The author, beset by a gang of teenage zombies. Gamescom is not for the faint of heart.
Things have been pretty hectic around here the last couple of months. Warhorse is up and running and the hour is fast approaching of planned completion of a very important milestone – the 'Vertical Slice' which we've been working hard on 24/7. As the name implies, a Vertical Slice is a cross-section of the game and should be a very polished demonstration of all the game’s basic mechanisms, its graphic look and its treatment of the important elements. For us, this means generating quite a chunk of art (in an Open World game doing one level is not exactly an option), scripting into it a representative quest, which will contain all the important game mechanisms, such as complete control of the character, the dialog, the combat system, AI controlled NPCs, and throwing in an animation sequence or two, voiceovers and user interface. As far as possible, the whole package should look as good as the finished game. In the case of a shooter, we’d simply do one level and exploit lots of mechanisms straight from CryEngine; with an RPG it’s a bit more complicated than that. For example, we had to program a very complex dressing system, which you won’t find in any 3rd party engine. But such is life.
A DRY RUN
We should have the VS completed next month and, on the basis of the VS – or rather on the basis of our potential partners’ reactions to it, our investor will decide where we go from there. If the feedback is positive, we carry on; if we screw up, we might well be done for. So next month is “quite” important for us.
The Gamescom exhibition was held again in August. Last year, when we were still greenhorns, we bought technology for our game there (read more here). This year, we weren’t planning on going there at all, as we didn't have anything ready to show yet and we don't need to buy anything. When the requests for meetings started piling up, however, we thought we might take advantage of the meetings to put some feelers out about our work “on the fly” before we begin showing our finished VS “for real” to potential publishers, and survival starts being an issue. We also cajoled a representative of our investor into coming with us, so that someone other than us could talk about how awesomely we are doing our thing. That was quite a risk, of course, because if the reactions were lukewarm, it would most definitely not be cool.
The problem was we didn’t have much to show. Although we’ve got quite a bit of graphics and a whole bunch of game mechanisms more or less ready, it wasn’t yet pieced together in any way, so there’s nothing to play with yet. After long consideration, we decided to create a presentation introducing the game and the studio, some screenshots and, most importantly, two videos – one showing the character controls and the world and the other showing the combat system, which is already functioning fairly tolerably and (not that I want to blow my own trumpet) is truly unique in comparison to existing games.
I had the task of putting together the presentation, which proved to be a relatively fundamental problem, because publishers up to now have not exactly been overjoyed about RPG, never mind a realistic RPG with no fantasy elements, and so I had to entice them somehow and persuade them that what we were doing was not actually some run-of-the-mill RPG, but the totally mega-excellent game that countless millions of players (i.e. you guys) longed for in their wet dreams. So a good third of the Power Point consisted of a mind game aimed at persuading potential partners that our game was the most commercial thing on the face of the planet, even though it might not look like that at all. I should point out that I am really steadfastly convinced that what we’re doing has massive commercial potential.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team was putting together the screenshots and videos, which we grabbed straight out of the game. Then obviously Sod’s Law came into play as usual at the last minute and everything went pear-shaped. The combat system worked just great in the test scene, but as soon as we stuck it into a different scene and linked it with a short script, everything ceased to function. In the end, though, we managed to patch it up into a usable state. The "script" of the video was pure improvisation and, even though it seemed totally awesome to us on account of the fact that it was the culmination of massive effort, when I boarded the plane for Gamescom I had serious worries about whether we could dazzle anyone in this day and age with a thing like this.
The team, working hard.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
Before the exhibition my brain was bouncing around in my skull. I hadn’t done a presentation to pitch something for years and I hadn't a clue what the average pitch looks like today or what publishers are used to. It could even turn out that everyone would think we were shitting them: “That’s all you’ve got after a year’s work with a licensed engine? Have you lost the plot?” I guess there’s no need to tell you what our investor would think of us after that. I was seriously bricking it.
Our first meeting was with the guys from Crytek. We wanted to go over some technical details with them and show them our game so they’d have a better idea about what we were doing and exactly what we need. Since we weren’t trying to sell them anything, I took it as a kind of dry run.
Our meeting began very formally, as these things go at exhibitions where you meet ten new people every hour. But that only continued up to the precise moment when I put on the first video. Our partner on the other side of the table watched it, then asked to see it again and called in someone else, who turned out to be another Very Important Person. He started questioning us enthusiastically about how we’d done this and that: “You did those puddles using parallaxes? And how did you do those walls? What? You implemented the secondary UV maps? ...” The investor’s representative smiled contentedly behind us. An informal meeting turned into a very friendly conversation with the promise of much closer collaboration and a weight fell from my shoulders. It seemed what we had was evidently good enough for people to give us the time of day and take us seriously. The feeling was all the more gratifying for the fact that we were conversing with someone who knew well how much work had gone into our demonstration. The Crytek dudes gladdened my heart and calmed me down considerably, especially when one of them came to me next day wanting to see the video again and said he’d been thinking about our game all night.
ONE SKYRIM KILLER, PLEASE
After that, the next presentations went off in a very relaxed fashion. The funny thing was, my concerns about the whole first third of my Power Point, which I’d been so uptight about for fear of scaring off the publishers by doing an RPG, turned out to be quite superfluous, because the first line I heard was "If you're not doing a Skyrim killer, don't even bother showing it to us.” It seems a few million copies sold will change any producer's mind.
Otherwise, during the rest of the presentation, too, our little showpiece made a good enough impression to arouse curiosity and willingness to engage in further negotiations once we finish the VS and really have something to show, which is exactly what we were there for. Everyone we talked to got in touch with us after the exhibition, wants to visit us soon and is interested in collaboration. Meanwhile… All promises of this kind need to be taken with a grain of salt.
The last meeting of the day was unscheduled and was all the more pleasant for that. Just when I was at the Bohemia Interactive stand chatting with Ivan Buchta, who at present is being held in jail by the Greek authorities on totally trumped-up “espionage” charges (please show your support at http://www.helpivanmartin.org/), the unignorable Mr. Sven Vincke of Larian Studios walked past. These people are also trying independently to develop an RPG and blog on it, so we keep an eye on each other. So a short while later we were sitting at the Larian stand, Belgian beer in hand, going over our respective projects with Sergej Klimov and other Larian people. Our colleagues (it seems) liked what we had too, but Sven then cautiously informed us that we were crazy, because what we’re trying to do can't be done (he also wrote a blog about it). The truth is we are definitely a bit crazy, but on the other hand few fantastic things have been born of down-to-earth plans and, what’s more, we’re not so crazy as to plan on making a game as gigantic as it might look from the presentation over a few beers. Nevertheless, Sven’s remarks (among other things) prompted me to modify and tweak some things, but we’ll get back to that another time; it’s a very interesting story too.
The fact is, our first confrontation with reality panned out pretty well. We’re not jumping to any great conclusions about it yet, because this was just the first acid test of many, but at least we know that what we’re doing doesn’t look totally dumb and there are people who are interested in it, and that’s not entirely irrelevant.
Dan Vavra, Creative Director