Sunday, June 16, 2013

GSH Story/World suggestions

I am trying to decide on a game setting and story direction for my turn-based tactical prototype, "GSH".
Since I believe that game mechanics and game world should mutually support each other,  this decision will impact some mechanics and design decisions.

Basic World: in all versions, game world will be at cyberpunk level of technologies. Cyberware limbs, remote-controlled drones, hacking and cloaking devices, etc.
Differences between versions include social structure and existence of infected/mutants.

1. Infected/Zombie version.
A cyberpunk megapolis gets hit with unidentified epidemic. Those who contacted the disease die, and with few survivors becoming insane, aggressive species - the Infected.
In attempt to contain the spread of epidemic, government and corporations cut off infected districts, creating the Infected Zone.
Player is controlling a group of ‘good guys’, trapped inside the Zone. These guys are trying to survive the chaos and restore order. Early on, they gain access to a scientific outpost, which they begin to use as HQ and base of operations.
They scavenge for tech/resources and engage in combat with mutated humans and roaming gangs of looters. As the game progresses, good guys learn of a greater threat and the source of trouble - a corporation facility that is behind the catastrophe. Now the facility is protected by soldier/monster hybrids.
Being good guys, they launch an all-out attack on the facility and win the game.

2. Survivors within no-man’s land version.
Part of the city is walled off (probably due to some epidemic), forming Abandoned City. Player is controlling a group of survivors trapped inside. Their goal is to force their way through military blockade, and to do this they need to scavenge for tech/resources, fighting other groups that have similar plan in mind.

3. Scavengers in no-man’s land version.
Player is controlling a group of scavengers. They earn for living by scavenging abandoned facilities outside of city, searching for tech and rare equipment, fighting other groups of scavengers. Their goal is to find the rumored vault of technologies.

4. Cyberpunk mercenary version.
Player is controlling a mercenary company. They earn for living by accepting contracts and performing covert operations in the ongoing war between major corporations. Game goal is becoming powerful and discovering the rumored “God Tech” (the main reason of corporate wars, a tech granting infinite power), though the game is sort of infinite.

Please help me pick the right one for this game :)
I'd appreciate any feedback or suggestions, too.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Grendore's Art for sale

I am selling art from my previous, unfinished project (Grendore).
The pack consists of medieval/steampunk props, suitable for third-person RPG (like Gothic or Witcher) or an isometric-camera game. Everything was made mainly for UDK (Unreal Development Kit), to make best use of its material editor, but shouldn't be a problem converting assets to Unity or custom engine.
This is a sample to show how it looks in my UDK scene:

Another picture here. Naturally, all of these assets are ready for use in daylight as well.
And below are screenshots taken directly from 3ds max, using PrintScreen. No shaders, and specular/normal maps (exist for all assets) are not displayed.


Bonus content (all UDK):
Machinery animation shader (animates machinery mesh via its vertex color).
Water shader (shader for water and shader for leaking water).
Ground shader (blend several textures via vertex color).
And probably some minor stuff I've forgot about ;)

For future discussion please contact me via Skype: merc-ai, or write to mercenaryai(at)
P.S.  I am also open for hire as 3D artist later this year.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Abandoned personal projects, 3/3 : Grendore

Important Note: Some names were left out. There was no disagreement with anyone involved, even if tone of this post might suggest otherwise. It's the nature of topic (demise of a personal project) that sets the upset tone of this blog post.

 The biggest attempt at making a game started in January of 2012. This time there was with minimum planning and pre-production involved, just art prototyping from day 1. For first three months of development, I didn't even have a clear picture of what sort of gameplay it will have. Only project's working name - Grendore - and a medieval setting were defined. But working on the art side was something I'm good at, so it was fun and whole deal was moving forward.
First public shot, with no water shader and with Gothic-like camera view
As the art side was getting better with each weekend, game design started to come together itself. It would be a stealth game with short play session and heavy use of procedural (randomized) content. Many elements of design were appearing from existing limits: types of games I understand and enjoy (stealth games, roguelikes etc) and what sort of development resources were available.

