XenoArt: The Two Towers

So Hard for it, Honey

There's something about working your ass off that just feels satisfying.  I recently finished a large chunk of our preliminary animations that we've needed and can finally kick back and work on environment assets for a few days.

Weight-painting the Femme XMSuit onto the third-person rig.

As many of you may not know, I've always been enthralled with environment artwork in video games.  Landscapes, particularly alien landscapes, intrigue me more than any other piece of art in any game, and I've recently found myself barreling toward that route faster and faster as the months progress.  Granted, I am not good at it, at least not yet, but I hope to someday become "good" after failing at it over and over again.  I can kind of see myself getting better with each new environment asset I make, put into Xeno's test map, and then tweak.  Ideas are also coming to me easier and easier, and I attribute this accelerating creative speed to both working, and perusing the online concept art portfolios of vastly superior professional artists to myself.  If you're interested, check out artstation.com and conceptartworld.com .  With more effort and time spent studying the work of others, these veritable Gods of visual composition, one becomes more adept at first copying these ideas, and then imagining one's own ideas.

Subterranean flooded cave hallway, complete with hot-gas vent and rippling light reflection on the walls.  One of Xeno's many early in-game concept designs.

I do have to say that I cannot wait until we are able, in whatever way possible, to hire another full-time graphic artist to help me work our magic on the end-run of Xeno's development, and certainly on whatever next game idea we'll have waiting in the wings.  It is both exhilarating and overwhelming to be the only artist on a 3D game of this scope.  Granted, I do have our part-timer Zurek Jerron working on weaponry for us, and he is doing fantastic work.  But he understandably has a life and work of his own that he takes care of in between helping me out with my weapon assets.  If we could afford to have him, or anyone else who knows their way around modeling software, I'd love to be able to hire them.  Perhaps in six-month's time I'll start looking through online art portfolios for realsies and actually go through a hiring process.  But we have to generate an income for Verus first, which, as always, is the big hurdle.

With that said, I've recently had a few days to "myself," post-animation, and have used them to continue brushing up on my modeling and conceptualization abilities.  I've also been using that time to learn more about Unreal Engine 4's material and lighting functionality, and BOY is it great.  As you can see in the above photo there is an invisible "point light" placed on the rocky ceiling of the flooded hallway.  The light itself, the actual asset, has what's called a "Light Function" slot, which is essentially an empty placement for a specialized Material.

The Water_Reflection Light Function material that I've created for the water light in the flooded hallway

The Water_Reflection Light Function material that I've created for the water light in the flooded hallway

As you can see above, I put two water caustic textures (made in GIMP) into Texture Sample nodes, and attached each of them to separate Panner nodes, each with opposing co-ordinates so they overlap one another and look more realistic.  Then I add them together and Voila I have myself a Light Function material that mimics realistic water reflection onto walls.  The Light color itself gives these textures their light, so the fact that they're brown in the original textures makes no difference.

That's pretty much everything for now.  It's past time I get back to work on Xeno.  We're getting a lot done this week, and we can't wait to keep on moving forward!  Wait until you see what we have in store for the environment tweaks this weekend...!

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay tuned for more info on Xeno!

~Anthony

XenoArt

Skyward view of the DropRoom on Aether II, with ancient lighting structures illuminating the surrounding rock

From an artistic standpoint, the work in Xeno is really pushing my boundaries.  I have no background in the arts, which is becoming redundant for me to say, and I find myself constantly testing this boundary by studying concept art more and more.  With each passing week I step further into sites like Artstation.com and ConceptArtWorld.com in order to garner a kind of "metaphysical understanding" of the realms in which I have to move.  The work on these sites is exquisite, and really does aid in my own work and imagining the world and entities which will sit and move and populate Xeno.

At my core I want to be a video game designer, and as it stands I wish to approach this motive from an emotional perspective.  That is, I want to engage the player/s through a firm grip on their imagination.  Personally, that is how I am captivated.  The work of game designers and artists whom have designed games like the Dead Space, Mass Effect, Halo, and Resident Evil series, have riveted me by pulling me into their vibrant worlds full of wonder and detail.  The same has been true of my life studying Astronomy over the past thirty years.

Dead Space 2 Fall to Titan Station, the hollowed-out Saturnian Moon which doubles as both a human mining resource and residential colony.  This game was beautiful and inspiring.

