Umdlalo: A stunning indie RPG set in prehistoric Africa where you and your animal sidekick struggle to save Humanity from Nature's fury
Umdlalo: A stunning indie RPG set in prehistoric Africa where you and your animal sidekick struggle to save Humanity from Nature's fury
50,000 years ago, a span of time almost unimaginable, Humanity thrived. We learned how to fish, how to grow food, how to honor those that came before us, how to calm wild animals, and even how to tame fire. The first men and women began with little more than the reeds of the swamp and in time learned to build all that you see: cities, farms, houses, roads and how to remember all the good things that we may pass on to the young. We sang great songs that made our hearts light and our bellies full. Never before and never since that time have we ever felt so free.
But when the mighty earth trembled, the deluge came, to wipe away the joy from our faces….
Umdlalo / ūm-DLĂ-lō / is an epic role-playing game (RPG) taking you on a journey through prehistoric Africa to save humanity's future from the fury of Mother Nature. Alone and afraid, unsure of where to turn for help, you find yourself scrambling for clues and high ground as the oceans swallow what you remember as home. Only vague stories and a few strange artifacts remain to guide you to new friends, and new adventures as you build in strength and grow in understanding. You and your steadfast animal companion must work together to discover why Mother Nature has turned against us, and to defeat the twisted demigod Tikdo who has convinced Mother Nature that humanity is to blame...
Umdlalo is designed as an open, immersive experience, where the gameplay and storyline changes, based on the cumulative effect of your character’s decisions and interactions with others throughout your journey.
Begin your adventure by selecting one of many heroes. The hero you choose determines your appearance, starting attributes and how you enter the story. Each hero’s storyline forms a unique perspective that allows the player to explore the history, motivation and politics in the world of Umdlalo. Play as different characters to experience the game in new ways!
Your Animal Companion
As you start to learn about your character, an opportunity will present itself to pair up with one of many possible animal archetypes that can bond with you! The animal archetypes presented may be friendly, neutral or hostile toward your character at first. They will begin to develop and grow alongside you, and you both will bear the scars of it for all to see.
Play again to meet and bond with new companions, and become a part of their story as well!
Choices & Consequences:
Over the course of the game, your character will interact with various individuals and events that will allow you to choose the path for you to progress in the game (remember those books we all loved as kids?). Decisions you make (or fail to make) will result in a meaningful consequence. The character / animal companions you choose will help define your story, but so will the actions and choices you make. These choices matter and will affect your story. Your story will be your own.
The World of Umdlalo:
The world of Umdlalo came to be when the Ancient One, Unku the Creator, arose from the reeds of the Fey Marshes. He then created everything that is: mountains, streams, hills, swamp, desert, and the sea. Unku the Creator brought forth the people and founded the first city, the city of Feyton. He taught the people how to hunt, make fire, fish, and grow food. He is considered to be the First Man and is in everything that he created.
Uthlanga – The mainland where your adventure begins.
Ness – Island of unnaturally beautiful people (boys/girls depending on the player settings) who seem very nice…too nice…
Formyth & Bamyth – Two closely related islands that are locked in a bitter rivalry. Each group wants to kill the other and take their resources. On Formyth they make a beer-like tonic from a kind of sugar cane that allows the drinkers to live twice as long as normal, yet they age poorly and are made weaker in the process. On Bamyth they make a food-like chocolate from a bush that gives the eater the fresh glow and strength of youth throughout life, but shortens the lifespan.
Boddi Cove – A seemingly unpopulated island, which is in fact a monastery for an ancient tribe of wizards. On a small island in the center of the cove is a building which is an ancient source of very strong magic. The wizards are afraid of it, and yet study it from the lesser shore. Also on the island is a band of rogues that have come to pillage the secrets of the strong magic that exists there.
Kingu – Ruled by Tikdo, the evil demigod from the beginning of creation, the land of Kingu is defended by a number of challenges that the player and their party must overcome before storming his fortress.