Teaming up
At some point in late April 2012, I had a decent visual presentation to showcase my skills, so it was time to look for team. The priority was on finding skilled and dedicated programmer, which is usually very hard in UDK community. I made a relevant post on UDK forum in "Looking For Talent" section, but didn't expect much interest. Within few days, several programmers of varied skill and rep got in touch. But a real shocker was when I was offered help from one of UDK's finest programmers. It was the guy everyone heard of and respected, and generally a very serious person.
There was absolutely no way I could match his hourly rate, so we agreed on a royalty-based payment model. The development of playable started and things seemed to come together. ..But it didn't work out.

The slow drag

Because royalty project had a relatively low priority on Programmer's schedule, updates were very rare. Sometimes weeks passed without anything being added on code side, then a weekend rush would add a bunch of features, and then it'd drag for weeks again. Even if a person is extremely skilled, there's a limit on how much can be done in 4-8 hours a week. Oh, it certainly did not help that I tried to experiment with different gameplay ideas instead of nailing down whole design down to details. You probably know how programmers react to change requests or lack of details ;)
More than once I have considered breaking up and looking for new programmer. But the momentum of development was long lost. It didn't help that at any moment I was nearly broke and a chunk of royalty already promised to current programmer. And if one of best existing Unrealscript programmers couldn't help, then who would?

The gameplay prototype didn't go far.

At least art side was getting better. Various   shaders, an update of art style/setting (with steampunk/magitech, similar to original Thief games) and many props were made. Outside of internet, a verbal agreement was reached with a very talented character artist who was interested in helping out later. Other interested people offered help in areas such as vfx, sound and even scenario. Arrangements were ready, but all on condition that I would present a playable prototype first.

[Redacted Game Name]
One thing that definitely impacted fate of Grendore was the project mr.Programmer was crunching on as his day job. It was a high-quality game (unfortunately, I can't name it), and its development and success set the bar even higher, and there was no fucking way that a simple indie guy like me could make a decent counter-offer that would motivate mr.Programmer enough. We both knew it, but didn't discuss it for a while.

Coup De GrĂ¢ce
I had to spend October/November/December in a series of day-job crunches myself, so Grendore just sat there, mostly unattended. In December I was making arrangements to go full indie again, and it was a good opportunity to look back at entire year of development, read DevLog (where all progress for every day/week was noted) and contemplate. We had a talk with mr.Programmer and mutually agreed to part ways. I got to keep existing code base and royalty piece was freed up, but by that point I was really tired of Grendore, so finally allowed the attention to drift to some other game ideas. Grendore got simply shelved.

> You spent a whole year working on project at evenings and weekends, and it's all down a fucking drain [+500 EXP, you gain a new level]

What went right:
  1. Come prepared. Everyone has game ideas, but you will be able to attract much more (and more skilled) people to the team if you back your ideas with a vertical slice, gameplay prototype, or at least a sample of art (if you're artist). This is obvious, but compared to Nebo and Arid, having that early art really made difference.
  2. Vary tasks. Try to develop things in balance. For example, switch between game design and programming (or art). For every huge task you finish, do few small ones. For every boring one, do a fun one. It will help with morale and reduce risk of burning out in the long run. Without this trick, doubt I would be able to work on a single game for an entire year.
  3. Stay healthy, know when to rest. This is another common indie advice that is well worth following. With physical exercises and a designated holiday (Sunday = no work), I was able to work 80-hours weeks and feel good about it.
  4. Go for unsaturated markets and interesting ideas. This is a guess, since Grendore didn't get released to test it out, but I'm willing to bet that aiming for a niche market (or creating one yourself) is the way to go for a small PC-oriented indie. Besides, regardless of your project's finished status and financial success, did you really went indie to make a game about damn zombies?
  5. Share your progress. Displaying work-in-progress stuff from Grendore allowed me to showcase the skillset, build a network of contacts and resulted in several well-paid work offers down the line. And as far as I know, no one even stole the game idea!

