More Dead Wake Post Mortem Stuff

In my earlier Dead Wake lessons learned I mentioned that I would share some more lessons from the project.

Here’s some more of them:

Pay for the stuff you are actually going to use
Dead Wake was a game where I did actually put quite a bit of money into. Engines, tools, programming aid, art, animations. There was quite a bit of stuff where I put money. In retrospect I can say that there was some stupid purchases (like the fact that I paid for some animations that never got in the final game – that’s just plain silly and the lesson is “pay for the stuff you actually aim to use”). But the good thing is that I chose to *pay* for stuff.

Many, many years ago I tried to do everything on my own since “it was too expensive to pay for other”. Well – I figured it out that instead of trying to do everything by myself, I should – like you know – get other people to do stuff they are good. And focus my own efforts on something else.

Indies shouldn’t do “realistic” looking art
I think one thing that made the project take longer than I anticipated, was the fact that I chose a “slightly realistic” (as in comparison to for example “cartoony”) approach. Okay, those low poly zombies look low poly, but the dark atmosphere in game and all suggested that the stuff needs to look pretty realistic.

I feel that artwise this caused some issues. People expected “more” from things. Shadows needed to look really good, and barrels needed to look barrels. And getting such art might not be so easy… and the fact that AAA studios are doing ultra-good looking art (just look at Alan Wake screenies for example) it means that I’m sort of a competing in a league where I shouldn’t be.

It is somewhat “easier” to go with perhaps more cartoony look or something like that. If gamers see a cellshaded cartoony indie game they say “cool!”, but if they see “realistic” looking game that does not match AAA games they say “this looks crap”.

(Okay, they didn’t say that to me – but I felt that I was somewhat competing with Left 4 Dead art for example. Naturally my game has tons of better shadows, but hey – maybe Valve is learning.)

Sticking to what is important
There were many type of suggestions from the Dead Wake community members. One very early suggestion was “bazookas”.

It was pretty easy to say “No.” to that.

The game is not about bazookas. Play quake live if you want bazookas. You ain’t going to find them from my game.

Making it moddable (by use of scripting)
One of the very early approaches for me was that I made my own system for doing “templates” in the game. Each object has a template: weapons, zombies, objects… and all are simple text files that can be edited in Notepad or something.

I initially thought that this would be for modding, but later realized that this actually was really fast & easy way for me to edit numbers. I could change different values and test them in the game pretty easily. I didn’t need to alter game code to be able to try different weapon damage values.

Consider leaving controversial features in the game
One of the features that I accidentally had programmed early in the game (something like in version 0.5) was that the guy could shoot himself.

Yes, that’s correct. I had made it so that bullets hit any person, so you could shoot yourself in the game.

I don’t know many games where you can do a suicide, and considered leaving that feature. Some community members thought “it was hilarious”. I even considered making it so that the player could get some bonuses for shooting himself with the last bullet. I wasn’t trying to promote suicidal behavior, I was simply thinking how they do this in zombie movies. Sometimes the people in zombie movies leave one bullet for themselves. So, in a way it could fit the theme.

I didn’t leave that version there, but in retrospect I think it could have got a pretty good publicity & made a “nice” viral marketing thing.

(In the end my technology change so that the feature was “automatically gone away” and it would have required work to code it in the game again. I suppose I thought it wasn’t worth it – and perhaps some people could have found it disturbing. Who knows, maybe in Dead Wake 2…)

Multiplayer was there too soon
I started the game with multiplayer in my mind. I think that I was trying to test the multiplayer option perhaps too soon (and was too low-level in it) and this cause more of those “engine dev” instead of “game dev” stuff.

Ditching stuff (like multiplayer)
The good thing was that after using Leadwerks engine for some time I decided to “drop the multiplayer for now”. I thought that it would require quite a bit of work and that I would do it later “if I had time”.

Well, I didn’t – so it was good that I decided to leave it later.

I think multiplayer is another feature that would greatly add interest in the game, but it would have been simply too much work at that time – so it was good that I decided to focus on other things.

Have a great art pipeline
I had a horrible art pipeline. Leadwerks has many good features, but the art pipeline isn’t one of them. The engine uses its own internal models (which is good for efficiency) and there’s tons of plugins available for exporting yor models from pretty much any format… but for me this took tons of time to do.

I bought some art packs, but needed to do all sort of pipeline work to get .X files to become working .GMF files in the game. It’s can be a huge timesaver to have a good art pipeline available.

Over and out
That’s it for now.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. Oh great post mortums btw, thanks for sharing! The suicide things sounds pretty funny. I like the way you cut features though, and paid for art. All very sensible things to do.

  2. Of course I can’t find it in google, but I remember coming across a theory during my computer graphics courses that delt with the subject of “realism in graphics”.

    The closer to a realistic level the artwork gets, the more our eyes detect any single irregularity or deficiency.

  3. I would have put back in the suicide possibility. There are too many mainstream games on the market, and no games like Duke Nukem 3D anymore.

    I think games must be fun to play, and one good way to have fun is to be get surprises in the game.

    Modding is not very useful for games. Although it might be of interest to some people, real gamers don’t do that. However, a well structured game is automatically moddable, so I wouldn’t on purpose prevent it either, I just wouldn’t make any additional effort to make it moddable.

    Multiplayer can be very simple, even a simple chat line is enough to make it a multiplayer game (you can always say in the storyline that the people are in different realms of reality, and can’t see eachother, but they can still talk to eachother via metaphysical radiowave transmissions).

    Actually I find the art pipeline in Leadwerks Engine one of the most easiest I have seen. I make most models in 3DWS, so it’s just: save, drag&drop over converter tool, ready! And the cool thing is, it works with any 3D modelling program, so I don’t need any special plug-ins for any 3D modelling program I use (3DWS, Blender, UU3D, Milkshape3D, …)

  4. Thank you for sharing your findings. I find the suicide ‘feature’ hilarious. Too bad that it didn’t make it into the end product.

    But you are right, sometimes people can be very mean with things they consider “controversial” and take very seriously things they shouldn’t care about. So you probably you did the right thing to leave that out. That’s the cost of doing business, you sometime have to leave some things out to please the crowd.

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