Squad and Post Scriptum teams talked about the opportunities Squad platform gives to the game developers who want to build their own successful project.
Squad has a modding platform based on UE4 that can be used by the game developers to create projects of any scale and distribute them afterward. Post Scriptum is one of such games that started as a Squad mod and grew into a successful title. We’ve discussed with the Squad and Post Scriptum teams what opportunities and possibilities the platform gives to the developers.
80.lv: Guys, could you explain to us how your platform works?
Zak, Squad Programmer:
Our modding platform is a mix of engine changes to UE4 and a custom plugin we wrote in-house. This plugin provides the ability to play and create mods. To create mods, you open the Epic Games Launcher and download our SDK. You get the whole game and all of the Unreal Engine (excluding C++ source code), you basically can create anything. Plus there’s a lot of excellent examples of Vehicles, Weapons, etc.. that we already use in the game. We encourage people to download and get involved. We have an awesome discord full of devs and modders who are all willing to help you out.
80.lv: Could you tell us a bit about the way these mods are being made? Are there any ways you influence the way mods are being produced? Are there any legal requirements that control the modding development?
Adam, Technical Artist:
Modders can download our SDK via the Epic Games Launcher. From there, they have access to most of the same tools we do, everything except the core engine source code. This medium allows modders to create a large selection of mods, including maps, game modes, whole new factions, and more. Even total conversion mods are possible, anything they can dream up really. Then modders can upload their creations directly from our SDK to the Steam workshop, sharing them with anyone who wants to play them. The broadness of the modding tool’s capabilities has been significant, as it gives the opportunity for much more to come out of it than just simple gameplay tweaks.
We keep a close eye on the creations our modders are producing. We give feedback on their creations and suggest ways to improve them as well. Often, the quality of their assets is an excellent indicator of their talent, and we’ve hired numerous people from our modding community over the past year. When a modder is hardworking and sets a consistent track record, it’s a kind of insurance that working with them goes well. Seeing a functional team working on a mod is also a good sign, and makes us more eager to work with them to realize their ideas.
We have a Discord in which most of the modders of our game congregate to discuss techniques, share resources, and show their progress. We keep an active presence in this Discord, often helping modders understand how our systems work and getting feedback from them. This communication tool allows us to encourage modders to create the kinds of mods we’d be interested in taking on board, and it gives us a good pool of talent to draw from for hiring or publishing. Having this line of communication brings the mods and our core game up to higher levels of quality and helps us to keep the modding community thriving. To add a personal example, I came from the modding community. I initially started modding as a way to vent my creativity, but after joining the community, I quickly got to know a few of the developers and seeing them so active in the community fueled me to work more on my projects. They helped me create much better maps and mods, and eventually, the team brought me on as a mapper. Having that experience has helped push me to do the same for other modders, and even the senior developers on the project have come from modding formerly with PR, so many of them feel similarly as well. Modding can be a fantastic gateway to more significant, more serious projects.
The rules are that there should be no ripped assets and no copyright infringement, as well as keeping the mods within Steam’s guidelines for appropriate content. Other than that, modders are free to make whatever they like using our SDK, so long as our assets stay within our game. Allowing modders creative freedom is very important to us, and we feel it’s one of the reasons that projects like Post Scriptum can succeed.
80.lv: If someone is to start their own game project, not just a map, but a project they wish to grow into something bigger, will you be ok if they use the Squad platform? How would that work?
Dustin, Designer and Community Lead:
As a company with a modding background, it only makes sense that we want to continue to support teams that genuinely want to create something unique. If there is a team that wishes to take their project to the next level, they show passion, skill, and initiative; it is entirely possible to work with us to realize their vision. An example of this would be Post Scriptum. They came to us with the desire to create their mark in the FPS space using our platform. After months of working with them and seeing how serious they were about creating their game studio, we ended up becoming partners with them to help publish their game.
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
Start of the Project
80.lv: Guys, you’ve made quite a stir with Post Scriptum! How did this project start for you? What made you decide to build your own game?
Thank you! We are happy to finally have the game out so that people can enjoy it.
Post Scriptum didn’t even have a name when it first started as a merge between “Project Reality: WW2” (an add-on for a BF2 mod) and “La Vie de la Liberté” (a mod for the game Squad). Initial talks were amicable and swift. Daniel (PR: WW2) and Romain (La Vie de La Liberté) shared a lot of common interests and were just 2 people who wanted to make a tactical WW2 shooter that has never been experienced before. There wasn’t any kind of long history that led us there, it was a full month of pre-planning on standardization of production, strict requirements on recruitment and developing a dynamic hierarchy. That also included keeping the project’s existence well under wraps. After that month things were moving at a very fast pace and it went even more smooth than we expected.
We wanted to stand out from the modding scene to have enough attention and respect to be able to have more people helping out later on. Now it’s fair to say that we got a lot more than that in the end.
80.lv: Could you talk a bit about the way you’ve started with the first prototypes? Why did you go with Squad and not another platform? What made it so good for modding?
We started as a modding project for the game Squad because we saw a lot of potential in it. Not only in the development of the game per se and professional background of its team but also the modding tools and how much it allowed us to expand from its core framework. Offworld Industries preached how modding was important for them and how they wanted the community to be actively engaged, so we also came to the conclusion that modding support was thought out for the long term. It was the most logical choice. After all, the genre of the game was on a similar platform to the vision for PS.
Initially, we had a few assets that were created for “La Vie de La Liberté” (and later updated). The methodology that followed was led by Romain who established an effective production pipeline. Essentially he signed up for a repository and made sure that there was a consistent method in the execution of our artistic assets. Since the SDK wasn’t available to us until months later, we used UE4 to test our art assets and whatever coding John could muster at the time.
