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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Your Answers!

So over the last week or so on the IndieDB site, we've asked people to ask us the questions they want to know about the game, the team and our thoughts on game related things in general. Now it's time for answers!
We've been flooded with questions via here, our IndieDB site, the Facebook Page and via email, and unfortunately we've had too many to be able to answer them all, but we've put together a list of as many as we could to answer you as best we can. So here goes nothing!

The original Malevolence team: Nyssa, Alex, Rachel and Natalie

Q. Have you considered adapting your procedural generation method for use with planetoids and/or sphereoids? I would imagine being able to procedurally generate an planet's worth of content and have the same content show up at the same spot every time would be very attractive to other developers looking to license your technology.

A. We imagine you're right! The alogrithms would very easily adapt to planetoids, and we had briefly considered doing an infinite version of X3 or Freelancer using this method, but settled instead on what you see here. But with regards to licensing, unless someone comes to us with an offer we can't refuse, we have no plans to license the technology of Malevolence. It's something very new, very high-tech and very powerful, and if made common knowledge we believe that big game producers would ruin it, as they have so many other great ideas. That being said, if we had an offer made to us which meant that we'd be able to quit our day jobs and make games full time, then we'd probably take it and spend the rest of our days making more awesome new ideas!

Q. What inspired you to use the fourth dimension as a means to make your procedural generation method predictable (i.e. going from Point A to Point B, then returning to A from B, with the content remaining the same at A, B and all the points in-between)?

A. We'd taken a long look at other uses of procedural generation in games, and taken particular note of their limitations. Games like Daggerfall which had solid world borders because half of the game was hand-designed, and Minecraft - whose world starts breaking up and falling apart when you start to reach long number form limitations and did a substantial amount of research of our own to work out how these limitations could be overcome. Funnily enough, this research started out back in 2005, long before Malevolence had been though of. Once I had the tech working, I put it aside for the "right game" which turned out to be Malevolence.

Q. Why do you think it is important to let the community see your progress and give their feedback on it?

A. When you think about it, a game is nothing without people to play it. We're not some big corporate-backed design company and we really would love people to play our game when it comes out. We've very passionate about the game, and it means a LOT to us as a team. It's sort of become a family member in a way. We've nurtured it and cared for it for two years now, and we want other people to get to know it. Especially since it's such a new concept! Normally game companies have a very high brow, closed door approach to game development, but the truth is, the gaming community is really interested in the process behind it all, and we want them to feel like they were a part of the development. All of you guys are awesome (except the haters!) and have been so supportive that we want to reward you all by showing you inside Wonka's Chocolate Factory as much as possible!
Besides, sometimes you guys have good ideas! :-P

Q. What resources (e.g. games, papers, source code, etc.) did you use to research ways of generating procedural content?

A. Far too many to list here... Most of the standard papers published by MIT and Carnegie Mellon were read, but we had some obscure references, too, such as ancient procedural architecture like the Mosque of Uqba. The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall was also a big reference and we did quite a bit of research into that, but also games such as '.kkrieger', the entry into the 96k game competition at Breakpoint. But, to be completely honest, about 75% of it is original work. We weren't happy with the way other people generated procedural content so we came up with our own methods for the most part, to make things seem more nature and less... Robotic...

Q. Are you working on other procedural generation content?

A. Everything that we've been working on we've been putting into Malevolence. Pretty much all our spare time goes into it!

Q. Given as Euclideon, the developers of the controversial Unlimited Detail Engine, are also based in Australia, what is your opinion on their engine, and why?

A. They actually live very close to us! They're a reclusive bunch over there, but that is through necessity. They are HOUNDED by media day and night, the poor blokes. We feel that it's a big shame that so many trolls/flamers attack them saying that they're all talk and no show, and that their engine is a fake. I can guarantee you that it is real, and does what they say it can do. It'll take more work to have it in a position worthy of releasing a proper game, but they're well on their way to doing just that. They're an incredibly talented bunch of people and deserve much more praise than they get! Though it probably wouldn't hurt them to be a bit more open with the public. We cop a lot of flack from people saying that what Malevolence promises is impossible, but we explain ourselves and the flack disappears :-P

Q. What advice do you have with developers dealing with the time differences between team-members? (i.e. The majority of your development team works in Australia, but some of your best QA testers work in Germany.)

A. Funnily enough, of the 34 people working on Malevolence, only half a dozen of us are based in Australia. The rest of them are all over the place. From California to Scotland to China! It can be very difficult getting the timings right, but we've made use of four key things that have helped. 1) Skype. It shows you the local time of the person you're talking to and is a great way to leave messages. 2) Email rules. Filtering emails from different users into various folders, etc, helps you keep on top of things. 3) Bizarre sleep schedules. As the team director, I don't get much sleep. I'm up at around 7am for my day job, but don't actually go to sleep until 1 or 2 in the morning, because those extra few hours of staying up late allows me to be able to talk real-time with most of the crew. And finally 4) My iPhone. Being able to push emails through to the palm of my hand wherever I am means that I can communicate with my team within a few minutes of them emailing me with something. I can also access Skype on it to have that convenience as well. Most of them are friends with me on Facebook as well, so it helps that I can access that on my iPhone as well.

Q. Has your development team found any resources which are 'hidden gems' (e.g. unknown or obscure) on the Internet which you've been utilizing in the development of Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox? If so, what are they and where can we find out more about them?

