In With The New

The Switch

As many of our fellow indie devs may have heard by now, Epic made a pretty epic announcement (get it?) at GDC this year.  They’ve decided to release their newest game engine, Unreal Engine 4, to the masses for the low cost of $20/month, plus 5% of any gross revenue companies make from games made in the engine.  This is a really great deal for many indie developers, who often cannot afford to pay much up-front, but would gladly give a piece of the pie to Epic if it enables them to make their dream a reality.  And now Epic gets to enable thousands to start making top-notch games, all the while reaping some of the rewards of successful devs.  It really is a win/win situation.

UE4, in all its glory

Naturally, as soon as we heard this news, we were intrigued.  We immediately began looking into what UE4 has to offer (with our newest developer, Dan, taking the reins on that), and after a short period of several of us purchasing the engine and taking it for a test drive, we decided to make the switch.  Ever since, we have been overjoyed, and have already been producing much more polished work than in the past.

But, Why?

I know what you’re probably thinking right now.  “But Nick, you guys had already made so much progress with Xeno!  You were two weeks into development, and only a few weeks away from the first prototype!  Why on earth would you throw that all away to switch engines?!”  Let me tell you, dear reader.

Firstly, we were only two weeks into development.  In the larger scheme of things, this is not much time at all.  We plan on spending at least the next six months working on Xeno, in which case 2 weeks is only about 8% of total development time.  And when you take into consideration that we will continue working on other projects in the future, it just starts to seem silly not to switch to superior technology when it only costs 2 weeks’ worth of work.

Out with the old...

Secondly, the price structure of UE4 is vastly superior to what we were using (Unity3D), at least for us.  We were only using Unity Free, because Pro costs $1500 per developer, which for us would have been $4500.  As a new company with no major titles and no income, this comes directly out of our personal pockets.  While UE4 does as well, $60 per month is much more manageable than a straight $4500.

Thirdly, a lot of the functionality that we implemented into Xeno in its first 2 weeks is automatically available in UE4.  Networking is built in, an AI framework is in place, the sample code provides us with a basic first person shooter, and the list goes on.  So even though we lost work, and lost some additional time in the learning phase, we feel like we still came out ahead.

...in with the new.

Progress Update

So how much progress has actually been made since we switched to UE4?  Anthony has been hard at work reconfiguring all existing assets to be exported into, and look good in, the new engine.  The female XMSuit is all but complete, which is a completely new addition since the last official update (although if you’re following us on twitter, you’ve likely seen it dozens of times by now).  The starting room of the players has been redone in UE4, and looks outstanding.  It now has some creepy red ambient light, with the occasional point light to add some character.

Just look at those tusks!

On the coding side, the pistol functionality is mostly finished, with only some minor tweaks left.  It has three modes: regular fire, 3-round burst, and piercing shot.  There are some minor scripts placed in the test level as well, such as a door that opens as the player approaches, and some basic AI that is able to move back and forth, take damage, and eventually die.  These are all mostly from the learning period of the engine, and from here on out things should be getting much more exciting!

That'll teach it to taunt me!

Blueprints Page

And last, but certainly not least, we are happy to announce our new UE4 Blueprints page!  Here we will be periodically posting snippets of Blueprints that we are actually using in Xeno, in order to give back to the awesome community that has helped us so much already.  Please check out the page here, and provide us with any feedback!

The Blueprints window in UE4, with a bonus sample blueprint!

Thanks for reading!

-Nick

...And We're Back

It’s been quite a while (almost two months!) since our last official Verus Blog update, but rest assured that it isn’t because we’ve been dilly-dallying around.  We’ve been hard at work these past two months, finishing up Stratewarz and beginning development on our biggest project to date: Xeno.  But more on that later!  First, I want to talk a bit about something that’s (not so) near and dear to our hearts: Stratewarz.

Stratewarz: A Post Mortem

A brief overview of Stratewarz, code-named Shibe Warz during development, for those who are unfamiliar:  Stratewarz is a 2-player, turn-based strategy game in which each player equips their characters from the ground up, choosing their armor, weapons, and spells.  Players then enter the arena, where they take turns moving units on the game board, all the while unleashing devastating attacks on each other, until one of them has no more remaining units.  The idea is fairly straightforward.  We took a lot of inspiration from games such as XCOM and Dungeons & Dragons.

One thing that Anthony and myself have always wanted to do was make a post mortem from our games, as much for our own benefit as for everyone else’s.  This time, we finally sat down and wrote one out.  And so, without further ado (Bear with me, I’m terrible at building suspense), here is the list of things that we believe went right with Stratewarz, followed by those that went wrong.

What Went Right

1. Formal Design Meeting

Four of us (Anthony, Mike, James and myself) all got together and held a 3-hour meeting before we even touched any code.  This meeting was to determine game mechanics and each developer’s role.  This might seem like a no-brainer to those in the industry, but for us it was a new page, and a leap forward in our ability to develop.  We believe this initial meeting garnered everyone’s interest in the project, and helped us familiarize ourselves with the concept of the game, all the while ironing out some of the preliminary kinks in the game mechanics and overall vision that naturally arise.