My mother bought me my first telescope when I was in 3rd grade at the age of 9.  I still remember, as clear as yesterday, where I was standing in our backyard when I first looked through the tube and saw the Moon.  It was so close, the face so gibbous and pockmarked with craters and mountains.  I felt as though I could reach out and touch it.  My wonderment was profoundly touched and a lifetime of searching for that "tickle" of the vast-yet-familiar unknown was, at that moment, unlocked forever.  I wish to convey this kind of wonderment to the players of my games.  I do realize that this is a mammoth proposition for a massive endeavor.  It takes a clever and knowledgeable teacher to commit to and successfully perform such a feat, and in many cases more than one teacher (I am lucky to have Michael alongside me in this endeavor).  Not only must one be deeply knowledgeable in the subject matter within which one wishes to focus, but she must also understand the medium through which she wishes to teach.

I can confidently say that I am no longer struggling in this regard.  Every day I become more confident in my strengths, but am also nowhere near proficient enough to be comfortable that what I am doing is yet effective.

I don't know if what I am doing will work.  I can only continue learning and tweaking my work depending upon the reactions of the players.  As of this moment, our first public prototype will be released on May 25th, 2014, and I am hugely excited for this.  We are still completing and finalizing animations for the Femme XMSuit, both First- and Third-person models, as well as the hostile Dead Rover creature, both of which will be seen in the prototype.

The hostile Dead Rover creature, one of many biological forms on Aether II.

As for some teaser info on Xeno, and a major reflection of our desire to touch upon the player's imagination, a large part of the game will be the "Lore" mechanic.  Mike touched on this with his blog post from last week, but to be more candid, the Lore will be deep and integral to Xeno's immersion.  Nearly everything in every planet will be able to be "studied", with a mouse aim and the click of a button, and cataloged in the XMSuit's "Encyclopedia," and accessible as readable information later, or even in-situ.  Everything from a planet's atmospheric chemical composition, to the ecology of hostile and/or neutral biology, to residual energy signatures from a long-extinct alien civilization through which you tread, will be explained to the player (to the best of the narrative's "in-game" knowledge and analysis) and will hopefully leave the player wanting more.

Each and every piece of Lore will also give the player additional Upgrade Credits which can be used to increase the myriad Skills available to the Player's XMSuit.  These added Credits will be very small per piece of Lore, but there is so much Lore to be analyzed that they can quickly add up.  As with everything, we will be examining this Lore->Credit relationship further along the testing phases for the next few months, but we will adhere strictly to the "immersive" principle, which relies on the wonderment of the player's imagination.

Mass Effect 3 "Codex" example, part of our inspiration for the Lore mechanic in Xeno (Copyright: EA, BioWare)

Metroid Prime "Scanning" tech, another inspiration for our Lore mechanic (Copyright: Nintendo)

Metroid Prime "Scanning" tech, another inspiration for our Lore mechanic (Copyright: Nintendo)

That's all I have for you for now.  Check in next week for more juicy tidbits on Xeno, our 2-player Co-Operative FPS-fest!  Thank you for reading!

~Anthony

The Xenoverse

aetherii.jpg

Our current project, Xeno, is set a few hundred years in the future, and takes place in an age of unprecedented galactic exploration. In the game, players will explore other planets and encounter alien life and extinct civilizations. Part of our goal from a lore perspective is to try and imagine what life would be like in such a world, and base it in realism as much as possible. More importantly, we get to take advantage of these imagined technological advancements as a way to explain within the game world itself how normal game mechanics, such as respawning, might be possible.  

Of course, such a radical leap to the future comes fraught with technologies that seem more fantastical than real, but we feel that this also realistic. One can wonder, how would, say, Mozart react to a future time traveler upon hearing his own symphonies being played from a smartphone? Or how he would react when he heard today’s music. The phone would certainly seem like it ran on magic to him.

The rate of progression allows us to take some liberties when creating technologies in Xeno. For instance, any story or game that involves space travel means that faster than light travel is practically a must. The universe is quite a large place, after all, and our own galaxy is 100,000 light years wide. That’d take an awful long time at conventional travel speeds. Even if we traveled at the speed of light in a vacuum, which is about 186,000 miles per second would take way too long. The speed of light also seems to be a hard “speed limit” of our universe. This speed limit seems to be just a property of our universe, but it imposes a creative challenge: how do we cheat the laws of physics and allow for greater speeds?  

