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What's the Longest You've Followed a Game in Development?

Watching a long development cycle has its ups and downs, but seeing a game find its identity is inspiring.

by Austin Walker
Aug 30 2017, 3:46pm

Courtesy of Cryptic Sea

When I was a kid, I would call my local Electronics Boutique at least once a week to see if the release date for some game I wanted had been revised or announced—ideally, in my mind, moved up so that I would have it sooner. This never happened.

I was also the sort of kid who posted eagerly into chat rooms and message boards that "I wish they would just release it now! I'm sure it's good enough already. I don't care about bugs, I care about THE STORY." Or the combat, or the world, or the characters, or whatever it was that I convinced myself would be the revolutionary feature of this new game.

And let me be clear, all of this excitement was for games that wound up being BAD (and frankly, if I'd more closely read the many magazine previews I'd horded, I would've known that ahead of time). But I was a very passionate (and annoying) kid for a very long time. I wanted whatever was next, and I wanted it now (or at least now-ish).

But one of the truths about video games that you learn to accept as a journalist is that game development takes a long time. (This is also just a truth about the world you need to accept as an adult: Lots of things take lots of time.) Unexpected changes in technology, frustrating bugs, the distraction of other projects. Sometimes a design just doesn't work and a developer needs to start fresh.

Because of all that, I've largely relaxed in the way I follow even games I'm really excited for during their development process. I'll watch a few trailers, follow a dev or two on Twitter, and maybe just before release I'll dig into what's available to further whet my appetite. Obviously I know about big games that have been in development for years now—looking at you, Star Citizen—but as a rule, I don't really spend the time following weekly updates, tiny feature trailers, or dev posts on twitter.

But every now and then there's a big exception. I've written before about my time following Invisible, Inc. in development as it was transformed from a sort of tech-noir XCOM into something much more unique (and in the process, it also transformed into one of my favorite games ever.) Tom Francis' Heat Signature, which I talked about on a couple of recent episodes of Waypoint Raido, is another one—I don't know what it is about me and sci-fi stealth action, but I guess I have a type.

Then, yesterday afternoon, a tweet crossed my screen that got me very excited about another project I've been following for years:

For the unfamiliar, over on the game's Steam page, Developer Cryptic Sea bills Sub Rosa as "a multiplayer first-person shooter about tense deals, double-crosses, and the occasional high-speed car chase." And while I'm thrilled to see that one of my favorite developers, Brendon Chung, is joining the dev team, this is only the latest exciting update in a long running catalog I've followed.

I've been following Sub Rosa for five years now, starting with its v 0.06 release, which came soon after an even rawer version was part of of 2012's 7 Day FPS Game Jam:

At the time, it seemed like such a quaint, unique take on the multiplayer FPS. Since then, the game has come a long way, and it emerges in a new context, one where players have flocked to more experimental multiplayer games (most recently, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds).

Over those five years, I've eagerly watched the videos that lead dev Alex Austin has released on YouTube, highlighting a range of updated features like a co-op mode, better traffic, trucks, and working physics. Normally those aren't the sorts of videos I share: I know that "Hey! Look at how unpredictable traffic can get!" isn't the sort of thing that is going to convince anyone to play this game with me.

Instead, the videos I share have been the game's main trailers, which provide an ad-hoc chart of the game's progression from neat gamejam idea into something with a unique and alluring vibe. I mean, hell, it went from what you see above to this, in 2014:

Yeah it's still all people-made-of-blocks, and still a bit clunky. But it's also a tense, polygonal approximation of the the crime films its inspired by. I've probably sent that trailer to 50 friends. Over the years. Now, I can send them this one too, from earlier this summer:

They have faces!

And suddenly, because the added definition in the characters joins a game fully driven by a physics model, it's also found a wry edge of humor. When you look at the last update side by side with this one, you can see a game finding its identity: Sub Rosa isn't the rhythmic and brutal action of Hotline Miami, not the fluttering bills and rifle reports of Payday. It's a crime game by way of the Coen Brothers, bumbling and endearing and still a little cool. A little.

I don't have the time to follow every game this closely. But seeing that transformation—from blocky, 7 day experiment into something with real character and charm—makes me wish I did. Five years well spent, if you ask me. (Now... Cube World on the other hand... I'm a fool and I know it.)

What I really want to know from you is: What's the game you've followed in development for the longest time? Or, maybe even a twist on that: What's the game you've followed most closely? Let me know over in our forums!