We had an opportunity to visit the Craneballs studio and talk with the main graphic designer of Planet Nomads – Petr Růžička. He is known for working in 2K Games and Fanatic Games. He is also one of the many developing Mafia 3!
On Planet Nomads there are working two main graphical designers and two other guys partly. So in total the team consist of four persons, we can say.Hello Petr! It’s nice to finally meet you. I can see that you all love dogs :-) (images are around). Can you tell us something about you? What are your hobbies, what games do you play, what do you like on Craneballs…?
Hi! It’s quite simple. I moved to Craneballs because I love independence, creativity and don’t want to be one of another 160 guys in the studio. I like sandbox games like Rust, Minecraft and of course as many other games like League of Legends from time to time. And I play on drums and do beekeeping.
That’s quite interesting :-) But let’s get to the game. Why did the studio start to create a sandbox and not just an RPG or something?
Our co-founding fathers came with the idea. Kubat loves the space theme, and wanted to create these beautiful worlds for quite some time inspired by his childhood hero Tim White, Cefo loves mini coopers and tuning, so he added the building part, and Martin combined the two ideas into a sandbox game. Once presented to the rest of the team, we could never go back and we started designing the specifics.What engine do you work in? You say publicly that you use your own editor. Is it true?
While developing Overkill 3 we started using Unity, which was a huge improvement from our previous games that we’d created from scratch. We knew right from the beginning that we wanted to develop Planet Nomads in Unity. Our programmers tried other possibilities such as Unreal Engine but we stayed faithful. Learning to master a new tool would require way too much time, with small benefits gained. Instead we decided to spend the time on actually developing the game. We then created complex tools within Unity for procedural world generation. Our programmers named it Sandy, short for sandbox. They wanted a female name at all costs. We were pretty close to naming the whole system Pamela.
How long did the development of Sandy take? How many guys were working on it?
Development of Sandy dates back to February 2015, a couple months after we started thinking about Planet Nomads. It all started with independent prototyping of each element - terrain generation, flora spawning, physics and also building, which later evolved into the building Editor that is available on our homepage for everyone to play with. Once we tried everything out, discovered what works and what doesn’t, we threw everything away. A few months of work. Then we started with a clean slate, this time with a clear vision of what we want and how to make it work.
Sandy as a tool is improving each day and will keep doing so during the whole development cycle of Planet Nomads. We have a huge list of functions we want to implement and we are making them step by step. Each function expands the possibilities of gameplay and it will be partly on our community to decide which direction we should head first. As of now, Sandy is developed by a team of six, but the number will grow to speed the development as much as possible.
Can you compare Sandy to any other current engine?
I wouldn’t compare it to any existing engine, but my guess is that every procedurally generated game is based upon the same principles we are building on. We had the opportunity to take a look under the hood of independent TerrainEngine, which we planned to use for development. While it had some nice features, we would have needed to rewrite so many parts to match our expectations that we rather ended writing our own.
So basically Unity is the base engine and everything is built up upon it?
Exactly. It’s enough for our needs.
What is the situation with the development of planets and biomes? According to your information everything is procedurally generated. What rules are used for the worlds creation? Does the player start always randomly or is the first planet fixed?
Worlds are created procedurally, but that certainly doesn’t mean it is happening randomly. First thing that happens while generating worlds is placing biomes with regard to poles and equator; deserts, forests, jungles, prairies or icebergs are just where you would expect them to be. You won’t see any awkward desert-to-snow transitions. Biomes themselves are defined by the designer, who decides what should grow and live there, and determines its survivability aspect (in a sense, this is its difficulty level). These inputs are later generated and randomized by seed, making sure every generated instance of a biome is different from the others.
What about other planets and the possibility to travel between them? What rules are implemented here?
Traveling between planets will be implemented in two iterations. In the first one players will be able to fly and reach the orbit. Once there, they can choose which planet they want to go to on a solar system map. Second iteration will offer free space flight with everything there is to it. This iteration should appear in a later update of the early access. We’ve decided to go with this iterative route because space itself includes a lot of issues we need to address and this requires time. On the other hand we don’t want to cut out all the gameplay possibilities other planets offer to our Early Access players.
How many biomes do you plan to implement?
I don’t have a solid number, but dozens have a nice ring to it. At this point we have so many concepts and materials that we have to reject some of them. We are trying to cover as much biomes as we can - from earth-like to truly alien worlds.
Is there any numerical limit how many planets and solar systems will be available?
This question is tied up with the space question and how we are going to approach it. We have some concepts in our mind, but it’s too soon to say anything specific.
What about physics? Will the planets have different rotation time, different night and day cycles? What about seasons? Will you plan to make it according to the distance from the star and its rotation?
Good question. Our planets have different overall temperature levels based on their distances from sun. This also affects the day and night length with some having more day light while others are left with longer nights. We are going to simulate varying day and night cycle - as in our reality, winter has shorter days and summer shorter nights. This changes won’t be only visual but will affect everything from biomes to animal behavior.
How many animals and fauna in general are already finished? What about the animal variants, colours, pigments? What the players could be looking forward?
Half a dozen animals are currently finished, but this number grows quickly. We are in the process of creating 3D concepts, which are just a step away from finished animals. Talking about a specific type of animal - take godillo for instance - we are trying to make every individual unique. To do so we can change scale, colors and hues, pigmentation and body patterns. This is defined by a set of rules when the animal is being born to make sure there are no tigers with white fur and blue stripes running around a rain forest.
