Dev Personal Blog: Thoughts on the Mystic Destinies: Echoes Discontent

I'm the leader of ADS. I am mainly on the To the Edge of the Sky team. I made the concept, very rough plot for Echoes a year ago, and the structure for it, and then left the writing in my teammates hands. I’m coming back in at the end to make sure the project is tied together and polished the way I want, but have been hands off with the script.

There's been a lot of discontent (as always) about the delays for Mystic Destinies: Echoes. People are asking for communication and transparency. So this is what I have to say to those who feel this way, as transparent and direct as possible. I doubt I’ll write again about it - I like spending my time on actual work, rather than talking about it. These are my personal feelings, so take them as you will.

“However, Aeon Dream Studio's communication with customers, especially Kickstarter backers who have paid upfront for a game they love the sound of, made by a developer who they already love and have faith in, is creating a clearly toxic environment for your game, your staff, your fans/future reviewers.” - Excerpt from a Kickstarter Backer Comment

Every time we post an update for Echoes, we indeed get toxic, angry comments that make us stressed out and sick to our stomach if we read them. Hence, why posting updates to Echoes gives us severe anxiety. We can't change the past. We've already apologized for the past situation before we had split into two teams, but from that point on, some people already decided what they were going to think and feel about us. Can't change that either. People will think whatever they want in the end.

Posting updates actually interferes with the work now, makes the writing team on Echoes feel pressured when writing, makes us all feel like we're going to be attacked no matter what the update is if it doesn’t say “The game is released.” So me, who isn't on the Echoes team generally writes the updates.

But we still get unpleasant comments that we can do nothing about anyway. No matter what it is we’re saying about Echoes, there’s someone saying hurtful, negative things, calling us liars or pressuring us. It's as if we're being eternally punished for not doing a good enough job. Perhaps we are - maybe that’s the point of why people say such things. I certainly haven’t been able to figure out any other reasons, as it doesn’t change anything other than to make us feel badly. So if this is how a fan’s “love” feels, then we definitely don’t want it. Us on the core writing team all agreed we’d rather stop developing games than to go through this experience again.

As I said in the apology months ago, we're still a new company. We're still learning our limits and what we can do, what's comfortable for us to do, and how we want to do it. We all pretty much prefer to just work quietly in peace rather than yell about progress regularly. We're indeed not very good at marketing, and it's unfortunate that we're too small to have a marketing department. The sprite art has already been done for a year, and we've already released those updates. We want the CGs to be a surprise.

We're not going to tease writing in case people don't want spoilers, and the way we develop these kind of releases is to be completed all at once with the proper UI fixed at the end, so no screenshots are available. And even when we did post the things we had, we'd get unpleasant comments about not wanting to see that, just wanting the game. So, some of Mystic Destinies community became a toxic place for us.

We made some mistakes early on, and strings of unforeseeable and serious personal life circumstances made it where we had to split into two teams and make two games for actual survival. We are all extremely private people and we don’t want people to worry about us, or worry about the project, so we don’t speak about our personal misfortunes. We just try to do our best and announce any resulting delay we can’t avoid. If you want to get real, as grateful as we are for the MD community believing in us, MD simply doesn't make much money yet, and we'd be homeless and starving by now if we hadn't released TTEOTS.

TTEOTS if you'll notice, is episodic and therefore requires more frequent updates about it. It is also much smaller and shorter than any of MD to release a single part, and is 90% done by myself in terms of actual writing and programming. There's new art constantly, and the community is large and engages with me on Twitter.

MD’s community is still small and mostly not on Twitter. And unfortunately, a lot of the fans of the game are angry and toxic towards the creators. That's okay; one day it'll change. But for now, there's just not much to said or be shared. And there’re negative feelings towards us whenever we do anyway.

But unfortunately, lot of emotional damage was done with our connection between us and our work. Nothing would come at first, and we felt sick just working on it. It took bringing in a third writer at the beginning of this year to heal that enough to continue the game. And that team has been hard at work on it. Do I wish they were done? Yes. Do they wish they were done? Yes. Have we been lying about the release dates? No. We have absolutely no reason to lie. Angry fans? Already got them.

So what would lying bring? We have a policy of honesty. We don't like to share a lot details about our work, sure, because we find it a waste of time we could be spending on work and we like to surprise people, but we are always honest about what we share. They were targeted dates that the team told me. Being candid, the team is the less experienced half and they continuously underestimated the remaining work left before we went on hiatus. They worked themselves to illness instead.

What can be done about that? It's clearly not good enough. It can be said it’s my fault too, as their leader. I asked them to take over the project after all. From my position, I can yell, I can threaten, I can get angry, I can cry, but I know writing in fear and under pressure doesn't actually produce anything good. Nothing even comes out in such circumstances. I've experienced it for myself, and seen the effects.

I've also been lucky to see and experience the effects of being allowed to write in peace with an encouraging, patient and supportive fandom who gives us all the space and time we need. So I just try to protect the writers (and artist) from upset fans by handling them myself and, personally, I give the Echoes team some internal deadlines and the space they need. I go off to focus on my own work.

We already all know that finishing the game itself is its own reward. Financially, no game dev wants to be working on something that’s “nearly done” as you’ve then spent the money and you’re not getting any return yet. Not having Echoes released affects us and our lives more than anyone, and I wonder if people know that.

There's nothing else I can do about the past or current situation except to learn from the experience and do better next time. I won’t be splitting the team up ever again most likely, or at least not for the foreseeable future, but for the moment, I can't control other people. No one can. People can get angry, complain, etc…But essentially, we cannot force people to do anything. I have already told the writers that if they can’t finish within our next internal deadline, I will be forced to take over.

Am I already under a great deal of stress from my personal life? Yes. Am I under a great deal of work and projects? Yes. Do I think the game is ultimately my responsibility? Yes. Do I want to hurry and move past this and complete the game that has been taking so many of our resources? Yes. Do I expect that, no matter what we release, it won't be good enough to some people because of the delays? Yes. Does that make it feel like we went through all this hell for nothing? A bit, yeah. I'm sure many creatives have been exactly where we are. But, we’ve come this far together through worse. We’ll make it through.

I’ve already decided that we won't ever have an Echoes repeat. We learn and improve professionally and creatively all the time. We've all learned a lot. Whether or not those fans who are angry and upset will decide to stop making us out to be villains instead of struggling, stressed out anxiety filled game devs that we are is a question I can't answer. We made mistakes. We’ll make more, as we’re only human.

Throwing around blame, whether other people do it, or we do it to each other internally…It may feel good in the moment, but ultimately, it’s pointless. It doesn’t change the situation or help fix it. All we can do is say “I’m sorry what we’re doing isn’t good enough” and continue to learn better ways to do things. Those better ways may not be exactly what you personally want, but we will avoid making the mistakes of the past again. It’s not fun for anyone.

I already expect what I've written here will simply make people who don't want to let their negative feelings go grow angrier. I already know that these people cannot be satisfied, no matter what I say or do. Being that this is the situation, we’ve said this in the past, but we'll be leaving Mystic Destinies alone for quite awhile to heal from the experience. Hopefully in that time, the MD fandom grows bigger. And hopefully those with such negative feelings left in their hearts towards the creators of something they apparently love, will be able to move onto something else, or else find a way to quell those feelings.

I myself haven't read the Echoes script I was given just yet, as I like to do editing in one go, but I can say I hope that someone will enjoy the game, despite all the negativity its development created in both fans and developers. To everyone who backed us: thank you for giving us a chance. To our supportive fans who may read this, thank you for giving us time and space to learn and continuously improve. You are a light in our life and encouragement to keep moving forward.