Whew. It all feels rather different in the Moviestorm mansion today. It's not just that we've opened all the windows and let some fresh air in. There's an indefinable change in the atmosphere as we move into the fourth stage of development, slightly subdued, with an undercurrent of anticipation, and everyone intently hunched over their keyboards dotting i's, crossing t's, or huddled in corners niggling away at little details, and checking off tiny but vital tasks against a huge "to do" list.
Once upon a time, what feels like many, many years ago, Moviestorm was just a germ of an idea, with two of us bashing out bits of tech demos to experiment with different ways of making machinima, and raise the money to make a real go of it.
Then, in November 2005, we hired a few staff, made ourselves into a real company, and started building the damn thing for real, and got Moviestorm (or Machinimascope, as we called it back then) to the point where we had the bare bones of a new type of movie-making tool.
Last Christmas, we moved into stage three, and started getting real users involved, even though Moviestorm was nowhere near finished, and, to be quite honest, wasn't even really ready to go out the door. We jumped from six people to twelve full-time staff plus a load of freelancers, got ourselves an office, and went from having just a few bits of test artwork we'd produced in-house to commissioning loads of art from studios in India and the Ukraine. It's been a really intense six months, and Moviestorm has changed completely in that time: we've developed features we didn't think were important, because our beta testers said they wanted them; we've dropped features we liked because our beta testers said they didn't need or didn't like them; we've completely redesigned the user interface; we now have literally thousands of new characters, models and animations; and so on. On top of that, we've built a community Web site, a place to host movies, and an online distribution and update system. And last, but absolutely by no means least, we now have a fantastic community of 700+ users from all round the world, who have provided us in equal measure with tough love and praise, and who have created some really surprising test movies which have pushed Moviestorm into some unexpected directions. We've taken input from professional film-makers, from complete novices, from experienced machinimators, from kids, from housewives - well, from absolutely anybody we possibly could. Moviestorm's still not finished, of course. In all likelihood it never will be. There's so much we want to do with it, and new ideas are presenting themselves every single day. But it's now feeling like we have a proper movie-making tool at last.
So now it's time to kick things up a gear again and move into the fourth stage. We're currently wrapping everything up for our imminent public beta release, at which time anyone in the world will be able to come along and grab themselves a copy of Moviestorm. That's going to present us with a whole new set of challenges. We need to make sure we're ready to respond to the needs, queries, demands, and problems of a much larger user group, which means providing new infrastructure, new in-house processes and systems, and understanding that we're dealing with a slightly different type of user. It won't go 100% smoothly, of course. It never does. But at least we should be prepared to deal with whatever spanners get thrown in the works.
We've now closed the private beta program, so we're not taking on any new users for the time being. But we will be open again very shortly - and we're all waiting to see what happens!