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Game dev

CPZ Devblog 009

Hello hello!

It’s been a while, but we haven’t been partying and wasting time… At least not a lot. 😄

Time has come for a new edition of Covenant: Project Zero game development blog!

We’ve been hard at work on the development of our game. Over the past two months, we’ve made significant progress on all aspects of the game, from character portraits and user interface to entirely new systems.

Dear AI – so long, and thanks for all the fish

We put some time into exploring this new AI fad, and then – soon after – dropped the idea of using AI-generated art in-game. After all, pixel art is both beautiful, stylish and easy to implement, giving a much more polished look. And pixel art was the whole baseline idea we started with, and it gives a whole new dimension to the game itself.

Game design

Our game designers tackled the task of creating a consistent user interface style. We came up with a futuristic yet simple design that the devs can easily replicate in the game engine without needing to import additional sprites. The game is now starting to check boxes both on game play and the overall design. We’re incredibly excited to see how it will look when it’s finished!

Game development

We have been busy polishing the first chapter, but more importantly, we’ve been working hard on implementing crucial systems such as saving, sound volume control, inventory, vendors, and items. Items were made more useful and interactive, too. For example, you can now hold a screwdriver in your hand to unscrew bolts. Additionally, you can now purchase weapons and protection gear from in-game vendors and equip them in-game to tip the balance of the battle to your favor! We’ve also put a lot of effort into overhauling the combat system, developing quest mechanics further, and setting up the method for unexpected encounters.

Writing

Writing was polished further, and we’ve added both humor and some audiovisual suspense in direction to keep things interesting. With our atmospheric soundtrack coming along great – we’re more and more realizing we’re having a very serious soundtrack on our hands, which will be published simultaneously with the game release.

Marketing and upcoming dates

We’re working on opening our Discord game server to the general crowd and showcasing the game. Still TBD, as we want to make sure we showcase a fully functional game, but our team is working hard. We want to make sure we have a polished demo to show is an absolute priority, and kind of the whole idea of what game experience should be to us.

One major date which everyone’s been asking us about is still not entirely fixed – the release date. So – here’s an update! Early Q2 2023 is now becoming a very real release time frame! We are now months, not years or even quarters from having a completely finished product! While we can’t fix the date yet – April/May are starting to look real good!

Overall we’re making progress in leaps and bounds – and are super excited to share our game with the world so – STAY TUNED!

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 008

Facetime

We’ve been working on portraits for quite some time.

As the development was going forward, we quickly realized that a small indie team would require a whole department or a dedicated artist to achieve a high-level of non-generated real-looking portraits, so some solution in-between that utilized the AI tech of some kind came front and center.

And it’s been real fun playing with different portrait approaches, generators and engines, but the solution ended up being many, not one. So, after almost all was said and done, and most portraits had a pass, we still couldn’t decide that this was good.

But we did realize one thing.

Handle AI with care!

And went back to pixelarting all the process (is that a verb? should be a verb…). Pixel art is quick. Stylish. Fits the game design better. Makes everything look and feel nice.

We can say we honestly looked into the hype, all while keeping in mind that our game is planned to be an artistic achievement of sorts, not an industry generated product.

While the brave new AI frontier has opened up a world of creativity, at the end of the day – “It just looks a bit like a public domain science distraction projectArt is still important, but we seem to have forgotten about it these days” – as Alex Djordjevic, our lead game designer retorts.

Alex continues: “First time I opened an AI portrait maker to test it out, I realized I was staring at Bradley Cooper, the actor. Well, more a person LIKE him, his long-lost twin brother or something – but not him exactly. But obviously him. The ML model used his photos for reference, and deepfaked him over a placeholder portrait. Ok, I thought, let’s play. If you’re an oldskool demoscene dude like some of us – you’re looking at everything as a challenge since you’ve been to a scene party competition or two. You can draw this shit in Aseprite or something just by deciding to draw it to look like anyone. So, I though – great references – but let’s just pixelart this.”

AI remains to be a really good thing to use the same way you would use a model IRL. Put the person in desired pose you want, and then draw/paint/pixelart it.

