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Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Keith Newton, CEO & Co-Founder of I-Novae Studios, spoke with us about his studio’s epic space sim that is currently in development – Infinity: Battlescape. He talks about overcoming obstacles and naysayers, and following his passion to get to this point, and how these events led to the I-Novae Engine, a completely revolutionary game engine built just for this game. Keith ends our interview with some wise words of advice for those who are thinking about creating their own game.
About Keith Newton
During a former life, I was listed in the United States Marine Corp Reserve. My final deployment to the Middle East was in 2009 and at the time I was working as an engine programmer at Epic Games. I worked at Epic for 2 years, left for 1 year to the Middle East, and came back (and then quit).
Now, for my day job I’m a consultant at a financial services company here in New York City. Essentially what I’ll do is, I’ll work for a year or so, run out of savings and then I’ll have to get a job. And Flavien Brebion (President, CTO, and Co-Founder) will run out of savings and have to get a job. So we’ve kind of been hopscotching a little bit. He’s been working almost two years on Infinity: Battlescape unpaid at this point. Kimmo Kotajärvi (Programmer) has been doing about 6 months unpaid.
How Did I-Novae Studios Get Started?
I had been aware of Flavien working on a game called Infinity: The Quest for Earth for sometime at that point. I had followed it through college with considerable interest. I even considered working on my own prototype during my spare time to do something similar. When I came back from Iraq and took stock of the situation, I was basically reacquainting myself with everything. I got back in touch with the project and it didn’t look like it had gone very far since I left. I was thinking to myself that this guy is very sharp, but it seems like he’s struggling with the product to market strategy, let me contact him and let him know who I am and let him know what I’m about to see if I can help.
I emailed him, and initially he was quite skeptical as I was some random guy off the internet. So I suggested that I take some of his videos and screenshots to Game Developers Conference (GDC), I’m going to quit my job, and go to GDC to see what people say, and if it goes really well I’ll fly out to Belgium and have a chat with Flavien about starting our own company and figure out how we would do this. That’s how my involvement began, and that’s how we started as a formal company.
Were There Any Obstacles in the Way?
In 2010, before Kickstarter existed, we were taking stock of our MMO and trying to raise money for the funding. And another thing going on in 2010 was the big web mobile social craze. So when I was talking to the private equity guys, they would ask me if we were web-based, and I answered no. They then asked if we’re going mobile, and I said no. Then they just said goodbye, which was incredibly depressing. In fact, at one point I was on a call with a game-based investor in Seattle and I gave him my pitch and he said, “Dude, what you’re trying to do is too hard, you should just quit.” Thank goodness we didn’t quit though. If we had listened to that guy then this incredible piece of technology, I-Novae Engine, that is going to power this incredible game would not exist.
I-Novae Studios Is Full of Industry Veterans Correct?
We mostly have industry veterans, but we do have some I guess you could call them “hobbyists”. The thing about most of these guys that started off as hobbyists with the project, actually ended up getting jobs in the industry. Most of the team has been working in the game industry in some capacity. We do have one artist, Gene Darlak, who is a mechanical engineer and does CAD stuff for aerospace parts. I think he brings a unique perspective to the team. Obviously we’re building spaceships in the game, and his day job is designing aerospace parts. He’s a mechanical engineer but he builds these 3D meshes and applies those two things to designing ships. Actually, he built the cockpit featured in our Kickstarter video.
It’s quite unique. How often do you see a random group of people from all over the world come together through the internet and produce something this incredible? I think this is borderline unheard of. This is high end tech that does amazing stuff and no one else can do stuff like we do, and hardly any of us met each other. We recorded the video in Helsinki this last June, and that was the first time almost everybody met each other. We’ve done this whole thing remotely and it’s been quite the challenge. People have significant others and that’s put quite a strain on relationships, and of course there’s balancing day jobs as well, but we pulled it off.
Can You Talk About The I-Novae Engine?
The I-Novae Engine first started off as a hobby project by Flavien and that was in 2004. There’s a misconception in the media that we’ve been working on the Kickstarter and prototype for 10 years. They publish things that seem to suggest that, but that’s actually not the case. It was just a one-man project done for fun, which lasted for 5-6 years. On the engineering level it was just Flavien, until I joined in 2010. Even then, this was something we worked on in our spare time while we worked full time. My time was split between talking to publishers, gaining resources, and working on the engine.
