Fringes of the Empire: An Indie Video Game Made With Love

by H. Elwood Gilliland III

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    1. Missing avatar

      Back Slash on October 6, 2015

      Hey, I saw your game in the Steam upcoming list and it brought me all the way over here. I'm really interested and I would love to see your game reach the public. Is this KS still up though? I see it's been a while since the last activity. Is there any way I can contact you? I'm probably pledging a $20 if this goes online; I have a Youtube channel and a HUGE interest for space games, I can't let this slide.

    2. H. Elwood Gilliland III 3-time creator on January 26, 2014

      Thanks so much for the suggestions, Christina. I will definitely take them into account. I've actually made changes already to the video that are not available on the page yet, but I think you are right, that more information is needed to really explain why kickstarting is necessary, and what it could mean for the game. In the revised video as it stands now, I just ended it with the top-down footage (about 2 more minutes of it).

      Truthfully, the part where you board the ship is a button you press that literally transports you to one of the ship-side levels. This is not yet functional, however I don't plan to launch this KS until Feb 10, so I will try to get that into the game (if not in actuality, then I will maybe edit two videos together to replicate the feel). Because of constraints with GameMaker, I have to built the two parts separately until the last moment when the game is ready for launch (the final weeks before beta I will be suturing the two together).

    3. Missing avatar

      Christina Bethel on January 26, 2014

      Merv,

      I'm interested in the game, but I do have a few suggestions for making the KickStarter stronger. Keep in mind as you read them that I had to start a KickStarter account to leave you this feedback, so this comes from an "outsider" to the KS community. I'm a gamer and a composition teacher, so I feel like I have plenty to add, but you know more about KS and what the community here expects than I do. :)

      With that said, for me as a player, the most interesting aspect of the game is combining the genres and the potential for a new multiplayer style. In your gameplay shots at the end, you only show off the top-down tactical shooter aspect. Would it be possible to include a brief scene showing the transition from top down to side scrolling?

      I would also recommend mentioning the stretch goals and how much more awesome the game will be with additional funding. In the video, you mention that the engine is experimental but not that it's one YOU have developed, which is the impression I get from the text. Tell me that in the video, too.

      Also, in the video around the 2-minute mark, you talk about why you've put the game on quickstarter (multiplayer, customization, and "just more stuff"), but there are some great ideas for the game you've mentioned in the text WAY down at the bottom of the KS page that would be more effective here to mention than using a phrase like "just more stuff." Can you mention your unique multiplayer plan in the video, for example? That's REALLY cool!

      I think it might also be useful to reorganize some of the text and create a stronger balance between text and visuals. For example, the first two paragraphs under "What is FotE going to be like?" would make better sense if you switched their order. Then you might add a screen shot or two of the character creation sequence to break up the block of paragraphs where you discuss it.

      Some of the sentences are a little awkwardly phrased ("Your character advances...", repeated unnecessary use of "which,"). I have a feeling that this may not matter to a lot of the community, but because I care a lot about dialogue and narration, the language use makes me worry about the attention that will be paid to these elements in the game.

      I love that you're going to show live dev on Twitch! As someone who wants to join the industry with NO practical experience transitioning from a (mostly) unrelated career, this is exactly the kind of work I want to support (don't get your hopes up too high... I'm a "starving artist/grad student" myself...). :)

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About this project

A science-fiction 2D retro PC game for Mac, Linux and Windows

Fringes of the Empire explores a radical combination of 2D top-down tactical shooter similar to Star Control 2, StarFlight, with the platformer experience of classic games like Xenophobe, Commander Keen, Contra and Intrusion 2, with the RPG experience of games like Fallout or ShadowRun.

You'll visit the devastated areas of Old Earth to uncover secrets that will unlock the game's plot and equip yourself with weapons from ancient weapon caches spared by the AI bombardment. You'll fly to far-away stars and deal with space piracy, infested colonies and new alien civilizations as you rise through the ranks to become a supreme commander and save the galactic alliance from interstellar perils.

Please vote YES! for us on Steam Greenlight!
Please vote YES! for us on Steam Greenlight!

What is Fringes of the Empire going to be like?

Fringes explores an alternate future where Earth has been devastated and is healing from a massive nuclear war.  Humanity has managed to secure its place among the cosmos by befriending several alien species. By a stroke of luck they are willing to help each other, but not all species in the galaxy are capable of peaceful co-existence.  As it turns out the galaxy has a rich history, filled with precursor species and ancient artifacts that are prized items in the interstellar marketplace.

Your character is defined by an RPG-like character creation sequence, starting with a 20 question test determining your character's skills and moral behavior.  You pick your name, your personality and your head!  Your character is assigned to the UFS Intrepid, a highly sophisticated spacecraft with a crew of 100 from all walks and slimes of life.

Throughout the game, your character advances through levels, gaining experience, determined by the outcome of arcade fighting sequences, and tactical combat decisions like boarding ships, sending in specialist troops or simply blasting alien ships into oblivion.  No space RPG game is complete without mining, and that can be done on planets or in asteroid fields.

