The USSFC is losing hope and losing the war, but the poorly equipped Legion are losing soldiers fast. This is the desperate last struggle of two clashing armies... This is Crimson Crow.

Report article RSS Feed Starting a project, and 'not' letting the project die (Part 2)

A summary over whats happened over the course of my indie project since part 1 and what to watch for.

Posted by ninjadave on Sep 6th, 2009
Basic Starting a mod.

Its been awhile since I've really even updated anyone with my whereabouts. Chalk it up to being busy and managing a social life.

Part 2 is simply continuing off of part 1. Of course some of this is opinionated and many teams have found better ways to do things than I have, but this is what I've personally found it as.

To explain things best, I'll leave right off where "Starting a project, and 'not' letting the project die" left off:

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Our plans for Episode 1 were with good intentions. Much smaller and organized episodes that were easy to develop and create. We were still short an animator, but had several voice actors recruited and all set to read a script I wrote myself.

I visualized and story-boarded some of the action. We did have a slight problem though, there was no action. Episode-1 had no scenes of actual fighting or anything gun related. We figured the story alone would entice players.

After it was all said and done, we took a step back and said "What the hell is this?!" We created a single player storyline with no action as the first step for a multiplayer action project?

The idea was to get a story episode to get us back onto our feet and have some sort of release. This was waste of time and frankly we should have went straight to something playable. Or 'at least' sticking to the multiplayer game-play.


Lesson Learned: Try to stick to the original formula in some way. Not that its required, but its a good idea.

It was a great idea on paper, but who wanted to spend months of work on something like that.

Running down a hallway!

So we gave up Episode-1's story and just went aimlessly. After our little team member incident mentioned in part 1, no one really wanted to start any big ideas. Not to mention we barely had the man-power to really accomplish anything.

This is what we called the 'quiet months'. Everyone assumed Crimson Crow was dying and had little to motivation to do much.
Our forum stats went from 200 posts a month to a whopping 5-6. Most of which was me asking what people were doing, and sometimes someone replying.

This is a clear sign that 'something' is wrong. We literally had no actual direction and motivation suffered for it. This was a poor example of what we could do, and it really was my fault.

I refused to call it quits so I kept managing and doing what I could. Even if it means doing it all myself!
I even begun simple reload animations, and I am definitely not an animator.
The problem was I was doing speed-modeling props, sound, coding, textures, and some mapping.
Adding another thing to the list is just a great way of slowing me down. Sure I will have learned a lot, but it really slows you down!

Lesson Learned: Doing it all yourself is great for learning, but when your balancing everything already it just slows you down. Sometimes you really just need help.

Various 'speed-modeling' props

We managed to get an animator set up and ready to go. Right before I sent him the models that needed to be done, another developer started a conversation with me about an animator he just recruited. How weird! Almost the exact same time as well!
I asked about that, only to find it was the same person.

That, to me, was bad news. Either he was 'very bored' or was up to no good.
I concluded not to trust him, and after a few weeks he managed to disappear entirely.
Being in two projects is 'ok' and after-all, but we had an insane list of animations to tackle, and we needed someone a little more dedicated than that.

This is a great plus of knowing the community a bit. There is a lot of great developers with very similar interests right here at Moddb. More often than not to ask questions about general art styles or if a model looks good or not.

Lesson Learned: Know your community a bit. Help them out and they'll be bound to help you too.

About this time a graduated college student decided to lend us a hand. His name being Vince, and he was a texture artist. Which was great since we had a model pile from the props modeler, and since no one really bothered to texture it, I quickly snatched him to be a part of the team.

Vince hopped onto the team with high expectations and was a little sad when he saw the team in action. He quickly went to what he called a 'kick in the pants'.

Testing normal maps on Torque constructor BSP objects

It was along the lines of our failing art pipeline and what we needed to do to fix it.
This also included making a new website that was entirely our own! He must have really trusted us to be spending his own hard-earned cash for our dying project.

Instead of working on models, we went to something way more fun: Lists! We listed down what was made, what needed to be made, and whatever systems we could stitch together.
The general idea was to list everything down so everyone knew exactly what needed to be done.
As it turns out, half the battle is knowing.
While stuff would get done, usually it went from people asking me what needs to be done to it actually being done.

The list cut out the middle-man, and now any member could log on, see the list, and finish something that wasn't marked 'finished'.
We also added every finished prop onto a list. I, alone, made around 28 props that were already exported in-game.

Lesson Learned: Get something done for art pipeline problems! If you have a stack of unfinished models, something needs to be fixed!

Vince looked at the new plans with a smile. He then asked where we were headed with gameplay and storyline.

