ORION - TEN YEARS YOUNG
Eleven years ago I started penning what is now known to the world as ‘ORION: Prelude'. Back in 1999 I started doing the initial pre-production on what was under the prototype name of ‘INCOMING' back then. After a year of pumping out the concept art for everything, creating the story, the universe, the characters - I started recruiting the talent. On August 25th, 2000, we went public and announced the game to the online community. The first prototype of ‘INCOMING' was being built on Valve Software's GoldSRC engine (powered the original Half-Life). Let's take a look at the winding path of how ORION came to where it is now.
REWIND TO THE LATE 1990's...
What really inspired me to even begin the research and development of ‘INCOMING' initially was the PC gaming explosion in the late 90's. I was nine years old when my older brother (then 12) pulled me away from my Nintendo 64 (playing Goldeneye 64) to "come out and try this game... Quake 2 Capture the Flag - with grappling hooks!". This ignited my then-young mind of what gaming could be, the addictive nature to it, the exciting gameplay (Lithium and normal grapple hook Quake 2 CTF is still one of the most fun games to this day).
Three extremely significant things happened in 1998. I started getting my hands dirty with game development (11 years old at this time). I was an avid player of the Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight game - especially playing online (if anyone remembers Microsoft's MSN Zone service). The developer had released tools allowing fans and aspiring game developers to create new levels, new models, and new games completely.
I joined what was the "biggest" or "most anticipated" mod for this engine (at the time). It was called the Phantom Menace TC and was exactly that - an entire recreation of the first (technically) Star Wars movie. It changed the game entirely, creating all new worlds, characters, weapons - everything. I contributed a wide variety of talent - ranging from animations, levels, characters, weapons, vehicles, 2d art, sprites and a wide variety of things. However, the project director just vanished into the dark hole that is the internet and the project started losing focus. Some of the members attempted to keep it going - but they weren't able and unfortunately the project was never released. I continued playing games heavily and started forming some ideas of my own.
The next thing that occurred was the release of a PC game called ‘Starsiege: Tribes'. I was heavily addicted to this. The size of the maps was enormous, the battles had large numbers of players, you had jetpacks, you had flying vehicles, you had fast paced gameplay that kept you in the game - this game was great. I can still remember the name of one of my favorite levels - ‘Rollercoaster'.
The next large influence in my career choice was a little trailer that premiered at Mac World back in July of 1998. A small Chicago-based company known as Bungie at the time (hardcore fans knew the Marathon series) made a new video game announcement under the name of ‘Halo'. At this time the game was only scheduled for release on both MAC and PC (originally only MAC previously). However, the trailer truly inspired me to what you could actually do with video games. The trailer had amazing music, mystery elements, fun-looking vehicles, and expansive environments.
Between Quake 2 CTF, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2, Starsiege: Tribes and various other games - I figured I had my fill of what I could possibly play. However, a small mod (at the time) was released under the name of ‘Counter-Strike'. It was a modification that was built on Valve Software's new (based on ID Software's Quake 1 technology) called the GoldSRC engine. While the mod was only in its first beta release - it had extreme potential. The gameplay was easy to pick up, but skilled gamers could master the mechanics. It was also heavily addictive. With continuous updates, regularly new content, new maps, and a focus on what the community wanted - Counter-Strike inevitably blew up.
Counter-Strike was my new "IT" game and would dominate my life for many years. I would be apart of the clan scenes, hosted LAN events for a bunch of people - tons of stuff. Counter-Strike not only dominated my life but also inspired me to start creating what was boiling up in my mind - ‘INCOMING'. Because of Counter-Strike I went with Valve Software's GoldSRC technology over Epic Games Unreal Engine technology. I spent the next few months recruiting the team and fleshing out the first game design.
2000 - ‘INCOMING' IS ANNOUNCED TO THE PUBLIC
On August 25th, 2000, we announced ‘INCOMING' to the online world. The next seven years would act as an open research and development phase for the grounds of an entire new game series. Over this course of time and events, the game had changed immensely. I divvy it up into 4 separate versions of the game:
INCOMING / GoldSRC Engine (1999-2004)
INCOMING: SOURCE / Source Engine [Episode 1] (2004-2006)
ORION: SOURCE MULTIPLAYER BETA / Source Engine [Orange Box] (2008-2010)
ORION: PRELUDE / Unreal Engine 3.0 (2010-Present)
While the original ‘INCOMING' was vastly different from ‘ORION', they shared a lot of the same fundamental features and mechanics that are still present today - such as the Jetpacks, Dinosaurs and vehicles.