In the world of Fringes, you can interact with individual objects on space stations, explore ancient ruins and follow the main plot, or you can board enemy (and friendly) vessels and interact with aliens directly either through diplomacy or combat.  

Retro-shaded or unshaded

Unshaded
Unshaded
With retro shader
With retro shader

Aside from the plotlines I'm developing, I'm hoping others will join a growing community of modders that create content they'd like to share with owners of the game!  It's a game that keeps on giving, possibly for years to come!

This game combines procedural generative effects with hand-drawn art to create a unique aesthetic for a game that is both a throwback to retro classics and a modern excursion into 2D gaming.  Take  a look at the cool space ships and stations:

Menaling Trader
Menaling Trader
Claw Destroyer
Claw Destroyer

Each one is uniquely animated by hand including time-controlled lights, rocker-arms, vents, and moving hanger doors.

Starbase One
Starbase One

Project goals:

  • 100 starships (I have designed approximately 86 of them so far)
  • 100 unique ship weapons, plus equally many turret-mount weapons (I have about 25 so far)
  • 100 personal weapons, tools and other items (I have about 40 so far)
  • Lots of unique backdrops, starbases, planetary locations, underground bunkers, secret labs and ancient ruins
  • Lots of aliens!  Like, many many different types of alien creatures including bipedal, spider-like, quadrupedal, floating, flying, worming, sliming, shooting, talking kinds!
  • Lots of dialog with various creatures that drives plot and has real impact
  • Building features (building as a part of the main game)
  • Modding features (an extensive level editor and simple scripting language for making downloadable adventures for other people to play)
Platform Level Editor
Platform Level Editor

Keeping Backers Informed:

Shortly after the launch of our project here at Kickstarter, I will release additional videos that show progress since these shots were taken.  This includes new weapons, and even a glimpse behind the scenes at the dev side of things in a routinely updated blog.  Also, I'll announce times when you can watch the game be developed live on Twitch.tv!

Whoa wait a minute ... you're asking for only $7500?

Well, that's the thing.  I have to make it all stretch goals.  If I received $7500 I could take the time needed to do the multiplayer part, but it wouldn't fund me beyond 2 or 3 months and so far this project is on month 9.  I figure the bare minimum is $2000 per month to fund just myself, so translate that into "man hours" and you can guess what $10000 or $15000 would do.

So, we, as gamers, all benefit if this project were funded at a minimum of $50000.  This gives me plenty of time and financial fuel to hire outside artists and programmers who can develop parts of the game in tandem with me, the lone "lost astronaut" developer.  I've thought about what more money could mean, so here's the stretch goals list:

  • $10000 - SQUARE DEAL: A really nice multiplayer experience that does exactly what I've described here, but more polished because I would get more time.
  • $20000 - HONED RESULT: More detail paid to individual animations and smarter weapons and AI
  • $30000 - MORE CUSTOMIZATION: More editing features that will allow customization of things that currently can't be customized (for example a way to create custom weapons and to import sprite and tile images which are both not possible right now).
  • $40000 - EASY TRANSPORT: A way to transfer user created maps to people without having to go download them off a website or dropbox etc.
  • $50000 - PACKED FULL OF CORE: Even more animations, starships, objects, weapons, AI variations, random encounters, nuances.
  • $100000 - PERSISTENT BUILDING: Multiply all this awesomeness by 2 or 3 times!!!  If the wonderful backers on Kickstarter can get me this wad of dough, I'll add procedurally generated landing sequences on planets and increase the number of possible locations you can explore by a factor of 10.  Those procedural areas will save and load like .. ahem .. other popular sandbox space games, making it a bit more like a 2D Minecraft.  There are some "technical concerns" with this, namely, that a moderately sized "level" takes about 12 seconds to load or save on a 1333 mhz bus / quad core 3.0 ghz, but the world will be persistent and the player's impact will be etched in the game world.
  • $200000 - GROWLING MAD MARKET: More 2.5D stuff, dedicated servers, lots of fresh content and more artists and designers, making the game look even more professional and having more smooth and interesting animations, sound effects, artwork, and game systems such as dialog, shipboard panels, and perhaps even a way to program puzzle minigames using the modding editor.
  • $300000 - INSTANT COLONIAL GORE-GASM: Gamers heads explode when playing the game from its awesomeness and unicorns jump from people's mouths barfing rainbows and stars drip from the unicorn's purple horseshoes... no seriously, at this level I'm sure there could be intense and meticulous detail paid to all aspects of the game, providing extra effort for the "possibilities" of the game interactions.  An example would be: adding the ability to treat the game world as a 4X game on the meta-level, allowing the player to further the empire's efforts to expand, perhaps infinitely, by establishing new colonies, managing colonies in a strategy mini-game, where players can choose what the colony builds, and the colony reacts to those decisions while dealing with external threats.

Risks and challenges

Back in 2006, when the Indie scene was quiet, I set out to write a "quick game" that would take "six months"-- I quickly learned my ambitious project was not satisfying unless it was of the highest possible standards. I set out to create a fully procedural RPG sandbox game and that project lasted for 6 years before I paused it to start Fringes of the Empire. Prior to this I worked in software professionally since 1995, and sometimes in the gaming industry, but mostly for hire and on projects that were not always my own choosing. I don't miss deadlines and I've come through for my clients many times when there was a time crunch. I do not back away from a challenge.

