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Q&A: Faramix's Dehen On Indie Startups, UE3 Licensing

Q&A: Faramix's Dehen On Indie Startups, UE3 Licensing

October 29, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis

October 29, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis
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Although only formally incorporated in January of this year, independent developer Faramix Enterprises has moved forward quickly. Already, the company has produced a tech demo of END, its FPS title, and has begun talking with publishers and private investors to secure funding to ensure the game makes it further than said demo stage.

In early September, Faramix also announced its licensing of Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 for END. President and CEO Michael Dehen commented at the time that the game was being producing with “the vision of combining a powerful storyline with innovative gameplay”, and that he felt the engine offered a way to being the company’s collective “dreams to life”. Currently, Faramix is aiming for a 2009 or 2010 release for END.

We spoke to Dehen about Faramix, the challenges involved in producing the company’s first title.

Why did you decide to set up Faramix Enterprises?

Getting a job in the video game industry requires not only the proper schooling, but countless hours of outside work to present yourself. It’s a highly competitive industry that is constantly changing with new software, hardware, and creative methods. In late January ’07 I began discussions with Nathan Follmer about partnering up on a video game project I developed the previous year.

Nate would create a web site, models, and program while I would setup the company, write, design, and hire. From past research, it is nearly impossible to talk to the correct department heads at publishers without being an official incorporated company.

The original formation of Faramix Enterprises LLC was done to help setup a slightly greater chance of a connection to publishers than as the general public. It was also a way to file for a business loan that would be separate from my own personal expenses to begin contracting work.

What goals and values did you have at that time, and have any of these changed over the past ten months?

The original values I setup for Faramix have stayed the same, but goals have changed. Faramix was started around the development of END, but more importantly it was founded on creating high quality games that would require the proper budgets and team skills.

Another core value in place is to properly develop our video game titles in all their detail, while hitting realistic release dates. It hasn’t happened yet and we are planning around it ever happening, but once a release date has been released after starting production, to hit that release date. We want our employees to be in a comfortable environment and passionate about our product.

As for our founding goals and how they've changed, one of our original goals was to get far enough to meet with a publisher in person to pitch our video game. We wanted to show a publisher all the work and attention to detail we've put into our game, its balance, marketability, and also our passion for it. We've reached this goal as of a few days ago, and have more meetings to come.

Another goal we had in starting Faramix besides gaining experience outside of school, was to get video game industry jobs. We originally planned on essentially getting bought out, but brought along with the company to continue work in any position on the team that would've been created, this goal has changed. Not long after forming Faramix we realized and started preparing for the fact that in order to get our game END off the ground, it would require not only our dedication but we would hire the team and create it ourselves under funding from a publisher.

Some future goals set in place are to secure funding to begin the production phase, and when released hit over a million copies sold.

How did you go about assembling the team?

I’ve been blessed with some good luck with our team. When Faramix was started and we needed to contract some extra help outside what the core team could produce, we didn't have a web site yet or any kind of track record. We had literally no public information we could release, as all game content was under strict confidentiality.

The beginning was one of the hardest experiences trying to convince others that we were a legitimate company looking for work. The very first contract setup was with our artist, George, who began taking the characters I created and doing concept sketches. After concept sketches were completed we decided to create one colored painting of each character to show off their personalities and get a feel for their body structures.

We had to release the artwork on forums which helped bring in more applications but not many. In the beginning we would've taken almost anyone who had some decent skill and willing to learn - which we did - but as we grew in team size and the company grew our filtering process has gradually been growing. Due to budget constraints we've had to put on hold professional applications, but will be opening and building our production team very soon.

Where did the idea for END come from?

The idea for END came to me one night back in September 2006, and many of the details of the creative development process are being kept a company secret for the time being.

Full storyline details won't be released for years to come as we are about to begin the production phase and have already written down the main points of the following sequel.

The basics of the ideas came a lot from my personal life. Some situations in the storyline are events I have experienced personally or friends that have gone through them. I have an extensive imagination, so thinking of unique situations that would fit the characters or level designs came easily. It hasn't been previously released, but during the creative process coming up with the characters and their personalities, I was missing one.

