Fundraising scales up ambitions

Happy holidays everyone! In today’s dev-blog post I’ll talk a bit more about the fundraising side of things. Not sure if that’s the best topic for the holidays, but maybe it is if you imagine the funding helps to create presents under a tree!

With Rob, Chris and myself on board we now moved in earnest to creating a presentation and an overall plan. We did budgetary planning when we decided to code GalaCollider and we knew that we would need funds to get our product developed enough to reach a kicksarter. In our experience and observation, a successful game kickstarter will show you finished artwork for a part of the game, but not necessarily all of it. We also felt that we needed to go into a kickstarter with a game that could be Beta-ready within 3 months of a successful campaign.

Planning for success.
Planning for success.

This meant that we needed to hit a kickstarter with a game that would be fairly close to done, mechanically, but could still have a lot of artwork missing. What artwork it did have though, needed to reflect the quality of the finished product.

We evaluated that the game-play needed to be done iteratively. We should be building from a “minimum viable product” and then iterate feature sets on top of this until we had something that we could release. It is critical that we code the game in such an order that we can go live even if the kickstarter isn’t successful or raises less funds than we would like it to. Additional features can always be added on after release or as time goes on.

In terms of quality, we really want to hit the ball out of the park. Top visual artists, top coders, top game play. There is no reason to not aim for the best game here we can possibly produce.

When we put this all together we came up with our pre-funding goal. We needed immediate cash to hire the quality players we required to present a solid product in the kickstarter.

We had several talks about how to attract and reward early investors. Rob put together some great slides, we created an FAQ document and the necessary paperwork.

A slide from our current presentation.

Several friends and family members adopted early and we not only met but exceeded our initial funding goals. Go back a month or two to October/November 2014 and we already had a tree “bursting with presents”, so to speak. Hopefully this time next year we will be talking about a whole new kind of holiday special. With funds in place Rob and I could now start expanding the team with all the bright-star visual artists we so desired!

It’s been so awesome to get such great support and a high vote of confidence from a good dozen+ group of people. We wouldn’t be here building the best game we can, if it wasn’t for the stellar support of our friends and family members. Thank you and happy holidays!

Let’s smash a couple galaxies together to make a game.

When the concept for this game was being developed, I thought a little bit about the back-story, and what kinds of stories existed in games of the same genre. One thing that troubled me, was that we always assume things start from zero when you start a 4X game. I wondered if there was a way to set context between multiple games where you expand. Could there be a start from zero, multiple times, over several games that are played and still linked together into a bigger over-arching campaign?

Starting from zero occurs under different kinds of circumstances. It could be your very first expansive growth: “The rise of your virgin empire”. This makes sense in some cases, but probably not all and you can only do this once. There isn’t any potential in this back-story for a game-to-game connected storyline.

Phases of galaxy collision and later merge.
Phases of galaxy collision and later merge.

If one thinks about it though, a rise from “zero” can happen under many other circumstances. It could be a rise after a revolution, or a giant disaster which crumbles the existing power structures at hand, or a long progressive degradation of the current super-power(s). Serious turbulent periods can even be caused by new technology appearing in the world, forcing a giant arms race, new war, and a redistribution of power (or self annihilation?). Any “redistribution of power” event makes for a good new start for the next zero-point game.

At first I considered the potential that star systems would be moving in this game, so you would have a fluid map, where individual turns were more like years and the board-state would fluctuate accordingly, thus emphasizing such events. While this is still a possibility that could be explored during our early player-testing, the more important part here was that I wanted more than just an anonymous growth from a repeating zero point, over-and-over every time you play, without explanation.

The idea came about to look at celestial major events, and in particular galaxy collisions. While galaxy collisions are very rare and occur over very long periods of time, the idea struck that such events could be fairly cinematic, lead to interesting board-states, and also explain a certain degree of why some empires might be rebuilding.

You have to imagine in this case, a stable situation with one or more empires dominating a galaxy. Followed by a period of uncertainty as two galaxies intersect. The collapse of a stable state follows, and then arises a new empire built upon the ancient ruins of their formers: racing to dominate the “new” galaxy. Many millennia after empires collapse their long-lost ancestors, divided among the stars: rebuild and expand.

One could also imagine, that the entire universe is filled with alien races. Spread across and separated between multiple galaxies, with common heritage, and the repeating story where each time a disaster, upheaval, or collapse occurs: a new expansion takes place; a new struggle for dominance. This could explain perfectly how you, as a player, might be running several games one after the other, but still connected to each other over time.

Supernova or other destructive forces could also be the catalyst that triggers a new "zero-point" race for dominance.
Supernova or other destructive forces could also be the catalyst that triggers a new “zero-point” race for dominance.

