All the procedural planetary & universe generation technology
In 2007 I released a small free game, simply named the "Infinity Combat Prototype". The goal for that game was to integrate all the engine into a game to validate that all the components were working together, and that a game ( some newtonian multplayer combat in arenas in space ) could be produced. The idea was that it'd be the first step that would eventually lead to the whole MMO.
Unfortunately, it's pretty much at this point that I started to get "lost" into the ambition of the project. I had created the concept of "community contributions" where wannabe-artists could submit artwork, 3D models & textures to be used in the game, but it quickly took a dozen hours a week to review all this work and to validate/reject it, keeping in mind that 95% of it was at the indy level at best.
I was the only programmer on the team, and so progress started to slow down tremendously. We entered into a vicious circle where as months were passing, the cool brand new technology was getting deprecated / looking obsolete, and catching up took months for a single feature. That was the time were I replaced the old fashioned renderer by a deferred renderer, implemented dynamic lighting and shadow mapping and all sorts of visually cool stuff.. but meanwhile, gameplay progress was at a standpoint. I spent some time working on the client/server architecture and databases, but nothing too fancy, and definitely not to the point it could be used for a full fledged MMO.
By 2010 it became crystal clear that as the sole programmer of the project, even using procedural technology and an artists community to alleviate the content generation problem, I couldn't keep up. A few programmers offered their help but clearly weren't up to the task, or gave up very quickly after a few months. If you've been an indy relying on external help by volunteers to work on your project, that should ring a bell.
But in early 2010, I met Keith Newton, an ex-developer from Epic Games who worked on the Unreal Engine. He offered to set up an actual company, review our strategoy and approach the problem from a professional & business perspective. I was about to give up on the project at that time, so naturally, I listened.
2010 - 2012: Infancy of I-Novae Studios
We formed the company I-Novae Studios, LLC, in early 2010, and started to look for investors that could be interested in the technology. Or companies interested in doing partnerships or licensing.
Unfortunately it was bad timing and we didn't realize that immediately. If you recall, this was right after the economic crisis of 2008. All the people we talked to were very interested in the tech, but none were ready to risk their money in a small company with no revenue. We had a few serious opportunities during these year, but for various reasons nothing ever came out of it. Another problem was that this period was the boom of the mobile market, and most companies we talked to were more interested in doing mobile stuff than, sic, a PC game.
During these years we also revamped our technology from the grounds up to modernize it. We switched to physical-based rendering ( PBR ) at this time, implemented a powerful node-based material system, added an editor ( one thing I simply never worked on pre-2010, due to lack of resources ) and much more. Keith worked approximately 2 years and a half full time, out of his own savings, to mature the tech and look for business opportunities. Meanwhile, our other artists and I were still working part time.
On the game side, unfortunately things still weren't looking great. It was our strategy to focus back on the technology and put Infinity on hold. We came to the conclusion that we'd probably need millions to realistically have a shot at producing a MMO at a decent quality and in good conditions, and that it couldn't be our first project as a company. In 2012, Kickstarter started to become a popular thing. It was at this time that we started to play with the idea of doing a Kickstarter for a less ambitious project, but still including our key features: multiplayer components and procedural planetary generation. That was how Infinity: Battlescape was born.
2013 - 2015: Kickstarter, full steam ahead
It took us more than 2 years to prepare our Kickstarter. Yup. At this point Keith was back to working part time, but I left my job to dedicate myself to the Kickstarter, working full time out of my own savings on it.
To produce the Kickstarter we needed a lot of new content, never shown before, and at near-professionel quality. This included a ship with a fully textured PBR cockpit, mutliple smaller ships/props, asteroids, a gigantic space station, multiple planetary texture packs and a larger cargo ship. We decided pretty early to generate the Kickstarter video in engine, to demonstrate our proprietary technology. It'd show seamless take offs from a planet, passing through an asteroid field, flying to a massive space station that comes under attack, with lots of pew-pew, explosions and particle effects. IIRC we iterated over 80 times on this video during the year before the Kickstarter. It's still online, and you can watch it here:
Meanwhile, I was also working on a real-time "concept demo" of Infinity: Battlescape. Our original plan was to send the demo to the media for maximum exposure. It took around 8 months to develop this prototype. It was fully playable, multiplayer, including the content generated by our artists in the Kickstarter trailer. The player could fly seamlessly between a few planets/moons, in space, around asteroids or dock in a space station. Fights were also possible, but there never was more than a handful of players on the server, so we could never demonstrate one of the keypoints of the gameplay: massive space battles involving hundreds of players.
In October 2015, we launched our Kickstarter. It was a success and we gathered more than 6000 backers and $330,000, a little above the $300,000 we were asking for the game. It was one of the top 20 most successful video games Kickstarters of 2015. Our media campaign was a disapointment and we received very little exposure from the mass media. I understandably blame our "vaporware" history. The social media campaign however was a success, particularly thanks to a few popular streamers or twitters that brought exposure on us, and by Chris Roberts from Star Citizen who did a shout-out on his website to help us.
But as much as we're happy to -finally- have a budget to work with, it was only the beginning..
2016+: Infinity Battlescape
We started full development in February 2016 after a few months of underestimated post-KS delays ( sorting out legal stuff, proper contracts with salaries for our artists, and figuring out who was staying and who was leaving ).
Since then, we've focused on game design, producing placeholders for the game prototype and improving our technology. We're still working on adding proper multithreading to the engine, moving to modern Entity-Componeny-System ( ECS ), and figuring out what to do with Vulkan and/or Directx 12. Meanwhile we're also working on networking improvements and a more robust client/server architecture.
The game is scheduled for release in end-2017.
All the pictures in this article are coming from our current pre-alpha.