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Developing Solarpunk Life Simulation Farm Folks Using Unity

Crytivo's founder Alex Koshelkov has told us about the history of the company, discussed what makes Farm Folks unique, and shared how Unity helped the team achieve the game's vibrant style.

Introduction

My name is Alex Koshelkov and I am the Video Game Director and Founder of Crytivo. Crytivo is an independent game developer and publisher located in Dallas, Texas. Our aim is to bring unique ideas and concepts to the gaming industry and provide players with an engaging and enjoyable experience. For the developers we work closely with, our goal is to expand both their reach and business possibilities as their games develop and eventually release into the world. 

My journey in game development began in 2013 when I discovered the platform that could bring my ideas to life: Kickstarter. In 2014, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a game called The Universim, where I presented the concept of a game where you play as a god and guide a new species through different eras on procedurally generated planets. The campaign was a great success and raised nearly $400,000 within 30 days.

I have always been a creative artist. I have had the privilege of working with renowned companies such as Sony, Universal Studios, Disney, and Apple. In the heyday of YouTube back in 2012, I was a content creator who produced time-lapse videos in Photoshop. Some of my favorite videos included epic events such as an airplane crash on a highway and pirate ship battles. My videos gained widespread attention and garnered millions of views and followers. This platform helped me to share new ideas with my fans and bring attention to The Universim Kickstarter campaign.

Crytivo

Crytivo was founded in 2014 with the launch of The Universim Kickstarter campaign. At that time, we were a game development company. Due to our success during the campaign, we were approached by numerous indie developers in the following years. We were happy to share our experience and, in 2018, we expanded our company to become an indie game publisher. This February marks our 5th year on this new journey and it has been an exciting ride.

Since 2014, we have accumulated nearly a decade’s worth of knowledge; having made several mistakes and learning industry tricks and secrets which we share with our teams. We share the same values with our partners and transparency and fairness form the core of our relationship. We offer fair terms, ensure full control over the IP for our partners, and assist rather than dictate.

We have a strong fondness for crowdfunding our games as it is ingrained in our company's roots. We are the largest indie game publisher on Kickstarter with over 20 successful campaigns and a 90% success rate. Kickstarter allows us to maintain a fair revenue share with our partners and acts as a valuable tool for community building and game marketing. Crytivo stands behind every project we launch on Kickstarter and is ready to support young developers in bringing their projects to life.

Most of our upcoming flagship games, including Roots of Pacha and Above Snakes, have successful Kickstarter campaigns. Roots of Pacha, developed by Soda Den, generated nearly 70,000 wishlists in just 30 days during its campaign and now has over 200,000 wishlists. It's a cooperative pixel life simulation RPG set in the Stone Age and will launch on Steam on April 25, 2023. Above Snakes, developed by Tobias Schnackenberg, was also a successful Kickstarter campaign and has now grown into an expanded project. It's an isometric survival game where players build the world around them with landscape tiles – a truly unique aspect to the survival genre. Above Snakes is expected to release later this year.

We have a lot to be proud of when it comes to our Kickstarter campaigns. See some of our recent campaigns below. Most of these games will be released this year and/or next year:

Farm Folks

Farm Folks is a solarpunk life simulation game that allows players to build their own farms from scratch. It's the second game I'm directing and is developed in-house by Crytivo. Our aim is to make this game something special by bringing together popular genres and expanding its potential.

The original plan was for Farm Folks to be a simple farming game with a cute art style. However, we wanted to elevate the game to be a truly unique experience that allows players to creatively express themselves, even in ways they perhaps never anticipated. Drawing inspiration from games such as The Sims, Satisfactory, and My Time at Portia, we started with the customization and explored additional features that would complement the farming aspect of the game. Our first customization prototype involved couches and allowed players to alter every detail such as size, materials, pattern, and color. 

Once we left our couch era, we then shifted focus to characters and continued to add more options for expression. This led to the creation of a robust customization system. 

