Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In the year 2015 - Fuel22

Happy days! I hope so at least. More than once people find a good reason in this December period to get depressed, feel lonely, get sick of Home Alone movies. Or to accuse the family of being spoiled brats not rewarding mom's cooking, house-decorating, and keeping up Christmas-Spirit efforts.

In our case, besides a not-so-merry-Christmas crying baby, I lost my daughter in a Wii-U + Mario World 3D Santa bought (for himself). So it could be worse. She never really played video games, until now... Got to kick her outside to play with other friends in time.

As for the year 2014 in general, we certainly can't complain either. Mainly because of a stark contrast between joy and sadness, that became so visible this year. We celebrated the birth of a new baby, and although it took many, many over-hours at work, we were in the luxurious position of restyling the garden and ground floor with a new kitchen, wooden floor, bar, and an awesome olive tree (that hopefully survived the last snowfall). But at the same time, people lost their jobs and cancelled their dreams. Nearly 300 people got killed in the MH17 crash, either because of a dumb mistake or dirty power-games. An old friend had to bury his 25 year old girlfriend because of that monstrous disease, and groups like IS show deeds that are beyond demonic on a daily basis. I lost an old little friend as well; mom and dad’s dog died in all of a sudden very recently. Small griefs, big horrors, I've been lucky to only see and hear about them on a safe distance. But when will we draw the "right" number in this misery lottery?

It's a cliché, but a good health and some love from those cherished by you, is worth more than anything. Things can change in an eye blink, 2014 showed that once again. So, sincerely, I'll wish you a meant, productive, but especially a healthy and prosperous 2015 as well.

Tower22 - 2014
What did 2014 do for Tower22? Honestly, not that much. But you probably already tasted that in these blog messages. Being occupied with more work than usual, tinkering the house and crying babies, I didn't spend as much time on T22 as I really wanted. And there was little input in 2D/3D terms, so the official T22 demo still isn't finished. There is progress, it will be finished, don't worry. But the progress is way too slow. Improvement plans were made, but time flies, and yet another year passed. There is a difference between making plans, and actually realizing them. If we want to continue this project, more drastic steps have to be taken. And well, here is the good news, we are busy implementing such steps.

It turns out that I can't rely much on voluntary help and hopes that T22 gets "discovered". It might feel unfair, frustrating, and I could blame all kinds of things. But maybe it's a better idea to take some action (and risks). Safely phishing in this blog pool, waiting for fans and voluntary artists to help out, won't bring this project where it deserves to be. So this is what we'll do in 2015:
* Finish the bonus demo movie
* Finish the official demo movie
* Use demo's for another recruitment round
* Start up "Fuel22"
* Announce a (free downloadable) playable demo

As for the demo movies, it’s “just” a matter of finishing some animations and sounds mainly. And the bonus demo is finished more or less already, see this post. Don't expect too much of it though. It's not game footage or next-gen graphics. Think about a little plaything I did myself in the meanwhile. Just for fun, and to fill the long gaps of waiting. More serious is the official demo, which will likely take some more months due the slow input of required assets. But when it is finally finished, it will be used to attract some much needed help. On all fronts. 2D, 3D, level design, animations, maybe even some programming. The harsh truth is, no artists (with time & skills) = no game.

You may have heard “good New Years resolutions” before though... What makes me think things will change this time? First of all, I should learn to get a bit more bold, and shove that damn demo up the bottom of some bigger game-websites. The more people seeing it, the more chance on help, as well as excitement for those who help on T22. I will especially target the Dutch market this time. Skype is nice, but being able to actually meet and work together in the same room is much more effective. There are beers and my girlfriend is a good cook, so...

But much more important, is finding a way to keep those artists motivated, interested and productive. Pretty much anyone who joined Tower22 first promised to be working a thousand hours per week on the game, but then quickly dropped the pace to dribs and drabs. I'm lucky if I can get a couple of textures or objects done in a month. But most months won't bring anything at all. You can't plan a game like that. Even finishing a small demo is a nightmare.

It is annoying, but I can't really blame them though. Would you spend many hours each week on a project, somewhere far away managed by a person you'll never see? A project without super awesome tools like UDK? A project that can't bring any short-term results? A project that gives you nothing except feedback and screenshots of your work? In an ideal world the answer would be YES, but in the real world you'll be occupied with your own work, wife/children, hobbies and troubles. T22 is obviously low on the priority ladder. Besides, the average person is simply lazy as soon as they clock out at work. Playstation 4, Game of Thrones and sleeping are also higher on that priority ladder. Certainly if others do the same. That's just the way it is.

So this is what we're gonna do: make a reward system called Fuel22. A buddy at work is bending his head over the web-coding part now (he'd better be, otherwise I'll fire him ;) ), as I'm an impatient n00b when it comes to building websites. Fuel22 is a mixture between an online planning system such as Asana, and a (3D) web-shop such as Unity. I call it "Fuel", as it is designed to fuel this project. Pretty smart huh?

