a game development project with the focus being on selling it. It had caused me so much stress and anxiety that I couldn’t wait to release the game and forget about it.
Aftermath of Release (November 2020)
After the game was released, there was a couple of days of blissful peace. In early November, I had a couple of reviewers get in touch with me about reviewing the game. And the first few bug reports started filtering through. The stress that I had felt towards the end of October started creeping back, and I dreaded it becoming a constant thing while-ever TRF was available on the internet. After fixing these few bugs however, it seemed as though the game was in a stable state, and since early November, it has been pretty quiet. A few sales have been trickling in over the past few weeks, however TRF has mostly gone under the radar.
My hatred of TRF has since greatly subsided, and I now find it quite relaxing to go back and add the odd feature here and there. I think all of a sudden, I’m back to working on my own time table, my own schedule, and there is a lot to be said for that. When you start introducing deadlines and external forces into your hobby, it can suddenly become a lot less enjoyable.
Looking back, would I do this again? That would depend on what project I had, if I really thought the project had strong momentum and was worth selling, then I probably would list the game for sale on Steam. In hindsight, TRF was not that game, it had little momentum, I am a fairly unknown developer, and it performed as you would imagine. Releasing TRF commercially was a headache, and in hindsight, a mistake in my opinion. But I will take the experience it gave me, and apply it to future projects, which may stand a better chance.
This was just a development diary, detailing the process of TRF’s development and how I felt about it. A marketing post-mortem, with more statistics and a breakdown of what I think I did right and wrong, will be posted in the coming days.