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How to make a video game and not go crazy.
Updated 8 months ago
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“You were lucky to stay alive, but will you survive?” 3 years long development story of my first far out game.
Hi, my name is Alexander. It's been a long time since I've written about the game, today I feel like it’s a right time to do that.
Please forgive any spelling or writing errors, English is not my native, but still trying.
First of all, I would like to respect everyone who was following and supporting me on media during all those years despite the fact that my social activity was barely noticeable. I’m incredibly grateful to my family and everyone who participated in the project and bring their influence on different development stages, especially to Michael Donner, Ivan Zayats, Boris Novikov, Andrew Dubrovsky, Nic Mepham and Boris Repetur, guys you are awesome!

Origin

So, let me shortly explain, “Far-Out” It’s not just a regular game, this is a metaphorical reflection of my life for the past 6-7 years, that was carried into virtual self-ironic novel, about a regular guy, that was caught in a trap “far out in space” and the only thing that he can do is to find the way out to survive.

Concept

The game is a mix of “old-school quest”, “sandbox” and “escape the room” types of gameplay with modern outlook and logic based approach. In this project I’ve tried to avoid illogical tasks or behaviour that player need to perform during the game, instead of that I was more concentrating on the environment to make player logically find the way out and complete the game.
Old-school quest - do you remember Space quest? Full throttle or maybe The Dig? ... this list is very huge and I’m quite sure, “new-school” gamers don’t even know about those games, but hopefully you do, so do I. Main task for me was to maximize conformity with known titles and bring something similar to call up many fond memories of childhood. This way I’ve tried to bring old point-n-click mechanics into the modern shell and season it with dynamic of first-person game.
After the first year of development, game content has grown and I did understand that project will never get it’s temper without a real art, at least the front page should be very representative and memorable. That way, I’ve met very talented art-university student Andrew Dubrovsky, he was looking for some project to gain up his experience and fortunately for me, Far-Out seemed worth enough for him to try out. Therefore the game is not only based on old school mechanics, but also has a relative look. Subsequently first artwork shown below, became as a cover for a short prologue story comic book written by me and drawn by Andrew.
Sandbox - most of the gamers are familiar with this expression, but in this case it doesn’t mean that you are going to play something like “Minecraft”, but it does mean that your playground is something you interact with. This particular type of gameplay, making Far-Out a bit different from regular adventure games and basically it means, that as a player you gave full freedom and allowed to do whatever you want to: mess around with dynamic objects, click any buttons and explore surrounding. You don’t need to move along the obvious rail line to complete the game, it is not a “walking simulator”. However, it has start and finish, but how you’re going to spend the time between those two parallels and end up your story, depends only from you.
Escape the room - this genre is more popular in “real life gaming”, when in co-op with your friends you are trapped somewhere you can’t get out easily, usually in the room with a bunch of different puzzles which you need to solve to break your way out. Same as it’s in the “Escape the room”, Far-Out also has a time limited environment, but different completion scenarios.

Rules

In a shake of “Escape the room”, “Quest” and “Sandbox” you are have complete freedom, but remember... your first attempt is a REAL one!
According the rule you have only 3 hours to escape, how you will do that, depends on you, but in approximately 3 hours air pressure will end. Your very first attempt will be recorded and displayed as your real result of escape, no matter how it ends, will you survive or not... so get ready for a real challenge and don’t forget, you have only one chance, concentrate on that.
You’re able to quit the game at any time and return to exact same point you left the game at and your first attempt is still the first one till you have died or escaped. Multiple endings bring variability and different experience for any player, so please, try to avoid any solutions, hints or anything you hear from your friends, make your own story unique.

Plot

Selene is a name of old, barely working spacecraft owned by “Air Space CO.” and in use by Galactic Research Academy, targeting on planet’s exploration, seeking for unknown life forms and gathering them for further researches.
Mike Brightman is an expedition officer and captain of Selene ,
Emmi Short is a Medical assistant ,
Zack Paterson is a biologist ,
Phil Skerritt is a flight engineer.
Three and a half months mission has started from “Capsun-2” space station. After a successful research Selene set a course for home, but due to unforeseen circumstances, Selene’s communication systems broke down while whole crew were in stasis. This also caused a malfunction of navigation and for a couple of days ship flew in unknown direction. Thus, the regular mission has become a nightmare for all of the crew members.

Music

Music is taking a special part in whole project’s concept. Many thanks to very talented movie composer Michael Donner, every game episode filled with its own soundtrack carefully written for it. In total there are 12 music compositions that reflecting different game situations and many sound effects that linked and referenced to retro sci-fi movie pictures.
You can find more about Michael on his web page Michael-donner-music.de

Voice-Over

One day I met a very interesting man with charisma I’ve never seen before and when the question of in-game voice over popped-up in my mind, there wasn’t a doubt that main hero will be him, Nic Mepham. I’ve prepared a list with all replicas of Zack Paterson, but Nic was on a roll and was just kidding around, overplaying reactions or didn’t follow with the script line almost at all. Practically it looked like I’m playing game prototype and Nic watching gameplay and just commenting everything that’s happening in the game, best voice over practice ever. However, I’m convinced that this self-ironic accent is exactly what breathed life and temper into Zack Paterson.

