Posts tagged Gauge Entertainment
Combat Design review of Backfire

Within the core principles of the Backfire design document, the Backfire project was to live off of many of the ideas presented in our biggest influence: Interstate '76. Balance was to be found directly from players customizing their cars, which all had a base stat line and limitations would only be based on a a weight limit stat and the amount of hard points on each vehicle. The hope was to have that system, a location specific damage system more akin to Mechwarrior, and have a simulation and physics driven driving model, to then have a easily recognizable and understandable system for players to pick up and know where they are useful and what tactics will work in their favor or not.
In theory, it was a sound idea: game exploits of the games we were inspired by would be non-issues: we didn't have a Gauss rifle that could shoot further than what could be rendered on screen, and our 'leg damage' equivalent of having a tire shot only affected mobility and didn't take the player out of the game. To add to that, our aiming system was assisted and had no direct precision fire, leading to most tire hits to either be good angling by the player and using level geometry to their advantage. While we never did implement a way to fully customize the vehicles in our final pre-alpha build, we did have a multitude of test loadouts to try these different tactics and see how the driving model handled the weight differences.

Another pillar for the project was to have destructible parts for the vehicles, both to act as a balancing factor for those who wanted to have a large collection of guns on wheels, as well as an easy reference to player state mid-game without the need of health bars or other game staples we wanted to avoid and to allow for more tactics for the player to take advantage of. I distinctly remember one meeting where we had brought up how difficult it would be to play has a car with a speed focus: you would be the most vulnerable on the team, and would have the least fire power. How could you be useful? We then discussed how a fast player could be more focused on taking out previously damaged areas, such as doors or the windshield, generally leading to the killing blow. While this concept remained at the top of the priority list for the whole of the project, we never were able to take the time to implement it and test it.

Ultimately there was some good design forethought on the project in the way of balance and interesting decisions for the player, with some of these concepts coming out in more recent releases such as Mechwarrior Online. (with the change to leg-damage) However, without all of these systems in place, it will be truly hard to know just how well it would have worked beyond what we had on paper, and the number crunching he had done to prototype it outside of the engine.

Project: Backfire
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This is a project that I worked on for a good 3 years with the Gauge Entertainment team. I had joined them back in late 2009, and prior to that they had already put about a year worth of work into the game between original seven members. In that time, they were able to get something playable with some very basic elements implemented. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. I'm not going to take too much time going through team dynamics; this is going to focus all on what went right and wrong with Backfire and how it has shaped my career.

As you may have read in the old post below this one, my early days at Gauge was interesting for me a the time: it was my first foray into working with a proper team, working on an engine I had really just scratched the surface with. It was a time where I had to learn quick to be any use, and learn quick I did. However, how that ended up helping the project is arguable, with several factors at play. This ended up being a lesson in endurance, ego, and when to restrict features. This blog has many times stressed a major reality of game development: understanding what feature creep is, and executing self restraint in your design. This is crucial if you ever want a proper finished project, which this project never was, even after a total of 4 years in part-time development. That doesn't mean there wasn't a lot learned, and a lot to be proud of, however. 

Backfire itself was built to be a response to the lack of car combat games at the time. it was 2008, the whole indie game revolution on Xbox Live had really started to grow just a year ago, and the boom of car combat games like Twisted Metal and Interstate '76 had calmed and dissipated as the 90's had. The project itself was to not only hearken to those days and influences while modernizing them. We wanted a more physics driven and simulation-based driving model, destructible vehicles instead of a life-bar, and a fully customizable load-out system for each vehicle. It was a project much larger than we were, though we didn't see it at the time. We had something playable, after all, and that alone kept us driven to keep working on the project.

