Far Cry: The Governing
To be honest, I don't know anything about The Governing. All I know is that it's being done with the Far Cry engine and that they're going for a role-playing-like feel to the game. That doesn't tell me much. Never having played Far Cry myself (I know; how can I go to this school and not like first person shooters?) I'm not even sure what distinguishes the engine from other FPS engines.
Nevertheless, I'm on my way to the small commons to meet up with Nathan Cox, The Governing's lead designer. I'm surprised to find he's already there. Punctuality among game designers is a rarity. We sit down and get to talking, and it's very clear to me that Nathan is running a tight ship on this mod. It's a good call on his part.
There's not a lot of information about The Governing floating around the school. Why is that?
I've kept it on the down-low so I can be picky about who comes in to the group. Everyone working on this project is someone I know, someone whose work ethic I've seen. I think that's a problem with a lot of mods; they're composed of big groups of strangers. No one knows what everyone else can and will do.
Even then, you often hear about something ambitious that a group is trying even if they're not hiring.
A lot of mods build up this great hype, and then end up not doing anything. Most people past their first semester at UAT know of at least one, and a lot have participated in them. I'm trying to avoid that pitfall. I don't want to start bragging until we have something to brag about.
Without bragging, what are you hoping you'll have at the end of this project?
By the end of two semesters, we just want a full or half hour worth of really polished gameplay. We could design and build this huge world and have it all basically look and play terribly, or we could have a little bit of great polished work. In all the portfolio classes they tell you that it's about quality over quantity, and that employers won't sit through five hours of a mediocre game, so we think this is the right way to go.
Michael Eilers is your supervising instructor for this mod. Is there any particular reason you went with him?
I've worked with Eilers regarding project theory a lot, but he's also sort of the middle-ground instructor. For me, I knew I wasn't going to be able to manage the entire project on my own, but I also wanted to have some degree of control. Eilers is great for that because he'll step in where he's needed, but back off if you ask him.
What sort of experience do you have with game mods?
I worked on Unreal Nations, and I don't want this to sound negative, but there I learned a lot about what not to do. That mod fell into a lot of the typical problems that most mods have, and that was an important learning experience for me. This will be the first project I've managed, though.
You've just started putting the game together, but how long have you been planning it?
My lead programmer, Sean, and I have been planning this game since basically the first week of school. This has been in pre-production for about a year and a half, and now we're getting to actually put it together. Basically, all the documentation is done already. That gives us a good head start.
If it's been in pre-production that long, you didn't imagine this with Far Cry in mind. Did you pick this engine because it's similar to the game you're making?
You won't recognize anything from Far Cry; it's a complete conversion. We might steal a few statics here and there, but otherwise there should be nothing about it that says, "Far Cry." It's going to be in a Fantasy and Science Fiction setting and will have role-playing elements. I like role-playing more, honestly, but we wanted fast and action-packed gameplay. Most RPGs don't offer that, so we decided to make it into a FPS RPG.
Are you Multimedia or SWE? What's your specialty?
I'm in Multimedia, and I mostly do modeling with some texturing. I'm hoping to get better at texturing. I tried out animation for a while but it was really a pain for me, and I realized that I didn't want to work on something that drove me nuts for the rest of my life.
What's the size of your team?
We have about 15 people, not including myself.
That's a fairly large group.
I think it's kind of small, actually. In the Unreal Nations team we had like 25 artists and 8 programmers. That was part of its downfall; it's just unmanageable at that size. I knew the people that joined this project, though, and I know they can manage themselves. I've seen their work ethic and what they can produce. I'm very confident about our team.
Some mods can be really lax about coordination, while others can be very specific. How is your class organized?
We meet Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours each day, and I require 9 hours of work a week. On Tuesday we show our work and what we're doing, while on Thursday we address problems and work together as a team to solve them. It keeps the motivation high because we always see progress, and when we run into an issue everyone is there. Naturally it leads to moments when some people are confused, like when the programmers are talking about something completely unfamiliar to the artists, but it still helps to have them there. Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective, and it helps that we're a pretty unified group.
Pirates or ninjas?
What's with all the ninja fans at this school? No love for the pirates. Do you have a favorite game that really sparked the desire to be a game designer?
Actually, I wasn't going to do game design originally. Initially I was going into aeronautical engineering. Before 3D came along I wasn't all that interested in games, but with Playstation I started to become an enthusiast. With physics in the real world, you can't change anything. In games, though, you can be as creative as you want just by redefining the rules. Also, I've been into writing for a long time and there's a lot more opportunity for that in games. As for favorite individual games, I don't think there really is one that made me say, "I'm going to become a game designer." Halo was an influence, so were the Final Fantasy games and Chrono-Trigger.
How will your mod play? What do you hope the experience will be like?
It'll be a really fast-paced game, and you're going to feel like you're in an action movie — sort of a system shock. Of course the progression will all be reviewed once it's built, and there'll be some points where you can stop to buy and sell. On the other hand, if players want to just run around and monster bash, we want to give them that option. The engine itself is very free-form, you can go just about wherever you want in the world. That's one of the best things about the Far Cry engine. If you stay on track with the story and play straight through, it should be doable in a half hour or so. However, we want to add enough extra stuff to play around with to at least double the gameplay.
Any tips you'd give to up-and-coming projects?
Having a team that's self-motivating is the key to success. Good ideas fall to the wayside too much because people don't care enough to get them done. Also, don't do what I did. I've spread myself really thin and tried a bunch of different things, and I really ended up accomplishing very little my first few semesters. Then I realized if you focus on one aspect, like take the earlier example of a ninja. Focus on modeling that ninja. Get him done. Then make his weapons weapons, then maybe a vehicle. Focus on something you really enjoy and make it look really good, and you've got some great portfolio material.