Looking into Game Development: The Story Behind Project Oxygen

Looking into Game Development: The Story Behind Project Oxygen

Far From Home studio team talked about their new IP Project Oxygen, the current state of Polish video game market, and the main hurdles new studios usually face when working on a new project.

In case you missed it

You might find these articles interesting

Introduction

We’re a collective of devs from Poland who met and have worked together for years on various AAA and indie projects like Dying Light 1, Dying Light 2, Dead Island, The Medium, Chernobylite, and Divinity Original Sin 1 and 2 to name a few. Each of us has at least 5 years of game dev experience in their particular field of expertise which we've used in small 5-10 people teams right through to massive 300+ strong AAA behemoths.

There are also four key individuals who lead the dev team and are the heads of business, production, the creative vision, and marketing for what we want to do with Far From Home. First, there is Andrzej Blumenfeld, our CEO and a gameplay lead. He worked at Techland on the Dying Light series as a lead gameplay programmer and then as a creative lead at Artifex Mundi. He is so to speak the heart of the whole team and his input was crucial to forming our studio. Then we have Wojtek Liwanowski, our producer who was previously a senior producer at Techland (Dying Light 2) and Artifex Mundi (Hot Shot Burn). Next is our Creative Director Tomek Wlazło who worked in creative and lead roles at both Techland and Artifex Mundi. And finally, there is Pawel Jawor who is responsible for marketing and communication and previously worked at CD Projekt Red, Larian Studios, and Techland. 

We’ve known each other for quite some time now and have worked together on several projects. Eventually, when you are in the “trenches” for so long with someone, you bond as friends but also spend a lot of time discussing the industry, video game production, and business side of making games. Amongst all these talks, one question was asked numerous times - what would we do differently and why? We’d all been part of great teams with phenomenal success stories but we’ve also seen our fair share of bad decisions being made at the cost of the team and the game. So eventually we decided to stop dreaming and finally take that serious step and start our own studio. We’d amassed so much knowledge that we finally felt we had what it takes to cut it on our own but it’s worth noting the timing also turned out to be just right.

A Boom in Polish Video Game Market

In the last few years, the video game industry in Poland has absolutely exploded – there is a massive spotlight on the great studios like CDP Red, Techland, 11 Bits, and Bloober Team – but this is just the top of a very long list. Yet just under a decade ago, most Polish developers were struggling to simply get noticed outside of Poland. And there was definitely very little help locally. Video games were perceived as childish with very little ground for global business by Polish mainstream commerce and government entities. Fast-forward to today and companies like CD Projekt Red are valued higher than the biggest government-owned companies. Polish games are recognized globally and sell phenomenally. These games are considered as a benchmark by the most recognizable studios around the planet. Government subsidies and EU support are constantly pumping funds into our gaming sector. And most notably, this surge and acceptance brought a lot of attention from media and investors. The market is now set up in such a way where getting funding from experienced and gamedev savvy investors is readily available. A beneficial and relatively easily accessible stock market now allows us to raise funds to create the budgets we need and still bypass all the hassles that come with things like publishers, crowdfunding, or massive bank loans. Even in the time of the pandemic, we were able to secure our project’s initial investors and still keep going with production.

Following New Ideas

As to what we want to build out of all of this, from the start we wanted to form a studio we would like to work in. Where all of the team members can greatly influence the games we are creating. Where everyone will feel comfortable raising a voice and start a discussion about what’s next. We also wanted to create games with a bit more meaning, not shying away from asking difficult questions. Simply to make people think while they enjoy themselves. Our first game, codename Project Oxygen, is a move into that direction. We hope it is a start. 

What Challenges New Studios Face

I think the challenges will vary depending on the team and the project but something I assume applies to a lot of teams are three notable hurdles that often need to be cleared all at the same time if not early on  - funding, people, and the idea.

We can start at the idea since that’s where most teams often start. I personally feel there are two paths the most successful devs take here. Either you have an idea that is so unique that it simply cannot be ignored or you take a very close look at the market and see where there is room to add or innovate. See what players want right now, what they gravitate towards and try to deliver something that is fresh but still very relatable and understandable to them. With Project Oxygen, we took the 2nd option where we spent around a year looking at the market, creating internal pitches and various prototypes. Once we found what we all saw had the best potential and really captured our attention as something still unique and creative enough for us to really make our own, we settled on it. We’ll also be focusing on having the game’s future development partly community-driven to ensure we can maintain that connection with the players and building what they want.

Then there is the funding challenge. Right now, there are simply so many teams vying for financial backing from the few available sources. But it’s not a lack of available funding. A colleague from a very big publisher recently told me the challenge is more about standing out among the crowd, being a team with an absolutely fantastic idea that deserves to be made, a proven track record, and the skills to actually deliver. Knowing this, we ourselves considered various financing routes – private investors, publishers, financial institutes, and so forth. We soon realized our best route to remain independent was actually private investors and later listing ourselves on the local stock exchange. Right now, in Poland, the market is set up in such a way where getting funding from experienced and gamedev savvy investors is quite readily available. It allows us to gather the kind of budget we need to be able to compete in the AA+ field, keep our IP, hire and retain talented devs, and bypass all the known hassles that come with things like publishers, crowdfunding or even bank loans.

