Alkemi’s chronicles – part 2 – (2011-2012)

icone_surpriseBack in november 2010, Mickael and I had an interesting discussion with Julien Villedieu, representative for the SNJV. Among other things, Julien urged us to submit an application for the FAJV which is a governmental grant to help french video games production. Now, there’s something  you need to know about me. I’ve got really deeply ingrained principles when it comes to money and public money… to the point of stupidity sometimes I’ll admit. I need to be sure that I deserve it. In the first company that I’ve founded with friends, we had spent a lot of time and energy to obtain such grants and honestly I felt like we were surviving at the expense of the system. I was reluctant but Mickael convinced me : with this money we could hire someone and the creation of a job was well worth the public help.

I’ve spent more than a month on this application between december and january 2011. I had the help of nadya jahan, another studio founder in Nantes whose experience in marketing and communication was clearly beneficial in the redaction process. The FAJV finances 50% of your game production (up to 200 000 euros). In your application you must demonstrate that :
– you have a very clear idea of the game you want to make,
– you have an accurate estimation of the cost of production,
– you’ll be able to bring the other 50% necessary to actually finish the game,
– your game has at least some commercial potential.
In essence, you must make the demonstration of your credibility as a game studio and the credibility of your project. If you want the totality of the grant, you’ll need to release the game and demonstrate you have indeed spent at least your 50% on the production. But don’t worry, unless you’re really experienced at this, chances are you’ll have underestimated the cost of your game and have to spend more.

Here is a few figures concerning our FAJV application for Transcripted :
– estimated production cost :  83 770€
– estimated production time 17 man/month,
– initial release estimate : Q1 – 2012.
And here is another round of figures on the project :
– real expenses calculated by our accountant : 86 847€,
– real production time 20 man/month,
– real release : Q3 – 2012.

While I was writting our application for the FAJV, Mickael was porting the web version of Transcripted and creating most of the tools we would need on Unity. We had kept an eye on Unity for a while and we had decided this was exactly what we needed since it was now also available on PC. In 6 weeks, Mickael created all the tools necessary to create MovieClips in Flash which could be exported to Unity and controlled with C# scripting very similar to the AS3 Flash API. He also ported all the code logic for the game while I was upgrading the 2D assets to support dynamic lighting. At the end of january 2011, we had a complete administrative and creative file along with a playable game prototype.

I was exhausted and that was pretty much around then that we started to have really serious arguments about work and our mutual behaviors. I have to elaborate a bit here because I certainly don’t want to appear as a victim or without fault in this. Moreover it is required to really understand how things happened next. Mickael and I have very strong and different characters. I’m self confident, I’m forthright and I often say things in such a ‘passionate’ way that people misinterpret my meaning because of my inappropriate verbal and non verbal communication. I’m apparently able to convey scorn when all I’m aware of doing is trying to understand something complex which is explained to me… The base concept for the company was for us to be equals, but I often bruised Mickael’s feelings by behaving differently in his eyes. Like I said in the previous post, we had decided at the beginning that both of us would lead a project alternatively. But we had certainly not correctly anticipated how taxing for both of us would be to work on the other’s project as he wished. I had been through the whole development of The Academy and I was determined to have things a bit more my way for Transcripted. We had to make concessions on our respective projects, just to limit the frustration or share the load between us if you prefer. In the end, it made Transcripted a very different game from what I would have liked and I’m pretty sure The Academy was not everything Mickael would have hoped for.

Transcripted slowly progressed during the following months but we tried to forget our problems by embracing a whole new load of contract jobs. And at the end of april, we learned that our application for the FAJV was accepted. Hurray! We were pretty sure now that the game could be finished and we had enough money to hire a third alkemist. Mickael is a pure developer, I’m an artist and developer but we really needed an additional artist with a wide range of skills in 2D, 3D, video and sound design : it would be Christophe our former colleague from the web agency. Our signal was all he was waiting for to kiss goodbye his hell-ish clients but it took 3 full months to get the money, find a proper office and make everything happen.

icone_punchFast forward to october 2011 : the game was nowhere near where it should have been according to our initial planning. We discovered the hard way how difficult can be the development of a project with endless interruptions for clients. My game design work was blurry and I hesitated to go headlong in a direction which would have made a very hardcore game out of Transcripted. It was not what was agreed among us, but I longed to do it anyway. Mickael was claiming he needed a full month to clean the code and do nothing else… sigh… So we took a decision : we would go to the Game Connection in Paris in december to present the game to publishers. It was such a big investment for us that we were forced to be productive or waste a lot of money.

