Out from the Shadows

You know the thing about finding a great partner is that you want to work with someone with similar interests but yet with different skill sets.  It is an interesting mix that can be very hard to accomplish!

GalaCollider and the company we have formed to create and manage the project is a tale of finding that tough mix.  Sebastian and I met at a Game Convention which led to a number of discussions that became a partnership.  Sebastian has already told that tale form his perspective and I will endeavor to do the same in my next post.

This post however is just a quick Hello…  and a promise of more to come.  This adventure is exciting and challenging and cool and well…  I will be telling you all about it but first..   a brief introduction.

I am Rob, a Southern California transplant from Boston, MA who actually transplanted there form Eastern Canada.  I work in the Tech Industry and am an avid gamer.  My role in the project has been largely helping to build out the infrastructure of our company.  It is the unglamorous but important stuff that has to happen so that the organization can actually move ahead and get stuff done.  Beyond that it is also about helping to create a way for us to realize a vision. Sebastian and I share a vision about what kind of company we would like to create.  We share a frustration that so many designers cannot get their visions realized and that we would like to change that.

We think great game designs need a place to take root.  We want to create that place where great ideas and the people that have them can find people to help them nurture and realize those ideas.  We want to be able to help those ideas see the light of day and bring delight to the people that get to share them.

GalaCollider is one of those amazing ideas.  I cannot wait until you see the final product because as I see the elements come together I get goosebumps…

Sources of inspiration

If you are trying to make a great game you probably need to take a look at a lot of other great games.

Here are some of the others that have inspired GalaCollider, and why we like them.

Masters of Orion II™

Masters of Orion II, Wikipedia

orion2_start2This is a classic, oh the enjoyment. I remember staying up many nights until dawn, and then somehow going to school the next day and not failing my classes. This game is a general source of strong inspiration into the 4X genre as a whole.

From MOO2 we are taking the general principles of expansion, conflict, adaptation, arms-racing, customization, exploration, intelligence and the “4X space theme” itself.

Starbase Orion™

http://www.chimerasw.com/starbaseorion/

screen1Starbase Orion is a great port that captures a lot of the feeling of MOO2 to portable devices.

Our game will actually be very different in play style than either MOO2 or Starbase Orion. These key differences will become a lot more clear when I look at other games like StarCraft II, so let me talk about that game next.

 StarCraft II™

http://us.battle.net/sc2/en/

611he05az8LStarCraft II, now this is a great game. StarCraft is a bit too heavy on the real-time click-rate for me to be any good, but the gameplay strategy itself is phenomenal. There is a lot of positive things I can say about this game, but instead let me focus on the aspects of StarCraft that our game will be incorporating to some degree.

First of all StarCraft is a fairly fast game. Both sides build up and make important early game economic-military decisions. Scouting is pivotal to any serious player’s success. Failure to gather enough intelligence leads to quick defeats. Scouting will also help you to determine what types of units to build and which higher-level tech to develop in an ever incrementing technological arms-race.

Here are typical questions you might ask yourself in a game:

  • Economy vs. Military: Do I power up for a late game economy or focus on immediate aggression?
  • Fog of war: Where is my opponent and what are they doing? Can I sneak up on them?
  • Weapon types: What is the best unit to use to beat the types of units my opponent has built?

GalaCollider’s game play will attempt to recreate these questions, but in a 4X turn based format. Our build up phase will be fairly short (compared to traditional 4X games) followed by a tense mid game where each side vies for dominance. The majority of existing 4X games do not emphasize strongly the importance of scouting, we want to turn that around. In GalaCollider scouting will be as paramount as it is in a game of StarCraft II. It will help you to know which technologies to develop and if you should be focusing on a military buildup or economic superiority. Conversely you can also use fog of war, and counter-spying to fool and outsmart your opponent.

I absolutely love the asymmetry of the races in StarCraft and this is something we hope to re-create in GalaCollider.

Might and Magic: Duel of Champions™

https://www.duelofchampions.com/

might-and-magic-duel-of-champions-002This game got me hooked good for quite a while. If you are looking for a tactical card game with more than just simple lane interactions, look no further.

What struck me about this game was how it managed to make what is effectively a complex card game and turn it into something relatively easy to grasp. The digital automation that tracks all of your stat changes, temporary effects, modifying health values as well as 10 resource types is beautifully executed.