Galaxy collisions didn’t need to explain each and every single situation where re-expansion is necessary. But it helps to extend the possible scenarios behind such situations, and was an easy pivot point to anchor a name; it is also a fairly unique concept, which can’t hurt when you are working initially to develop a unique “world-setting” to build from.

We started with the name: Galaxy Collider and then GalaCollider. Gala was a prefix from a game I’m sure many of you have played called Galaga. And who doesn’t like historical references? “GalaCollider” has a nice ring to it, and may very well stick to be the name of this game to the end.

 

Two steps forward, lightning strikes back

Miroslav was our game’s sole C# Unity programmer at the time, this is now around June of 2014. Before starting the work Miroslav acknowledged that he didn’t have experience making a game of this level of complexity but he assured us he was capable of doing it. To be sure things were going well, I wanted another more experienced developer to review the current code. Miroslav himself also expressed that he would appreciate us adding a more senior person to the team, so that he could ask questions and get guidance.

Rob did a bunch of pre-screening and narrowed it down to about 3 developers. Then out of the blue a guy name Chris Kirby applied to review Miroslav’s code and just blew out of the water (with his extensive experience) everyone else that we had been considering.

At pretty much the same time we were finalizing everything with Chris, Miroslav disapeared, missed a delivery goal and couldn’t be reached for days.

He then finally resurfaced to tell me that lightning(!) had struck his house and fried his computer, router, phone and more.

lightning-comp
Too much of anything, in this case Electricity, is a bad thing.

Miroslav expressed to me that this set back was huge and that he wasn’t sure anymore if he could continue to freelance on our project. After some consideration and discussion I offered to advance payment to Miroslav to help him buy new hardware. He refused this. Miroslav informed me that he may be available again in a few weeks/months but he was uncertain.

Chris was added to the GIT repository and performed his initial code audit of the work that Miroslav had done. By the time Miroslav contacted me again we had completed not only the code audit but assigned to Chris the task of refactoring and furthering the development of the game. Miroslav’s last communication to us was to tell us that he would no longer be available.

It was sad to lose Miroslav, but Rob and I were both incredibly happy with the work quality and awesome character of Chris.

Planning and serious development for Alpha-1, the first release of GalaCollider now began.

 

One adventure leads to another

Programming was now underway and as it turns out, multiple projects were happening in parallel now: four to be exact.

Miroslav in Serbia was coding GalaCollider, I was continuing to program a side scrolling platform game in Corona SDK with Lua and sprite/levelhelper that I started a year or two prior (but still hadn’t finished), a card game of mine: The Black Rose was about to be run on kickstarter, and a friend / co-designer of mine named Jeremy White here in Santa Barbara (Author of games like: Enemy Coast Ahead) was co-designing with me a new abstract-strategy civil war game to present at the upcoming GMT West event in Hanford, California.

On the road to GMT

gmt-logo_pdcsqsTwo cars full of game designers went on the road from Santa Barbara to Hanford for a weekend of fun and to show off our various prototypes. Every Saturday morning at GMT West Gene makes a speech in which he gives an update on various products, market trends and the future goals of GMT. Gene gave the floor to a man named Robert Masson who did a general shout-out to all present to see if anyone would be available to help with an iOS project being done in Lua.

I approached Rob and mentioned I might be able to help with the creation or editing of the visual assets and programming in Lua. We had a good conversation, he rode his motorbike back to LA and when I got back home in Santa Barbara we followed up with several calls over a few weeks and discussed his various prospects. It turned out that I didn’t end up coming aboard these prospects, due to reasons related to financial viability.

I threw out a fishing rod and mentioned to Rob that I was working on two digital games and that I was ultimately looking for the opportunity to transition into starting my own game design agency. Would Rob be interested in partnering with me to start a company? Could Rob be GalaCollider’s ticket to take this game from a “bedroom project” to the big-time?

Partnership discussions

esports
eSports is quite a serious affair.

Rob looked like a great person to partner with, he was focused and interested in the business / marketing side of things and could help to take care of things like: contracts, lawyers, incorporating, accounting etc. but also had a great network on the marketing side of things. Rob mentioned on several occasions his connections to people working for Disney, the Apple App Store, eSports and potential investors.

This seemed like a great match for me, Rob was interested in dealing with all the aspects of running an agency that I found to be less interesting (the accounting, paper work, legal stuff etc.), which meant that I could potentially focus more on the creative, coordination and direction aspects instead.

We had several conversations that spanned several weeks. We looked at the current progress we had achieved on GalaCollider and my solo-Lua project, and also reviewed some of my other digital game concepts (that were still just pen-and-paper ideas). Rob brought an early investor to meet with me in Santa Barbara, who was awesome enough to immediately sign-up to make perpetual financial contributions towards building capital for our projects.