Over the next couple of years we made some huge advances in terms of affiliates and partnerships. Much of thanks goes to Jess Cliffe, one of the co-creators of Counter-Strike. He personally got ‘INCOMING' hosted at PlanetHalfLife.com (back in 2001). Counter-Strikes web site was originally hosted at PlanetHalfLife.com. This helped us gain a ton of exposure back in the day and a whole new fan base to work with.
Another feat that we accomplished on the GoldSRC engine was us being the first people to get multi-passenger vehicles working as well as multipassenger flyable vehicles working on the GoldSRC engine. However, this was all behind developer doors (released various videos showing the technology off) but the folks over at Counter-Strike and Valve released a public version faster than us inside of a map called "Jeepathon2k".
Check out the video on SGS's YouTube Channel:
From 2002 to 2004 we continued laying out various foundations to test the game with. We tried a wide range of things and attempted to figure out what works best. Much of this time was still learning the tools, delegating the tasks, creating and fleshing out the game series and IP itself, as well as tailoring to the community. We had many internal versions of the game (which I still have on external storage) but we were never happy enough to release a public version of the game.
After many internal (and smaller) re-designs of the game, Valve Software came out with newer technology called the Source Engine. This engine was responsible for powering Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike Source as well as Day of Defeat Source. We made the decision to take this as an opportunity to apply many of the changes we had been wanting to the games design as well as upgrade the technology powering it to keep up with the competition. We made the decision to port 'INCOMING' to the Source Engine.
2005 - ‘INCOMING: Source' IS REVEALED - USING NEW TECHNOLOGY
After nearly a year of preparation and ground work for the remake of the game - we announced the newer and improved version of Incoming, ‘INCOMING: Source' on AUGUST 3RD, 2005. The game was nearly identical in terms of features and universe to what Incoming was - with just a few changes and a larger emphasis on the new technology. You can check out a 6 minute video showcasing tons of never-before-seen footage and elements:
By this time some of our roots had caught up to us. Both Halo 1 and Halo 2 had been released by this point and those games carried some intense fans. We received a lot of back lash about or game resembling Halo in too many ways.
However, for over a year we stuck to our roots and the game design. Perhaps it was the stubborn artists within us, or the amount of hard work that we had poured into everything. We had permission from Bungie to use the likeness of the Warthog as well as various armors. However, after much haste and delaying the inevitable - we made the decision to re-design the entire game from the ground up and make it our own.
I spent roughly 2 years re-designing the entire game series. This included everything from architecture style, back story, origin story, game story, the universe itself, the races, the characters, the weapons, the vehicles - EVERYTHING!
A large portion of the this time was also scouting the depths of the internet (and the world) for some of the best talent in the underground industry. This would take an insane amount of work to not only re-craft the entire game series - but we ultimately decided that we HAD to change the name of the game series to reflect all of the changes and create a clean slate. This would entail losing the entire following and fan-base we had based on name-recognition and would require us to rebuild the entire community and establish a brand new game name. We still decided it would be worth it - if only for the game itself.
I started pumping out a brand new game design to reflect all of the mechanics and elements that we had changed or scrapped. With a focused game design in place, a brand new team ready for production. In January 2008 we started production on what would later be named ORION. We announced to the public that we were resuming development on the game series under the new IP on May 29, 2009.
From then we started pumping out new content, making changes to the game to reflect the new art style (color, color, color!), putting in the newly designed weapon system and mechanics and creating the official maps for the first release. It was 6 months of crazy but we were able to make it out in time for a Christmas(ish) release!
We released the first beta of the ORION: Source Multiplayer Beta on December 4th, 2009. We were the first "Mod" to EVER feature an exclusive closed beta with both IGN as well as FilePlanet. We accumulated 30,000 downloads in the first month of release of our Beta 1.
2010 - BUSINESS FORMATION, BETA 1.2, ORION: PRELUDE
The year 2010 started off pretty crazy from the get-go. We just released the first public release of the game and were working hard on fixing tons of stuff. There were too many bugs. We did EXTENSIVE testing and research into various bugs - some in our control, some not in our control (pertaining to Valve Software's outdated SDK). The Server crash bug was on our behalf, and we were very fortunate to not have to reprogram the entire game to get rid of it.
What happened was there was A LOT of old code and old files from the port (Incoming Source / Episode 1 Engine) to the new engine (ORION / Orange Box Engine). It literally was affecting everything and we spent quite a few weeks deleting all traces.
