Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Who Needs Homeworld? We have Void Destroyer

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Paul Zakrzewski who has brought over a very interesting game for us to talk about, Void Destroyer.  Thank you for joining us Paul!

Thank you for having me!

Looking at the videos I can totally see why you have some folks calling this game “Fly Homeworld” would you care to explain your vision for this game and where it came from?  

Four years ago I started out making a very traditional space sim, back then I didn’t intend the project to become this big, I was just having fun programming. As the project became more and more of an obsession I realized that it would be a waste of time to simply re-create what is already out there. Although I was already adding in features that I always wanted in a space sim, I kept thinking how I could use these features to become more unique and more interesting.

The more this progressed the more unique and interesting I wanted the project to become. Every new feature was a chance to do something new, an opportunity that can’t be ignored.

The project came out of a long standing desire to create a game, being a gamer all these years, I always thought about what my game would be like, and this is my chance to get close to that dream.

Now does taking physical control of your units make them any better?  Do they react faster than if I just like the AI crew control things?  

That depends on the human player, and that is the beauty of it. Having physical control doesn’t give the ship any sort of additional statistics, it doesn’t boost damage. However a human being has intuition, a human being has intelligence and the capacity to learn and adapt. The player will learn to be better at the game as it progresses. The AI crew doesn’t have any of these things. The AI crew, is necessarily, coded in such a way to make them good obedient soldiers. The player needs to count on them to obey commands.

But that’s not the main idea behind physical control - the main idea is - a fun and interesting gameplay. In the real world we aren’t spaceship pilots and this is where games come in.

Personally, I’m not very good a flying things, but I do enjoy commanding spaceships.  Is it possible for me to play the entire game without taking direct control of any of my units?  Will I be at a disadvantage if I do?  

Yes, piloting ships is optional. Before I get to my next thought let me say that piloting ships in a game, is a skill like any other. If you enjoy it and practice at it you will get better, if you don’t enjoy it then your other ships crew will do the job for you.

Your forces crew and the enemy forces crew,  as far as intelligence, are evenly matched.  Piloting ships directly is a bonus to put in your human intelligence into the mix. So rather than thinking of it as a disadvantage not to pilot, I think of it in terms of it being an advantage to pilot.

There is more to the game than taking direct control, the other half of the game is in Tactical mode - where you issue commands and prepare your forces in a real time strategy like way (with the pause key as an option). Essentially the game gives you choices, and its up to your particular game style to use them to whatever advantage you want.

The game is somewhat forgiving, because very early in the game you get the access to a heavily armoured command ship, as long as you don’t keep it in too risky situations for too long, as long as you build up a fleet of ships to assist it, as long as you upgrade its weapons and abilities the player should be able to use it to engage in combat. Think of it in strategic terms, there is a risk but also a reward. Its up to the player to manage these.

Just like in Football video games I don’t take control of units because I actually play worse than the AI.  Will there be any ways of improving your crews and such so they perform even better?  

This might sound funny, but from the programmer’s point of view, if I wanted the ships to be less accurate, I would have to tell them to be less accurate. Improving crews means first limiting them. I would have to specifically say - 20% of the time you will miss. Then as an improvement I drop down that 20% to 10%. I think this would be ridiculously annoying, especially since the player has to rely on a fleet of ships as well.

The player will get a chance at improving his forces via new ships and technology. The same applies to the enemy, newer ships and platforms will give additional challenges.

As a single-player game how long is the campaign planned to take?  Is the Skirmish and Create-a-Scenario modes supposed to take up most of my time?

I hope that the campaign takes about 20 hours for an experienced player. I think this is a good - not too long and not too short of a deal. The first play through will take longer as the player is learning the basic elements. I’m not going to try to waste the player’s time too much without interesting combat and strategic choices.

