Dev Diary #8: Keep On Keepin’ On

THE PITCH

Indie gamedev is a tough nut to crack, no doubt, and I’ll be honest with ya’ll, I’ve never made a game before. Cold Comfort is my brain-child, and I truly believe in it, and luckily, I’ve been able to convince a bunch of other people that it’s a good idea. Presently we have 30 team members, if you can believe that! But don’t let the numbers and the fancy website fool ya, we’re still a rag tag bunch of folks reaching for the stars, hoping to make a kick-ass game, with absolutely no financial backing; so you can imagine, it ain’t easy.

We recently had to opportunity to pitch Cold Comfort to a big-wig investor. They wined and dined me, put me up in a hotel (it wasn’t that fancy btw) and I had 10 minutes to convince them to give us loads of monies! It was a wonderful experience, and ofc the team was super stoked that we even garnered the attention of such a big player, which is a certain measure of success in and of itself.

Did they give us the monies? No. No monies were to be doled out. I mean, we were going nuts thinking of the possibility of being funded, and of course your mind races and you have visions of grandeur, but alas, they said that we’re not far enough along in our development cycle to warrant a substantial investment. Fair enough. I mean, do we have a working prototype? Nah. Far from it, and any investor up to snuff NEEDS securities, a certain level of risk mitigation in the terms of proof of concept and or a track record of other released titles, which we don’t have.

I’m not surprised that we didn’t get funding at this stage, but at the same time, just being on their radar is a great start.  It lets us know that at least some people in the AAA gaming industry see potential in Cold Comfort. We’re slated for a follow up pitch during Gamescom, so fingers crossed!

ARCADE CABINETS

The Killjoy Arcade is just one of the POIs that you’ll come across in Seneca, our Alpha map. And what does any arcade need? Arcade cabinets of course! We’ve made two separate upright cabinet models, a racing game model, a pinball machine as well as a light gun model as bases.

We’ve then gone and made a number of branded games, and are presently using a custom built in-house tool that uses instanced meshes and data tables to generate the arcade cabinets. The tool optimizes draw calls, and reduces CPU overhead.

IN-GAME PRODUCTS

Programming, creating 3D assets, rigging and animating are the core of any game. However the world of any immersive setting is contingent upon many factors. One aspect that we feel is important is the usage of custom game specific in-game products. Don’t get us wrong here, we’re not planning on selling anything to you in game, we’re simply talking about products that exist only in the world of Cold Comfort. Whether it’s a sugar infused carbonated beverage, a smooth refreshing beer, or a variety of companies and services. Having them in the game, will hopefully add depth and richness to the game world and story.

CUSTOM ANIMATIONS

Fuse Extraction

What the freak is a fuse, and why do I flippin’ need it? Yeah, fuses are probably one of the most important resources that you’ll need in Cold Comfort. Sure, they can easily be forgotten in the rush to get “essential” short term resources, like ammo, building and medical supplies, but don’t underestimate their usefulness!
Certain buildings and/or obstacles in your way will require the use of fuses. Additionally, fuses can be a game changer. For example in Seneca, our initially playable map, there is a drawbridge that is down. The Gamma Prime spawn (as rats) on the opposite side of the drawbridge. If the Survivors manage to get enough fuses together, and flip the switch, they’ll be able to raise the drawbridge, effectively cutting off this particular route for the Gamma Prime, making it more difficult for them to achieve their goal.

Fuse Insertion

Once a player has recovered enough fuses, they can insert them in various fuses boxes, flip the switch, and then….who knows! Every Survivor character can carry varying amounts of fuses. For instance, Tinker can carry a lot more than other characters, so it would be wise to make sure that he definitely is collecting fuses. You wouldn’t want to see a horde of zombos running at ya, and you’re unable to lock an electronic door, because you’re missing one lousy fuse. (believe me, been there, done that got the t-shirt.)

VARIATION AND RANDOMIZATION

One pet peeve of ours is having an army of undead that are carbon copies of each other. Sure, we could have our 3D character artist buckle down and make 50 custom zombies, but why 50? Why not 100? Jeez, come to think of it, 100 wouldn’t be nearly enough before they start “repeating” themselves, we might as well cap it at 1,000. That’s a good solid number, amirite?

Yeah, no, we don’t have unlimited time and/or resources, so we have to find other ways to achieve our lofty goals of AI variation.

What complicates matters of course, is the fact that an “AI” can find itself in a number of different states. First of all, in Cold Comfort, you can find Survivor AIs, and Survivor AI VIPs. Those are other survivors that are randomly placed throughout each map (bots). They are usually kinda spooked, so they need some coercing, be it in the form of a Survivor snapping them out of their daze, and imploring them to follow, or, on the flip side, a Gamma Prime, ready to infect them.