2. Rapid Bug Fixes

Bug fixes were extremely rapid, because by the time we started playtesting, I had a very intimate knowledge of all parts of the code and could traverse it easily.  We had about 4 major playtest sessions in which Anthony and myself battled it out with one another, and identified a plethora of issues needing correction, which were resolved within a matter of days.

3. Refused to Give Up

Even though things got rocky only about a month into the project, we kept on trucking until the bitter end.  With previous games, we learned that finishing a game is as valuable (and difficult) a skill as starting one, and we didn’t want Stratewarz to become some unfinished project, doomed to languish on as an ever-present and awkward reminder of our failure in our minds.  A heavy ennui plagued the project after about the first month, with many developers eventually departing (mentally, at least) before Stratewarz was finished, but even still, we are immensely proud of seeing it through to completion.

What Went Wrong

1. Bad Planning

The game, as initially planned, was way out of scope, but nobody realized it at that time.  It was essentially meant to be a one-month project, and in the end took 5 months to complete due to a flagrant underestimation of task difficulties.  To complicate this further, one of the main developers left the project only a month into production. At this juncture, we would have been best server to reevaluate the game’s requirements and re-plan accordingly, but inexperience reared its ugly head and we didn’t.  Instead, we just kept on with the original plan, which again, was unfeasible even for the full starting group.  

2.  No Artistic Cohesion

There was very little cohesion in the artistic vision of the project.  We knew how the game would play, and what varieties of abilities and equipment the players would have access to, but we never discussed how the game would look.  Everything was done piecemeal throughout production of the game, with very little communication, rather than designed with a consistent feel ahead of time.

3. Bad Prioritization

The GUI was finished before the networking portion, or even the core gameplay, and this was a huge mistake.  As a result of this grievous mismanagement, we were unable to playtest the game until it was very close to completion.  Obviously the core gameplay is paramount, so by prioritizing the GUI first, we ended up shooting ourselves in the foot, so to speak.  In retrospect, the gameplay should have come first, allowing us to determine if we even should bother creating a GUI for it in the first place.  They say hindsight is 20/20 for a reason, it turns out.This is the opposite of how things should be done.  We should have had the core gameplay done before anything else, so we could see if the game was even worth adding a GUI onto.

 

In the end, we are still proud of Stratewarz, despite its somewhat problematic development.  It is definitely our most beautiful game to date, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the game’s complexity as compared to any of our previous projects. These are some of the extremely valuable lessons that we learned from Stratewarz, which we will be carrying with us as we move forward onto bigger and better things.  Speaking of bigger and better things…

The Future of Verus: Xeno

Xeno.  Two-player, co-operative, suspenseful action.  Work together with your teammate in order to achieve victory, rather than just playing the same game at the same time, doing your own thing.  Watching each other’s backs will be a necessity as you both delve deep into alien worlds in search of precious minerals to send back to the homeworld.

We here at Verus have always loved co-operative games.  And by co-operative, we don’t mean simply 2-player.  We’re talking about actual co-operation, where the players interact with each other and the game environment in novel and meaningful ways.  We’ve all heard the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  We want to take that philosophy and apply it to video games.  That’s been our vision since day one, and now we finally feel like we’re ready to start implementing it.

So what will co-operation look like in Xeno?  Will it come down to you and your buddy standing side-by-side shooting at the same monsters?  Well, of course it will, if you want, but we hope to add a bit more gameplay complexity than just that.  So far, we have plans for the combat to be a fast-paced back-and-forth between the players. For instance, one player may use a shotgun blast to stun an enemy, at which point the other player can capitalize on the opportunity by swooping in and stabbing the enemy where it hurts.  We’re also planning on implementing robotic companions, so it’s a safe bet you’ll be able to set down a sentry gun, which your friend can then remotely control, decimating your enemies.  Is your teammate low on health? Not a problem with polarities, a feature that will grant a great boon to your companion in exchange for some small detriment to you. In this example, you’d be able to sacrifice some of your own health to fully restore your friend’s.  The idea is to create an experience where you’re working closely with your ally the entire time, doing everything you can to protect each other.

All of us at Verus are extremely excited for this project, and we’re only a week and a half into development and have already covered an exceptional amount of ground.  Mike has been hard at work crafting a sci-fi universe, one that makes sense scientifically (with some liberties, of course) and conveys a truly terrifying atmosphere.  Anthony busies himself with breathing life into all of the nightmares that Mike is dreaming up, as well as coordinating the entire creative process behind Xeno.  Chris has already composed the first draft of a really catchy song, and our newest developer Dan has made tremendous progress coding, having set up the basics of networking in under a week.

We believe we have an extremely talented and, more importantly, hard-working team.  We think we have a really fun idea on our hands here, and our hopes are that you, the player, will help us refine it (more on that in a later blog post!).  We so far have over a year of straight development under our belts, which in itself may not be much, but when coupled with our passion for creating interesting gameplay and our love of co-op, we believe that we have all the necessary skills to make Xeno into a truly engaging and ultimately fun game.

So stay tuned, for regular updates on Xeno and in the coming weeks, playable prototype.  You better believe we’ll be working around the clock to bring you the co-op experience of a lifetime.

-Nick