COMING Q2 2018
So they tell me you want to be a Salvo. Sure about that? You know, being a Salvo you travel across the universe to find spots of potential right? That’s months of traveling between sectors. Hard labor. Dangerous. Once you’re there you’re hopping out into absolute nothingness drifting from asteroid to asteroid, from salvage to salvage…and sometimes, sometimes you’ll need to fight for what’s yours. Never underestimate the usefulness of a well aimed Beacon.
As contract galactic Salvagers for SalvaCo, an intergalactic mining corporation, you must swiftly gather as many of the resources SalvaCo requests as possible. The period to acquire the assets is short and competitive. Contractors for SalvaCo have been known to clash against each other and even fight for the bounty that is ripe for the picking in the zero gravity deep space salvage zones. The race is on to earn fortunes and glory amongst the infinite amounts of resource rich asteroids lining the galaxies.
Mass Driver, Op Corps, Demo Unit or M.O.D. Units if you are a Crew. Each gets the job done with their unique skills and tools. To be successful you’ll have to match your strategy and Class.
Generalist Class that is commonly contracted by SalvaCo. The Mass Driver is equipped to bring in large masses of material at once. The Mass Driver has higher Energy but longer recovery on Shield and Energy.
Primary Tool: Pulsator Beacon Spike
A larger version of the normal Beacon that once deployed set off, an EMP to wipe any hostile Beacons off of the target asteroid and sends the target back to the Anchor at a fast rate.
Technical class that normally works with transport of assets. The Operator is equipped with advance technology and the transport of salvage at a quick pace. The Op Corps has more Energy but less Shield.
Primary Tool: Graviton Vortex Deployer
The Op Corps’ gadget. On deployment it activates a gravitational vortex that sucks in small asteroids and compacts them into a larger asteroid for convenience instead of transporting several smaller loads.
Salvager’s explosives and demolition experts. Demo Unit heaviest Class that uses heavy armor and tools that cause asteroids to deconstruct and explode. Demolition has high Shield but low movement and Jetpack speed.
Primary Tool: Sonic Resonator Drill
The Demolition’s gadget. Once deployed onto an asteroid the platform sends a resonating drill into the asteroid that uses frequency to cause the asteroid to crack and fall apart sorting the asteroid’s material into more manageable chunks.
If the team during a multiplayer match utilizes each class they will receive bonuses for working together. Always having one member of each class in a game is highly recommended.
Primary Tools: Each Class represented on a Team will wield their respective Primary Tools.
Game Design – Jeremy Drudy, Game Designer
The best thing about being a game designer is the fact that it’s like when we were kids and everyone just sat and used their imaginations to think of exciting adventures as knights or flying around in spaceships. As a Game Designer, I need to channel my inner child to find neat ideas and to see if my concept is exciting and entertaining. As a kid, I loved coming up with cool ideas and adventures my favorite toys would go on and before I knew it, I had a composition book filled with drawings of my own characters and props. I think that is why I love doing game development so much, because I still have the imagination my kid self had and I now have the skills to take a simple drawing and turn it into something extraordinary.
Many people don’t understand or appreciate how much work is put into the development of a video game. So many people think that game designers are paid to play games all day, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Every item and component must be created by someone, each asteroid or piece of scrap metal and the function of a futuristic tool is time put into the dev process. Video games have overtaken movies and TV in many ways due to the amount of content and time that can be spent playing and enjoying them. In the future, I believe video games will be the ultimate form of entertainment media as technology is constantly improving. It is what makes my career so exciting.
Developing Salvo has been fantastic because we conjured up such a different type of gameplay than I have experienced in my 27 years as a hardcore gamer. The zero gravity environment is perfect for great moments of action and in Salvo’s case, a place where all kinds of wacky events can happen. I really think this game is going to be fun because of the humor and just the unique circumstances that can transpire with the type of randomized environments we have. An asteroid can blow up and sling another asteroid into the player and splatter them like a fly.
In my opinion, the greatest tool that a good game designer needs is something to catch the constant ideas in writing, in my case Google Drive with Google Docs due to its convenience. Being able to access the necessary documents on the fly via computer, tablet or phone is awesome for when I may have a sudden great idea that I need to document before it slips away. The first cycle of the base concept for me is sitting in front of an empty document and just writing for an hour or so until a high concept emerges as the foundation for the game design document. The game doc is constantly changing and evolving. The game doc is extremely important so that the rest of my team can understand what I have in my mind. Overall my workload consists of 70% Game Design, 20% Narrative Writing and 10% 3D Modeling and texturing. Having multiple hats to wear is good when working with such a small team.