I think the last month before the Game Connection was the first (and actually the last) month of crunch we did on Transcripted. We had something like 7 or 8 playable levels, one boss fight and 2 environments. We already had most of the weapons implemented but the whole skill tree was yet to be done and there was no story or briefings or whatever. We didn’t have 30% of the actual game content and no real menus but you could already have a clear idea of the gameplay and visual quality. We’ve met a lot of publishers in 4 days, even the big ones. I think the Sony guy was the only one not all that much impressed by our demo. He thought we were too close to the visual style of Geometry wars and that we needed to look up at games like super stardust to see how high visual production needed to be on these games (Ok Alain, keep your mouth shut and nod, keep your mouth shut and nod! And don’t forget to smile!). Pretty much everyone else expressed enthusiasm for our little game and a lot of them started to explain how they would take 50% of the sales for a game we would entirely produce and finance…

icone_horn_sign“Ok guys, so long and thanks for all the fish”, that’s about how we felt after the event : we were quite proud of the effect of the game as it was on professionals of the industry but we decided to go the self publishing way : they were all far too greedy. But (obviously you know there’s a ‘but’ if you happen to know what we’re facing today) one of the publisher, Topware Interactive, decided he really really wanted to work with us and they told us so repeatedly. It’s flattering but more than that, it’s a real advantage in a negociation…

Now is the time for a small disclaimer : I’m a really open person. I don’t mind sharing my experiences, I don’t mind speaking about money, giving numbers, etc. But concerning the whole publisher thing, I am condemned to self-censorship because all details are strictly confidential and I’ll have to consider very carefuly what I am saying.

The negociation lasted more than 3 months and we reached a deal which seemed fair enough for everyone just before the E3. When it became clear that we would sign the publishing deal, we also agreed on a definitive dead line for the game delivery, ready to be localized. The game was publicly annouced to be released during summer 2012. Things had not improved between Mickael and I and the first months of the year were not very productive. It was really a shitty period of my life and I couldn’t find the motivation to move forward with the game. I know I can be complicated to work with at times and usually I do my best not to be, but right then I didn’t give a damn. When it dawned on us that we had a very real engagement, things started to click into place once more. In 3 months, from april to june, we made more than in the whole previous year. To be really efficient and finish in time, we also amost stopped all contract jobs during that period. This would later prove to be the riskiest thing we did with Alkemi. I finally got myself to write the whole scenario and dialogues in detail. I forced myself to script a very accessible game, spent countless hours on the difficulty curve with the invaluable help from Christophe whom single-handedly produced all cinematics and videos for the game at the same time. Mickael wrapped up a neat edition tool for menus, an efficient localization system and tracked all known bugs to have a polished game.

Transcripted_keyartFrom the summer period I can’t tell much. We were in time, but the game got delayed for several reasons… I’m not qualified and honestly I don’t even know enough about the whole situation to say if it was justified or not. We were not happy about it but the game was only released on Steam the 11th of september. Dark omen… And I can’t tell a lot more about Transcripted because of the legal situation. The official statement is that our publisher has made several breaches to our publishing deal and we ask the german court to break the contract.

What happened during the last months of 2012 ? Well, we struggled to stay afloat. As I said previously, we had stopped nearly all the work for our regular clients during 3 months and that made a huge hole in our bank account. With no forseeable money coming from Transcripted (like absolutely none), we had to react hard and fast. So we got back to work for clients. The three of us, full time. We also had a lot of unpaid taxes for which we had to beg for a reprieve (always be nice with tax collectors!). It was close but we didn’t skip a single month of salary for anyone. Pfiew !

What now… well I omitted to say that things went once more terribly wrong between Mickael and I during the summer. That was the end and we decided we would stop working together as soon as the game was shipped and done with, trying to salvage what remained of our relationship. We faced our financial problems together and used what we had spared to pay for a clean and fair separation of the company’s assets. I’m now the only owner and I have the final word for everything concerning Alkemi and Mickael started is own entity, Potion of Wit. After some reflexion, Christophe decided to stay with me and we are now actively working on our next games.

More about Alkemi 2.0 a bit later…



4 thoughts on “Alkemi’s chronicles – part 2 – (2011-2012)

  1. Transcripted is brilliant. Sorry to hear about the problems you are having, hoping you’ll be able to make more games which are similar to Transcripted in not compromising difficulty, diversity and richness of gameplay mechanics.

  2. Bonjour,
    je ne sais pas ce qu’il en est d’Alkemi ou de tes projets aujourd’hui, mais si tu passes par là et vois mon message, je serais ravi de récolter l’avis de quelques acteurs du secteur sur une idée que j’ai eu récemment, et donc d’en discuter avec toi (une étude de marché en somme… ). Je n’ai pas trouvé d’adresse ou de numéro de téléphone ici, j’essaye donc les commentaires.
    Sinon j’ai lu avec attention ton article, ça avait pas l’air facile, j’espère que vous avez pu trouver un équilibre depuis.
    Bon courage, et peut-être à bientôt.

    • L’équilibre oui on l’a trouvé. Bon honnêtement, nous faisons plus d’alimentaire que de jeu depuis quelques semaines / mois mais cela a permis à l’équipe de repasser à 3 personnes et qui sait peut être 4 dans un futur proche. Le prochain projet de jeu est déjà dans les tuyaux et pour l’instant il avance dans les trous (peu nombreux) que nous laisse la presta. Après le rush client de la rentrée, nous devrions pouvoir nous y consacrer plus sérieusement.

      • Content pour vous, j’espère que vous aurez bientôt le temps et les fonds pour votre propre création.
        Bon courage pour la suite, et pour le démêlement de la “situation Transcripted” : si ça doit pas être facile de le voir bloqué comme ça, vous pouvez au moins être fiers de votre bébé!

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