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A Game Project Focuses on Engine Development

Jeremy Heesch is the kind of person who can take command of a situation. He's the kind of guy that will hunt you down and find you... say when you set up a meeting with him and neglect to mention the meeting spot.. Similarly, he's the kind of guy with the will and insight to put togeter a team of people to make a game engine.

Jeremy seems like a pretty laid back and relaxed person. It's the kind of personality you want from a boss in the game development field: someone who still does what he does because he enjoys it, but has the willpower and leadership skills to get results. He's also dedicated to bringing his crew with him, having given them all contractual agreements allowing them a share in the profit should the engine be picked up by a publisher. Where are you from originally? What's your expected graduation date?

I was born in Denver, Colorado and lived there until I was about six. After that I moved around a lot, though I went to high school here in Arizona. I originally started at UAT as a multimedia student in 1999 and left in 2000 to try out bioengineering at ASU. Though it was interesting, I really burned out on it after a couple years. Right about then I was getting interested in 3D animation again and decided to come back to UAT. I'll end up graduating this December.

What's your role in this project?

I'm the program director. Mainly I deal with art issues, I have some friends at ASU handling most of the coding. That's not something I'm as familiar with as I'd like, but I'm trying to learn so I can communicate with them a bit better.

What made you decide to come to UAT?

I was in high school when Toy Story came out and Pixar started to get really big. That got me interested in 3D Animation, so UAT was a good choice. I actually started practicing in the computer lab of my high school with a teacher's copy of trueSpace. Originally I planned to get into cinematic animation over games, though the two are converging more as time goes on.

Do you have any plans if the contract with PSP doesn't work out?

Right now we're just concerned with getting our initial demo done, along with the art assets. We're using a script that a friend and I wrote back in 2001. Basically, we found some people who could program it and we're hoping to market the demo to anyone. Playstation Portable is our first choice, but we're trying to make the engine flexible enough that we could put it on anything, from the PSP to the Nintendo DS.

How is the school helping out with this project?

The school is trying to get our name out there to the parties who might be interested. I've talked with Dave Bolman about it a lot as well, and it's going to be my capstone project when I get accepted as a graduate student here at UAT in Technology Management.

How many people are in your team?

Recently I had to fire three people, so we're down to nine. I'm hoping to get back up to twelve. We're looking for modelers to replace the ones we lost right now, and I'd like to get some more people from UAT involved. Right now the team is mostly people from ASU.

Is this the first time you've had to fire anyone?

Yeah, I've never had to do that before. It was tough, especially for one of them. We left on good terms, and he did great work. He just had too much going on with personal obligations to continue to carry the weight we needed. The other two just didn't pull their weight and weren't doing the quality of work we wanted. Firing them was easier.

You're building this engine with a game in mind. For what kind of game is the engine going to be geared?

It's going to be a tactical role-playing game. We're hoping to do away with the more traditional style, like Phantom Brave did. For example, we want to get rid of the checkerboard style of movement and let the characters run around freely. We're hoping to make it much more fast paced than a typical Tactical game, and we've got a pretty fun model for doing that. Basically, we'll give the players all the time they need to make their decisions, but, once those decisions are made, everything happens at once. There will also be chances for simulating quick reactions, such as a character's turn coming up just as an enemy is in mid-swing to attack him, if that character is fast enough and the player tells him to move away, he will dodge the attack. Most tactical games don't have such a flexible model. Instead you'd have one character do something, then another do something else, et cetera. With ours, characters can react to each other before all of their actions are even finished. We like to call it "Controlled Chaos."

What will your engine be able to do? What really makes it stand out?

Technically, I wouldn't say there's that much unique other than the gameplay. At some point we're hoping we can introduce an engine that'll "revolutionize"' something, but right now we just want a solid engine that will work within the story we want to tell.

Designing an engine often requires a large budget and a year of dedicated work. How are you getting around that?

We're keeping it in everyone's interest to get this thing done and make it look good, because we've made a contractual bond that will give them a share in the economic benefits we receive if the engine sells successfully.

But in terms of progress and how we've managed to keep up with everything we need to do for this while, at the same time, having other obligations such as school and work, I've really been surprised by our programmers. They've completed so much more than I expected, it's astonishing. We started the coding at the end of May, and the first milestone I set was the end of August. When that date came around, they really surprised me. Largely, this is due to our fantastic programming director.

Have you run into many brick walls along the way?

Naturally there are a few programming problems- stuff that our programmers just can't do yet. We've shelved those things until we have a contract and money to hire someone who can do them. Aside from that, not really. The engine is designed to avoid brick walls like that. That's part of it being so flexible.

What language are you using to build the engine?

The programming is done in C++, the graphics are in OpenGL.

How much documentation did you have to do before you began developing? Was it hard to find a place to start?

We've got somewhere between 120 and 130 pages of documentation. A large portion of that is really our game design document. The technical documentation was pretty much done by the coding staff. Like I said, I'm still trying to familiarize myself with that stuff.

Which are cooler: ninjas or pirates?

A few years ago I probably would've said ninjas, but right now I have to say pirates. We're actually hoping to put a pirate section into the game.

If someone came up to you and was working on a project like yours, what would you tell them as a warning or advice?

Don't let up on it. If you start slacking off, even a little bit, things start falling apart. You can't let your concentration falter.