INSIDE THE READY ROOM - STARLIGHT INCEPTION 6.22.12
Welcome to the first edition of "Inside the Ready Room - Starlight Edition!" At least once a month (and more frequently as we get closer to our estimated release date of August, 2013), we intend to take you 'behind the scenes' for a glimpse into the preproduction and production process of the game. The Ready Room is the area on a carrier where pilots are given briefings and sent off onto missions; thus the name for this series of blogs. This is posted first on www.eheforums.com in the special backer only area of the site, but since 3/4 of the backers haven't signed up yet, we wanted to make sure that you all got this information. Please do come over and check out the forums when you get a chance, and request access to the Starlight Inception portion - there's a lot of good dialog going, and inside information about the game that you won't find anywhere else.
We've been working hard on several fronts to plan for the complete production cycle. The Kickstarter was a major undertaking, much more than any of us ever thought it would be, and it really impacted the production of the game both positively (nice infusion of budget) and negatively (time sink). It took a couple weeks after the Kickstarter ended to get back on track and start the hard process of building the game.
We have developed a "90% complete" art list which includes USF, Neutral and Enemy Fighters, Bombers, Capital Ships, Transports, etc., Level set pieces, various structures, weapons and equipment, and other art needs. The reason I call it "90% complete" is because games are built iteratively - there will be requests for other assets as we move forward, and the art list and overall production plan allows for it. Typically, team members will see something once into production that could add to the game experience in some way, and the facility needs to be in place to allow these ideas to make their way into the game. Usually, around the time that a game declares Beta, the possibility of new assets being added that aren't bug related is slimmer, but still exists.
Any how, parts of the art list and the associated descriptions have been delivered to the folks who are working with us on concept art. In the case of a single asset, the process involves a lot of back and forth between concept and design. Typically, I'll get a whole bunch of thumbnail sketches (quickly drawn versions of the ship that rely heavily on silhouette and feel - not detailed, black and white quick drawings of what the spaceship might look like. At this point, I would pick three or four of these thumbnails to take further down the line of refinement, and progressively cull designs that aren't as cool while refining and detailing concept drawings that are. Sometimes, I'll pull elements from one unused concept into an active concept - for instance the engines or conning tower on one capital ship might not work on an unused concept drawing, but might be perfect used on another drawing. For this phase, we use Adobe Photoshop as much as text to communicate concepts. After another few back and forth phases, the drawing is ready to be filled in with color and final detail, and that is typically the art that an artist sees when they are building the first pass of the model. Those final concepts can hold perspective and orthographic (top, front, rear, etc.) views and are really meant to communicate the feel and the volume, as well as detail and color of a game asset. As you all saw from Fighter "E"'s evolution during the Kickstarter, a lot can change from beginning to end of the process!
PRODUCTION PLAN AND BUDGET
Simultaneously while developing the art list and working with the concept artists, we've developed a production plan which outlines which personnel will be necessary to complete this game within the time frame we've set aside, and have also attached dollar amounts to account for this personnel and what we will pay them. The production plan (and budget) also includes things like project related software (game engine costs, etc.) and hardware (development kits, computers, etc.) costs, music, sound effects and voice talent costs, legal costs, amongst others. Once this is hammered out, the task of monitoring costs and reconciling production needs begins. In addition, we have something to negotiate with other potential members of the team that will give us an idea of the overall scope and cost of the project.
LEVEL DESIGN DOCUMENT
I have also put the first draft of the level design document together. The heart of the design of the game, this document (ok, actually it's a spreadsheet) lays out the game's campaign in a very broad sense, and is used as the bones for the eventual level script, as well as more detailed level design documents like bubble diagrams of the levels, level scripts, and other level-related items.
Remember all those features I was touting during the Kickstarter that would be included in the game? Well, a lot of those features were supported by our engine, but a select few needed to be added. This is where the Programming Plan comes into effect. As much as possible, we are front loading the programming tasks so that the artists and design team can see the game and all of its features as we build it.
Finally, as part of preproduction and early production, we've been moving over code from our old PSP version to our new game engine for the Vita and PC. We already have made a lot of progress on getting game systems to work (think things like flying spacecraft, firing projectiles and other in game features), and more are coming on line every day. Although it's early, the game is already looking like it will be a fun experience.
I also wanted to say that it's great to see so many people on the forums (minus the spambots which we've been filtering out) discussing the game. I've been reading the comments in between building the game and interjecting where appropriate. Other members of the team will start to show up on these forums as well, and will be sharing opinions on parts of the game. I love the discussions going on, and try to contribute what I can in between the building of the game.
Thank you again for participating in this process, and for backing this game. We hope to share lots of exciting news in the months to come!
Garry, Melissa and the Starlight Inception team