Ultimately we decided to focus on GalaCollider first, even though it was probably the most ambitious project of the final three we considered. Rob and I did our gentleman’s handshake, and new business venture had begun!

…Why we decided to develop GalaCollider first, will have to be the subject of another post.

Uncertain times followed

Each year at GenCon they have a meet-up for game designers organized by the Game Designer’s Guild, and in this particular year game designers were showing off prototypes to publishers. Emerson and I had a great conversation, and I showed him several of my game prototypes. While our discussions didn’t result in any publication so far, we did decide at the time to try and come up with a game idea together. He knew I had worked as the lead game designer for ShadowEra and suggested we try and design one together. I had just gone through this process with another card game called: Spell Battles and I knew from experience how difficult it is to fund and release a card game and was therefore a bit hesitant.

Spell Battles, another CCG I designed that has yet to find a publisher.
Spell Battles, another card game I designed that has yet to find a publisher.

Nevertheless, we proceeded. After a couple hour-long Skype calls we had the basis for a sci-fi card game with 4X elements, GalaCollider was born. Sadly as these first couple weeks continued Emerson had less and less time, and was unable to really contribute. We talked at the time about staggering development over several years, or finding another programmer who could assist, neither which option seemed to be be panning out.

As far as I could tell, it looked like this game may never really move further, and be “just another game” that ends up being on paper and never actually becoming a product.

One of the people I had been play testing with though, had a friend who lived to offshore in Serbia. He said that he would have time and the ability to begin coding the game, and for a very good price.

Emerson wasn’t really a big fan of this, and it was around about this time that Emerson decided to step off fully from the project. After some back-and-forth Emerson told me that he felt it had become more my game than his, since I had put in considerably more time than him, and retracted all his rights and responsibilities.

serbiaI always prefer working on a project as a team rather than solo, and it seems to be a bit of a pattern I’m trying to break, that sometimes I end up having to go alone on something that was begun as a team endeavor…

On the one hand I didn’t want to end up alone, but on the other it seemed kind of natural to take up this opportunity and to see how far the coder from Serbia could take it.

I checked with my playtesters and they all felt it was a solid enough concept to be worth the risk and time to move along further, so I went for it.

I had a few calls with Miroslav, the new programmer from Serbia, and it seemed like things could indeed move forward. I wasn’t sure where this would take me, but I did know that he felt it was a relatively easy game to code, and that we could indeed have a working Alpha product within about six months. This seemed encouraging.

And thus it was that programming began.

Core gameplay development

The main game underwent about 12 major revisions over the course of several months of print-and-play playtesting. I live in Santa Barbara and here there is actually a great little community of avid gamers and fellow game designers. 3 people helped playtest the game in this early phase. These people ranged from sci-fi board game lovers of Twilight Emperium, Eclipse, and Android: Netrunner to digital players of Masters of Orion II, StarCraft II and Sins of a Solar Empire.

At the time I was also reading several design methodology books. Game Mechanics, Advanced Game Design by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans provided really great processes for building up a functional and emergent economic system and goes in great depth into Machinations as a form of system design.

Early Design Challenges

One of the initial challenges I faced was the natural tendency to want to stack ships together in the same sector to have an overwhelming force. This I resolved by imposing command limits on the size of your fleet that you are able to have in one sector.

Another challenge was getting the rate of expansion right. The early game rapid growth and mid to late game phases have to happen at the right speed with the right amount of friction. Machinations proved to be a valuable mental model to work through and apply various accelerators and friction coefficients.

Machination example from Starcraft II.
Machination example from Starcraft II

Tweaks to your home system’s start economy, map size and colonization rate provided the necessary early rate of expansion required to produce the desired game length. A friction coefficient was then added to the colonization cost to impose difficult mid to late game decisions regarding the desire to continue your expansion vs. paying for other costs ranging from combat attack-defense and alternative economic, political and strategic avenues.

If you are seriously into game designing I definitely recommend the three books found in the above image. They took a lot of what I might have known intuitively and transferred it into a conscious domain with a wider array of tools.

The three books cited above are:

Our project begins

Greetings and welcome to the first post of this new developer blog!

GalaCollider paper testing

Please join us as we explore the making of a new game tentatively titled: GalaCollider. Design of the game began in mid 2013 with early concept development and then several iterations of paper-tests. Since this game is inherently a turn-based game, it had to work as a physical game first. As a paper game we couldn’t fully test fog of war rules, but the heart of the game’s phases, combat systems and economy are all available systems we could refine and explore.

So what is GalaCollider? Galaxy Collider, or GalaCollider for short is a Unity 3D sci-fi turn based strategy game. Players use cards to play.