Explains our development & planning cycles.
This is an edited version of what we just posted on our moddb page. I literally spent almost all of yesterday, and all of today perfecting this. I was literally up till 4AM last night writing and proofing, and I still adding more and more, this is easily hands down one of the longest and detailed PR Articles I've ever written, and I'm really proud of it. (I've removed several sections that aren't relevant to design, such as direct updates to our community, as well as our Discord.) The full Article, can be found on our moddb page.
There is a lot of backstory as to why I decided to put this all together, but instead of being my usual self, and telling all the related stories and tangents, I'll just say, Simone quit yesterday, and he tried to accuse me of not having a any kind of plan for what we were doing,and how never knew what was going on in the protect despite having access to all our documentation.
As yall have noticed, we've been in development for over 7 years, and we've not released until December of last year. There are countless reasons, some known to the public, others not. The thing that most don't understand is that an RTS is literally one of the longest and hardest game types to make, not to mention one of the most expensive to make, manage and maintain, even for AAA companies.
It's literally a war simulation that is a problem solving machine. By that I mean we plan for and design interactions for individual and systematic problem-solving.
I know some of you have been hesitant to review an unfinished work, as well as a little disappointed that we are only releasing the ASI. I know we have shown 3 new factions, and I understand that some may feel that getting 1 of 3 new things is not as satisfying as getting 3 new things all at the same time.
I trust that most of our community understands that this is a mod, like The Forgotten, where they also add a fully new faction. Please remember that we are all volunteers here, and with any kind of short term or long term project, there are inevitably a lot of ups and downs; some made public, some not. Despite this, We have a very rich history and a lot of experience, and connections that we've developed since we started, much of which is documented here on our ModDB homepage. As many of you look to play our current build of 1.3:
You may have noticed more concrete examples of the quality standards we hold ourselves to, and the differences between 1.0 on our current build. We are doing our best to balance and refine as much as we can, and we are adding more descriptive in-game descriptions to tell everyone what we added in 1.4, as well as full project credits, which we are hoping to make public soon, as well as add them in-game.
This will potentially be a list of 120+ people that have been somehow involved through the years; some of them here for a short time, others longer, and yet others not a fit, but still came in and out of our doors. We are still figuring out the best way to pay respects to everyone who has been here, no matter what they did or didn't do. We learned from them just being in contact, and them trying to make this work.
We have been fortunate enough to get both quality and quantity in our applicant pool, and we strive to continue to give them the best project experience we can.
Where most mods can easily present all their tweaks and changes, it's much harder for us since we literally almost changed everything about our new faction.
We didn't fully explain what all the new features and mechanics were off the bat because we wanted to give the players the experience of playing the game for the 1st time and figuring things out. As said, almost everything is custom made. We didn't reskin or replace things, and now that the original factions are open for development, we are finally getting to what most would consider "conventional modding"
Also, it's important to note the ASI, and our plans for the new factions, are/were never meant to directly balance with the vanilla factions as they are currently in C&C3: Tiberium Wars. The AI currently has a very hard time countering the ASI, which some of yall have mentioned, considering ASI completely overpowered, and in some cases, not finding it as interesting to just see ASI win without a challenge.
We also realize we need to be more transparent; both to help bridge the gap between our community, and everything we do behind the scenes. We don't want to just show everyone "what" we did, but more background of "why", and when we can, "how" we got to where we are. We hope to also eventually make tutorials for both in house and public consumption. showing how we do what we do. This is something Fandore has always wanted to do, but we never got the time to.
Too often in the games industry players just see the end polished product, and they don't have any idea how, and why things are the way they are. This is to emphasize that the PR of the games industry has really done almost "too good of a job", to push and value product over process.
Countless people think just because they enjoy playing games that they will enjoy making games. No other form of industry has that consistent and critical disconnect. No one ever thinks that because they love reading books, they will love writing books, nor watching movies, and making movies, nor listening to music and making and composing music. But somehow, when you put all those forms of media together into a game, it's suddenly different.