A commonly employed method for such travel would be something along the lines of not traveling faster through space, but changing the amount of space one travels through, and this is the basis for our FTL travel as well. The basic premise is, tiny black holes are generated in front of the ship causing it to accelerate, but the black hole is made to dissipate before the ship comes into contact with it. By utilizing the massive gravity of the black hole and the compression of space, the ship continually accelerates to incredible speeds, without the nasty effects of time dilation or the infinite energy requirements of lightspeed. The result is thousands of humans flying around the galaxy, exploring countless planets in a way that evokes a romantic picture of humanity’s next steps of evolution.

xmsuit.jpg

In order to accomplish something like that, powerful energy sources and advanced computers would obviously be necessary. In Xeno, humans have integrated with advanced AI helpers via computer implants to expand their mental faculties many times greater than what a “normal” human would have. Imagine having a computer integrated into your brain, allowing you to store perfectly recallable memories, or to learn any bit of information instantly, thanks to a persistent connection to an intragalactic information network. Think anywhere-accessible internet on steroids here.

These things are a lot of fun to think about, but they really only provide a rich backdrop against which Xeno is cast. Thanks to these advancements, corporations can afford to send only a couple of miners (the players) to a planet to extract valuable resources. The players have resistant bodies that can survive in almost any environment, and thanks to neural network mapping, a player can be regenerated if an unfortunate termination has occurred. So you see, with advanced technology, we can provide in game lore, and therefore in game immersion for all of the normal functionality you see in games, but in a way that we think is very interesting.

All of this imagining has required some research into our physical world, and the laws of physics as well as cosmology. Our real universe really is quite a fascinating place, and serves as a great inspiration to bringing you a hopefully fascinating experience through Xeno, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

-Mike

Absolutely Unreal!

It's been nearly three weeks since I last updated with anything on this dev blog and it's quite about time that I lay down some law.

The main reason, perhaps the only reason, that we haven't updated is because we decided to change our development engine.  Originally we were using Unity 3D.  But it was revealed by both Epic Games and Crytek at GDC '14 in San Francisco that their respective game engines (Unreal Engine 4 and CryEngine) were going to be massively overhauled and massively cheaper, making them both more accessible to the Independent development scene.

Tim Sweeney winning my heart with those Baby Blues.

Tim Sweeney winning my heart with those Baby Blues.

This was a pretty big deal to a few of us when it was announced, and we quickly set to work reviewing the changes of both UE4 and CryEngine. In the end, Epic won our hearts, mainly with tremendously beautiful introductory and tutorial videos which they clearly polished well before their GDC announcement/debut in order to have them ready for release. Probably the one major tipping point for choosing UE4 was the ability for our programmers to code in C++, as well as to use Blueprinting (which is incredibly intuitive). CryEngine lost important points in this regard but is STILL very powerful.  We chose UE4 for these reasons perhaps also because we were already a month into development on Xeno and wanted to make the transition as painless as possible

So anyway, we made the transition which took about two weeks of full-time dedication from Nicholas, Dan (our second-in-command coder to Nicholas), and myself in order to get a handle on just what it is that Unreal Engine 4 can do. And we still definitely have several months of learning ahead of us, because there's a lot that it can do.

We were lucky enough to have gotten our hands on Unity Technology's "Unity" engine over the past year, but decided to wave goodbye to it over the 1500$ price-point per developer. At least 3 of us were required to purchase it (if we chose to go Pro), and the Pro version contains all the bells and whistles that one expects to find in a moderately-high-fidelity visual experience, along with some streamlined tools to incorporate and enhance gameplay mechanics that, frankly, I was expecting to be possible right off-the-bat with Unity. They weren't, and that was disappointing.

Unreal Engine's Registry site.

Unreal Engine's Registry site.

On the flipside, Unreal Engine 4 lowered their price to 20$/month per developer (if you pay the initial 20$ and then cancel your subscription, you still get to use the software), and 5% of earned revenue generated by any finished product that you sell when you're finished. Granted, this could very well be tens of thousands of dollars more than we would have given to Unity Tech. by simply purchasing their product outright, but that's the big problem with the communication/reality between big business and Independent developers, now isn't it? Epic may be big business, but they know exactly how to speak to their relatively "new" audience of Independent developers. They know that the vast majority of us are strapped for cash and they can make even more money (and more loyal users) by catering to our needs. This price point was the huge disappointment with Unity to many of us, and both Epic and CryTek managed to raise the bar by economically lowering it. Now if only major software IPs did the same with other good software like Maya, 3DsMax, Photoshop, ZBrush, etc., then we could actually APPRECIATE the "standard" of decent quality software which is imposed upon us.  But for now I'll keep using GIMP, Blender 2.70, and Sculptris.