The Skirmish mode is both a way of giving the player a quick battle and as a way of enhancing the campaign mode. Through playing the campaign the player will unlock new scenarios, this will give me the opportunity to create a larger story. I can create a scenario from the enemy’s point of view or get the player directly involved in a battle that takes place “off screen” in the campaign mode. So these will be optional to the main campaign, but will be replayable.

Skirmish mode and the create a scenario/battle editor are also tools for the modding community and players to create their own maps and share them. I hope that down the line players spend more time in these modes - simply because lots of new and interesting scenarios are created by the larger than one man (me) community.

Brad Muir from Double Fine mentioned on the Giant Bomb E3 After Hours podcast that basically zero lines of code for Massive Chalice have been written.  Yet your project has a late alpha build on your campaign right now.  Do you think unknown creators have a lot more to prove and that demos and alphas are basically required to get a fair shake on Kickstarter?  

Fair is a word I’d rather ignore, because it would take us off on tangents and I think it is mostly a useless word in terms of reality.

My project’s alpha demo came out of a desire for me to share my project with other people and in doing so make it better. The demo has been available for over 2 years and as the project progressed it went from an unplayable mess to a much more polished and visually appealing experience. Without releasing it in a state of “uncomplete mess”  it wouldn’t be where it is now. Players gave me a lot of feedback, I aimed to make it more game like (adding objectives), I added in tutorials, fixed bugs that players reported, and gained experience in how to create installers. Different players also need different control options which I always try to accommodate. This process still isn’t done and having a good influx of new players due to the Kickstarter campaign will only help.

I really like the idea of fairness, but I think the idea of honesty is more appropriate here. As someone asking for money on the internet, I want to be honest about what the project is and where it is going, the alpha demo is a great way to do this. If a player enjoys the demo, they should love the final game. If they don’t like the demo, well then they should think twice or wait till closer to the release to try the demo then. Having said that I listen to feedback very carefully, the game can accommodate many different play styles, so if there is an option I can put in I will do so, the above statement isn’t meant to be a “love it or leave it.”

Double Fine’s approach is also honest, in disclosing the zero code, so I think in that respect we are on the same page.  Unknowns do have a lot more to prove, but we can also do less with more. I’m asking for a fraction of Double Fine’s goal, and my base goal is for art assets rather than coding (which I do myself). Double Fine wouldn’t be able to do this, so fairness is an interesting concept. In a way I have that advantage over them.

Just a fun question for you, if the Gearbox guys came up to you and said, “hey we want to turn Void Destroyer in Homeworld 3 here’s loads of money” would you take it?  

That is a fun question, but only when it is rooted in theory. If this question became a reality, that would be an incredibly un-fun and hard to make decision.  I don’t know the answer to this question. There would have to be a lot of conditions on my part, which would probably make this a no, since a nobody like me is asking for terms.

Void Destroyer is my baby, when I watched the first videos of players in the game, I felt proud when the enemy ships blasted players. I thought, hey my guys can hold their own. Taking loads of money means giving something up. One thing is giving up risk taking, now risks can’t be as big due to risking the loads of money. The other thing given up is total control, I really enjoy working on the project, people often offer to help - for free even - but if I take them up on their offer it means I wouldn’t do that aspect (there are other issues involved, just pointing out one relevant to this particular question). A third party offering up loads of money would be basically saying - Hey you’ve done a great job, but we think we (together with you) could do better. It is very easy to just do my own thing, I am accountable to players, but in the end I have to do what I feel is best. Loads of money would change this.

Also there is no reason not to make both Void Destroyer and Homeworld 3.

You’re fast approaching your campaign goal of $20,000, do you already have plans for the money?  How difficult do you think it’ll be to meet your deadlines for Beta and such?  How is the Steam Greenlight part of the campaign going?  

Yes, the 20k will be split into 3 parts, 3D, 2D and sound (which includes music). I’ve been hampering my sound designer in terms of creating new assets for a while now, and I’ll give him a list of badly needed assets as soon as the campaign is over. Same applies to the 2D and 3D art, except that those flow more as the campaign mode and additional polish is added.

