Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Status

Merry Christmas everyone. So I've met with several people in person that have told me they're following this blog, so I'll try and do a better job keeping things updated and not ramble on about my cat or something.

So we've picked the big day--January 7th, 2012 for our first meeting. I've recruited about a dozen people so far and in about two weeks, everyone on the team will meet each other and we'll finally get started making this game. Strangely, I thought programmers would be the most difficult to recruit and 3d modelers the easiest. The opposite has been true. I've been unable so far to recruit a single 3d modeler. I'm not terribly worried about that at this point. I wouldn't have anything for the modelers to do for a month or so while we work out concepts. Still, it's nice to have all the bases covered before we get there. I've worked in a professional setting as a modeler--doing commercial 3D renderings for architectural concepts for a drafting company, so I could fill that roll if needed. However, we're going to need a lot more than just one person in that capacity, so I'll definitely need to recruit.

I'm pretty happy with the concept artists we have on the team. Officially, we have 2, but there's 2 others I've either met with or will meet with soon that are also really talented. Because we will be constantly rolling out new art assets through the pipeline, we'll always need concept artists, but if for some reason they get caught up or bored and want to try something else, I can move them to design. Dawnshine is going to need more level design than most MMOs and it's going to be a whole lot different than any other MMO, but I feel more comfortable getting the artists on the team doing that. Dawnshine instances are going to be a lot more story driven rather than boxes with monsters in them and text to read at the end that passes as a story. The instances are going to be a selling point for the game--what sets us apart. So level design is going to be a very important position. I realize level design is an entry level job. Anyone that can play the Sims can be a level designer for most games. But still, I like the idea of the artists taking a break from their main roles and doing something different, though related. So for now, I'm not recruiting any designers.

What else? So the Art Institute of Sacramento had their first Game Art and Design graduates. I met both of them at the AI's portfolio show. The portfolio show is sort of like a graduation party where the graduates set up a booth showing off their work. The employers go booth to booth in a sort of reverse job fair. The two graduates were showing off their building modeling skills through the Unity engine. I talked to them both quite a bit. I didn't really make a big push to recruit them since I won't have anything for them to do for a while, but I at least made some inroads there. We'll see. I also got to talk to the career counselors at AI a little more. They're good people. I'm glad I've been able to form a partnership with them. Good things will come from it.

Stigma Games is a good deal for them as well. The game industry is really hard to crack into. Most graduates won't get in. So for us to be able to bring in new grads and current students to give them real world experience might be just as important for them and their resumes as going to college itself. There are a lot of skilled and talented people in this town that aren't getting a chance otherwise. I have to admit, I have a lot of fun recruiting. I like the idea of finding hidden talent and giving people that shot no one else will. I just wish this was a funded project and I could also give people the earnings they deserve as well. But on the other side of things, if it was a funded project, then I'd probably only be recruiting experienced professionals because I'd be swamped with applicants.

I've had a few other interesting meetings, though it's still too early to say how those will pan out. I'm networking with the people from Loki's Planet. I'm going to one of their office meetings soon to talk more business. They seem like really good people too.

Oh, and I got an invitation by the president of Rocketeer Games to check out their studio. I met their president, John, years ago. He's a 3D Modeler that used to be a director of sorts at the Art Institute. He does absolutely fantastic modeling and texturing work. I'm definitely honored to check out his studio.

Several people have asked me when we're going to start needing testers. We can bring in testers when a character model is built, textured, rigged, and animated, the combat system is working, many of the attacks and spell abilities are working, the character creation system is working for Dawnshine characters(as opposed to the default system now that comes with the engine for making Hero's Journey characters), and there's at least once instance or zone people can run around in. Right now, none of that is done or even started. There's 4 classes and 4 factions. That's a total of 16 classes that should all play very different from each other. It's not going to be 4 classes in 4 different flavors each. They're not going to have equivalencies cross faction. Such variety is going to take a huge amount of balancing, so I'm going to want to bring in testers early.

Next post should be on Jan 7th.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Getting Lawyered Up

Today I meet with lawyers. This is an important step in forming a company. There's three legal documents I'm going to need everyone to sign before we start production. We'll need an NDA. A Non Discloser Agreement is a promise that people on the project won't tell people outside the project what's going on. I'm not so much worried about people on the team telling their friends about the game or even letting them peek at their monitor to see stuff they shouldn't be seeing. I'm more concerned about people on the team bragging about how we might get an endorsement deal and have that spoil the deal, or talking about features before they're finalized--especially if those features need to be changed. Otherwise, I'm going to be a lot less secretive about Dawnshine than just about any other game dev company. Like I've said before, if it makes us look less professional if we're more open and people can see that we're just regular people, then I'm ok with that.