In that time I learned the tools of the trade to create a texture for a minigun weapon that had previously been modeled, figuring out good practices for making the diffuse, and then generating the normals and specular maps through tools like Crazy Bump. It took much longer than I had hoped, largely because I was young and foolhardy so I ran headfirst into the tools without really looking for help. This ended up causing the texture to take much too long, and had several very simple rookie mistakes such as not taking into account how rust would realistically set, and incorrectly using the generated textures from Filter Forge. That said, it did give me a good insight as to what it took to make a texture and much respect for modelers and the act of creating a UV map.

From that point forward, I worked more with what I knew best: code and Flash. As such, I turned into the UI designer of sorts, working with Actionscript 2 files and Unreal Script to make developer interfaces. Sadly, it was never anything more than development tools simply because we didn't have someone who could dedicate some time to the art I would need, nor were we in a place to worry much about interface beyond these few tools and some basic player information. As such, I tried to help where I could directly on coding and testing nights.

I very quickly found  that I was more useful to the team in this sort of role. Using what I knew of the code, testing the limits of what had been implemented led to a lot of bugs being squashed, and lots of issues with the level that had already been designed and built before I had joined. This was also the time that a lot of the pace of the project slowed. We already had a pretty rough schedule as-is, with maybe two nights a week in which the coders would work together for maybe four hours at a time, if that. This caused the production schedule to get out of hand rapidly. To add to this, Gauge as a whole was also in the process of building an office space, leading much of the needed hours for the game to go towards drywalling. The project had gotten too large, and the time available had become too little for us to continue on the project, and shortly after we showed a build we had at a local GameCamp meetup, we had to reassess the project and shelf what had become a near half-decade worth of work for many of the team.

What went Right: 

-Hitting on all aspects that could be where my specialization lie. I had no idea where I would excel, but it is so very important starting out.

-Consistent art style that ended up making it look pretty darn good, everything considered

-Consistent design, we kept true to the simulation feeling driving with a more modern feeling when it came to the shooting.

-Getting a playable project up and running right away was a strong suite, considering the tiny bit of time that was available per week and the size of the team.

-Persistence. Projects can take time, and being able to come back to it time and time again is very much a needed factor, and this whole team had that...

What went Wrong:

-...To a fault. There was a lack of self reflection on our own limitations. Taking the scope and available time though the looking glass should have been prioritized. much sooner, and maybe we'd have a success story of a project.

-The team lacked dedication to the project this large in order to complete it.

-We could have just used someone's basement (garages get cold up here in the North) instead of dedicating so many resources to an office that we didn't end up using anyway.

Global Game Jam Edmonton

Over the weekend I participated in Edmonton’s first foray into the Global Game Jam which is a gathering of game developers, artists and sound and music engineers in an attempt to create a game from conception to completion in the span of roughly 48 hours. Needless to say, it’s a hell of a weekend from start to finish as you desperately try to get that last piece of art or that important line of code into the final project. I want to go through the process of the project myself and my group, some of the people from Gauge Entertainment, went through.

Sparing the trivial details of actually getting to the event and first impressions, I went with the guys at Gauge with their game idea. They wanted to make a game that I can best describe as the flash game Toss the Turtle but with a high-tech sniper round, a 3rd person camera, and a final target, which seemed simple enough to at least get something going come Sunday. Now, of course, that ‘something’ would likely turn into just a proof of concept as we opted for a 3D engine for the 3rd person camera as we just did not have enough time to do much more.

Now in out rush to get things started and going we didn’t quite do something that we all realized in hindsight: we never prototyped and as such we dove right into making assets. While that worked out to some degree with our project leader and his modeled bullet with appropriate particle effects, it didn’t quite work out for myself and my quick and dirty materials. Had we aimed at creating the prototype from the beginning I feel we could have coordinated better and ended up with something a bit more representative of the target idea. That said, our final proof wasn’t all bad.

In the end our programmers were able to allow the camera to follow the projectile as it should and give control to the player after firing it. This at least gave a rough outline of how we wanted the game to control and how to build levels according to the variables put in place. Now I can only hope that we continue the project, there’s much we can do to make this a true game.