Wasteland 2 is turning out to be an interesting project indeed. Not only was it one of the first of a new wave of videogames funded via Kickstarter (funded $2,933,252 of a $900,000 goal), but developer inXile entertainment has now also reached out to the 3D community to actually help create the game.
The unique crowdsourcing experiment has seen inXile partner with engine developer Unity, posting concept art up on the Wasteland website and asking the community to turn it into 3D models for use in the game itself and sale on the Unity Asset Store. We spoke to inXile environment artist Koy Vanoteghem to learn more…
Wasteland 2 was a crowd sourcing experiment from the very beginning, starting with our Kickstarter campaign and continuing with our efforts to connect with our backers to obtain feedback on some of the things we were thinking about and developing. So, extending that concept to the production side of things was an idea that evolved pretty quickly. It was also very much a result of our relationship with the folks at Unity, and our use of their Asset Store in our pre-production phase.
Of course, we are a very small team with limited resources, so buying props from the store was great for those assets that were not context specific. However, as we came out of our prototyping phase and started looking at our schedule, we saw an opportunity to improve the quality of our production of environments. So, this is one avenue we are pursuing in that effort. After all, we know that many of the backers we already had made connections with through the Kickstarter campaign are industry professionals, so an opportunity to pull that kind of talent into the process seemed too good to pass up.
However, by and large our greatest gain from this is a much stronger connection with our target audience and our established backer community. Honestly, with each step we make in this direction we continue to be amazed at the level of enthusiasm and support. Time and time again, the vast majority of our fans love the idea of continued involvement and feel like this project is as much theirs as ours. Failure or success aside, this experiment has been great for us in our effort to get more involvement from the community.
Contributors that have their packages selected as part of this process maintain complete control over their property. InXile is simply the first purchaser in what we hope is the beginning of a sustainable revenue model for those that are interested in that component. As part of this selection, each purchased package will receive a special badge that they can apply to their asset in Unity’s storefront. As a fan, this might represent a trophy of sorts, or as a regular content creator, an endorsement from a team of professionals. But there’s also a binding aspect to the badge that can draw attention to a prop as it resides alongside the other Wasteland 2 contributions. Getting noticed is often the hardest part of marketing a product. If this helps even a small amount for a participant, then it’s a good thing. Additionally, of course, they will also be listed in a special section of credits in the published title for their contributions.
For those who submit but do not have their packages selected, they also maintain complete control over their property, and, of course, are still able to sell their assets on the store. They won’t get a badge or an opportunity to link to the project, but I think, more importantly, the opportunity to participate in the process in-and-of-itself is an educational experience that’s worthwhile. With the Crowdsourced Unity Assets Forum we set up to address any technical questions and requirements, participants also have had the opportunity to post their Work In Progress and get feedback from other contributors. So far this has been a great help for many that are new to the idea of producing content for a project such as ours. Any opportunity to get a little bit of insight as to what a studio looks for from content creators, in-house or otherwise, is something many artists haven’t had before. Whether a student new to the field or a fan that’s thinking about getting into the business of game production, this could be an opportunity to learn a bit about what is involved. And it should be said, just because we don’t purchase/endorse a package doesn’t mean its sub-par. There are many reasons we might not be able to use a particular piece. Were pretty up-front about the system, so no one should have their feelings hurt by any means, and we’re always happy to comment as to why something got kicked out.
Very few limitations were laid out for the participants, and quite intentionally so. By providing just a loose thumbnail concept and a few small notes on tri-counts and map sizes our hope was to encourage creativity and imagination in the artists involved. The freedom to work in a way that artists are already comfortable and successful with seemed paramount given our rapid turnaround time and the knowledge that many contributors would be doing this in their precious spare time.
In the end, so much of the style unification in a pipeline comes down to things like lighting, post-processing and material set-up anyway… and that’s true if you’re contracting with specific individuals or a prop house. Obviously, we need the assets to be game ready in that their geometry and materials need to be within reason. But our expectation was that, for 90% of the people getting involved, there was already going to be some understanding of what is typical for our industry. For those unfamiliar we set up the aforementioned WIP forums and there was a good level of encouragement and feedback to get them up to speed. For those that submitted assets that fell outside the norms, we then have an opportunity to go back and forth with them to get their work in the right zone if they’re interested in pursuing that.
Ultimately, we will end up tweaking a prop here and there… a shift in color, a geometry reduction for performance reasons, or rearrangement for variety. We know that upfront, and so we didn’t feel the need to push a specific agenda when it came to prop creation.
Our biggest requirement that we set forth was that artists use their imagination. I know that probably sounds stupid, but honestly, the last thing we wanted was for a contributor to submit a model that exactly reflected the initial concept that we provided. A huge part of our aesthetic in Wasteland 2 is the notion that just about everything in the wasteland is reclaimed from old. Enough time has passed that very little still functions in the way it was capable of pre-apocalyptically. Residents of the Wasteland must improvise if they hope to survive and thrive. As such, we wanted to plant a seed in the mind of the artist as to what the prop was ‘supposed’ to do, and provide guidelines as to its scale and scope in the game (we do have to actually make use of it after all). But creativity of the contributor can and should mimic the creativity of a Wasteland inhabitant. We asked that they refer to the thumbnail for scale, assemblage, and level of wear-and-tear. Outside that, we want to be surprised.
To further the importance of this sought after quality; we have every expectation and intent to purchase multiple versions of any given prop. There are certainly a few things that are so unique that we only need the very best and brightest one. But for 99% of the requests we make, we want enough variety in their construction that we can buy several copies, and use that variety to make our game feel as diverse as possible.
It’s difficult for me to imagine an earlier time when this could have played out the way it did. I don’t want to overstate the importance or impact this endeavour has had on our production, or will have on the industry. That has too much time to prove itself out, and we are really just breaking into this kind of approach in this industry. But outside the not-so-simple mechanics of this kind of collaboration, I am not sure it would have been possible to reach so many people around the globe; to communicate with them; to have them participate so quickly and effectively, it’s amazing really, and I won’t hesitate to say, damn cool to be a part of.
To counter-argue… yes, of course, indie teams have been making games through collaboration for a long time. Hell, that’s how the industry got started in the first place, right? And yes, artists have been peddling their wares on the net for a long time. Unity’s Asset Store is not a new thing in that respect either. But I think for the first time in a long time, developers see an opportunity to compete with the larger studios in the market through standardized tool sets and broader understanding of goals and requirements that weren’t traditionally available outside a large studio environment.
All that being said, no one should confuse this effort with an opportunity to find cheap labour. This has as much to do with connecting with our fans as it does acquiring much needed assets. Truthfully, the time it takes to collect, review, fix and modify these assets is not insignificant. And that’s on top of the time taken to set up the system and reply to the onslaught of email and forum posts that poke holes in all your best laid plans of clarity and simplicity of directions.
So far, has it been worth it? Absolutely. Has it been without complications? Not a chance!
We are looking to possibly expand this strategy to other disciplines, though it can get a little complicated when addressing issues of animation or scripting or design. I had it a little easier with the environment art. A prop is a prop. It sits there for the most part and as long as it’s pretty, most of everything else can be fixed. But the Asset Store seems to have a good bit of variety when it comes to disciplines, and I know we have taken advantage of some scripts and FX packages available. So who knows, maybe my co-workers will see how much shorter my task list has gotten and get on board…but I’ll have to keep secret all the time I’ve had to put into reviewing submissions.
Are you interested in being featured in Wasteland 2? Check out the most recent batch of concept art to be modelled over at the Wasteland 2 website. Be sure to show us your creations!