My name is Ben Tester, Community Manager and 3D Artist for Wales Interactive. I'll be giving you a little insight into our game, Soul Axiom, and our experiences and decisions made developing on Steam Early Access.
Soul Axiom, you say?
Soul Axiom is a first-person, story-driven adventure game set in the beautiful yet haunting world known as Elysia. Elysia is a Digital Soul Provider, a place where your memories and dreams become reality. It’s a world where you can upload your soul, leaving your loved ones with a lasting testament of your life to relive long after you’re gone. The game has been developed for Steam Early Access and we're celebrating the recent 1.0 launch on Steam!
You can jump straight to the game here: store.steampowered.com/app/279900/
In your journey to unlock the mystery of your character’s life, and afterlife, you’ll find and collect various unique hand powers which will help you solve physical puzzles and help you progress through over 40 unique locations and over 20 hours of gameplay. Discover your secrets with a compelling story and multiple endings to choose from, each giving you a different outcome from a different perspective.
To get a better understanding of what these powers are, I’ll introduce to your very first, known as the “Phase” power. With this ability you can essentially materialise and dematerialise objects or walls with the left and right hand respectively. Combining this with other unique abilites will act as the main gameplay mechanic.
In Soul Axiom, we don’t hold the players hand as the levels are intuitive. You are literally dropped into the game with no idea of who you are, where you are or why you are there. It’s up to you to explore, solve puzzles, find story clues and piece together the story.
Some of you might recognise the themes from its predecessor, Master Reboot. Whilst this isn’t a direct sequel, it does share similarities but is built from new foundations using Unity 5 and features brand new characters and new game mechanics.
Early Access, but why?
We started development in summer of 2014 and decided to release the game later that year on Early Access. It was a new and exciting way of developing which we have never done before. It came with its risks but we agreed the benefits far outweighed any negativity the programme has been recognised for… if the development is done correctly, that is.
We set out with the realistic intention of finishing the game towards the end of 2015 and hoped to build up a community in that process. Thankfully, we already had a small following from our previous title, Master Reboot, and some of them immediately decided to join in with the development. Of course, we knew we couldn’t convince everyone to join in as it seems people shy away from Early Access games simply because they’ve been let down in the past by other developers. We made it clear from the start that we will do our best to release versions of the game as stable as possible and we will be committed to listening to the EA community’s thoughts, suggestions and bug reports. This commitment payed off and fans of the game generously praised us for our development cycle and in return, showed us their own commitment and dedication to help shape the game to what it is today. For this, we are very thankful (we even listed our top contributors in the credits of the game) and is the main reason we loved developing on Early Access. In fact, in a way it’s quite a shame we are leaving Early Access this week as I feel we’ll have less and less interaction with the awesome community we built up. I hope someday we can revisit the programme with whatever we end up developing after this.
Whilst we hardly ever released versions of the game with major game-breaking bugs, it hasn’t always gone to plan and that’s why the game release was pushed back a few months. We tended to release an update every 2-3 weeks, sometimes every week and whilst this is great for the EA community to get involved with, it meant that we had to spend more and more time testing the game before the release to avoid any major mistakes. If you think the game has essentially over 40 unique levels, this can significantly increase development time when testing over and over again because you’re releasing builds more frequently. We know that’s what EA is for, but we still didn’t want to release shoddy builds and so we also called out for some QA Testers to come into the studio and help break the game… and break the game they did!
If anyone would like to check out the development timeline then you can head over to our Unity Blog. http://forum.unity3d.com/threads/soul-axiom-first-person-puzzler-cyber-thriller-pc-ps4-xb1-wii-u.337036/
Unity 5, Check!
One thing I must mention is that we did in fact upgrade our Unity 4 to Unity 5 mid-development. Whilst this process did intially have some teething problems (which are expected anyway) the results were well worth the upgrade with significant improvements across the entire game, from the physics engine improvements to the lighting and shader upgrades. Just to show you exactly what happened after some tweaking post-Unity 5 upgrade, check out the shots below!
So, what's next?
Now we've finished the Early Access development, we'll be spending the next few weeks finishing the porting for PS4, Xbox One and Wii U. It's not quite over for Soul Axiom though, we still have one more trick up our sleeve for this... but I'll leave that announcement for a rainy day! We have so much more going on here in the studio, including the development of our new publishing label which will bring some really awesome indie games to console in 2016. We've already signed a few titles, Coffin Dodgers, being the first to be announced! Unfortunately we can't announce the other cool projects we have coming up until further down the line. We hope to have some news for you during REZZED this year so make sure you follow us on Facebook/Twitter or head over to our website to keep up to date with the news.
If anyone happens to be heading to the many trade shows this year, feel free to ask us if we'll be going. We already have the PC Gamer Weekender, GDC, Game Connection and REZZED lined up, with plenty more in the year :)
Thank you all for joining me and don't forget Soul Axiom is out now on Steam!