Blueprint

-Planning
The original idea came a month before execution, it took some time to believe myself that I’m ready for that and if there will be a first step, then there will be another one. I did clearly understand that I have no resources to create AAA type game and most important, I’ve no programming skills... just pure enthusiasm and passion.

It started at night 2015.01.01, in 5 minutes right after new year I took a seat and wrote first stroke of Far-Out synopsis. It took for me two weeks to simplify game design and draw some sketches and plan of the ship. As I worked alone, simplicity of production was highly prioritized, and here are some rules I came up with before making game design.
The main hero is alone. It’s easier to concentrate on one person development, than creating many speakable characters and implement the interaction between them.
The area is closed and small. Game territory shouldn’t have imitated or invisible borders, it ruins the game immersion, that way playing area need to be logically restricted and small, to save time for non-less important tasks in development.
The Story is straightforward. Storytelling process should based on one general task, no reason to spend time on creating sub-stories in gameplay, player have to easily understand what is the mission.
All new is well overlooked old. There is no sense chasing modern AAA game titles and concepts and try to repeat them, that’s the way of many, not the way of one. Look at the other side of the coin and you’ll see something, that others can’t.
No UI. The main accent is put on visual perception.The less elements reminds that this is a game, the immersion level is higher.
Those are probably most important rules I strict myself with, before the game plot was written.
- Execution
First of all, I would like you to know, I’m not a programmer on my degree, I had some skill with algorithms and scripting in the past, but never worked with real object-oriented programming languages as C#. These years of development turned out for me into self-education, learning programs and even now I keep learning programming specifically in game development criteria and in all its aspects.
Looking back in time, development process might be separated on 3 stages, to simplify, each year as an stage.
Stage 1 - Obsession, Desperation
Work time max 20 /7. Rush, Resultative and fragile period.
Work non-stop even if it’s a weekend or national holidays, it is very important to do at least something and do it every day as a regular job.
Honestly, it was a nightmare, most unpredictable and worst time in development when your mind has an idea, and spirit willing to play as soon as possible. Looking back in time, I can’t say that I wasted my time, otherwise, it was my luck that I’ve started to make the game by creating a complete environment with some simple mechanics of character movement, objects manipulation and logic constructions, but not creating high quality props for a game. In half year, this approach allowed me to have something that actually can be played, even it doesn’t look good enough for endpoint product.
Stage 2 - Addiction
Work time max 18 /6-7. Main goal understanding, temporary props replacement, formatting.
Second year became more painful and mentally disturbing… Working too much, sleeping too less, it literally might be called as “kidnapping” with forcing to work! Don’t want to moan, but this year I got sciatica, very painful and disgusting disease. At some point I couldn’t even tie my shoelaces cause pain was intolerable. Luckily, I got myself back into shape by reducing sitting time and do more exercise. It might sound very obvious, but If you are at this stage, try to keep your mind clear and don’t forget about your health, do gym or go for a walk at least.
Stage 3 - Acceptance
Work time max 16 /5-7. Polishing, product preparations. Health regeneration.
3rd year of development is something that carefully carrying me back to regular life. At some point, during the development I’ve lost understanding of reality. Many years I was isolated from people relations, connections and life's temptations and I do not regret anything. I’ve made this choice as many other game developers and not only at the beginning of their way.
Full size picture is here : https://leonardo.osnova.io/3195687a-0bf8-567f-f4f0-127828cd4b3c/
-Budget
Few words about most exciting topic in game development industry.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve started development because was looking for a job and I didn’t come up with any better idea than make a game as portfolio in order to demonstrate my abilities as a game designer. Game Idea was probably the easiest part to make in game concept, but then I‘ve faced a real challenge.
With little less than zero in my pocket I went into a crowdfunding company and I asked only for 5,128 dollars, which is equal zero, as for a game development budget. I didn’t ask money for myself, this amount was based on development needs, equipment and software licenses. A plot ending that everyone can guess, it’s obvious…it failed miserably!
And again, I don’t regret anything. It is clear to me that in the first year of development content quality didn’t look good enough, who knows, maybe even in our days Crowdfunding company wouldn’t collect a hundred dollars.
It’s incredibly hard to convince the audience in your competence, especially when you are a new bee in the industry and you don’t have a game development background that may arouse interest to your person (in my case there is, but that’s another story entirely).
However, after 8 months of development I was invited to another game project as a developer, subsequently this helped me to keep myself and the Far-Out development alive. Sometimes, this lifestyle became a nightmare, couple times was burned-out. Hopefully, all the sad and heavy times are behind.
As you have already understood, there is no budget allocated in this project. Practically during the years, every day I was working on two jobs. All the sources and project needs, including licenses and equipment, paid from my own pocket.

Conclusion

Ever since I was a child I’ve dreamt about being a game designer, honestly, it feels like this project is my first step to my dream. To conclude, I wish to say, for me it’s more than obvious, that Far-Out it’s just a first serious game development experience I had.
I don’t pretend to say that this experience is a masterpiece, because the game has weaknesses as also as strengths, but one thing I might say for sure, despite the hard path I was able to complete the game and I'm happy to present new game experience in the world of games.
This time, my first game was limited by “naked enthusiasm” and my pocket budget, but I believe that situation will change in the future and there will be more opportunities to present unforgettable far out experiences to the players.
Game is already available on steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/389860/Far_Out/
Thank you for your attention!
Alexander.

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