Show and Tell
For those interested in behind the scenes indie development, this article is for you. It’s time for a brief update on our progress on Project Genesis to date!
There have been a series of priorities for the Project Genesis team the past month (it’s been a little over a month since our last report, actually):
- Create a build to demo “in the field” at the Game Developers Conference
- Create and polish additional map exteriors as well as capital ship interiors
- Expand and refine the competitive game mode objectives
- Target a “playtest ready” build
The last two upgrades serve a dual function — not only is the team driving to hit their internal milestones but we’re using this progress to battle-test gameplay and build stability in a private playtest we scheduled for Friday, April the 19th, 2019.
So if you’ve made it this far, and are interested in the details of our progress, continue reading on! Otherwise, Twitter is a great place to visit if you’re interested in catching real-time reports delivered in bite-sized morsels.
Game Developers Conference
Whether you are a big publisher, indie studio, or individual developer, the Game Developers Conference is a hallmark event.
Not only is GDC a superb place to meet old friends and make new ones, but the show itself offers an expo to see the latest games in production. It also provides an extended list of tracks, sessions, and round tables for every discipline in game development. From art to design to engineering…there is something for everyone.
GDC is also a great place to perform business development, so the team worked very hard to get a functional build ready to present to partners, publishers, and friends and colleagues.
You can check out more details on the extended trip by checking out this handy Imgur post.
In parallel, the team has also been working to expand the richness of the environments — both exterior maps and interior capital ship environments. If you’ve been following along, almost all of our gameplay footage so far has taken place on the mega asteroid map. We decided to spice things up a bit and add Encelladus II (ice planet with the ominous mega-structure orbiting unnaturally in the sky) and the asteroid field to the map rotation. At some point in the future, we’ll provide the option of selecting which maps are preferred to play, but for now, the maps rotate through a lineup which is sufficient for our testing purposes. In fact, this simple addition has really has added a lot to the variety of the experience.
Our Art Director, Mark Nicolino took a pass at the Asteroid Field map to create a more voluminous atmosphere. He refined lighting, adjusted ship placement and calibrated the colors to give the map a distinct look.
The combination of these improvements have made it easier to make out ships against the background of deep space and the asteroids. This is important as we continue to iterate on play-balance.
There is also an interesting but subtle perceptual effect when this map is played in rotation with the other maps. Because there is no hard-deck or terrain floor like you’ll find in the other maps, there is a greater sense of altitude — or a precarious feeling of being on the edge of falling. Grizzled fighter pilots will probably feel right at home in an environment like this one.
A similar treatment was performed for polishing up the cinenamtic version of the Enceladus II ice map. New atmosphere, weather effects, the addition of terraforming models, and asset adjustments all were updated to fit gameplay designs and improve the visual composition.
You may have seen this map before in some of our trailers and social media content, but the original terrain was really just a giant mesh imported from Maya (Mark’s 3D modeling tool). Unreal has a pretty solid terrain generator so Mark took several passes to update and optimize the map for gameplay (you can get away with inefficiencies in cinematics, like hi-poly counts and over-sized textures/materials — but in-game this kind of computational freight really hampers performance). He also added some additional weathering to the industrial terraformers to make them look like they’ve been in action for a while in an inhospitable low-temp landscape.
Game Mode: Objectives
What goes into creating a more robust and evolved competitive game mode? In our case we expanded the number of objectives and objective types. There are now a total of 5 objectives to complete for your team:
- Lower the opponent’s capital ship exterior shields
- Hack Bridge security
- Download the capital ship A.I. module (the ship’s brain!)
- Hack Warp Core security
- Detonate Warp Core consoles
These are currently our first pass just to expand the technological feature set and to start getting a feel for multi-variant objectives in our game. There will be many adjustments to this system over time. Game-mode design and implementation is an especially fluid part of game development. In our case, because we are mashing up two genre’s in a relatively unique way, the amount of iteration here will be in overdrive for a while. Since Project Genesis doesn’t occupy an established genre, there are less accepted models draw from, so we have to discover these rules as we go. There is some incredible work by Jean Piaget (expect lots of references to this genius in the future) on the subject.
Even though this is a first pass, we’re already discovering a kind of momentum-gameplay developing from this expanded set of objectives.
