Interview with Rickard Edén - Developer of applet game Hostile Sector
Almost five months ago now, Rickard Edén posted the first of many development updates following his upcoming Applet based game, Hostile Sector. He has since become a core contributor to jMonkeyEngine, freely sharing useful experience and code. Yesterday we had an extensive talk about Rickard's on-going project and the challenges it presents. Considering I'm in Norway and he's in Sweden we could have practically carried out this interview with two cans and a string, but then I wouldn't have this handy transcript to share with y'all.
I already know you’ve got an impressive background in games. But why don't we start by recapping that for the reading monkeys
Rickard: Ok, not sure where to start... Yes. I've been in the industry for a while, mostly working with level design and later game design and production on some of the scandinavian developers
Erlend: In one of my favorite game companies, DICE!
Rickard: Yes, it's one of my favorites too
But now you're doing your own thing, making Hostile Sector. Can you elaborate on that decision just a little bit?
Rickard: I took that decision long before starting on Hostile Sector. It was one of those famous "crossroads" where I felt I wanted to try doing things on my own. Even then, the plan was not to become an indie developer full time, but rather to use my past experience to be part time game design consultant, while working up my programmer skills.
And is this your first foray into indie game development?
Rickard: Actually no. I have a couple of titles in the trunk. One is Room Boom: Suburbia. A board game/puzzle hybrid (inspired by games like Carcassonne). Another is Blockstacker, a puzzle game originally made for browsers, that has been ported to android recently.
None which has been exceedingly profitable, though So one could say indie development is something you know you want to come back to, rather than something new "just for the kicks"?
Rickard: Yes, certainly. Although I wouldn't mind going back to the regular industry either. They both have their charm, and it's the creation I enjoy.
But I like being able to do a little bit of everything.Erlend: Right. Creation is king!
Now we know where you're coming from, time to get gamey!So I've played, hmm, would you call it an "early tech demo" of Hostile Sector?
Rickard: Yes. It was a while ago, and it was quite rough around the edges then. Still some things to weed out, but it's getting there.
I gotta say, I can't come up with an easy category to put it in. Could be that the genre as a whole has just slipped by me, but if I had to put a label on it I'd say "Commandos-ish" I guess. What does a short version of your elevator pitch sound like?
Rickard: Basically, what I'm aiming for, is taking the core from classic tactical games, like "Jagged Alliance" and the "UFO: Enemy Unknown" series, to a new multiplayer format, which is easily accessible online through your browser. Add some strategic elements and soldier customization, plus social functions, and there you have it.
'Browser-based' - oh it's on now! So this is a pretty big one. Did the choice of making a browser based game come before or after the design itself?
Rickard: The concept of a persistent, multiplayer, online, tactical game (long one) has been with me for several years, originally being RTS, I ditched it for networking reasons. "Hostile Sector" was conceived as an android exclusive 2D game, but realizing I would miss out of a prominent chunk of users, I decided to go the browser path first, and port it to android later.
I'm guessing the idea of Android is what prompted you to code it in Java. Was that the only reason?
Rickard: Well, java is what I know best, and knowing its cross-platform capabilities led me in that direction. Now, only the "tactical" client is java, which makes it trickier to port it, but since jME aims to have full Android support, I would want it to show up on Android in some form later on.
3D games played in Applets is not a common thing. Has the Applet route presented any challenges worth speaking of? Any cautionary tales for developers on the fence?
Rickard: Any games at all played in applets is not a common thing I think it does pose a couple of challenges. One is the sandbox in which it operates, it's quite strict, if you don't want to use a certificate, you need to know what you can and can't do (like accessing anything that is not on the server from where the applet is launched).
Erlend: Making an applet with jME3 was simple enough though?
Rickard: Yes. About a year and a half ago, I was prototyping another game, and took my first steps into 3d programming with jme2. I remember setting up an applet was a real hassle. In jME3 (jMP), you just check a box, and upload the results.
In your own words, “the art [assets] are currently a mix of stock art and my own creations” - what will your final art pipeline look like?
Rickard: for this project, the plan has been to utilize stock assets and contractors as much as possible to keep overhead low. Since I'm going for a fairly common/realistic style, there are plenty of assets made already. So I buy art assets (although lately I've been doing more of my own), take them into Blender/Gimp, and modify them. Then into jMP to create/assign materials.
Erlend: Hmmm yeah. Following up on that a little; we've seen many people on the forum having trouble with stock assets, often times because they're not optimized for games or have gone through odd export/import schemes. Have you pretty much dodged the bullet so far?
Rickard: It's something I've noticed as well. On many of the larger sites, you don't always know what you'll end up with, but there are smaller companies out there, focusing on game assets, albeit being a bit more expensive. In some cases, I've come to realize I could have done the model myself in the same time it took me to optimize it. This is one of the reasons I'm doing more myself nowadays
Well then, let's round this up! jME3: The good vs the bad?
Rickard: I really like the focus on tools in jme3. Having worked a lot with content, I know the importance of good tools. I also think it's what can make a difference in todays middleware market. I also think it's a good move to utilize other open source libraries (like nifty gui, and bullet). As a developer, it means I have access to more documentation (since they're more widely spread). jME3 is still in alpha, and thus there are still issues and API changes. Things break. But, engines break in professional environments as well (and it's equally frustrating )
Erlend: well, let me put it like this. when you were getting to grips with the new jME3, did you encounter something that made you think "hum, I see what you did there, but why?.."
Rickard: I'm not really "low level" enough to reflect on engine architecture. If I looked into the core, I would probably ask that question all the time For me, jME3 is a tool I use, like an electric screwdriver. I don't need to open it to see how it works, as long as it does what I expect it to... Well, not entirely true, but true enough.
Thanks again for the interview Rickard! For more information on Hostile Sector, here's the link again: http://www.mindemia....sector/info.php
If you want to help test the game as it progresses, check out the frequent development updates on our forum.