Apr 08 2014

Ætheric Worlds: The Past, Present, and Future

Well, given that Ætheric Worlds is less than two years old, that's a rather pretentious title for this week's ramble, but at the same time, it's somewhat accurate. We started out in autumn of 2012 with a single idea: let's see if we can put together enough resources — story, art, and programming — to convince investors that we have a good shot at making games, and build a game studio around that. The first game we chose to work toward was a little ambitious for a studio with three part time coders, two part time artists, one part time writer, and me — I can do nearly everything the business requires except write software or create art.

In the beginning, we were incredibly optimistic. We had some amazingly productive design discussions, where we worked out a lot of not only what we wanted our game to be, but also what we wanted our company to be; how we wanted to treat our employees (like people, thank you), and what kind of relationship we wanted to have with our customers (ideally, we'd like to form a community). We came to several fundamental realizations about how we want to grow, and it doesn't involve the "get in, make a fast fifty thousand bucks and get out" mentality that pervades a number of industries these days. We wanted to be in this for the long haul — making enjoyable games for ourselves and for our customers.

Then we got sick. Almost everyone in the company came down with the Martian Death Flu in February of 2013 — Michelle was the only one who escaped. Needless to say, momentum was severely lost and we floundered for a while trying to get it back. Insert here a couple of very productive meetings with a helpful mentor, who pointed out that if we wanted to get investors who were willing to listen to us and take a chance on doing things our way, we had to prove that we could do what we said we could do — make games. We needed to release something, just to show that we were a real competitor, not simply dilettantes out to waste someone's time and money.

Back to the design board, only this time it was with the intent of figuring out what we had that could be split off into its own game. We determined that with a slight modification, our underlying account server — Identity — could be released as a stand-alone product, although it needed a proof-of-stability run before we'd be comfortable marketing it. We discussed relative sizes of games, and talked about the types of games a team the size of ours could realistically take on and manage to accomplish with no financial backing; after a few weeks of discussion, agony, complete mystification, and general silliness, we had landed on two possibilities to start with: NEXUS, which would allow us produce a game and also introduce the world of Tyanaphos, and Chimera, which is to be our next game.

Previous blogs have mentioned some of the entertainment of developing NEXUS, and alluded to the growth of Ætheric during that time — the balancing and scoring issues (Jan 15th and Feb 5th), the office acquisition and later migration (Jan 29th), U.I. and music (Feb 12th and Mar 19th), and the funding and employee issues (Jan 22nd and Apr 2nd). That's where we are now, and during this entire time, we've been building the core of the company — writing the handbook, defining positions, figuring out policies, and making sure that when we're ready to start growing into a full-fledged, full-time development studio, we're a solid, secure place to work. NEXUS and Identity are in development, and we even have a handful of backers that we're supposed to be giving updates to a little more frequently than we are (I'm not sure this counts).

The "present," if you count it as including the next few months, really consists of more of the same — more development, more funding searches, more company solidification — and that's not a bad place to be. I would absolutely love to be able to tell everyone associated with us on a volunteer level that they're now properly hired, but since we can't count on it, we are as Michelle said last week, continuing to move forward (also, to add to her list of non-acceptable funding options, we've also ruled out robbing banks, counterfeiting, and other felonies, too). The next few months also includes, with a little bit of luck and our web developer not becoming overloaded, the roll-out of our upgraded website, including forums.

So that's where we came from, and where we are. What about where we're going? Well, to be honest, we have budgets planned out for 1 year, 2 years, and 5 years. We have firm plans for Chimera to follow NEXUS, and depending on our budget, that could take anywhere from nine months to three years. We have another two games in the same size range that are in the design phase. We have lightly sketched out plans for adventure games in the Tyanaphos world (lightly sketched out because I've been writing budgets instead of plots). We either know directly or have contacts to a few authors; we have hopes that we'll be able to bring adventure games based on some well-loved authors and the worlds they have created. And once we have a fully working, fully funded studio… we intend to bring the world of Tyanaphos to life.

We're dreamers. This is why we say come join us on a journey through imagination… because once we get going, there's so many worlds out there that we want to see.

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