Friday, July 26, 2013

New Ventures: The Turncoat Dev Diary

At MartianCraft, we've done a lot of work over the past few years under what are called "no-publicity" clauses. That means we can't talk about those projects or put them in our portfolio. In fact, most of the really interesting work we did our first couple years was done that way. That was one of several reasons why, about a year ago, we chose to create a products division. By developing our own software, we're also filling out our portfolio with apps that we can show to prospective clients. Of course, that's not the only reason we decided to write our own software, but the fact that we couldn't talk about our most interesting projects was certainly a factor.

Getting Briefs out the door was a long slog, but it has been a great experience for us. The app has been well received and is being used regularly by an active and engaged community of users. Development has continued unabated since the 1.0 release, with new features being planned and actively developed.

Part of what made Brief's development so hard was keeping the very existence of the project under wraps until a few months before release. Spending nearly a year working on something we couldn't talk about really took its toll on our team.

But Briefs wasn't the only product idea we came up with last year. It's not even the only idea that we began to work on when we decided to create our own products.

We've had a second skunkworks project going from the time Briefs started, but on a much slower burn. For over a year, we've been working on ideas for a series of games. The project has been so secret that most of our staff at MartianCraft know little more about the project than the fact that it exists.

At first, there wasn't a lot of day-to-day work happening on this other project. It was mostly just Rob and me brainstorming ideas for what to do after Briefs. Then it morphed into something that Rob and I would talk about in the evenings, on the weekends or when we just needed a break.

And then it took on of a life of its own.

It turns out that we're both interested in games as a storytelling medium and we both wanted our next project to be a game, preferably one that provides an immersive, cinematic experience for the player. We also realized that we already have an awful lot of the talent in-house needed to create these kinds of games. While we've done a small amount of graphics and game work for clients over the years, we both wanted to create something that we controlled… something that was completely ours.

Over several months, we created a universe and populated it with dozens of characters. We explored the state of technology and the politics of the universe and mapped out a hundred years or so of history. We came up with ideas for several interconnected games set in the universe and wrote scripts for game cinematics. We also wrote scripts and stories that weren't tied to a specific game, but were written to help us get to know our characters and our universe better.

After a year, we had several hundred pages of back story and scripts and we began to realize we would need an AAA game budget to fully implement our vision. We had no way to fund that size of an undertaking without outside investment, so we began looking to carve out a smaller, standalone game that we could bootstrap ourselves, just as we did with Briefs.

Eventually, we picked a piece of our fictional history suited to making a good immersive game that was smaller in scope and not directly connected with the other games we'd mapped out. Then we decided to turn that idea into the game equivalent of a movie short: Polish the hell out of a short game and release it for free.

With Briefs and our non-NDA contracting work, we now can demonstrate the ability to create — soup to nuts — a wide variety of Mac, iOS, web, and Android apps. But when it comes to games, a market that interests us, we don't have anything in our portfolio to show.

We want that to change.

Here's the thing, though: Unlike Briefs, we're not going to develop this project under a veil of secrecy. In fact, we're going the exact opposite route. I'm going to share a lot of the process with you right here as it happens. I'll be blogging at least once a week, and often more frequently, until we ship. I'm going to talk about how we plan and design the app, how we create the assets used in the game. I'm going to show in-progress screenshots and concept art, and even share code. I'm going to talk about the tools we're using and why we chose them, and I will even admit to the mistakes we're going to make along the way, because we will make mistakes along the way.

There will be things about the game we're going to keep secret, but only so you can experience it as it was intended, spoiler-free. And, as long as the spam doesn't get too bad, I'm going to enable comments on these posts and will answer any questions people want to ask about the undertaking.

Wish us luck.

Next Up: Origin of the Universe


Khakionion said...

This is great news, really can't wait to see what you make!

Chris said...

Very exciting stuff. I'm looking forward to reading more.

Joe Morgan said...

I'm excited to follow along with what you're developing!

Unknown said...

Can't wait to see all the behind the scenes stuff let alone a Martiancraft game! So awesome!

Michael Yacavone said...

This will be a great series, thank you!

When you get to it, I'd be interested in hearing about data models for games. I've done plenty of data modeling, but for some reason, levels, challenges, sequences, etc - the normal stuff of games currently eludes me.

David Cortez's book (scheduled for October release: looks interesting, but I'd love to see your approach.

Jeff LaMarche said...


This series will be nowhere near as structured or organized as that book. This is more of a "warts and all how we're doing it", not a "this is how you should do it" kind of thing.