Marduk & Mummu – Really a single island at the edge of the peninsula of Kingu, these two villages are formerly one people who are now in civil war with each other. The player must be a diplomat and use their resources to convince the two sides to put away their differences in order to solicit their help in forming an army big enough to attack the evil demigod who rules the land of Kingu.
Choices & Consequences:
Over the course of the game, your character will interact with various individuals and events that will allow you to choose your path (remember those books we all loved as kids?). Decisions you make (or fail to make) will result in a meaningful consequence. The character / animal companions you choose will help define your story, but so will the actions and choices you make. These choices matter and will affect your story. Your story will be your own.
Umdlalo Gameplay Mechanics:
Umdlalo presents to the player a limited “Open World” design with a primary character (hero) paired with a secondary character (companion) as the active agents in the game.
There is an overarching time-bound storyline to the game, such that no matter what stage the player is on, there is a specific beginning, with episodes that escalate the story to a climax, and an ultimate conclusion. A specific stage acts as a sort of lens or facet to the overarching storyline and presents each part of the broader story in a context in keeping with the theme of that stage.
Each stage is structured to provide the player with a primary theme, goal and/or set of goals for the completion of the stage. At least one primary goal must be met in order to advance from that stage. Sometimes, more than one goal must be accomplished. Some multi-goal stages require achieving goals in a specific order, while others only require the goals be achieved, with no preset sequence. In addition, there are secondary objectives which can be accomplished, which contribute to the ultimate success or failure of the player’s campaign overall. Secondary goals are optional and are not required for advancement through the stage. However, some story arches are not achievable without the prerequisite secondary (optional) objective being met, and once progressed through a stage within time constraints, are not accessible to the player. This is a natural consequence of the game’s design, and helps maintain the consistency of the storyline for specific characters.
Progressing from stage to stage happens by direct control of the player, and is not automatic. The method of progression varies depending on the stage. The game stages can be regions of geography that open up for the player after attaining certain prerequisites for them. To accomplish this the player will typically move the party so that it occupies a specific way point on the Master View board thus indicating the party’s desire to progress to the next stage.
There may be specific new information associated with this stage transition. If there is relevant information, it will be provided by a narrator who references cutscenes of in-game artwork that provides the player with the background necessary to understand how they are doing in relation to the overall storyline.
There is a great deal of variability possible in the storyline, on a per character basis, which is directly tied to the achievement of primary and secondary goals within each stage. Thus, the game play is considered “open world,” giving the player the freedom to explore the universe presented to them broadly.
Umdlalo utilities a "solid-state” interface, that is completely gesture driven. With a large database of basic and intuitive gestures, the player will discover how gestures can be combined and associated to engage in what is commonly known in the gaming industry as “combo-moves.” The gesture engine is a necessary innovation, given the broad cross-platform compatibility specified by Umdlalo’s design. To offer a meaningfully consistent gameplay experience, that still takes full advantage of the features and framework that each computing platform inherently provides, Something Wicked has devised a standardized protocol of gestures that are as easily made with a keyboard or mouse, as with a laptop trackpad, touch screen tablet or smarter handheld devices, such as Apple’s iPhone and the new iPad running iOS8, or devices implementing Google’s Android 4.0+ operating system, or devices supporting Microsoft’s Windows 8 mobile architecture. Our gesture database consists of many unique gestures, each capable of being made with only one hand, either right or left. Certain gestures may be combined to offer the player a ‘shorthand’ which is surprisingly easy to get a feel for after each attempt. Since Umdlalo is not heavily dependent on how quickly you are able to press buttons (i.e the “twitch” factor in gaming), but rather how confidently you complete a gesture.
There are two reference frames for interaction in Umdlalo. There is the world map with a distinct time frame, master clock and party-stage action. This perspective is known as the “Master View” and it provides the highest stage, strategic view of Umdlalo. There are context sensitive control mechanisms and a minimalistic game HUD which allow the player to change camera perspective, to zoom in and out to get a better view of the world traveled so far, and icons which represent objectives completed. There are also action buttons, which vary depending on the platform, which give the player the ability to move their party which allow for navigation between specific regions of the game. These icons are a quick, click-able reference to items of importance and clues that help the player negotiate specific areas of the game, take actions that are appropriate and generally control the game from a party stage.