To enhance the farming experience, we focused on optimization and automation. While the traditional farming game mechanics of planting, growing, and selling crops are present, we wanted to offer more opportunities for players to explore, have fun with friends, complete quests, and compete with each other. To achieve this, we introduced the concept of automating repetitive tasks and optimizing the delivery of resources. In Farm Folks, players will be able to automate certain tasks, mix and match crops to grow unique ones, and optimize resource delivery using futuristic methods. All while exploring the in-game world and discovering new and exciting secrets within.

The World

We use Unity's HDRP and its related built-in tools, as well as some custom tools and a lot of custom shaders to craft our world both physically and visually. The game world itself consists of several islands of varying sizes, surrounded by a large ocean.

We started with Unity's updated terrain system to stitch together a large number of individual neighboring terrains to create a very large land mass. Then, we utilized a custom tool to import the shape of the world and overlaid it with the terrain grid to help shape everything.

After this initial rough phase, a lot of manual crafting went into the terrain editing to create beautiful beaches, forests, lakes, rivers, swamps, and some unique landmark spots that reward player exploration.

We use a customized version of the HDRP terrain shader to give us more terrain layers with which to express different types of terrain.

We built a custom grass system that will automatically populate the land with dense grass and flowers based on the underlying layers. This means that, when the terrain is painted as grass, there is always physical grass there too. We don't need to manually match grass with the visual terrain at all. It's entirely automated.

Water forms a large part of our visual environments; given that the game world is made up of islands surrounded by ocean. We crafted a complex custom water shader that can blend seamlessly between different types of water bodies.

The final piece to the visual puzzle is lighting and environmental effects. Our custom weather and day-night systems utilize Unity's latest volume framework to blend lighting models for different times of day, over which we layer adjustable clouds, fog, wind, rain and snow that can be combined to any degree to represent different weather conditions.

On the engine side, we use Unity/HDRP and all of the latest tech and tools that come with Unity 2022. In some cases, we use proven 3rd-party systems such as Final IK. We also utilize Visual Studio and C# for the core development work. One of the reasons we chose to go this route was that our existing talent pool is already very fluent in Unity. This granted us the ability to develop at full speed right from the start without hitting new learning curves.

HDRP in itself gives us the ability to achieve and express all of our visual and artistic goals. Our fictional towns and islands are inspired by the archipelagos and islands of Sicily. Old, Italian-inspired structures of the town are going to become the heart of the game as players will need to visit them frequently to advance their stories.

Gameplay

What makes Farm Folks unique in its genre is the ability for players to build their own farms from scratch. Our modular construction system will offer players the flexibility they’ve never had in farming games. By placing structural construction blocks, players will have no limits on how they want to build their farms; we think this system will make for a rich co-op experience for all players.

Players will need to build crafting stations to mine and convert the materials that they'll need for construction - similar to resource management games like Satisfactory or Factorio. Players will be constructing buildings and linking them together with Hydraulic Tubes in order to automate resources and farm product production.

Players can build their farm structures using various sets of materials such as wood, cement, or bricks. All construction blocks can be customized and/or painted. 

We’re particularly proud of our painting system. Players will be able to collect berries of different colors that are scattered around the island. By mixing these berries at our Color Mixing Station, players will be able to create jars with uniquely colored paint. This paint can then be attached to a paint gun and sprayed on almost any wooden element in the game into the very color players designed themselves.

Utilities such as electricity and water will help players automate their farming. Windmills or solar panels can generate electricity that can be delivered to structures by placing and connecting electric poles. Players can also carry mobile batteries that are used in electric scooters, jet skis, and other machinery. 

By running water pipes, players will be able to supply water to both their farming plots and living structures. Water can also be used for bathing or washing a player’s clothing.

Even though we’re allowing players to build anything they want, they will still have to abide by the structural rules we’ve developed for our construction system. Larger structures will require proper fundamental reinforcements, for example. Our construction system will provide players with the freedom to be creative while also encouraging them to build sturdy structures. 

Every piece of furniture or equipment in Farm Folks will include customization options such as picking patterns, selecting colors, trims, and more. These options can be unlocked in the game via quests, purchased in the town, or simply discovered in the world. 