About 1/3 of my workflow.  MakeHuman, Sculptris, Blender, GIMP, AutoDesk FBX Converter, Unreal Engine 4

About 1/3 of my workflow.  MakeHuman, Sculptris, Blender, GIMP, AutoDesk FBX Converter, Unreal Engine 4

Anyways, /rant off.

We chose to make the switch, and its proved remarkably positive and powerful.  But the learning curve is still a steep one, if only because we've been working within the confines of Unity for so long, and also due to the sheer breadth of Unreal Engine's capabilities.  A few problems that I initially ran into were major ones, mainly the difficulty of importing separate FBX files from Blender, resizing them, and attaching them to the same general animation and skeletal rig within UE4.  This was unnecessary in Unity, for comparison, because Unity had built-in support for Blender wherein I could merely drag-n-drop a .blend file into the content browser, and VOILA, the animation/rig/mesh was ready for splicing.  Unreal Engine has built-in support for Maya (hence the native FBX requirement).  Transporting .FBX files is a bit different from transporting .OBJ files, as far as the difference between Unity and UE4 are concerned, and so that took a few days of my time to work out all of the kinks in the process and bring myself up-to-speed, which was time wherein 0% new content was being created for Xeno.  So this was the difficulty with the initial transition.  But it's beginning to pay off quickly.

A powerful part of Unreal Engine 4, from an artist's perspective, is the intuitive and visual Materials editing.  You basically have a board of output nodes on a material that you're crafting, and you have complete control over what variables and textures, and combinations thereof, are going to influence those outputs.  Things like "roughness" and "emissive" properties, Normal maps (which can be combined and in differing degrees), and moving textures on a mesh, can all be influenced in countless ways.  This gives the artist A LOT of power, and this was the first immediate thing that I realized upon coming in from Unity.  But with this complexity of output came, of course, the learning curve.  While it is intuitive, it brings into full view my vast ignorance with many of these parameters.  I'm still getting a handle on the majority of them, but I had to spend quite a large amount of time bringing myself up-to-speed with them, and there's still such a long way to go.  It's so deep and powerful that I'm quite positive I will have only touched the surface of the Material editor's capabilities in the next year, and will have an entirely new take on texturing and visualization by the time Xeno is finished.

UE4 Content Browser on left: You can see the "Hallway 1" material selected. If you double-click this...

UE4 Content Browser on left: You can see the "Hallway 1" material selected. If you double-click this...

... it opens the Material Editor, where all the power is held. It's like looking under the hood of a car.  It's visually appealing, and has an awful lot of potential power.

... it opens the Material Editor, where all the power is held. It's like looking under the hood of a car.  It's visually appealing, and has an awful lot of potential power.

Everything in the Content Browser and Scene Outliner are fairly normal and expected, pretty straightforward and very similar to Unity 3D, while quite honestly being even more intuitive than Unity.  A really helpful part of UE4 is the "Modes" box in the top-left, which allows us to drag-n-drop very important and oft-used scene props into our level, like lights, mesh geometry, collider boxes, foliage, post-process boxes, trigger blocks, and a whole lot more.

You can see some of the above-mentioned scene props in the top/left of this pic.  We added and adjusted fog in our Xeno Drop-Room.

You can see some of the above-mentioned scene props in the top/left of this pic.  We added and adjusted fog in our Xeno Drop-Room.

Coding can be done via traditional C++ compiling (I have no idea what I'm talking about), or via visual Blueprinting in exactly the same way as Material editing is handled, with call-boxes containing functions and variables that string together logically.  It's a brilliant and welcome addition to "mainstream" independent development, and something even I can do with a little prodding and some extra time!

This is a "Blueprint" that I "coded" in UE4, that opens and closes a nearby door whenever the player enters and leaves the Trigger Box, respectively.  This was very easy to execute and, as an artist with no technical programming background, almost magical to me.

This is a "Blueprint" that I "coded" in UE4, that opens and closes a nearby door whenever the player enters and leaves the Trigger Box, respectively.  This was very easy to execute and, as an artist with no technical programming background, almost magical to me.

Particle animations are absolutely gorgeous in Unreal Engine 4, and the engine comes with a few of them right off-the-bat to both WOW you, and to help kickstart you into level ambiance.  I still have yet to really learn how they work, as I'm currently knee-deep in playing catch-up with my Xeno character development and level design.

