Act I Release: A Postmortem

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Estranged: Act I launch was an unprecedented success, and the response across the Internet vastly exceeded any expectations we had.

Over 90,000 people have played the game since the public release on the 16th, and the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

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In this post, I aim to share my thoughts about the release - what went right, what went wrong, and how we're reading and learning from the feedback going forward.

Translations

In the released version translations were unfinished, and at the time of writing I have yet to patch some into the Steam build. This was due a number of factors, namely a series of late script changes, leaving just over two weeks for translators to translate the content of Estranged: Act I.

This wasn't enough time to allow translators to playtest and translate the game, so on the day of release, only three languages were fully translated - Italian, Portuguese and French - in part because I was in direct contact with the translators on Steam.

Going forward, we will make sure adequate time is allocated for this purpose for the next release. Estranged: Act I was different to other games in that it was very publicly iterated, so story content and script content was under constant evolution.

Translations for Estranged: Act I are being handled by the Steam Translation Server, and they are doing a fantastic job.

Anonymous Statistics

Since Estranged: Alpha 3's release, anonymous statistics have been collected about certain in-game events, so we can use that data to improve maps and gameplay in the future. This feature was left in for the Steam release and has been a very good indicator to us about the number of people playing, above all.

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Over 1,300,000 anonymous events have been logged at the time of writing, and are still being collected. We're not sure exactly how we're going to parse all of the data yet, but since we are recording co-ordinates, health, weapons and platform information, we're sure it's all useful information that we can use in the development of future releases.

Mac

The Mac build has been especially troublesome and difficult to test, and as a result, unless we can get a Mac for testing Act II, we won't be able to publish a Mac version. My decision to create a Mac version of Estranged wasn't a good one, as I had to use volunteers from the Steam community to test.

Finding the causes of problems was extremely difficult, and in fact some serious bugs went unnoticed when the game was released, and had to be patched afterwards.

HTML Screens

We use HTML for our in-game media such as newspapers and computer screens. The HTML made them incredibly easy to make, but horrible to maintain and bugfix. Valve's WebKit implementation is designed to load pages, it's not designed to be a gameplay mechanic - and as a result, a lot of issues caused by platforms, controllers, memory leaks and unreliable message handling made the short development time just not worth it.

The final nail in the coffin for our HTML screens was the localisation work - I had to write a converter between JavaScript and Valve's normal localisation format. It made the process very difficult, and if we'd used regular C++ GUI elements, it could've been avoided.

Players have been having a lot of fun with the screens though, and we've been amused by the customisations: http://steamcommunity.com/app/261820/images/

Reviews

We have received over 1,000 reviews for Estranged: Act I so far on Steam, with an estimated 80% of them being positive. The negative reviews offer an insight into how we need to improve to appeal to a wider audience, and among the points mentioned, the below were the main points of feedback:

  • Story could be improved
  • Very linear gameplay
  • Very few collectables
  • Graphical effects not performant
  • Infected humans look suspiciously like Star Trek characters

As with all other data we have collected, we intend to use this to make Act II a much better experience. While Act I appealed to a lot of people, most reviews (even positive) touched on one or many of those elements — and we can use that feedback to improve.

Bugs

There have been a few bugs reported on the forums, but aside from a few odd issues (one I patched on the 22nd was caused by a ragdoll being electrocuted), the release has been fairly smooth. The most critical issues were with the Mac build, as some users were reportedly not able to play because the game was too dark (we have since issued a fix).

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All in all, the release was a success. As I said in the opening of the post, it exceeded all of our expectations, and we're all proud to say we worked on this Act.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned, we have much more in store for Estranged.

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