kickstarter

Life after Kickstarter

By Alex Maier, writer of words

It’s been just over two years since we’ve concluded our Kickstarter campaign, without hitting our funding target. If I said that we were completely unfazed by this setback, I’d be lying, but despite the disappointment we decided to continue on with the project anyway.

As the new demo and early access are drawing closer, I felt a bit nostalgic, so I began to compare our actual progress to the goals we set out to hit two years ago. And you know what? That made me feel good. Aside from having to push out our release dates, we’ve stayed largely on course.

Also, it helps to remind ourselves just how far we’ve come in those two years. So let me take you along for a trip down memory lane, beginning with the Kickstarter video.

First off, I gotta say, thank you Denis for kicking my butt to create our current logo, it is definitely better than what we had back then.

Spy DNA screenshot August 2016

Spy DNA screenshot August 2016

Spy DNA screenshot, August 2018

Spy DNA screenshot, August 2018

We’ve also improved the UI to make it look more like a sci-fi game. Gone are the sharp rectangles and mostly gray-on-gray elements, but on a deeper level, we’ve also streamlined the way our players interact with the game.

Lab tech Oxalana Guy before and after

Lab tech Oxalana Guy before and after

But one of the changes most noticeable to me are our new character models, unique guns, and the look of the in-game world. Then there are things like large landscapes with literal thousands of trees on them rendered at high FPS rates, and level loading times of 10-15 seconds. In our playthrough video, you can see how quickly a 1 x 1 km map loads.

Now, let’s look at the game we’ve promised to you when we launched that Kickstarter campaign, and how we did on each point.

Super-realistic combat and AI make you feel like a real super-spy on a mission
If you watch our latest mission playthrough demo, you’ll see the realism in action, and in a little bit of time, you’ll be able to try it out yourself when we release the new demo

Realistic weapons behaviour, aiming, and cover
We account for character stats, time spent aiming and recoil when calculating shot accuracy, and we take projectile velocity and total energy plus aerodynamic drag when calculating damage. We use actual line of sight for determining which parts of the target are in cover and which can be seen and shot at.

He's got his heart in the right place, so you can aim for it

He's got his heart in the right place, so you can aim for it

Hit points replaced with anatomical damage
We’ve got per-polygon collisions enabled for characters, so we know where they get hit, and if the bullet has been stopped by cover or armor. We’ve additionally filled our character models with collision primitives that represent different organs and parts of the skeleton, and base the actual physical consequences of getting shot on what parts have been hit.

Dynamic turn duration based on character stats; turns execute at the same time
Yep. Got that one.

Immersive story and deep branched dialog
Okay, you’ll have to basically take me at my word on this one, but that 200-page script that I was showing off in the KS vid is still alive and kicking. It's been expanded quite a bit, and we’ve added Lua scripting support to the dialog, to make the conversations have real effect on the game.

Rich character attributes and skills allow you to create and play a character based on your own play style
While some games try to simplify everything down to just a couple stats that have to stand in for a bunch of marginally-related skill checks, we’ve gone the opposite way, providing the detail and granularity to help the player have a clear understanding of what their characters are good at.

Character creation August 2016

Character creation August 2016

Character creation, August 2018

Character creation, August 2018

High tactical flexibility creates replay value
When we wrote this sentence, what we had in mind were static, hand-made levels where only the NPC placement and their actions would vary on each playthrough. Today, we’ve taken this idea much farther: to generating all the levels procedurally, based on mission scenarios that we create in our Editor tool. In today’s version of Spy DNA, you will have a different map each time you replay a given scenario/mission, and the mission objectives won’t alway be in the same spots, so you have to approach each mission individually.

Gratuitous picture of two Spy DNA agents shooting the same target at the same time

Gratuitous picture of two Spy DNA agents shooting the same target at the same time

As you play, you will encounter two types of scenarios: storyline missions and side quests. The storyline missions will be required for you to complete the story arc, while the side quests are one-off missions that you can take (or leave) between storyline ones. Storyline missions will feature unique dialogs and allow you to develop relationships with the members of your squad, who we’ve made as different from each other while still being useful for the team, as we could.

