About working on a sequel to March of the Living
So yes, I’m working on March of the Living 2. The first game did well enough to convince my publisher to revisit the concept and improve upon it.
Cannibalization of sales
The first concern my publisher and I had (as well as a few other indie devs I talked to) was that a sequel might hurt the sales of the first installment. This concern quickly faded away once we took a cold look at the current state of sales of MotL.
The game did well when you consider its development cost and profits distribution but is hardly the type of game that will still make decent money in 2-3 years from now. When you consider the potential market for roguelikes and zombie games, we reached only a tiny fraction of it. Since you don’t get to release a game twice (a DLC for a game of that reach has limited effect as we have seen), we have a pretty clear idea when the game will completely disappear from anyone’s radar.
So basically we don’t fear to annihilate the sales of MotL 1 with a sequel as the decline is already well on its way anyway. Instead, we see this as an opportunity to reach an even bigger market than the first one have ever been able to reach.
How can we hope the sequel might do better than the original? It’s simple, we’re not creating “the same game but better” but instead we’re using the same core idea to create a whole new game.
The constraints of developing the first game
March of the Living was developed over six months from the first line of code to release. That’s a really short development cycle, specially that the “design document” were the words “FTL + zombie”…
MotL was one of the ideas I had in mind but I wasn’t actively pursuing it until I pitched the idea. I knew I wanted a gameplay loop similar to FTL but none of the details were clear in my mind. With only six months to figure these details, I had to make tough decisions to avoid mechanics or concepts I felt could derail the project. I’m still satisfied with the result but each time I read “you could have done X,Y,Z” I think to myself “yeah, I thought about that too but it just wasn’t possible at the time”.
The core idea of creating a roguelike loop with a zombie theme is there though and that was my first (if not only) goal for this project. It sure wasn’t the first game doing this (see Organ Trails) but it had its own flavor and allowed me to dig the concept further.
Dealing with the constraints I had for the first game allowed me to focus on the core concept so even if it came at a cost, what makes MotL what it is, is clear to me.
Not reusing any of the code or art from the first game
MotL 2 is completely built from scratch. Why not save some time by importing some parts of the first game? Because it’s not the same game…
Yes, there is a map to travel. Yes, players will be fighting zombies. Yes, you will be able to scavenge in cities. None of that is handled the same way though. Coding isn’t that time-consuming anyway. What takes time is to nail the core concept (trying something, backtracking, trying something else, etc.) and I already went through this process with the first game.
There is nearly a year’s worth of people playing MotL and providing feedback about it and that’s on what I focus this time. For example, many said that combat was the weak point of the game so I had the time to work on something much deeper for the sequel. Or we thought our events were way better than FTL and had more depth but it turned out we went too far with it and players didn’t care that much about this concept. We’re keeping events for the sequel but they are much more rooted in the survival loop that players want (well, most of them).
Completely different graphic approach
To make sure MotL 2 is not seen as “just more or less the same as MotL 1″ we are going a completely different route for visual presentation. Even if the mechanics are completely different it would have limited how newcomers to the franchise consider the sequel. By changing how the sequel looks, we make sure to say “this game stands on its own”.
A good example of what I’m saying is the map. While the new map serves the same purpose as the map in the first game, you’d really have to try hard to think “oh, it’s just the same”.
First of all, it’s much easier for the press to show a screenshot of the map of MotL 2 than it was for MotL 1… Both maps serve the same purpose but you can clearly see the sequel isn’t trying to be a lazy copy of the first game.
The goal here is not to dismiss the first game but to show that we’re really offering something new, that we actually thought about what a sequel should be and that we are not trying to just make some quick and cheap money by making “more of the same”.
As fun as working on the first one
I finally get to answer the many “what if” I had when working on the first game. With the core idea being clear to me, it’s really interesting to be able to address the many feedback we received for MotL in the last year and avoid some of the pitfalls I had to face the first time.
Sure, there are many new ideas that bring some challenge but it’s quite satisfying to be able to implement some of the things I had to let go for the first game. It’s hard to say if the game will be as financially successful as the first one or maybe even more but for now I enjoy revisiting the concept and feeling like some huge progress has been made.