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I've finished the first part of Stargate Timekeepers, and here are my thoughts... [spoilers]

...about the quality of the game, my theories behind the development, and my predictions for the future.

I will be discussing some story events, so unless you have already played it, or don't mind spoilers, skip this write-up. I will say the story isn't the draw card for playing the game so you may not mind the spoilers for this first half of the game. I won't give a thorough explanation of the gameplay mechanics, but it is essentially a clone of Commandos/Shadow tactics. If you want a deeper explanation, please see my previous posts about the game.

The brief:
This game is full of bugs, it's only half a game, the first half was delayed and the second half has missed its release date, and as a cherry on top it's not very faithful to the show (which I think is the most forgivable, as long as it's fun).

Stargate Timekeepers follows none of the characters from the TV series SG-1, but it does start its first level as a side story to the Battle of Antarctica that is seen in SG-1 season 7. There are seven levels in this half of the release, which follows the release of the demo which was the entire first level. The installation of part one accepts your save files so you don't need to redo the first level if you played the demo. Each level is with a different combination of characters, sometimes split into separate areas of the level.

There are many faults with the game, and I believe they fall into 3 categories: Bad choices, Bugs, and bad programming.
While those three categories overlap significantly I think there's a distinction between them based on how they ended up in the game. Bugs are faults in the programming that weren't discovered and fixed during QA, bad programming is a developer aiming to achieve something but being unable to implement it effectively, and bad choices are something that was implemented without issue but detracts from the product.

Bad choices:
While each character has unique abilities, the bulk of the gameplay is just using the generic punch and carry ability available to all but one character. It's a shame that the developers chose to make the characters nag you to use other abilities rather than design the levels to require you to use them. For instance, one of the abilities is a Kull Warrior disruptor. It weakens a Kull Supersoldier, allowing you to kill the otherwise invulnerable enemy. From memory the Kull warriors only appear in 2 or 3 levels; after that they are essentially forgotten about. So now there’s an icon on the hotbar for the rest of the game that has no use. The sniper character has a whistle action to draw enemy towards you that I think only has necessary application twice in the whole game, and could be ignored entirely after that.

The levels show hints of purposeful design, but often reveal themselves to be fairly average sandbox areas to perform the same basic abilities. I'd almost say that one team designs the level, and another comes along after and places all the enemies within that space. The original Commandos was full of very purposeful level design choices where the level layout and the enemy placement/behaviour worked in harmony. Timekeepers, in contrast, feels like the layouts were built without an intention of what the enemies would be doing there. I do sympathize that it must be difficult to produce creative play designs, but at the end of the day it was only 7 levels. I have a theory that I will bring up later that may explain why this is the way it is.

The worst outcome of bad choices has got to be the delays. Originally slated for release in late 2022, Timekeepers was delayed indefinitely until a more definite date of December 2023 was advertised, but it would only be the first half of the game. Then, as December approached, it was delayed until January 2024 with the second half being advertised for April 2024 at no extra cost to customers. It's now May and there has been no official comment on why the second half is no where to be seen, nor any hint of when it will arrive. I am hesitant to pass judgements on this because we will never learn the exact reason for the delays, but unfortunately it can only be described as bad project management. Either take the steps to get the game out on time, or recognize that you aren't in a position to advertise a release date. That could be due to budget, skills, or mistakes, but it would hint that the developer/publisher are haemorrhaging money trying to get this past the finish line after they've already taken whatever profits were up for grabs. That theory I mentioned before would also explain part of this situation.

Ooh boy. This game is full of them.
Full disclosure, I have only played version 1.00.25 GOG and the Steam demo. There has since been an update, but the changelog does not address the primary issue I will bring up.

The number one consistent issue that I experienced in all levels of this game was that any interactive part of the level would fail to do what it was designed to do, and would permanently lock your character in position, preventing progress in the game. The only workaround was to load a previous save, and to never interact with anything. I tested this on every single interactive element, in every level (except one in the final level, which I safely assume suffers the same issue). If at any point you make a character walk up to an interactive object and touch it, it was like they had been frozen in place. Trigger a trap? Nope, reload. Hide in a closet? better not save once you're inside, reload. Any sort of switch, button, noise maker? forget it, reload. I've tried on my laptop, on my desktop computer, at different graphics settings, nothing resolves this issue. There are parts of the game where you need to push over panels to open up pathways or create bridges; none of these work. Luckily there were always less direct ways to make progress, but it felt like there were many times that the intended solution was not possible because of these bugs. There are even item pickups you have to ignore, because trying to open the access door will break your game. I haven't seen any other mention of this online in forums or comment sections, but that's because no one is really talking about the game at all. I have no idea how common this is for customers.

edit: after visiting the official discord, I can see the developers have been made aware of this problem as of 11th April and are working to fix it.

Aside from that there are issues like animation problems. The Spy character can dress up like a Jaffa and distract enemies with conversation; hilariously you can get him stuck waving his conversational hands around while he's crouching and sneaking around the level. I've had enemies tied up on the ground, loaded a save, and now they are standing up but still functionally tied up on the ground.

If you have multiple characters selected and try to perform generic commands with them, sometimes it just won't work. I also noticed at least once instance of punching an enemy while they were climbing a ladder, they finish climbing the ladder, and then fall over unconscious. That would've been an easy fix of "if(climbing ladder == true); don't punch; else punch;".

