The story of CubeZ
CubeZ began as a prototype in 2013 to see if a game mechanic had that fun factor. The idea was formed around the zombie genre in video games not exploiting true zombie lore; ‘destroy the brain to kill’. The original prototype consisted of cubes that were shattered in Maya and exported with no clean up. The result was a fun little mini game where low poly zombies were spawned and tried to eat you, where you could shoot away pieces of them, revealing the brain, where you could get a kill. It was highly satisfying because it took a little bit of work and a little bit of skill to off each zombie.
After getting the prototype together, I began sending it around to friends to gain feedback. “Quirky”, “odd”, “strangely satisfying”, were a few comments made. While working on a different zombie game, strangely enough was called Zday(actually conceived prior to the creation of the DayZ mod), a fellow developer decided to take up arms and help push CubeZ out of prototype stage. I originally created CubeZ using Unity 4 and all scripting was done in PlayMaker and also used the UFPS plugin. You can still play an early version of the game on Kongrate, I suggest turning your sound volume down or off.
CubeZ transformed very quickly into a multiplayer FPS. Players were able to see the damage done to them through two iterations of the GUI. First we started with a simple 2D version, then realized we could replicate the 3D character at a very low cost. All animations, facial expressions, and damage were displayed in the GUI now and the result was fantastic.
To start growing a multiplayer community I put the game on Kongregate again, very soon our game was hacked / stolen / hijacked by another gaming site, I believe was in Poland. On Kongregate, we consistently had about 40 players always online, peak hours around 80; but the Polish gaming site was raking in a monthly player count of 40,000 unique players! Although we weren’t benefiting in certain aspects from this, we were overjoyed that people were playing so much. We later then put the game on GameJolt and managed to sit as the #2 Action game on the site for a couple months.
After moderate success from an Indie-GoGo campaign, Unreal Engine 4 launched, and after a little debate, I caved and we switched engines. Started from scratch. This was good and bad. Good because we were able to do new things, create much more customized systems, the visual fidelity of the game was increased, and physics reliability went up. A few drawbacks from doing so was that we lost players that fell in love with the way it was in Unity, the style of the game completely changed and went from that “quirky” feel to somewhat menacing and some said “creepy”, learning a fancy new engine slowed development but only for a short while.
After gaining an entry into Steam Greenlight and into Early Access, we pushed development as hard as we could. Sometimes working 14 hour days, creating and refining models, character rigs, animations, maps, and mechanics every single day. The idea was to replicate what we had done in Unity but in Unreal, somewhat ditching the pixelated look and utilizing the PBR shading power we had now, among other things. With the proportions looking like babies and also bulging eyes and smug look, the result was nothing short of creepy.
We pushed through another alpha with that style and then I had to make a decision; adopt and refine this current proportion style or attempt to go with another style. I couldn’t stand to work with that character anymore, so I created a new rig and new character model, adding in extra bones for the hands, and feet, and also rigging the jaw appropriately. This created a little more work in terms of creating gear for the models, but overall the decision was a huge success. Hands actually grabbing weapons, gear fitting the character’s body more naturally, animations were much easier and more fun to create. The game overall now had a better feel.
Development progressed over the next year, I offically formed “imaekgames” into a company called Imaek Limited. We went through ups and downs like all good indie developers do; it can be discouraging to work on something so hard and so intensely and to not be met with instant success. Racing through your mind are so many excuses and faults to find for the WHYs, but at the end of yet another development cycle you’re left with something. Experience.
Most every day for the past 4 years has been met with some sort of challenge to overcome, a constant barrage of challenges in fact. It’s daunting, frustrating, and outright difficult most of the time but the overall value is nothing short of intrinsic. I have a degree in Computer Animation; something that was merely a nudge in the right direction; the hands on experience that I’ve gained through the struggle of developing a game from prototype to release has pushed my thinking and developmental skills further than I thought possible. Briefly touching the Unreal Editor in college, I had no idea that I would come to know two game engines inside and out. While CubeZ may not appear to be a success by any measure of economical metrics, I can definitely magnet this one up on the refrigerator and be proud of what I’ve accomplished.
I hope one day to dive back into the development of CubeZ. Since the Unreal Engine has updated ten-fold from our last beta release, the source is, to my best knowledge, somewhat unrecoverable. The game is currently in a very broken state and our SVN backup has seen better days, the team decided to pursue alternate career paths, but the hope has not completely diminished. One last reboot anyone?