Ten Years of Starcom

Looking at my task tracker recently I realized it’s been ten years since I started work on what would eventually become Starcom: Nexus, the precursor of Starcom: Unknown Space. Actually ten years ago to the day, I followed Unity’s “space game tutorial” to figure out how to get a 2D spaceship moving on screen.

I’ve already written a very long postmortem on the process of creating that game, but I thought this would be a good occasion to look at the question “where does the time go?” Like specifically, having spent well over ten thousand hours developing these games, what am I doing all day?

Using data exported from the task tracker, I went through and randomly sampled blocks of time and categorized them to see what kinds of things I was spending time on, and how much.

I organized the data in two ways: features that players would recognize, and hats that I wear. By “hats” I mean what role/skillset would do this task in a mid-sized game company with dozens of employees. I’m guessing a bit on this one– while I have worked on game projects with small to medium sized companies, it has always been in a fairly narrow role.

Features

All%
Gameplay11.7%General gameplay mechanics: ship steering, interactions, etc
Combat6.4%Weapon design, balancing, damage handling, VFX
Community6.1%Interacting with players, support, weekly updates like this one, etc
Gameworld5.5%Game world specific mechanics: region placement, sector handoff
Shipbuilding5.5%Shipbuilding logic
Missions5.4%Mission design and creation
Playtesting5.1%Playing the game myself to see what’s broken, what feels wrong, etc
Anomaly4.8%Creating anomalies
UI4.2%UI design and programming
AI3.9%AI design and programming
Marketing3.8%Game promotion, trailer creation, youtuber outreach, etc
Factions3.7%NPC design
Music & Audio2.7%Music and Sound FX
Planning & Production2.6%Deciding what to prioritize, misc stuff not covered elsewhere
Bug fixes2.5%Investigating and fixing bugs outside of the normal dev loop
Interaction Systems2.4%Anomalies, conversations and general station interactions
Trade & Inventory2.3%Trade system, drops, resources and item system
Map & Edgedar2.2%Map system and Edgedar (the icons around the side of the screen in the main view)
Localization2.1%String symbol tables and translation
Creator2.1%Content authoring tool
Save & Load1.8%Save system
Crew1.7%Crew management, skill check system
Technologies1.7%Tech research tree and effects
Planets1.6%Planet visuals
Main Menu1.5%Parts of the game when you’re not in the game
Proc Gen1.2%Procedural sector and planet generation
VFX1.2%General visual effects like nebulae, non-combat particle effects, etc
Steam1.0%Build deployment, store page creation, etc
Business0.9%Taxes, paying contractors– the fun stuff that everyone gets into game dev for
Story0.8%Narrative planning
Regions0.7%Manual (non-procedural) region layout
Optimization0.4%Performance profiling, optimization
Analytics0.2%Player analytics review

Hats

HatPercent
Programmer32.9%Any coding/programming
Game Designer16.8%Designing missions, balancing enemies, gameplay tweaking
UI Designer8.4%Creation of all the UI systems, icons, layouts, excluding the programming
VFX Designer7.3%Particle systems, shaders
QA7.1%Playtesting, reviewing player F8 feedback
Producer6.5%Planning, interaction with contractors
Community Manager5.8%Responding to player emails & discussion forum posts
2D Artist3.6%Anomaly images, item images
Marketer/Video Editor3.1%Trailer creation, influencer outreach
Writer2.7%Writing anomalies, dialogue
3D Modeler2.0%Creating ship modules, other models, coordinating concept artist and modeler efforts
Sound Designer/Music Director1.5%Creating game sounds, directions for composer
Analytics1.1%Choosing metrics, analyzing anonymous player analytics
Business1.0%Misc business stuff: taxes, paying contractors, renewing LLC, etc.

This is just the time I spent. There have been several talented contractors who have composed the game’s music, created the alien portraits, created 3D models for the modules, etc. It’s also not super precise, because a) there are a lot of tasks that don’t get tracked and b) this was a random sample. But I think it’s ballpark correct.

In other news, I’m continuing to press on with work on Kepler. There’s still a chunk of content I want to add, but in the next week or two I’ll start thinking about timing for making available for opt-in.

Until next week!
– Kevin