A. The software on offer from The Game Creators has been a huge help in quickly prototyping the tech behind this game. When you're working on something as complicated as this you don't want to have to dive right into the C++ straight away as you can lose motivation fast. Having a good prototyping system can help you see if your idea will work quickly before you go on to the proper stuff. In our case we stuck with their products and used their DarkGDK libraries for a lot of our work.
Aside from the development side of things, our lead concept artist, Natalie, likes to use an art package called 'Paint Tool Sai' which is pretty nifty, and another of our junior concept artists uses a program called 'ArtRage' which is a personal favourite of mine, too.

Q. What has your experience been like with attracting and working with professional voice actors?

A. Now that is an interesting question. Before we launched the trailer, we actually had never met a voice actor before and had no-where to begin. For the trailer, I really wanted to find the guy who narrated the original Warcraft 3 trailer. I searched and searched but couldn't find him. Then I found out that it was Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime in the Transformers movies, and he would be impossible for an independant like me to contact. I was a bit disheartened, but then I watched the INCREDIBLE dot dot dot review video and heard the voice of one Deven Mack whom I was able to get into contact with. Unfortunately he was a part of the Screen Actor's Guild and couldn't charge below a certain rate which we couldn't afford, so he put us onto a friend of his named Steven Kelly, who eventually did the trailer voice for us. Personally, I think Steven did a better voice job on the trailer than Peter Cullen could have done, so we were extatic. We then VERY quickly found out that pretty much all indie voice actors know each other, and we were knee-deep in voice actors within a month. Steven put us onto the likes of Karen Kahler, Samuel Drake, Amber Lee Connors, Rebeka Thomas and David Doyle, who went on to do the voices of the characters and monsters in the game, as well as a couple of other people who were new to the voice acting trade. I myself did the voice of the Minotaur, and the singer of the local death metal band, 'In Death...' stepped up to do the voice of the Ogre.
They're an eccentric bunch, as all genius minds are, and are an absolute pleasure to work with at all times. We actually get very excited when one of them wants to call us over Skype, as it's an absolute delight to hear them speak as they all have the most incredible voices. Steven Kelly, for example, I could happily listen to him simply reading from a phonebook for hours!

Q. How is your team working on an infinite world that we all will want to explore? Such as, how much variety in landscape and gameplay will be present? 

A. We're of the firm belief that if you can make a repetitive action interesting enough, people are happy to do it. Proof of this concept is Minecraft. Actually a very simple game, but your repetitive actions lead to the creation of amazing things. In Malevolence, a similar theory is employed, with the amazing thing at the end being your character. The in-game world never ends, so you'll always have more dungeons/temples/crypts/forests/cities to explore, but the quest system and item system is also procedurally infinite, so you'll never run out of things to do or to find, either!

Q. Once it's ready will the alpha be available to buy and play before the game is finished, ala Minecraft?

A. Sort of but not quite... We have no interest in handling an alpha update system, so what we are planning to do is to release the "demo" around July/August if all goes well. I put "demo" in quotes because it will be virtually the full game. The only difference is that you won't be able to save. So it'll be pretty much a "play until you die or get bored" scenario, but you'll be able to experience pretty much everything the game has to offer. If you decide you like it, you'll be able to buy it on December 21st and have the full thing, with all the extra content and the ability to save! The demo DOES have some limitations other than the lack of a save feature. For example, you're only able to find about 50,000 weapons, whereas in the full version there are unlimited weapons...

Q. There is a lot of water will there be things like boats?

A. There will, but not just anywhere. Settlements that are based on a coastline will have ports where you will be able to barter passage on a trader vessel to other coastal towns nearby.

Q. Did you base your procedural generation method off of fractals?

A. Actually no, but there's a bit of a story there. We originally started with fractal generation but the things that it came up with looked too... Fractal... If you know much about fractals you'll know that things generated with them tend to have a certain look about them, and they tend to repeat themselves. Well, we didn't like that look, so we tried about 4 other procedural techniques, and had the same results with all of them. In the end, we developed our own procedural generation algorithm based off of a morphing hyperbolic paraboloid with an extra time dimension. We use it to simulate tectonic movement and erosion much as it happens in the real world in order to generate landscapes, and we use it's numerical results to generate everything else. It took us a LONG time to get right, but it works really well, and generates really natural looking environments (as you can see)

Q. Will there be any type of multiplayer support? And if not, why? And if there is support, how will this work?

A. When Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox is released at the end of the year, it will have no multiplayer support whatsoever. It will purely be single-player. HOWEVER, if this game ends up being popular enough, and it has enough of a fan-base, we have two expansion packs lined up, and then a sequel. The first expansion pack will bring 4-player co-op multiplayer support to the game. Everything will still be turn-based, which you might think is limiting, but when you get to play the demo/full game, you'll see just how much like a real-time game Malevolence feels. It may be turn-based, but it certainly doesn't feel like it!

Q. Can we buy land,ships,mounts?

A. You'll be able to buy a house in certain towns, but you can't own your own ship, only pay your way on other people's ships. There are also no mounts in Malevolence due to the grid-based movement system, though you can pay for travel by Griffon if you want. The sequel to Malevolence won't be grid-based or turn-based, so it'll have mounts and all that, but for now it's just travel by foot, really. 

Q. If the world is persistent can wars start with lands?

A. All of the infinite world is persistent, yes, but wars won't ever be witnessed. Raiding parties travel across the land, however, and a town you may have been in before may one day be found razed to the ground by Orcish brigands. But then again it will eventually be re-built. Sometimes you may find what is left of a large skirmish, but that'll be the most of it. The main focus on Malevolence is exploration and looting. But if we make it to the sequel, there will be a much more "epic action" feel to the gameplay.

Well, we hope that sates you all for now! If you have any last-minute questions for us, just ask away in the comments section of this news post and we'll answer as best we can!

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