I had a protagonist/antagonist, but was missing a supporting character. It fit the situation and the intended role of the character, so I based Chaz’s personality directly off myself. In the art process, we looked at other face structures for Chaz, as I didn’t want or intend on being a character in the storyline. After research though and not a lot of luck my face was used as the base facial structure to build off, since my personality was the same as the characters.

Why did you decide to work within the FPS genre?

The FPS genre is boring and new ideas need to be incorporated. Most of the new FPS video games being released or scheduled to be released follow the same basics, which were cool at first but are beginning to get stagnant. Companies today are scared to try something new and unproven, because it could bring a loss in revenue.

The different designs and ideas we have incorporate into our video game title END will bring a new front to the FPS genre by including other aspects from RPGs, MMOs, and Action/Adventure games, creating a kind of hybrid. We didn’t start designing the gameplay for END until many aspects of the storyline were near completion. The type of game play we chose helped drive the storyline and immerse the future video game players.

Do you think there are still places for the genre to go?

The different directions the FPS genre can go are endless. Many of the hit game titles follow the same set of rules, which have worked in the past but after numerous years even with new storylines, weapons, and storylines it gets boring.

If the FPS genre wants to stay alive, or at least profitable and fun to play, then new ideas need to be incorporated and risks taken. Part of running a good business is knowing when to take the proper risks, as we have with END.

How much preproduction have you done on the game so far?

In the past six months, we have done more than enough pre-production work to begin the production phase of development. With writing the storyline, we have our script to a stage where we can being doing voiceovers and also have been writing down notes and basics of a sequel developing it on our free time.

We’re thinking about what we need to go now, but also in the future as the company grows. Even though a sequel wouldn’t officially begin production for years to come, having it outlined to build off is vital so details from the first storyline are consistent throughout the entire series. We recently finished our technical demo to show off game play and our abilities at designing, and are moving into the Unreal Engine 3 to being smaller demos of what we can visually produce as we having already begun talking to many publishers around the world.

Other pre-production work completed is level designs, progressions, features, art, weapons, environments, story boards, and even music. We even have also been working on and completed different ideas for trailers, promotions, cut scenes, and how each scene would be set up and directed. Thinking about not only what to produce for the near future when we hit production phase, but years down the road what to expect and prepare for now.

Why did you decide to work with Unreal Engine 3?

We decided to work with Unreal Engine 3 for many different reasons. Since the beginning of pre-production we have been looking into different video game engines, some lower end and free all the way up to the best on the market. Unreal Engine 3 has many different features that will help save time and development costs.

The tool sets available and ones we can create are very easy, especially the scripting system. Being able to see the scene rendered without spending unneeded time to render the scene helps save time. UE3 has been a powerful engine that some of the best video games have been produced on. The name recognition is nice to have for added hype to our game, but it had no influence on our licensing.

We analyzed what we wanted to produce visually not only to compete with today’s market, but more importantly an engine that would be competitive enough when END is released in the years to come.

Is it an engine that many of your team have had experience with?

The engine we used for our technical demo wasn’t UE3, because we decided to license it already near the end of our technical demo. So our team is accustom to another engine to finish the demo, and now that the demo is complete all of our time is working with UE3 and getting use to its controls and tools, which are very easy.

Even members of our team, such as myself, who won’t have to work with UE3 everyday are learning its basics so we have an understanding internally what power it produces.

What other options did you consider?

We considered almost every engine we could get our hands on or review. In working with these other video game engines, we felt that no other engine compared to the different tools available and the quality Unreal Engine 3 produces.

Our technical demo was done on Half-Life 2’s Source engine, which when released was a high powered engine, but by today’s standards is needing an update visually and considering its steep learning curve and poorly tools added time and money to the demo process. We needed an engine that would still be considered ahead of its time at ENDs release.

How have you found dealing with Epic so far? Have they been supportive in the ways you expected?

Epic has exceeded our expectations. Being a new company, one of the hardest parts is to get recognized and countless hours of networking needs to be done. From the very beginning, they took us as a serious video game development company and have treated us well.