As it turns out the big philosophical question is about artist integrity. But if you have time for big philosophical discussion, and the outcome is painfully obvious (art is real > ai is a compound distortion of real) – just go and do what you like.

Of course, some will argue the morality of things. Or where’s the fun in that? There’s legions of stoners just getting high and putting prompts in all the dall-E’s, midjourneys etc. we’re sure. There’s also zero doubt that a lot of the AI tools will take you to a certain level and you should definitely give it a go – but none will provide the satisfaction, look and feel across the board of doing it all as your own art. I mean, even if it’s not great, it’s still yours. And you can draw your team mates in there, too. Fun for the whole crew!

In conclusion – we definitely see AI image processing as a tool that is here to stay, but we’ll always prefer taking that pen and drawing that sh*t. Keep it real, and make it beautiful!

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 007

The prototype is coming!!!

As we’re nearing the end of this crazy hot summer in The Netherlands, working out of our balmy office in Schinkelbuurt hasn’t been easy but – the first official prototype is juuuust about to be ready.

Here’s some mouth watering stills to pick your attention:

A glimpse of the dialogue system:

And some snapshots from one of the game’s locations, for a proper premiere and a first!

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 006

Where we announce we’re going 2.5D

For the sixth edition of the devblog, first – it’s been a LONG time. There’s a lot of news, but – let’s start with an official update of the game description:

Covenant: Project Zero is a space saga with intergalactic trading, mystery and action elements, weaved into an immersive storyline. We follow the adventures John Covenant, captain of the cargo corvette “Tango”, as he and his ragtag crew of misfits try to make a buck traversing the frontier of the inhabited universe – and getting into all kinds of trouble along the way.​

A lot has happened since the last devblog. Duh.

Just when we thought this game was going smoothly – our game designer Aleksandar “Sasha” Djordjevic’s VFX career provided a distraction as he got picked up to supervise visual effects for a major Amazon prime TV show – Outer Range, Season 1.

This course of events led him to spend over a year in USA & New Mexico, and quite stuck for eight long months in an extraordinary tight COVID-19 bubble with a bunch of A-list actors. The great cast and crew made the work and being away from his family so much easier, but it’s good that the pandemic feels almost like it’s behind us now.

But the days were really long, and there was simply no time for dev work so 11000AD was put on hiatus, being and indie studio. So, after that amazing experience finally came to an end in August 2021 – the busy-bee Sasha is – the day he came back to Amsterdam, The Netherlands – he started a brand new creative studio in town.

Doing good work means people want you to do more good work. Ok. Note taken. So, to add to it, 11000AD slowly started moving back into work mode.

With the company on a good run, we decided to bring on board more folks to work on it, and we have a more solid idea where to go next with both the VFX and gaming departments within the studio to make sure everything moves forward.

11000AD was always supposed to be the experimental lab to test things out – but now it’s also an integrated gaming division of the company, with a sign on the door, and all.

A few major technical decisions had to be made, too. Although super appealing – Godot will remain in our hearts and on our drives but until it has an airtight support for targeting mobile devices – we’ll have to stick with Unity 3D to make it happen. TBH – we always planned to develop in Unity.

And – also – Covenant’s finally gone 3D! Well, actually, 2.5D. Which is still 3D, but our main characters and NPCs are sprites in 3D space. And it looks freaking awesome and cute 🙂

We can still keep the pixel art look and feel, but the coding is so much more streamlined as there’s a whole bunch of amazing 3D tools we can use.

So – here’s some visuals of shape of things to come. This, by no means are final visuals, there’s definitely much more going in with shader research and different models of creating the pixel art look and feel straight out of the shader.

The biggest challenge now shifts to creating prefabs to work with this new approach and still keep the desired look. But it’s lots of fun! More to come.

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 005

Where we find a way to the lower deck, and test out some basic light effects.

My second update to preview prototype is up. I’ve been thinking more and more to move to a 3D realm, so these may be the last days of a 2D approach game.

