A new video game using Google Earth and your models from 3D Warehouse. Command your own army of drones to control the world!
What's the game about?
geo- (earth); -cept (to take, to seize)
It is the near future, and Geoception, Inc is the world's leader in unmanned security systems. Using networks of combat drones in place of mercenaries, they have revolutionized private security contracting. Cities and nations, one by one, begin to see the cheap, efficient robotic policing services they provide as a God-send in hard economic times... in some cases, entirely removing the need for any human police in the city.
With precision and efficiency, you must play the role of security drone operator in this game environment -- neutralizing hostiles, destroying targets, engaging the enemy, and "spreading the peace"... until it covers the entire world.
Why is this idea awesome?
Google Earth offers us easily the largest map ever in a video game. You could play for years and never explore it all. And Google is always hard at work with their (real-world) cars, planes, and ships, mapping and modeling the world's cities and sea floors in great detail. This means the giant game map that is Google Earth is always improving in quality and accuracy, without any input from us. And every time you interact with this game map, you learn something about the real world you live in.
Meanwhile, there is this free-to-use, massive collection of user-generated 3D Sketchup models called 3D Warehouse. And there are many other pro modeling tools besides Sketchup that can modify or create COLLADA models like these. And it turns out these models can be placed in Google Earth, and can be dynamically animated. So it's our world... and our models... what's not to like? It really has the potential to be the greatest game platform, ever.
Earthling Technology is a one-man operation based in Austin, TX. I'm Satyen Sarhad -- software developer and creative mad scientist -- and I've worked professionally in various areas for the last 10 years, including video games, artificial intelligence, defense, and telecommunications systems. I'm 34 years old and I have a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Texas at Dallas.
After getting mass laid off from a video game company that shut down in 2010, it seemed the perfect time to try to stitch all my interests and talents together into one big super pet project. So I've been trying to live lean, not destroy my savings too much, and get this cool new Google Earth-based video game built... but it's getting rough now.
Suddenly, I find myself almost 2 years into this indie game development effort... and I'm still not done! I'm well past proof-of-concept, but it's that "second 90%" that's killing me. So I decided I need help to finish... otherwise, I will have to set this project down and <gasp>... go back to work. The irony is that this whole time, I've been working like a madman, 7 days a week. It's funny what you work on when you're not getting paid.
Project Goals & Gameplay
I have a list of technical and creative requirements a mile long, but to keep it simple:
The goal is to release a polished downloadable game client for both MacOS and Windows that allows you to play anywhere and everywhere in the real world, with flexible customization and skinning options.
From where I am now, I think I can do this by myself in about a year.
The major goals in this effort are to continue and complete development on:
- the playable Geoception command-and-control game
- the configurable Google Earth-based game engine behind it
- OS-specific client apps
So if this Kickstarter campaign is successful, here what I hope to deliver:
Downloadable Clients. I currently have a limited playable browser demo (that runs best in Firefox 3.6). I also have a prototype MacOS client that is quite promising so far. I found that performance varies widely across web browsers, with the best frame rate actually being in older browsers that don't run out-of-process plugins. I figured the effort required to get the game to run smoothly across all web browsers would be better spent simply building standalone OS-native clients. So, much of my motivation for trying to secure some crowd-funding to continue this project is because I'll simply need a little more time to build them... and I figured gamers are generally pretty open to downloading and installing clients on their Macs/PCs. This way, performance will be much better, too. Stupid web browsers! There, I said it.
Command & Control. Most of the gameplay will involve controlling robotic drone craft as you see in the trailer and current demo. You manage the Navigation and Weapon System controls of one or more robotic assets to complete your missions. Mission content will be dynamically generated, but localized using Google web services. Completing missions successfully earns you badges and medals, and leveling up allows your fleet to grow and improve. Strategic decision-making determines how exactly you expand your drone fleet locally and regionally, until you eventually achieve ultimate "geoception" -- a state of complete, global awareness and control.
Customization. As an advanced feature, the game's actors and missions can be easily customized and skinned according to your tastes. For example, you can replace a battle tank with Godzilla (like in the trailer video), or swap your helicopter gunship out for a flying dragon. As part of the premium backer Rewards, you'll get a suite of game design GUI tools that enables you to customize your own game world with Sketchup/3DWarehouse models of your choosing, and even custom-design your own missions. These utilities have been in concurrent development with the game all along, because I needed some scenario-building and testing tools along the way. So at the premium backer reward levels, you'll basically be getting my personal internal development/testing tools to play with, so you can roll your own game -- constructing your own actors, crafting your own missions, and then playing them out... all in a model of the real world.
