Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Explore, Build, Survive in Planet Explorers!

Note: This Kickstarter has ended but they have an extended Paypal friendly campaign continuing for the next 30 days.

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am very pleased to be joined by the fine folks of Pathea Games who are here to talk about their labor of love, Planet Explorers!  Thank you for joining us today!

Hi, nice to be here! We’ve been developing Planet Explorers for over a year now, and we’re finally at a point where we feel that players can see the direction of the game. We always felt that it’s better to show than tell.

Planet Explorers looks to be a fun title, could you give us an overview of the game?  

Planet Explorers is an open world voxel based sandbox adventure RPG game set on a distant planet. The game uses a new OpenCL system based on the Unity 3D engine to allow players to change the terrain in anyway, create new objects in any form, and do it anywhere.

A voxel based game?  What does that mean?  

Planet Explorers uses the marching cubes algorithm to calculate the voxels (which stands for volumetric pixels) into triangles to show in the GPU. What does means is that the voxels in PE are smooth, allowing for a more realistic world but still have the terrain modification that people relate to when it comes to voxel games.

Wait it’s a sandbox game?  I’ve already got Minecraft why should I care about your game?  

Well, understandable sentiment, but we’re trying to do something different. We’re not just going for the open world sandbox gameplay that everyone else’s doing. We’re actually adding in a fairly comprehensive storyline that gives purpose to the player’s actions. We’re aiming to make a RPG that uses gathering resources as a part of the gameplay and building as an aid to combat. At the same time, we’re retaining the procedural aspects of the genre to allow players to enjoy that part as well. On top of that, we’ve opened up the creative aspects that voxels allow to let the player design everything from weapons to vehicles to objects.

Wait, this is a creative sandbox game and a complete story-based single player game?  

Yep, we have two modes in the game, one is infinite procedural terrain that players can go on adventures or build one, the other is the story mode, which is the core aspect of Planet Explorers.

What bearing will being able to build and destroy things pretty much anywhere have on the story?  

We don’t even know ourselves. It was actually very hard to design some of the missions because of how much freedom the game allows the player. Say we want the player to cross a river to get to the other side, and there are dangerous animals swimming about. Well, at this point, the player can do anything, such as build a bridge, or a boat, or a plane. We just give the player an objective, the rest is up to him.

The online mode sounds fun!  There is LAN, personal server, and online based modes listed.  Do you plan on hosting online servers or will it all be up to the players?  Also will my wife and I be able to play the storyline cooperatively over our LAN?  

Yes, we actually plan to do all of the above. Since we’re an indie developer, we’ll probably let the players handle most of the server hosting initially, but we will eventually put up dedicated servers for players to play on. LAN will be there day one for adventure and build modes, we’ll have to see if we can include story mode as well. Technically it’s probably not a problem, but there might be some programming logical problems that we have to solve to get coop to work in story mode.

The Vehicle creator seems quite powerful, and you’ve also teased how settlements will be built.  Will I be able to build a mobile settlement al la Macross SDF-1 or other large mobile vehicles with living areas in them?  
While the creations editor is very powerful, we’re still not sure how far we can push it. Something as large as Macross probably won’t be possible since the game is still limited by what the engine can output. Same thing for living areas within vehicles, while it might be possible, we’ll have to try it out before we’re sure. I’m sure once we put more buildable types in the editor, there will be a lot of player generated surprises waiting for us.

Speaking of the building things, how does that work?  For instance if I design a gun how will I know what I have to throw into the replicator to make it if it’s not a premade design?  Same goes for vehicles and buildings.  

Well, there are two aspects to our process, one is a prefab object, one is a custom object. Take guns for examples, there are premade guns players can get scripts for, the script will tell the player what materials and resources he needs to replicate the gun. For custom guns, the player will have to replicate the handle and the muzzle, that’s it. He will then enter the creations editor and forge a gun in whatever shape he wants, as long as the gun includes the handle and the muzzle. This process repeats for other objects in the game as well.

