Ken Patterson, president of Digital Content, LLC has agreed to answer our questions for this month's interview:
Q: When and why have you started to develop games?
A: We developed are first game in 1993 “High Roller Video Casino” for Wizard Works, now Infogrames Value. Before that we had developed a graphics utility called “SnapIT” and “SnapPro”. We published these products ourselves for two years. Publishing is very risky business, not many products make money for a publisher, as we painfully found out. We made more money on the Casino Game in three months than in two years of selling our graphics utility software. It did not take long to figure out which way we should go, making games was more profitable. At the same time we were contacted by Disney Interactive, they loved our graphics program and “High Roller” and felt we could develop creativity software and games for them. So we became a games company because that’s what our client base was asking for.
Q: What other engines have you used before A5?
A: We used NDL Net Immerse on FLW and FLW 2000. These were high end fishing games and they sold very well, over 250,000 units. We also used NDL on a softball game. That game has only sold 15,000 copies so far. NDL is a first class development system, no doubt. Three years ago there was not much choice in 3D engines. Times have changed with the advent of sub $1000 3D engines. C++ engines require a huge expense in people, time, testing, and the engine license. It is a large gamble to spend so much on a game that very likely will not sell very well. Only 100 of the 2000 game released each year make a profit. That means you have a 1 in twenty chance of making any real money.
Q: Why have you decided to work with A5?
A: I had gotten the Great Clips contract and they had a limited budget to make the game. So I needed to find a capable engine for a fair price that could also make my client happy. I chose A5 because I was able to get some prototypes together very quickly. They looked much better than what I was able to do with A5’s competitors. I just understood A5 better and was quickly productive with it. I stuck with A5 because the more I learned how to use it the better my game became. I did not out grow the capabilities of A5.
Q: How many months did it take you to finish Great Clips 500? What problems have you experienced during the development?
A: I fiddled around with A5 for about 4 months prototyping game play and tracks. It took me about two months to get the product ready and out the door. We had another project going and I had to be the producer and game designer on that project also. So A5 really saved the day by being a solid easy to implement 3D game engine. My problems stem from lack of talent in model and level building. I wish WED would have an ARC or Curve primitive so I could create better turns and hills. Wed can handle some nice curves in terrain I just wish they move that same ability to the primitives.
Q: What tools are you using for your models, textures and sounds?
A: We used 3DMAX, Canvas 3D, Anim8or, 3D Exploration, Turbosquid.com for models, MED, and Photoshop Elements. Milkshape looks great I even paid the 20 bucks for it. I just did not get it, my fault, because it looks very capable. A Milkshape manual is really needed. I used Sound Forge for sound editing.
Q: How big (in quants) should be a level for a racing game?
A: Good question, 40K or more, I guess. It is really up to the track designer. I am making a track that is 64K right now. You can use switch backs and add layers below and above to maximize your space.
Q: Can you tell us a few words about your future game projects?
A: We are pretty far into a making a new fishing game. This will be our sixth fishing game. We have a tentative publisher. We will be converting our Kids-College educational game over to 3D using A5 this fall and into next year. College Mascots and college sports are used for education. I have a bunch of mini games I want to build but I never get enough time. I really want to combine a shooter, which A5 is really good at, with a puzzle game, like Tetris. Just not enough time.
Q: What new engine features would you like to see implemented in the near future?
A: I want DX8.1 support. A little better control of collision boxes, I do not need irregular shape collisions, to big of a hit on frame rate. Better tools in MED for skinning, the MD2 crap is very hard for dummies like me. Better primitives in WED to help make my levels look better. Finally Bones support for model animation. Lets give us all this plus keep the frame rate high, big task. I have been using the beta and lets say the 3DGS team is working hard on a lot cool new features, they are the best 3D team I have worked with.
Q: Do you have a few tips for the beginners?
A: Use the forum. Ask questions, download everything you can get your hands on. Bring down code and demos from all the sites that support 3DGS. The Acknex resource site is a great place to start. Try and make small games first. Do not try to make GTA 3 or something huge right away. Make a nice mini game first. If you get stuck trying one thing rethink your technique and try it another way. This engine is robust enough that you can find a way to do most anything.
Thank you, Ken.