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!
BSK games is a small and very active Ukrainian studio, which develops small projects for PC, using Unity. Most recently this company announced SkyShip Aurora – a very unusual looking aerial-battling project, which shows giant sci-fi AI-controlled battleships high in the sky. The game looks very interesting and seems like a brighter and more detailed version of Dreadnought. Senior game developer Kostiantyn Dvornik was kind enough to talk with 80.lv and discussed the life of indie studio in the modern game realities.
BSK games has a pretty long history. It all started back in college, when we were discussing game ideas. Each member of our team was (and still is) obsessed with games. When I was a kid I’ve been working on a game Awaken for ZX-Spectrum and contributed to the e-newspaper ZX-Time. We kind of went our separate ways after school. I went to work at the great company Program-Ace in Kharkiv (Ukraine). But after 2 years left to start my own studio with my college friends. There were only 7 people and we really didn’t have much money.
We got some funds from our close friend Arthur Bohdanov, who owned an outsourcing company and wanted to make games. There was a lot of brainstorming and slowly we began to come up with new ideas and working prototypes. A lot has changed since then: we’ve got a new investor, and some members of the old team left. Right now there’s only five people in our small kingdom, but we still keep making games.
Anoxemia was a very interesting project for us. It was sort of a mix of various ideas we had at the time. We knew from the very beginning that our game had to have a scuba diver. At first we aimed for a smaller mobile project with pretty straightforward mechanics. But the idea seemed a bit too simple, so we wanted to go deeper. I did a bunch of prototypes and one of them grew into Anoxemia.
We’ve used this particular visual style in our game, because it’s cheaper to do. There was only a couple of people working on visuals for our game, so we just couldn’t risk doing something more expensive. We’ve approached the development very carefully and planned everything out according to the resources we had at the time. We couldn’t go over budget.
The style we chose actually defined the horror story, cause you can’t really come up with anything cheerful when it’s all darkness around you. We did add some nice elements to the picture to make the world smoother: our animation is very smooth and detailed, but it was expensive to produce.
For our second project we wanted to do something completely different: a bright game with an open setting. We wanted to get up high in the sky. That’s how we created Aurora – a game, where you control an AI of huge aerial battleships. The idea is not to give the player direct control of the situation but rather him solve problems one by one with indirect approach. We also integrated a lot of procedural elements into the game to make users come back to it from time to time.
One of our biggest influences is obviously Dreadnought. While developing our sci-fi bnattleships we’ve taken a lot from the look of modern warships. So gameplay elements also influenced their look: our vehicles can move only inside a closed field, supported by beacons. Only some of the biggest ships can move on their own and therefore they have a completely different design.
Unity was my engine of choice, because I really know this technology very well. All those holy wars between Unity and Unreal fans is all really a show for newbies, who don’t really know how to build games. We can’t just drop Unity and start studying Unreal. It requires time and money (especially if you are running a business). There’s no secret engine, that will make the game for you. You need to work on it on your own and try to do the best you can.
Unity is quite enough to build SkyShip Aurora. We’re not really aiming on building something as ambitious as Skyrim. We’re going step by step. Unity is constantly progressing. Unity 5 was a great help for making Aurora. We’ve also used a couple of interesting plugins. Ultimate Rope was great to create chains in the game. Ultimate Fractrung is used for object destruction. And that’s about it.
I’m actually not a huge fan of plug-in usage, since not all of them are created by really good programmers. Sometimes they fail to work on various platforms. At least Unity guarantees smooth work on various devices. There’s more risk with plugins. NGUI used to be pretty unstable and you had to rework a lot of stuff there. Now NGUI is integrated into Unity and it’s being tested by countless Unity QA specialists. It’s great to see the engine becoming more and more advanced.
It’s not really difficult to organize the production in a small team, the real problem is knowing how to do it all. You can easily develop a couple of games as the same time since you’re often waiting for art or some other work to be finished on one game, and you can try the other game instead. There’s a lot of great tools now and they’re great, but people now expect more from games, so it’s not that easy to master all those tools to make better projects. To put it plainly, a couple of years ago everyone was satisfied with Mario and now people demand Call of Duty-level of visuals. Nobody really cares about the budget you have.
Promoting Indie Games
To promote the game you have to use all the tools at your disposal: Twitter, Facebook, your friends, Google Ads, forums, publishers. Even your Skype status can be helpful. If you’re working with Steam, you definitely need to work with someone like Indiegala, someone who does great bundles. It’s important to communicate a lot, to make new friends and acquaintances. Be everywhere you can. Conventions, trade shows and even small events help to promote the game a lot as well.