In terms of the game’s actual dynamics, there is a great level of tension. Every turn feels like it could be your last. Reversals are common. Each advance you make on the board requires an answer from the opponent. Conversely if one side takes a big enough lead, it thankfully doesn’t take long for the game to reach closure.

For the deep strategy game we are making, Duel of Champions provides strong examples of both good UI and tense game play.

War of Omens™

http://play.warofomens.com

CaptureCaptainListrataWar of Omens I stumbled into randomly one day and it got me playing solidly for about a month. This is a deck builder like Ascension except with a big difference: each player creates their own 10 piles of cards to buy from.

I will admit, I like the idea of using deck building in card games. It is a fairly fashionable to incorporate this mechanic in modern games. Like anything that is fashionable however, it tends to be utilized in many games in a somewhat forced fashion. “Let’s add deck building, cause it is cool!” — I can almost hear someone saying in my ear.

This game however got it right, deck building is the essence. It then goes beyond simple deck building with a good handful of innovative ideas it branches out of.

Before I discovered this game I was already planning on incorporating some deck building as an in-game mechanic, War of Omens struck me as a great implementation of such a mechanic, and did it with a most excellent UI experience.

Every number, icon, card flip and attack is complimented with supporting hand-loved animations. There is a lot to admire in the experience one obtains.

SolForge™

http://solforgegame.com/

solforgestonebladeSolForge, now this is a game with a solid KickStarter campaign. And an impressive list of endorsers / contributors to boot. Everyone I know was “talking about SolForge”.

Besides the kickstarter itself, which oozes oodles of insight into what makes a great product, SolForge has a great card leveling system that has opened up a lot of design space to create multiple versions of cards that “progress” as you play.

More recently they added a draft system that is superb in that it incorporates an intelligent system where high-picks are filtered out from subsequent packs. Tournaments are a-synchronous, meaning you don’t need to find and play opponents in a fixed duration of time. Perfect for casual mobile devide play.

Hearthstone™

http://us.battle.net/hearthstone/en/

ss1-medHearthstone is Blizzard’s foray into the tablet card game arena. In typical Blizzard fashion they aim to produce polished gems in genres that are already established, but not necessarily fully defined.

Hearthstone has positioned itself as the go-to card game, it has a light, approachable feeling and just the right amount of game-play pressure. Each action your opponent takes creates sufficient tension that you will need to produce a response.

They have a great slow grind process in place for new players. Their draft queue is also free of “early loss depression” because your run only ends after 3 losses rather than being the sum of your record over a fixed number of games.

Take away points: Approachable, progressive curve for new players, pleasant, strong draft system.

Tyrant Unleashed™

http://www.kongregate.com/games/synapticon/tyrant-unleashed-web

hqdefaultYou might be really surprised to see this game here among the others mentioned, but don’t be fooled. This game has some really great ideas and good story-hook implementations.

I really love that the game is always changing your focus. One week you are doing a raid, another you are playing with a group of 50 friends against other guilds, the next week you are doing a solo campaign. This focus-rotation keeps the game engaging and fresh far longer than it could otherwise.

There is a strong community component, you make friends, you coordinate your moves, you jump in when someone else needs you. These “soft aspects” of the game add a whole new level.

In terms of game play, I really like their symbolic language. I’ve seen this trend in a lot of modern board games, perhaps Tournay being one of the more extreme cases. And while symbology can go too far, I believe this game has hit it right on the nail. With 3 icons and 2 numbers I know immediately what sort of card I am looking at.

The store in Tyrant Unleashed is active, there are daily deals, packs that rotate for a few days and specials that can last weeks or months. GalaCollider is absolutely not going to be a pay-to-win sort of game, which TU clearly is, but there is still something positive to be said for making the shop itself an exciting place… what deal am I going to see today?

League of Legends™

http://na.leagueoflegends.com/

5ocah“Pay to win” makes for a good segway into another game: League of Legends. I really like how this company has positioned their product. It is F2P with a stellar revenue. They provide you all you need when you “free to play” to enjoy the game. If you spend money it widens your options but doesn’t make you directly stronger.

The argument often cited here is: more options provides more opportunities for you to counter / adapt to your opponents; provided you are also skilled and trained in those new options.

GalaCollider and League of Legends are not the exact same kind of game; one is an expandable card game, the other is a team builder, but never the less we can probably learn lots about fostering a healthy F2P game economy from our friends behind: League of Legends.

Android: Netrunner™

http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=207

pic1415148Ah Netrunner. I have a soft spot here. The asymmetry, the theme, the bluffing… many things I love.