In allowing us to review and evaluate UE3, it was the engine that fit our needs perfectly. Even with a professional engine fully licensed, the road ahead for Faramix won’t be easy. We wouldn’t have licensed UE3 if it came with bad support or lack of communication. Every member has been prompt with email replies, on the support end and talking to executives.

The executives have been very generous and have gone above and beyond the licensee relationship. They have answered questions and given advice on many different aspects some including publisher pitches, team sizes, layouts, budgets, and pipeline.

What challenges do you expect to face in your attempt to move from being an independent developer to a "professional AAA game" developer?

In the past, the jump from independent developer to professional developer was a small leap, as many games could be made with a small team of a few people. However, now huge team sizes, long development periods, and tight coordination are needed to produce quality that competes on the market.

When I first started developing END and created Faramix Enterprises LLC, I knew that it would be a long and very difficult road even where we are now licensing UE3 and talking to publishers.

Considering how amazing a storyline END has, and the revolutionary gameplay envisioned, I knew that it wouldn’t be possible to start out small with a flash based or even 2D game. It takes a lot of outside dedication to make the leap from independent to professional.

I’m currently in school for Game and Simulation Programming, and have had two past years of school for Entrepreneurship. Even while in school now, I have been working hard reading books, researching information, and learning outside skills not related to my field of study.

This goes for the video game development process, and for Faramix. We are doing a lot of behind the scenes work that others may not know about as we grow in size. Our main focus is on what we need to do present and near future, but also preparing for many years from now. We want to paint the best picture available for Faramix and END, not just the basics.

The hardest part with being an indie company is that publishers or even investors will only see our inexperience. On paper, we may look like inexperienced individuals but we have had years of experience. I’ve been playing video games since Donkey Kong and the original NES came out and have been in love with story writing and designing at a young age. Everyone at Faramix is a bright individual, and they’re not only developing an amazing product, but have the passion to complete it.

You get what you pay for in the video game industry, as all the core members are extremely skilled and quick learners, the work we hire is limited. We have contracted bright individuals who have talent, but at the same time you get what you pay for. We don’t have the necessary budget to hire a modeler for professional pay, and have to search at a very low price.

Of the different skills I have and learn, I can’t learn modeling overnight on top of my duties already. We recently lost our character modeler to a fulltime job, as we don’t have the budget to exclusively sign an individual or secure a team so we have a backup modeler to work some overtime and pick up slack. We have the roadmap for END and Faramix complete, and now it’s time to hit production which requires investments from a publisher or private investor.

The key factor, and hardest part I expected to run into is that our core team has outstanding skills, but with a lack of funding to hire the proper team to get it made that the publisher or investor will hesitate to sign us.

I’ve already had to turn down many professional applications and put them on hold as we can’t properly pay for their services. Returning home from our first publisher meeting and we got some amazing feedback, but they also expressed concerns as we expected. They think our core team is an amazing setup, we have the produce road map laid out and we have the undying passion, but concerns that we can get the building and supplies setup, while hiring the correct team, and keeping the team together for the years of productions.

I have confidence in myself, and my core team, that we can get this done. We have been preparing nonstop and developing our plans. We are already looking into different building spaces to rent, hiring the team, and setting up supplies. We don’t plan on sitting back and relaxing at any point, even during publisher talks.

As we get closer to contracts and signing, we’ll be lining up the team, building, and supplies so the day we sign we can explode the setup process. Even during the setup process, we will continue to hire and work on game details so when everything is setup, we are already ahead of schedule for production.

How are you going about securing funding, and what goals do you have in this?

We are looking into every available funding available, not only publishers. We are putting together our company business plan that we will be showing private investors and through loans or possible % ownership, we are looking into funding that direction. If we need to get funding outside a publisher till Alpha or Beta stage, then that is what we will do.

Ideally, we would love to sign with a publisher from the beginning, but it doesn’t always work that way. Publishers see Faramix as a huge risk, but we are working hard, providing information, and planning to be the smallest of risks.

When are you aiming to have the game out by, and what does your timeline for the company look like at the moment?

We’re not releasing specific information at this time, as the release date will change based on when we sign with a publisher or private investor. Look for END in 2009 or 2010.


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