Building high-end engine technology is a tremendous effort. So two people together, we equaled into one full time person. And we did that for another couple of years, and we finally had Kimmo Kotajärvi come along and now he’s been with us for about a year-and-a-half. So this is the third programmer to join. The engineering effort has basically been people working on this in their spare time. Despite that fact, we have created something amazing. This engine represents the biggest leap in game technology in 20 years. If you look at mainstream games today, they are built on the same techniques that built DOOM in the early 1990s. At the core of today’s engines, it’s quite similar. For example, CRYENGINE 3 I think its limitation is 3 km x 3 km, and they are level based. You’re essentially building these 3D blocks – this is the same for Unreal Engine, CRYENGINE, and Unity – and these 3D blocks get unloaded and another one gets unloaded if it was already there. That’s how levels work. Levels from an engineering perspective work by and large the same way as they look to a player.
We have broken through that barrier with the I-Novae Engine. Not only have we removed the need for loading screens, other than at the very beginning we have an initial loading screen, but we have done that with environments that are of an unfathomable huge size. At that point, there’s nothing you can’t do from a creative perspective. Whatever type of game you can possibly conceive of, you can build with our technology. We’re building the technology so it can be applicable to a whole range of games whether that be an RPG, FPS, RTS, anything.
What Motivates You to Continue Pushing Forward?
I’m sure it’s different for each member on the team, but we had people who kept telling us to not give up. The people that pledged our Kickstarter said they would stick with us no matter what the naysayers say, and they did. It’s amazing. Some of these people stuck with us for 8 years. That’s just as crazy as the fact that we kept building it for that long. In our case, we were just working on it, and in their case they were just taking our word for it. In many regards, I consider this Kickstarter perhaps even more of their victory, than ours. They never lost hope in us. There were moments for the team when we would feel down, but we were able to look at the people supporting us and that got us through it. We were able to pull it together and make it happen.
This is a testament to the team. We’re spread across 5 different time zones, never met each other, and we’re all working unpaid for the promise of this idea, and the hope that we can raise enough money someday to build at least one game, so at least we have a chance. Where do you find 9 people who are going to do that? Where do you find a community that’s going to stick with you that whole time, I think it’s a very special project. It’s been a labor of love and everyone has sacrificed to get it to this point, and it can be tough sometimes, but if we didn’t sacrifice, it would have gone no where. It was all worth it in the end.
So Transparency Is Key?
We wanted to create realistic goals so we could be able to finish it and do it on time, and when we designed our Kickstarter, we wanted to be honest with people about what we could do with ‘this’ amount of resources in ‘this’ time frame. Some people were saying we should have promised a $10 million game even though our minimum ask was $300,000. Yeah there was that thought, but at the end of the day we felt that wasn’t honest enough. Maybe that makes us bad business people, but that’s the core of what we are. We want to be upfront with people and deliver a very polished core experience, that’s why we reduced scope. We want this to be the best space combat game people have ever played.
Do You Have Any Tips or Advice for Our Readers?
If you don’t dream big, you’re never going to make it. If you aim for the moon, maybe you’ll hit the upper atmosphere. And I get that it’s scary, but you just have to go for it. At the end of the day, I think people just build themselves a glass prison in many regards. In reality, no one really has as much security as I think they like to think they have. Just because you work for a big company, it doesn’t mean that company isn’t going to just turn around tomorrow and lay off ⅓ of its workforce. It could also be that that company has been making bad decisions for 10 years and suddenly disappear. There’s really no guarantees in life. In my personal opinion, if you approach it from that vantage point then it’s like, to hell with it, just go for it and leave it all on the table and let the cards fall as they may.
It’s easier said than done, but it’s a personal journey for everyone and I can tell you what worked for me. At the end of the day, it’s tenacity. There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. While every step of the way I have been convinced that what we were working on was truly special, there were moments where I wondered if I was just completely insane for putting this much effort, quitting my job, and putting my savings into the project. My parents thought I was crazy to some extent, and friends have expressed their concerns for me as well.
Balance your work life and still find time to do your favorite hobby, maintain a relationship, and work on your side project. It takes perseverance, and again, tenacity. There’s no easy way to do it. You’re going to have to be willing to endure a lot of pain and a lot of it is going to be lonely pain. There’s no one else that’s going to be able to understand what you’re going through and why, and no one is going to be able to help you with that other than perhaps the people you’re working with. It’s tough. All I can say is if you believe in it, just keep going and don’t give up. For Flavien it’s been 8, 9, 10 years. For myself it’s been 5 years, and for our art teams it’s been everywhere within that range. Keep on keeping on.
Is There Anything Else You Would Like to Tell Our Readers?
Those of you who have been with us from the beginning, those of you who were with us and then came back to us, and to those of you who are just discovering us right now, thank you all so much. Words cannot express the gratitude that this team has. This is a labor of love, we’ve all sacrificed tremendously to build this. We are 110% committed to making this the best game ever and we would not even have that chance without all of you… so thank you.