How much time does it take to prepare one animal? And I mean not just the graphics, animations, textures and colours but also setting up the behavior rules?
It usually takes from one to three weeks, depending on the complexity of the model, textures, animations and behavior of the animal itself. There is also the game design part - how much HP an animal has, damage it inflicts and its typical behavior and special characteristics. We try to give each animal a specific attribute - the godillo mentioned before cannot be harmed through its head armor, so players need to find its weak spots. I have prepared something special for another animal. It will release an EMP which disables nearby electronics. There are many possibilities for engaging animals, and we are finding ways to make the stay in Planet Nomads as interesting as possible.
How does the reproduction process of fauna and flora work? You say that predators will eat others so they will need to reproduce somehow. And what if the player will kill all the predators, will there be an invasion of herbivores? Or on the other hand if you kill all of them will the predators starve to death?
We have a system of nests in the game - each animal species is tied to a nest, which determines the number of animals, reproduction speed, territory and so on. If the player threatens the nest (by their presence or even attack), nearby animals will come to defend it. Once the nest is destroyed that animal species will spawn no more. This might be a good solution for bloodthirsty predators but could become a mistake for peaceful herbivores that are the main source of food for player.
We want certain animal interaction among species (predator - prey relationship for instance), on the other hand we need to realize that Planet Nomads isn’t a planetary ecosystem simulator. Time and the community will tell how deep down this path we’ll go…
The environment and animations look wonderful. But what is the situation with construction? It is clear from the published trailers and videos that players will use blocks and should be able to build almost anything that he could imagine. Is it true? Or what are the limits?
Player is only limited by their imagination and to an extent by the available building blocks. But every day we are amazed by the creations our community is making in the Editor. They are using the blocks in ways we haven’t foreseen and we’re truly happy for that. Even at this stage it shows how much fun Planet Nomads can be. This means a lot to us as developers.
What is the logic behind all of this? It must be incredibly difficult to prepare and make functional prototypes of all the blocks and have a bulletproof logic that it will really functioning as intended?
Piles of sketched papers, long meetings and litres of coffee. Before we even sat down to our computers we had to think everything through. But even doing that doesn’t guarantee that you covered everything, and some design flaws only become apparent later in the game. That is the reason we spent a few months prototyping as I mentioned earlier. These few months have saved us years of delays in development and bug fixing in the future.
What is the situation with building and creating things? Will it be possible to create high-tech electronic items connected together with other machines, batteries, doors, weapons etc.? Can we look forward to a game where everything will be though through to the tiniest details where new mining machine will not move if there will be no wheels which could carry the weight, motor of a needed power, everything connected the way it is necessary and in the end having a cab and a steering wheel inside? What is your aim? How profound should it be to make it enough difficult and interesting but entertaining at the same time?
We are using our own physics system (no cool name for this one though) to make our vehicles behave as close to reality as possible. You need to keep a few things in mind when building a vehicle, like where to place wheels, axles, engine efficiency and others. Vehicles can tip over, tilt to one side, have a bad traction or be too heavy to move at all. Mass and center of mass is very important here.
Later in the game we would like to give layers a chance to build more advanced vehicles and automated systems. There will be pistons, joints and other functional blocks that can be controlled directly from the cockpit. For instance it should be possible to create an automated mining rig.
We can go really in-depth with creating vehicles. But this isn’t our sole intention. We want to find an elegant balance so that both hardcore and “weekend” builders can enjoy the game. Remember, Planet Nomads isn’t only about building, but also surviving and exploring unknown planets. Every aspect of the game should support the other two aspects, not cannibalize on them.
How many building blocks do you have in the game right now?
Around 120. And of course these are just the basic ones and many more will be developed in the future.
You say that it will be possible to explorer and search for new monuments and treasures all over the world. How is this created? Where did you get the inspiration?
Monuments were introduced by Honza. Not sure where he got the idea from. When I first heard of it I immediately thought about The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke (later Space Odyssey). A group of astronauts on Moon spotted very strange reflections on the horizon that made them curious. So they went and explored. This is the feeling we want our players to have - curiosity, craving to explore. What is the purpose of those monuments? What’s in there? Just wait till you get there. We don’t want to spoil anything.
What else would you like to tell us about the game creation, graphics, animation or simply what the readers could be interested in?
I’d like to clarify that the stretch goals at Kickstarter is rather a roadmap. Even if we will not get enough money we plan to implement them. So please do not think that if we will not get the finance then we will end just with the basics. We want to make the best game we can and it means implementing all the goals we have presented to you.
For this last question I want to share something that has nothing to do with Planet Nomads. It’s a prediction of sorts. Some fifteen years ago - I didn’t know I’d be developing games back then - the gaming world was shaken by a little country somewhere on the border of western and eastern Europe. The Czech Republic. Titles like Mafia or Operation Flashpoint proved that we are not some backward post-soviet country, but a cradle of competent people that can make great games. It’s been a while and even though the fame faded a little, we have still been making good games.
Today, fifteen years later I feel we are on the verge of something great again. Titles like Space Engineers or Kingdom Come: Deliverance now dictate the standards of games to come. And many more promising Czech games are in development to continue the set path. At Craneballs we hope that we can add something valuable to this heritage that will help get the Czech Republic back to the top. This is only possible thanks to our community and fans who are endlessly supportive. Thank you. There would be no Planet Nomads without you.