EndCycle VS – How (not?) to bake a game
28 Aug, 2021
Developer 12B3 take us on a trip through the development of EndCycle VS and its tumultuous journey from RPG to multiplayer strategy battler.
EndCycle VS – the online PvP deck-building action game started out as a side-scroller.
Developing this game has been the realization of a childhood dream as well as the biggest source of frustration in our young lives. Our team went from 2 scrawny teenagers to 10 fully fledged game developers and then settled on consisting of 2 chubby adults.
We lost count of how many times we’ve reworked the core mechanics, redesigned the protagonist or how often the name of the game changed.
It isn’t only weird to see how, after all this, EndCycle VS has still turned out to be the exact game we’ve always wanted to create – it is also completely baffling considering all the mistakes we made along the way.
When we first started working on EndCycle VS, it was probably called Netbattle Adventures or something in that vein. We honestly do not remember. What we do remember are chaotic and irregular meetings happening during or after school.
Only once we started commissioning artists – no, only when we started to receive artwork for our game, did we realize that the talks we were having for fun were turning into something real.
And just like that, we were suddenly responsible for guiding 10 people towards a coherent direction. Art, music, sprites needed to work together in tandem to make this work. And on top of that, we still hadn’t settled on the scope of the game and were still figuring out how the core mechanics were supposed to work.
We weren’t only trying to have our cake and eat it too – we honestly were not quite aware what a cake was at that point.
Needless to say, it was a chaotic time, yet also one of constant creative flow. One day we would receive new concept art for a character, some tracks to review all whilst we were discussing the plot of the big RPG adventure we were planning.
Weekly meetings on a set day brought structure into the whole process, and every member of our team could pitch in ideas or vote on certain parts of the game – like for instance the name of the game or even the entire studio. That’s how we went from SinnergyGames to 12B3 and from Voxel Generation to EndCycle (the VS came in later).
It was an exciting time for us – two teenagers standing in a freshly built bakery, workers ready for their orders, ingredients all assembled but… yeah, no idea how to coordinate all these parts. We still didn’t really know if we wanted to sell bread or be a cake shop.
Once we (sort of?) had the feeling that we knew what kind of game EndCycle would be and had a decent prototype that we were genuinely proud of, we decided it was time to launch a Kickstarter. The thing is… it wasn’t time to launch a Kickstarter. At all.
We opened the shop way too early in a neighborhood that nobody really lived in.
We spent quite some time preparing the Kickstarter page, including creating some small trailers in the hopes that the Megaman Battle Network Community would carry us. We launched without any prior marketing – while simultaneously showcasing the game at a small anime convention.
We put so much effort into (amateurish and misdirected) marketing that focus on the game kinda blurred.
The first major bugs in the demo were discovered by backers within minutes. We were crunching to fix the myriad of issues and still trying to promote the game on the launch day of the Kickstarter, which is arguably the most important day of any Kickstarter campaign. Not to mention that we pulled an all-nighter prior in an attempt to film a competent presentation for EndCycle.
One of our PCs died on the way back from the convention. All the cookies were burned. The universe was trying to tell us something but we were too tired to listen.
Anyways, the Kickstarter flopped hard. Our goal was to reach $10,000 (a figure that seems ridiculous nowadays) and we’d only managed to get approximately $600. That definitely took a lot of wind out of the whole project.
Mistakenly thinking that our biggest problem was marketing instead of the product, we set up a Patreon in order to acquire some financing for the project. We invested a lot of time every month for the Patreon rewards – time we didn’t have because we were still attending highschool and were trying to make our first big video game.
We were trying to sell cookies before we even put them in the oven.
The Patreon didn’t survive long – our monthly income was less than $20. So we cancelled it and our team motivation was at an all time low.
The New Prototype
EndCycle was supposed to be a huge, sprawling RPG with a combat system inspired by the Battle Network franchise. We spent about a year developing a working prototype with a cool overworld to explore.
We underestimated how much time even a small village took to build, and even though we definitely enjoyed the process and learned a lot we knew that this workflow just wasn’t sustainable.
If we spend two years on a single area and a handful of characters, our huge RPG would keep us busy for the next 10 years. It felt like we were baking a wedding cake before we’d ever finished a single, solid cookie dough.
So we re-evaluated what we had: a working combat system, a decent selection of abilities and a working online multiplayer. This was it.
The online multiplayer was the key to rebranding EndCycle to EndCycle VS. Our development as well as the marketing for VS focused on online multiplayer games, in the trailers as well as in events where one could “fight the devs”.
Suddenly the game got a lot more traction, we made progress faster, and it was easier to make the product palpable for people. We’d discovered that our chocolate chips were kinda really good and what people wanted was good chocolate chips.
With a clear focus on one aspect of the game, we started making a concrete product way faster, and got better at it each day. Of course, there were and are still major setbacks, but now they’re always stepping stones on our way to a finished product and not a divine intervention telling us that we have no idea what we’re doing.
Early Access and Beyond
During Early Access, we took the time to re-design several aspects of the game, always with one question in mind: “How does this support our primary feature: the online multiplayer?”. It seemed much easier to make strong decisions, and now we were building up a loyal fanbase that has remained consistently supportive over the years, always providing us feedback and different perspectives when a new update hits.
People really like our chocolate chips and we know how to improve upon them.
Having EndCycle VS out there as a real game that people can enjoy together and discuss definitely makes a difference for us. It is easier to build upon something than to keep reinventing yourself after all.
At the beginning of this summer we switched from working on EndCycle VS part-time to making it our full-time job. Currently we’re living off our savings. Our main tasks in regards to the future of 12B3 is finding a publisher that can help us take EndCycle VS out of Early Access.
So what’s the lesson here? We’d say: If your development is stuck because there are too many aspects you need to juggle, go ahead and re-evaluate which single part of your game is really good and worthwhile.
Everyone wants to put as many fun features into their games as possible but – like always in life – it is always better to have one really good chocolate chip instead of scattering your efforts across several half-baked half-burned goods that nobody wants to eat.
Anyway, do as we say not as we do. Ever since the launch of VS we’ve developed several campaigns, an adventure mode and multiple arcade modes.
What can we say? Sometimes you just can’t help yourself to some half-baked dough.
You’ll find EndCycle VS on Steam here as well as on its official website here. You’ll also find developers 12B3 on Twitter here.
For more features on indie games and the developers who make them, check out our Features section here!