What went wrong:
  1. People and motivation. With proper approach, you can get a talented individual (or several) to collaborate with your project on royalty basis. But that's the easy part, the hard part is keeping them motivated and productive. I'm unable to offer any insight on this challenge. My personal solution (which I employ in current game project) was to learn programming myself. :)
  2. Development Momentum. It is important to keep the development going. Adding new stuff, even if it's small features or props, but at regular intervals. Daily, or at least every other day. Because of day-job crunching, development momentum for Grendore's art/design was lost several times for up to 2 weeks at a time. This really impacted the efficiency of work after the gap. I assume that programming would be more efficient as well had we been able to keep the momentum going.
  3. Don't mix iterative development and uncertainty. It's NOT iterative development if you have no clue what to do next and try all things possible. Experimenting to find best gameplay mechanics etc is fine, but this should be done before production starts. If you can't do this yourself (due to lack of skills), then either invest into part-time programmer, or get a similar middleware and learn some programming - it's not that hard and takes only few months. If you skip this phase, then during development time will be spent reworking design (and possibly scrapping content!). It's painful, and if it involves scrapping content made by other people, it's a recipe for trouble in the (not paid for this yet) team.
  4. Rats. Should've added some rats to the game.

Alright, that's a fucking Great Wall of text. Next post will describe post-Grendore adventures, including development of multiple prototypes in UDK and learning Unrealscript. I'll write about it sometimes later when fingers stop bleeding. Bye!

P.S Oh yeah, and all the art made for Grendore? I would love to sell it on Unity store, but there's no such thing in UDK. So it just stays unused, waiting for project's revival or a wealthy buyer. Contact me if you're interested in shitload of medieval/steampunk assets for UDK!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Abandoned personal projects, 2/3 : Arid

Shortly after cancelling development of Nebo, I made another try at making a game, based on previously spawned ideas of open world, with weird landscapes inhabited by strange creatures.

At that time I was also very interested in tribal motives - the way real tribes lived, how they shared knowledge, and the special respectful treatment of world around them that is mostly lost to modern people. In games, I found additional influence in Populous, From Dust (great lore/beliefs system) and Morrowind.
And this is how development of Arid started.

A lot of pre-production went into further thematic research, experimenting with lore and gameplay mechanics that would fit this world. I really wanted a setting where living creatures aren't just a number of exp/loot to gather, but are part of ecosystem of the world. Entire documents detailed Arid's world story, customs and beliefs of the tribe, their understanding of ecosystem and nature.
Over a month was spend making art: props for village of the tribe, complex UDK materials for vast sand landscape, procedurally-detailed rocks, a day-night cycle in matinee. I even spend a week and made a very complex sky material that supported full day/night and basic weather changes - ironically it was done just a month before similar material was released by Epic games for everyone to use.

A tribal village was built into mountains, and even though it lacked details props and polish, many minutes were spent joyfully hopping to roofs of nearby buildings.

Having learned some lessons from previous project, I tried to keep the scope as small as possible. Amount of animation in game would be close to minimum, which was planned to be achieved using creature design. Rock-like creatures that move using jumps, sand turtle-sharks that mostly stay hidden, sky medusa creatures and so on.

But even if separate tasks seemed simple (hint: they were not), combined they blew the scope of project into space. Looking back, this idea was even more ambitious and crazy than any I ever had before or after. Even after multiple feature cuts, it was still an unreachable goal for me at the time.

Several months into on/off development, I decided to stop the work on Arid. Reasons were simple:
1) Further crippling of scope would cause Arid to lose the feel that made it worth making.
2) I overestimated my level of indie-readiness as an artist, and paid the price. Development of art side has revealed weaknesses in art skills, and further improving in these areas was critical to my survival and financial well-being.
3) I ran out of money. Full-time indie life, yay. Luckily I got several offers for senior artist positions in city companies, so I went back to company work, shelving the idea of indie life for a year more.