Most of my work is done in a hand full of programs. Unity is our game engine, so my head is constantly buried within it to test my design ideas and to refine every segment of the game that I can. Adobe Photoshop is a tool that I love to use due to its variety of functions. I can draw up levels in multiple layers, edit textures for a model or even mock up a user interface window. When I do put on the modeling hat, I prefer ZBrush and Blender to create assets for the game for the level and Substance Painter for creating the textures.
The greatest part of being on a small team is being able to look over my shoulder and talk to the environment, programming and animation teams in real time without needing to look for someone that may be in another office on the other side of the building. The entire team within one office makes developing simpler and team communication easy. Input from the rest of the team is crucial so that ideas can be refined and possible problems can be discovered in the game design that I may miss. One of the biggest struggles with creative individuals; including myself, is dealing with all the concepts and ideas that arise. Ambition is key as a designer, but a designer must also be careful to not let ambition drive the game. The game must stay in scope or before you know it, the entire game has run off the rails and the project falls behind. An idea must always be ready to be saved in the backlog or just cut to ensure the core features of the game are absolutely solid.
Salvo is a different game from any that I have seen and making it possible is hard work but incredibly fun. Knowing that my designs, level concepts, and my creative writing will be the skeleton of a game that thousands of players will be playing is the most exciting thought ever and it builds a sense of accomplishment that is extremely hard to find anywhere else.
Environment Modeling for Salvo – Athen Jakusz, Environment Modeler
The ability to create objects; man-made or natural, structures, civilizations and worlds from simple polygons has always been a primary factor in my love of environmental art. Whether it be a destroyed intergalactic cargo ship laying dormant in space or sea of tiny explosive asteroids, knowing that the environments I help create will be explored, experienced, and enjoyed by those who play our games stays within my mind with the creation of each asset.
Having utilized Digital Iris’ pipeline through the years, software tools drive my abilities further and the modern age has given me all I need to pursue any 3D challenge. Blender, ZBrush, Substance Painter, Photoshop, and Unity have been some of my most trusted resources for making video game assets.
Constructing an asset generally begins with a malleable concept, first derived from the base world we are looking to create. “Should these crates be made of wood, plastic, or metal able to resist the vacuum of space?” is a question that will usually arise at the start of the project. From the base I work through finer details, aiming to incorporate how the asset will function in the level. Asking, “will this asset hold a role in game-play, or will it just be for aesthetics? Will I need to shoot my gravitational augmenting beacon to the surface of this object?” will then give me an idea of how many polygons to allow in a final model and size of map resolution.
The starting step of an asset is my favorite part. Mimicking clay, the initial process of molding millions of virtual polygonal faces that make up a 3D model is truly reminiscent of a form of art which has been with humanity since the start; sculpting. After chiseling out each detail, the virtual sculpt will need to be formatted for the game engine. To do this, I will overlay hundreds of polygons over the original sculpt that consists of millions of polygons. Far too many fo ruse in a game engine. This overlay creates a lower resolution base silhouette which works like a shell. The sculpt’s detail will be retained, and applied through various 2D images (called maps) after the shell (defined as the low-resolution model) is unfolded/ skinned/ clipped apart (much like breaking down a cardboard box, or deconstructing a shirt at the seams to bits of cloth).
From here, the detail of the sculpt is baked onto the low-resolution model’s corresponding 2D space, creating the mapped images which will be applied to the low-resolution model within the game engine. In summary, I am capturing the information of the higher resolution sculpt without using the millions of faces needed to create the detail and translating this information onto a low-resolution model through connected maps that fake the level of detail.
Once the faked faces, contours, and crevices appear adequately on the low-resolution model, a material along with a color map is created and painted for the asset. This allows for the model to appear to be derived from its intended consistency; whether that be rock, ice, or highly valuable ore sought after by the intergalactic markets which can only be obtained in, of course, the most hazardous of conditions.
Repeating this process, again and again brings an incredible feeling of accomplishment. Seeing an environment take shape through the means of technical and artistic ability, to see a world built piece by piece through Digital Iris’ pool of creativity brings me joy. So as you, an intergalactic Salvager for SalvaCo, stream through the stars: appreciate not only your anchors, which are the pinnacle of cosmic space resource salvaging; but also appreciate the rocks and metal bits that float around in abundance as they also have an origin and place within the environment.
Let the adventure begin!
Scope and Planning – Wouldn’t It Be Cool If…
Indie Dev is as hard as people say…and we love it. More specifically, we are passionate about it. Long hours and strapped for resources we forge ahead day and night. Not just on development but mounds of paperwork, timelines and checklists to complete in order to publish on each platform, applying for age ratings, generating media assets that the platforms and others will judge our game’s worthiness by and more. Then there’s social media and marketing, paying bills so our lights stay on and making sure there’s plenty of coffee to fuel the team. That’s just the business and marketing end. We are fortunate to have a well-rounded team with business, marketing and development bases covered.