This is a "Blueprint" folder originally set up in the Content Browser and which contains pre-fabricated particle animations.

This is a "Blueprint" folder originally set up in the Content Browser and which contains pre-fabricated particle animations.

This is a Component overview of one of the pre-fabricated Particle Effect blueprints, which is basically a roaring "campfire".  It combines several assets into one, including smoke textures, flame textures, and a looping "crackling fire" sound, and all of it is animated.  I need to learn how to accomplish things like this.  It is absolutely spectacular in real-time.

This is a Component overview of one of the pre-fabricated Particle Effect blueprints, which is basically a roaring "campfire".  It combines several assets into one, including smoke textures, flame textures, and a looping "crackling fire" sound, and all of it is animated.  I need to learn how to accomplish things like this.  It is absolutely spectacular in real-time.

The Engine also allows you to put customizable "text blocks" on assets that are displayable in real-time, and this would be especially useful for things like narrative expression or HUD elements in an FPS (which is precisely what we'd use it for).  All of this and more are very easy to implement.

Customizing/Editing a text block on a solid asset.

Customizing/Editing a text block on a solid asset.

The same text block/solid asset in real-time.

The same text block/solid asset in real-time.

As you can see in the above photos, the real-time reflections are spot-on, smooth as silk, and beautifully rendered.  My computer is not as powerful as it definitely should be (especially as a 3D graphics artist), but even with multiple programs like Blender, Sculptris, GIMP, and UE4 running simultaneously, it's amazing that the in-game test-play ability of UE4 can run as smooth as it does in-situ.  It has been well worth the 20$ subscription for us so far, and we anticipate it will only get better from here.

Well that's all I have to give this week.  Hopefully next week we can get Nicholas to fill you in a little more on his take on our transition to UE4, or even just Verus Games' process in general.  Who knows?  Or we may just post a bunch of cat pics.

Until then, thank you for skimming through with us! We hope you've enjoyed! Be sure to drop us a line on our Contact page, and follow us on Twitter for near-constant updates on our Xeno progress!

~Anthony

Quickie

GOT 5 MINUTES?

Good, because this won't take long.  I have a lot of dev-work to do and only about 45 more years (on average) to do it, so I'm going to hit you with some TRUTH bullets.

It's increasingly difficult to read that our fellow independent developers are struggling alongside us to achieve what they want to achieve, but struggling harder than they should be in some cases.  I've recently watched Richard Cook's "Making an Indie Game..." documentary (which you can find on YouTube) and have come to discover that the path his life took was eerily similar to my own in a lot of ways, except for one key ingredient: our choice of part-time supplemental employment.  To give you some background on what his documentary portrays, it's a lot of struggling (as most of us in the States do due to the mammoth and growing chasm between "rich" and "poor"), but what was the hardest to watch, and is undeniably most prevalent among people attempting to "make it big" with their primary passion, was Richard's choice of part-time employment to supplement his passion.

Essentially, it appears that Richard lives in an Orlando suburb, probably renting a house with multiple roommates to make things cheaper on himself, while also owning a car to drive to his two jobs which appear to require eight-hour work shifts.  He evidently makes only minimum wage at both jobs, and he reiterates several times in the documentary that he is "dirt broke."  At one point he shows us the contents of his bank account (on his monitor) and he's at ~ "-97.00" give or take a few pennies.

This. Is. Insane to me.  For several reasons, and I'll tell you all of them because they're really digging into my heart right now for not only Richard and his "starving artist" self-perpetuated motif, but for everyone out there struggling to bring a creative endeavor into this world (note: this solution is not for everyone and is, in fact, for relatively few people because the industry I've chosen is not infinitely available).

If you want the secret, here it is:

Restaurants.

There, I said it.  I've just given away my trade secret of how I support my Game Dev habit on less than 30 hours of public work a week in order to work the other 40 on Independent Game Development (which, so far, doesn't pay at all and in fact drains our personal reserves).  As well as cultivate a wonderful relationship with my girlfriend and two cats.  And all of this within the city of Philadelphia.