I personally know several people who have gone to college, and in one who went to Digipen, who told me they were dropping out, because of this fallacy. Think of it, entire generations of college students, paying thousands of dollars, for degrees that they think will be that golden ticket into the Games Industry. Some schools actively take advantage of this dream and sell it hard. Later, people with game degrees find themselves pigeonholed. Where no one will hire them, not even in the games Industry, because they don't have any "real experience" in managing and developing for long-term projects. Some can't even find jobs because most people outside the games industry don't know what to do with people with games degrees & experience. You'd think this disconnect happens less in tech companies, but many "real tech companies/ tech professionals also by into the notion that making games = playing games. It's definitely partly a generational thing, but despite research and stats saying the average gamer is in their 30s, this hugely damaging fallacy and misconception continues to be perpetuated.
We hope to do our best to dispel this way of thinking and educate as many as we can
"We choose not to do these things because they are easy, but because they're hard."
In the interview with Mark Skaggs, he says: "Ya, making games is like playing games in the sense that you're playing the same game over and over again, and it's broken", I'd add, "and it's your responsibility to fix it".
Planning The project:
If you've seen any of the parts of our Game Design Document (GDD) you may notice it's a bit different than other GDDs. We explain the overarching themes and designs, but we don't go into all the details other GDDS go into.
Other GDDs explain in painstaking details as to what something looks like, it's stats and technical/UI layouts, etc. if your indie and building a game from Scratch, you need that. As a mod, we need significantly less, however, the trick to writing a GDD is to allow it to map out the macro of everything you're doing, while also conveying the vision. Most GDDs I've seen are too restrictive, telling people too much information, and potentially stifling creativity to some degree.
You may also notice that we try not to put pictures in our GDD. This is because we allow and encourage varied interpretation of our factions and themes. Separating out all the written documentation from all the pictures of all the current assets is how we encourage imagination and creativity, of not just our team, but you the community as well.
Fun fact, I wrote the 1st draft of our GDD in an airport at the end of 2011. Our GDD, like many GDDs, is a living document; And it has gone through many revisions and had a hand full of editors in leadership, me being the principal author
When me and Fandore joined the project back in June of 2011 (literally a day apart, even though we didn't know each other) the project originator Umbrella secrets told us that he was getting the feedback that people felt disconnected, in the sense that they have no idea how the new factions relate to Command & Conquer, or the Tiberium universe.
He asked me to fix it. So I, being the Co-lead, PR manager, and lead writer recently from the failed Tiberian Eclipse mod, did my best to connect all the lore together.
I also created a full faction build list in excel, that planned out all 3 new factions, alongside all 3 original factions. (Template adapted and expanded from my work with TE) I crossed referenced all of this by role so that when we made anything, we knew it had a specific function and role. Putting in all we planned for the new factions, as well as what I planned for the original factions. (Mainly slotting in things from Kane's Wrath, as well as some new stuff to diversify the factions.
I went a bit overboard, at that time, and Umbrella Secrets got a bit overwhelmed, decided we would not do anything for the original factions, besides the few assets he had made under Tiberium Eclipse. I was actually the one who recruited him to that project, and back in 2010, we were actually discussing the idea of merging the two projects. I've asked Fandore if he would have joined if we had the main focus of the original factions back then, and he said likely not. Back in the day, I also asked Umbrella secrets why he joined TE, and he said it was something that he couldn't pass up.
This core build list document allowed us to have holistic planning for all factions, across all roles. And once you know the base role of a unit or structure, then you can begin to adjust the formula, to accomplish the same thing, in different ways and also mix and match roles, for true faction diversity. Furthermore, this allows for theoretical and potential experimental balancing by role and by tier.
Back then, I was told to put all original faction development on hold, so we could focus on the new factions. Obviously, I was disappointed. But things turned out for the best.
Because of that moratorium, I put all my energy and passion for the original Command & Conquer Tiberium universe factions into writing and design, and ever since then, we actually consistently get the comment from our community that our lore and designs are so cohesive with the Tiberium universe, that at times, they're unsure where TW/ KW/TT end, and where TS begins.
Here is the 1st season of our Official TS canon:
We've had people describe us as an expansion, a total conversion, an entirely new game, etc... and we are happy many others see our potential.
