Lemma Interview: Voxels For Running Games

Evan Todd the creator of indie FPS-parkour game Lemma shares his thoughts on game development, voxels and marketing.

Evan Todd the creator of indie FPS-parkour game Lemma. Evan has created the game almost by himself. It all started as a student project and later propelled into a separate game with an interesting plot, voxel-based engine and lot of cool gameplay mechanics. We’ve talked with Evan about his work and the production of his new indie game.

About Evan Todd

I’m from Columbus, Ohio. I made my first game at age 10 or 11. “Ninja Wars” started as a web page on my dad’s PowerMac 6500. I realized I could make a table of images and swap them out using Javascript to create a rudimentary local multiplayer deathmatch. I’ve been making games ever since!

About Lemma

Lemma © Evan Todd, 2015

Lemma began life in October 2010 as a cartoony third-person game called Parkour Ninja (noticing a trend here?). I worked on it all through college, graduated in 2012, and continued over the next year in my spare time as I worked at an iPhone game studio. In 2014 I quit my job to spend the next year on the game full-time.

I’m young and I have no debt and no family to support. I’m also fortunate enough to have a skillset that’s in high demand, so if necessary I can return to the workforce at a moment’s notice. And I saved up enough money to live frugally for some time.

I wanted to facilitate player creativity through a more engaging interface. Most games that offer creative building features just have you click to place items. I wanted the player to create things on the fly by running, jumping, and climbing.

Lemma is something like an alternate dimension of reality. It’s based on the basic concepts of quantum physics, namely that light and matter are equivalent on some level, and that both can be modeled as waves. “Lemma” itself is a mathematical term referring to a small theorem used as a stepping stone on the way to a larger proof.

About Development

Lemma © Evan Todd, 2015

I wanted players’ creations to fit into the world. With a realistic art style, it becomes more difficult to convincingly spawn a model into the world and make it fit in. With voxels, you can create structures that seamlessly blend into the environment.

The entire game, including the level editor, is written from scratch in XNA, which was Microsoft’s framework for Xbox and PC games back when I started this project. These days I recommend Unity or Unreal because it does most of the heavy lifting. On the other hand, I enjoyed nearly complete control over every aspect of the game code.

I hired a number of people to help in my weak areas, mainly audio and animation. Jack Menhorn and Ashton Morris did the sound design and music, Naila Burney did the voice acting (her voice acting debut!) and some sound design, Antonio Yáñez did the player animations, and Josh Coffey helped with the level editor and Steam integration.

About The Visual Style

Lemma © Evan Todd, 2015

I arrived at the visual style over a long process of trial and error. To avoid visual noise and clutter, the textures had to be plain and simple, which forced me to come up with other ways to add interest. Mainly lighting, vivid color schemes, and volumetric effects.

About Evil

I always enjoy vaguely defined, abstract horror. I knew from the beginning the enemies would be abstract shapes. I wanted them to blend in with the environment, so many of them are constructed of voxels. Others actually tear out pieces of the environment and fling them at you.

Kickstarter and Steam

Lemma © Evan Todd, 2015

There are a lot of reasons why my Kickstarter campaign failed. My video presented the project humorously rather than professionally, and I think people didn’t have confidence that it would actually happen. I’m also not an adept marketer, and I don’t enjoy marketing at all. Halfway through the campaign I ran out of steam and went back to working on the game instead of promoting the campaign.

When Lemma passed through Greenlight, I decided to finish the project despite the Kickstarter failure. I shrunk the budget, saved some money by creating the player model myself, and took on some side contract work to pay the bills.

The game has sold almost 800 copies in four days on Steam. Press coverage and user reviews have been mostly positive. Valve has an automated process that gave Lemma a certain quota of front page impressions, but the game has not been specially featured in any way.

Lemma © Evan Todd, 2015

The players have been fantastic. I spent this week listening to feedback and patching the game, and almost everyone has been incredibly patient and supportive. Many players contact me directly on Steam with feature requests, bug reports, or just to say that they love the game. A number of them are routing the game for speedruns and uploading strategy videos to YouTube.

Plans for the future

I would love to port the game to Mac and Linux, but it would be a significant effort. We’ll see if it’s possible. In the meantime, hopefully I will be able to start work on my next game project.

Evan Todd

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