Root Causes - Secret Agent 009
In their many years of friendship Pierre and Mike have created a great number of computer games together, one of these consisting of a two dimensional shooter dubbed Secret Agent 009:
Designed with Click n’ Create sometime in March 2000 and loosely inspired by Goldeneye 007, a first person shooter for the Nintendo 64, Secret Agent 009 tells the story of a new secret service operative following 007’s retirement. Players must infiltrate enemy compounds, disable cameras, plant bugs, drive vehicles as well as use lethal force in order to eliminate their foes. While such a description paints a rather positive image, Secret Agent 009 doesn’t truly stand out in terms of quality. In fact the game’s story, gameplay and artwork were, at best, mediocre. Secret Agent 009’s importance only came to be felt in the years following the project’s end (it was left incomplete) due to the sequel it eventually inspired: Codename 001, Engine001’s predecessor.
Two key elements stand out in particular with respects to the making of Secret Agent 009. First, Pierre, who had previously done next to nothing in terms of game design, drew some of the game’s characters. While his contributions remained meager (Mike still drew most of the game’s art) and unimpressive (they were far from attractive) this marked the early beginning of Pierre’s role as artist. Secondly, Secret Agent 009 featured vehicles (cars and trucks), some acted as mere enemy obstacles while others were fully drivable. This was one of the first times Pierre and Mike had ever made use of fully-drivable vehicles within a game of theirs (the only exception being another Click and Create game called “Adventure”), a concept clearly reflected in Engine001 vehicle feature.
Phase 1 - Codename 001
In 2001 Pierre and Mike began work on a new game, Codename 001. From the project’s inception Pierre agreed to design all of the project’s artwork. Mike, on the other hand, unsurprisingly reprised his usual role as programmer. Designed in Visual Basic, the initial idea driving Codename 001 was a rather simple one: recreate Secret Agent 009 with major improvements (such as a better story and more maneuverable vehicles). Players were to take the role of Blake Anderson, a Canadian CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) agent. While both Pierre and Mike worked tenaciously (starting over a variety of times) on a tentative first level the game never truly had the chance to get off the ground. Both creators gradually grew aware of the fact that they couldn’t truly begin serious work upon their game without first having completed and perfected some of the project’s key features to-be such as lighting and rotating doors. Focus thus shifted away from the game itself and to the “engine” expected to mobilize the game into reality.
Codename 001’s creation engine was initially but a means to an end – it was not to be released publicly. Accordingly, creating a new map could very well be an ordeal. Users could initially see nothing but ground as well as circles and squares, the latter two representing doors and characters. To make matters worse everything (such as walls, items…) were all initially dynamic objects. The Codename 001 engine did, however, improve over time. New features were increasingly suggested (such as adding water blocking and water-specific vehicles) and often neither from Mike nor Pierre themselves but acquaintances aware of the project. As the Codename 001 creation engine progressed a veriety of features to the game’s engine, some entirely irrelevant to Codename 001’s completion began being implemented or suggested as long-term goals to be achieved (such as adding RPG elements). Such ambitious designs deprioritized Pierre and Mike’s original project; the main focus was no longer on the game but the game maker itself. A variety of collaborators were generous enough to lend their time and labor to the project. Two individuals stand out in particular throughout Codename 001’s development: Brad Smith, who ultimately composed four pieces of music (“Intro”, “Jazz”, “Sneak” and “Town”) and Dj Diablo, who provided valuable creative input as well as programming help. As Engine001 grew increasingly complex many collaborators began suggesting Engine001 be released in its own right. It could, they argued, be used as a full-fledged game creation engine by the general public and not as but a mere means to Codename 001. Such sentiments only confirmed what Mike and Pierre knew all along. The decision was made to release Engine001 following Codename 001’s completion; the latter intended to be released before the former. Nevertheless, Codename 001 had now been reduced to “demo” status – a game intended to showcase some of Codename 001 engine (later dubbed “Engine001”)’s main features.
All was not well for both creators, however. Well aware his artwork simply couldn’t match his project’s higher standards Pierre disappointingly consented to being replaced by Joel Steudler as artist. Pierre reverted to his traditional role: providing Mike with creative input. Ultimately Pierre turned his focus upon Codename 001, fleshing out a basic storyline, establishing the game’s plot and characters, and writing detailed character biographies. His efforts would be in vain, however. It wasn’t long before Codename 001 was dropped altogether.
For a relatively short period of time a chosen few (mainly Mike, Pierre and DJ Diablo) had the opportunity to play Multi001, Engine001’s short-lived multiplayer function. A variety of multiplayer maps were created; using vehicles and firepower (mind you, Engine001 was still in its early stages) players fought for survival. A popular tactic was to plant an exuberant of C4 plastic explosives behind walls and trees, hidden from plain view, in hopes of surprising unsuspecting enemies. While great fun, Multi001 was never Mike or Pierre’s main focus and, accordingly, left undeveloped.
It is important to note that Codename 001 was initially but a private undertaking – the idea was simply to develop a game in the name of its creators’ personal enjoyment; friends and family were expected to play the game. As the project grew more and more sophisticated the decision was made to go public and create a website (http://www.engine001.com/archive/older) in hopes of garnering external support. Initial attempts proved disappointing as the site’s inactive message boards quickly began to illustrate. Once Mike and Pierre decided to release Engine001 as well as Codename 001 the 001 website was revamped in order to emphasize the project’s new direction (http://www.engine001.com/archive/old). “Codename 001” was replaced with the more generic and all encompassing “001”.