Breach and Board 1.0
For the purposes of our initial breach-and-board mechanic, we used the “E” button as a place-holder activate/use key once you brought your D-PARC class ship up to the side of your opponent’s capital class ship. This mechanic needed an upgrade.
Actually, this wasn’t just an upgrade — we needed to add a whole new system.
Now, players must target breachable locations on their opponent’s capital ship before launching an assault pod. Once they have a breach site that is targetable, they they will be given a green-for-go indicator-reticle in their HUD. They may now initiate the assault pod launch to send their avatar on an infiltration mission. This can be a dangerous and risky undertaking as the assault pod can be easily picked off by skillful opponents in mid flight.
“We want players to regularly consider tradeoffs and consequnces for key points like these in gameplay.”
Performing a breach-and-board maneuver is a really important part of Project Genesis. It is the pivotal point at which the expansive 3rd person space combat mode transitions the player into the on-ship claustrophobic first person shooter mode. We felt like the experience should be visceral while at the same time making the player feeling exposed as they launch their avatar in a relatively vulnerable assault pod. We want players to regularly consider tradeoffs and consequnces for key points like these in gameplay.
Official Playtest Number One
It might seem like most of the work outlined above was performed to ensure we showed great at GDC, and that is true. However, it was almost more important to implement these features to ensure our private playtest would be a smashing success. We needed to get the objective system in, wire up the breach and board system, update the maps, improve the game’s netcode, and implement a number of infrastructure features on the back-end so that we could run the game through its paces with our community.
For our first official playtest we had an all day session and rotated through groups of up to 16 playtesters. We worked hard to develop a process for how we coordinate the playtesters and playtest sessions themselves.
When running a playtest there are numerous update emails, tons of onboarding information, and lots of troubleshooting for inevitable problems. However, we had a few practice runs with community Ambassadors before to test our game infrastructure (Steam delivery, AWS servers, build systems).
These kinds of sessions help on a surface level to facilitate community engagement, but their real purpose is two fold:
- Provide critical testing on core features and gameplay to find show stopping bugs
- Assess the skills of our candidate Test Pilots who will be getting increasing opportunities to go “hands-on” with our private builds.
These interlinked purposes will allow us to provide an unprecedented opportunity for our community members play an active part in how we build Project Genesis.
Some Playtest Results
Game: Project Genesis Pre Alpha v0.2019
Total Number of Tester Confirmations: 64 Total number of active
Playtesters: 50 Bugs Found and Filed: 23
Survey Monkey Forms Completed: 26
Test Cycle Duration: 11am — 9pm PST (4 Test Groups)
Biggest Bug Find: Successfully reproducing the Breachpod Server Crash. We were able to successfully reproduce a tricky bug that has been crashing our Servers.
The turnout was incredible (we only had space for 64 folks for the day’s event and all the spots were filled) and the feedback was superb actionable. We will be triageing bug fixes and feature requests from the playtest and we are looking forward to getting a next build ready for a future playtest.
This session was a very informative experience for the team, and we hope it was a fun time for those who got to play.
Join us in the Conversation
If you got a chance to participate in the very first Project Genesis private playtest, thank you very much! If you weren’t able to make it in this time around, Oscar 8CS is on point to see how we might be able to bring more opportunities for the community to join in the fray — so stay tuned.
As we often say, Project Genesis is a work in progress, so we’re always looking to hear from those of you who think there’s a place for a space combat FPS genre mash up in everyone’s game library. Please jump into our Discord today and give us your thoughts. There are a lot of other topics to provide feedback on — and you might even be enlisted as a Test Pilot if you want to get deeply involved!
About the Author: James Mayo is the Founder and Navigator at 8 Circuit Studios. He’s a self-purported veteran of the games industry — starting his career at Nintendo way back in 1990. You can find him occasionally blabbing about blockchain games on Twitter.
About 8 Circuit Studios: 8 Circuit Studios is a small independent game company made up of game developers and crypto-enthusiasts with big aspirations. They are working hard to develop rich gaming experiences on the Ethereum blockchain and whose vision is to contribute to the metaverse one game at a time. For more on 8 Circuit Studios, be sure to follow them on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, or join the conversation in Discord.