The second important document is the Contributor Agreement. People are going to come and go. It's important that the work people do on the project stays with the project. If a modeler creates a figure and several other artists rig, texture, and animate that figure, if the artist says they're leaving and taking their work with them, it could mean hundreds of hours lost from people that put work around that figure. The combination of NDA and CA also means people can't take their work and try and use it on another game, thus damaging the Dawnshine IP.

The third document is the one I'm having the most trouble with wording correctly, and what I'll need help the most with when I talk to the lawyers today. It's a Share Agreement, one that says if the project makes money, I need to pay the people that contributed to it. If I trust myself to do the right thing, you might wonder why I would need to have people sign such a document. But this actually protects me. It protects me from people having a reason to accuse me of potentially pocketing all the profits and not paying anyone. Much to the disappointment of my parents, money has never been something I cared about. I'm fine living pretty much anywhere and driving a beat up car. Even through all the years that I used to book bands at night clubs, I never took a cent of money for doing it. If there was money left at the end of the night, I gave it all to the bands. I do care about taking care of people that work with me whenever I can.

Let's see, also recruiting programmers has gone pretty well. Artists, not so much. I've been in touch with some really promising artists lately, ones that have sent me some great portfolios, though most of them seem to be pretty busy. I'm really hurting for environmental concept artists and modelers right now. I do know a few that are fantastic, and have worked on block buster, AAA games that might be willing to help, but they don't live locally. I'm really kind of burnt out on trying to work with people over the internet. Still, it's nice to have amazing talent as a plan B.

I met a few artists at the open house for Pride Animation. It's a studio that produces cartoon shorts featuring characters from the LGBT community. I'll be honest and say I was a little nervous about going to their open house, but they were all really, really nice. I was impressed by how dedicated they were to the work that they produce.

While I was there, I also met a few people from Loki's Planet. As kind of a side note, for the last 20 years that I've chatted with people on the internet, I've used the chat name "Lokana." Lokana is a fictional character I've been working on for the last couple decades and has finally settled into being an incredibly important character in the world of Dawnshine, but before that, it was my chat nickname. When I used to meet people off the internet at big IRC get togethers, I used to have people actually assume Lokana was my real name. For a long time people called me "Loki" as a nick name. So when I heard about Loki's Planet, I thought the name was a funny coincidence.

Anyway, so they launched about a year ago, had some management issues and re-organized. Now they plan to relunch in two months. Loki's Planet is a sort of Facebook for gamers. It's a place to talk about games and keep in touch with all things related to games and gaming culture. They also want to bring back lan parties, which sounds like a lot of fun to me. They were really excited about everything they have planned coming up so I'm eager to see how things shape up.

Oh, also, though this doesn't really relate to us, there's good news for another Sacramento game company--KlickNation. They only make Facebook games, but EA Games has decided to join the FB Game mix by buying out KlickNation and renaming them after the BioWare brand that they also own. So now KlickNation is called BioWare Sacramento. Though I don't know them, I'm still pretty excited to see a company that, just 2 years ago, were just a couple guys posting on craigslist looking for programmers and now they're owned by one of the biggest game companies in the world. That's pretty awesome to see what a couple guys in my hometown can do. It fills me with optimism to follow in their footsteps.

Speaking of EA and BioWare, I got into beta for Star Wars: The Old Republic. It's supposed to be the most expensive game ever made. Since it also uses the HeroEngine, of course I was interested in paying close attention to how they did terrain detail and other things. The dynamic shadow map generation is still pretty blocky, and the terrain billboards for flora that HE uses still sort of creeps me out. If you don't know what I'm talking about, if you ever play SWTOR, point the camera straight down at grass or flowers, then rotate the camera. You'll see that the grass and flowers don't turn with the ground, but stay fixed fully facing the camera at all times. Rift and WoW both use static meshes for their flora instead of billboards, and thus escape this problem. Static mesh doesn't get as good performance this way so they can't use as much of it. I think the HE method of billboards is fine as long as everything you use is tall and skinny. I bet most people won't notice either way, so it might not be an issue.

Aside from the technical aspects of SWTOR terrain, I was really impressed with the use of music. There's one quest, Man With a Steel Voice, in particular where I noticed it. So there's an old, dying man whose entire life's work comes down to one moment. You can either help him and hurt others, or help the others, dashing the old man's one chance to complete his dream. If you chose not to help him, he tells you(all voice acted), how you've robbed him of everything he ever cared about. And the music that played was really, really sad. I've never had a game really appeal to me on an emotional level like that. I thought, "I don't want to play this game. It's too sad." Then I got to run around blowing up people and I was ok again.

But it made me realize I've got to really lay out all the zones, instances, and quests in Dawnshine as soon as I can to give the composers on the team the best chance at really reaching people. Audio is a huge part of games, and one that has to be taken seriously.