Modding VS. Indie:
Our new factions are completely original intellectual property (IP), and that is one of the things that make us stand out. Because of this, and other reasons, we do have contracts, perhaps one of the few mods that do. Many throughout the years have questioned why we don't just go indie and make a full standalone game, totally separate and divorced from the C&C franchise, given all the custom work with the factions. The answer to that is for multiple reasons:
- This project was started in 2010/2011 before most of the modern engines, such as unity and unreal were fully developed. Not to mention, how at the time, and still, now, there are few engines that are built to support and maintain an RTS.
- If we tried to build a 3D RTS from scratch, it would likely take orders of magnitude longer, and require an even bigger and more dedicated team. 3D RTS is already one of the largest investments in scope, scale, and budget. Traditionally this kind of game takes at least 20-30 full-time veterans across all departments, working round the clock for at least 4-5 years.
- As a mod, we get the brand recognition of the franchise, and almost a banked on the community of people that may already be interested in what we're doing.
- Our core leadership has a passion for C&C.
- By building off an existing game, by the mere fact of being "technically a mod", it allows us to drastically expand our scope and scale of our vision, far beyond a traditional indie game.
- We were beginners when we started, so we weren't weighed down by the pessimism of experience.
Faction Build Lists
Here is a picture of part of the build list template started for another unreleased RTS indie game, for a rev share C corp, Animus Interactive called Ascendancy that I made back in November of 2016. They ultimately decided not to use it, and I was only a project manager/ game producer for 2 months. (I worked directly with their CEO, and due to circumstances and timing, it didn't work out. (They decided not to use the template, even tho their GDD was like at least 50 pages long, and they had all these roles they were planning for)
(I extracted all our roles and put them side by side, so they could get a sense of what it was for.)
Here are the currently updated ASI build lists:
I know spreadsheets aren't the sexiest thing we can show, and most people don't want to read, but these are one core pillar of how and what we do, and how we do it. Arguably one of the main reasons we've been so successful and consistent for so long.
Furthermore, if you're still having a hard time with learning how to use the ASI, this literally tells you what everything is, and how to use it. And like our GDD, this is a living document.
(This might possibly be the 1st time anyone has shown a spreadsheet on all of ModDB/IndieDB)
We can't show anyone in the public the other tabs until the factions' are released, but I assure you, they are all filled out to a large degree. The key thing to understand is that not everything is filled out for the new factions. We have roles, but we don't always have something created for that role.
We left them blank, not just because we weren't there yet, but also because you the community are on this journey with us.
We have some upgrades and support powers, but there is much that hasn't been finalized and put in-game yet.Most of the sections of upgrades and support powers are in our GDD for all factions are also largely empty. (and have been for a while, since we'er not there yet.)
The moratorium on original faction development was lifted after the ASI was released, for a lot of reasons, but mainly due to our current resources and staff. The build list was, and are finally being updated, after being archived for all those years. As said, having me, and the community wait for so long for original faction development actually worked in our favor, to a large degree.
If some of you will remember back in the Summer of 2012, I looked at the ASI build lists, and realized we were actually missing an anti-structure unit for the ASI, Umbrella secrets didn't want to make one, because well, at that time, he was mainly the principle artist as well as principle coder, but Fandore realized I was right, and hence we put it out on our Forums.
Hence the Athore was born:
We actually later switched it's role with the Pharaoh hound, which was the artillery unit at the time.
Our Development Cycle:
Games usually need to strike a balance between story and gameplay, often, a game will prioritize or sacrifice one over the other. The thing about C&C is it always tried to bring both to the table, and have them work together in a holistic and unified way.
We've held true to this vision across everything, and our development cycle is meant to be cyclical, ASI > Colony > D51 >ASI Colony >D51, etc. Now, we are going to GDI, > Nod >Scrin.
All the buildings for ASI, Colony, and D51 are done, but that is most that is finished and finalized. There are of course some units for colony and D51 that are complete, but not that many.
