For our Kickoff post of the year, we decided to go a less traditional route in content and structure.
We took selected questions asked by fans and decided to each try to answer them here:
What do each of you do on the project?
Koriel: I manage our game design documents and to-do lists on a daily basis. Each day is different, but generally I will either be devising puzzles and level layouts, fleshing out environments in editor, sculpting meshes in ZBrush, writing in-game text, or building PR materials - sometimes all of these. At this point, I guess my favorite thing to do is environment design, because I can do it while simultaneously watching/listening to Netflix shows (due to the “zen” nature of landscape sculpting and placing decorative meshes) :)
John: I take care of most of the technical aspects of the game, which is mostly comprised of gameplay programming and tech art, as well as general level and game / story design. I also handle the music and sound in the game, although much of that work will be pushed towards the end of development (looking forward to it!). I love alternating between technical and creative work; it keeps me interested in what I am working on and encourages me to find imaginative solutions to problems.
James: As is the status quo for a lot of independent studios, we each wear many hats for working in a variety of disciplines. I enjoy being at the intersection of art and engineering, though I primarily make art for XING. For this project I learned hard-surface modeling and texturing, which means I do a lot of architecture and other environment design. Sometimes I do some gameplay scripting too. I’m in charge of the menu and save systems, Oculus integration and platforms support. I'm constantly investigating how to improve the Oculus experience in ways that are also complimentary for the traditional monitor experience. I get virtually (ha-ha!) no simulator sickness on the Oculus Rift hardware, so I am always excited to put on the headset and try out a new interaction style or experience a vista. For this reason I’m always itching for the latest software releases from Oculus and Epic. It is really amazing how far Virtual Reality has come since I started this project! I also help develop story concepts, game design, and art style-which we are constantly fine tuning.
What does a typical work day look like?
Koriel: I wake up around 10am and click my mouse. My computer is already on from the day before, and I check my email before heading to the kitchen for some greek yogurt and oatmeal. Then from around 10:30-3pm I am on the XING Video Chat with James and John, and I work on anything I feel like doing that is on my XING to do list. Around 3pm I take a short lunch, sometimes I just end up eating it at my desk. Then I work until I make dinner for my family around 5:30pm. That takes about an hour. After that I’m back on the computer from 6:30pm till around 10-11pm. Some days we stay up till 12am or even 1am working, though not as much lately. On select days, I wake up at 8am and paint my Mom’s carousel horses for rent $ till between 12pm and 4pm, then get online for XING video chat. Those are long (10-12 hour) work days, but we give ourselves a day and half off on the weekends!
|My Room :)|
John: Like Kori, I’ll wake up around ten and check my phone for any new messages (usually from our European contacts). I’ll go make myself a cup of coffee and sit myself down for work. I like to compartmentalize my workstations, so I have two computers in my office - one beefy one for work and a second for internet access (it’s the monitor that is off in the photo. Too much glare!). Generally my work hours are congruent with my coworkers, but occasionally I’ll work late or on weekends on a particularly arduous task, looking to get it done before the next workday. We use Perforce source control to make sure we are all caught up with each others’ endeavors, and have informal meetings about key concepts throughout the day.
|Welcome to my Proud Domain|
James: A typical day begins by looking at "The Great Calendar", a spreadsheet shared in the cloud which organizes our deadlines. I figure out what to work on based on an upcoming deadline, then turn on some music, and get working. If I'm doing art, I'll have 10-15 tabs open in Chrome to reference real-life vistas, temples, ruins, or whatever is needed to work on. To make great art, you really need to use great references. I'll also spend a lot of hours on Polycount, YouTube, and DeviantArt following tutorials or browsing inspiring artwork. Google is a constant companion.
And then there are those times I need to go to class, because I'm still in school. Fortunately, I was able to design my own major at my university in order to hone my education towards my interests. My degree is called a “Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Media”, and I've been able to work on XING for many of my classes.
How can you guys afford to work so much without steady income?
Koriel: Great question! James and John have their own way of doing it - and my way is living at home again with my parents for very cheap rent, with chores around the house that I can pick up (like making the family dinner) for extra $ to pay rent and a few other bills. I’ve actually become a pretty great carousel horse painter in the process of these chores. My mother is a collector and has many in need of repair, so I am happy to lend a hand in exchange for food and a roof over my head!
