River Bend Project

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Q: How did you come up with the idea of creating the River Bend Project?

A: I've been working weekends in the summer at a RV Resort in Watertown Wisconsin called the River Bend RV Resort and Campground. After my second season, in the Fall of '03 I thought of how the Resort could use a 3D walkthrough to take with them to their various expositions promoting the park. Naively, I thought it would be an easy enough project to do for a simple walkthrough. I was horribly wrong.


I started by buying a book or two about game development and 3dsmax. I also started looking for game development software, and between Torque and Gamestudio, chose Gamestudio. The first level of RBP is indeed a 3D re-creation of the River Bend resort. It wasn't long after starting, I decided that 'just' a walkthrough was far more work than it was worth for a 'gift' to the park. So I figured 'Why not make a game out of it for the kids?


Q: How big is the team behind RBP?

A: During the beginning of RBP's development I met a lot of good people in the forums.... most noteworthy, Dennis_Fantasy ( Dennis van den Broek ) and Lennart Hill (Lennart Hillen ) both of Dreamlight Development. Through the majority of RBP's 2 1/2 year development the only existing code was pretty much just walkthrough code. In the final 2 months before it's release to the Resort, Dennis worked like a madman and created all the remaining code for the game! This was, essentially a 2 man project, though we had plenty of helpful insights and information from many people in the Gamestudio forums.


Q: What type of game is RBP? And what is the goal of the game?

A: The River Bend Project is a first person shooter, with linear gameplay. Just a simple FPS by most standards, designed to be a little easier to play by younger kids. The campground level is pretty low, quality-wise... I had much higher resolution skins on all the models, but I wanted this to be playable on as many systems as possible. And with all the content in that level, certain aspects of quality had to be sacrificed. The storyline..... Aliens looking for a place to spend their vacations decided apon the River Bend Resort. while theyre away, they left behind little UFO's to guard the Resort, and other areas throughout your journey. Your objective is to make your way to the mothership and destroy it by shutting down it's Power Core.


Q: How many levels does RBP include?

A: RBP presently consists of about 10 to 12 levels (2 are 'repeats' but in different physical states), and there's even a 'minigame' within RBP where you shoot asteroids while in a spaceship taking you to the Mothership. There are also 'Easter eggs' throughout the game as well


Q: How easy it is to recreate a certain location in VR?

A: To me there is no better way to teach you almost every aspect of development you'll need to know as a developer. The initial thought is that a re-creation would be easy, because everything is already decided as far as how everything looks and is placed. But that's the very reason why it's harder. If something doesn't fit right, you're forced to figure it out. You'll need to take lots of digital photos, find resources such as overhead satellite maps to accurately place buildings and other objects. A re-creation will prevent you from using very much, if any, creative license in your work.


It's the hardest project to do becase YOU dont decide how the layout is, it's already decided and cant change. This is great training for taking on work from clients. You will learn how fast content builds up too. So much so it teaches you how to compromise and still get acceptable visual results. How to take 5 smaller models and make them into 1 model to reduce the number of entities. LOD will be a factor for big areas. Scaling of all objects properly will be learned. You'll learn how to make low poly models look like high poly models. Low resolution textures/sprites look realistic. Pictures will need editing, so you'll learn paint programs like Paintshop Pro, or Photoshop.


Q: What techniques did you use in order to create the big outdoor area in the first level of the game?

A: It was most fortunate that the Resort's terrain is primarily flat excepting the hill. In this case, Google for satellite images and a topography map of the area were used to create a relatively accurate heightmap as a start. There are actually two 'main' terrains: the big one encompasses the whole level and is 76 x 76 vertices, which was fine for the general shape. The second is in the area by the pool. It's much smaller, with 36 x 48 vertices, and was necessary to obtain the proper shape of the ground in that area. There are also two other small terrains used for the house and for the back pond.


The skins for the terrains were taken directly from a satellite image, and colored to suit. This also helped greatly in the accurate placement of the many structures present at the Resort.  As for optimizing, many smaller sets of models were merged into fewer larger models. The number of entities for the whole outdoor level, I believe is only around 200+ entities... which sounds like a lot, until you are playing the level... it even amazes me the number is that low.


Q: Any plans for the near future?

A: I've also carried on with a 3D minigolf project that Dreamlight Development initially started to test ball physics. This will likely be the next full game Nordic Epitaph will be working on.


Q: Please give us a few tips for the beginners.

A: I am on the other side of the fence when it comes to beginners. I don't say start small. I would say maybe start with the template projects first. But then I'd say start BIG. This is my first project. And it's not small. Small projects lead to easier goals, this is true, but a huge project, especially a re-creation of a real place will teach you two things:

- It will teach you if you have the drive to make serious games;

- It will teach you almost everything else. Modeling, textures, LOD, optimizing, you name it...  I personally think it's the best way to learn at least the basics of every aspect of game development. But don't expect it to be great, and don't expect a DOOM3 clone. But you will learn a LOT. And if you last until the game is done,  you'll be ready for some real good projects. This game took 2 1/2 years, from total beginner to completion, and was a great teacher.


Thank you a lot, Jason.