Collaboration. With this global game space and its custom actors in place, we next need to grow a community of eager users and enthusiasts. (That's you.) If you take all the Google Earth and mapping geeks out there, combine them with all the Sketchup and 3D modeling geeks, and then add all the video gaming geeks... wow... you've got a pretty massive and very technically savvy audience. And this community can steer the course of the game engine's development better than anyone. I bet all kinds of interesting things will happen once people start sharing and collaborating on mission scenario and actor designs. So I've been working in "stealth mode" for long enough now... now I want to know, what do you think? Do y'all want to play games in the real world, too? I can't be the only one.
And I'm not the first to try this, either... just the first to let you blow stuff up. Other notable efforts at building Google Earth-based video games include:
Stretch Goal: Multiplayer. Of course, everyone wants multiplayer. I know I do. Imagine playing cooperative tactical missions with your close friends, in real neighborhoods you are familiar with. Or exploring foreign lands and getting your ass handed to you by the locals, who seem to know the map like it was their backyard.
Full multiplayer support, however, will take more time and effort, so I don't want to explicitly promise anything in the rewards (yet) unless we really blow away the minimum funding goal... so stay tuned.
Why do I need help?
So I've managed to come a long way on my own, having built most of the core game mechanics already (flying, driving, shooting, generating missions, bestowing rewards, etc)... but there are some serious barriers to going forward with development now, and I need funding to keep moving. One obstacle is that Google asks $10,000+ per year for their Maps for Business API license (which allows you to commercialize your app and handle more users than the free API). Another issue is that all development so far has been self-funded, and I realized that I'll simply need a little more time (and therefore, money) to build the OS-specific clients and get things into a more polished state.
Where will your money go?
Let's say I exactly meet the minimum fundraising goal of $100k. Here's a conservative sample budget of how it will be spent:
- $30k - Taxes
- $10k - Amazon Payments and Kickstarter
- $15k - Kickstarter rewards (depends on popularity of reward tiers)
- $10k - Google Maps for Business API license
- $25k - Personal living expenses for 1 year
- $10k - Dev tools, IT costs, accounting, etc...
Leaving me with basically nothing! The $100k goal is just enough to keep going for a year. Now what happens if we greatly exceed this goal, and this becomes one of those crazy million-dollar super-popular Kickstarter projects? Very simple -- I'll hire help. Programmers, modelers, artists... etc. I'm getting tired of doing everything myself and would love to accelerate development.
Why is this idea awesome again?
The game world is the real world we live in, and model quality is continuously improving behind the scenes without any effort from us.
The game actors can be almost any 3D model in COLLADA format. Anything from an Abrams tank to the Batmobile can be driven around in this virtual Earth environment. You can design your own actors, or pick from a vast selection of public models.
My hope is that people will take an interest in this new -- potentially revolutionary -- world of "reality gaming" and the genre will grow in content and popularity. Imagine playing a tactical first-person shooter in any city on Earth, or combating the zombie apocalypse in your hometown. Simulation is training, and the possibilities are endless here.
So let's stop playing in fantasy worlds... and start getting real.
And let's keep making this The Year of the Game on Kickstarter!
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Since this is something of an R&D effort, there's always the risk that what's being attempted isn't really feasible. So maybe I'll never get a decent, playable frame rate out of the Google Earth plugin, or maybe I'll never be able to animate more than a few tracks at a time before things bog down, so the gameplay will always be boring and simplistic, or maybe I'll run into some unforeseen issues once I get deeper into the .NET side of things. You never know. But I'm confident in my ability to learn on-the-fly and solve problems, and I'm satisfied that since I am already waist-deep in all the relevant technologies and *have a demo* that works well and is playable within a limited browser environment, that the likelihood I can follow through on delivering the final clients on schedule is pretty high.
Finishing and implementing my game design, as well as managing the development of the Mac/Windows clients will be quite a challenge, but it is doable within a year. I have a lot of it in place already. And remember that while there is always a risk that things won't get done fast enough, if we raise a lot of money and I can hire development help, the risk goes down, and the quality goes up.
Google's long-term support for the Google Earth API is not something I can control, either. Hopefully, they don't have any plans to deprecate the API any time soon, and instead, they'll give developers even more programmatic control over Google Earth in the future.
As I understand the terms of service, I only need a Premier/Business API license if I'm trying to build a commercial app (which I am). Otherwise, the application/game needs to be free to use (which it is, currently). One of the main things I need to raise money for is their $10,000+ per year Maps for Business API license fee. Buying that lets you make a commercial app, charge people, and handle more geocode requests, etc.
Plus, there's precedent for this kind of game, too. These guys have all made similar games and have been treated well by Google (invited to Google I/O conferences etc):
So essentially, what I have now is a free-to-play game demo, which is within the terms of the free API. Part of what I'm trying to raise funds for is so I can pay Google's $10K Business API fee, so I can develop the downloadable game clients to sell to people.
In a matter of weeks now, Black Ops 2 will be released. And they're going to make a billion dollars before the year is out, like they did with the last one.
Watch that trailer and then say "you can't make a realistic game about 'drones gone wild' set in the near future." Sorry, but that's what's happening in the industry right now.