Check these ones I painted (and yes, they're full size!):
Check these ones I painted (and yes, they're full size!):
John: Having loving parents is a wonderful thing : ) Seriously, without their support, we could not be doing what we are doing right now. It was clear to us about six months after our Kickstarter campaign that our game had potential to exceed our initial visions and timeframe. At GDC 2014, we were presented with the opportunity to move our game to Unreal 4, and I think we all understood that it was the perfect opportunity to execute on that plan. I knew going into that decision meant putting my life on hold for a while longer - not just more hours slaving away at the keyboard, but subjecting myself to another year+ of absolute dedication to a single task: making XING into something I’m proud of. I’m gonna need a vacation after this.
James: I'm actually in the fortunate position of still being a student, though now I'm approaching the end of my 4th and final year of college. I treat XING like a full-time job, and working for "sweat equity" is more than worth it. given the experience. In order to make extra money, I get out my saxophone or clarinet and perform for musicals, fundraisers, or networking events at my university.
What games have you guys played the last couple years,
and how have they influenced XING?
Koriel: Being a game developer, you don’t end up with a ton of free time for playing video games. The recent ones that come to my mind are Zelda: Skyward Sword, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Trine 2, and Monument Valley. I play TF2 on occasion too (my first Steam game with over 100 hours put into it!!), though I’d say the aforementioned games were more influential in my design ideas during the project:
- The Zelda series has place in all 3 of our hearts, and I think players who are familiar with the series will definitely notice the mechanics and puzzle design elements that were inspired by the 3-D Zelda games. Skyward Sword it the just most recent I’ve played, and if I was going to take anything from that, I’d want the sense of adventure. That and treasure chests...
- Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a beautiful narrative adventure game made in Unreal 3, and I spent extra time meandering around the game, taking in the detailed environments. Also, the subtle humor in the game was something I especially enjoyed, and want to bring to XING.
- Trine 2 is a gorgeous puzzle-platformer that I started simply because of how pretty it was. When it comes to games I’m a bit picky about aesthetics, and shallow as it sounds, I probably won’t play a game for more than an hour if I don’t like the aesthetic. I guess that’s why I’m an artist. I want meaningful, beautiful experiences! I think the lighting and composition are two things I really admired about the game, and that might be reflected in our night/indoor areas :)
- Monument Valley is a great escher-style puzzle game for mobile devices. The simple mechanics and elegant presentation, combined with the fact that it is a relatively short game, made me very happy to complete the game. I like that it feels like a game that almost anyone can complete. I really want all sorts of people to be able to play all the way through XING, while still feeling challenged enough. It’s a tough balance.
John: I play a ton of games of all shapes and sizes. While these days I probably have the most fun playing multiplayer romps with my close friends at LANs (Super Smash Bros. 4, TF2, LOL, and some somewhat more obscure games like Killing Floor, Natural Selection 2, Risk of Rain, etc.), I have a long history of single player games that have influenced my perspective on gaming as a whole and certainly the way I work on XING.
- Despite Kori already mentioning the Zelda series, I have to mention Wind Waker as a huge influence on the way I approach technical art and game design. I think most people recognize WW’s graphical flourish even twelve years after the game’s release.
- I think Gamecube era games were the most influential for me, likely due to my growing interest in games at the time. Metroid Prime remains one of my favorite games, and still remains unbeatable in it’s ability to immerse the player into the land of Tallon IV.
- And because I represent the retro gaming side of our team, I’ll list Secret of Mana as an influence, especially when it comes to music. Secret managed to have such a peaceful childlike adventure feel to the whole game, something I’d like to capture for XING.
James: We have all been lucky to be a part of such an innovative and creative industry which keeps re-inventing itself and surprising audiences. A few of my favorite games in the past few years have been Journey, Monument Valley, Threes, Minecraft, Bioshock Infinite, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, FEZ, Portal (yes, I was pretty late to the party on that one), Trine 2, Sword and Sworcery, Lili, Chrono Trigger (another game I was late to the party for), The Talos Principle, and Bastion.
- For me, Journey is a constant source of inspiration and great example of how to simplify, instill emotion through and environment, and design with style. Monument Valley is another great source with similar ideals,
- However, the richness of environments in other Unreal Engine games like Bioshock Infinite have also been influential.