Bad programming:
This is where it starts to come together. The reason Timekeepers is in the situation it's in. I don't think it's blasphemy to be loose with the lore. Fans will forgive flubs if the game is fun. They will give concessions to non-canon if it's creative enough. Bugs are somewhat expected in releases, as long as they are recognised and patched. What Timekeepers suffers from is a skill issue. I say this with as much respect as possible towards the developers. I'm not putting the blame on them, I think having a skill deficit isn't a rare challenge in projects and it should be recognised and resolved by team leaders. Good project management involves supporting the team when they lack the skills, time, or resources required to complete the tasks.

The small part of it can be demonstrated with a few things I experienced. There is a level where you have two separate groups. Team A is faced with locked doors. Team B can unlock these doors. You are expected to leapfrog the teams through the levels: Unlock a door with Team B, progress Team A until the next locked door, move Team B towards the next unlock mechanism, repeat. It turns out there is nothing preventing Team B from going start to finish right away and unlocking all the doors, then using Team A to go all the way on their side in one go. When you do this you end up getting dialogue events out of order. Because you were intended on moving the teams forward at the same time, the dialogue events trigger based on specific location triggers and there's nothing preventing you from triggering them out of story order.

In other instances, there are events that add or remove characters for story reasons. Losing the Spy character makes the levels a lot harder than if you had him. So instead I found myself skipping the current objective, sneaking ahead through the level, clearing out all the enemies, before coming back near the start of the level to complete the objective. Then I could just walk through an empty level to finish off the other objectives.

Basically, the flow of the game is regulated poorly. The pieces usually work in isolation, but together they are don't function as a unit. There are many opportunities to side-step the intention of a level and find holes in the barriers to play the level out of order.

Also, the UI hasn't been tested for different aspect ratios (see image of post)

The large part of it? Earlier I mentioned a theory, spoilers ahead. I think I know what happened at the start of level planning, and why it has crippled the release of the game. It ties together with bad choices, but I think it was bad programming that is driving the nails into the coffin. The title Stargate Timekeepers alludes to time travel. I can tell you that throughout the first 7 levels currently available there is no time travel. The first half of the game ends with an inciting incident that will begin the time travelling part of the game, and I think it's no coincidence that this is where the currently released portion of the game ends.

Playing the levels that were released, I always felt like the layout wasn't being utilised efficiently. In fact you can notice a few parts of levels that didn't get used at all. Now it takes no genius to figure it out; the time travelling nature of the story will bring you back to these levels to visit areas again. I think the original plan was to make a game that would heavily reuse game areas and time travel would be the justification for the amount of repetitiveness that would involve. Not a bad concept in general but one that requires a bit of finesse in game design to pull it off. This is what I think the developers are stuck on right now. They had started making the levels with the intention of reusing them later, but once they got to the "later" they've realised the levels aren't working for what they are trying to do. Now, while building the rest of the levels, they are faced with putting a square peg in a round hole by trying to reuse them, or having to build all new levels that weren't in the original scope of the project.

That would explain why the enemy placements often felt after-the-fact of the level layout. It would be because the layouts were built for multiple enemy placements, and probably different directions of character movement. It would explain why we only got the levels up until the time travel was about to start. Only the first pass of the designed areas were functional, and revisited levels are not working as easily as expected or are being rebuilt from the ground up. I think the reuse of game areas promised lower effort in production, but has instead turned into more effort that a linear game.

The Future
Where does that leave the game going forward? The first half of the game came out over a year after the full release was first supposed to happen, and we've blown past the date that the second half was advertised. Providing the rest of the game for free means there will be little more in sales aside from the kind of person who would hold off until full release. The delay from December 2023 to January 2024 would have cost money. That's another month of costs, like hours worked, on a project that hadn't made money on time. Now the money has been made, and there has been another two months of costs with no hint to an end. Word of mouth has deflated the promise of a good game. The only things keeping the project going must be a sense of responsibility and maybe a false belief that the complete game will attract enough new customers to offset the extra costs. I would honestly believe the idea that the long development duration of this game has already cost the project more money than it can hope to make back now. Stargate as a franchise has stagnated for the last decade and any attempt to revive it hasn't moved past the ideas stage.

If you visit the Slitherine website there is no mention of Stargate Timekeepers on the front page at all. If you visit their store page, the only mention of Timekeepers can be found by scrolling down the bottom of the page, and then scrolling down in a smaller "recently updated" box. The coming soon page has no mention of part 2, and even the dedicated page for the game itself makes no mention of the missed deadline of April.

I think there's a significant chance we won't see the second part of this game released. I think someone from the publisher will decide there's no point putting more money down the drain and close the project. From a legal point of view, I'm not sure what this would mean for people who have bought the game. People paid full price for a game with the understanding that the full product will be delivered. If that no longer happens, are these people entitled to some kind of refund? I don't know if there were pre-orders for this game, but what would be the situation for a pre-order that was paid for before they split the release into two parts, with no delivery of the second part?

What is interesting is the Slitherine website has started calling parts 1 and 2 part of "season 1". I think their Hail Mary is going to be releasing another small segment of the game as part 2 with the hope of charging more money for the rest of the game labelled as season 2. A far cry from their original intention of releasing one complete game. If that's what they are doing, good luck to them, they will need it.

In conclusion, did I enjoy the game? I actually did. I think I'm an edge case because I have a deep love for both Commandos and Stargate. I'm one of those people who finished all of Commandos and then found fan made levels to keep playing. I also have a large collection of Stargate DVDs, books, magazines, etc. Overall I think this game fell flat for its intended audience, which was a small audience to aim for. I only recommend this game if it becomes dirt cheap and they fix the game breaking bugs.