Fueled by Passion
Published 4 years ago
Chasing our dreams into Zero Dark Gravity
We are Skyway Interactive a small two-person team based in Atascadero, California, nestled in the beautiful wine country of California’s Central Coast. Bryan Meadows is our lead developer, and Deana Kitterman manages the studio. We are currently in development of Zero Dark Gravity, a FPS space exploration game that will test your ability to survive in space without any support from Earth.
If you have never watched "The Princess Bride," you really should. It's one of the most quotable movies. If you have, then you should be familiar with Wesley, Buttercup, and "true wuv." It's a story of childhood sweethearts conquering time, distance, and evil villains. Welcome to our team. Our stories share many similarities, although ours is more orthodox than the cult classic. We were indeed childhood sweethearts who lost contact and were separated by vast distances. But if Prince Humperdinck couldn't stop true love, what can?
Bryan was working in Australia, developing apps for Google Play in between working as a computer technician and small engine mechanic when Deana booked her flight and figuratively fell out of the sky on his doorstep. Surprise! Nearly 25 years had passed since he had given her her first kiss and 18 since we had last seen each other while he was deployed in Japan with the U.S. Navy. We laughed, we cried, we reminisced and reconnected, but unlike the closing scene in the movie where they ride off on the white stallion into the sunset, we had responsibilities and work. Together we formed Skyway Interactive Studios, a culmination of our life experiences and "True Wuv." You could say Zero Dark Gravity is our virtual love child.
As well as childhood sweeties, we're both entrepreneurs. We've both previously started and operated our own companies. We also have had many life experiences under our belt, which enabled us to tackle such a large project. We both knew that sacrifices, hard work, and down-right tenacity would be required to make this small business successful. Thankfully, with time our passion has only grown for this project - and it has been our greatest motivator.
Indie game development isn’t for the faint of heart. Bryan sold all of his belongings and moved back to California from Australia. He literally got off the plane with one bag, which he had somehow managed to fit his PC monitor and computer in. Deana sold off everything she could, and we squeezed ourselves and the kiddos into a cozy two-bedroom condo. We said sayonara to feng shui and set up shop in our master bedroom in June 2015. Our master bedroom has become dedicated to "the game," as Deana's kids call it. Monitors and computers line the floor, schematics for the game replaced artwork on our walls, all complemented by the printer on the nightstand. Deana's likes to say we opted for the functionality look.
Most nights Deana falls asleep to a glowing monitor and the rhythmic tapping of Bryan's keyboard. Deana wakes up and goes to her mundane day job where she manages a showroom. She wishes she could focus all her energy on our project, but she has to keep a roof over their heads, the internet on and the kids fed. Sometimes it feels like a balancing act fit for circus acrobats all set to the theme song of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. But at the end of the day, she can't imagine doing anything else.
The funny thing is we find one of the most challenging aspects of game development isn't the actual development of the game, thanks to Unity, but building our online community. Our first day on Twitter was hilarious. Neither of us had ever tweeted before, and suddenly here we were, with 0 followers, thinking at least they didn't have negative followers. I hit up my teenage daughters and got "twitter-cated." We are still learning the ins and outs of how to use social media for promoting our game, but it's coming along, and we love getting to form relationships with other devs and interacting with fellow gamers. There are some really awesome people out there whom we would have never had the opportunity to meet, and we're so glad we chose to go this route. We swear, it's become our support group. Come by and say "hi."
As huge sci-fi fans and futurists, there was a hole left in our hearts after the the ending of some of our favorite sci-fi shows like "Stargate," "Star Trek," and "Firefly." Bryan was also so frustrated by how long it was taking to get DayZ out of alpha he said, sarcastically, "I could program a game faster than they're taking. Geez!" One afternoon a friend mentioned he should make a shooter game in space where you had to sling-shot yourself to get to different areas using gravity and orbital mechanics. This got his creative juices flowing. The more he thought about it, the more he was fueled to create a rough a prototype. As the game started to come out of prototyping, the "virtual child" was born and started to develop an identity of its own.
During the process of brainstorming, which at this point had been completely fueled by passion, we started to iterate on some ideas and gameplay mechanics. Knowing we wanted a game where one could be completely immersed in space, we mean right there, up close, where you can walk on an asteroid and feel its cold sting or its radiological burn, explore debris fields and spaceships, wreckages, and rummage through their contents, and use them to survive. But it still was lacking a crucial piece - we needed black holes and worm holes, too! We wanted a space game where you have to use your wits and resources for survival and not just follow a linear path or storyline. There have been a few memorable movies that really hit the survival overtone of looming death, like "Gravity" (2012) and "The Martian" (2015), where you battle against not only the harsh environment but also the limits of your own skill level. In the end it would come down to the survival of the fittest.
Our game, Zero Dark Gravity, is a first- and third-person shooter survivor in an open-world where you have to explore, scavenge, and repair to survive in a hostile post-Earth environment. The story revolves around a space miner in the not-so-distant future who is going about his job when he looks over his shoulder to witness the end of humanity. As a tear in the fabric of spacetime grows, he observes the annihilation of his home planet. In the wake of destruction, unstable rifts and mini black holes form, the debris from the explosion has damaged your support systems and space suit - forcing you to attempt survival in the aftermath of radioactive and hostile wreckage. In Zero Dark Gravity, you will come across fragments of once great cities and civilizations, space debris, houses, buses, huge rock shards, almost anything expelled from the Earth's surface. But with all this also comes danger in the form of radiation, corrosion, extreme temperatures, and possibly other survivors.
One of the more interesting game mechanics in Zero Dark Gravity is the movement and interaction in zero gravity. We developed a completely new character controller complete with jet pack, gravity boots, weapons, and exploratory tools, which will enable the player to explore and interact in a 3D open-world environment, eliminating the need for "world up." What this allows you to do is to walk up or down, or around any solid object. Walk right up the side of a building or house or completely walk around a small asteroid. Imagine walking on a bus in space in orbit before you jetpack your way to another location! We are really pushing the PhysX engine with hundreds of interactive rigid bodies coupled with hundreds of gravity sources to immerse the player in a truly unique experience.
We're moving into alpha, and everything's coming together as we showcase, test and show more every day. So be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming looming death in Zero Dark Gravity.
Bryan Meadows
Unity Expert, VR, C#, Houdini, 3d Art - Programmer