We surfaced back after two and half years of silence. So what happened in that time?
Here’s some North Side and Bot Colony lore for those who don’t know the company and game history. North Side started working on the language pipeline WAY back in 2001 (then we were only two). We focused from the beginning on precise parsing and reasoning. Initially, I (Eugene) thought we’d apply our language tech to simulation and training. I have an aerospace background and I was used to selling few units of very expensive software for a lot of money in my previous company (the first copy of VAPS was $250,000, about $666,459 in today’s dollars assuming 4% inflation…).
Since aerospace sales are long and politicized, I always yearned to sell technology that’s maybe even more sophisticated, but for a lot less, to a lot more people. A video game is sold to individual players, and that felt very appealing – it’s way more personal that dealing with purchasing departments of gigantic companies. I thought it would be neat to use our language technology to build a video game in which the player would need to talk to the characters to advance in the game. It would be a very cool first application of our tech. The first Bot Colony storyboard dates to October 2007. That’s when we started work on Anitron, our home-developed engine, specially designed to support language features.
I wrote the opening line of the book The birds heard the buzz of the engines first in July 2008. I still remember it was a beautiful sunny day, and there may have been birds chirping outside. I was writing the book on the week-ends, when I wasn’t designing technology. The thinking that went into the book fed into the game design.
The first Bot Colony prototype was first shown at GDC in March 2009. We had no idea how far we were from the goal. We were hopeful and foolish. You can still see the first video of Trevor asking a robot “Do you have a sister?”
We moved to new digs in May 2009 to be able to grow.
In June 2010, we showed a pre-alpha version of the game at E3 in Los Angeles, and advertised the Beta program at the same time. Whoever wrote on Wikipedia ‘Most publishers have suffered a ‘false launch’ knows what he or she is talking about. Thousands of people signed up, and I felt terrible about not being able to get the game into their hands sooner.
After E3, we went into a long period of silence, determined not to re-surface before we were ready. What happened in these two and a half years? We realized we had been incredibly optimistic about the availability date of our game, and swore not to go to any show before the game is playable.
All along, we were developing in parallel language technology, our proprietary game engine, and the game. Of these, the language was the big ticket item. The development of the language pipeline turned out to be very difficult and required lots of R&D. Progress was roughly ten times (10X) slower than we anticipated. We kept adding people to the team. As the game was dependent on the language pipeline, it kept sliding as the pipeline kept sliding.
I finished the book in November 2010, and it was printed in December 2010. We proudly shipped 1,200 units; the plan had been to ship the book and the game at the same time. A DVD of the client software was supposed to be tacked to the back cover of the book. It turns out that writing a book (an individual task, with editorial involvement) is more predictable and than doing complex software (a large team effort).
Around March 2011, there was a changing of the guard – several of the language R&D people left, and new ones joined. People leaving was a setback, but it was also an opportunity to re-architect our pipeline and do major refactoring of the software. It was very, very hard work. We’re just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now. In the meantime, the game is coming along. Our tech demo videos show the progress we’re making in our language pipeline. Now we’re very busy moving our language support infrastructure from Anitron to Havok Vision (it looks really cool in Vision).
We have reason to believe the first 2 episodes of Bot Colony will be available on Vision in early 2013. As a token of appreciation, everybody who signed up for the Beta will be invited to play a week for free – we will pick up the cloud server costs. After that, whoever wants to stay in the Beta will have to pay $2.95 per month.
After that, we will open the Beta program to everyone on a Pay to Play basis, as described in botcolony.com/beta.html