My interview about Diesel Express VR and Lazylab Games has been published in Level Magazine this month. I tried to explain the process of development from begining to publishing the game. I thank to my dear friend and Kendo senpai Ertuğrul Süngü and Level Magazine.
It’s been long time since my last post. Since then, i have created a few new media art work, a couple of VR video games and stuff. I also co-created my own game studio “Lazylab Games” with my brother. I already had 2 years experience in video game industry and i wasn’t able to improve myself anymore in same job. So why don’t i quit my job and making my own game? Then the journey of “Diesel Express VR” has begun.
“Apocalypse brought us freedom” said a stranger man named Marius. Nobody knew him before, but he showed another path beside the one which is going behind the walls that built by who responsible of this breakdown. In a few months he was controlling thousands. Then he ordered men to fill the diesel to the engines…”
Diesel Express is set on an alternative time period of the post-WW2 Europe. The war ended by a ceasefire after desolation of the earth. Only a very small population of people are living safely behind the walls of self governed cities which appeared after the breakdown of the countries. While cities are guarded by walls, outland is under control by a doomsday cult which is led by a stranger man named Marius. As an individualist, Marius convinces groups to act against the cities. His idea spread quickly because of the post war conjunctures. The only transportation way being used between the cities is railroad. All the resource trade is made with highly armored diesel trains called “The Dreadnought”s. Our character takes his place in a dreadnought by joining the “regiment”.
But How Does It Look Like?
The game starts with our duty in a group called “Regiment” who is responsible of defending the trains called “Dreadnought” which is used to transport goods between the cities in a post-apocalyptic world. The game tastes a lot of arcade. Player needs to shoot down enemy cars driver or shooter to secure the train. Or player can shot down enemy cars tyres to make them crash, or shot down the fuel tanks to explode the cars. Hiding behind the barriers is very important when need too. Shortly, action never fades in Diesel Express VR.
From the idea to Publishing
After the idea, we created a Game Design Document to make us sure our path. GDD can be look like waste of time by indie gamers but actually it is very important. With the document, we decided about what features we need to make an MVP(Minimum Viable Product). Then we used a Kanban Board to manage our tasks. Our MVP appeared even in two weeks. I am not sure if we assigned our deadlines generously, we always finished our tasks before the deadlines. In 6-7 months we already published Diesel Express VR as early access in Steam Store.
As the Artist of the game, I mostly used 3Ds Max, Unity3D, almost every product of Adobe, Substance Painter/Designer, World Machine, ZBrush, Marmoset Toolbag.
Currently we updated the game three times since the publishing. We added many features from our plans and steam users demandings.
What was the main problems in production?
Enemy vehicles had to approach our train car, then they had to follow us by keeping their velocity. This was a big problem because we didnt provide any paths for enemy cars. They have their own wheel and gas control. We used an algorithm called PID which is being mainly used in robotics and automation. It solved our problem perfectly.
Enemy cars have their own control. So, there is a simple AI working behind to avoid form obstacles.
VR headsets needs a powerful computer to work. But it doesn’t mean that models can be high quality and high polygon. When working with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, we needed to reach 90FPS for a fluid experience. We created the models very low poly, sometimes we baked from high poly model. Optimized textures and so on.
But the most unpredictable problem for us is teaching how to shoot to the players who doesn’t know how a pistol works. Because of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift controllers are mapped to the pistols, the game turns to a shooting simulation in a way. Without an accurate aiming, shooting enemies is impossible. So we decided to add a hovering crosshair to improve the shooting experience for unexperienced players.
Concept Of Diesel Express
We are impressed from many materials when we creating the setting and art style. The main material is Mad Max Fury Road for sure. As the art director of the game, it wont be a surprise if i confess i have seen the movie 4 times in theatre. We tried to use the accomplishment of the movie such as desert look, style and art direction as well as the never ending action in a suitable way in our game. But its wrong to say we tried to create something alike Fury Road. Instead of decorated, punk style cars, we wanted to create the cars as if they were repaired after great war more pragmatistically, not cosmetically.
