Making cars is fun! Who would have known? Well, probably Henry Ford, but also Cliff Harris of Positech Games who has been diligently working away on Production Line for over year, with his first video Dev Blog coming out this time last year. I was lucky enough to catch up with Cliff briefly at EGX and have started on my own journey to become the new Henry Ford.Cliff took the approach of selling the game direct to customers from his own site before lanching Production Line on Early Access since May. Things are going well, and Cliff is enjoying the opportunities Early Access offers for fans to engage with the game:
I actually enjoy asking people what is wrong with the game and them telling me. I never thought I would, I thought that would be insane. But actually, that’s really good, and there’s some stuff I would have done that I’m not doing because nobody cares about, and other stuff that I thought people wouldn’t be interested in, but they’re saying “yes yes, more of this”. It’s brilliant, and I’m a convert to Early Access basically.
I’ve only just started my car building adventure, but what was nice was a little survey that appeared when I booted up the game, asking what feature I was wanting to see next (hybrid/electric engines) and what I was struggling with (identifying why cars are, or aren’t, selling). I’m not sure how often these appear, but they’re a nice easy way to send some direct feedback on your experience of the game during Early Access to Cliff, without necessarily having to step into the forums of Steam community.
Production Line has its claws in me, and it certainly appeals to the Football Manager side of my brain. There is lots of data to absorb, from how much time an individual part of the assembly line spends on production, or dare I say it…waiting. You can see why people are, or aren’t buying your cars, while there is also a very detailed chart covering the efficiency of your entire factory. But this is what people want, Cliff told me he receives feedback requesting more;
finance stuff, people really like the business stuff; the reports and spreadsheets which I like naturally. I love all of that, but I thought it was just me, but it seems that the people that play this game want a lot of data, want a lot of analysis.
Right now, I’m not really doing too well with my production lines, they are both long and tend to be quite slow. In my defense, I haven’t spent the time researching enough new production methods to break up the flow into as many small chunks as I would like. I have one route where the body fit, and painting, have been broken down into smaller stages. This is great for speeding up production at these points, but then my flow hits a bottleneck at the engine fitting stage.
It’s part of the dilemma at the heart of the game. Do you spend time researching new production methods, to ensure you can keep a constant flow of cars going to the customers? Or do you turn your attention to researching new technologies to fit to your cars? If rival companies have air conditioning installed on their most basic models, customers aren’t going to look twice at your own basic model unless you cut the price back. Which is fine, if you’re producing enough cars to still make money. This is definitely a game that I would love to be able to play without worrying about money, or competitors. The freedom to make all sorts of cars? That would be wonderful.
The game is still quite early in the development process. Cliff told me that he is planning to;
add in electric and hybrid engines, because everyone wants and loves them. There’s more marketing stuff that has to go in, which is only half done at the moment. There are pickup trucks going in and more achievement stuff to go in. The whole idea of stuff breaking down and quality, at the moment a car is naturally of good quality. But we’re going to have stuff like defects and quality control going in there as well.
If you are interested in Production Line, I highly recommend watching some of Cliff’s video developer blogs, they provide a useful insight into how the game works. He has also put together a quick guide to getting started with the game, this covers some of the basic principles of the early stages of the game and will definitely help you get started.
As for a release date? Cliff wasn’t one to be nailed down, and his embrace of what Early Access offers him as a developer is why;
I really like Early Access. I don’t know, January, February, early March. As long as I’m still enjoying working on it, I don’t see a reason to declare it done. Unless nobody is buying it anymore, then I need to move. But I don’t think that’s going to happen by the looks of it, it’s going really well. Definitely next year at the earliest. I like the open ended nature of going “hey lets spend another six months or whatever on this”.
I’ll save any Verdicts until Cliff signs the game off as “finished”, but I’m glad that I got to have a chat with him at EGX and finally start getting into the car business.