Side quests will be based on several different scenarios, which, coupled with a unique map generated each time the scenario comes up in your intelligence screen, will provide you with hours of challenging levels to beat.

arps-objective-window.PNG

The demo will ship with only a handful of scenarios and none of the storyline missions, but you’ll see the first few story-arc levels in the early access release.

In addition, we’ve also built a few things from the stretch goal list: guns that you can customize in-game, and recorded voice-over “barks” for our squad.

So while we’re going to be shipping the game quite a bit later than originally planned, we’ll be shipping the game we promised we would, and in some aspects, it will even be a better game than we ourselves could anticipate back in 2016.

Let me wrap up here before I pat ourselves on the back too much. Please subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media to make sure you know when that demo will be ready for you to download and try out.

Kickstarter update 4: Stealth

Update from Jason

It’s been a busy week here at Shy Snake.  We just pushed the update to move Spy DNA to Unreal 4.12.  We were waiting until our demo at AFK was complete so as to not break anything right before it was time to show.

I’ve been 100% focused on AI.  One big part of AI is making the system respect stealth.  In Spy DNA we have a system that gives each character attributes for senses.  These, combined with the characters skills, will determine how likely a character is to detect a player.  

Sound:

Everything a player does can generate a noise.  Some things such as sneaking are quiet, while firing a gun would be loud.  The sounds will dissipate over distance and with obstacles.  The sound strength when it reaches the character is used to make a check against the character's ability to determine if they hear it.  If they do then they may react.  For the players, when your character hears a sound, we add a symbol with an arrow to indicate the direction of the sound. 

Sight:

Sight in Spy DNA serves two purposes.  First is to detect a character.  The second is to evaluate the character.  Being a spy will often place you in locations where you will not be overtly carrying weapons.  This means that in an area mixed with friendlies, enemies, and civilians, an enemy would both have to see you and then decide you are a threat.  This means checks against their ability to spot hidden weapons, provided you don’t have a rocket launcher on your back.  Anything in your inventory that could blow your cover is a risk for detection even if it’s not equipped.  Obviously not having something equipped does make it harder for them to detect it.  This creates an incentive to carry light and concealable weapons on many missions. 

The sight AI includes a cone of vision so the enemies have to look in the correct direction to see you. If they hear a noise they will turn to look, provided they're not doing something more important already. The AI also ranks everything it sees in terms of “potential threat.”  A civilian going about their normal business would register near zero.  One running and screaming would start to move the needle.

Smell:

This isn’t really used to detect enemies, but rather hazards.  Gas leak, smoke, or a specific perfume could all be clues or hazards.  


Alex has also been busy.  While I have been implementing stealth, she has been working to de-stealth Spy DNA and make sure the fans of thoughtful tactical games know about us.  If you know anyone that would be interested in Spy DNA, please give her a hand in getting the word out.

 

Gearing up for Kickstarter

As you may have heard us say once or twice, we’re getting ready for our Kickstarter campaign. Our goal is to launch it in a couple of weeks (so stay tuned!), when all the parts are ready.

What are all the parts?

Well, we’re updating the UI (see Jason’s post), and making the user experience better and clearer overall. We’re improving our game’s fog of war, and of course continuing to work on game levels and artificial intelligence (AI).

Then of course there’s the work on the campaign itself. Before we launch it, we need to define the funding goal so that it’s not too little, not too much, just right. Then there’s the stretch goals, which are things that we would like to include in the final game, but can do without, if we don’t exceed the funding goal by a sufficient amount. There’s some math involved, and also some inspired guesses.

Funding levels and associated rewards packages are also a big deal. We’re trying hard to find things that people will find appealing, and which we can realistically fulfill on schedule. I hope you like what we’ve got in stock for you!

And finally, there’s the Kickstarter video. You all know it, that’s the thing at the top that gives you the project pitch and explains the team’s motivations. We’ve been working on that too. And just like with the other stuff, it’s also not all that simple.

While we know what inspires us, and why we think our game is awesome, we could talk about it for hours. And we did, in front of a camera, actually. And then we had to cut all this footage down to five minutes. Ouch.