Besides the Survivor AIs, there are also corpses! Each map is littered with, you guessed it, randomly placed corpses. As we’ve previously touched on before, while playing on the side of the Gamma Prime, you initially start the game as a rat. As a rat, your main objective is to bite and infect as many corpses as you can. Once bitten, the corpses go through a transformation, i.e. “zombification” phase. These bitten corpses then turn into Zombie AI. The Zombie AI are a great asset to the Gamma Prime, but at the same time, it is their greatest weakness. The actual amount of Zombie AI dictates the amount of spawns the Gamma Primes have in total.

RIGGING AND SKINNING

Before a character is imported into the engine and the sweet animations start to play, it needs a skeleton. Each bone is placed with ARTv01, the free “Animation and Rigging Toolkit” from Unreal. After the placement we have to make sure that the whole character geometry is acting to the bone movement accordingly.

Therefore each vertex has to have the right value of skin weights, which are painted onto the mesh with a brush like tool. This is a procedure which every game character has to go through. Without it you won’t be able to see any proper looking animations!

UI and HUD

Establishing a stylistic and pragmatic HUD and UI helps bring clarity into a very hectic gaming experience. The UI is your friend; having everything in its rightful, intuitive place, and avoiding clutter, gives the player a (false?) sense of security in an otherwise chaotic ordeal.

A well-designed UI can make all the difference when keeping track of important information like health, stamina, ammo, etc. assuring a good experience which gives the player that much for control; because knowing is half the battle.

COMPANION GRAPHIC NOVEL

Whenever I get into a game, I mean REALLY into a game, all I can do is think about that particular game. It goes beyond that actually. Take for instance, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. After having played Assassin’s Creed III, I was actually turned off to the series; I had the feeling that it was simply rehashing a tried and tested method, and after playing the first and second one, the third installment felt stale.

I probably wouldn’t have gotten AC: Black Flag if it hadn’t been on sale for a pittance on a steam sale, and boy am I glad. I mean, it’s about pirates! Who doesn’t like pirates?! With sword fights, sea shanties and shark huntin’, well, ya can’t go wrong.

So while I was playing it, I realized that they had a pretty slick companion app. Among the extra lore and treasure maps that you can find on the app, you can interact with the main game on a meta level. Once you capture ships in game, you can then use the companion app to send them on missions, secure routes and collect cargo and currency which you can then use in the main game. So, basically, if I wasn’t playing the main game, I’d pop on the app and run missions from the confines of my comfy bed!

Of course, the immersion didn’t stop there, oh no. All the while, I was watching the TV show Black Sails, which is set roughly two decades before the events of Treasure Island, during the Golden Age of Piracy.  You see where I’m going with this? Yeah, it’s all about immersion. Living, breathing, eating shitting pirates. That was my thing for a while. Don’t judge me.  Anyways, I digress.
Graphic Novel!

Yup, we’re currently working on the 1st installment of Gamma Syndrome.

Gamma Syndrome takes place in Cold Comfort universe, and will have the occasional crossover not only of Cold Comfort specific characters, factions, brands and locations, but also will be tied in to our companion radio play, A Crossfade to Terror.

DISCORD IS WHERE IT’S AT

So how does a rag tag group of indie devs with no budget get the word out on the streets about their awesome game? Well, if you would have asked me 8 months ago, I probably would have said Reddit or Imgur would be the most cost effective methods; Facebook marketing would be a way to get the most exposure to a specified audience, but ofc, the costs can easily rack up.

To compound the “problem” we are still in the early stages of development, so what “gameplay” we have is not uh… ready to be consumed by the masses if you catch my drift. You only have one chance to make a good first impression, amirite?

Anyways, Discord is the platform we didn’t know we needed. It makes so much sense in hindsight, and we couldn’t fathom NOT having it. We have been able to get almost 900 members on our community discord since we first started in back in the summer of 2017. Is it a lot? Nah. But heck, it’s a start, and man those 900 members are people that are really interested in Cold Comfort, and are stoked to see our progress.

We are NOT a super slick big ass development team, heck as we’re not presently funded, Cold Comfort would be considered a project of passion (or “hobby project”, the term which I loathe, and I’d like to think we’re a LOT more than that). Acknowledging what we are and aren’t is important to us, and having a scalable platform, which we know could easily accommodate 900, 9,000 or 90k members is a breath of fresh air.

Sure, sure in this day and age of short attention spans, you’ll occasionally get someone who’ll hop on and say “gimme mah alpha key” or “WOT it’s not even out of Alpha?- lame” But yeah, you’ll have that. We’re trying to be as upfront and approachable to our fans as we can, and Discord allows us to do that.

So, if you want to get a more in-depth overview and have access to some exclusive content, mosey over to our Community Discord Channel. If you create a CUSTOM invitation, make sure to set it to “never expire” and invite 10 of your buds, you get the Gamma Ultra status, which will give you access to another chat room where we give you exclusive sneak peak early access to game dev thingies as well as the Gamma Alpha and the Gamma Ultra weapon skins. Join us, make yourselves at home – but follow our rules! 🙂

-Jezza

JOIN OUR COMMUNITY DISCORD CHANNEL

CHECK OUT OUR PREVIOUS DEV DIARIES

Dev Diary #6: Crunchin'

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