80.lv: As we understood you’re quite a distributed company with people of different levels: artists, modders, developers. How do you all communicate and work on your ambitious project?
The whole team works remotely from all over the world. We start work from 9 am until 6 pm local time for each. Most of the team is located in Europe which makes synchronization rather easy and we treat it like a physical workplace environment. Essentially you have to be there at that time and fortunately work ethic has never been an issue with the team. Everyone makes sure that they are delivering their working hour and often go beyond that through their own accord.
We use Discord for communication, whether for meetings or being in contact with the community. So far it’s fair that the application hasn’t let us down once. It’s a very effective and cheap tool.
In the very near future, the office of Periscope Games in France will have conditions to allow the team to re-allocate. Although it might not change much in delivery, it’ll prove to be more effective time wise. Every member of the office will be in direct contact and will be able to pinpoint their issues, solutions and whatever work-related much more quickly than through text or webcam conferences.
From Mod to Big Project
80.lv: How did you jump from a Squad mod into building the self-sustaining 3D project?
Our drive to stand out and be able to be professional minded as far as we could for a modding project made the guys over at Offworld interested in what we were doing. There wasn’t a peak interest or a deal offered abruptly. We were in communication with the Squad developers who were following our development closely and we took pride in that. We didn’t think much of it until Post Scriptum materialized to its initial form (in the reveal announcement) and we understood there was something special there. Fortunately for us, so did Offworld Industries not long after. Even then, it was a build up to get to a discussion in which this could be commercially viable. It was a natural process as far as negotiations go. Informal talk for the most part, although of course, it got increasingly more important over time.
Those are the main reasons why we started modding in Squad in the first place. Those same reasons are not far off as to why we decided to opt for Offworld Industries to be our publisher. I think this comes down to a recent trend of the original game’s publisher investing in a talented modding group. We knew at a certain stage, a bit after the project’s reveal, that we had the talent to aim higher and expand the scope of the project. More resources would mean a better game in the end and our ability to turn a passion into a full time paid job.
80.lv: How many of these assets did you build? Did you work on the production of each asset as well as vegetation? What were the challenges of going from a 3D mod to a game in this aspect?
It’s fair to say that a loose estimation of slightly over 90% of the art assets was made by us. Some assets belong to Offworld Industries, mostly props, and foliage. We did have an account with Speedtree and some of the results can be seen in-game but it’s an ever-changing process. We can’t call ourselves experts on the matter but I think what we have has sufficed.
Having said this, we are experimenting internally with the addition and tweaking of already existing foliage models. We’ve been also doing some trials with a new shader and ground materials (along with lighting and water shaders). It should give the game a great new and much-needed facelift.
I could say that technical challenges are rarely new, they just increase tenfold once you transition to a professional environment. What comes around that is new and that you need to learn fast is a plethora of fields that don’t come with modding. I’m talking about longtime bureaucracy, marketing, and even public relations. Although all of these seem common sense to handle, it might be a bit daunting for a small indie-sized team like ours.
80.lv: With Squad, what were the biggest points for you in favor of this platform? How did you build these amazing mechanics and integrated the network code?
One of the bonuses of using the Offworld Core (from Squad) was that a lot of the base level stuff was done. A template is a good word for it. Things like teams, squads, basic game rules, ballistics, vehicle functionality, etc. were all in a pretty solid state. This allowed us to layer functionality on top of those things to customize them to our vision, as well as add our own complete systems, for example, Offmap Support and Commander.
When adding new features we usually come up with a rough design of how we want it to work and how the players will interact with it. Then we implement that rough design, see how it plays, and tweak it from there until we like it. During this tuning phase, the art team will usually start working on the feature to make it presentable. After the art and tuning are done, we test the feature until we are sure it works how we want. If we are satisfied with it then the feature is done.
As for networking, it has to be considered very early in the design. The code has to be designed to be able to be networked and to make sure the clients have all the data needed to keep them in sync with the server. All the important logic – ballistics, spawning, anything that affects gameplay – must be run on the server. The results are then sent to the client, or calculated on the client and then checked against the server depending on the kind of logic. Take for example the commander’s airstrikes. All the relevant parameters are collected through the UI on the commander’s client. Once they hit accept those are sent to the server which spawns the plane and the route the plane will fly. The plane then moves on the server which is updated on the clients, spawns its payload, and flies away and eventually despawns. The payload then impacts the ground and the server calculates any damage to entities in the radius and the clients spawn the FX and sounds.
80.lv: What way did you utilize photogrammetry in your process?
Photogrammetry was used mostly on our uniforms. The process was pretty straightforward and we used two techniques based on what was available to us at the time.
For example, the British 1st Airborne Division uniform was captured in a French museum in Brittany, they gave us access to their entire museum and allowed us to put the clothes on our custom made mannequin. We scanned the tunic, trousers, and even the shirt separately. This allowed us to achieve great visual fidelity, but it’s also interesting to know that the uniform in the game was actually used during WW2.
We used the software solution called Photoscan to compile all the photos into a pretty detailed point cloud, some uniforms like the German or the US Airborne required some color trackers on the jacket to help the software since there was no camo pattern on it. We used a blue screen behind the mannequin to detach it from the actual background. We also used a custom turntable that rotates in the padding of 5° to get a full 360 of the uniform at 3 different heights.
When the point cloud is generated, the software generates a 3D mesh with a very high density of triangles, we decimate it in software like ZBrush or a retopology in 3dsmax. We then go back to a very traditional pipeline of normal baking/albedo baking from the high res mesh.
Using this method was faster and cheaper than doing it all manually and also allowed us to purchase uniforms and gear that are now displayed in the office.