And so what about this team that needs to deliver? Well, a lot of times people just think getting the best experts available is all it takes. Yeah, experience is valuable but you can’t just throw the best devs you can get into a room and assume it’ll work out. You need people who gel together as a team and that makes finding and then convincing them to join you even more crucial. We ourselves took the approach of making sure that the core team we knew we wanted were all pretty much ready for this leap. We’d all worked in this industry together so we knew how working together looked like and what each person was capable of. We’d been wanting to do this for a while but not until recently was everyone fully ready and onboard to take this next leap together. 

About Project Oxygen

Our first game right now is under the code-name Project Oxygen. It’s an AA+ scope, first-person survival game that we’re creating in Unreal Engine. It takes place in a ruined sci-fi Earth setting where a global ecological disaster enveloped the world and forced people into the sky. They created monstrous, makeshift concrete towers to rise above the toxic clouds and fumes below. This solution was always meant to be temporary with the goal being to regroup, organize, and find a solution to the disaster raging below. But it was too late and humanity failed yet again. Eventually, Earth was abandoned. Now hundreds of years later, Earth is still blanketed by a toxic barrier, but life and a vicious and newly evolved ecosystem lives and flourishes in our place. It’s then that you, a lone scientist, return to Earth on a specific mission. You have the looming empty towers above and the new, hostile world below which you will need to explore.

We’re putting a lot of work into creating tight and rewarding survival loops and all the mechanics that happily go with that – exploration, gathering resources, gathering information, crafting, and keeping your character alive. So in order to progress you will need to go below the toxic clouds and discover new forms of life, environments, resources, info, and also the remains of our own world.

There will also be an element of combat. The world below is hostile so you’ll need to fend it off, but at no point will we want the player to feel that a gun solves everything. You’re never going to be the alpha predator in this food chain. Rather weapons and combat will be for self-defense or last resort. We want to give players loads of other means to neutralize threats where direct confrontation can be very exciting and dangerous but not necessarily the best or only solution. This ties into our story that you are a scientist and not some elite trained killing machine.

And finally, we have our zeppelin. This mobile air-base is essentially your life-line in all this and the place you’ll be returning to after each major expedition. It’s your home and everything in between. It acts as your main source of transport. It’s where you’ll collect, store, and craft your resources. It’s where you’ll upgrade all your tools and tech. And the more you progress, the more modules you’ll be able to research and add to zeppelin, allowing for further progress in the game and story.

The Choice of Engine

Right from the start, we were planning on using Unreal Engine. It’s a tool many of us on the team have a good amount of experience with and recognize its power. We’re currently using UE4 but are paying close attention to what is being done with UE5. Similarly, we know and understand the value but also see the massive pitfalls that come with making and working on your own engine so that idea was pretty much tossed aside right from the start. At least for now as a small team. We want our current focus to be on gameplay and design and use the existing force and power Unreal offers.

And we’re already seeing the value of this engine choice. For example, since a big part of our game revolves around the player flying around in zeppelin, we needed to make sure we created an authentic-looking sky above the player but equally convincing and contrasting toxic clouds and dust below them. So we started experimenting with using Volumetric Fog. It’s a fantastic piece of tech that produces some amazing results, but mainly when the camera is within close range. Our sky, toxic clouds, and dust are elements the player will be seeing regularly and also at a distance, so we were constantly in doubt as to whether this was ever going to work for the scale we needed.

Then in UE 4.25, Epic added the Volumetric Sky and Atmosphere tool. And boy does it allow you to create some truly magnificent looking skies! We created a bunch of prototypes and eventually hit on a result we’re super happy with. And most importantly holds up at both long and short distance rendering. A potential downside though is that the results require quite a bit of computing power to keep up. Luckily, at the start of Project Oxygen, we decided to build mainly for the PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X, so right now we can focus on creating the results we want vs. worrying already that we won’t be able to optimize this. 

And pretty much the same story seems to be playing out with our cloud and dust issue. In the recent release of the UE4.26 update, Epic added the Volumetric Clouds tool so now we're doing similar experiments and prototypes to see if this will help solve the issue just like the Volumetric Sky and Atmosphere tool helped us. We’re already seeing very promising results and feel like this is probably how we're going to proceed.  

Are You Hiring?

We are, actually. We’re currently closing out the final stages of having the “core team” all in place where we just have 2 more major slots to fill – lead artist and 3D environment artist. In June, we secured a major round of funding that allows us to fill these slots now and get them in as part of the team. 

People can visit our website to read more about the positions - but in summary, the core team members aren’t just people who work on the game, but rather individuals who become co-owners in the studio and steer its future. We’re offering artists roles that will let them lay down the fundamentals of our studio, which is strongly driven by art and visuals along with strong gameplay. And we are aiming to create an environment in general that we wish was something we had more of in our previous studios. We offer total openness to remote work, flexible working hours, autonomous decision making, a crunchless working environment, and actual influence on the company and the direction of its projects.

Wojtek Liwanowski, Producer and Co-Founder

Pawel Jawor, Brand Manager and Co-Founder

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

Keep reading

You may find this article interesting

Join discussion

Comments 0

    You might also like

    We need your consent

    We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more