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Hint: there is a download link at the bottom of this story

It all started 4 years ago with an Elite: Dangerous cinematic feature. Before it got a second part later the same year, I had this interesting idea — why not do a proper game machinima, combining two of the things I really love — space and noir. At that point I was so pumped, I was planning to do a whole season of miniseries. In the end however, only managed to do episodes one and two.

Two things put spoke in my wheels:

1. I reached the technological limit of all three games I was filming at — Elite: Dangerous, EVE and Star Citizen;
2. Amazon discontinued Ivona TTS and its new incarnation Polly was lacking the protagonist voice. …


Let’s start in reverse this time, eh? Let me first show you the now-mostly-complete version of the new ship board prototype.

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For me this is huge. I mean getting it up to this level starting with the last concept took a good hundred hours. Or maybe two hundred. Or maybe even more. I lost the count long time ago, but I’d say there might as well be 2000+ hours in total invested into the game so far since the beginning. Or more.

The board will most certainly go through few more cosmetic iterations before I go out and print it, but the end result, at least at this time, shouldn’t be far from this. …


Remember when in the last dev diary I mentioned my models had severe errors that prevented them from printing and I was wondering whether it will be better to actually start from scratch, rather than trying to fix them?

Well, I gave fixing one last go before I throw it all away. And some hundred or more hours of hard labour later, the models are finally fixed. And redesigned quite a bit in the process.

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Things are finally print-ready, yay!


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They would have made great pieces…

Shortly after last dev diary was published some 25 months ago, I decided to switch priorities a bit and try to pull off couple other ideas with seemingly greater commercial potential than a board game that will only appeal to couple dozen sci-fi fans in the world at some point in the future. I was hoping they will lift off and start taking care of themselves almost without supervision and that would leave me with plenty of spare time on my hands to get back to Zenith:Unknown.

Year and a half later things were not looking in the desired shade of pink though and I decided to eventually pull the plug on both projects I’ve been working on. …


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All I can say is fuck yeah! Finally things have worked themselves out. And I really mean they have worked themselves out. You might not get why am I so hyped about it because it might be the opposite for you, but in my life things just won’t work when there is resistance. When there is need to push past a barrier that costs extra effort. I know out of experience there is a reason this barrier is there, even if I don’t completely understand why. So it’s best to quit pushing and try to figure out what’s wrong. On the contrary, if somehow, and again, not necessarily consciously knowing how and why I manage to get on the right track, things will just work themselves out. …


TL;DR changes I talked about in my first dev diary did not produce expected results. New approach adopted.

The concept of having resource-based sector functionality seemed so appropriate and logical on paper, I immediately rolled up my sleeves…

… and rushed headlong into the odious task of creating math equation matrix for the total production and consumption of megawatts and exaflops:

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And it was all so glorious until I came down to the board and tried to play the game with this new concept. It was then when I realized once more this can’t and won’t work. …


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Initial gameplay draft (on the left) and how it looks after thorough rework an year later (on the right)

There are few setbacks when you set to develop a board game with no board game experience. There are more setbacks if you happen to be a designer, writer and computer gamer. Most apparent of these is:

You don’t think as a board gamer since you lack experience, mindset and general culture.

It took me hell of a lot of time to figure out I was moving in the wrong direction. And the sad truth here is I was moving in the wrong direction right from the start.

A week ago, year and a half into the concept, me and my wife held the first ever game test. There was not much to test there really. Besides setting up the board, there was nothing else we could test. To my credit, board setup is a breeze and required just one tiny adjustment to be made. In the rest however there was no game whatsoever. …


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It’s been, what, 10–11 months? Pretty long period of inactivity. Well, not exactly of inactivity because I was preoccupied with other stuff, but it was inactive period for the development of Zenith:Unknown anyway.

Why is that? Mostly because I had an a-ha moment. It was not really what one would expect of such a moment, you know — an explosion of creativity, profound conclusion, universal enlightenment and whatnot. It was a moment of realization I was dwelling into something that is more of a nerdy hobby, than a possible business venture. And let me be honest with you here. I started working on this project with the idea to try and make a living out of it. And at least for a while. The orgasm I was going to get out of having it done and seeing people playing was going to come as an extra. But my primary intention was to turn this into business. …


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The very first Zenith:Unknown prototype

As a designer and writer (and generally a creative) my typical workflow makes use of a complex combination of 2D and 3D software, word processors, spreadsheets, charting, presentation, mind mapping and collaboration tools* even during the earliest stages of my endeavors. Sometimes my madness requires the addition of audio and video production software. By no means I take anything lightly.

There are few things about Zenith:Unknown and me in particular one needs to know in order to fully understand the sheer need of someone searching the world for something like “visual board game prototyping tool”:

  • For various reasons already stated in my previous post, board games and board game culture respectively were not integral part of my conscious adult…

Couple years back me and a mate started developing a computer game. It was going to be awesome. Totally different as a concept, infinitely replayable, a thing of beauty and all.

Long story short: after some 9 months into it, we ran out of money and after we failed our Indiegogo campaign, the project stalled. Honestly, such an outcome was to be expected for various reasons I’m not gonna go into detail now.

With all the money I have borrowed (in the lines of five digits, not starting with 1) so I can focus on game development, it took me well over an year to get back on my feet. Sort of. I got full time job that turned out to be more like an overtime job without the overtime pay and the only thing I really wanted after that was to have a couple of beers and just stare dumbly until it’s bedtime. Rinse, repeat for 7 months. I was a mess. …

About

Pornstache Productions

Creator of Zenith:Unknown, Deep Space Noir and a metric shitton of popular media

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