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  • Postmortem: Der Geisterturm

    [07.29.21]
    - Romanus Surt
  • Introduction

    Der Geisterturm is a turn-based dungeon crawler developed and published by Graverobber Foundation and released on January 23, 2020. In this game you pilot a mech and try to reach the top of the tower to get another chance at life, while solving simple puzzles and trying to survive through tactical battles.

    Initially, it was designed as a backup plan in case we were at risk of running out of funds. The concept was quickly outlined on paper in 2018 and shelved in favor of a bigger project (internally named 'DG2') that we believed would put the series on the map, with a rough deadline around mid-to-late 2020.

    Things took an unpredictable turn in September 2019. Once the new codebase started to solidify, our sales and finances started to plummet, and a rough estimate gave us about 4 months to release a new game - or risk going out of business.

    We had to act fast. DG2 was cancelled right away and we reopened the dusty folder with smaller concepts that we could deliver in a short amount of time. Der Geisterturm was the most compelling and doable within the time we had, so we went with it.

    What happened next was 4 months of crunch, with ups and downs of morale and the constant dread of closing the studio, but in the end, we've managed to release a solid game that improves quite a few aspects of the original.

    What Went Right

    1. New Codebase and Tools

    After shipping Das Geisterschiff, we had to make a tough decision: keep using the old codebase for the new project or start from scratch. Initial tests showed that the latter is a better choice, despite being more expensive. This led to four months of research with six more dedicated to development. In comparison, DGS had only three months dedicated to the codebase with research happening alongside it.

    Spending more time on research & development resulted in a stable codebase and improved tools that increased our content creation speed and resulted in fewer bugs upon release. What took a week to create and test started taking 2-3 days without any compromises in quality, which ended up being crucial during the crunch.

    2. Improved Game Mechanics

    DGS was criticized for having simplistic combat and very light RPG elements, so we doubled down on expanding these elements, adding more complexity, depth and nuance to as many aspects of the game as we could within the available time.

    This resulted in a game where you're constantly outnumbered and have to keep track of a decent number of variables while planning your next move. Positioning started playing a bigger role, damage types and fire modes added new challenges to resource management, and combat stances with new abilities gave more tools for the player to use during each fight.

    Some mechanics had to be cut along the way due to lack of time, like the inventory system, better upgrade system, and analysis of enemy behavior, but those have been reintroduced in Der Geisterjäger.

    3. Planning & Scheduling

    Since we only had 4 months to create the campaign and release the game, we had to come up with a solid plan and stick to it. The tower concept allowed us to set strict limitations to the map size, and dividing the tower into five 'stages' with different enemy types and gimmicks allowed us to keep the campaign easier to plan while introducing new features often enough to keep the player invested.

    4. Asset Reuse

    Time was limited, and the plan was tough on its own, so we had to start cutting corners. Reusing and modifying enemy models and sound effects from Das Geisterschiff allowed us to stay on schedule and release the project in a timely manner.

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