Meeting the deadline for Beta is incredibly easy, Beta stage just means someone calling it a Beta. We (humans) give words a lot of meaning, its great, but it needs to be taken into consideration. Still a month post Kickstarter is a good time to create new story content for the Beta backers. There are already elements that I held back from the demo - for various reasons one of them game balance (eg: bigger ships) - so Beta backers will get the benefit of those.

Meeting the deadline for Release is another story. I tend to work best with deadlines and I’m confident I can reach the stated goal. I planned the goal carefully.

The Steam Greenlight is going well, I could write pages on this subject and most of it would probably be wrong (just guesses). I say that the Greenlight campaign is going well because the Kickstarter campaign is going well. I believe that they are linked. I’m sure that Valve will look at the Kickstarter campaign as proof of the viability of the game. The bigger the final “score” in terms of funding, the more that Valve will consider the project for Greenlight. Kickstarter is the first gateway to Greenlight. I have a many times the “yes I would buy this game” votes on Greenlight than I have Kickstarter backers. Putting the “money where your mouth is” and supporting the project in a more risky way, as is the case on Kickstarter is actually a better indicator to Valve that Greenlight, in my opinion

The game is mostly a labor of love on your part has it?  How hard has it been to basically learn and program everything on your own?  How many artists have donated their work for this project?  

There are indie projects out there that get an incredible amount of attention, and for the most part they deserve it. Void Destroyer hasn’t gotten an incredible amount of attention, the question is then - does it deserve lots of attention or that it just hasn’t broken through? Either way indie projects have to be labours of love, unless some crazy luck happens this is the only way to proceed. I’m literally paying money out of my own pocket so that players can play a game with nicer graphics and sound. I’m playing less games (something I really enjoy - being a gamer first) so that I have time to create a game. A game being a labour of love means giving it the respect it deserves, polishing up the features, adding new and interesting ones, taking risks, going that extra step to create modding so that it has a chance to live forever.

It was hard, then it gets easier, then it gets hard again. The cycle repeats over and over, there is a great satisfaction to creating something and I’m blessed to have the means (time) to do this. Programming is incredibly fun, where else in this world can you have absolute control? I’m literally telling a machine what I want and it gives it to me. I’m literally creating worlds and objects that have their own little lives and goals. If humans can get closer to godhood, in terms of tiny glimpses, then it is through the small acts of creation that we are capable of. So yes it is a labour of love, but it gives so much back.

In terms of artists, I have a single sound designer who is responsible for sound effects and music. There are a few sound assets from another sound designer. In terms of art the overall look is the work of one man Andrew Roals, who sadly passed away over a year ago. It was an incredible loss in more ways than one.  He was a special individual both in skill and generosity of sharing that skill. After Andrew’s passing a friend of his stepped up to help me keep his legacy alive and re-create additional art from screenshots and mockups. 2D art is something that has to be completely re-done, that’s still up in the air, but there are some promising artists that will be given their chance.

All art has been paid for, donation is a good term in terms of the time it takes and what I was able to pay.

What engine is this all running on?  How easy will it be for me to insert my own models into the game?  

The game is running on a custom built engine that is a combination of open source libraries. Ogre 3D is the rendering engine, Bullet Physics is used for physics, CEGUI is used for the gui and OpenAL is used for the sound. Most of the tie ins and game logic is done by me. Having your own engine means the possibilities are endless, I can add in features as I like and don’t have to worry about the off the shelf engine not supporting them.

Inserting models is fairly easy, there maybe about an hour or so of research and trial and error (this will diminish as more guides are written) to get the first one in.  Ogre has free exporters in commonly used 3D modeling programs that export the model into Ogre’s .mesh format. Once that happens the new model appears in game provided that it is referenced in the game’s moddable xml files (simple text files).

Assuming you get on Steam and make your Kickstarter goal, where do you see yourself and Void Destroyer in 4 years?  