What went right:
  1. Going for a game genre that wasn't chasing latest trends proved to be fun and rewarding.
  2. Setting up art pipelines in UDK provided good tech-artist experience, this resulted in good start for next project and a bunch of freelance offers down the line.

 What went wrong:
  1. Estimation. With existence of UDK, trying to make an open world that entire studios spend years developing was stupid (but it is doable). The real problem was ignoring all the small tasks and areas. Programming, vfx, sound and so on. Making Arid solo with original scope and expected quality would take many years. This also involves estimating own strength at different areas of gamedev.
  2. Full-time indie life. As it turned out, it is usually a stupid, dangerous idea to become full-time indie early on. From personal experience I would advice to have secured a financial support (a part-time job, usually) instead, and only going "all in" when your project has clear signs of success.

One day I hope to get enough resources to go back and make Arid properly :)
Next time, I'll write about the (rather awesome) final project (Grendore), benefits of early art and collaboration with other indies.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Container House

This weekend I've made a container house for EverSky:Hope. This is the sort of mobile house structure that would be used on military bases, research installations and construction sites. This sort of container houses will form the basis of game city, with makeshift housing built around them by less fortunate people.

That's it for this week!

Thursday, February 14, 2013


This month I've started work as 3D artist on project EverSky:Hope.
For now we are doing some assets and mood scenes to find the best visual style, to get a unique blend of junk world with high-tech. There are many sources of inspiration, of course, but usually they depict crapsack world, a really dirty shithole (hello, Pandora and Container City!). We are trying to make a world that doesn't feel like that and is more like a place being (re)built, with elements of industrial zone and construction site.
But that is the plan, for now I had a humble start with some meshes.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Abandoned personal projects, 1/3 : Nebo.

Before writing about any of current projects I participate in, it made sense to write a little about several personal projects I have tried developing in the past, only to abandon the development weeks or months later.

There were many that never got past idea stage. Mostly consisting of "it would be cool if A and B games were mixed" or "Like X, but with Y". But three projects actually went past that stage: Nebo, Arid, Grendore.

Nebo was the earliest attempt, a 2.5D side-scrolling puzzle platformer to be made in UDK. It was to be a story about boy who awakes on a table in a Dystopian high-tech laboratory, and then tries to escape it. The boy is drugged, so he falls in and out of reality, and over the course of game it all goes weirder. Another of key ideas was.. Do you know these moments where you dream about getting up and going to work, only to find out you were asleep all the time? Well, this, multiplied by amount of levels and with increasing scale of weirdness and out-of-this-worldness.

It was planned to be a dark and moody game, with obvious themes of escapism and inability to fully escape real world. Additionally, it looked into how our brain creates dreams based on what we put into it before going to sleep :)
Visually the laboratory was high-tech but dark and depressing, abandoned. Some dream elements would reinforce it by being horror representations of neutral elements.
Contrasting it would be later dream sections of levels, open and bright, without low ceilings and with weird sun shining in the sky. Even the game name, Nebo, means "Sky" in Russian.

The project clicked really well with my permanently depressed mood of that time period. Additionally, the blending of real world and dream sequences presented a set of interesting visual challenges for 3D and tech artist in me. So I did research on the theme, art style, competition in genre, puzzles and mechanics.

The project development abruptly came to halt after month of pre-production, when I realized 2 things:
  • I don't really like puzzle games. I did not enjoy playing them for research, let alone making one.
  • I could not do animation, nor coding. Art alone would not be enough for that game. This lack of resources / expertise will become a recurring problem in every game I come up with.
And so, the Nebo project was depressingly shelved.
Looking back now, I certainly could do big chunk of project now. I still lack interest and understanding in puzzles and related game design challenges, however, and the mood is just too depressing and dark to "live" within this theme during all course of development.

Next time, I'll write about much more bright, unusual and interesting project ;)