Ultimately our goal is to make a fun, challenging and rewarding gaming experience for our players. No matter how clear we are about the scope and core features of the game, in this case Salvo. We inevitably have new ideas. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “What do you think of…” are heard around the office and the possibility of scope-creep moves in. Realistically there is no way to pre-think every useful feature and some of those in-the-moment ideas should have been included in the first place or are fresh and would positively impact game play.
With that in mind we are undergoing a project status check in the studio right now. This is pretty normal and healthy but can seem counter intuitive. With looming milestones, deadlines and launch dates why would we stop development to refactor and align our project? Because it makes sense. Anyone who has worked on a long, intense project has experienced the snowball effect of small decisions along the way. Sure, progress is being made but updates may not be integrated as thoughtfully as they could be and in the worst cases they may be shoehorned in which can create a Frankenstein. Productivity can also take a hit as the team gets out of sync from a delay in one area while another moves forward.
We run an agile shop, scrumming out work effort, sprint based planning, development and review cycles etc. which helps us keep on track. We have a well detailed Game Design Document and all the supporting documentation. But this time we are pausing for a couple of weeks to acknowledge that our little game idea is growing and has the potential to be great. Possibly even franchise level. We will make sure we are as efficient as possible moving forward and we want to make smart decisions about what it will take to make Salvo to be everything it can be.
We are taking an inventory of every object, screen, feature and mechanic needed. Looking at progress across the board, identifying and estimating effort on new scope, validating requirements and users stories then producing an updated roadmap.
We are also assessing the tools we are using. Primarily our workflow management tool. We have identified that a there may be a better solution to move work through the studio than the one we are using and that we are also using a number of other diverse tools including Discord, G+ and Google Drive that spread out our production footprint in a less efficient way. We are looking at JIRA as an intermediary Sprint, Task and Issue based production solution. Long term we are interested in a game focused workflow system like Hacknplan which is an entire production workflow system for game studios that integrates planning, proofing, kanban, scheduling, documentation and project measurement under one “roof”. Hacknplan may be too big of a migration to take on mid project but is definitely an option after launch as we prepare to get into our next project.
While we run through this exercise a few things will keep moving at a full clip. Modeling, art concept design, in game UI screens and cinematic creation will continue and meet development “on the other side” in a few weeks.
We are an indie studio working on our first major game release. An amazing experience and we’re glad we can share with you along the way.
So…we’re off to get real cozy with our game.
-The DI Team
Getting In Character
When a player selects a character to play, customizes it then spends hours, days or even weeks as that character they likely don’t know where the character design came from or how many concepts were passed over to land on that one. We try to meet a number of criteria when designing characters. There are high level basics like male and/or female, mesomorph (heavy set)/endomorph (average)/ectomorph (thin) body types, skin color/ethnicity, and heads. These elements define an affinity model and hopefully within the mix of them the player finds a set that they identify with.
Beyond the basics we look at:
- Extended races. Are there aliens, hybrid humans, cyborg etc.?
- What are the function and capabilities of each individually and within a team?
- Are their clothes or suits particular to a company or job?
- Are they well funded like Salvos for Salva Co. or under funded scavengers (Renegade Co.)?
So what does that mean for design? It means that at minimum we are going to run multiple concepts for each male and female and company character. It is not unusual to create and throw out a half-dozen concepts per character.
Here are a some concepts we passed on:
Why didn’t we accept them? One, aesthetically they were not what we were looking for. Further, the exposed rivets might be an issue in space and a little to old time diving suit looking. Just some of the details that we didn’t feel would be functional enough.
Here are some accepted concepts:
When we look at the character in game play we need to think about how the design accommodates or inhibits necessary motion and activities for the different classes. Since Salvo is set in space with individual jet pack flight the suits need to accommodate the packs as well as the tools they might be using.
Salvo Gauntlet and Large Jet Pack Style 1
When we initially designed the game we had planned for each of the three suit types to apply to a single Class.
So, a Miner would have a specific suit, Operator and Demolitionist their styles. But when we looked through our player “glasses” we realized that we were likely limiting player choices and character designs. So, we extracted the suit styles from the Classes themselves in order to allow the broadest flexibility to players in selecting their character. So now a Miner, Operator or Demolitionist can have any of the suit types and we think that will work great.
Salvo Modeling and Lots of White Box Testing
The guys are writing code and testing iteratively every day now doing “white box” testing. That’s a version with stand-ins for most objects and no texturing. This allows development to play test with focus with minimal distraction of textures, effects and odd lighting. We’re looking at the physics and core play mechanics. The characters move in space with Jet Packs and need to maneuver realistically but also be nimble and able to shoot accurately. It’s a balance and we’re going to get it right.
Meanwhile our three modelers are working on hi-resolution character sculpts, asteroids, space junk and in-game locations. A couple of sprints from now we will be on to environments and animation for the cinematics.