- Sword and Sworcery, as well as Myst, has been a source of inspiration for how to set the mood, immerse the player, and create a grand sense of adventure through environment.
- And lastly, the GBA gem Golden Sun has been a large influence for me in puzzle design and mechanics.
What do you guys do in your spare time (if any)?
Koriel: In my spare time I try to spend time with family and friends as much as possible. I like getting out of the house, going on walks, going out to museums and hiking. When there are conventions and other such events in the area (LA), I try to go out and have a good time. Maybe once a week now I attend Tae Kwon Do classes just to keep it up - hopefully I’ll be able to attend more in the future! Also, there are definitely weekends when I just stay in and watch TV shows and movies :)
John: Like I mentioned in the games section, I like to spend time with my friends playing silly games into the wee hours of the morning. What can I say, I’m a kid at heart!
James: During the time I do take off, I mainly play video games, have coffee with friends, or go cycling. Much of the time I am thinking about and planning future products to make. I am big on Internet and startups, so I spend a lot of time interacting with various startup communities on Reddit, as well as the local business incubator at my university. From time to time I will play the piano or pickup my saxophone as a spiritual escape. Also, rainy days = Roller Coaster Tycoon!
What is your favorite level of the game?
Koriel: Since they are all in different states of completion right now, it’s tough to say. I’ll say as a designer I enjoy working on our tropical beach (Iztali Point) and rainforest (Nahele Rain) the most, just because they are so appealing in my eyes. Our other levels are quite pretty too!
John: I don’t think we’ve revealed my favorite level yet… ; )
James: My favorite level is Nahele Rain, the Mayan/Incan inspired rainforest civilization where we meet Tlaloc, the rain shaman. It's my favorite level because it really possesses a great atmosphere, and it has some of my favorite music in XING written by John. I also think we really nailed the architectural style, incorporating a lot of elements from actual ruins, but also mixing in some of the playfulness of Road to El Dorado's temple design. It's also where we introduce the movable pillar puzzle mechanic, which is one of my favorites in XING.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Koriel: Lots of anime and movie soundtracks, Disney songs, Rock, 80’s Rock/Pop, J-Pop, Metal, Alternative, and Pop music (as long as it has decent lyrics). Sometimes I’ll even turn on a country song! For the most part during work, it's usually a mix of soundtracks and rock.
John: I’ll represent the game music aficionado side of me here. My current XING playlist includes tracks from Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Fire Emblem Awakening, Final Fantasy 4 - 10 (especially 10), Secret of Mana, Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2, Wind Waker, Skyward Sword, Metroid Prime, Risk of Rain, FTL, Skyrim, Chrono Cross, OOT, and more. When I’m not listening to VGM it’s usually classic hard rock or metal bands like Iron Maiden and Boston, straight up Beethoven and Holst, or EDM like A&B and Armin.
James: I enjoy listening to a wide variety of music, including alternative rock, folk, jazz, classical, romantic, film scores, video game soundtracks, and electronic. Rap still eludes me. If I had to pick a favorite band, it would have to be Muse. I am very well acquainted with Muse's entire catalog - I love how much story, emotion, and melodic writing goes into their work. I was once an aspiring film composer, and my two favorite composers are Joe Hisaishi and John Williams. My favorite video game soundtracks include a lot of the greats-those of the Pokemon, Final Fantasy, and Legend of Zelda series, as well as more recent achievements like of Journey, FEZ, and Sword and Sworcery; but one of my most beloved is the old GBA classic Golden Sun.
Has your opinion of game development changed in the last 2 years? If so, how?
Koriel: Game development is challenging in so many ways. Let’s just say you are using your whole brain. If someone had asked me if it was tough to be a game developer 4 years ago, I would have said it’s probably a fun and somewhat difficult job. I’ll still say that it is fun - but it is much more work than I ever really imagined (especially with what we are trying to accomplish with XING). There are so many pieces that make up a game that alone seem simple - but in development there are hundreds of factors and complexities that determine each little decision that is made about how the game looks, functions, presents itself, teaches a player and more. There are so many facets to think about - and that’s the beauty of it.
