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Although on a very busy schedule, William Sworin has kindly taken the time to answer this month's interview questions.
Q: Some of the Aum readers might remember the interview we’ve done about 1.5 years ago. What has changed, what new features did you add to the game since then?
A: There have been many improvements and gameplay changes since then. Most of the effort has been focused on the multiplayer modes. I have added flight into the game via a powerup. When your kart hits the powerup, you instantly get a pair of glider wings and can fly around and chaingun people or drop bombs. I also added the ability to shoot players in "turret mode". This basically allows you to control your weapons from a first person view at anytime. This allows for ground-ground, ground-air, and air-air combat. It is really addictive and fun. There are many multiplayer modes, and it supports LAN and Online play. Aside from that I mainly focused on fixing bugs, polishing graphics, and adding more content. I have also been working on the racing mode and making sure the single player is really fun.
Q: What makes your game special / different when compared with (let’ say) Mario Kart?
A: Most people who play Silas now don't really compare it to Mario Kart. They usually mention Unreal Tournament mixed with kart racers. It has evolved very much through the years, and is really a unique product now. I call it "Flight-Combat-Racing" or a kart / shooter hybrid. Mario kart offers standard racing, and very simple battle mechanics. Silas offers racing, but with turret weapons and much more crazy tracks. But that is not the main focus, it also offers a very deep multiplayer experience as I outlined above. My games art style has also evolved into its own as well. Both the music and the presentation are very sci-fi and cutting edge. It's definitely a kart based game made for the hardcore PC audience.
Q: Could you give us more info about the weapons’ “lock-on system never seen in racing games before”?
A: The lock-on system is primarily for the racing modes. When you are racing, all your turret weapons lock onto your opponents automatically. You then can either break or strengthen your targeting by keeping your kart in-line with your opponent. At full strength you can really do tons of damage. I also have classic projectile based weapons. These don't use this system of course. The reason I added this is so that you can focus on racing and not on moving the mouse to aim at opponents. In the deathmatch modes, you have full control over aiming and there is no lock-on system. So you’re driving around and fully aiming your guns at the same time.
Q: How does Gamestudio’s multiplayer work for you? Can your game be played over the internet without lagging?
A: Yes, the game works well over the Internet. However, lag is common in all games released. You basically have to work with your code so it sends the least possible data, and make sure you try and mask any lagging through "smoke and mirrors". The game is currently running and playable over both LAN and the Internet. The multiplayer of 3DGS itself works fine; however, multiplayer is a very time consuming feature to add and debug. It is definitely the hardest coding I have ever done.
Q: How did you create the online stats tracking and the leader board?
A: I'm using a database on my dedicated server. The game connects to it, then retrieves and writes information to it. It sounds quite simple in theory, although it’s actually really hard to do properly. Designing the database is the easiest part. The hard part is communicating with the database and displaying that on screen. This takes alot of work to debug and polish.
Q: Your game has great visuals – how did you achieve them?
A: I used 3ds Max for the levels, and Photoshop for the art. I'd basically make the entire level in 3ds Max, and when it is done I use an old 3ds Max exporting plugin done by Malabar to export these objects as separate mdls. Then I would export the scene into WED with actions and skills applied. The nice thing about this plugin is it allows you to set your actions and skills right in Max, saving much time. After that, you just run the game, no advanced compiling as the levels are just entities. To make lightmaps, I would render them in 3ds Max, then I would use a renamer on all the objects, export all the models for a second time with the different name and a different uvmap. Open MED and transfer the new uvmap to the original models, and use code to apply the lightmaps. This is actually fairly time consuming to learn, but it's fairly fast once you know the multi stepped process.
After you have the levels in WED, you apply shaders via your actions. Silas has many different shaders. To users of 3DGS - I use Shade-C (it is free on the forums); this provides many great shaders. My characters and weapons use environment normal mapping. Finally, you have the post processing shaders. These add HDR, DOF, and Haze effects.
Q: I know that you are pitching publishers these days. Did you find a good one?
A: Yes, I am currently looking for a partner to work with, and there have been some good leads. However, I cannot really elaborate on this yet. If nothing works out with a traditional publisher, then I will go down the route of self publishing as many studios do these days via digital distribution.
Q: What are the most important things you’ve learned while developing this game? Please share them with us.
A: This game is a really an anomaly development wise. I am one guy basically putting together a huge game over many years. If I could recommend anything is that you should not pursue a project this big. Start with something smaller, make sure it is very fun and has a cool graphics angle on it. Polish it until it shines, then submit it to the distribution portals(Steam, D2D, Impulse, GamersGate, Ect.). Try and build yourself up one game at a time.
I am very lucky to be able to develop something and not release it until I fully realize my vision. However, part of this lies in my age as I'm only 22 and can live on next to nothing. I also started this dream way back in High School, and had started to learn game development around 10. Most cannot do this big of a project for a variety of reasons, as it takes years to learn, and then further years to develop. So the best thing is to try and get the ball rolling money wise by building and releasing smaller titles first. Once you have some experience and capital, you can then move onto a bigger more risky project.
I’d also recommend using middleware fully. And as well, contract workers are great for Indies. Usually you will find them online, or they will contact you, and they give you great work for great rates. As well, Mobile and Social apps are very lucrative if done right. If I wasn't doing this, I would probably work in that space as an indie. The nice thing about these games is that the graphics are not intensive, and you can quickly release quality titles. Or you can focus on making MMO style flash games and try and get subscriptions coming in.
Either way, the future is incredibly bright for independents. Larger companies will always be there, and yes, just like every other industry, things are slowly monopolizing in the game industry too. But with everything going digital, it is easier for Indies to compete on the same playing field minus the marketing. Tools are also incredible now, like never before. And the final and most important thing is to never give up. There will be a million times you will feel like doing so and probably with good reason. But if you really believe in your product, stick it to the end, it’s worth it.
Thank you a lot, William!