One of the problems I’ve had with games like Minecraft and the like is that everything has the same “style.”  Sure I can kind of change the blocks colors but in the end they’re all just blocks.  With voxels curves and angles and of course different materials promise to add more styles to the building options.  Yet you also show things in the settlement and elsewhere that definitely don’t look designed “on the fly” with “whatever is lying around.”  Are those objects all premade recipes that we’ll be able to discover and use?  

Yes, some objects due to technical reasons will have to be premade. While we try to let the player create as many things as possible in the game, there will still be many prefabs available, simply due to the reason not everyone want to spend time to build their own things, some just want to play in the world.

With over a 100 different alien creatures planned for launch how hard is it to program all those various behaviours?  How many just become “background noise” that most won’t care about?  

There will be some repeats, we can’t escape those. However there will be many specifics to a lot of the species. It’s actually not too hard on our part to say this animal has an attack range or 20 meters or that animal can run faster. We also use groupings to differentiate the animals, the devilwolves for example are weak when alone, but when attacking in a group, they display clear pack mentality, creating a much stronger enemy.

How annoying or simple will resource gathering be?  Will it be as simple as plopping down a harvester and coming back to collect now and then or will I have to dig around and find small one time use veins?  

The resource gathering will depend on the player’s play tendencies. Some players like to dig, so they will spend a lot of time just shoveling around. Some people just want to play the other elements of the game, for those people, mid-game on, they can use NPCs and machines to gather resources for them.
You’ve already spent over a year working on this project with a working alpha free for all to try out.  What is the Kickstarter funds going to be used for that you don’t already have money for?  How will it help the project out?  

While we have enough resources to finish a very basic version of the game, we want to hire some more people to shore up the AI and multiplayer aspects of the game. We also want to expand several aspects in the game play area, including base building and alien battling mechanics. Then there’s the server costs, software and hardware costs, Q&A costs, as well as adding modding to the project. That will all cost time and money.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I don’t even remember when I first heard of it, probably about a year and half ago. Kickstarter is not so prevalent within the indie dev culture that it’s hard to miss.

A recent Gamasutra article points to the results of the latest GDC attendee survey shows some 44% of those surveyed are planning to try crowdfunding in the near future.  Do you think crowdfunding in general and Kickstarter in particular is going to become more of the norm when it comes to game development?  
While I think crowdfunding is a very nice way of getting funding for an idea, I fear that there might be an oversaturation of such projects in the future. So far, it’s too short a timespan to tell if most of the projects will end up succeeding or failing. That will ultimately determine if people will continue to back future projects. If a lot of the major projects don’t pan out, people will be less likely to back other projects in the future. But overall, I think crowdfunding will become the norm, as it takes some risk off the shoulders over the developers.

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?

I think we could still do a better job in the category. We are doing updates and videos regarding our project, but since we’re so small, we really don’t have as much time to solely focus on the KS itself all the time (since we’re still developing the game and aiming for a milestone), unlike a larger studio. We try to engage with everyone who has a comment or concern in a timely manner and we try to spread the word to as many places as possible, mostly through the media.

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?  

So far, we have received quite a bit of media attention from the small to medium game news sites, but have been completely ignored by the larger press sites. We have been reaching out to potential backers through Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Reddit. We don’t have the budget for advertising, so we’re not doing any of that. We are using Kicktraq, it’s a very helpful tool.

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

I guess the most important thing to know is that it will take a lot more time than expected. I expected it to take a lot of my time, and it still ended up exceeding my expectations. Also, it’s very very helpful to have a demo on hand to show potential backers how far you’ve gotten with the project and how serious you are about it. Many of our backers backed us because they played our alpha build and saw the potential of the game within.

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

I just want to thank our backers for giving us a chance to make Planet Explorers into a very good game. I also very much appreciate that something like Kickstarter actually exists for indie developers like us to use. I hope people reading this get a chance to check out Planet Explorers and support us if they like the project.

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

Great! Thank you!

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