At this point, we have a pretty good approximation for what will go into the video, but we’re still finishing some of the demo footage, and looking for ways to make the video a bit snappier still.

So here we are, so close to launching our project on Kickstarter, and here's a little sneak peek for you.

Characters and animation

We’re getting ready to go to Kickstarter with our game, to help us raise the money needed for the custom art, animations, and hopefully original music for Spy DNA. This means we’re making a new video to show off the progress we’ve made in the past couple of months.

One important improvement you’ll notice is that we’re using custom characters to replace the placeholders we got from the Unreal Engine asset store.

The cool thing about using custom characters is that we can make them look all different, use different body types, skin and hair colors, and of course different clothing.

Now the challenge with that is that once you stray from the Unreal Store, you need to rig up and animate the characters from scratch.

While we’re working on funding custom motion captures, we’re using some animations we purchased from mo-cap vendors with our characters.
We have (finally!) settled on an animation workflow for the project. We use Autodesk MotionBuilder for working with animations. This allows us to retarget an animation from one character to another. This is important because depending on the source of the character they may have a different skeleton, which makes the animations incompatible. This tool allows us to solve this problem.

Next, we get the animations into our project in Unreal Engine. That done, there is still a lot of work to do. The first step is selecting which animation to play for a character at any given time. At last count we have nearly 1,000 animations captured. Selecting the right one to play at any given time is complex enough we had to abandon the normal UE4 blueprint system and move most of the animation logic to C++. Once the system knows which animation is to be played, it may be necessary to slightly speed up or slow down the playback to match the speed of the specific character. 

It’s at this point that things start to get hard (as if it wasn’t hard enough already, heheh). So now that you have your base animation, you want to adjust it for the environment, so that a character's feet don’t go through the ground or hang in the air. Also you want the character to look and aim in the right direction. For these effects we are evaluating some middleware solutions (HumanIK, Morpheme, and IKinema). These provide tools for improving the interaction between the animation, character model, and the environment. In some cases they can also generate animations on the fly in response to environmental stimulus. A good example would be falling down stairs after dying.

In the process of getting it all to work, we get to watch many animations that look pretty funny. Do you have your favorite animation bloopers from a game you played? Share it with us in the comments.

Shy Snake went to GDC 2016

Two weeks ago, the Shy Snake team went to the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, CA. We took part in the indie dev Summit and attended a bunch of talks and events. If we missed you at the GDC, here’s a quick recap for you.

We visited a number of vendors on the show floor, many of whose products we use every day in creating Spy DNA.

We use UnrealEngine 4.10 to build our game, so it was really exciting to visit the Epic Games booth and talk to the Unreal Engine product managers, developers, and docs writers. It was so awesome in fact, that we stopped there on three separate days! We had great discussions with Epic booth staff, and are hoping to continue growing our relationship with this company.

We also paid a visit to Intel and NVIDIA exhibits to find out more about their developer programs, to help us both find our audience and help support the development of Spy DNA.

In search of a source for custom animations for our game, we spoke to several mo-cap companies, and looked at their software solutions. Why can’t we use the standard animations from the widely available libraries? Glad you asked, because we think you’ll like the answer.

Human bodies have an incredible ability to communicate what’s wrong with them, say by limping, clutching an injured limb, or possibly crawling. Since we’re placing all this emphasis on realism in our combat, we’d like to make the characters in the game to move differently if they are in any way impaired. That’s the kind of stuff that we’ll have to work on with professional motion capture artists in a studio.

We’ve made connections with a few freelance 3D artists, in hopes to find the person(s) who can help us build the custom items, weapons, and characters for the game. If you know someone who is interested in talking to us about it, have them ping games@shysnake.com. We’d love to hear from them.

Custom animations and 3d art are awesome, but they also cost a lot of money, so we’re hoping to raise the funds to help pay for them on Kickstarter.

We’ll be announcing the exact dates  here on our blog, and on the mailing list. Please subscribe to our announcements if you’d like to be the first to know when we launch our Kickstarter campaign!