Remember, you the community can help us shape this project. (Perhaps in ways few mods and games allow) We mainly need support powers and upgrades for the ASI, right now. Because of this cycle established near the beginning of the project, we are constantly going through development as well as what usually happens in preproduction. We did have an original preproduction phase back in 2011, but we didn't maximize the potential of that time, due to many behind the scenes reasons, and this is an oversight that has really continued to bite us in the back. (preproduction is almost always the most active part of a project, because nothing is really finalized, and literally anyone can chip in.) However, back then and now, we had, what I just call core 4. This allowed us to keep and maintain a unified vision of the project, and we still keep that vision, 7 years later. Even though the project originator Umbrella Secrets is no longer with the team, and hasn't been on the team, since the Summer of 2012.
That's the thing we do is respect the direction and decisions of people who were once here. It's all too often and easy to throw them under the bus, or reverse something they did right after they left, or even present it like they were never part of the project at all. But if we did that, we'd constantly be going backward, and then things would take oh so much longer, not to mention changing fundamental things just because you don't like it is not a good enough justification. Furthermore, If this happened, this would just beg for a long line of baggage, drama, and ruffled feathers.
Changes to foundations are usually judged on quality, function, and simplicity.
The thing I've learned from putting the original factions on hold for so long is what they are, and what they could all be about. It's allowed me to plan and thing beyond what C&C was, to what C&C could be.
In the interview with Louis Castle, he said, one of the best things you can do for a game is deciding what it's not. Knowing what your not doing, and what you need to cut will tell and inform you as to what your core game is, and allow you to focus on the things that will make the most impact This point really struck home with me, and I realized, that not developing the original factions at all, for so long, it allowed us to better define what those were all about, and to use that to define what the new factions could and should be.
This is how I usually think of it. There are 6 variables in an equation, you have no idea what's what, but you have some solid knowledge about what 3 of them could be. so, you do your best to understand, explore and flesh out those 3 known variables. (the original factions). Now you have an equation with 3 known and 3 unknowns. So, now, you use all those 3 known variables to systematically test refine, balance and explore each new variable, one at at a time, until you know all 6 variables, and can finally solve the equation and answer the question of what each variable is, including It's proper place, form and function in the entire system.
We basically started defining, and building each variable, each faction, and as we continued, the vision and plans of what the new factions were started to crystallize.
There's a big difference between letting the data lead you to a conclusion, and jumping to the conclusion, and finding data that supports your view. One is scientific while the other is just telling yourself what you want to hear.
Once you have a new variable, that is well enough defined, you use it as a control, to test and refine and check your previously known variables, adjusting them as needed. You keep doing this, over and over and over until your fully satisfied with all variables.
Why Command & Conquer was successful:
The other core thing that made C&C such a groundbreaking and global success, is it hit on geosocietal politics of the day, in such a way that that it would be relevant and resonant for generations to come. Asking anyone to create that, in any game, let alone in an RTS, is very difficult. It requires a depth of planning and future insight that is almost uncanny it in it's accuracy.
It requires forward thinking, while respecting and learning from the past. You are literally trying to propel your audience into the future, and get them to experience things, not just as they are, but what they could be. It requires you to propel them into the past, and realize and recall that time in such a way that they can feel and remember it like it was yesterday, no matter how many years ago it was.
We don't pretend like we have all the answers, but we do have a lot of questions, and by knowing the right questions to ask, we can figure out where we are going.
Too much of the C&C community, and much of all modding communities are all focused on recreating the past, that definitely has it's place. But it's all nostalgia, and that has it's limitations. In doing what we do, we continually look to the future. Take a listen to what Louis Castle had to say on the topic from Community Battle CastPrimetime. (mark 35:55)
As for me, I look forward to serving my teammates and communities in learning from the past, listening to the present, and leaving a legacy for the future.
Building something is relatively easy, it's the maintaining it over time that's hard.
Hope this helps you all see a bit more...
For Our Full ASI Sound Track:
To Quote Mr. Ancient Aliens...
"Long Ago, In The Distant Future..."
This could look familiar....
April 9th, 2012:
January 23, 2015
Fandore said he actually got a message from someone in Petroglyph years ago, saying we were on the right track.
“For those with drive, and for those who endure, they shall be bonded forevermore.”
For everyone here @ Tiberium Secrets: Jist
(Project Coordinator/producer, PR Lead, Lead Writer)