While very ambitious, the project (Empire in the Sky) needed to be paused due to technical limitations and various underlying issues in creating your own engine. If you roll your own engine, you have to simultaneously support yourself while you develop new software.

With Fringes of the Empire, I am taking a new approach. Already in less than a year with using GameMaker I am very far along with lots of content and a powerful editor tool already developed. Some of the content is based on the Empire in the Sky project (a game that grew to include over 3 GB of music alone!), and much of it is new, unique content specific to this game.

As an aside, I wanted to let you know that I have released a large amount of resources for other indie gamers who build games using GameMaker!
http://github.com/h3rb/gml-pro

The problem is, I've run out of the funding I could supply myself and need to make up the gap by getting Kickstarters to help. I think the game would be better with a budget that allows me to develop multiplayer aspects more fully. I am well along the way to all of my develop goals, but need a little extra push to get the project out the door at the level everyone wants. I love working on my game: it's extremely entertaining to see a new gun or ship I've designed come to life -- but to wrap everything up into a final package will take more than that.

It's one thing to make a simple Space Invaders style shooter, but this game has complexity way beyond that.

However, I am determined not to let all of my hard work go to waste: I want you to play my game. I want my game to be popular and I want it to be memorable. Even if I miss a deadline this game _will_ come out and it _will_ be awesome-sauce 2D retro alien-slaying mayhem.

One real challenge is to get multiplayer working in a sane way so that people can play without worrying about bogging down expensive-to-maintain servers! I have a solution that has never been tried before in gaming: decentralized peer-to-peer technology where you can connect and play with your friends without needing a centralized server! This means the game will always be multiplayer, even when central master server list servers aren't available.

The multiplayer experience will be something like this:

You request of your friend's IP or someone whom you see in the network panel to join the crew. If accepted, you appear on the host's ship and can chat with the host while seeing visuals of where the ship is located and what is going on in space. When the host boards a vessel, starbase or other structure, you will collaborate in real time to complete the platformer-game missions. Once complete, you return to their ship where you await your next orders, or you can call it a day and head back to your own vessel where others can request to join your landing party.

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    BOX JUNKIE: Receive a hand-crafted boxed copy of Fringes of the Empire complete with Lost Astronaut trinket, game data disc and printed manual and a thank you note signed by the author. Also see your name (or alias) listed among the official backers on our backer's website.

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    BOX GROUPIE: Receive an autographed hand-crafted individually-numbered boxed copy of Fringes of the Empire complete with Lost Astronaut trinket, game data disc and printed manual and a thank you note signed by the author. Also see your name (or alias) listed among the official backers on our backer's website.

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    CYBERNAUT DELUX: Receive a hand-crafted individually-numbered boxed copy of Fringes of the Empire complete with Lost Astronaut trinket, game data disc and printed manual and a thank you note signed by the author. Also receive 4 high quality A4-sized glossy prints of Fringes of the Empire concept artwork. Plus, see your name (or alias) listed among the official backers on our backer's website.

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    CO-CONSPIRATOR: This tier is for modders who want to participate in the game. Everything in the LAB GROUPIE tier, but be also given a chance to use our Platform Editor to create in-game locations that, at the discretion of the project owner, could be included in the final game. Submissions of content are purely optional. Selected submissions will be credited on the game website and in the game itself under "Level Designers" NOTE: Project owners reserve editing rights to your requests, but will work with you as much as possible to make your submitted ideas a reality. However, we reserve the final edits. (Nothing is keeping you from releasing it as a user-submitted MOD later, either way, and you get a jump on other modders.) Plus, get a really cool Lost Astronaut T-shirt, and an extra digital copy of the game.

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    CONSIGLIERE: At this level you may (optionally, of course) submit one plotline for the game. This involves a single locale, mission or something like a species or culture. We'll send you a series of surveys to determine what's in your head and then work with you to co-approve the result as best we can. You may advise us by naming a yet unnamed, undescribed alien species and we'll work with you to get it into the game. We'll ask you questions about your creation. If you don't want to make an alien species, you can also just help us come up with a dead alien culture, or just a name, talk to us about a space station, or just have a planet named after you. Plus, we'll feature an NPC in the game with your name, and if you want, custom dialog you write! NOTE: Project owners reserve editing rights to your requests, but will work with you as much as possible to make your submitted ideas a reality. Your name will appear in the game credits under "Special Consulting" Plus, get an additional really cool Lost Astronaut T-shirt, and everything in the CO-CONSPIRATOR tier plus a total of 5 digitally-keyed copies of the game which you are free to give away or hoard, as a supplemental to your physical copy.

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    DEDICATED VACATOR: At this level you express your interest in having me come to your US State for one night only to meet with you and a pre-approved guest list at a restaurant of my choice and buying you and up to 3 guests (or 5 family members) dinner and shake your hand for being such a great backer, and you get everything on the CONSIGLIERE level. Plus, the title sequence will list your name during the beginning sequence as a "producer".

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