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Wow, amazing job, really inspiring !
Where do i send gold, i want the game!
We’ve talked with Daniel Lackey, Jed Lackey, and Joel Hornsby from The Skookum Arts about the production of their unusual platformer game The Pedestrian. It’s an incredible blend of 3d environments and 2d-gamepla, hidden in the signs scattered around the world. A very brave idea and an interesting technical case. We talk about the development of the game and the way you can mix different virtual realities with Unity.
Joel: The Skookum Arts team consists of our artist Daniel Lackey, programmer Jed Lackey, and designer Joel Hornsby. We’ve been friends since we were kids, and we’ve always had our particular interests. Daniel had always been an old school paper and pencil type of artist, but Jed and I were more interested in 3D modeling. We satisfied that interest by teaching ourselves Blender and 3Ds Max to create fun little scenes and school projects. Then the interest in game development was born. Our first projects/prototypes were laughable but I know they shaped our team to what it is now. We had an MMO set in a subdivision, steampunk-viking dungeon crawler, and an arena shooter played with micro tanks in a literal sandbox. Daniel learned the skills necessary to create game ready art, and I adapted my skills to work on the design side through Unity3D. Jed always had an interest in coding so he fell right into the last piece of our team composition. We are completely self-taught and have no work experience in the industry. But that hasn’t weakened our zeal, we really want to create something bigger with our sort of grass roots, small-town team.
Daniel: The idea didn’t come from a single event. Our idea came through a series of iterations that no longer reflect the final product. It all started with the idea for a character. Being a big fan of character design, I would always try to challenge myself to learn tricks and techniques used in the industry. They say that a good character design can be recognized by their silhouette. Think of any of the iconic character you know. Sonic, Mario, Pac-Man, even characters like Mickey Mouse, or Iron Man. Their readability is still strong from just their outline. Even from far away. With that in mind, I realized that the only character that could be more well known and recognized than any of those characters is a man we all see every day. The generic human that stands by all the bathroom and elevator doors: Mr. Pedestrian himself!
I started to build a story in my mind about what kind of man he is. What is his relationship with the female symbol like? Do they love each other? or is their relationship strictly professional? 2013 is when we started our long road of weird ideas trying to make this into a game. It was originally a 2D game called Bathroom Break where the goal was to get to the next bathroom before you wet your pants. Unsure on how well that idea would work out and lack of peers to critique it, we pivoted toward a puzzle platformer style. After spending a long time learning level design, better programming, and visual storytelling, we became discontent with where the game was headed. Not that it was bad. We simply created high expectations for what we could do as a team. We knew what each other were capable of and we constantly challenged each other to improve. Bathroom Break at the time was not a project that met our standards. Instead of dropping the project we wanted to transform Bathroom Break into something we were proud of and would love to play ourselves.
When working on materials in the Blender, I found it fun to play around inside of a node based system. Figuring out new ways and combinations to solve things with nodes was a fun challenge! Together we came up with a way to merge it into the game as a core mechanic. We made a few paper prototypes of the idea and suddenly we were having fun playing! It was easy for people to learn the mechanics yet challenging to solve. Even though we had to basically scrap and alter some of our previous work, we were happy that we found something we all enjoyed and was unique. Not long after, we decided to change the name to The Pedestrian.
Jed: We were introduced to Unity by a game development friend of ours way before we started with The Pedestrian. Later when we decided to create a commercially viable game, we chose Unity because of familiarity with the tool, the ease of use for collaboration with our team and the ability to build our game to almost all platforms available. The other tools we use consistently in development that we have fallen in love with over the years are Blender, Photoshop, SVN, and FMOD. Daniel has always used Blender and Photoshop which he swears by and uses from concept to final art piece. SVN has turned into an indispensable tool for keeping everyone up to date and working together efficiently. Another tool we recently started using is FMOD which we have found to be wonderful for giving almost full control to our musician/sound designer, Logan Hayes. The tools we use are very much driven by our budget, art, and the experience we are trying to create.
Combining 3D Art and 2D Elements
Jed: When we started creating The Pedestrian it was a full 2D game that had a drastically different art style/direction then it has now. In an effort to make the game visually interesting, we decided to add a parallaxing background with multiple layers. Still not happy with how generic our game looked, we started experimenting with Unity’s 2D sprite elements intermingled with 3D art, rendered with a perspective camera. Very excited with the result we continued by adding camera movement that reveals the 2D signs from different angles to better concrete the player in our world. Next we added the mechanic of walking between these signs in order to keep the player in control at all times. We usually start the level creation process by creating the 2D puzzles with varying mechanics and difficulties in our editor that we store with no particular world location in mind. As we are building out the 3D environment, we place “Level Markers” in suitable puzzle locations, that we then assign puzzles that fit the difficulty gradient and mechanics we want to teach the player. After the puzzles are placed we connect their exit/entrance doors together via splines and non puzzle transition signs. The goal is to blur the line between puzzles to create a seamless flow of puzzles that the player can experience, not interrupting the player with level changes.