Both of us, myself and my girlfriend, work in restaurants while I work with Verus Games on Xeno (our upcoming 2-player co-op game! Keep your eyes peeled for lots of updates through the coming weeks!) and she completes a Master's degree.  This is not easy, and I'm not attempting to say that it's easy.  But working in restaurants (if you are not a drug addict, an alcoholic, or an excessive partier) is probably the fastest legal way to generate short-term income in the United States without an education or credentials, second only to stripping or legal prostitution (in Nevada).  So it's MUCH easier than working in retail or "merchandising" (a fancy way to say "stocking shelves at Wal-Mart for 7.50$/hour") like Richard does.  And at most restaurants, the shift hours are less and, on average, you are paid more per hour than a minimum wage job (NOT ALL RESTAURANTS, but a LOT of them).  And a large majority of restaurants within many city limits do pay very, very well.  Well, the restaurants themselves don't pay well, but remember that great divide between "rich" and "working poor"?  The rich have to go somewhere to eat, and a "server" is essentially a "slave."  And we all know how much the rich love them some slaves.

So here's a short list of pros and cons, from my 7 solid years in the restaurant industry from Pittsburgh, to Beverly Hills, to Philadelphia, in addition to my 1.25 years in game development:

CONS:
A. You will be forced to socialize with people, and people you may hate.
B. You will work very weird shifts, depending on the restaurant.  And you'll often have to work weekends.
C. Due to the erratic hours and social stress of a restaurant workers' lifestyle, the vast majority of them fall into a "social lifestyle," which means they spend most of the money they make in a shift in other restaurants and bars soon after they make it.
D. The vast majority of high-paying restaurant jobs are within city limits (of any nearby cities local to you), and not out in the suburbs, so you would either have to move or commute.

PROS (corresponding to Letter):
A.  The lower-paying shitty retail/other job you currently have already has you socializing with people you may hate.  Also, you may also meet very interesting people whom you otherwise never would have met. I have met fellow game devs (AAA devs) in restaurants, as well as astrophysicists and science advisers to organizations (my field of choice aside from game development). Who knows who you'd meet!
B.  If you work closely with restaurant managers, these weird shift hours can be mitigated a bit by at least getting a steady schedule every week, to give your body time to become adjusted to the schedule.  Also, while these shifts are "weird hours" (like late nights followed by early mornings) the increased pay scale can have you feasibly requesting less of them.
C.  If you're like me and are using your earned income from the restaurant to go towards your passion, then this is easily avoided by your own focus and self-determination.
D.  Move to the city limits, find a roommate to share a 2-bedroom in a relatively cheap apartment (that includes utilities as part of monthly rent), get rid of your money-sucking vehicle, and go to work for 25 hours a week at the restaurant and spend the rest of your time focusing on Game Development.  If you're serious about this being your life's focus, then you'll make the changes necessary to fulfill them.

Work smarter, not harder.  Find the best type of employment that benefits your current financial requirements, trim the fat in your life that you shouldn't need to be paying for, and make more efficient use of your time.  Stress, especially copious amounts of it, significantly alters the quality of work you're putting out into the world.  STOP IT.  *smacks your hand with a ruler*  Restaurants may not be a good fit for you, but TRY IT.  Go apply for a "busser" or a "food runner" position at a local restaurant in your area (look at their menu first, probably available online, to see how much an average meal costs and apply to the medium-expensive ones), and try it for one month while you develop games.  Save every penny you earn and do the math at the end of that month.  Then decide for yourself if it's worth it, or if you want to go back to retail.  Or try something else.  But most importantly DO NOT GET STUCK IN A RUT

Good luck to you, all of you, and I hope this gave you some help in your journey.  Even if it's not the restaurant industry that you turn to, then I hope it urges you to look to a different avenue for supplemental income while you work on carving out your dreams.

With GameDev love,

~A.

And P.S.

Your Screenshot Saturday Sneak Peek!  The WIP Female Character! We can't WAIT for Screenshot Saturday!!

Your Screenshot Saturday Sneak Peek!  The WIP Female Character! We can't WAIT for Screenshot Saturday!!

 

 

Improved Initiative! I go first!

SO HERE WE ARE ONCE MORE!

Sorry for the shouting, I'm just so very excited to be alive today.  And yesterday, the day before, and hopefully tomorrow.  Because we officially began development for our first FULL video game this month, and every day has been an absolute treat.

Last year was CHOCK FULL of learning experiences, and I'd like to briefly outline them here:

The Path of Verus Games

We began January 2013 with TimeGem.  Nicholas followed an XNA tutorial which was posted online, step-by-step, and I... well... I modeled things terribly and inefficiently in Blender, rendered them into 2D sprites, and slapped them into the game.  And voila.  Verus was born.  Feet-first.

What... what am I looking at...?

What... what am I looking at...?