The date of the year is not definitive. We can estimate the production of the cars and weapons as 1940’s. Because of that, firstly we decided to make a dieselpunk style in our models. Weapons, cars, buildings and clothings gives the clue of dieselpunk. But in overall, we created dusty and rusty Dieselpunk style.
We tried to catch the Bioshock Infinite look in 3D models, Camera effects, interiors and characters. We analyzed Bioshock a lot when we deciding the materials and lighting. Camera has saturated colors and bloom effect like Bioshock. Wooden material that usually not used in Dieselpunk style, might be come from that game too.
Diesel Express has awesome music as well. Before the action, in the pub, we listen 1930’s 1940’s musics. When we ride the train, we hear “Battle in the Sky” by Walid Fegahli. I can’t imagine that i could find another music fits Diesel Express more than that. I think the reason that makes this music so magical to us, we frequently listen it while development. We did the alpha tests with this music. So keeping it in our game was a must. Honestly, we paid the most money to this music.
Poster art was created by a very talented concept artist Eren Arık.
VR is good! VR is impressive! VR has future!
VR is not a new thing. The origin of the idea comes from 50’s. But the golden age of VR start with Oculus Rift which is successfully kicked in Kickstarter. VR provides a very huge experiment space to game designers. When you come across to a problem when developing a game, instead of solving the problem by investigating other games, you solve your problem by yourself. Because most of the time you are the only one in universe who come across this problem. I am sure VR will reach more people in future.
Would I Create The Same Game To Another Platform?
Due to our decision to create the game to VR, i can’t imagine Diesel Express in another platform. Because it has a lot of VR only features. But if i would create, i would like to create something in the triangle of “Outlaws” level 3 Train, Western Express Arcade and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
What Did I Learn
- I learned that a two people indie team must choose the boundaries of the game very wisely. Which features are really must have and which features are overkill.
Above left advanced shooting script is a must have while above right is an overkill feature
- Developers himself/herself can become an obstacle. Motivation lose can ruin the project.
- Don’t tell the project to people too much. It starts to feel like it’s already finished.
- Before the actual start of project, a game blog have to be started.
- Working at home in pajamas is not the best way to work.
- Last 10% of the project is equals to the first 90% of the project is a real thing.
- Definition of the “fail” changes in your mind very often. A game financially failed can be priceless for some ways.
- “Indie generalist” is a real thing. Responsibilities oftenly changes.
- Never pleasured in my entire life more than pressing publish button in Steam. It absolutely worth to work really hard.
- Unity Asset Store looks amazing in the first glance, but we actually never able to use any assets form store except some minor ones because of the performance and quality issues.
- Most of the time, modifying a downloaded 3D model takes much time than creating a new one.
- Feedbacks from the players may change the content of the game.
- Try to test your game with hardcore players and causal players. You will learn different things from the players who have different experiences.
- ESRB rating is not just a picture on the DVD Cover. When we try to publish Diesel Express VR in Oculus Store, we face off with some questions that rates the game for the perfect audience. Questions were like “is there any weapon in game?”, “Do they look realistic or fantastic?”, “Is there blood?”, “Does the hero kill humans?”, “Is there swastikas? ( we clicked “no” at least this one)”. We got something like +16. But if i design another game in the future, i will absolutely think about it.
- In the story of the game, the name Marius named after the same named character from the book “The Spell”.
- Some of the weapons we use in game are Nazi-made weapons. But it doesn’t make you nazi. Come on guys!
- Regiment’s logo is an eagle. It was also considered as a Nazi symbol by some people. No. We used this reference as a Roman symbol. Self governed cities, a regiment that defending this structure is too Roman thing.
- Our dreadnought DN-Selandia’s name comes from MS-Selandia, first ship that using a diesel engine.