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