|Sacred 3 - (2014, PS3, XBox 360, PC, ???, ???, Keen Games/Koch Media):
Sacred is a quite successful two-part action-RPG series for PC and XBox 360 (Sacred 3 will be for all major consoles and PC).
The two games, Sacred and Sacred 2: Fallen Angel have been developed by the German company Studio II Software/Ascaron and have been sold several million times (including spin-offs).
Despite its (at least for me) strange setting and visual style including Seraphim with glowing metal wing thingies, the games do have a pretty big fan base and are still popular all around the world.
But with the troubled release of Sacred 2 involving some problems with online servers and the budget, development on new platforms like XBox 360 and other hickups, Ascaron went out of business by the end of 2009 - despite their good sales. Koch Media, a German distributor from Munich and owner of the Sacred brand wanted a new installment of the series around 2010 and therefore started a big pitching announcement to all major studios in Germany and some foreign ones, too.
BTW, the Chainers Prototype is the direct result of the Sacred pitch to Koch, which of course didn't win the pitching process, but Keen's did.
What Koch had in mind was a very different approach to the game and the brand than Ascaron's before.
Koch abandoned the classic Action-RPG-Style Sacred was known for and went route to a more action oriented, multiplayer focused Hack&Slay. Knowing that this would confuse or upset a big and devoted fanbase, they decided to stray further from the general style, setting and story, only keeping some key elements of the Sacred world like small parts of the story background and characters like the Seraphim.
But it seemed they didn't know exactly what to do with it.
Still remembering the requirements of the initial pitch, I was a bit confused the game hadn't made very much progress when I started work at Keen Games one and a half years later. I found out that the game already went through some significant changes at that time. Of course there was an engine, quite a lot of art assets and characters, but almost no level design or even an idea how this game should work and run. Game design had already had a complete revamp and even the art tiles for the game showed that there once had been the idea to create an interchangeable tileset (This means: use one tileset to create a level and have a completely other level by just changing the tileset). Ugh... not the best idea if you go for high standards. And of course this lead to more problems later on, for the layout and the general notion how levels should look and feel changed even more.
When I started my job at Keen at the end of 2011, it was holiday season. Almost nobody was there and the entire engine was in refactoring which caused nearly three months without working tools or a running game. So, due to the lack of work, I decided to restructure and redo the entire level design wiki, which to me looked very much more like a gameplay situations vault than a documentation that could be used by other people or the publisher.
Besides that, there already was a level design lead. The initial idea was to share the lead position, as one of us would be responsible of the actual level creation and all associated processes, while the other one would have been in charge to get the tools working, doing planning and scheduling as well as all the communication and meetings. Unfortunately, this never worked out and soon after, I was in charge of it all. That means: taskplanning and scheduling, wiki structure and documentation, conceptional design for all levels, whiteboxing and creation of all levels including supervision for all steps involved, guidelines, balancing, playtesting, communication with internal and external people, development of tools, game design for general and special gameplay elements as well as the concept and creation of all boss situations, development and evaluation of special game features and finally, of course, the creation of a few levels.
Some months of general reorganization and we started to work on the new levels and their concepts, when the publisher decided to change direction again. Needless to say this had a big impact on the production - and it was not the last time it happened.
The game vision changed several times: from single player to forced online-multiplayer with AI-Bots, from linear progression to free progression, from simple Hack&Slay to Hack&Slay with heavy RPG elements, from preset characters to full player customization and so on. To be honest, it was a mess. There have been at least 7 different producers with different visions. Art direction was strange, to put it into nice words, but, when looking at the two predecessors, at least consistently strange. All this resulted in lots and lots of work being thrown away, time being wasted and demotivation regarding the project. The image of how levels should be played, how much multiplayer should be in there and how fights, the pacing, the layout and even the unlocking of the levels should be, changed. For the level design this meant adjusting the concepts over and over again and redo huge parts of the levels almost till the end of production.
I think it's only due to massive devotion, passion and profession in this company that it finally turned out to be a good and fun game. We managed to get the most out of the "old" generation of consoles, with a technical foundation that was based on completely different preconditions. We managed to create a really cool and unique game focused on multiplayer and action that looks amazing.
Am I pleased about how production went? No. Am I pleased with the end result? Absolutely yes! I'm really looking forward to the release and the first reviews. I'm quite proud that I've been part of it. And even though I had to leave the company early it feels good to know that this game will be on store shelf this year. And I really hope fans, old and new ones, will buy the game and sense that it was made with absolute passion and that Sacred 3 can be extremely fun, even as it is no longer an open-world action-RPG.
Just try the new game+ mode when it's released... ;)