One valid complaint artists have, is the lack of understanding on what has to be done. There are Excel sheets, Notepad scribbles, and lately an Asana page that shows a whole listing of everything that has to be made. Yet the "old breed" of artists that never grew up with this within the Tower22 project, sort of missed it, and newcomers weren't directly allowed to have a look. Fuel22 is an open catalogue -also for you!- showing all of the assets that have to be made for the currentl pending sub-project (such as a demo). Wallpaper textures, 3D furniture, toilet flushing sounds, player squat animations, concept drawings, and so on.

Although some of the assets will remain hidden for the public, as it would spoil secrets, about 50% will be in the display cabinets. That means you, as a fan, can monitor the progress in detail. This adds some much needed pressure on those who promised to make me a toilet-flush sound or green carpet floor texture. But it also makes the project transparent for those who donate, eventually by a future crowd-funding campaign. Nobody can say again they didn't knew what to do! All (current needed) tasks can be found. It also allows fans to jump in eventually. If there is an old fashioned clock object in the catalogue, and your speciality happens to be crafting 3D clocks, you can offer your services.

A second important aspect of Fuel22, is the reward. Why the hell should I give my precious clock, and get nothing in return? Again, in an ideal world we trade polygons for a nice screenshot and a kiss, in the real world its dollars that makes the table spin. Each asset on Fuel22 gets a price-tag. I'll have to do some research, but in most cases that will be somewhere between 2 and 10 $. Depending on complexity, urge, amount, and rarity. Yeah! or wait... 2 bucks... that doesn't sound like a fair deal...

I wish I could pay more, but since I don't have a Scrooge mcDuck "Money Bin" building, that's all folks. But wait, here is something to compensate! Assets that are open to the public, can also be sold to the public. Either via the Fuel22 website, or (for now) via another website such as Unity as I don't expect thousands of buyers on our website initially. But anyway, if you feel like donating, why not buy a concept-art poster, or that toilet-flush sound so you can use it for your own game? 20% will go to the T22 deposit, the other 80% goes straight to the artist. You happy, artist happy, and I'm happy. Not in the first place with the 20% charge that can be used to fund other assets later on, but as I finally have my desired wooden clock, flower wallpaper, Soviet TV, or toilet flush sound.

Why would you buy your 3D stuff here? Of course, there are other, much bigger web-shops out there. But here are a few advantages:
* Quality check. If I don't want it in my game, it won't be on the web-shop either
* Consistent. With relative few artists and me or a lead artist guiding, all assets have the same, consistent, grim Tower22 nightmarish style.
* Whether you care or not, you are *fueling* Tower22. Merci Beaucoup.

Last but not least, being able to "buy" my stuff, it also makes me able to present some much needed rules. My shiny 3D shoes not finished in time?! Then no reward either, and somebody else shall make it. One of the plagues in amateur hobby team projects like this, are the excuses. Of course, people get busy and sick, and of course hard-drives will crash. But I've heard all the excuses so many times. Statistically, some of the excuses why asset-X is late just aren't true. 4 computers crashed, seventy grandmothers died, six men got pregnant, eleven cases of Leprosy... right. But what can I say? You're lying? What if his grandmother really died of Leprosy after her hard-drive crashed? They are doing me a favour, not the other way around.

Fuel22 will gives me a stick to beat with. But let's focus on the good cases as well. Fuel22 will use a badge system, rewarding those who give proper input. Employee of the month, most reliable chick of the year, superfast worker, that kind of titles. These badges will allow new artists to climb up and assign for more complicated (better paid/more wanted) assets, or get a price bonus. Or just function as moral boosts.

Playable Demo
Again, I don't expect big sales numbers. But at least it damps my costs, and there will be a reward for the artists, plus a chance to sell more units via Fuel22 or another web-shop. This will hopefully also attract other people that make an extra income of making props en masse for such web-shops. In the end all I care about, is getting the assets I'll need.

What assets do we need then? Well, about everything to make a playable demo. We're still finishing some movie clips, but my head is already with the playable demo, writing a PDF that explains the ins, outs and map designs. Having summed up quite a lot of the requirements already, Fuel22 will show us about:
70 surface textures
40 decals / FX
180 3D props
20 maps

and plenty more sounds, animations, rigs, (concept) drawings and music tracks. A lot of work indeed. Thus a new can of artists with skills and motivation is absolutely needed, and therefore also an oiled –no, fuelled- rewarding & organizing system to keep the machine running. While finishing the current movie clips and making plans for the playable demo, a first version of Fuel22 should be made.

This playable demo is more than just another "random" demo. Well, it is playable and downloadable for one thing. But moreover, it should give a clear, concrete goal to anyone who joins the team. It will be a relative short, but pretty accurate representation of what the game is all about; exploring an seemingly abandon gloomy Soviet-alike skyscraper, taking care of the building, being spooked by the sounds and shadows and what else. It will be the reward for those who dare to invest via an eventual future Kickstarter campaign. It will ultimately be the Green or Red light for this project's future. Details will follow.