This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Empty bastards It is a strategic science fiction shooting game to find supplies in dangerous ships, which will take care of knowing when to destroy your enemies and when to reduce your losses and run.
Newsdio spoke with Jon Chey of Blue Manchu, developers of the title nominated for Excellence in Visual Art, and heard about how budgetary concerns helped forge the flashy visual style of the game, the game elements that were enhanced with that appearance and thoughts that were needed to create enemies that made sense within this comic world.
I'm Jon Chey and, like the rest of the team, I did a bit of most things in the game, although the credits call me design director and programmer.
I started playing games in 1996 when I was inexplicably hired just out of graduate school as a senior programmer at the legendary Looking Glass Studios. I worked my way through some games with them, including some titles known as Thief: the dark project and some less known as British Open Golf Championship. After I was paid to learn how to make games, I learned to manage a team when Ken Levine, Rob Fermier and I started Irrational Games and got the opportunity to develop System Shock 2. Finally, we sold that business and since then I have been doing independent development.
Empty bastards it was conceived as a mixture between System Shock 2 and modern roguelike games. Like, what would happen if we took the game moment by moment of an immersive shooting game like System Shock 2 and put that in a framework where we process an infinite number of missions procedurally? So, it was a design idea to start with and we remained quite faithful to that concept during development (we think it turned out to be a very good idea), although we discarded much of the narrative and the environment with which we started (the game was called initially Ghost navy and it was a much harder and harder experience than it turned out to be).
Unity quite straightforward with some asset store add-ons, as well as the usual art creation tools. We use the Wwise sound engine and all scripts are C #. Nothing too weird!
Then, there were two convergent thoughts that led to our visual style. One of them was our art director, Ben Lee, the love for old school sprite-based shooters and the idea that they might still seem interesting today if we really increase the resolution of the sprites. The other was that we knew we needed to find a way to produce enemies and other assets much cheaper than what is standard for modern FPS while still looking good. It is very difficult to make the mesh characters look good without spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on them, which, of course, is not feasible for independent teams.
Then, those two ideas came together and resulted in not only sprite-based enemies, but also a hand-drawn look for the world. The best thing is that we save a lot of time on all fronts as a result of this (there are practically no textures in the game!) And we create a product that we believe is visually distinctive and striking to boot.
A problem in many detailed or "realistic" modern games is that the level of detail in the environment often gets in the way the player perceives the game space and the important or interactive elements. This means that you have to spend even more time trying to make these objects relevant to the game out of your super detailed background. Our funds are quite scarce and simple, which makes identifying the things you need to know to play the game quite easy.
Another thing to keep in mind is that because our enemies are only playing simple sprite animations, they are not expected to interact with the world in a complex and synchronized way. For example, when they are pushed by explosions or other forces, we do not bother to play a terrestrial animation that has to align with the terrain or object on which they land. That frees the game to make it faster and "more fun" than it could be otherwise. Again, we can focus on the things relevant to the game (just let physics control the movements and not worry about synchronizing the animation with things).
Obviously, standing out from the crowd is very important these days given the amount of games that are produced. But beyond that, the appearance of a game tells players a lot about what they can expect from it and what kind of game style they would like to follow. Our world is bleak, but not too serious, it is science fiction, but also a black comedy. Does that support the player's understanding that he will die a lot but that dying is not a big problem? I hope so.
On the other hand, we were aware that a sprite-based art style could lead some players to think that it was a typical 90s career and weapon shooter. Therefore, we worked hard to make sure that when we promoted images of the game, we presented to a large extent parts of the game that showed the greatest strategic focus of the game, such as the star map, ship schematics and crafting.
Empty bastards It was designed iteratively using many prototypes of spaces and versions of the game. We start with immensely ugly but functional test benches, with parallel development of small conceptual art spaces. Only once we discovered what kind of spaces were interesting to play, we bothered to build the final art.
The enemies of the sprites also iterated a lot as we developed their concept. The Concierge's internal name is "alien," which reflects the generic concept we started with: a kind of space monster, which later became a mutant human and eventually became the boring sanitation worker with whom we embarked.
The user interface was developed in the same way: it was mocked using generic widgets with the added comic style once we had reduced the functionality.
We really like double or multiple layer games like XCOM wave Total war games, and there seemed to be no example of such games where tactical battles were played in the first person. Other attempts to marry strategy and first-person shooting we thought were marginally successful because they were trying to do both at the same time, which can be overwhelming. Of course, there are tactical shooters with maps and planning, but they generally lack a broader context of what you are trying to achieve at the strategic level. So, we really wanted the player to have long-term goals, to plan which missions would be most appropriate to achieve those goals and then to have to think tactically within the mission (including the decision to abort or simply not bother if that is the right decision ))
Because this type of thinking is often not required in shooters, there may be a small learning curve for new players, since they adjust their expectations to concepts such as the fact that they cannot necessarily win (or even try to win) each mission and that sometimes reducing your losses is better than moving forward and hoping that the game designer has ensured that you can always win.
The enemies were designed to provide a unique skill challenge, but also to be vulnerable to particular weapons, encouraging the player to create his complete arsenal. However, because we have finite ammunition, we also try to make sure that each enemy can be defeated in multiple ways in case a particular weapon is not available to the player. By combining enemies in different combinations (which vary as the game progresses), we also try to make sure that specific weapon loads would not be the answer to all situations.
The visual design of the enemies tried to satisfy a lot of different restrictions. Since each frame and each face were drawn by hand by one person (our art director), keeping animation requirements low was essential, so a lot of them hover instead of walking! By limiting ourselves to two basic sizes (small and normal), we simplify our search for roads and what kind of combat environments we could design. By deciding that all the enemies were initially human and assigning a different job to each one, we generated ideas about how each one would look: the Screw (prison guard) would be a huge and big guy, while the Zec (executive) would be An administrator with glasses. .