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Road To The IGF:  Expérience 's Gary Paulini

Road To The IGF: Expérience's Gary Paulini

December 1, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis

December 1, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis
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Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today’s interview tackles the modding side of the competition, as we talk with Gary Paulini, project lead on Half-Life 2 mod Expérience.

Paulini and team developed the title as students of The Graduate of Video Games and Interactive Medias, also known as ENJMIN, a French training facility that aims to “stimulate creativity and technological innovation”. Set with the task of creating a title that would be “understandable in 5 minutes without [a] guidebook”, the team started work on the mod, which they describe as an “exploration and adventure game” that sees the player begin “in the middle of nowhere”, with the only goal to discover “what is going on”.

We spoke to Paulini about the mod, its entry into the IGF, and why they used a FPS engine for an adventure game.

What is your background in the games industry?

Actually, we are not professionals of the games industry. Indeed, we are five students from The Graduate of Video Games and Interactive Medias, based in Angoulême, France. The school is divided into 6 specialties, which are game design, programming, graphic design, sound design, ergonomics (user interface) and project management.

During the first year of the master’s degree, students must develop a game which is understandable in five minutes. So, most of the projects are mini games, and do not contain a big story, with photorealistic graphics.

Then, during the second year, we must build a team of nine members – including one of each specialty - to develop a game, with a complete game documentation incorporating every part of a video game. This project validates our degree and is followed by an internship. The Expérience team is composed by two programmers (Damien Fission and Amandine Reliat), a graphic designer (Julien Petotte) and a sound designer (Pierre-Jean Beaudoin), and myself as project manager.

What fostered your interest in the mod scene?

During our first year master’s degree, we had to develop a project in 4 months. There was no constraint about the used technology nor the main theme. The only constraint was to create a game understandable in five minutes for every player. After the game design phase, we decided to make a mod for several reasons. First, a mod allowed us to develop quickly, and provided us with a good graphics engine. Second, many tutorials were available on the Internet, so programmers were able to learn a lot without losing time.

When was ENJMIN started, and what brought your team together?

ENJMIN was created in 2004 to train experts in every specialty needed in video games development. The idea of this school comes from Stéphane Natkin, the current headmaster. Members of the Expérience team were in the same class, so we worked together to perform our final year project. It was just our friendship which made the team.

What inspired Expérience, and why did you decide to make it?

Expérience was inspired by a lot of things. In the beginning, one of the programmers had an idea to make a game where players would be locked up in a house, and their objective would be to escape by resolving several puzzles. The movie Saw and the game Crimson Room were our ground material. The graphic designer and the project manager thought about a game where players would be immersed in a giant world, and they would have to confront dangers. This idea was inspired by a Nintendo game, Chibi-Robo.

To satisfy the most of the members, the ideas were mixed, and Expérience was born! After some research, we noticed lots of FPS are based on moving and shooting. So, we wanted to create a new kind of first person game, where players must do something else, like solving puzzles, avoiding dangers or enemies.

What attracted you to make the mod for Half-Life 2?

Originally, Expérience was going to be developed for Doom III. The first idea we had needed a very dark and nerve-racking atmosphere. Doom III possesses a good graphical engine, and it is the best to render lightings and shadows. However, when the ideas were mixed together, Expérience changed its main feature: it no longer was the disturbing and dark atmosphere, but interactions with the decor.

To perform interesting interactions, we decided to opt to a game with a great physics engine... and we picked Half-Life 2, which included Havoc. In addition to Havoc, Source has a huge community, and it is possible to find a lot of tutorials on the Internet.

What were your expectations from your mod, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?

That is a very difficult question... as we are students, our expectations were very modest. We just wanted to create our first video game with a team - members had already developed video games, but alone. During our demonstration, the school headmaster encouraged us to make an entry in the IGF mod competition.

What do you think the most interesting thing about your mod is?

As I said before, lots of FPS are based on moving and shooting! We tried to develop a different kind of FPS. I think the most interesting thing about our mod is... the fact that players do not have to shoot everything. We tried to move from ‘I shoot then I think’, to ‘I think, I observe then I act!’

FPS are action games, Expérience is an adventure game. We do not know if it’s a success for players, but we are glad to have developed this mod.

How long did development take?

As Expérience was a project which was made for our degree, we had only 4 months to design the game and develop it.

What was the development process like?

Many meetings were performed during the first two weeks. During these meetings, we gathered common ideas, using brainstorming sessions. When the game design was established, the development began. At the beginning, the programmers read tutorials to learn how to use Source. The graphic designer was looking for methods to scale objects and to create physics models for concave objects. Finally, when everybody mastered every difficult point, we started to develop the final product.

On one side, the two programmers worked with a spiral development. They implemented the features, one by one, by performing tests and they checked every detail. On the other, the graphic designer and the sound designer produced assets for the mod in the appropriate format. When they were satisfied by their work, we integrated these assets in the last version of the game.

What do you think of the state of mod development, and how do you think mods fit into the industry?

I do not know a lot about the state of mod development… Mods are a good way to start in the development of video games. People learn a lot, about the process of production, the difficulties of the development, etc. I think mod development can help people find a job in the game industry or create a new company. Red Orchestra is one good example.

What do you think of the state of independent development?

Independent development is very difficult. Publishers do not want to help them, and give them money to finish the production of their games. However, independent development allows more creativity and audacity. Developers attempt to create new gameplay or new interfaces. Thanks to them, video games can change and become more and more attractive for people.

Have you checked out any of the other IGF games or mods?

I’ve checked a few IGF games and mods. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to play them. At this time, the team is working on a new project, for our last year of study.

Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

Empire impressed me - this team developed an RTS with Half-Life 2. It must have been very hard for them to modify interfaces, cameras, etc. The development took them 3 years, it is amazing!

Last Man Standing is very fun and it brings us back in time, when video games were in 2 dimensions. It is very exciting to re-play this old title in 3 dimensions and the graphics are great!

Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

Dot Fighter is one of our favorite recent indie games. We like to play together - the best fighter is Julien, the graphic designer.

We admire a lot of recent mainstream titles! Titles are different for each member. As far as I’m concerned, Pro Evolution Soccer 6 is one of my favourite, because I am a huge fan of soccer! We are very eager to grab a Wii (scheduled to be released the December 8 in France), with titles like Zelda: Twilight Princess, Rayman Raving Rabbits and Madden!

Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

Good luck everybody and I hope to see you at the IGF! If you played Expérience, I hope you enjoyed it!


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