John: I like to think of our development as having gone through a number of versions and cycles, with each one presenting a new perspective on game development. Before our Kickstarter, XING was mostly a learning experience. We didn’t have a clear direction and I used that time to learn about the tools and the trade. Post Kickstarter, our perspective was more of a “Yeah, we got this, let’s go” attitude. Years later, I think we’ve realized that the “beginners mind” approach of the first phase is ultimately a better way to look at development. There will always be new tools and ways of doing things, so never stop learning.
James: During middle school I loved developing Flash games for Newgrounds, but I also knew it was tough and time consuming work. Working on XING has reinforced the fact that making great art takes discipline and lots of hours of work. However, I've also been constantly challenged to become a better artist, programmer, team player, and communicator. The best part is: you never stop learning. I think XING has mostly taught me that the brain can really be pushed, and we are almost always capable of more than we think.
My view of game development in general is less foggy now. Instead of seeing the industry like a proverbial "Santa's Workshop" which magically churns out games, I've realized there's no silver bullet for making a great game, and that the games industry is very much like the Wild West. It's enthralling but also nerve-wracking; however, we've discovered that by pouring our hearts into what we make, audiences respond positively. You really have to believe in and dedicate yourself to what you're doing.
What are your favorite movies?
Koriel: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Original Star Wars saga, The Harry Potter Movies, The Lion King, Meet Joe Black, Mulan, A Knight’s Tale, Dead Poets Society, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Princess Bride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jurassic Park, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Hook, Contact, Troy….I could go on…
John: Wow, Koriel didn’t really leave any for the rest of us! Just to add a few to that list, Back to the Future, Gladiator, Braveheart, Alien, The Matrix, Terminator 1 and 2, X-Men, 12 Monkeys, and more.
James: Basically, anything with music by John Williams. If I had to pick just one, it would be Catch Me If You Can, which wields the holy trifecta of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and John Williams. I grew up with and love the Harry Potter films, but most dear to my heart are the Japanese animated films from director Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. If I had a free thousand hours, I would love to render a Studio Ghibli theme park in Unreal Engine 4, make a pitch to Disney and demo it for them in VR, and try and get it built. In more recent years, I really enjoyed Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, as well as Her by Spike Jonze.
When will XING: The Land Beyond be released?
Koriel: It will be released when it looks and feels polished, and gives players a sense of wonder and adventure. Everything takes time - from the details of how a leaf looks in the sunlight, to the design of the final puzzles. We want players to feel excitement in discovery! Our passion for getting things right and high standards have pushed our development time back more than we anticipated, but we feel it is all worth it.
John: Being a longtime games consumer myself, I can understand the frustration when it comes to games taking their sweet time between announcement and release, and I know that things like Kickstarter and pre-orders generally don’t help that time pass any faster. This project has allowed us to look at the release process from the other side - making a quality game takes a long time!
James: We are constantly working hard to launch XING: The Land Beyond as soon as possible. That said, we won't release something we aren't proud of. We are working hard to make an experience of consistent high quality, that plays well on a computer and on Oculus hardware.
What are you planning on doing after the release
of XING: The Land Beyond?
Koriel: Sleep. Take a vacation. After that? It all depends on how well XING is received :) Maybe make more games independently. I want to do something impactful and meaningful, and help educate people in fun and engaging ways. I’d like to try my hand at a co-op game at some point, because I personally enjoy playing games with other people and sharing the experience in the moment. Who knows what the future holds?
John: Kori keeps stealing my answers. I too would like to work on a co-op game. I’d also like to explore some other sides of the industry - maybe with a larger independent group or work on game technology vs games themselves.
James: Though I do love long hikes in forests and strolls on the beach, I don't see myself being able to rest for long or take much time off from working. I'll jump right into another big project, but I'm not sure if it will be in the video game industry. I love games, but I also want to make software for healthcare and possibly education - two industries which could use a lot of help technologically!
Are you guys hiring?
Koriel: Haha, not right now - but please send us your resumes in case of any future projects!
John: We are way too deep into this project that it would be unfair and impractical to bring any new hires in now, but we actually do keep the resumes we get from people.
James: At the moment, we are not hiring. However, we absolutely love seeing resumes and portfolios. Our proximity to release and shoe-string budget restrict us from hiring, and for this project we feel that staying lean is important and our current work dynamic is efficient and focused.
Thanks for all your questions, and please feel free ask us any more you might have using