“The battle for resources in the near future pushes the frontlines further than ever before!”, yells the back of the box of Frontlines: Fuel of War! “The War of the Future begins today!” – sounds great! Let’s check it out!
Many of my students ask me, “How do I get into Games? Specifically, how does one go about getting into the Video Game Industry?” Every time someone asks that, somewhere, an angel loses his wings. There’s a lot of different roads one can take, but the one I always recommend first is: Make a game yourself.
The amazing group of artists and programmers that started Kaos Studios in New York City certainly paid their dues – they modded a popular game (Battlefield 1942) and it became as popular as the original game itself. This group loved games and had an unmitigated passion for it. Not only does that make for a great working environment, but an unforgettable time spent creating content with great friends.
Frontlines: Fuel of War started out as a game called Global Combat. I remember seeing the posters around the studio with a geared-up grunt in next-gen weaponry that looked very similar to the soldier at the end of years of Frontlines production. I also remember not really liking the subtitle: Fuel of War. Besides the fact it’s another “OF” title (Call OF Duty, Legend OF Zelda, Gears OF War, World OF Warcraft… you get the idea) – I just didn’t see how marketable a game with Fuel in the title could be. Would gamers really care about a story revolving around gasoline?
Then again, what’s in a name? The multiplayer of this game was a run-and-gun riot straight out of the gate. Early in development, we actually had an upgrade that allowed someone detonate a nuclear bomb and wipe out half the entire level. Gameplay mechanics aside – every time that sucker went off, the whole studio would cheer. Not sure why it was ever cut.
I came from the Advertising & Design field when I first applied to Kaos Studios – which can serve greatly if you’re placed in the User Interface role. This is when Macromedia (now Adobe) Flash was still big, so it was real easy to prototype animations without the hassle of getting it in the game build (especially when there WAS no game to put anything into yet). To the left is one of piles of Heads-Up Displays I found in my design archives. This one was called HUD26 Electric Smurf. We had so many designs for HUDs that we started identifying them with crazy things like Cookies & Cream, Cracked Halo or Mint Delight.
Like most studios, they gave me an initial, pre-hiring test: write up what a possible UI might be like. Later I found out that most people with this test just write up some paragraphs of ideas and submit, but I was naive so I created full animation and sound on a static, military-like backdrop. Don’t judge too harshly – I did this test in about one or two days and knew nothing about nothing!
Pretty soon we had the team fleshed out and were well on our way. I had more than a passing interest in 3D animation at the time, so during my lunch hours I would make little 3D scenes with 3DS Max. My very first attempt was to model a French Bistro (rendered with Brazil, if anyone remembers that software!). Perhaps someone saw my interest, because I was also lucky enough to be given the task of creating some pre-rendered battle-map cut scenes that showed the progress of our “Stray Dog” heroes as they marched through the battlegrounds (see below). This was before the days of a render farm, so I have fond memories of coming in during the weekend and rolling around score of different computers like a madman to see which computer had finished which frame sequence to get this all out in time!
The game was finally released February 25, 2008 in North America (worldwide a few days later). It received solid reviews- no one expected it to burn up the charts or redefine the industry. As the first release from a start-up studio who all had to learn as we go, I’m very proud of Frontlines and miss the great band of Stray Dogs who spent countless days and nights putting it all together. It did exactly what it was built to do – give the player a fun, entertaining time with others. There’s thousands of video games out there – and hundreds of first-person shooters, but I always likened us to elves… all we have to do is try to make the coolest toy under the tree.
Kaos Studios is gone now and the elves have all wandered off, but for this brief moment in time, it sure was a blast. Thanks to all the amazing artists and programmers, and especially the 4 o’clock Starbucks Crew: Keith, Bill, Chuck, Dave and Richard. Keep that caffeine up and those actions clear, fellas!
To see a more complete Video Game Design montage reel, check out Compilation Reels.