Because there are no limits on the size and location of your farm in the world, automation will be useful. We're developing a flexible system that allows you to build machinery to assist with daily farming activities. The machines can transport produce from one place to another. For instance, you can automate cheese production by using a Hydraulic Railing System to transport milk to our Mixer. The Mixer will churn the milk to create cheese. Once complete, the cheese is directed to a packing machine to wrap it in custom packaging that reflects your brand. Finally, it can be moved to storage for sale or distribution to the local community.

Farm Folks will be fueled by a real-time lighting system. Unlike other farming games, Farm Folks will not have a forceful resting system that forces players to go to sleep every night in-game. Our world is persistent and dynamic.

Animals will definitely be a highlight of any Farm Folks playthrough. Players will need to tame animals in the wild and breed them on their farms. Animals will produce products such as milk, wool, eggs, etc. These products can be packaged and traded with NPCs or simply used in production. Animals will have basic needs and characteristics. Some animals will be rare and have unique patterns and colors. Most larger animals will be rideable. 

The player’s character will also be highly customizable – what you see onscreen is a set of customizations. Players will be able to pick and choose what their character will wear in the game and every clothing piece will have practicality stats indicating how quickly an item will get dirty. NPCs will notice and make comments about the player character’s appearance. 

Accessories, clothing, and backpacks can be purchased in local town shops, traded between players, or gifted to players by NPCs.

Players can build and farm almost anywhere in the open world of Farm Folks. The farming process will be both intuitive and familiar to players coming from other farming games. They will need to prepare plots where they can place seeds, water, and harvest plants at the appropriate time in order to get the greatest yield. 

Players can utilize our dynamic planter system which offers them design flexibility. Planters come in different sizes: short, medium, and tall. By placing planter elements together, players can achieve unique forms and shapes for their gardens and even build massive mazes in their backyards.  

Of course, this is not everything Farm Folks has to offer; these are the core elements of the game. Farm Folks is in the pre-production phase and some game design elements are still being developed and can be shared at a later date. This shared information should give you an idea regarding the scope and potential of our project. By utilizing our skills and experience, we strongly believe that Farm Folks is going to blossom into an iconic new game that everyone will remember for years to come. 

Community

As a game publisher, we are actively promoting Farm Folks ourselves and it has been a great success so far. The best way to draw attention to a game is to simply make it a good one; that is our goal with Farm Folks. We maintain an active Discord server where we share daily updates about the game’s development and we make it a priority to share our work across our social media platforms, particularly Twitter. Additionally, we release devlogs on Steam which compile our latest work into one cohesive update. We are transparent and engaged with our fans which helps us to maintain trust and meet (or exceed) their expectations. Thanks to our fans' support, the popularity of the game and project has been growing rapidly. We are beyond grateful for all of the support and attention they bring to it.

It's worth mentioning that Farm Folks was originally developed by one of our indie teams that had a successful Kickstarter campaign. However, due to some mismanagement and personal challenges, the team was unable to complete the project. That's when we at Crytivo stepped in and acquired the full rights to the IP. We have made Farm Folks our next flagship project and are committed to delivering the rewards that were promised in the previous Kickstarter campaign.

Future Plans

Our community has been very vocal in asking us to launch a Kickstarter campaign for Farm Folks, and we plan to do so in the next few months. The goal of the campaign is to raise funds for the development of more content for the game and expand its reach. We invite everyone interested to follow our Kickstarter page for updates on the launch. We also plan to conduct some closed tests and welcome anyone who would like to participate. Interested parties can sign up for our email updates.

We will reveal more information about upcoming features and abilities during our Kickstarter campaign. We will talk more about our NPC life simulation engine, ridable animals, our animal wellness system, mermaids, and maybe even a tamable dragon. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, we will continue expanding the world of Farm Folks by adding new islands and places to visit, more NPCs to meet, and new things to try in co-op mode.

Players can join our Discord community and follow us on Twitter to stay connected with the latest developments.

Alex Koshelkov, Video Game Director and Founder of Crytivo

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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