Gaming Features stub

Interview: Castle Story's Dwindling Grace & Unrelenting Delays

Posted on March 8, 2015

We first discovered Castle Story in March of 2012, during an explosive period of indie game development and crowd-funding. 2012 was a somewhat magical year in this regard: Star Citizen began its initial push, Cube World gained traction, and Castle Story – an RTS/builder hybrid made by new graduates – raked-in three-quarters of a million dollars.

Despite the game’s initial upswell and immense support, continuously delayed content updates, slipping deadlines for community-facing content, and questionable development experience called the team into question. The game missed one of its first deadlines with an early build of the software, serving as an omen for what was to come: A little over three years of inconsistent communication, scant feature additions, and enduring bugs that had existed since the prototype.

In fact, short of the most recent overhaul to the game, Castle Story’s biggest update was the radial user interface – not exactly a year’s worth of work. We discussed this with the team in 2013, and even then, we had brought-up the point of missed deadlines. In our 2013 interview, I asked Sauropod’s Francois Alain when the game would be coming out; his answer follows:

"I don't want to make any more promises. We missed a lot of deadlines early on and I don't want to do that to the community again. It's hard to give dates, because if a big bug is found, there's only a few people who might be able to fix that... so each problem could [delay] our schedule for a pretty long time."

In the following year from this interview, the team did manage to miss more deadlines –mostly pertaining to community interaction and front-facing updates. Sauropod established a roadmap for development that was ultimately abandoned, meeting the same fate as weekly blog posts, which gave way to monthly video updates, which also seemed to slowly creep out of the public eye.

We’ve been given off-record content release targets at previous meetings, but all of those missed their unofficial, internal goals.

The Sauropod team then abandoned the Castle Story subreddit, telling us in a PAX East 2015 interview that “there’s too much hate” in the community; Thierry Begin further pressed that “when something takes more time to maintain than to build, there’s a problem.” The company refocused its efforts on Steam and its own forums, both of which are actively maintained by outward-facing PR.

As the community has grown more vocal, Sauropod finally seems to have picked-up on what was needed: Staff that knows how to build a game. The team has added three programmers to its staff in the last year, but financials became a concern as initial funding dwindled. Despite raising approximately $702,000, a sizeable chunk of this was immediately split with Kickstarter, studio rent, staffing, and other office expenses. “I think we asked for $80,000,” Begin told me, “we didn’t know then. There’s no way a game like this could be made for $80,000.”

To prevent exhausting all raised funds, the Sauropod team was forced to release Castle Story on Steam’s Early Access. This, we were told, provided enough funding to secure the additional programmer positions and endure through the new release target.

That release deadline, as stated in the above video, is January, 2016. Pre-interview, we were told December, 2015 – so that’d be somewhere between the two. It was our understanding that this was the full game’s release target.

“People Say We Took the Money and Left, but We Didn’t.”

A lot of the game’s delays and missed promises can be attributed to a lack of experience. “We’ve never made a game before,” Thierry Begin told me, “we were still learning. People say that we took the money and left, but we didn’t – we really want to make this game.”

After our video interview, Begin said this of the development cycle:

“We know there’s a lot of criticism and hate in the community, but we’re still here – we’re still trying to finish this game. We really want it to be finished by January because we want to move on to different projects.”

In addition to this, Begin expressed financial concern leading into the Steam Early Access launch. After slightly bolstering funding, Sauropod hired-on its new programmers and effectively rebuilt the game, including conversion to Unity 5. Begin indicated recent progress, emphasizing that the team knows it fell behind on promises, but has finally gotten serious about delivering:

“Since – I’ll say the evil word – ‘refactoring,’ we’ve made a lot of progress. Converting the engine took a lot of time.”

The developers know that the game has been delayed and has lost grace with at least some members of the community. In what appears to be a desperate scramble to assemble a more trained core team, Sauropod seems to be attempting to get its act together. Whether or not the game will release remains to be seen.

- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.