Building 2D Elements
Joel: One of the first things we worked on was a level editor. It has modular pieces of the sign that we can drag and drop to build levels. While our level editor is barebones and truthfully kind of ugly, it still fulfills our needs. Some of the real struggles comes from the creation of the puzzles themselves. We are constantly sketching and prototyping ideas that we have for interesting interactions between different elements. I’m sure many other puzzle creators have mentioned before, it’s a great deal of trial and error with constant tweaking. But we couldn’t only look at the game through the lens of 2D. Continuing what was mentioned before, we added the 3D into the game because we were not content with how our game looked like every other indie platformer. We wanted to differentiate ourselves from potential competition by adding the 3D world into the background. Though this was a very simple addition, it completely evolved how the game functions. We added puzzle mechanics that interact with the background, moving and reconnecting signs, and having the narrative portrayed through indirect communication. The goal was to fully realize the potential of the 3D world and not just have it as a pretty background.
Content Production Pipeline
Jed: The content of our game consists of the 3D environments and the 2D sign pieces. We start off by “blocking out” as much content as we can in our 3D environments, just in case something needs to change to better fit the narrative/puzzles later on. We then chop up the area into small chunks (Unity scenes) which are saved to separate files, we usually have 3-6 3D content chunks per area, one chunk that contains the puzzles and “dynamic content”, and one that contains the audio. Having multiple files gives us the to ability to always be working on our respective areas without fear of conflicts in SVN. After an area is blocked out we place as many puzzles and dynamic content as possible to finish fleshing out the area. Once we are happy with an area, Daniel will build the assets in Blender, and textures them in Photoshop. He then imports them into Unity and places them in their correct locations as prefabs.
The 2D content is created by Daniel in Photoshop as new mechanics are introduced and implemented by myself into our puzzle editor. The puzzle mechanic ideas are created as a team then passed off to me to implement, once they are up to par, Joel takes those mechanics and creates new puzzles in our editor. Lighting and camera work is the final step, which is usually done by Daniel who has a very particular goal for each area’s color palette, camera framing and composition. The Pedestrian was a very ambitious project for our first commercial release, especially since we are very new to video game creation. As a result we have put in 3+ years of hard work and are constantly learning new and better workflows and processes. We try to be as efficient as possible while still retaining the detailed, no-compromise design that we want.
Probably a question a lot of indies have: how do you promote a game like this? What is the best way to reach the press, how do you promote the title and how are you going to sell this project?
Daniel: I don’t know! In the spirit of transparency, I think that’s why most indie devs ask that question. We aren’t marketers. We all just want to make a good game that “sells itself.” From reading countless articles on that particular subject, we’ve focused on three sections: Get eyes on the product, Create relationships, and Build a community.
Get Eyes On the Product
Its seems the easiest and most cost effective way to do this is through social media. The more platforms you are on the better. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr, IndieDB, YouTube, and Twitch. Unless you have a large marketing budget and you can afford ad campaigns, this is where people will first see your game. Always try to have a “call to action” when showing off your game. If someone sees your game and they are interested, it should be effortless for them to find out more and are directed to joining your community.
Build a Community
This is one obviously the hardest. We have yet to fully achieve this, but from seeing what others have done, you need a central place people can talk about the game and get together to share their thoughts. There are some really good forums out there that indies use, but Reddit seems to be the most popular when it comes to accessibility for gamers.
We’ve done this through conversations on social media and email, in person through conventions and gaming events. Or to save time just live in LA or Seattle and make friends with thousands of industry pros! Connections can go a long way. Don’t be a weasel though! Don’t take advantage of someone’s friendship just because you can grab onto their industry influence.
Concerning how we plan to sell our game: Steam has always been the main goal. Now, we are working with Playstation to get it on the PS4, and we have recently been given the opportunity to work with Oculus. We can’t promise anything because none of the platforms other than Steam are concrete, but I really want to play this in VR!
If you want to keep up to date on our progress, follow us on the socials. We are on all of them!
Thanks for the great questions!
The Skookum Arts‘ Team:
Daniel Lackey, artist
Jed Lackey, programmer
Joel Hornsby, designer
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.