I’ve done more pixel art for the bottom floor, it’s really starting to take shape, so even if it goes 3D, it’s going to be interesting trying to retain or reinvent the look for a pixelart world feel. We’ve been looking over toon shaders for that, and we think it’s gonna be alright.

Although the lower deck takes a back seat to the main deck, it’s actually mighty important for the narrative. This being your proverbial interstellar cargo transporter, it’s all gonna be about the goods.

We worked on lights and shadows initial planning and setup, too, and worked out the basics. Screen glows are working great, and both them and the stairwells light the captain nicely.

We spent almost an hour (!) just walking around the spaceship and looking at screens. This is the kind of stuff indie development is all about. You give yourself some time to enjoy the little things.

There’s a lot of functionalities ahead, but what we’re looking into now is finishing the basic look and feel, some essential designs and animation cycles for the rest of the crew before we go full 3D.

Beyond that we’ll be biding our figuring out interactions, and items – and it’s already looking like once we start working on dialogues it’s gonna be a lot, a LOT of time to spend there.

We’ll just see where the solar winds take us!

Check out the visuals on the current progress in the latest video (link below) – this one a first with a voice over! Since it’s the last 2D approach proto – there’s a rad new look coming soon.

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 004

Where the first prototype is revealed

Clickety clickety click, some more pixel art stuff, a few lines of code and voila – we got a little walkthrough going on. This early prototype was roughed out in Godot engine (although we’ll be moving to Unity 3D soon), and it’s a run of just the main deck and movement animation check.

We made a super early prototype video, too. It’s really that first “it’s alive” moment, so although we’ll be making this from scratch soon, good to see what’s possible. Now, there’s a whole other level (L1) below the main deck, with three access points, but it’s WIP.

Also, there’s some kind of a stutter on movement… I wonder if it’s just a debug window issue or something I’m gonna deal with once I publish the game for a platform (it’s supposed to be a mobile game, btw.)

Oh well… There’s my homework for the next blog

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 003

Where it’s touched upon the creative thought behind setting up a crew look and idea

Ah the crew. Tropes, everywhere tropes… Lolwut?! No. Awesomeness, everywhere awesomeness 🙂 We started playing with some pixel art concepts for the crew complement designs, settuing up character looks – and at one point I recon I got enough to run with. The first pass on the crew design concept.

We got the captain, 1st officer, pilot (the redhead in the black “jelek” vest), engineer, doctor, sensor array operator, defense array operator and, of course, the muscle. Sailor shirt guy.

So far I only did walk cycles for the captain, but it’s totes gonna be copy/paste to make the other ones. And I’m sure the look will change, like a lot.

Onward!

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 002

Where we look over the ship designs

And now for some art.

What’s it gonna be this spaceship thingie? It will inform at least a faction design. Here’s the blueprints we did in Adobe Illustrator for this one, old habits die hard…

Starship L1
Starship L2

Of course this being a pixel art project, only the Flying Spaghetti Monster knows knew what it’s gonna look like in the end. We had to lose most of those curves and the exorbitant amount of weapons. Well, all of them actually.

It’s still gonna have to carry at least one gun somewhere, ’cause lawless universe = lot of opportunities to shoot and even more to get shot at. I’ll figure out where to stick them soon enough.

Here’s a sneak peek of the current pixel art prototype status:

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Game dev

CPZ devblog 001

It all starts with a story. A spaceship. Scrappy crew. Fearless captain.

Aaaaand… Hm… Come to think of it let’s make the story more like the sh*tshow permanent dark-mode the pandemic years have put us all in.

Junkyard-bound spaceship. Crew with a shady past. Captain with a chip or two on his shoulder. A universe following a more realistic future based on current level of humanity. Corporations stronger than states, with fleets and vested interest in ever-expanding growth. Conflicts everywhere. Universe riddled with factions, no United Federation of Planets bs.

Just a big f-ing wild west cosmos, a free for all – grab as much as you can – or die trying. You’re a freelance smuggler/trader just trying to make a buck and survive the mess out there.

And a name. A pulp novel in parts, this being the first of the two-bucks paperback saga.

Covenant: Project Zero

Ah… That’s more like it. Sold. Let’s go.