I mean, seriously.  Look at this.  Not bad for a 6-year-old, eh?  Too bad I was 29.  It must have been the paint chips.

We screwed around with TimeGem for a few months.  Three months, if I'm not mistaken, and the above-photo is juuuust about the end product.  It was a massive achievement with a very, very steep learning curve, and it looks and plays like a handful of still-wet-but-solid-enough-to-stay-together dog turds.  I hadn't touched 3D modeling software for nearly 2 years before this, and before THAT it had been about 7 years since I'd even produced any kind of visual graphical artwork.  So I have to cut myself some slack here.  We ended up calling it quits after those three months, so we could take a few days' rest and realign our priorities with what we'd learned.

Next up was the 2-dimensional puzzle game LightMaze.  This one was easier to accomplish because it was much simpler, and surprisingly much more fun.

"Filling the void" where cells belong inside of a plant.

"Filling the void" where cells belong inside of a plant.

This project took only 1 month to accomplish, with the end result being about 10-12 increasingly difficult "levels" which also become artistically and aesthetically more complex.  It helped to get me used to navigating art software (I used, and still use, GIMP for development) as well as pacing my workflow with Nicholas's programming.  I used very, very little 3D modeling for any rendering.  Nearly everything was done in GIMP.

We moved on from LightMaze to yet another 1-month project, this time in full 3D with a first-person perspective.  One of our favorites even now, a year later, known as Calculated Risk.

Suuure you can spot the MineCraft in this pic.  But if you can spot the Diablo, THEN you'll get the cookie.

Suuure you can spot the MineCraft in this pic.  But if you can spot the Diablo, THEN you'll get the cookie.

This was our first personal "success", if I do say so myself, as it was very fun to make, visually and aurally pleasing, with tight controls.  For a couple of newbies, we were pretty pleased with ourselves and still pat each other on the back over it when we find ourselves smoking our pipes in our rocking chairs with our quilts hanging over our legs.  Calculated Risk also contained our attempt at "Edutainment," and you can see it in the photo above.  Do you see those numbers above and below the crosshair?  The numbers above it are a math calculation.  The numbers below it are three possible answers to that math problem.  Each math problem is random, and you have to select the correct answer in order to reload your weapon.  Get the problem wrong and you have 3 seconds to feel sorry for yourself while you eat fireballs from the Beholder you should have been smart enough to kill.  Idiot.

Next up: Spell Bound!  Our first and, so far, last attempt at pandering our half-baked goods to the masses!  Still available for free download on your Android device!

The Crossroads to Game Dev Hell. Be sure to collect your Scrolls and punch the guards before leaving.

The Crossroads to Game Dev Hell. Be sure to collect your Scrolls and punch the guards before leaving.

H'okay, so.  Rule number 1 in Game Development: only one person actually gives a shit how much effort your put into your game... and that person is you.  Nobody else does, and nobody else will pay you money for it if that level of effort did not ALSO craft an excellent product. With that said, Nicholas and I believed, perhaps an entire year too early, that the amount of work we put into Spell Bound was worth a 1$ download on the Google Play store.  We were sorely mistaken and were reminded of this little-known fact in reviews and private correspondence.  While we were, and still are, very elated with the amount of experiential knowledge gained from this 3-month project, we were hoping to break our chains of wage slavery far too prematurely.  We took a month off to pick up the pieces of our broken, self-entitled hearts.

And FINALLY we come to our most recent finished product which nearly rounded out the entire first year for us as fledgling game developers:  Stratewarz.

Buy four environments and get an extra Desert FREE!

Buy four environments and get an extra Desert FREE!

The quality of the graphics in Stratewarz is proportional to the amount that I absolutely hate this game.  I do believe that I have a uniquely vitriolic stance on this project, and it's a fuzzy, hazy explanation as to "why" that is.  And it's boring.  And I'll violently murder my two adorable cats if I start to think about it.  So I won't go into it.  But rest assured it has something to do with it being our first "large group" development project.  Between Spell Bound and Stratewarz we ballooned from a 2-man team, to 5 people.  There was no structural network in place to support the added talent and, well, it fell apart at the end.  The only one still holding onto his balls with one hand and finishing the project with the other, three months late and alone with mud caked on his face, was Nicholas.  With grey, hazy cataracts, and fingers bleeding from weeks of midnight coding.  God bless his little heart.

