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Postmortem: 8Monkey's Darkest of Days
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Postmortem: 8Monkey's Darkest of Days

November 26, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

[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 future."

- Mark Doeden

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 platforms.

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 flooding.

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 awesome."

- 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 would command.

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 editing tools.

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.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Loic Lacote
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Interesting talk.

"So should 8monkey have used a third party game engine? At this point it seems fairly clear that doing so would have shaved significant time from the development schedule, and gotten us to market much more quickly."

I think that we could talk a lot about this part.

I am not so accord with you with the fact that your game get you to market quickly.

Yes you would have saved time at the beginning but it can bring a lot of time to engineers to understand very well how to use in the best manner an engine that they don't know at all.

Another thing is that you suffer a lot of bad things on engine like Unreal engine or Source engine about tools or development process.

Andrea Di Stefano
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although I didn't play the game, I think that despite the mixed review you achieved quite a lot with such a small team and an over-ambitious project.

My question: for your next game would you rather lower the game scope and keep the small team/indie mind set, or increase your team size and game quality while dealing with all the traditional corporate issues?

Joshua Sterns
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@ John: The Zero Punctuation review was fantastic. Yahtzee is a funny shock jock.

I will give 8Monkey's credit for what they did, but unfortunately after playing the demo I just didn't care to play anymore. That's pretty sad when you factor in my love/knowledge of history and first person shooters.

Writing the above comment also makes me realize those dam marketing folks are on to something. Last year Mirrors Edge was the new FPS, and it faced a tough competition--Gears of War 2, Farcry 2, Fallout 3, etc. This year Darkest Days comes out against L4D2, COD:MW2, and ODST. The small creative side of me says support those new IP's, but then I look at my wallet. Realizing once again that I am poor I go to purchase something I know I'll enjoy. That fact makes me a little sad, but maybe things will change when I get more disposable income.

luke ward
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I too played the Xbox 360 demo and was very unsatisfied. It seemed obvious to me that a small team had been working on the game. I do give them credit for what they were able to accomplish, but I'm not sure how this one ever got out of the gates. It was more annoying than fun to play, remember the part where it is forcing you to march through the corn fields, I nearly turned it off at that point, there is no freedom in this game, and it is as confusing as hell to even trudge yourself through the first beginning parts of the game, the parts that are supposed to be training you on how to play the game.

I'm a huge fan of FPS...Halo, Battle Field, Half-Life...and after playing these and seeing the quality of those games, Darkest of Days is know where close in any aspect of design or gameplay.

Nathan Sherrets
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You guys rock! I don't care what anyone else says! Will you all marry me?