As part of my new initiative to raise the profile of independent video game developers, I most recently got in touch with an outfit known as Zenrok Studios, who are currently working on a sci-fi top-down adventure game entitled Wormhole City. Heavily focusing on such aspects as exploration, combat, platforming and puzzle solving, the game was recently greenlit by the Steam community, and the studio have now taken to Kickstarter in order to gain the needed funding to bring the game to audiences some time in 2016. I had a few questions to ask the team at Zenrok regarding their experiences of developing the game and their experiences as a studio in general. These are there answers:
What were the influences behind Wormhole City?
Our ultimate influence is our ambition to make a sustainable career creating games that can be entertaining and somewhat educational. We love when video games can help make math more fun, expand your vocabulary, introduce you to an interesting historical event, concept, or trivia that might benefit you a little in school or leaves you wanting to research things later. We’re big fans of games like Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, Explorapedia, and mainstream video game classics. There were concepts of Wormhole City being a sci-fi version of a few different public domain stories like Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels that we still hope to use.
What has the developmental process been like?
The development process has been a learning experience and a lot of hard work. We’ve worked with different game engines but Unreal 4 has been the best for us so far, the tools and possibilities out of the box are outstanding. Finding the time to try new concepts while making progress on our game can be difficult but we’re improving every day. Focusing on gameplay mechanics will always be ongoing but we’re nearly finalized with the way we want Wormhole City’s story to be presented and what environments we’ll be including. At one point Wormhole City was going to be ‘Mechalympics’, a cross between the G Gundam anime and Rising Thunder video game except with more sporting events. Given our resources and that 3D modelling is one of our weakest aspects as a studio, making a dozen or so robot models, pilots, and animations would’ve taken away all of the time for the rest of development. We tried to do the same futuristic-Olympic concept with cars but we wanted to include more elements to our game than racing. After a lot of deliberation we decided an adventure game would be perfect for an attempt to include a small part of all of these aspects. We really started to favour a top-down view that also helped with the shortcomings of graphical assets we’ve purchased throughout the years.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
The goal we decided on was late 2016, but depending on what we want to add, we could release somewhere closer to 4 or 5 months from now. We don’t want to rush our project but a lot is also depending on our financial situation during development. We’re on a shoestring budget but companies like Mixamo that offer free 3D resources have been an amazing help and we couldn’t have gotten this far without them and all the 3D asset stores and artists available for developers.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
The most exciting aspect of development so far is seeing progress, making a new mechanic that we successfully implement, and seeing the reactions from people who want to play or contribute to our game. It adds a lot of motivation to our work and encourages us that we’re making something that people would be interested to play and see from all parts of the industry. Getting greenlit on Steam was a big deal for us and adds more fuel to finish this project.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Finances and exposure have been the most challenging aspects of development. We’ve taken time off to focus on Wormhole City and if we’re unsuccessful we’ll need to start treating this project as a part-time hobby to make ends meet in our personal lives. We spent the majority of our time building a foundation of gameplay mechanics and not enough in making a community interested in our idea. As an extremely young company with no major past employment or integrity in the gaming industry, this is a bigger obstacle than we thought and can only be solved by creating a game that is engaging and fun to play at this point.
How well has the game been received so far?
We’re confident to say the game has potential and we’ve received a lot of positive input. Feedback from play testers has been very constructive in improving our project. We need to work more on the direction of our presentation, it’s hard for players to parse the story with what we have at this point and it is something we’re working on currently.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Plans are for a PC release with Mac and Linux releases shortly after. Console releases would depend on the success of our game or the amount of funding available to accomplish a port, most likely beginning with PS4, then Xbone, and NX if possible.
What other forms of science fiction influenced the creation of Wormhole City? Were there any films or TV programmes that inspired it’s development, or any famous sci-fi books or authors?
We have been influenced by all kinds of sci-fi media from books, comics, cartoons, and movies. Off the top of our head, Star Wars, Valve Games, Blizzard Games, Westwood Games, Starship Troopers, Studio Ghibli, Blade Runner, Beast Wars Transformers, Fifth Element, Outlaw Star (and a majority of sci-fi/CN broadcasted anime), Mad Max, Gargoyles.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Your programming skills are the number one factor that will affect the game and story you’ll be able to create. If you get stuck on a problem make sure to Google it and you may find an answer and learn faster than trying to discover the solution by yourself. Be a contributor to many communities and networks with like-minded individuals. It’s important to make time to decompress from working. If there’s a developer out there with a specific question feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where about on the Internet can people find you?
We can be found at zenrok.com and @zenrok_studios on Twitter.
Do you have anything else to add?
Thank you for your hard work in keeping https://scousegamer88.wordpress.com/ running and the opportunity you have given us through this interview. I hope you have a prosperous 2016 and that all goes well for your goals and ambitions.
Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Team at Zenrok Studios for agreeing to this Q&A session, and to also thank them for their kind words about the blog. As a developer, they clearly understand the importance of positive feedback regarding their work, as indeed I do.