And that was the entirety of 2013, which you can choose to sift through and actually play via the "GAMES" button at the top of this page.  Again, my favorite is Calculated Risk.  And as much as I emotionally loathe Stratewarz, it is rather fun to play against a friend (you need to connect to their I.P. address for networked play).  Nicholas and myself seriously worked nearly every single day of last year on all of these projects, along with our full-time day jobs.  Even the month after Spell Bound when we weren't developing, we were reading up about the industry and technical information in our respective fields every single day.  This is just what you have to do if you want to succeed at something literally from the ground-up.  And by the looks of our current project, including the massive fundamental changes we've made to the way we handle our team and our workflow, it's paying its dividends.

A unique pre-Screenshot Saturday screen for our upcoming sci-fi Co-Op game Xeno.  Keep it secret!  Keep it safe!

A unique pre-Screenshot Saturday screen for our upcoming sci-fi Co-Op game Xeno.  Keep it secret!  Keep it safe!

I'm not going to spill any beans on our next project in this Blog, if only because Nicholas is planning a blog article specifically for it in the days to come.  But I will say that I've been waiting to make this game since about a month before we even started development on TimeGem over a year ago.  And we are finally ready.  Our team is brilliant, full of both intense ability and amazing potential, and Nicholas and myself are becoming faster, more efficient, and more adept at our respective jobs (he programs, and I... uhh... "art").  This is a great day, a great year, a great century to be alive.

I'm preeeetty much finished bothering you, but before I go I just want to give an immense shout-out to Chris Solarski at http://www.solarskistudio.com/ who fairly recently published a book called Drawing Basics and Video Game Art.  The book can be found here: http://goo.gl/BFxQBf , and is worth its weight in cans of dolphin-safe Tuna if you're even the least bit interested in how to process and produce artwork in video games (or at all, really).

Day 1, before even cracking the book.  The crap I drew on the right is pre-Solarski.

Day 1, before even cracking the book.  The crap I drew on the right is pre-Solarski.

My girlfriend was genius enough to realize that I needed a guidebook concerning artwork in video games in order to enable me to progress higher up the ladder, and this book garnered some of the best reviews on Amazon.  And now I'm passing the buck on to you, and saluting mister Solarski with this shout out.  I love you, Mr. Solarski.  Shhh.  Don't tell my girlfriend.

You mean the real world is IN THREE DIMENSIONS?! HOW COULD I HAVE NOT SEEN THIS BEFORE?!

You mean the real world is IN THREE DIMENSIONS?! HOW COULD I HAVE NOT SEEN THIS BEFORE?!

I began this book as just a curious reader, and while it can easily be read cover-to-cover on its own merit, I quickly realized that it could be followed somewhat closely as a lesson guide.  So I got off my laurels and cracked the book once a day, for an hour each day, and copied and memorized and copied some more.  This enabled me, surprisingly, to get comfortable drawing on paper and treating the pencil as an extension of myself.  NOTE:  I have absolutely zero% background in art.  My background is in the sciences.  YOU CAN DO THIS TOO.

Yeah, I drew this.  In just under 1.5 hours, with Solarski's help.  NO SWEAT.

Yeah, I drew this.  In just under 1.5 hours, with Solarski's help.  NO SWEAT.

You'll gradually improve without fully realizing you are, just like any skill upon which you focus your efforts.

You'll gradually improve without fully realizing you are, just like any skill upon which you focus your efforts.

You'll learn about every part of human anatomy in order to better understand the pieces of the whole.

You'll learn about every part of human anatomy in order to better understand the pieces of the whole.

Okay, there are a lot more (I took a photo after every finished day), but I'm going to save you the time right there.  This book is amazing and almost solely responsible for the increased quality that you are about to see in the coming months with Xeno's progress.

I'm not really sure how to end this as I'm still very excited to share all of the juicy tidbits about Xeno and our progress in only the past two weeks!  Buuut I'll hold off on that.  You should really get some rest anyway, you have a big day ahead of you!  Remember?  You were going to start focusing on better understanding yourself and working on your life's passion!

I mean that.

~A.

Dev Corner is Live!

The dev corner is officially live!  This is a separate blog from the main Verus Blog, where each developer can write his or her own thoughts whenever they like.  It will not have scheduled updates, and will not be as publicly broadcasted as the main blog, which will now be used only for updates on our projects.

We at Verus love providing insights whenever we can, but we also do not want to flood our followers with updates they might have no interest in, which is why we decided to create the Dev Corner.  Here, you can find all kinds of musings, and we hope you'll find them useful!

-Nick