This game has an excellent player community. There are always new videos popping up, custom cards being made, jokes, fan art, fan websites, you name it. It is a sign of a great game when such a community joins the ride.

From the perspective of our project, Netrunner as a game gives the players great tools to play the bluffing game. Are you going to be flatlined?

I really like how wide and thematic the design space is. Each set comes with a great theme and the mechanics of the game are sufficiently complex enough, that the design territory for the game is vast.

Each faction is very well themed and has unique play styles, much like the races in StarCraft are asymmetric.

Packs and deluxe boxes are built into cycles and supported by press releases and spoilers that generate healthy excitement.

Video production of spectated games is excellent, comparable to some degree to spectated games of StarCraft.

Finally I like their deck building system, whose influence rules open up a huge play space to the creative deck builder to maneuver inside of.

 

Art, Finding Direction

Lorcan was working on the 3D interface and Chris was completing our first Alpha build in parallel. I still had a giant list of prospect artists but none had worked out thus far as a hire to fill in the supporting game UI needs, I wasn’t getting any luck. I found some artists who were clearly talented but would need close guidance, or there were language barriers, or they were not responsive enough or…

Like anything that takes time to resolve, you learn along the way. What came to the surface was that I really needed to find someone who could be our next right-arm on the project. The design area of this project is quite a large undertaking with a substantial team. The right person was not only going to be a stylistic match with Lorcan, but was also going to be someone with whom I could chat/talk easily while being able to set forth an over-arching style in place. If the stars aligned I’d find someone with Art Direction skills who could help to off-load eventually some of the work I would otherwise be doing while coordinating the specific details across our growing creative team.

I had been using Behance, Deviant and Shadowness heavily but started to feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Not much came up from using Indie gamer forums and websites. I knew there were some great artists on Dribbble but their search features were limited unless you became a premium member. I checked the price for the membership, was about $20 for the year and decided it might be worth it. So I slid my virtual credit card and got the portfolios of about 30 artists common to Southern and Northern California that matched my keywords.

From this new pool of candidates I found an artist by the name of Drew Hoffman who seemed to fit the bill. He had strong UI examples that looked like they could make a good fit with Lorcan’s work, and had experience in Art Direction too. Drew seemed interested in the game we were developing, we had a few calls over the course of a couple weeks and right before Christmas 2014 he was hired and brought on board as our 3rd Contractor / Contributor.

One of the first activities Drew undertook was setting up a mood board for the game’s style and artistic elements. I’ll leave you with these two links to our Pinterest boards:

GalaCollider inspirationsScreen Shot 2015-01-19 at 11.07.06 PM

GalaCollider Geometry

Creative hiring process begins

With funding secured to build up our game for a kickstarter we moved our attention towards all of the necessary creative components we would require for the game. Our game needs quite a large creative team to make it happen, some of the roles we knew we would need included:

  • Art Direction
  • Interface / UX design
  • Card template design
  • Logo design
  • Logo animations (cinematics)
  • Icons
  • 3D modeling
  • 3D animations
  • Sound design and composition
  • Character illustration (Concept artwork)

And anywhere from a half a dozen to a dozen or more contributing artists of various technical and creative styles.

I started by compiling a very large spreadsheet with different artists in it, I was mainly looking for someone to start of with who could work on the game’s UI. We want a minimum viable product and getting the game itself to look as good as possible is a part of that.

I spent many dozens of hours looking at portfolios. I think there is a lot of pressure here around the recruiting process, picking the right people will make it or break it. We want our game to be amazing, and that means finding stars in the sky you can hire, but still afford with your limited budget…

As it turned out I actually found quality artists who had more of a TV and film background first, before I was able to secure the right fit for a UI artist. Out of several such artists I narrowed the list down to two candidates, interviewed both and eventually settled on Lorcan O’Shanahan:

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 5.20.00 PM

 

Rob, Chris and I all really appreciated his experience on major TV and Film projects and thought that his quality of work would make for a great fit on our planetary UI interface.

Lorcan was added to the project sometime around November and has been creating various cinematic animations and 3D concept models for the UI ever since. We can’t wait to show you some of his work a bit closer to our kickstarter because it is really looking phenomenal!

With Lorcan on-board one puzzle piece was completed but I still needed to find someone now to work on the general UI and all of the other game screen components. The hunt continued onwards to build that perfect star-team.