During combat, the game world shifts to the "Melee” view when the player and their companion(s) have come close enough to a specific fixed target on the Master View map, or intersect with another mobile target (another party) such that this mode is triggered. The game animates to transition from the Master View to the Melee View, and back again when the Melee is resolved, to give the player a seamless gameplay experience. During a Melee encounter, the player may be given a choice as to what role they would like to assume during the event. Once decided, the player is committed to that role until the conclusion of the event, and must accept the consequence of all actions that take place during the melee round.
The Melee design is as close as possible to an interface that is as real as possible from the player’s perspective. As the player pulls back the view away from the first person perspective, the more the interface may present itself as a representation of game events, so as to maintain the game environment’s ability to promote suspension of disbelief. Whenever possible, the design philosophy is to integrate visual feedback into the context of the game itself, so that little or no HUD is required in the first place.
The player is given choices in most Melee encounters between specific roles that are appropriate for the encounter in context. A narrator summarizes the melee encounter and the participants animate any dialogue or starting criteria for the benefit of the player at the onset of the encounter. In the strategic role, the player may have control over his own hero’s actions directly, in real-time. The other characters must follow the initial instructions given to them at the onset of the melee through to its conclusion.
Entering the Game:
The player enters the game through the selection of a primary character (avatar) from a number of possible selections. Each primary character has a specific and well-defined personality, which embodies a set of attributes that the player can modify and the player can change the character’s appearance. The primary character’s personality is much like a player class in a traditional RPG, and the allowable alterations to a primary character’s base representation are akin to subclasses.
Once selected and defined, the player’s character is given a starting location in an introductory stage consistent with that character’s history and representation within the game’s storyline.
The introductory stage provides a basic tutorial for the player to become familiar with how the game controls operate, how to interact with important artifacts in the game world, and presents some simple puzzles for the player to resolve, which advances the storyline. In addition, while the player is testing out the game and figuring out how it works, the game is also testing the player, for similar reasons.
At the conclusion of the introductory stage, the game will have determined the front-running animal companions who will interact with your character during the next phase of the game. You will know its the next phase of the game, when a magical brand of fire carves an indelible mark, somewhere on your character's body. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt ....much.
Umdlalo is designed with adaptive architecture and with a common code framework that is optimized according to the characteristics and features of the hardware platform it is being executed on. There is no single, ideal hardware platform for which the game is targeted. Rather, the game begins by evaluating the platform that it is running on, measuring the performance of its host in an effort to build a profile from which the core game logic can introduce specific interfaces that allow it to communicate and get feedback from the user most effectively.
Initially, we are targeting the Unity3D architecture as a standard that gives us the most flexibility with the broadest compatibility, such that anyone with a smartphone, tablet, laptop, latest generation console or PC will find it relatively easy to access and play the game. Once the player is validated, the game uses the local environment to store an instance of itself, essentially the same experience as downloading an app from an online store. This allows the game to be played in 'offline mode' when your computer or device is not connected to the internet.
Occasionally, the game will require a live online connection to handle updates, patches. The service monitors and evaluates the data from individual units in the aggregate, to determine large scale issues that could lead to interruptions in service, and to better improve the performance, security and reliability of the game on an ongoing basis.
The Design Team
Umdlalo has been a core concept for implementation into a video game for many years. First imagined by Todd Colletti and Henk Van Niekerk. Henk was born in South Africa, and is now a naturalized US Citizen, while Todd is a fourth-generation Italian-American born along Texas' Gulf Coast. The two had lots of cultural differences which made for interesting conversations about pretty much everything.
The most interesting conversations revolved around a random recount of traditional bedtime stories that are told to children. Henk had heard just about every story Todd remembered, thanks in no small part to the success of Hollywood in branding and exporting traditional American themes. Many of Henk's stories seems quite normal and natural to Henk, with a few obvious similarities to stories told by Aesop or The Brother's Grimm. There were also striking exceptions, which Henk didn't really notice at first. Especially regarding stories that incorporated themes from Amazulu culture, the indigenous people of South Africa.
