Posted on September 24, 2011 by admin
The I Shall Remain Zombie Game’s Story
By Jake Way
While I was deployed in Asia, I spent some time playing online PC games to pass some of my down time. One of these games allowed you to control a character and navigate him through a Zombie Apocalypse. It was simple to play, very inexpensive, and was very successful despite the game graphics which were poor. The game claimed 100,000 users, each occasionally paying a small fee to purchase some kind of virtual item like a suit of armor for the character or ammunition. It was a great business. The thing was: the game could be a lot better.
The game was monotonous, would crash on my computer, my hand would get tired holding down the ‘W’ key which made my character move forward. Because they game didn’t include any kind of transportation for your character other than walking, I’d have to hold down the ‘W’ key as I walked across an entire city. I asked myself, what if I could produce a similar zombie survival game, with better graphics, better game play and then sell for less? As I write this letter, 8 months have passed since I first had this idea, and we are well into the game production. Today I reviewed the day’s progress of the game. The software team led by Eugen Udrea has just added in an entire new scavenging aspect to the game, added materials for the game map and worked on muzzle flashes. My team is fantastic and has made some amazing accomplishments.
Each day I check my emails about the game production, I am increasingly excited about our final product, and thankful for my team’s hard work, self-direction and reliance. I have absolutely no way to supervise them. They work out of Romania. If someone didn’t want to work they could just sit back and wait for a couple weeks and a paycheck for me to figure out that they haven’t been working. For the entirety of the project, they have demonstrated nothing but professionalism and dedication to quality work. I am incredibly thankful to have them working for me. I wish I could afford to pay them more than I do. I am happy though I was able to afford to give them a week of paid vacation in December for Christmas. They deserve much more. For this, I want to use an aggressive profit sharing program for them so their hard work for me can reap dividends even after the game’s completion.
I was first introduced to contracting overseas workers after my grandfather went over the handlebars of his dirt bike and became paralyzed from the neck down. My grandfather lost the ability to speak and was introduced to an array of speech assistance modules. All of them were incredibly expensive, and none of them worked because each had very specific requirements. One module, would use his retina to detect eye movement which would control a speech assist program on a screen. Because my granddad had laser eye surgery some years ago, it rendered this module ineffective. I was frustrated with all of this and thought, why can’t someone just tape a freaking Wii controller to a baseball hat and put it on his head and use that to control a screen?
From here I snooped around on the internet and found a website that allows you to put up projects for people overseas with all kinds of skills to bid on. I found a man in India who was interested in the project and I paid him $150.00 to put together a comprehensive plan to build a speech assist module would use patient’s head movement for control. It was very good, but I wasn’t able to afford the roughly $2,000.00 dollars it would cost to build it (still much cheaper than getting something from the hospital!). I told him I would contact him in several months after I was deployed because I would have the money by that time. I’ve attempted to contact him several times since, and I haven’t heard from him. That is the primary risk of of contracting overseas: you can lose people as easily as you can find them. Sometimes, people will pay someone to work on a project and their overseas worker will take the money and not produce any work. There is mutual risk, my team’s animator once worked for someone for 2 months and received no payment for his work. My grandfather has only basic control of his head movement now, and I believe the kind of module I wanted for him won’t work anymore.
I never planned to have a whole team from Romania working for me. It’s worked out fantastic. All of the workers are in the same time zone and can speak to each other in their own language. There are four people in the team. Virgil Tuser, 21 and works as our graphic artist. He is from Parad, Romania and was the first person I hired. He was very excited about the project and assisted me in finding others from Romania who needed work. After a couple of weeks he found Eugen Soren Udrea, 31, from Bucharest, Romania. I now call him the godfather of the project. There were many gaps in my plan from the start. Without direction, he immediately set up a fantastic production plan, delegated tasks to everyone in the team and ensures everything is produced in manner. All of this is on top of his primary task of tackling the game’s rigorous programming requirements. Eugen explained that he would have a hard time handling all of the programming on his own, and so we invited his younger brother, Florin, to work part-time. Florin has been great to have on the team and is a ready source of fresh ideas and solutions. Recently, we discovered we needed more power on the art side of the game. Virgil wasn’t able to continue handling both animations and graphic art by himself. For this we have Gabriel Liviu Dinu from Bucharest working part time and completing all of the animation requirements.
I can’t give myself much credit. I am really just a supervisor that watches people who work under me produce great work. I love them for it. I wish I could do more for them, but I’m mostly stuck to the business side of things due to my full time job in the Marines. I’ve been able though to provide all of the sound effects and music in the game and will soon produce the dialogue, a task many Marines here in my unit have volunteered their voices for.
We are nearing closer to the completion of our final product. It’s been scary. I’ve invested a lot of money in the project, and have even dipped into some inheritance to cover the team’s salaries. I remain very confident, as I see more and more gorgeous art and sharp programming added into the game. In addition, it was good for me to start production when I did because independent PC games are on the rise and are easier to market than ever before. Independent games have been around as long as computers. When the first computers came out I believe most games were independent because computers weren’t so powerful and games were small. Over time, computer games grew in complexity when computers became exponentially more powerful. Larger teams were required. Publishing companies sprung up. Game budges rose to hundreds of thousands of dollars, then to millions, and are now nearing a hundred million per title. (I believe the recent Call of Duty Modern Warfare cost 70 million dollars to make)
PC gaming in recent years however has slowed due to the availability of game systems like XBOX and Playstation. The game systems all have powerful processing and graphics capabilities which are importantly all the same. Computers on the other hand, are all different. My computer is different from my roommate’s, but isn’t as good as my friend’s down the hall which is brand new. Making games that can handle a wide range of processing capabilities while making them advanced enough to be competetive is a nightmare for game producers. So, what they do now is produce only for XBOX, Playstation and Wii. If a new PC game is released it is more than likely a console game that was converted into a PC game, not the other way around. If you walk in to game stores like EB games or Gamestop, you’ll notice that there is usually only one side of one small shelf dedicated to PC games.
What hasn’t changed is the number of PC gamers out there who are always looking for something fresh to play. This is why independent game producers like me are on the rise. Recently, a game came out that was made by only one programmer called MineCraft. It has made over a million dollars in revenue. Its a great game because it can run on almost any PC, is very cheap to play (this makes up for the lack of fancy graphics and programming) and highly addictive. Independent game production though isn’t a gold rush. MineCraft is one out of many. Most don’t turn a profit, many lose money. However, if you have a good game, the tools are now available to market your game to millions of people, advertise cheaply and make money.
When the game is completed we shoot for STEAM! STEAM is an online PC game sales company that grew into an incredibly powerful tool for independent game producers. STEAM began as a platform for online multi-player games, one of them called ‘Counter-Strike,’ which was absolutely huge some years back. They steadily grew, incorporating more games on their multi-player platform and now sell 70% of all games for PC. In order to get onto STEAM though, we need to have a good beta version. I think we just about have that now.
We are now at month 8 of our production. We are aiming to have the game done by month 10. My team is great. Our game is fantastic. The market is there and our marketing plan is solid. I believe with everything in me, that we will seize the day and make a great break into the independent gaming industry!