[In this in-depth postmortem, developer 8Monkey Labs explains the creation of PC and Xbox 360 time-traveling shooter Darkest Of Days, outlining exactly what went right and wrong in the creation of the ambitious title.]
"Time travel is the
Darkest of Days is a time traveling first person
shooter developed by 8monkey Labs and published by Phantom EFX. It was released
on PC and Xbox 360 on September 8, 2009 and will be available in Europe for the holidays. A free demo is available for both
Darkest of Days was the first title released by
8monkey Labs, based in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Its production took place along with
the growing process of a brand new studio. 8monkey is and always has been
small: at the peak of production, we had only 10 full time employees. You could probably call us an "independent
developer" but we don't usually think of ourselves that way.
Things took a lot of unpredictable
turns, for better and worse, during the course of development. One example: in June of 2008,
8monkey (along with publishing partner Phantom EFX) lost its office space to
In a few days'
time, 8monkey and Phantom had moved all their equipment and personnel twice
(the first backup locale was also cut off by flooding two days later as waters
continued to rise). You might think losing two office buildings inside a week
would slow us down. You'd be wrong.
What follows doesn't even begin to
tell the tale of the game's production, its ups and downs of morale, and of
course the contributions of all the individuals involved. But this overview may
give you a sense of just where this game came from, and how it came about.
Maybe we will both learn something. So let's begin.
What Went Right
"You have to make it sweet first. Then you can spend time to make it
Andres Reinot, Engineer
1. An Inimitable Crew
On day one of 8monkey's existence, development of the Marmoset engine
commenced, and the
first year of business was spent developing that technology and creating
prototypes for a (then
unnamed) time travel adventure shooter. During this time a core team of four
people were the only members of the development staff. No members of this team
had ever worked on a game before. We were all new.
It's a testament to the quality of
the staff and the determination of leadership that Darkest of Days was created at all. Given a green
team and a small budget, 8monkey excelled at making the most of available
resources. Most members of the team wore many hats (particularly in level
design), and folks generally went above and beyond the call of what a mere job
With a small team, every member felt ownership in a large portion of the game,
and this motivated our staff to do some of their best work. Even as the team
continued to grow, this sense of strong ownership persisted.
Darkest of Days has the unique feel it does today
because of the team that created it. Sure, we made some newbie mistakes, but there was a lot of good
here. Things like the sniper mission, the stolen Zeppelin level, and the grimly
satisfying microwave gun used in the endgame all grew from the ground up during
our production process. Most players and reviewers have described the game as
unique, and we love to hear it.
2. The Arty Types
Outside contractors were used for a
large portion of the game's art assets, most notably its characters. This
process was ideally suited to a small company like 8monkey. There are
substantial time and cost overheads involved in acquiring full-time on-site
employees, and in our case it can be tricky to get people to move to Iowa. So
for a lot of our art, we turned to contractors.
Our lead artist (who was on-site) is
a polycount moderator, and arranged a lot of solid connections in that
community and elsewhere. Freelancers are often regarded as higher risk
proposals, widely variable in their work ethic and quality.
Having a good
cornerstone of connections in the art community, 8monkey was able to go right to not only some of the
best people available, but the ones who would best fit our project. We have all
been surprised by the quality and consistency of the work that resulted from
these "random guys on the internet". Combined with strong on-site art
talent, the art pipeline for Darkest of Days ran well.
We also had good luck with our
in-engine art tool, dubbed Toolbag, which was used in-house and by many of our contractors. Initially it was used
as an engine preview, then later developed into a full material editor,
integrated with xNormal, and finally given animation preview and particle
Our tools philosophy at 8monkey has
always been that it is best to work in an environment that as closely resembles
the end result as possible -- this means using the engine as an art tool, not just for the game. Toolbag and our level editor Habitat both embody this ideal. There's
really no way we could have pulled of a project of this size without these
excellent tools at our disposal. Toward the end of development we released Toolbag for free to the art community, to
very positive reception.