Polish is one of the foremost things on my mind right now (and I don’t mean the language!). This is a Good Thing(tm), because I couldn’t spend this much time thinking about it if we weren’t nearing the end of our game’s development. I know, I can hardly believe it myself!
From my experience, it’s the beginning and end stages of development where you see the greatest returns on investment. In the beginning, you’re laying down large swathes of code and you see the game progress very quickly. In the end, you’re making a lot of tiny adjustments that have profound effects because they ripple across the (hopefully well-laid) infrastructure that you’ve built your game on top of. Even something as simple as a beam of wood that the player can walk behind adds a lot to the way the game feels at this stage, whereas earlier in the development it might go unnoticed amid larger flaws. I love getting to this point, because I love putting little details into my work. In fact, the “Moss” part of my company’s name “Mossmouth” is an allusion to that concept of fine detail.
If you look closely at, say, any recent Mario game, you’ll really see how important polish is to the overall experience. It seems like everything in those games - from the menu buttons to the poofs of dust that appear when something lands on the ground - has a personality and reacts in a very fun way, with a wiggle or a cute sound effect. Likewise, the controls are very responsive and fine-tuned. As players, we may not spend too much time marveling at each of these little details, but nonetheless, we feel the impact and come to love these games in large part because of it. As developers, we should most definitely marvel at them, because it’s our business (and our passion).
The original Spelunky was in development for 2 years (on and off), and the version we’re working on right now has been in development for another 2 years. Throughout that span of time Spelunky’s design has flowed naturally, leaving us enough resources to learn the Xbox 360 and also work on refinements that will take us to that next level. With regards to polish, Microsoft has given us some great suggestions, and definitely deserve credit for their help. There’s a good lesson here: seek help and feedback and especially criticism from every direction if you hope to do your best work.
When Spelunky is finally released on XBLA (To Be Announced!), will we have succeeded in crafting something that feels as good as the amazing games we’ve been inspired by as children and as adults? That’s our goal, but I’ll leave it to you to decide how we did! In the mean time, we’ll keep on polishing until we think we’re there. It shouldn’t be too long now…