There were other issues, however, such as the "Show Map List" bug. This really affected our player base and made it literally impossible for people to either find games or join games. What the player had to do (to even SEE game servers listed) was un-check a box at the bottom of the Find Servers menu that said "Show Map List". This was the ONLY way a player could see the game servers. Many players didn't know how to cure this and were never given the opportunity to even try the game.
On top of fixing all of this, people started showing quite a bit of interest in things we were working on. We started getting a lot of attention from publishers, investment groups and other groups like advisors, mentors, affiliates. Things started getting pretty intense and I was forced to sit down and literally spend every day in February 2010 typing up what is now an 800 page business document. It literally covers everything and has been touched up and modified on a regular basis since then. This is when the business aspect of things got heavy as well.
On top of the business document taking up most of February, this was the same month we started getting our hands dirty with Epic Game's "UDK". They had released their engine and tools for free in late 2009 and we were trying to find the time to play with them.
The Unreal Technology is something I have ALWAYS considered and wanted to try using. Their game engine just "makes sense" for ORION. In fact we almost made a switch to Unreal Technology back in 2003 (between Incoming and Incoming: Source). This was the perfect time for me to get my head around it. I downloaded all the video tutorials and loaded them on my iPhone. It didn't take long for me to make what would be one of the biggest decisions involving ORION - the final rebuild.
During this time we (just me and one programmer) continued development on Beta 1.2, which was released on June 14th, 2010.
Many of our partners and advisors said to scrap it all together and just don't even associate the company with the "MOD" - however I personally felt the need to finish it and get it out to the fans - so I decided to do parallel development and head both projects. The Beta 1.2 release was "bigger" than the initial release. It featured 5 brand new maps (Beta 1 featured 3), over 100 gameplay fixes and tweaks, an updated weapon system, removed the server crash bugs and tons of other things. This brought on even more attention. However, our main attention was towards ORION: Prelude.
We were secretly developing a very major project in the dark corners behind developer doors. For many months people had no idea about what we were up to. Much of the time was spent on learning the new tools, the new technology, how things affected other things - then of course planning the development structure of how Prelude was to be built.
A few months ago people started getting some ideas. This was largely due to the fact that we had to increase our recruitment efforts and were posting on popular boards such as Polycount, UDK (Epic forums), Beyond3D and various other websites. Recruiting is difficult during the "mod to indie" transition. You need to be pumping out AAA quality and investments aren't in, the engine is much more powerful and everything just gets wonky.
At the same time we were also planning something even bigger. With nearly a year worth of effort dedicated solely to this (which is the business side of things) - we were gearing up to announce a brand new independent gaming studio - Spiral Game Studios, Inc.
The intention of SGS is to simply "fill the void". We are going to strive to make the games that we believe haven't been done before or haven't been done justice (or made right). We hope to convey everything that formed the company, the retro inspiration, the tight and addictive gameplay, and game elements that both support and encourage one's imagination. Gaming is an art, I don't care what people say - and we hope to truly portray this as a medium of such.
While ORION is an FPS (which we agree is a saturated market right now), it will be made and tailored to encompass much more. It actually has what the fans want. We are very happy to say that we noticed many of you agreeing with what we are doing with our announcement of both Spiral Game Studios & ORION: Prelude. We noticed many fans saying "Jetpacks! Mechs! Dinosaurs! Count me in!".
On top of this, we also hold many of the same mentality as the fans / consumers share. DLC is a big big issue these days. Many games offer DLC that was previously on the discs and simply "unlocks" it. Not only should that act be punishable by death - but to charge for it is simply asinine. We already have 3 packs of pre-planned DLC for ORION: Prelude - all of which will be available for FREE on day one - on ALL platforms.
ORION: Prelude is our current and immediate future. We are pouring literally everything we have into it. We've touched up all aspects of the game, perfected the other elements, re-designed a few things and are putting all the fan-favorite features in one bundle for the first time. We now are powered by technology that can deliver ORION the way it was meant to be played.
Here is a sneak peak at some early character re-designs for ORION: Prelude:
We are very humbled to still be able to do what we are doing. We are extremely appreciative to all and any fans of the ORION universe and we are here to make your gaming days that much more awesome. We look forward to revealing more details regarding ORION: Prelude. Remember to keep your eyes peeled on September 4th, 2010, when we officially launch and premier the TEASER TRAILER for Prelude.
And one other game image just because we like you all:
Happy Birthday, ORION.
The SGS Devs.