Now this is a fun question! In 4 years there will be cockpits, first person shooter elements, a “privateer” like game mode where the game isn’t as focused on combat and is more open ended, and multiplayer. The game will also have more modding support, including open source editors and a tons of mods. I will have responded to features from the modding community by adding them into the game as features.

I’d love to see myself as working on the game full time and it being self supporting in terms of art and future enhancements. I’d love to see it as the greatest space sim up to date.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I don’t remember which project got Kickstarter on my radar, I regularly keep up with gaming and indiegaming news on so most likely it is through there.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

This is the reality part of Kickstarter - unless you are somehow lucky or famous you have to engage as many people as you possibly can. They are out there, the core audience, I think I only reached a small fraction. When I seek out potential backers I make it a point to answer every single question and response. I’ve spent an hour over Skype chat to discuss the project with a potential backer (he did end up backing). I’ve tried contacting the media though without much success, but luckily sites like yours found me and given me the opportunity to reach more. I’ve done a pod cast. I’d be willing to do anything really as long as it is an honest look at the project.

Once someone backs, it isn’t over, I’ve fixed bugs and added new features to the game as a result of backer feedback. While doing this I’ve created updates both in written form and video documenting the process. I’ve written up the “history of the project” to give a where we’ve been and where we are going type look into the project. Trying to make the backers and potential backers part of the project is my #1 priority.

For the remind me folk, I plan on having additional trailers for them to enjoy.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I’m living on Kicktraq that refresh button gets a workout. I haven’t done any advertising. I don’t have many followers on Twitter, Facebook friends, Google+ or Youtube. Now you may be thinking - OH MY GOD!! - but this is just the reality. I’ve tried the above avenues through the past of the project. I just never got a lot of traction with them. The competition is fierce. Flipping the Kickstarter and Greenlight switches changes things in people’s minds. That switch signals it as a serious project in people’s minds and that alone helped a great deal.

I haven’t received media attention in terms of large sites. The largest is Rock Paper Shotguns Kickstarter Katchup weekly feature that has a bunch of projects listed and each project gets about a paragraph. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate greatly  the media attention I have gotten, but in terms of media attention I think everyone always wants more and of course there is still time,

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

There is no way to fail with Kickstarter, it will teach you things, it will help you spread the word. It will get you more media attention than you’ve had before. It will help you find your core audience.

Having said all that it is incredibly important not to fail reaching your goal and especially important not to cancel your project. Kickstarter will remember this forever, take a look at the project list, and you’ll see projects that didn’t reach funding and cancelled projects - forever. This isn’t what you want associated with you.

I have a playable demo, whether this helps more or hurts more I can’t say. I had to spend time fixing bugs from the influx of players, players are bound to do some interesting things that you never thought off. So a demo can be a double edged sword in terms of being able to focus only on Kickstarter (where you need to be focused).

Don’t rely on the big media unless you know prior that you can. They are swamped, go after the smaller guys, you both need each other more.

Be honest about your project and honestly take a look at what you need. Creating that video pitch is the most important, it is also the hardest, I spent about two weeks on my pitch video and I still think its pretty bad.

Other projects will want you to help them out in exchange of helping you, I still don’t know the proper way to deal with this. Lots of people will contact you wanting to become part of the team.

You can’t really prepare for this, so prepare as much as you can. Become a backer, follow a projects from start to finish, follow successful ones and failed ones.  I could go on and on.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

If given a chance I will find you and try to convert you into loving my game. Could I have said this 10 years ago? We live in an incredible time.

My goal is to create the best space sim of all time. I want to take on the big guys and conquer them. I want to evolve the space sim, I want to evolve the RTS, I want to create something new. Something interesting and fun, something that can live a long time through the community. I know I am asking a lot, I’m asking for you to take a risk in giving me your support. I understand this and truly appreciate those that support the project and will do my part honorably.

Finally thank you - Kickstarter-Conversations - for the opportunity to tell people about my project, goals and dreams.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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