Whoa. Wait a second. We just threw out the old Ep-1 stuff and don't 'actually' have a real game mode or storyline.

I wish I could see his face when I had to tell him that.

Low-res normal map testing on Torque Constructor BSP objects

Lesson Learned: Even with team problems, you should always have a general goal in mind. Going without an actual goal is a poor idea.

We sat back and talked about ideas and methods and more importantly how much we liked certain aspects about other games.
This was a big change since we always had this 'it needs to be original' thought process.
Now we were basing many sections of ideas off of other games, and this was a big change. Sure it was 'less original', but now we had a perfect idea on how it would work. We had no intentions of directly ripping ideas of course.
I can't say this is a lesson learned since we did base our original ideas off of others in some way.

Our 'it was to be original' thought process was a poor one. Things can be 'generic', and thats fine. When it comes to FPS projects, its quite difficult to have something new and different thats not bad for gameplay.

Other idea appeared over and over again: Co-op gameplay. At first we barely really considered it, but soon we eventually heavily weighed it into any idea.

Re-made CQB map

Finally we stumbled upon a game mode idea that, on paper, sounds idiotic, but in practice worked like a charm. In fact, even right now it sounds idiotic!
I even wrote an article on the failed game modes we tried and why they failed!

Lesson Learned: Its ok to change the game-mode and general play style when things don't feel right, but its much more effective to improve on the original idea, rather than scrap it entirely.

I even began to crank some hard coded and desperately needed graphical effects and features in-game. In a few weeks we had SSAO (Screen Space Ambient Occlusion) and AI up and running.
These were some desperately needed effects which I did not even consider a few months ago.

Also right around this time I moved out of my house to head off to the fall semester of my college.
This was the 'death blow' everyone worried about, but what do you know, a few weeks later and here I am coding away!

I'm an exception though, as our prop modeler proved that his life was a little bit too busy, so he stepped out of development for some weeks to get back on his feet.

Its during this time I finalized some concepts. We planned on co-op game-play and a very 'different' game-mode.
Co-op with a new storyline of all things. The odd part was see, I wrote a book a few months ago to better explain some of the characters.
One thing led to another and we started to like the book, and then soon we realized the storyline we could use was right there, written in plain text!

Not everyone has a book laying about with a storyline idea in it, but it was right there all along. I guess we just overlooked it too many times, so that we had to find it eventually.

Various quick concepts for Infested creatures

I turned it into some dialogue lines and wanted to get a few people to read it to get some character voices. Amazingly Vince stepped up to the plate and nailed the voice for a few characters.


Lesson Learned: Your team may have skills to do multiple things. If you know they have something they're good at, use it to your advantage!

I was ecstatic. A few months ago were we as good as dead, and now we had voices, a game-mode, and a story rolling for us! Vince also recruited some other members with some exceptional skill in modeling. Thanks to the new modeler, Adrian, we had a new character model and props rolling out.

We then turned to the few things we didn't have, animations and sounds.
After long hours (Around 30 minutes) of a conversation, we cemented plans for how to accomplish the things we could not get done right away.
With the animations in the previous design document, it called for about 210 hours of animation man-power.
We cut it down to around 30 hours of animation man-power, which is excessively cheap!


Lesson Learned (Again): Keep it simple!

Plans for sound were simple enough, and we did very much the same. We cut down un-needed stuff and thought of ways to do it ourselves, before trying to get anyone else to help yet.

As I wrote down what was needed, I ran into another problem.
Ok, animations and sound will eventually get done. What then?

It seemed a public release was on our doorstep. Animations have always been a damper to our project, but being 'this' close now. I was thrilled.

A revised building made by Warlord_Evil

I suddenly felt like typing this all down. After a terrible part 1, we're finally getting somewhere with part 2.
I hope part 3 involves some sort of public release.

What I find very interesting is that when my project seems to go downhill, its usually outside help that proves most effective.

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I really hope this helps someone! Thanks for reading,

- Dave (Ninjadave)

Post comment Comments
rebel28
rebel28 Sep 6 2009, 9:48pm says:

Well, I was beginning to wonder why you guys hadn't posted in a while.
All this stuff you're talking about sounds awesome.
And the SSAO sounds cool.
I hope you guys get this done, I'm sure it's gonna be good.

+3 votes     reply to comment
ninjadave Author
ninjadave Sep 6 2009, 10:38pm replied:

Thanks,

But this is more of a recap of everything in the past few months. All the screen-shots and a lot of this is on our blog.
Crimsoncrowgame.com

Sorry about the lack of updates! We're trying to really crank in some worth material.