After a considerable amount of research, and exploration into the themes, customs, cultural myths and legends of the Amazulu people, and combining this with the latest archeological and anthropological research on the origins of our species, we have designed a game system that captures, for the first time the spirit and motivation of our human ancestors, at a time when the only humans anywhere were African.
How We Will Make this Game (The Budget)
Creating a consistent storyline, with original game elements that are familiar and yet different enough to capture the imagination without alienating anyone,aka alot of pre-production. So far, the founders have spent $87,000 spent to cover the initial phase of development and architecture for Umdlalo, bringing the game's innovative features to a place where we could have meaningful dialog with cooperative backers
What it takes to implement our minimal spec for the game: $575,000.
(To access the spreadsheet containing this project's live updated production budget estimate, please follow this link. )
Note: This represents our minimum achievable specification for a character based RPG, as a standalone, Single-Player experience, featuring four Heroes and eight Animal Companions with each Hero associated with two Animal Companion choices. This scope is necessary in order to meet the budget and time constraints associated with our basic specification.
We certainly hope to be able to achieve greater than this minimal specification and realize that doing so will take more resources and additional time. The more complex the potential interactions with regard to this storyline, the more it requires us to think hard about how the game is balanced and the quality of the experiences it provides. Additional goals and potentially adjusted goals that include more detailed plot and overlapping story-lines are possible, and we'd like to hear from you about it, so please contact us with any suggestions. We're really open to making this as great as it can be.
Our Development Philosophy
Creating a great video game is not a trivial endeavor, and requires what seems like an exceptionally large amount of funding, just to get started. We've taken on the costs to develop a conceptual framework, create original art, host the content in a way that keeps it both accessible and safe, and organize and maintain a qualified team of artists, designers, engineers and planners to execute on the design when we've got the resources to see the creative process through to a successful launch of the game. Being able to allocate the resources in advance of initiating full scale production work greatly increases the odds of making a great game, as the team doesn’t have to work around gaps in content or technical expertise to complete the game design to specification. Development Goals No publisher has yet produced a character driven role playing game based on African themes. This isn’t to say that publishers in general wouldn’t like to produce games that have an African motif, but more about the historical fact that its just never been proven to be a likely profitable endeavor. We all know that major publishers of video game content rarely take risks on new games that they don't also have complete creative control over, which makes good sense, from the publisher’s point of view.
Why should anyone take a risk on an unproven market, when there are nice profits to be made on subjects that are considerably more popular?There’s no specific financial incentive to producing a game in this way, of course. It’s really about personal experience and the opportunity to share our stories that makes this subject one that is dear to the people on this project.
Umdlalo is being produced by a team of experienced artists, designers, software engineers and managers in San Francisco, California, in the United States. The design and development work is being led by Todd Colletti, who has been a video game developer and producer, for many years. Todd has worked for big-name game publishers like GT Interactive, Infogrames and Atari, as a producer, and was the first employee hired by Sony Computer Entertainment America, to help manage the introduction of the original PlayStation console. Todd is a founder and the chief executive of Something Wicked, inc., the company responsible for producing the game, Umdlalo.
We've set aside room in our budget to make sure we're able to package and deliver more original art at more moderate award levels than you may have noticed in other projects. Where possible, we will deliver to you as much of what we do have available as early as we can, even before the commitment date listed in the reward schedule, so long as doing so would not detract from our development effort.
We’ve greatly simplified the way rewards are handled, and limited the award ledger to what we feel are the most interesting and compelling ways to experience the game. If you have an idea for something that we might consider adding, well, don’t be shy, please simply mention it to us by email, IM chat, text us or however you’d like to let us know. The only thing we can’t do practically right now is voice or Skype, but we will respond to all of your requests just about as quickly. And if enough people want us to do that thing you think is so cool, then we will probably do it. Even if just you want it, we promise to consider it.