Phase 2 - The Green Plague / Death
From 2001 onwards Pierre and Mike began developing a Role Playing Game entitled The Green Plague (or TGP for short) within RPG Maker 2000. Indeed, both Codename 001 and TGP were developed simultaneously around the same time. Months were usually spent working upon a single one of the two projects until boredom finally set in, prompting Pierre and Mike to move on to the next (previously ignored) project. By early 2003 work upon Codename 001 as well as Engine001 had largely stalled in favor of TGP. While far less innovative than Codename 001 (it was, after all, a simple RPG Maker 2000 game with a few added features) Mike and Pierre regarded TGP’s storyline as one of the greatest both had ever conceived. By the time both, tired of TGP, began working on Engine001 once more the decision was made to drop Codename 001 as Engine001’s flagship title in favor of TGP, a game far closer to Pierre and Mike’s hearts. In order to stay true to the game’s roots the project would undoubtedly require major RPG elements. Until the implementation of such features TGP’s creation was, as Codename 001, postponed until Engine001’scompletion. First, however, Engine001’s action elements needed to be perfected and displayed to the general public. Accordingly, a simple game – or “demo” - was put up on the official 001 website.
It is also during this period Pierre finally regained his position as artist. Joel Steudler, scheduled to become the project’s new artist, proved unable to provide game graphics in a timely fashion. Seeing an opportunity, Pierre began reworking his pixel art style, improving drastically in a rather short period of time. More confident in his abilities, Pierre replaced Joel. While much of Pierre’s new contributions were directed towards Engine001 quite a few backgrounds, concept art and characters were designed specifically for TGP:
By 2003 morale had dropped significantly. Engine001, previously but the means to an end (Codename 001), had transformed itself in Mike and Pierre’s prime objective. Unfortunately this now meant there would always be room for improvement, modifications or new features; that is, there would be no clear end to the project. Perpetual work simply didn’t interest Pierre and Mike. After years of hard work, a largely nonexistent fan base and no end in sight both creators agreed to shelve the project indefinitely. Pierre posted the following message upon the official 001 website on November 24 2003:
Pierre wrote: Seeing I was the first to update the site way back when, I suppose it’s appropriate I be the last. Sadly, things have been going downhill ever since we went public. 001 wasn’t originally supposed to out in the open as it is now – It was rather a personal challenge Mike and I had decided to undergo. In a way, we’ve both succeeded: We now leave the project with many new found skills we’d be left without not having worked on the project.
As you’ve probably already guessed, 001/TGP is no more. It seems every time 001 was nearing completion one of us would come up with some new and innovative idea – we’d revamp the engine, revamp the graphics, revamp the story… Needless to say, things got quite tiresome, and the passion we once had for the project was eventually extinguished. Obviously, it’s hard to drop two and a half year old project. Mike and I have spoken about this for a while now. We feel it’s time we go public and give you the bad news.
Phase 3 - Rebirth
By May 2005 both Pierre and Mike had just completely their first year of University. Conscious of the four month period in-between full academic years both set out to find something to do with their spare time. Engine001 had always stood out as a low point for both. Why had they so hastily let go of their most ambitious project together? Had all of this time and effort been in vain? Conscious of their previous lack of motivation both agreed to revive Engine001. This time, both agreed, things would be different. Never again would they let their ambitions overtake them. Ironically enough this period would prove arguably the most important in Engine001’s history with Pierre and Mike laboring like never before. First and foremost Pierre and Mike agreed to cease working on TGP. The sole focus would be Engine001 – nothing more. A new official website was created (designed by Joel Steudler) and a new message board set up.
In terms of artwork Pierre revamped Engine001’s graphics for a third time, having improved since his previous update. The summer 2005 caught Pierre at his most productive ever. Characters and vehicles were entirely recreated from the ground up (partly in order to suit Engine001’s new custom color feature) and entirely new environmental objects, tile sets and miscellaneous icons constructed. Whatever little artwork deemed suitable from Pierre’s previous update was edited in order to conform to new standards. Mike perfected Engine001’s existing interface and began developing a variety of new features. Far away were the days where esoteric knowledge would be required in order to create a simple map.
Realizing the motivating force in public support – something they had yet to truly experience – Pierre and Mike set out to garner public attention and generate anticipation for Engine001’s upcoming release. A new “demo” (Demo001) was released on August 5, 2006 quickly followed by Map001 (the 001 game editor) on August the 30th. Both Mike and Pierre scoured the internet for prominent game making forums in hopes of promoting Demo001 and Map001. Ads were posted upon a variety of forums, including Gaming World (http://www.gamingw.net/) where Engine001 garnered a reasonable amount of attention. It was largely ignored elsewhere. The official Engine001 website garnered 400 hits following Pierre and Mike’s advertising (their greatest number of visitors to date). As additional features began being implemented (such as melee weapons) and new versions of Map001 released hits surged to approximately 2000 visitors per day. By July 2006 Mike and Pierre found themselves welcoming about 3000 users to every day. Furthermore, Engine001 appears to have garnered international attention. Forum members claim to have discovered Map001 thanks to an Australian PC Magazine.
How far will Mike and Pierre be willing to go? When will they finally truly feel satisfied with Engine001 and end its development? Only time will tell.