+1 vote   reply to comment
Ark_
Ark_ Sep 7 2009, 12:09am says:

Great work so far, and I enjoyed reading it.
Sure looks like you have had your ups and downs but I'm glad you are coming out of it even stronger.
Keep up the great work and I look forward to part three.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Armageddon104
Armageddon104 Sep 7 2009, 12:45am says:

Awesome article!

+1 vote     reply to comment
Tokoya
Tokoya Sep 7 2009, 10:19am says:

Good to hear an update!

+1 vote     reply to comment
Piuneer
Piuneer Sep 7 2009, 1:49pm says:

Usually I just overlook these articles and say tl;dr, but this is well worth the read!

+2 votes     reply to comment
sniper77shot
sniper77shot Sep 7 2009, 1:55pm says:

epic!

+2 votes     reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord Sep 7 2009, 1:56pm says:

Nice article. In fact I'd say getting dedicated members is the biggest problem. I'm now into my project since over 3 years and still no dedicated member ( except the sound/music guy but at this stage there's no real work for him yet ). Most of them are push-overs which vanished soon after claiming to show some work to proof they can get something done. One of the major problems with Indie titles I'd say: finding the team members.

EDIT: This had been in replay to your lesson "don't do all on your own". Problem is if you have nobody to get the job done you are forced to do so.

+1 vote     reply to comment
ninjadave Author
ninjadave Sep 8 2009, 1:24am replied:

Yes, and that unfortunately slows you down.
Unlike part 1, where I was eager to learn each and every part, I'm now confident in my skills but realize its much too time consuming to do everything.

I would write an article on how to find good team members, but thats something that just doesn't happen often.

+1 vote   reply to comment
Dragonlord
Dragonlord Sep 8 2009, 12:04pm replied:

Yeah, figured so myself. It's what I consider to be the biggest problem in a project on modder or indie level. It's even more problematic than technical or design aspects since those can be sorted out by thinking over a problem from various angles. Personal problems though can't be solved that way nor does there exists a solution on how to get your hands on skilled and willing people. Well, that is if you don't do generic run-of-the-mill projects like they are common here on ModDB sucking up the people making them missing at the places where they are really needed. It just can't be right if certain projects struggle under too many artists while others can't get their hands on one.

+2 votes     reply to comment
hate4uall
hate4uall Sep 7 2009, 3:17pm says:

keep it coming :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
azultain
azultain Sep 7 2009, 4:42pm says:

the texture is very.......... impressive for this engine

+1 vote     reply to comment
ninjadave Author
ninjadave Sep 8 2009, 1:29am replied:

Thanks!

Honestly many of these textures are not final. Many are planned to be swapped and many more to be normal mapped. Especially in the first screen-shot.

It seems like no matter how hard we try, we always feel we could possibly do a little better next time.

0 votes   reply to comment
dill1233
dill1233 Sep 8 2009, 10:41pm says:

I love your series, Dave! It will definitely prove useful to me in the future.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Highmist
Highmist Sep 9 2009, 9:03pm says:

ANother good article there dave. nice to see youve been hard at work getting stuff done :)

+1 vote     reply to comment
Rigelblast
Rigelblast Sep 11 2009, 1:52pm says:

Great article and nice sequel to the "Starting a project, and not letting the project die" series. This tutorial is very interesting to read and the "Lesson Learned" parts are useful. The images are a nice feature.

+1 vote     reply to comment
gormo4
gormo4 Oct 3 2009, 1:59pm says:

Looks incredible.. I wanna learn how to do stuff like this ;p

+1 vote     reply to comment
Sagesrage
Sagesrage Oct 4 2009, 2:24pm says:

Good Read, Hope everything works out for you and your team, I'll check it out once a beta or full release is held, Excellent work.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Limbus
Limbus Apr 10 2010, 4:25pm says:

hey talk to me about this, i may have something that can help you make this go faster, look for my email that i send you or just send me an email if you want to know more...

+2 votes     reply to comment
ch3burashka
ch3burashka Jun 28 2010, 2:04am says:

It was really cool following your 'story arc', as it were. I hope it will come in handy when I get off my *** and initiate my dormant, theoretical projects. I like to think that I'm smarter than everyone else (who doesn't?) and that I would have thought of all the problems and lessons you encountered, but really, that's doubtful. Thanks a bunch!

+1 vote     reply to comment
Biztone
Biztone Jul 9 2010, 9:39pm says:

(@Ninjadave) Man I feel like I'm on the same path yet I dont have much done as you. Could you help with a quick suggest on what engine to use. I've been using visual3d on hopes of a Xna to 360 port but that looks grim at the moment....Just got Neoaxis and torque which one would you use for development.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Lockstock
Lockstock Oct 10 2010, 7:32am says:

Great article! Gives me hope for my modding project.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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