Risks and challenges
We have found a great deal of success, particularly with game development, using Agile development processes and standards. But agile development is successful because it embraces change. Most successful software development projects are fluid things, with many mid-stream changes, some of them quite significant, which were unanticipated at the project's beginning. Managing through inflection points in the course of development with a view of the finished product at all times from a user’s perspective is a useful method for considering how to mitigate many natural risks. There are some things that being Agile alone cannot easily overcome, however.
Managing software development risk requires a commitment from the creative and engineering team members to collaborate, and establish the rules of engagement for team communication, knowing when a task is complete and for how disputes are settled at the onset of a project. It also requires experienced leadership that can anticipate problems, and know the warning signs, before these problems become threats to the overall health of the development effort.
The most relevant risks associated with the successful completion of this video game are detailed as follows:
1) Ambitious Scope & Genre. Yes, let us be the first to say it, as a character driven RPG, produced by an independent developer, the budget at minimal successful funding is quite low, and is potentially not adequate to fund a title of this scope and complexity, even considering the less sophisticated content requirements of mobile platforms (in terms of production overhead). This tight budget risks that the game is released with a rather limited and restricted scope, which is short of the plans and ambitions of the development team, such that it would not live up to consumer expectations.
2) Third-party Technical Dependencies. The game is dependent on third-party tools and programs which are enabling for a multiplatform content publishing strategy. While the team has experience with these tools, changes in the underlying business and technical relationships that are beyond the control of this developer can render the development process, and/or post-release distribution and maintenance of this game obsolete with reference to one, any or all features of the product that were originally committed to at the onset of the project. While this is a rare event, there are existing precedents including changes in the methods of distribution, delivery, industry oversight and regulatory compliance requirements that could make ultimate fulfillment impossible under the original contracted terms.
3) Our "Independence." The team assembled is committed to the project, but not complete with regard to specific skills that will be required to finish it. Also, with such a small team (four full-time and three part time individuals) there is not as much overlapping talent to offset the risk of any one person on the team not being willing, or not being able to complete their part of the project. This situation does happen for very legitimate reasons, even when a team member has made every effort to maintain their role and commitment to seeing the project through. Sometimes people experience life changes which require them to move, or temporarily stop working, or that involve personal issues like marriage or divorce, adding a member to the family, or losing one. As a company, we try to be as accommodating as possible to changes in a person’s life in order to retain the very best people. When accommodation is not practical, we do our best to find alternatives that minimize the team’s short handedness. We encourage a work environment of quality production rather than exhaustive hours, and reward individuals based on their peer-evaluated contributions to the team, the company, and most importantly to you, our backers and product owners.
4) Third-party Data Security. Specific technical, business and regulatory assumptions associated with the large scale deployment of applications which aide in the collection of specific user data, including statistically relevant data regarding a player’s implied association with other players, may prove to be more burdensome to maintain, deploy, collect and securely manage than has been considered. While the service relies on opt-in only, passive data to determine the relevancy of specific character likenesses to your own hardware’s game play instance, and while this is an essentially automated, and anonymous statistical process, changes to the policies and services offered by third party network operators, carriers, service providers and hardware manufacturers can potentially negatively affect the quality of the services and the experience provided by the end product.
5) Our "Narrow" Focus. Finally, video game development, especially as an independent developer, represents a profound personal investment of time, money and potentially missed opportunities to save those things, or even just to play other games. Committing to making games means giving up what is potentially a life-long passion (enjoying the fruits of the hard work others have put into building fun to play games). It seems counter-intuitive, until you’ve experienced it, but its not unusual as a developer to be surprised when a new, wildly popular genre busting game is in its third or fourth generation, and you’re kicking yourself over the game you scraped four years ago called, “The Deer Dating Game,” or “Still Coping Birds.” Dedicating your life to the few games that wouldn’t have been possible without you, is a high price.
So, in short, its true that the risks are real, and the amount of personal investment, substantial with considerably more work to manage when things go their best. Once you have the developer’s spirit, its a very difficult one to put behind you however. Creating something new, and original is a reward worth many hardships. In the end, all these things make this a great experience, and a fun job.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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