The Reckoning – Exploring Cognition.

by on May.13, 2014, under cognition, developer diary, featured

The Reckoning – Exploring Cognition.

Back in December 2011 the team finally moved forward with their biggest challenge yet; while working on The Silver Lining was a dream come true, King’s Questbelongs to the heart of Roberta Williams and the legal rights to Activision. We had finally come together to put a new story, a new name and a whole new task at hand, considering Kickstarter wasn’t that well known in 2011.

Cognition was born out of a conversation with Dutch developer Khaeon at E3 2011; originally with the name of “We Are Darker” they introduced the idea as a concept for Windows mobile phone. Cognition had the story of Erica Reed, a tough FBI agent caught up with the obsession of a serial killer. We ventured through crowdfunding with the idea months later, knowing that this wasn’t even covering half of the production investment, but if anything about a 10% of the production itself. The original goal was 25k, out of which we managed to gather 34k total, and become one of the top 10 most funded projects at the time.

Early 2011 Cognition design.

I think at this point, even though extremely limited, the team felt nothing but accomplishment to be able to move forward, well aware that the amount put together wasn’t even covering the salary of most of them at the time. It was the Directors of the team who invested into this, in particular mostly funded by Richard Flores, our Chief Technical Officer/Art Direction.  Part of the joy was having the opportunity of doing something we could call our own, our very first original game – we wanted to push ourselves and see how far we could go. It was a breakthrough to be able to make Cognition happen.

As we started working, things started to shape up differently, we were much more organized and strict – this was no longer a volunteer project, this is now a paid job and life forever changed for everyone. Our production schedules were tighter, the workload had to be efficiently streamlined and even though in theory all leads were pretty understanding of the situation, we had aimed for about a 6 to 8 month production and it took about a year and then some for us to be able to put the game together, chapter by chapter.

Some of the original design was already there when we picked up Cognition, we modified them to match places from Boston.

However, production experience wasn’t something that itself caused real problems – the financial understanding of the operation did. We did have quite a crash course into it, surviving while learning, and trying not to go bankrupt in the process. At some point it became truly challenging to understand there was nowhere else to go – there was no money left, but the hardship came through as a blessing, and as we faced through it people gave about 150% more of what they did originally and we made it through.

Then after this we encountered some disagreements with our publisher at the time. It was quite heart breaking, I do believe we just simply couldn’t understand each other and we grew somewhat upset and frustrated and eventually agreed to part ways. It was quite detrimental to the team because for one it did not help the Greenlight process, two it didn’t seem to have a positive impact with Episode 1 sales either, and ultimately because this was something that just left us without a single cent to move on.

More from the original design, compared to the final product.

We never quit, we just worked harder than ever and made sacrifices that we willingly chose to make because we didn’t just believe in Cognition, we believed in the opportunity that we were in with Phoenix. It was a choice, I know at least for those of us who did it was, and we’re forever thankful for having stuck with this until the very last chapter.

It was December of 2012 at this point, Episode 1 was already released and because of the combination of all factors until then we struggled pretty intensely to stay on board. We didn’t know a single damn thing about publishing by then and we didn’t have anyone’s support (or money, for that matter) and yet we agreed to move on.

It was sad – we had to let some people go, we had a few of us agree to work on delayed payment until things were settled, and we just moved forward. It was pretty hard at the time; Cognition‘s first episode, that one thing we looked forward to the most, turned from something of joy into a deep concern. We understood that just developing a game is not enough, there was so much more to learn and we paid quite a price for it as well.

During 2012 we showcased Cognition at every convention we could make it to.

Luckily, we are passion driven and that surely didn’t stop many of us, if anything we grew from it. It became an opportunity to do better, and so we did – the launch of Episode 2 in January was a success. We had almost 500 people watching the live stream, we redid our store, we pushed Greenlight into the impossible – and by Episode 3 we finally could breathe again. We not only had successfully conquered Greenlight, we had 3 /4 of the game out and we were improving with sales and we managed to overcome debt into the glimpse of a future.

As any average indie studio, every single bit of income becomes a self sustaining amount that rarely ever becomes a profit. We were able to get by, and we sort of struggled as we got through, but at least things were somewhat less than awful and that was simply good enough for us.

Eventually we managed to create physical goods including the full game, the soundtrack, and posters.

Amazingly we survived Cognition, and even though it was a bumpy road we feel nothing but happiness to be able to say we did it. All in all, we had learned a lot more that would become of use by the time Moebius would come, which the untold story of it shall come through next week.

Doing these anniversary blogs have been sort of a soul searching experience, being able to go back and look at the good, but also understanding the hell we’ve been through. It sure proves the resilience and character of how much we believe in and love what we do.

Say Mistage
Social Media Director
Phoenix Online Studios

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