Until about a month and a half ago, Darknet was going to be an MMO.
You probably think that sounds crazy. It was meant to! What a great headline it would be! And I really thought I could pull it off. I still do.
Darknet wouldn’t be a traditional MMORPG, of course. There would be no avatars walking around, grinding mobs for XP. In fact, it wouldn’t be real-time at all. Instead, it would simply take your offline single-player accomplishments each day and upload them to the servers, where they would help to conquer a small part of the global Net. You could team up with other players, create custom levels to challenge your enemies, and plan grand long-term strategies with your allies. With enough players, it would add up to an enormous asynchronous multiplayer battleground, with territorial control constantly shifting between player-created factions.
I wanted to capture the magic of EVE Online’s galaxy-spanning wars, mixed with the appeal of smaller games like GoCrossCampus and The Castle Doctrine. I was convinced: the multiplayer was going to be awesome.
Until, of course, I cut it.
Even though I carefully designed the MMO features to be feasible with my limited indie resources, it eventually became clear that adding multiplayer would end up nearly doubling the game’s development time. I just couldn’t justify that level of effort, especially when such a small number of players would ever see those highest levels of strategy.
More importantly, it just didn’t fit in with the rest of the gameplay. Darknet’s core gameplay is about a lone hacker finding weaknesses in complex systems. Grandiose territorial conquest just doesn’t fit the vibe. If I ever build it, I ought to make it an entirely separate game. But, still, I liked the idea and had worked hard on designing it, and I was sad to leave it out.
There are lots of other, similar stories of features that I designed, fell in love with, and cut. Multiplayer was the biggest, but it wasn’t the last. I’ve heard that cutting major features is often a painful necessity, and I believe it. The better the feature, the more painful the cut.
One lost feature was an “investment” mechanic that was designed to bring the game closer to the feeling of an RTS. Another was an interface that involved manipulating the vertices of an icosahedron in 3D (yes, I am a nerd), which I’m still convinced would feel awesome in VR with positional tracking. And then, of course, there’s the old core hacking gameplay, which I kept for most of development before revising almost entirely.
I still like all of these features, at least in theory. In some cases, I still have the urge to include them in some way. There’s always some reason why an idea appeals to me, and it’s never easy to give up on it.
Darknet is still changing every day, and I’m sure I’ll keep working on it after release for a while. A lot can change, and some of these features may come back in some form. But I understand that these painful cuts ultimately make for a better game, and it’s best not to try to hold onto them all. Eventually, development will end, and when that happens, I like to make a clean break.