It hasn’t been the best few months, to be honest. Things went a bit pear-shaped. I’ve turned my back on a year and a half’s work, and I’ve reluctantly had to turn my back on XNA.
There have been some rumours flying around that Microsoft were doing away with XNA, which would be bad for me, because XNA kind of underpinned completely and utterly absolutely everything in The Swindle. Back in July, the game was still a year away from completion, which in game-making terms we all know means at least 18 months.
Seeking clarification, I spoke to a man at the Windows 8 booth at the Develop Conference. He was very nice, but informed me that no, XNA games would not be supported on Windows 8. At all. Ever. Not just the trendy Metro bit, mind, on any of it.
I honestly felt like the world had crumbled out from under me. I’d been working on The Swindle for about a year and a half at that point. So much hard work gone to waste?
How true all this is, I’m still not entirely sure, but it was the shot I needed that no one really seemed to understand what future XNA had. Maybe he was wrong! I think he must have been wrong. It certainly seems unlikely… but I found little further hard information online, just more rumours and people assuming it’d see “legacy support” and endless muttered clarifications at conferences, and Gabe Newell who is important calling Windows 8 a ‘catastrophe‘. Research I’ve done today (the first time I’ve looked into it since July) suggests that XNA should run fine on Win8, and it looks like there are some who have done it. So PHEW.
I love XNA, it’s a beautiful set of tools. But I can’t keep developing a game over the next year or so when I don’t really know if it’ll be supported on future platforms. Being tied to one platform, coupled with some problems we’d had getting Privates to run consistently on different setups, it was all just looking so uncertain.
As an indie, I haven’t got a massive amount of cash and being faced with having a game ready that potentially wouldn’t run on people’s trendy, futuristic computers was a huge worry. I was in a very dark place. I made a heart-wrenching choice to stop development and start over from scratch.
Over the last few months, the game has quietly been “ported” to Unity, and has seen dramatic progress. Turns out porting isn’t so much “copy and pasting” as it is “completely rewriting”.
I’m not the sort of person who’ll wallow and moan and grumble in public about things until I’m able to do so from a point of superiority. Which is where I finally am. I’m delighted to report that everything in The Swindle Unity, from the animation to the sound and overall visuals has seen a massive boost. It’s running better, faster, slicker – and will now be available on Windows and Mac, and hopefully Linux and consoles as well. I honestly finally feel like the move has wound up being a huge force for good – something unimaginable during most of the summer, back when I was a complete wreck.
Here’s some lovely new screenshots of The Swindle running in Unity, with its bold new unique visual style:
It’s not quite at the same level gameplay-wise yet. I’ve hired an exceptionally clever guy called Tim, who knew Unity inside out and has been laying the foundations while I work out how Unity all hangs together. So progress is much faster than when I was doing everything solo – I’m hoping before Christmas we’ll have it to where the old XNA version was. There’s no AI or RPG elements in yet, but it’s running exponentially better than it was before, and visually is waaaaay superior. What’s more, there are already some nice new bits and bobs already in, which I hadn’t gotten round to doing in the XNA cut.
There’s so much more to say. I want to explain how it’s not Microsoft’s fault. I want to sing Unity’s praises. I want to explain more just exactly how vague and confused everything was even just a few months back. But this is getting a bit long now. Another time.
So that’s what’s happened. I have been on a weird horrible unpleasant rollercoaster that shook me to my very core, but it’s all amazing again now so don’t worry.
I’m in a position to discuss development again now, so if you want to find out more, follow @danthat on Twitter.
If you like the look of The Swindle and want to help keep lovely Tim working on it as long as humanly possible, there’s a Donations page here or you can buy/ gift copies of Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! through Steam. That sort of thing is all impossibly helpful, so if you’re one of those heroes who owns several copies of my games by now: thank you.